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Fair They Wrought Us

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Celebrimbor woke up with a start, all his senses alert as he heard the distant howl of warg. Fainter, the discordant clashing sound of orcs on the run was audible. He braced himself for a moment before jumping down from the tree he was perched in. He winced as he landed on his feet; he hadn’t dared to take his boots off for days. His feet were full of sharp pains and a dull ache had sank deep in his bones. From the dampness in both his boots, he thought his feet were bleeding, but until he could take his shoes off and leave them off, he didn’t want to check.

He pulled a device out of his pocket. On the surface it looked like an astrolabe, with neat ticks indicating season, altitude, and azimuth. The Valacirca and Menelmacar were symbolically represented with a sickle and sword. He had meant to add more constellations, but had run out of time. He concentrated, trying to hear the soft starsong through the device. The stars were veiled, but the principle of listening to the power of Varda should still hold true. For weeks now, Celebrimbor had been chasing an echo of power, watching the dials turn by minimal degrees. Around the same time, he had also attracted the attention of a company of orcs, most likely based out of Nan Dungortheb. Rather, he had thought it was a single company, but after failing to shake them off for so long, he was beginning to suspect that there were multiple companies, and they had all been informed that there was a lone elf on the loose: easy prey.

If he had been asked last year how long he could have lived on his own in the wild without a source of food or clean water, he would have guessed a couple months. It had now been one hundred and four days since the fall of Nargothrond. No one would fault him for giving up now, especially considering the wounds on his shoulder and hip, uncared for and healed badly. That traitorous thought was slipping through his mind regularly as of late. The motivation to keep going was just as strong though; the horrifying remains of the orc camps were a reminder of his fate as soon as he stopped running. As his physical pain grew, it became harder and harder not to think about the half eaten corpses, the distant screams, and the stains of blood and viscera that he’d seen too many times. 

Celebrimbor grit his teeth and started jogging towards the mountains again. He could give up, but he wouldn’t, because that would make his father right. He could still see the cold look his father wore on his last night in Nargothrond. He’d been surprised at first when Celebrimbor had turned and joined those cursing Curufin and Celegorm’s treachery. Celebrimbor could see it in his eyes, for all he tried to hide it. 

“You too, son? You would join the timid folk of Orodreth?” Then his face had frozen like a mask, before a heartless smile broke over his face. “I don’t think the craven king will last long in Nargothrond. If you would leave your father and throw your life away for these unworthy elves, I will shed no tears for your death.” Curufin turned sharply and stode after Celegorm, never looking back. 

Still thinking darkly of his father, Celebrimbor braced himself for another day of fruitless searching. If he had no hope of finding Gondolin, surely his desire to spite his father could keep him on his feet one more day.

Hours later, he heard the bray of an orc horn. It was far too close for comfort, scarcely more than a mile away. He looked at his device in desperation. He had crafted it at the behest of Gwindor before his death, who had begun to clearly see that Nargothrond would not stay hidden for long, and some way of finding another refuge would be necessary. Gwindor had seen the forces of Gondolin during the Nirnaeth, and he harbored hope that some of Norgothrond’s folk could be led there. His request had come too late for Celebrimbor to create more devices or even test that his prototype worked. And now Gwindor had been slain like all his other friends in Nargothrond - those that weren’t thralls in Angband, that was. For a moment Celebrimbor felt a sharp stab of fear at the thought. He grimly wondered what Gwindor would counsel now. He would surely advise death over capture by orcs. Celebrimbor doubted they would bother carting a single elf to Angband, especially a nameless elf as he appeared with no sigil or sign of high birth. He had no illusions that his end would be easy though. 

A thrum of power shot through his hand. He looked down astonished. The dials spun, clearly indicating proximity to a source of great and holy power. He took in the dry river bed he stood in, and ran along it following the arc the device indicated. 

The walls of the ravine the river ran into grew steeper, and the light grew ever dimmer. Celebrimbor stopped, attempting to carefully disentangle his clothes from the thorny growth that was now all along the river bed and walls of the ravine. He didn’t want to leave a thread that a tracker might catch sight of and follow. He was of two minds about the dry river bed. On one hand, the ever narrowing cleft would eventually end in a cliff wall, and he might be trapped there, and cornered by orcs. On the other, if he could make it far enough in, they might miss that he turned here, and he could hide and live to run another day. He tried not to put too much hope in the ever growing power he could feel from his device. 

Finally untangled, Celebrimbor limped along the river bed. It went on for miles more than he had anticipated. He hoped the orcs were actually thrown off his trail. A faint whirr stopped him in his tracks. He turned to the solid wall of rock in front of him. Behind the thorny brush, the walls were hung with lichen and ivy, and seemed much the same as they had been for miles. 

There was nothing for it but to try. Wincing, Celebrimbor wove his way through the spiny branches until he reached the rock wall. He held out a hand, pushing through the hanging plants. Nothing stopped his hand. Frowning, he stepped behind the green growth. There was a shallow crevasse here, hidden from view. He stepped deeper in, and then saw a clear opening. It was, without a doubt, a tunnel. He didn’t need his device to tell him that the tunnel was not solely the work of nature. The smooth sides indicated parts were hewn and he could feel Elvish wards behind him, now that he had passed their bounds.

His heart began to pound with excitement. He had found the secret way into Gondolin.

~

Celebrimbor had lost his flint and had no way of making any sort of torch to light his way through. He resigned himself to a long, dark journey through the tunnel. He put his hand on the wall and carefully picked his way along the tunnel, sometimes tripping on the loose stones beneath his feet.

The dark was disorienting, and didn’t help his growing dizziness from hunger, thirst, and pain. As he stumbled along the tunnel, he wondered if it was guarded. He felt like he was making enough racket to alert everything in the vicinity to his presence. Surely if the way was guarded, they would have found him by now. 

Just as the thought crossed his mind, a voice rang out.

“Stay! Move no further stranger.”

Celebrimbor froze, lifting his hands up slowly away from his sword. The voices were elven, and speaking Quenya no less, but they certainly didn’t sound friendly.

Footsteps approached, and then a light shone out. The lantern burned like the sun after so long in the dark, and Celebrimbor turned his head to avoid the piercing light.

“Who are you and why have you come to this place?” the voice behind the lantern demanded.

For a moment he couldn’t speak, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. It had been so long since he had spoken to another, it felt like he had momentarily forgotten how to answer questions. 

“I am Carastaro of Nargothrond.” It was not not exactly a lie - Carastaro was his mother-name. There was no need to tell them that not even his mother used that name.

“Nargothrond! Last we had heard Nargothrond had fallen, but that was many months ago.”

“And so you come to your second answer - I am fleeing it’s destruction and searching for a haven.” Celebrimbor’s head was pounding. He wasn’t sure if it was from the blazing light or the abrupt questioning after so long without speaking. 

The elf behind the lantern was silent for a moment. “I still have more questions, but this is not the place for them. Follow me.”

Celebrimbor found himself between two other elves, their forms still shadowed. He started following the light in front of him, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other. The long dark tunnel began to feel like a dream; the echoing tunnels made the sound of their footsteps come from disorienting angles, and the bobbing light looked like a captured star, buried underground. Occasionally one of the elves next to him took his elbow and drew him forward; he must be slowing down without realizing it.

He began to make out a faint light in front of him, beyond the lantern. As they drew closer, he realized it was daylight coming around the edges of some barrier. When they finally arrived at the gate, Celebrimbor took in the huge wooden portcullis. It was built for awe rather than beauty, the dark, ancient wood studded with iron. The scale of the portcullis was as if it were crafted for giants, and made the elves standing in front of it look like children. 

The lantern holder had shuttered his light and now pressed a hand upon the portcullis. It began to slowly raise, with no discernable mechanism or effort. Celebrimbor craned his neck, trying to see what manner of craft enabled its raising.

“Do you know how it works?” Celebrimbor asked the lantern holder.

The elf frowned and narrowed his eyes with suspicion. “No, and if I did I would not tell a stranger.” He waited for Celebrimbor to stop peering at the door and meet his eyes.

“You have now passed the Gate of Wood. Know this, you have now entered the realm of Gondolin and are forbidden from leaving ever again, upon pain of death. You may find us stern and inflexible after dwelling in Nargothrond, but it is how we have stayed hidden from Morgoth for all these centuries.”

Celebrimbor nodded. “I did not think it would be any other way.”

“Glawardir, Cemenon, escort Carastaro to Gondolin. See that he makes it to Lord Ecthelion.” With a sharp nod, the captain strode back towards the tunnel, the other guards following.

“Come.” Cemenon gestured to Celebrimbor. “The Gate of Stone is about one league from here.”

“A league?” Celebrimbor could not completely keep the dismay from his voice. If I lay down and die here, I still will have technically made it Gondolin , he thought.

Cemenon looked at him appraisingly. “You surely have walked a more bitter route. I can see the light of Aman in your eyes.” 

Damn, I can’t exactly lie about this. Celebrimbor swallowed. “I did not get to Beleriand across the Helcaraxë.”

Cemenon’s face darkened. “I take it you did not swim here.” He looked closely at Celebrimbor “So you are a follower of Fëanor? How do you sleep with the blood on your hands?” He began to walk quickly, forcing Celebrimbor to jog a bit to keep up. Glawardir followed, his face unreadable. 

“It’s my deepest regret, but I thought we had decided as a people to move beyond our dark beginnings here. I was also at the Council of the Noldor in Mithrim, as were you. The Noldor have reunited, and united is the only way we can hope to stand against Morgoth.” Celebrimbor grit his teeth as they started to climb up a steep and winding path. Cemenon did not respond, and kept his punishing pace.

As they approached the Gate of Stone, Celebrimbor tried to distract himself from the consuming pain in his hip and feet by trying to understand how this gate would work. The gate appeared to be a single huge polished stone. Would it roll to the side, or lift like a portcullis? But then, where would it go? The surrounding gate didn’t appear to have any sort of hollow where the stone could be retracted.

At the gate, Cemenon pressed upon the side of the stone and stepped back as it began to pivot outwards. Celebrimbor tried to catch a glimpse of the hinge that the stone moved upon. He was more certain that this gate was wholly mechanical, but he’d need to get closer to find out. He realized Cemenon and Glawardir were frowning at him with suspicion. He tried to smile and walked forward. It would probably be best to try to appear less like a spy bent on uncovering the secrets of Gondolin’s defense.

He was ushered into a gate house. The room felt exceptionally warm after the whistling cold of the mountain pass. Glawardir motioned him to a seat at a table and Celebrimbor collapsed into it gratefully. 

“I’ll be back with some food and water,” Glawardir said, and left the room. Celebrimbor fought against the growing exhaustion, trying to take in the other guards and the room he was in. Cemenon was still glaring at him - it seemed they were not destined to become fast friends.

The door opened again, and the guards in the room jumped to attention. Celebrimbor stood quickly as well, and then saw the room begin to tilt around him. As his vision tunneled and he lost all sense of orientation, he thought, well this won’t make a great impression.

Chapter Text

I should not have agreed to this , Celebrimbor thought for an instant before the Gate of Steel captured his full attention.

 

In the gatehouse, he had come to with several concerned faces peering at him, and a new ache in his head. He was told he had been unconscious for some time; enough time for someone to remove his shirt and his boots in an attempt to assess his injuries. Unfortunately, the assessment seemed to be that they couldn’t do anything for him until he arrived at Gondolin. They also agreed with his previous opinion that taking his boots off would be a mistake, and getting the ragged boots back on his swollen, bloody feet was no sure thing. 

The elf who everyone had stood to greet was Elemmakil, captain of the guard of the lower gates. He was looking at Celebrimbor like he was a plague sent specifically for him.

“I suppose someone could carry you,” Elemmakil suggested.

“Absolutely not.” Celebrimbor still had some pride.

It had been Glawardir who had shown up with some beige powder and a flask of alcohol. After a rest, and some food, he agreed that taking something for the pain was the best way forward. Glawardir mixed what seemed an immoderate amount of beige powder with the alcohol and handed it to Celebrimbor who choked it down. 

Now, approaching what looked like a gigantic gate of shining swords more mentally impaired than he could ever remember being, he was beginning to regret his choice. 

The steel gate had an unearthly gleam - how did they maintain the shine with the steel constantly exposed to the elements? It must be some technique he wasn’t familiar with. He walked straight up to one of the bars and reached up a hand to touch it before Cemenon smacked his hand away.

“Don’t touch that!” Cemenon hissed.

“But how does it shine so?” Celebrimbor asked, clenching his fists trying to resist running his hand over the brilliant steel. Cemenon ignored him and struck the gate. The musical tone filled the pass, the cascading harmony of chimes at odds with the ferocious beauty of the steel gate. Celebrimbor found himself humming along, eyes wide as he waited for whatever marvel came next. 

Several guards came out from one of the lofty steel towers, led by lordly looking elf in dazzling regalia. Celebrimbor realized at that moment that while he could not remember meeting Ecthelion, the name sounded familiar, and Ecthelion might remember him from those years when the Fëanorian and Fingolfinian camps mingled on the shores of Lake Mithrim. 

I’m Carastaro of Nargothrond, and I was a smith in service of King Orodreth, Celebrimbor thought. Or maybe I should introduce myself as Caron - it seems Sindarin and Quenya are spoken in equal measure here. I wonder if there’s a preference for one over the other? On one hand, this whole place is very Noldorin. Except for the Bronze Gate - that had Sindarin stylings unless I’m mistaken. I wonder if there is any blending of Noldorin and Sindar technique? 

A hand came down painfully on his injured shoulder as Cemenon hissed, “Show some respect to Lord Ecthelion.” While he’d been lost in his thoughts the group of guards led by Ecthelion had approached them. Celebrimbor hastily bowed, and then changed his mind and decided to kneel. 

 

He looked up at Ecthelion with wonder and to his horror started speaking. “Amazing! your gear is stunning. And is your armor silver? What technique do you use to harden it to a suitable level for armor? Is it an alloy of some kind? It must be, it would be far too heavy if it were solid silver.”

Ecthelion looked between Cemenon and Glawadir in amazement. “What’s wrong with him?”

Glawadir looked apologetic. “Apologies sir. As you can see he is injured, so I gave him some îdhlas to help him make the rest of the journey here.”

Ecthelion watched as Celebrimbor reverently touched his shield, fascinated by the clear gems that studded it.

“What is your name, elf?”

“Caron,” Celebrimbor answered. After a pause he added, “Of Nargothrond.”

“That’s not what you told us earlier!” Cemenon grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his body.

Surprised, Celebrimbor tried to catch himself with his other arm, but the weight on it sent shooting pains through his shoulder. His stomach lurched unpleasantly.

“Peace Cemenon!” Ecthelion gestured at Cemenon to release Celebrimbor. He frowned. “Why did you not give this name earlier?”

“Caron is my name in Sindarin. Earlier, you first spoke to me in Quenya, so I introduced myself as Carastaro. How do you decide which language to speak? In Nargothrond, we always used Sindarin.” Celebrimbor eased off his knees so that he was just sitting on the ground. He wondered if he should stand up, but that also seemed like a difficult proposition.

Ecthelion sighed. “Rise, Caron of Nargothrond. Know this, you are in Gondolin now, and may never leave under pain of death. Our secrecy is our strength. I hope you thought about your choice well before seeking us out.”

Celebrimbor started to slowly rise, but couldn’t figure out the best way to stand once he was on his knees. Ecthelion held out a hand to help him up.

“You know, they said that to me earlier as well. Honestly, if I’d known Turgon was into this,” here Celebrimbor distractedly waved at the gate and Ecthelion as he searched for the word, “level of decor, I would have come much sooner.”

“Please have some respect, that is High King Turgon you speak of.” Ecthelion’s face was twitching, as if he was suppressing a sneeze. 

“Oh, sorry! High King Turgon. Very illustrious.” Celebrimbor pronounced illustrious very carefully. Maybe he could still make a good impression.

“Come on.” Ecthelion gestured as he turned and walked back toward the steel tower. “I have some questions for you.”

~

Ecthelion looked at the contents of Celebrimbor’s pack spread out on the table. He lifted the astrolabe-like device up and studied it closely.

“What is it?”

“I haven’t decided yet.” Celebrimbor carefully sipped the water in front of him. Whatever îdhlas was, it was making him very thirsty. Glawadir had warned him that if he drank too much too quickly he’d probably throw up.

Ecthelion looked at him sharply. “What do you mean by that?”

“I haven’t thought of a name. I’ve just been thinking about it as a device.”

“Did you make it?” Ecthelion sounded surprised and suspicious.

“Yes, at the behest of a lord of Nargothrond. I was supposed to make more, but Glaurung attacked before I even had a chance to test this one.”

“So what does it do?” Ecthelion held the device up to light, watching the dials spin as he turned it.

“It’s attuned to holy power, and uses a combination of starlight and Song in order to orient the user to nearby locations that have a high level of power. High being indicated on an ordinal scale, using other objects of power I had on hand.”

Ecthelion looked at him in amazement. “And did you craft the sword as well?”

“Yes, yes, yesss.” Celebrimbor propped his head on hand; he was very tired. “Look at the blade. I signed it with a Calma for Caron.” He felt proud for remembering that detail.

Ecthelion was now examining the blade. “I had no idea King Orodreth had smiths of such skill in his employ.”

“Gondolin is not the only place that can have nice things.” Celebrimbor closed his eyes; keeping them open was getting to be quite difficult.

Ecthelion studied him. “No indeed, I’m sure the other realms made many fine works while we’ve been living apart. Well, I’m satisfied that you are no spy sent to take Gondolin down from the inside, whatever Cemenon thinks. How about you get some rest, and then Cemenon and Glawardir can escort you the rest of the way to the city tomorrow. Welcome to Gondolin, Caron.”

~

The next morning Celebrimbor woke up in so much pain he was almost tempted to Glawardir for more îdhlas . As memories from yesterday came flooding back, he remembered enough of what happened to nix that idea. He was fortunate that Ecthelion hadn’t recognized him, and even more fortunate that he hadn’t said anything incriminating while drugged. 

He hadn’t exactly planned to hide his identity in Gondolin, but when his mother-name had slipped out yesterday, he realized that this was his one chance to utterly reject his Fëanorian identity. No more dark glances when he introduced himself, no more endless repudiations; his work could stand for itself, and his actions could be assessed on their own merit. 

He managed to sit up, and put his feet on the ground. At least today would be mostly riding, not walking. It would probably be a whole new exercise in pain due to the deep cut on his hip, but at least it would be different. He slowly put on the layers he had shed last night, leaving his boots for last. With a grimace he shoved his feet in and wound the cords around his boots that were now most of what kept them together. 

As he met Glawardir and Cemenon in the courtyard, he glanced over at the bundle Cemenon was strapping to his horse. Cemenon had convinced Ecthelion to confiscate his sword and power-seeking device until such a time as his intentions towards the city could be fully vetted. Celebrimbor had not put up a fight, but now was feeling anxious without a sword for the first time in centuries. The device was also the most complex work he had ever completed, and he was not eager to lose it.

“Do you have all my things?” he asked.

“I have your confiscated weapons, including your dark instrument.” Cemenon glared at him.

Celebrimbor succeeded in not rolling his eyes at the elf. His antagonism was wearing on him, and he hoped that he wasn’t representative of the types of people he could hope to meet in Gondolin.

He counted down from three in his head, grit his teeth, and climbed into the saddle. He clung to the horse as pain radiated from his hip, but managed to stay upright.

“Follow me.” Cemenon nudged his horse and led them from the Gate of Steel.

Celebrimbor’s thoughts were still whirling in his head as he waited in yet another guardhouse for yet another captain to arrive. 

He had never seen a city like Gondolin. They said Turgon had built it in the likeness to Tirion, but from what Celebrimbor remembered of Tirion, Gondolin was larger, more beautiful, and more ambitious. Maybe it was the effect of the sun, stronger and sharper than the light of the trees, or the towering Echoriad as the background to the city. Whatever the reason, Celebrimbor hadn’t been able to take his eyes off the city, and they darted in every direction as they approached the great gate, trying to take everything in. 

He hadn’t had the opportunity to see more than the entrance before he’d been hurried into the guardhouse, to give his name and story to the captain on duty.

The door opened and a tall, dark haired elf walked in.

“Welcome to Gondolin. I’m Solchannar, Captain of the Great Gate.” He clasped both elbows and bowed.

Celebrimbor stood up and bowed in return, making sure to bend deeper than Solchannar had. Cemenon and Glawardir, still shadowing him, stood and bowed as well.

“Caron of Nargothrond.”

“Caron, ‘builder,’ eh? The report from Ecthelion says you’re a smith” Solchannar asked.

“Yes, I’m afraid my name is not prescient.”

“Well, smiths are quite useful as well.” Salchannar examined the papers on the desk for a moment before looking up.

“I’m afraid Caron, we don’t know quite what to do with you. When Gondolin was first founded, we took in many escaped thralls of Morgoth, and we had a whole system in place to welcome them. It’s quite difficult making your home in a new place, without knowing anyone else or having any family. Since the Nirnaeth Arnoediad though, King Turgon has worked to obscure Gondolin even further, and not even our kindred have been able to find it.” Solchannar picked up Celebrimbor’s device that lay on his desk and peered at it closely.

“King Turgon will definitely want to know by what power you found the city.” Solchannar set down the device. “Alas, his schedule is completely full for the rest of this week, and you just missed the monthly public hearing.” 

At that Cemenon coughed loudly.

“Cemenon! Your concern has been noted. However, I’m not going to lock up a wounded refugee for a month just because you find him suspicious. Honestly, what do you think he’s going to do?”

Cemenon gave Celebrimbor a dark look. “I think he’s hiding something.”

Salchannar sighed. “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll try to get you in to see the King as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can come back to the central guard station once a week and give a full report of your activities. Cemenon, I’m putting you in charge of taking and writing up the report.”

Cemenon crossed his arms. “And how do I verify that he’s telling the truth?”

Salchannar looked at Celebrimbor. “Are you going to lie to Cemenon?”

“No,” said Celebrimbor, trying to look as truthful as possible.

“There you go.” Salchannar clearly considered the matter settled.

“Now, as I was saying before, we used to have a whole system for refugees, but there hasn’t been any need for it recently, so I’m not quite sure where to send you. Are you quite sure you don’t have any family in Gondolin?”

“No family,” Celebrimbor answered. Nienna grant me mercy, he thought. He really should confess; it seemed like a meeting with Turgon was inevitable, and Turgon would definitely recognize him. He could not make himself tell the truth though; the longer he wasn’t Celebrimbor, son of Curufin, of the house of Fëanor, the more he dreaded the day when he would have to resume his old identity.

“Ah well. First things first, you need to see a healer. I can at least help with that. Just on the other side of the quartyard is a Hall of Healing, they’ll take excellent care of you there. The head healer knows me well; everyone who has any sort of training accident in my unit goes there. I’ll send you along with a note.” Salchannar began to scribble down a note.

“I also may be able to help you find a place where your talents may be of use. Medlinor is a local smith who I go to for all my household needs, I know he was looking for an assistant.” Finishing his first note, he began to write a second note. 

“Here is his address, and a note that I sent you.” Salchannar handed both notes to Celebrimbor. 

“Now, all that’s left is a place for you to live. I’m afraid that’s going to be the most difficult part - I’ve heard it’s very difficult to find a place for a lone elf.” Salchannar looked at Cemenon and Glawardir. “Do you know of any leads?”

“No,” said Cemenon flatly.

“Well,” Glawardir sounded reluctant. “I think my brother-in-law has a room for rent.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed Salchannar. He stood up. “Just tell Caron where it is.” Salchannar bowed shallowly again. “Welcome again to Gondolin. I hope the city treats you well.” He strode out of the room.

Celebrimbor hardly had time to stand up and bow in return as Salchannar left the room. Still standing he looked at Glawardir. “Is there some sort of problem with the room?”

“You probably won’t be able to afford it,” Cemenon said with contempt.

“No, I think my brother-in-law will be amenable to some sort of deal.” Glawardir still wasn’t meeting Celebrimbor’s gaze.

“Well, that’s good.” Celebrimbor realized he hadn’t thought about money at all. Fortunately it sounded like he’d be able to find work.

“It’s just. My brother-in-law. He’s…” Glawardir still seemed to be struggling to find words. What is he, an orc? Celebrimbor wondered.

“He takes care of his grandmother, who is actually an escaped thrall.” Glawardir finally finished.

“He sounds like quite a nice ellon ,” Celebrimbor said, trying to puzzle out the issue.

“Yes. Quite nice. Only, his grandmother, well, she’s not quite all ‘there’ you might say.” Glawardir looked apologetic.

“Ah, well I’ve had some experience with those who escaped Morgoth and while some seem to leave with their minds even sharper than before, some do not, and none are not at least partially changed.” Celebrimbor thought of Gwindor, and his Uncle Maedhros, and many others he had met who had escaped from Angband.

“Yes, I suppose you would have encountered some escapees in Nargothrond.” Glawardir finally overcame his hesitation, and began writing down the name and address of his brother-in-law. He handed it to Celebrimbor.

“Well, take care Caron. I’m off for some well-earned rest.” Glawardir gave a short bow and left the room. Celebrimbor followed him out, with Cemenon following after him.

“I’ll be watching you, Fëanorian,” Cemenon gave Celebrimbor a dark look, before walking off as well.

Celebrimbor took a deep breath, smelling the city. It smelled like cooking, horses, laundry, and a faint mineral smell that seemed to come from the stones itself. Celebrimbor tilted up his head to look at the high towers, delicate bridges, and fountains sparkling at every level of the city. He felt excitement well up inside him, the deepest emotion that had managed to fight it’s way past fear, sadness, and pain in many months. He was going to be a Gondolindrim.

Chapter Text

Celebrimbor had thought Cemenon was the one to watch out for, but now he was convinced that it was actually Glawardir who held some sort of grudge towards him.

At first, his landlord Tinnedir had seemed fine, if a bit too solicitous. He’d happily invited Celebrimbor inside, and listened to his story over the steeped, roasted root the Gondolindrim called tea. He was in fact looking for a renter for the spare room, and showed Celebrimbor the room.

The room was acceptable, with a small bed and desk, large enough that he thought he wouldn’t mind spending evenings and off days in it. The strangest part was that the room was full of rocks. When Celebrimbor asked about them, Tinnedir had been excited, and explained that he collected rocks he thought were shaped like other things, and sometimes painted them. He then spent a good half hour, showing him various rocks shaped like the stars, moon, flowers, and mountains, and others he had painted to look like dogs, cats, plates of food, and other miscellaneous things. 

Well, I suppose we can’t all be artists , thought Celebrimbor as he smiled and nodded at a truly alarming rock painted like a horse.

“I suppose Glawardir told you about Mam.” Tinnedir said as he led them back to the living room.

“Yes, he told me you care for your grandmother.”

Tinnedir shook his head. “Poor Mam. Everyone thought she would fade, but you know I think she likes the life we live.” They sat back down in the living room, Tinnedir motioning to the couch, and then sitting down next to Celebrimbor.

“I’d be happy to rent you the room here; you seem quite nice. You must promise to follow the rules though. They’re for Mam — she needs a quiet and orderly environment.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem. What are the rules?” Celebrimbor asked.

“There are just a few. First, no noise after the night bell. Please be in your room by that time, and do not leave it until the morning bell.”

I must be in my room by the night bell? Celebrimbor thought. He was accustomed to keeping whatever hours pleased him, and would frequently work until almost dawn in Nargothrond. Oh well, it’s not like I have places to go or people to see , he thought .

“It shouldn’t be a problem. What other rules are there?”

“Second, do not go upstairs.” Tinnedir did not elaborate. Celebrimbor nodded apprehensively.

“Third, Mam absolutely hates the smell of meat, so please don’t bring any meat, or anything that smells of meat into the house.”

“Alright, no meat. Is that it?” The whole situation was getting stranger by the minute, but Celebrimbor didn’t know what other options he had.

“That’s it.” Tinnedir lit up with a smile. “I think I’m going to enjoy having you as a tenant very much. Let me draw up the paperwork.”

There were, upon reflection, enough red flags that he should have paused and thought about looking elsewhere for a place to stay. But Celebrimbor was exhausted, in pain, and also elated to finally be in Gondolin; he was not in the best frame of mind to make judgments.

He had not seen or heard Mam the first night.

The next morning, he woke to the feeling of a hand on his leg. Panicked, he sat up quickly, wrenching his shoulder painfully. 

Tinnedir was sitting on the end of his bed smiling benignly. “Did you sleep well?”

Celebrimbor swallowed and gingerly rubbed his shoulder. “Yes, I had a good night’s rest.” He had - the first in a very long time.

Tinnedir was now running his hand over the blanket that covered his shin. “Would you like breakfast?” As if in response, Celebrimbor felt his stomach cramp painfully. Last night, before falling asleep, he realized he had no money for food, and did not actually know how he was going to feed himself until he was able to start working. He had thought about selling something, but he only had his sword, his device, and the pair of silver earrings he was wearing. The only thing he was willing to sell was the earrings, and they weren’t worth much.

“Please don’t trouble yourself; I’m your renter after all, not your house guest.” Celebrimbor tried to smile reassuringly at Tinnedir.

“Nonsense! You’re all alone in Gondolin with no friends and family, no one to check in on you, no one to notice if anything has happened. I’ll make us some porridge and fruit.”

After the terrifying reminder of his isolation, Tinnedir left the room, and Celebrimbor dressed as quickly as he could. He’d barely thought about the fact that the door to his room didn’t have a lock last night — now it seemed to be the chief flaw. 

After an awkward breakfast of too thin porridge and apples that seemed past their prime, Celebrimbor had pleaded exhaustion, saying the healers told him he should spend most of his time resting.

That had not stopped Tinnedir from checking in on him multiple times. Celebrimbor slept fitfully, always worried that he’d wake to Tinnedir looming over him. The day dragged on, split between restless tossing, staring around the room in boredom, and trying to get Tinnedir to leave his room. He ate dinner with Tinnedir again that evening. There was still no sign of Mam.

That night, he woke to loud thumps coming from above. The noises alternated between what sounded like pounding, banging, and dragging. It would stop for a time, and just as Celebrimbor started drifting off again, it would start again. This went on all night, until the grey hours of dawn.

The next day, Celebrimbor was awake before Tinnedir, but that didn’t stop him from coming into the room. As he resigned himself to another day full of Tinnedir’s unwanted caretaking, he desperately wished he had anything to distract himself with. He felt like his mind was atrophying with his body, and another day of boredom with nothing to occupy him stretched ahead menacingly.

Finally around noon, he left his bed to walk around a bit and do the exercises the healers prescribed. When he walked into the parlor he stopped short; a woman was sitting in the living room chair, and the chair was pushed directly in front of the door. Her eyeless gaze rose to meet his, her twisted hands clutched a cane, and her mouth, missing many teeth, was constantly working, as if she was chewing something.

Celebrimbor cleared his throat. “Hello, you must Tinnedir’s Mam.” Mam did not respond.

He walked closer. Now that he’d made up his mind to go outside, every second spent trapped in Tinnedir’s house felt endless. 

“My name is Caron. By what name should I call you?” he inquired.

Mam opened her mouth and croaked out something in a language completely unrecognizable Celebrimbor. He tried to identify any roots or cognates in what she said, but came up empty handed.

He tried introducing himself again in Quenya, and then again in an eastern dialect of Sindarin. Mam responded each time with what sounded like a different string of incomprehensible words in her gravelly voice.

Celebrimbor pulled up a chair and sat down next to Mam. His curiosity was growing. He tried a few more languages, including proto-Quenya and a few Atani languages. He only knew some phrases in these languages, but if she recognized them it would be a good start. Mam continued to respond in her mystery tongue. 

He tried opening his mind, and then sent his thought as lightly as he could toward Mam. He realized his mistake immediately when Mam’s hand shot out and caught his wrist in an iron grip. Her face was growing agitated. He tried to speak to her soothingly, but it seemed to do nothing. He relaxed his body, hoping that she would understand the unspoken message of peace. Mam began to screech.

Tinnedir came running into the room. Seeing Mam clutching Celebrimbor, screaming wildly, he rushed forward and grabbed Mam, shaking her and yelling for her to let go. As abruptly as it started, Mam released Celebrimbor and went completely limp.

Shaken, Celebrimbor could only sit mutely, staring at Mam.

“You mustn't upset Mam!” Tinnedir said with reproach.

“I was just trying to understand her,” Celebrimbor replied weakly.

Tinnedir shook his head. “Only I understand Mam. Why don’t you go to your room? I can bring you some tea.”

His plans for a walk stymied, Celebrimbor went back to his room. 

As he lay awake that night, listening to the thumps coming from the ceiling, he pitied Mam. He had been living under Tinnedir’s care for a day; she’d been with him since the founding of Gondolin at least. While Morgoth had probably contributed to the decay of her mind, right now Celebrimbor was weighing Tinnedir’s contribution more heavily.

~

The healer had told Celebrimbor that he was to rest for no less than six days, but by the fourth day he could no longer endure being trapped in his room, and left in the morning to find Medlinor the smith.

Tinnedir had been very concerned when he heard Celebrimbor was leaving. A few days ago he had found the note the healer had sent with Celebrimbor, and had been attempting to help Celebrimbor with the prescribed exercises; Tinnedir was very insistent that he minimize his movements outside of those.

Now though Celebrimbor had made up his mind that he was leaving, even if a whole host of Tinnedirs and Mams were in front of the door.

“But you’re supposed to rest!” Tinnedir stood in front of the door wringing his hands.

“I heal quickly.” Celebrimbor’s arms were crossed as he stared at Tinnedir evenly.

“You really shouldn’t be up and about. How about you lay down, and I can help you with your shoulder exercises?”

“Tinnedir, I’m your tenant, not your ward. Please let me leave.”

Tinnedir anguished over Celebrimbor’s health for a few more minutes, but finally stepped aside, giving into Celebrimbor’s unyielding stare.

Celebrimbor walked through the door with measured steps and started down the street in the direction that he thought Medlinor’s smithy was located. As soon as he had rounded the curve from Tinnedir’s house though, he started to jog. He felt like he needed to run to escape the confines of the house.

He had to ask a few people for directions, but he finally found Medlinor’s smithy. It wasn’t completely on the other end of the city, but it was a good thirty minute walk from his room, and with the missed turns he had taken, he had been walking for about an hour.

The smithy was small, with a stall out in front with some cheap goods and a sign with prices. The double doors leading inside were open, and he could see a single forge inside. The fire was lit in the forge, but no one was working.

“Hello?” he called.

A large elf came in from the back. He had messy brown hair, and his rapidly blinking eyes made Celebrimbor think of a bear startled out of hibernation.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, hello, I’m Caron.” Celebrimbor quickly bowed. “I heard you were looking for an assistant in the forge. I am very experienced, and am looking for work.”

The elf, who must be Medlinor, looked at him suspiciously. Celebrimbor knew he looked strange. He was wearing used clothes that the healers had given him. They were either too large or too small, and were patched. His Aman-bright eyes always made those he met assume he was older than he was, and he suspected the significance of the lingering tree-light made him even harder to place in a city whose inhabitants had lived in an isolated community for hundreds of years. He was also noticeably gaunt; when he had caught a glimpse of himself in the glass in Tinnedor’s washroom, he’d hardly recognized himself with sunken eyes and cheeks, shoulders narrowed and hair cut to his shoulder. 

“I don’t know you,” was all Medlinor said.

“I fled Nargothrond and just arrived recently in Gondolin.” Celebrimbor tried not to fidget as Medlinor considered him in silence.

“Hmph.” Medlinor seemed to make up his mind. “Well, I’m Medlinor and you heard right that I need an assistant. There’s the forge, there’s the stock. I need three hundred nails and eighty brackets. Make those well, and you’re hired.” With that Medlinor went back into the back of the shop.

Celebrimbor stood in the smithy for a moment, processing Medlinor’s abrupt command. Well, I shouldn’t have been expecting anything exciting for a first project , he thought to himself. He considered the smithy. If he was being honest, the first smithy that he’d help his father build when they first arrived in Beleriand was better than this. On the other hand, they’d been trying to forge weapons to stand against Morgoth. Medlinor seemed more focused on less intricate home goods. Celebrimbor shrugged and started to work.

~

If there was one thing simple work had in its favor, it was that Celebrimbor could start the motions and continue without much thought. He realized the light had turned towards afternoon and stopped himself from automatically starting another nail. He counted what he had made so far: three hundred and four nails. Well, hopefully Medlinor didn’t mind four extra nails. 

He looked around for Medlinor. He’d been in and out of the smithy, sometimes doing deals with elves who came up to the stall, sometimes taking orders inside. Celebrimbor had yet to see him crack a smile. 

“Medlinor?” He called.

“What.” Medlinor came out of the back room, glaring.

“I finished your order. Eighty brackets and three hundred and four nails. Sorry, I overshot on the nails a bit.”

“What?” This ‘what’ had an undertone of surprise to it.

“Your order, it’s done. Was there something else you needed?” Celebrimbor asked.

“How did you finish all that? I thought I had given you several days of work. Or one really long day.” Medlinor was holding up a nail in amazement.

“Ah, well, I am actually a skilled smith.” Celebrimbor shrugged.

Medlinor looked at him, as if trying to decide if he was a gift or a demon to be thrown out at once.

“You know, I can’t pay you for more than a day’s work.”

“I will take what I can get.” Celebrimbor smiled at him, trying to look as helpful as possible.

“Alright. I can offer you five thuil per day for what I consider a day’s worth of work. If you finish early, great. I can give you more work, but I can’t give you more than five thuil .”

Celebrimbor’s heart sank. His room cost one hundred thuil per month, and if he hoped to to afford something more than Tinnedir’s place, it seemed like he would need to save for a while, or find some other employment. He also realized he had no idea what a fair exchange was, and what comparable rooms cost elsewhere in the city. He had no choice.

“Deal.” He shook Tinnedir’s hand. Nails and horseshoes were better than nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Coroniel was not having a good day. First, she had added salt instead of sugar to her tea, not once, but twice, and had had to leave for work before she had time for a third attempt.

Second, today was the day that the department restructuring was in effect. For some reason, Lord Elmendano, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that engineers and masons had essentially the same job, and there were great efficiency gains to be had by putting them in the same department. 

Coroniel had strenuously objected. The restructuring had gone ahead anyway. Even worse, all department leadership positions had been given to masons, and all of the changes from the restructuring seemed to result in changes for the engineers, and no one else.

Third, she had finally been given an apprentice, only for him to be taken away with the advent of the restructuring. Again, she had protested, pointing out the advanced mathematics and longer practicum needed for engineering. Apparently, training in masonry was enough, and Coroniel’s protests about not enough engineers fell on deaf ears.

Fourth, she had now been trying to explain to her new head for an hour about why his plan for deeper gutters would not work; they in fact needed a rework of the conduits in this whole section of the city to get rid of the standing water issue. She had tried many numeric, graphic, visual, and metaphorical methods to explain the root cause of the drainage problem, but it fell on deaf ears.

She watched him walk away in despair. The extra work of redoing her flooding solution was secondary to the thought of having to design and implement the absolute wrong decision. She could see herself one hundred years from now, still a lowly engineer, bereft of apprentices, designing gutters like chasms across Gondolin.

“I don’t think he understands the trigonometry you were basing your argument on.”

Coroniel noticed the ragged elf who had been listening to the whole conversation. The elf in question had typical Noldor coloring, and was eating a crepe from a nearby food stall. The strangest thing wasn’t the too thin frame, ill fitting clothes, or the bright eyes; the strangest part was that she was quite sure she had never seen him before in her life. If he had been born under the light of the Trees, how was that possible?

“Excuse me, but who are you?” She had not meant to sound as aggrieved as the tone of the question suggested.

“Sorry! I’m Caron. I’m new to Gondolin.” He smiled at her, his face lighting up, dimples appearing and eyes crinkling up; Coroniel suddenly found herself charmed.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” he continued, “but I couldn’t help but hear your passionate argument about relative angles.”

“Yes, well, my department head is an idiot, and only understands pieces of rock stacked on top of each other. By the way, I’m Coroniel.” She bowed, still confused - how was there anyone who was new to Gondolin?

“Have you tried telling him that math will help him improve his rock stacking?” the strange elf asked. He finished up the last of his crepe.

“I actually have, but I don’t think he believed me.” 

Caron laughed. “Maybe you can use his ignorance to your advantage. I would argue that your proposal is to make all the gutters deeper, if you look at depth as a ratio in your overall design. And then if you increase the slope - do you have a piece of paper?”

“Here.” Coroniel flipped to a new page in her notepad and handed him her writing stick.

“So, I think you were trying to describe this equation.” He showed her the equation that he’d scribbled down. His handwriting was impeccable.

“Almost,” Coroniel said. She took back the notebook to make some alterations, already deeply impressed. “You just need a coefficient for the surface type. I use this for the stone gutters here. You have to use something different for marble.”

“Ah, I’d wondered about that,” Caron said. “So, the right thing to do would be to change the type and frequency of the inlets in this part of the city— that’s what I think you were saying was the right solution, and would work for years to come.” Coroniel nodded. “On the other hand, your master just wants bigger gutters basically for the drainage.”

“Which since it doesn’t actually change the volume of water, is ultimately just a temporary fix.”

“Right, but he’s ordered you to make the gutters ‘deeper’, and so, if you make the much easier modification of changing the slope here...” Caron sketched a diagram of the gutter in question and added a lip of stone as he described instead of finishing his sentence.

“You know, that might actually work.” she looked at the notebook. The sun was setting. What she should do was go back to her living quarters, and write up a new proposal for the Iron District drainage issues. But what was the point? She snapped her notebook close with a decisive crack. She’d been working all day on problems that were entirely self made by the city department. She’d been vague on her plans for the evening, but now she made up her mind to at least spend part of her day enjoying herself.

She looked at Caron. “Listen, my friends and I were going to visit a new tavern near here this evening, would you like to join us for a drink?”

Caron smiled again, clearly delighted to be asked. “I would love to join you.”

~

The tavern was warm and dim, filled with the mouth watering aroma of fried onions that were the specialty here and the reason Therion had suggested this tavern instead of their usual spot. Someone was playing a pipe in the corner, which Coroniel could have done without, but the general sound of conversation and good cheer still immediately put her at ease, and she could feel her bad day slightly lift from her shoulders.

She spotted Alassion waving from a corner table where everyone was already seated. She returned the wave and began to weave her way through the tables and standing groups of chatting elves, Caron following behind.

“You made it! I thought you’d be stuck working again this evening.” Lodrien shifted on the bench, making room for Coroniel. 

“You would not believe the day I had. You are unbelievably lucky to work for yourself.” Lodrien had her own woodworking shop, and frequently teased Coroniel about her troubles with bureaucracy. As the table’s curious glance turned to Caron, she belatedly remembered her manners.

“Oh, this is Caron! He’s new to Gondolin, and I thought he could use a proper introduction to our taverns.”

“Caron! Delighted to meet you. I’m Therion.” Therion moved over on his bench. “Please sit down!”

Coroniel rolled her eyes. They often joked that Therion would flirt with anything on two legs; she shouldn’t be surprised that it extended to strange vagrant elves that she dragged in.

“Thank you.” Caron sat down and looked around at the table of confused and curious elves. “I take it it’s been awhile since you met someone new to Gondolin?” 

Côlwen raised her eyebrows. “You could say that.”

Coroniel waved down a server and ordered two beers. “I’m sorry, let me do real introductions. Everyone, this is Caron. He’s a refugee from Nargothrond and currently working as a smith down in the Iron District.”

Alassion interrupted. “We’re taking in refugees from Nargothrond?”

“Ah, not really. It’s just me I think.” Caron looked sheepish. “Everyone has seemed quite surprised that I showed up.”

“The elf who so rudely interrupted me,” Coroniel continued, “is Alassion, who is, I’m sure, just annoyed that I found out something interesting before him. He works in Lord Penlod’s household and his mother is a steward there, so normally he has all the latest gossip.”

“I can’t believe I hadn’t heard there was a new elf. Have you been to Court yet?” Alassion asked.

“Yes, but, you know, it was the public day, so it was very crowded when I was there. I think I talked with the right people.” Caron waved his hand vaguely. 

Coroniel gestured at the elf sitting next to Caron. “You’ve already met Therion. He works as an archivist and editor for Pengolodh.

“And this is Lodrien, she’s a carpenter, and the only one of us who wasn’t born in Gondolin.”

“I’m not that old; I wasn’t of age when I was taken to Gondolin by my relatives.” Lodrien always insisted on adding that detail—she never wanted to be mistaken for the group mother.

“I’m in a similar position,” Caron said with a smile. “I wasn’t of age when we left Beleriand. Everyone always assumes I’m several yeni older than I am because of my eyes.”

“And finally, we have Côlwen. She is also a smith in the employ of the House of the Golden Flower.”

“Oh, what kind of metalwork do you do?” Caron asked.

“I work mostly with precious metals. I made the bracelet Therion is wearing,” Côlwen replied.

Caron took Therion’s proffered wrist and examined the bracelet. “It’s very nice.”

“And what kind of work do you do,” Côlwen asked, politely making conversation.

“I’ve done all kinds really. I mostly started with weapons when I was younger. I had some more fun projects in Nargothrond. Today, I made some iron hinges.” Caron shrugged self-deprecatingly. “Listen, how do you start working for one of the Great Houses? Hinges are fine, but they don’t pay much and I desperately need to find a new place.”

Côlwen cackled. “Welcome to Gondolin! Where the fountains spray, the towers soar, and it’s impossible to find a place to live or work without at least two family connections. My father is also a smith for Lord Glorfindel, so that’s how I found my place in his household.” She drummed her fingers on the table thinking. “Sometimes the Great Houses do take on additional staff—people marry, or leave to do some other line of work, but it’s rare. You’d probably have to show some current work, and work for a trial period. And that’s only if you manage to get your foot in the door—you’d need some sort of connection to do that.”

Caron nodded. “I do have a sword I forged myself, and something else I created in Nargothrond. I wish I could make something new, but the forge I’m working with right now is painfully inconsistent, and of course I don’t have any money for materials.

While Caron and Côlwen talked about their craft, Lodrien surreptitiously turned and murmured to Coroniel, “So are you getting into the medli game?”

“What?” she knew what medli meant, a Sindarin word for bear that was used as a colloquialism for a rich benefactor, usually with a suggestive undertone. “I don’t have enough money to be a medli .”

“But he’s clearly very poor. Just buy him some nice clothes, take him out, I’m sure he’d be so grateful.” Lodrien waggled her eyebrows.

“But why?” Coroniel asked, blocking her mouth with her mug as she took a sip of beer.

“Because he’s gorgeous! Honestly Cori, I know you said you were done with pure Noldos, but I’d make an exception here.”

“He does have a nice smile.” Coroniel looked at Caron with a frown. She’d really only seen the ragged clothes, and the gaunt frame before. She noticed now that the short hair, simply tied back, had a silvery undertone that set it apart in a sea of dark haired elves. And he did have a nice face, fine boned and even; he’d probably be quite beautiful once he gained back some weight.

Speaking of, “Did anyone order the famous onions Therion was talking about?” Lodrien looked at Coroniel with fond exasperation, and then looked about for someone to place an order with.

Therion took the opportunity to catch Coroniel’s eye and make a lewd gesture, followed by a quick indication between her and Caron, and a small shrug. Coroniel sighed and subtly signaled that Caron was up for grabs. She felt slightly bad, but she had warned Caron on the way to the tavern. She blamed Gondolin more than anything else. It was all well and good if you met your soulmate here, but for those who remained single, the pool of available partners was limited. She was probably due to have a one night stand with Therion again, and the Valar knew that that didn’t end well for anyone.

Caron and Côlwen were still talking shop. “So you seem to actually know what you’re talking about.” Côlwen was looking at Caron with growing appreciation. “But I still think your theory on tempering steel is heretical.”

“Give it a chance!’ Caron was leaning across Therion, his expression earnest. “Next time you're working with a ferrous alloy, try it, and I promise you won’t regret it.”

“If you're into experimental techniques, then I think you should try to join the House of the Mole. They only take the best though.”

“I am skilled, it’s not just words,” Caron said, no boastful tone in his voice.

“The House of the Mole is actually nearby,” Coroniel put in, glad to have a chance to derail the metallurgical conversation. “I think the table over there is a group of Mole smiths.” She nodded at a nearby table, where several elves in matching black surcoats sat talking.

Caron hummed in consideration, eyeing the nearby table.

“I know who you look like!” Alasssion shouted, throwing his arms up dramatically and almost upsetting the dish of onions a server was bringing to their table.

“Sorry, sorry!” Alassion helped steady the dish and apologized profusely to the server. “But,” and he gestured at everyone, still quite excited, “doesn’t Caron remind you of someone?”

The table humored Alassion for a moment looking at Caron. Caron flushed a little and nervously looked at their faces, before hiding his face as he sipped from his mug

“I don’t see whatever you’re seeing, Lass,” Côlwen finally put in.

“He looks like the sexy Fëanor in the Lairus Gallery!” Alassion looked around, still quite excited.

Therion looked at Caron closely. “I still don’t see it.”

“That’s because you're thinking of the constipated Fëanor in the Royal Gallery. I’m not talking about that one. I’m talking about the painting at the Lairus; you know, the Gallery that has that deeply homoerotic painting of Oromë and Tulkas that Lord Galdor threw a fit over?”

“Oh, oh, I see it!” Lodrien had caught Alassion’s excitement. “The painting where Fëanor is shirtless, and he’s crafting the silmarils, and his arms are out like this,” she thrust her arms out, narrowly missing Coroniel’s face, “And he has that almost orgasmic expression on his face.”

“That’s the one!” Alassion piled some onions on his plate, satisfied that at least one person understood him.

“Caron, I am so sorry. Also, I definitely see it.” Coroniel tried to look apologetic.

“I guess I should just be happy I’m not constipated Fëanor.” Caron still looked embarrassed, and had a hand over his face, partially obscuring it. “I can’t believe you have a shirtless Fëanor painting in Gondolin.”

“At least Fëanor’s dead, thank the Belain,” said Therion. “There’s that nude of Lady Galadriel that I can’t believe anyone had the balls to paint.”

Caron had turned to Therion, a small frown on her face. Nude Galadriel is probably too far. His loyalty to the House of Finarfin is probably quite deep after serving King Finrod and King Orodreth, Coroniel thought. She tried to change the conversation, “I imagine it was a bit different in Nargothrond. I know it was also a hidden kingdom, but it seemed like I was always hearing about interesting people showing up there.”

“Yes, I can’t believe you let me go on about Gondolin for so long when we finally have someone to talk to who’s been beyond Tumladen!” Côlwen said.

As the friends began to ask after people and events that had just been rumors to the Gondolindrim, Coroniel was relieved to see that Caron had relaxed and seemed to be enjoying himself. Maybe we haven’t scared him off for good she thought. She was glad, he was the first interesting person she’d run into for years, and the group needed a fresh face.

Several more pints of beer were ordered that evening, and more platters of onions. As the hourly bells chimed, Caron suddenly sat up. “What time is it?”

“I think that’s the Methed bell,” Alassion said.

“Shit. Shit! I need to be back in my room.” Caron stood up.

“What, do you have a curfew?” Côlwen snickered.

“I do.” Caron was completely serious. “If my landlord doesn’t kill me, maybe I’ll tell you about the difficult housing situation I’m in someday.”

“Yes! We’ll be back here at the Moody Mole in two days time—you should join us if you’re still living.” Therion gave him a hopeful look.

“Thanks, I probably will.” With a brief wave, Caron hurried out of the tavern.

“Excellent find Coroniel!” Therion said after watching Caron leave with appreciation.

“Honestly, I can’t believe he didn’t walk out hours ago after that performance.” Coroniel levelled a glare at the table, kicking Alassion at the end for good measure.

“I imagine he’s lonely.” Lodrien looked thoughtful. “It was hard enough coming to the city as a child, and I had my Aunt and Uncle with me. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be in a strange city without family.”

“Hm.” Côlwen swirled the dregs of her wine around her glass. “I think he’s highborn. When we were talking, his pattern of speech sometimes reminded me of Lord Glorfindel’s. I bet if I spoke to him in Quenya, I could figure it out immediately.” 

“Highborn.” Coroniel wrinkled her nose. “But he’s a smith.”

“Noldor nobility always have a million hobbies. Did you catch what he said about his time in Nargothrond? He just said he worked on projects. That’s what someone would say if they were doing things as a hobby,” Côlwen said.

“That’s exactly what I’d say if you asked me what I did.” Coroniel shook her head. “Just ask him next time you see him.”

They left not long after, dispersing to their separate homes. As Coroniel made her way to her room in the Willow District, her mind was full of thoughts of the outside world. She loved Gondolin; it was the only home she’d ever known. But hearing from Caron of all the peoples and news from elsewhere made her realize there was an ache in her heart to explore beyond Tumladen. Even her private thoughts about leaving Gondolin felt traitorous though. They were safe here, and hoping to leave someday was tantamount to hoping for the end of Gondolin.

Chapter Text

“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. 

“Really?”

“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.

Chapter Text

After their successful shopping trip and lodging hunt, Coroniel and Caron began spending time together most evenings, even when they didn’t meet the others at the Moody Mole. In Caron, Coroniel had someone who was eager to talk about topics beyond court gossip, and the latest news of sport and art. He’d experienced more of the world than Coroniel could fathom, and approached every topic with an intensity of interest that she found daunting, yet exciting. In other ways though, he was completely inexperienced. He needed help with figuring out simple tasks, like how laundry was done in the city, and could be astonishingly naive about concepts like money

A week after they went on their tour of rentable properties in Gondolin, Caron moved out of Tinnedir’s room. Coroniel went along to help. He still had very few belongings—with his new clothes still being sewn, everything he owned fit in a single bag. Coroniel was needed for the important role of distracting Tinnedir while Caron made his getaway.

On the first day Caron could move into his new place, Coroniel showed up at Tinnedir’s house prepared. Tinnedir opened the door and looked at her suspiciously.

“I think Caron is busy.”

“Oh, is he? Could you let him know I stopped by?” Coroniel said.

“Yes.” Tinnedir was already trying to shut the door in her face. Coroniel shoved her foot forward.

“Actually, you might be able to help me with this.” Tinnedir blinked at her, surprised by the turn in the conversation.

“You like geology, don’t you?” The smile on Coroniel’s face was immovable.

Tinnedir now seemed completely out of his depth. For a moment, Coroniel felt bad for him. It was hard being anything but normal in the perfect, glittering city of Gondolin. She steeled herself, remembering Caron’s face when cornered. Being strange didn’t give anyone permission to invade the reasonable boundaries someone else erected.

“Can I come in?”

“Yes, I suppose you can.” Tinnedir let Coroniel into the sitting room.

“Wow,” Coroniel said, projecting as much as she could. “Are those rocks new?”

“Yes!” Tinnedir did not need much prompting to start talking about his recent finds. Coroniel nodded along, and willed Caron to hurry up. Their agreed upon plan was that he would be packed and ready to go when Coroniel stopped by after work. She didn’t know how long she could distract Tinnedir.

She heard a sound from the doorway leading to Caron’s room. Mam and Caron appeared at the same time, almost running into each other. Tinnedir heard the noise and began to turn.

“Tinnedir! I was so interested in your rocks I almost forgot why I came here!” Coroniel shoved her hand in her pocket and pulled out the rock she had brought with her. “Does this not look exactly like the Tower of the King?” Tinnedir’s turn was arrested, and he looked at her rock in interest.

“It does.” he peered at it closely. “Indeed it does. Where did you find such a treasure?”

In the doorway, Mam had grabbed Caron’s arms, and her mouth had begun working, the preamble to a shriek. His eyes met Coroniel’s; they held genuine concern.

Coroniel tried to make her face as serious as she could. “I found it in the courtyard…” she paused dramatically and opened her eyes wide, “of the Tower of the King!” She was rewarded by a gasp from Tinnedir.

In the doorway, Caron picked Mam up, and spun her around so that she was facing the same direction she had been walking in.

“Thank you so much for your hospitality,” Caron had practically run to the front door, and was speaking quickly, “But I’ve found a new place to live. Everything I owe you for the rest of the month is on the dresser.” Caron wrenched open the door, and motioned urgently to Coroniel.

Coroniel shoved the rock into Tinnedir’s hands and ducked around him. “Thanks for the rock talk!” She dashed for the door, quickly following Caron out, and ran along with him down the street.

~

“And so now, I essentially have two Masters, one who actually knows engineering, and I have to run everything by him, but I do not technically report to him, and the other who knows nothing, but I still have to tell him everything I’m doing, and for some reason he’s my direct superior ” As she spoke, Coroniel shredded the rag she’d been holding, tearing it into progressively smaller pieces.

Caron hummed in sympathy from where he was lying on her bed. They still tended to spend time at Coroniel’s place even though Caron had moved out of Tinnedir’s room last week. Despite the impractical scale of her room, it was still better than the uninsulated lean-to Caron was living in. Coroniel was pretty sure it was illegal for the landlord to be renting that space to someone and told Caron that, but Caron had assured her that if anything, he considered an off the books residence a perk.

“Did you ask about prospective apprentices?” Caron asked.

Coroniel groaned. “Apparently new apprentices are ‘not indicated by staffing projections’. I tried to argue against that by showing the huge pile of files on my desk, but he just asked if I needed help ‘prioritizing’.”

“They are all idiots, and you would be an amazing Master. Gondolin does not deserve you.”

“Caron, you’re the only one who understands me. Thanks for listening to me whine for the past hour.” She sat down on the bed by his feet.

“It’s the least I could do after you listened to me complain about having to redesign the fire grate for that lady three times.”

“Anytime,” Coroniel said absently. She was now studying Caron, who was lying very still with his eyes closed.

“When’s the last time you ate?”

“Breakfast this morning.”

“Want me to grab some food right now?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Coroniel sighed. Caron had begun dodging her attempts to feed him. She suspected that beneath his agreeable surface, he was deeply proud. Côlwen had never received a straight answer from him when she’d asked if he was highborn, but Coroniel was beginning to suspect she was right.

“If you waste away from hunger, Lord Maeglin won’t let you into the House of the Mole.”

“I’m not going to waste away. Theoretically, the Eldar can go for very long periods of time without food. My—Maedhros lasted for months without food on Thangorodrim, although we suspect there was some sort of dark magic involved. When I lived in Aman, there were stories about Vanyar who would meditate for years without eating or drinking, sustained by their One-ness with Ilúvatar.” 

Coroniel glared at him, willing him to feel her annoyance despite his closed eyes. “You’re not meditating or being tortured by Morgoth though, are you? You’re working five days a week.”

“That’s why I always have breakfast.” Caron did not seem to sense her annoyance. “Actually, I feel great. When I’m not dizzy, I feel like I have greater clarity of thought than I ever had before.”

“Well, I look forward to the groundbreaking horseshoe I’m sure you’re about to invent thanks to your new found clarity.” At that, Caron did open his eyes to shoot her an irritated look. His mind-numbing boredom with his current work was a sore spot with him. 

“You should come with me to my parent’s house on Rodyn for dinner.” Coroniel could hardly believe the words coming out of her mouth. She could already imagine the countless embarrassing things her family would say to Caron. Oh well, eating Rodyn dinner with her family was practically a right of passage for her friends—her other friends had just had the experience years ago. Her mother loved when a crowd came over, and Therion and her other friends still occasionally ate with them.

Caron bit his lip. “Really, I’m fine. You don’t have to impose on your parents.”

“Don’t be ridiculous—it’s not an imposition. My mother’s people have a tradition of a giant weekly meal with the whole tribe. Since she followed my father to Gondolin, she’s kept up the tradition, but on a smaller scale. But the more the merrier in her eyes.”

Caron pushed himself up on his elbows and stared at her for a moment, trying to decide if the offer was genuine. The assessment seemed to turn out in her favor because he flopped back down and said, “A real dinner that isn’t street or tavern food does sound nice. Do I need to wear anything or bring anything?”

“No and no, just wear something clean. We’ve had all sorts of strange folk over the years.”

“Oh, now I’m ‘strange folk’?”

“You, strange? Not at all. I can tell you're just a normal Noldorin smith, like half the city is. You didn’t show up under highly mysterious circumstances, you definitely don’t know too much about every subject under the sun, and there are no strange scars on you.”

“You can stop the sarcasm.” Caron was grinning again. “I might, might, qualify as a bit strange.”

He closed his eyes again, and for a moment Coroniel wondered if he had fallen asleep.

“Alright, I’ll be there on Rodyn.”

~

When Coroniel heard the knock at her parents door, she rushed to answer it. Somehow her mother was already at the door, crossing from the kitchen to the front room with baffling speed.

“You must be Caron, Coroniel’s friend!” Her voice pitched higher and her smile was huge. “I’m Corondes, it’s very nice to meet you.” She folded her arms and bowed, and then placed her face alongside Caron’s and hummed a single note, the old greeting of her tribe, the Eglorhoth.

“Was that a traditional greeting?” Caron asked. Coroniel suppressed a smile; Corondes would be thrilled at the question. She’d known her mother would love Caron, maybe too much. Her father was another matter, and she nervously looked towards the back of the house where he was currently located.

Her brother came sliding down the stairs, the barely controlled chaos of his movements causing her to leap back from the foot of the stairs. Eithon was not quite of age yet, and still wasn’t completely grown into his limbs. 

“Is he here?” Eithon attempted to whisper, but did not succeed in actually muting his voice. From the doorway Caron turned, and gave them both a small smile.

Eithon smiled widely in return and waved enthusiastically. Coroniel had thought it prudent to brief her family on Caron before he arrived, in an attempt to prevent them from completely embarrassing themselves. She may have made a mistake though; it was also as likely that her family would use the information she gave them to rush towards awkward questions all the quicker. Eithon was thrilled at the prospect of meeting someone who had lived outside of Gondolin, and who he was also convinced was a warrior. 

Eithon hurried to the door to greet Caron as well, Coroniel was just about to follow when she heard more footsteps on the stairs. Her brother’s betrothed, Ninquemë, smiled at her and continued down the stairs sedately. Coroniel didn’t know how her brother had ended up with a girl like Ninquemë. She seemed calm and sensible in every way, except that she was pledged to her brother.

“I’m so glad you’ve brought someone new to dinner,” Ninquemë said. “It makes your mother so happy.”

“Caron is practically engineered to delight my mother. I am worried about Atar though.” As if summoned, her father appeared from the kitchen. He stood alongside Coroniel, as if to partly shield himself from Caron’s gaze as he eyed him. 

“Hmph,” he said, clearly not impressed by Caron. Coroniel had to roll her eyes. When she had delicately put that Caron was Noldor, born in Aman, but had arrived in Beleriand The Wrong Way, her father had set down his spoon with such force she was surprised it wasn’t bent.

“You’ve invited a Fëanorian to my house?” He’d thundered. Coroniel spent several minutes listing all the reasons why her father was being ridiculous, including that Caron was younger than Eithon when the Kinslaying occurred, his previous service to Finrod and Orodreth, and most importantly, the fact that her father had publicly sworn after the Council at Mithrim to lay aside all grievances against Fëanor and his followers. In the end, he grudgingly acquiesced to having Caron join for dinner. Coroniel still feared an outburst from him though. 

Corondes had dragged Caron into the house, and appeared to be torn between talking with Caron and finishing dinner preparations. Coroniel finally went to greet Caron.

“I did warn you,” she said to Caron. Coroniel turned to her mother. “Ama, I can play hostess for a moment. The buns will burn!”

“So far,” Caron said in a low voice, “your warnings about your family were entirely exaggerated.”

“Just wait until dinner,” Coroniel whispered back.

There was the sound of a throat clearing behind them. 

“And this,” Coroniel stepped out of the way so that Caron and her father were facing each other, “is my father Felmeon.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Caron with a bow.

“Yes,” was all Felmeon said in return. After a moment of silence he walked into the kitchen to help Corondes.

“Well, that was also not as bad as you led me to believe.”

“Belain, I can’t believe he was so rude.” Coroniel put her hands over her face.

Eithon, who was still standing nearby, butted into the conversation. “Don’t mind Atar, he’s still mad about the Helcaraxë. So, and you can tell me the real number, how many orcs have you killed?”

Coroniel considered a spot of kinslaying of her own.

~

In all, dinner was not quite as bad as she feared. They were joined by her parent’s current renter, Lícissë, a Noldorin woman whose spouse had died in the Dagor Aglareb. She was an extremely pious woman, and Felmeon led a moment of silence facing West for her. Coroniel could tell her mother had suppressed a sigh as they stood up; facing West was a Noldorin tradition that Corondes thought unnecessary. She believed that the shared meal in and of itself was an act of worship that the Valar honored. Corondes was an excellent hostess though, and would do much more than standing in silence for a moment to make Lícissë comfortable in her home.

They all sat back down and Corondes began passing around plates of food immediately. She watched everyone add food to their plates like a hawk, and seemed especially pleased when Caron took heaping spoonfuls of food from the dishes. 

The conversation drifted from topic to topic, but inevitably settled on the newest arrivals to the city. Tuor had arrived in Gondolin a few weeks ago now, but it was still all anyone could talk about. Lícissë thought his arrival was yet another sign that the devotion of the people of Gondolin to the Valar would be rewarded. 

“King Turgon had always looked to the Belain to guide his decisions, and sought to shape the laws of the city in accordance with their Holy Will,” Lícissë said. “The result is that even though all of Beleriand may be plunged in darkness, Gondolin will be safe from Morgoth’s evil.”

“If only all the other strongholds of the Noldor had known about the power of faith,” Caron said mildly. “So much destruction might have been averted.” Coroniel raised her eyebrows—she hadn’t expected Caron to be the instigator of controversy this afternoon. Her brother Eithon looked excited at the prospect, while Ninquemë looked nervous.

Lícissë was surprised at Caron’s comment. Her cheeks colored slightly. “You must admit that the losses Fëanor and his sons sustained are the result of their rebellion against the Valar and refusal to live in accordance with their will. I really couldn’t say why other places have fallen.”

Caron’s expression was still nothing but calm inquisitiveness, but Coroniel thought she saw something else glittering in his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, but before he had the chance her father jumped in.

“That’s right, Coroniel said you came here from Nargothrond. Tell me, what was it like? I heard the caves were originally built by the Dwarves. Could you tell they were the original delvers from looking at the caves?”

Coroniel shot her father a relieved look. Felmeon might have been able to hold a grudge with the best of the Noldor, but after many years he also knew how to divert an argument. 

Caron blinked a few times, almost as if he was surprised that he was sitting at the dinner table. He began talking about Nargothrond without protest though, and Coroniel let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Nargothrond was a safe topic—Caron liked to talk about it so long as the subject of its fall was avoided, and the rest of the elves at the table would be interested in hearing about the other hidden city.

The conversation turned from Nargothrond to Eithon and Ninquemë’s current studies, which was fine with Coroniel. School and professional ambitions were the areas where she could needle her brother. Now hopefully, they could stay on that topic and not move to her lack of a love life.

She was so involved in harassing her brother over his recent lackluster results in his mathematics studies, that she failed to notice Felmeon staring at Caron again. He suddenly interrupted their argument.

“Caron, what did you say your Quenya name is?”

The whole table hadn’t expected the change in topic and everyone abruptly fell silent. 

“I hadn’t mentioned it. It’s Carastaro.” Felmeon was too polite to demand his other names—although he knew the other Noldo must have at least two others.

“I was only thinking that you look quite familiar. Something about your face as you were talking with Coroniel and Eithon made me think I’ve seen you before.”

Caron smiled his most endearing, heart-warming, eye crinkling smile. “I’ve been told I have one of those faces.”

“Really?” Corondes said with surprise. “I think I’d definitely remember if I’d seen you before. You are quite beautiful.”

Caron turned to her. “Thank you,” he said, still smiling. 

Felmeon seemed to be recalling his previous dislike. “Never mind, it must have just been the angle.”

“Cori dear, don’t you agree that he’s very handsome?” Coroniel suppressed a sigh. Apparently it was too much to ask that her personal life wasn’t a topic of conversation. At least she had warned Caron that her mother was likely to drop hints that Coroniel was single and that Corondnes would not mind at all if they were more than friends.

“Yes Ama, Caron is very good looking.” Coroniel’s tone was even, and hopefully signaled that there was nothing else to discuss.

“Wait Cori, did you break up with Galwen?” Eithon asked.

“Yes, at least a month ago.” Coroniel shot her brother a look, trying to convey her annoyance at his continuation of the topic.

“But you were never very serious were you?” Corondes said.

Coroniel took a deep breath, trying to suppress the anger that was rising in her. Her mother did not approve of her relationships with women, and always sought to minimize them while getting too excited whenever she was with a man. 

“I was as serious with Galwen as anyone else,” Coroniel said. Caron nudged her foot under the table, and glanced at her. She slightly shook her head. Caron had offered to pretend to be in a relationship with her after Coroniel had told him about this likely topic of conversation. Coroniel had turned the offer down - she was done trying to appease her mother.

“Speaking of relationships, I was looking at potential wedding venues the other day,” Ninquemë said. Coroniel gave her a look of gratitude, thankful for the blatant change of topic.

Corondes lit up—Ninquemë and Eithon’s upcoming wedding was one of her favorite topics.

“Oh? What was the location?”

Coroniel topped up her wine glass.

~

“Really, that went much better than I expected after your warnings,” Caron said. They’d left at the same time and were now strolling back towards their rooms.

“What? Everything I was dreading would come up did come up.”

“Everyone was so calm and cordial!”

“Calm? Did you miss the look my father gave you when my mother wouldn’t stop flirting with you? And I thought you and Lícissë were going to come to blows for a second there.”

Caron looked at her in amazement. “I was nowhere close to fighting with Lícissë.” They walked in silence for a moment. “That dinner was calmer than any single meal I ever shared with my own family.”

Coroniel perked up. Caron never talked about his family. She wondered if she could squeeze out any more details. “Really? It sounds like your family must have had some very fiery personalities in it.”

Caron gave a single bark of laughter. “That’s one way to put it.” He gave her an appraising look. “Someday I’ll tell you about my family. Just know that you’re very lucky to have parents who care for each other as much as they do. Your brother is nice as well.”

Coroniel shook her head. “If that was a nice family dinner in your eyes, I shudder to think what your experience was.”

“Cori, you have no idea.”

They walked along the quiet streets, both taking the long way back past the beautiful Steel Fountain, whose clean lines and gleaming surfaces Coroniel had always associated with the moon. She had imagined when she was young that Tilion lived there some nights, plunging down into hidden depths to celebrate in a shining hall, attended by silvery fish-maids.

“How did your parents meet?” Caron asked suddenly.

Coroniel stopped in front of the steel fountain, watching the moonlight reflected in the water. “My mother is Avarin, of the Eglorhoth tribe. They traveled from the east maybe a few în before the Noldor arrived, and as you might imagine, ended up by the Nenning river, near the source in Ered Wethrin. Life was very hard at the end for the Avari who wished to live outside the purview of Lord Círdan or King Thingol. They suffered many attacks by orcs and other foul things before the coming of the Noldor.”

Coroniel trailed her fingers over the water, attracting the attention of the fish in the fountain. “Not that most saw the Noldor as only a good thing. They just seemed like another force bent on getting them to give up their ways and live according to their whims. My mother though I think always romanticized the Noldor. Their quest for vengeance, their huge royal family, their baffling fascination with the Silmarils: it all was better than any story she’d heard.” Coroniel looked up at Caron and shrugged. “I’m guessing here a bit of course from the way my mother told me the stories. But regardless, when she heard there had been a nearby battle between some Noldor and a troop of orcs, she volunteered immediately to help any survivors.

“My father had fought there, and had been injured.” Coroniel smiled fondly. “My father usually isn’t one for fancy words, but he says when he saw my mother bending over him with ‘midnight skin and hair like starlight’ he decided that he needed a very long convalescence. He courted her for an immoderately short time by Noldorin standards and an immoderately long time by Eglorhoth standards, and they married.”

Coroniel stepped away from the fountain, and continued walking towards the Willow District. “When my father was told there was an opportunity to follow Turgon to a place hidden from Morgoth, my mother was willing to go. And here we are.” She both meant at Caron’s room and at the end of her story.

Caron was smiling softly. “That’s so romantic, and so sad. Your mother must truly love your father to follow him to a strange place without her family.”

Coroniel didn’t quite know what to say to that, she’d never thought about her parents as romantic people. 

“I do sometimes wish, or maybe just wonder what it would be like, if they hadn’t gone to Gondolin and had instead had me in Nevarst or the Falas. I imagine there are all sorts of people there. It’s hard being only one of a handful of Avari in Gondolin.” Celebrimbor looked puzzled and she tried to explain. “There are the cultural differences, which are fine now, but I was so embarrassed by them as a child. And it’s also hard looking different from all the Silvan and Noldorin elves I grew up with. With dark skin and boring Noldor hair, I think I really got the worst of my parents’ traits.”

“Really? I’m envious of you. You only look like yourself, and your brother a bit.” Caron looked up at the stars for a moment. “What I’d give to not look like anyone else.” They stood in silence for a moment; Coroniel contemplated looking like everyone else, and hating it. It was a strange thought. “You know, when I was on the run, an orc almost slashed me across the face with a knife. I was happy I ducked out of the way, because such an injury, especially if he’d cut an eye, would probably have meant death, but then I regretted it for a moment. If he’d succeeded and I lived I would be unrecognizable.” Coroniel didn’t know what to say to that.

“Well, thanks for inviting me again.” Caron leaned over and squeezed her shoulders. “I really did enjoy myself.”

After they parted ways, Coroniel walked back to the steel fountain first, reimaging her parents' love story through someone else’s eyes, treading through old imaginings of life as a Falas elf, and thinking about new perspectives.

Chapter Text

Celebrimbor slowly turned, surveying himself in the mirror in Niquisno’s shop. His new clothes weren’t fancy, but they fit him well, were clean, and bore no patches and signs of wear. He felt his nervousness for his upcoming conversation with Maeglin abate. At the very least they would let him in the door. He untied his hair and shook it out over his shoulders. He frowned; It was still short, but he could do some small twists.

“Very nice. How does it feel?” Niquisno asked.

“Excellent. I feel like a real person again.”

“Wonderful. Let me show you some options for the sleeves.”

As Celebrimbor left the shop, he began running over every topic he could imagine might come up in his upcoming interview. His plan was to go home, do something with his hair, grab his sword, and then head over the House of the Mole. He had actually walked there from his house yesterday, just to make sure he knew the best route and could anticipate any obstacles that might occur.

In his room, he twisted and retwisted his hair, trying to make sure the style was even in the tiny mirror he had. He desperately wished he had some sort ornamental pin or clip he could use. He finally stopped, out of time to attempt anything further. He still wasn’t happy with how he looked, but he hoped what he said would be more important than appearances. Celebrimbor buckled his sword around his waist after checking that it was still impeccably sharp and polished after cleaning it yesterday.

Out of anything to fiddle with, he straightened and took a deep breath. He left his room, locking the door after him, and tried to walk towards the House of Mole at an even pace.

~

Celebrimbor surveyed the House of the Mole, waiting to go inside; if he entered now he would arrive embarrassingly early. The architecture and decor were very different from the rest of Gondolin. There were no gems, colors, and fountains. Instead of carvings, flowers, and other baroque details, the lines of the gate and buildings within were clean and sparse.

Finally, when he would only be early, and not alarmingly early, Celebrimbor walked through the gates. He bowed to the guards in black livery on the other side of the gate.

“Greetings, I’m Caron of Nargothrond. I have an interview with Lord Maeglin.”

“Welcome to the House of the Mole. Go along inside, and talk to the steward, Bôrion, who will be in the office immediately on your right after entering.”

Celebrimbor thanked them and walked towards the house. He looked around at the grounds as he walked. The yard wasn’t bare—there were topiaries and trees throughout the courtyard, and some well kept beds of flowers. There were a few sculptures of abstract forms as well. As he approached the door, he noticed that what he thought was solid undecorated ebony was actually covered with runes he didn’t recognize.

Inside was much as the outside, elegant and understated, with carefully selected art and minimal colors. Celebrimbor knocked on the door immediately to his right.

“Come in.”

Celebrimbor let himself into the office and bowed to the elf behind the desk. The elf appeared to be a Noldo, with the typical dark hair and light eyes. His eyes held the brightness of Aman and his long face was serious.

“Hello, I’m Caron of Nargothrond, I’m here for an interview with Lord Maeglin.”

“Ah yes, you’re interested in a position among the smiths.” The elf set down his quill and frowned at a clock on the wall. “You’re early.” He sighed. “Well, my train of thought is broken so I might as well start your interview now. Have a seat.”

Celebrimbor quickly sat down, not wanting to irritate the steward further. 

“I’m Bôrion, Lord Maeglin’s steward. And if I may correct you on an earlier point, you may be here for an interview with Lord Maeglin. First, you have an interview with me, so I can make sure you’re worth his Lordship’s time.”

Celebrimbor tried to smile and nod, his heart sinking. This didn’t seem to be going well. Bôrion stood up and retrieved a file from a shelf.

“Let’s see, you were referred to us by Nenion. He said you had crafted a device that was both technically and magically complex. Do you have the device?”

Celebrimbor winced internally. He had not brought the device; he deemed it too risky for someone like Maeglin to examine it closely.

“No, I didn’t bring it,” he said. Bôrion raised his eyebrows. “But,” Celebrimbor continued, “I did bring a sword I crafted.” He unbuckled the sword in its sheath from his belt and laid it on the table.

Bôrion looked displeased, but lifted the sword to appraise it anyway. After examining the pommel, he unsheathed the sword and held it as he tilted it in the light. The slightly curved blade shone, and the small gems in the decorative collar at the throat of the sword sparkled in the light. Celebrimbor had been tempted to pry out the gems and sell them, but now he was glad he had kept all parts of his sword intact.

Bôrion stood and walked a few steps away from the desk. He tried a few stances, and then some practice slashes and cuts. He then sat back down.

“This is a very well made sword—its beauty does not impair its function and the balance is perfect,” Bôrion said grudgingly. He gave Celebrimbor a more thorough look than he had before. “The shape is unique, and it seems like you’ve used some techniques that I’m unfamiliar with. Can you elaborate on your process?”

As Celebrimbor began explaining how he developed the shape of the blade, relief flooded him. It seemed he would get the opportunity to at least demonstrate his expertise. When he had finished explaining the physics of the shape, he launched into an explanation of his tempering process.

Bôrion held up a hand. “Slow down. While I have some knowledge of basic smithing, I don’t know advanced concepts nor the chemistry and metallurgy you’re referencing.”

“Right, sorry, let me start over.” Celebrimbor began again, this time taking the opportunity to explain the properties of the alloy he used, and trying to remove jargon from his explanation.

By the time he finished, Bôrion didn’t look nearly as irritated as when Celebrimbor had started. 

“Well, I am assured that at the very least Lord Maeglin won’t consider your interview a waste of time.” Bôrion stood and motioned for Celebrimbor to stand as well. “Follow me; I’ll lead you to him.”

Celebrimbor breathed a sigh of relief as he followed Bôrion through the halls. He hoped there was a chance that Maeglin would be just as appreciative as his steward was.

They arrived at a pair of double doors which Bôrion rapped on rhythmically.

“Your afternoon appointment is here my lord.”

“Send him in.” Bôrion opened the doors, and motioned for Celebrimbor to step inside.

The office was dimmer than the rest of the house, with heavy velvet curtains pulled over the windows. Along the sides were shelves that seemed to be full of interesting objects and different stones and minerals. Celebrimbor wished he could take the time to examine them closely but kept himself on track and bowed to Maeglin.

As he rose, he tried to take in his cousin without appearing to stare. Maeglin’s dark eyes met his, taking him in in equal measure. Celebrimbor hadn’t seen Aredhel in years, but he thought he recognized something of her nose and the set of her chin in Maeglin’s face. He also seemed to have inherited her hair texture; his short curls were tamed with some sort of oil, but he was sure that they could be as wild as he remembered Aredhel’s hair sometimes being. 

“Lord Maeglin, allow me to introduce myself. I am Caron of Nargothrond, and I have recently arrived in Gondolin. I wish to join your house and lend my skills as a smith.”

Maeglin sat in silence for a moment, until Celebrimbor began to feel uncomfortable. Finally he said, “Have a seat. I don’t remember hearing of your coming. I would think that the news would have reached me, as a member of King Turgon’s council.”

Celebrimbor sat down, trying not to panic. “I went to the public day at court a few weeks ago. It didn’t seem like there was much interest in my arrival.” He smiled self-deprecatingly. “I’m afraid I don’t carry messages from the Belain and fated portents. I’m no one special.”

Maeglin’s face darkened at the reference to Tuor. “I do not wish to speak of the mortal.” Maeglin mastered himself, and spoke calmly again. “But, the House of the Mole cares not what your background is or who your parents are. What I care about is skill, and the ability to think beyond the bounds of tradition. What can you offer us that no one else can?”

Celebrimbor took a deep breath. “Since I was young, I have trained across all disciplines of metalwork and smithing. I can design and craft weapons, armor, tools, jewelry, and anything else you could imagine made from metal. I know jewel-craft, and can make jewels of any color and brightness to specification. I know the secrets of light and strength, and can bind the threads of Song into my work. I brought a sword I crafted years ago to demonstrate my skill.”

“Let me see the sword.” Maeglin held out his hands.

Again, Celebrimbor unbuckled his sword and placed it on Maeglin’s outstretched hands. Maeglin went through a similar process as Bôrion, but after a few practice cuts he just stood there with his eyes closed holding the sword in both hands. When he opened his eyes, he looked at Celebrimbor with amazement.

“You’ve woven words of Power into the blade. I can’t…” Maeglin trailed off for a moment, and focused on the blade. “I can’t fully grasp what the blessing is, but I can tell it would grant any one who wielded it more skill and strength then they would have otherwise.”

Maeglin walked over to the table and set down the sword. He looked at Celebrimbor closely. “My experience has been limited in many ways, but I did not think even among the Noldor many had this skill.”

“It is rare,” Celebrimbor said carefully. He thought about adding something about his training, or his years of practice, but decided to let it stand at that.

Maeglin was still standing. “A moment ago you said you were no one special. Is that true?”

For a moment, Celebrimbor was tempted to confess to his cousin. If anyone could understand why he wanted to separate himself from his father and the rest of his family it was Maeglin. His cousin had a reputation for being standoffish and difficult, but he seemed like a fair and just lord to Celebrimbor. He suppressed a shudder. The thought of becoming Celebrimbor son of  Curufin again still made him feel sick, and he couldn’t make himself tell the truth.

“Yes, I’m just an ordinary elf or no particular birth.” When did I become so adept at lying? he thought.

Maeglin continued to look at him with an unnerving stare. Finally he shook his head and sat back down.

“If you are indeed the person who crafted this sword, I think you would do quite well among the House of the Mole.” Celebrimbor sat up straighter, and something of his excitement must have shown in his face. “However, you could be lying about forging this sword. You sound like you know what you’re talking about, but it could be possible to fake the expertise.”

“I’m telling the truth.” At least this wasn’t a lie. “How can I prove my skill to you?”

“I was getting to that.” Maeglin gave him a quelling look. “I’d like you to craft a new sword, an equal to yours.” Celebrimbor excitement could not be stamped out; he could hardly contain his anticipation at the thought of creating something challenging after over a year of either being on the run or creating only the most basic of items.

“This is an honor in and of itself. The materials to craft a sword of like make to your sword are valuable, and I am trusting that you will prove equal to the opportunity.”

“Thank you my lord; I won’t let you down.” Celebrimbor looked around. “Where are the forges?”

Maeglin actually cracked a smile. “I wasn’t thinking you’d start immediately. I can have space made for you tomorrow at the soonest.”

“I’ll be there! What time?”

“Not until late morning at least. We tend to work late as opposed to being early-risers.”

“Thank you again Lord Maeglin.” Celebrimbor knew he was smiling like a fool, but he couldn’t control himself.

“I wish you luck on your project. It was good to meet you Caron.” Maeglin nodded at him to indicate the interview was over.

Celebrimbor grabbed his sword off the table and floated out of the room.

~

He was still bursting with happiness when he arrived at the Moody Mole. He caught sight of Therion and Côlwen at their usual table and made his way over to them. Côlwen looked at him and then did a double take.

“Nice outfit!” Côlwen said. 

Therion gasped theatrically. “I didn’t think you could get more handsome.”

“I just got back from my interview with Lord Maeglin.” Celebrimbor was not interested in talking about clothes.

“It must have gone well,” Côlwen said with a smile.

“Yes! All I have to do is craft a sword equal to the sword I showed him in the interview, and then I’m in.”

“Oh, your sword! You’re actually wearing it. Can I see it?” Côlwen peered at what she could see of the hilt.

“Sure.” For the third time today Celebrimbor unbuckled his sword and laid it on the table. As Côlwen began to examine it, Therion pumped Celebrimbor for more details about his interview.

“What’s Lord Maeglin like? I always heard he was a little, you know,” here Therion made a gesture that Celerimbor could not quite interpret.

He frowned at Therion. “I’m not sure what you mean. He seemed reasonable in the interview. He also is quite knowledgeable for one so young.”

Before Therion could say anything else Côlwen interrupted. “Wait, Caron, did you really make this sword?”

“Yes, of course, quite a while ago.”

She stared at him in disbelief. “But this is amazing. I’ve never seen a weapon of its like. Are you sure you can craft an equal?”

Celebrimbor laughed. “Definitely, as I said I made that several years ago. With the improvements I’ve made to my folding methods alone I could forge something much better.”

Côlwen was still gaping at him when Celebrimbor heard Coroniel call out from the doorway.

“Caron! Your new clothes look so good! And how did the interview go?” Coroniel walked in with Lodrien and Alassion and made her way to the table.

Celebrimbor began to recount the interview in detail, frequently interrupted by requests for details on the House of the Mole and its inhabitants.

“So you’ll really start work tomorrow—that’s great,” said Lodrien.

“Yes, although still on a trial basis until I can prove myself.”

“It sounds like you have no doubt you can do that though,” said Côlwen. 

“I’m not worried; getting the interview in the first place was the hard part.” Celebrimbor popped a piece of cheese in his mouth, determined to actually take his friends up on their offer to eat his fill from the shared food they purchased tonight. “I will probably not be coming to the Mole for a couple weeks though while I’m working.”

“Did Lord Maeglin put a time limit on the sword?” Côlwen asked.

“No, but I tend to get absorbed in things. I can’t wait to get started.” 

While everyone else was happily toasting Celebrimbor and sharing in his joy, Coroniel was frowning at something behind him.

“Caron, do you know the elf that’s been staring you for the past fifteen minutes?” she asked.

Celebrimbor twisted around, and saw Cemenon staring at him from the bar. 

“Ah, that’s my personal guard.”

“Oh ho, now you have a personal guard?” Lodrien raised her eyebrows.

“Yes, he’s decided that the security of Gondolin rests solely on his shoulders, and that I am, apparently, a threat to that security.” Celebrimbor shrugged. “He was one of the first elves who found me after I discovered the entrance to Gondolin, and he’s held me in suspicion after since.”

“Wait, I know him,” Côlwen said. “He’s a friend of my mother’s.” She looked thoughtful. “You know, his husband and sister both died in the crossing of the Helcaraxë. He’s never been the same since.”

Alassion shook his head. “I can’t believe he’d bear you a grudge because of that. My family lost many people on the trip across the Ice as well, but my parents are now friends with some of Fëanor’s former followers.”

Therion raised an eyebrow and Celebrimbor. “You know, if he’s bothering you, maybe I could go talk with him or something.”

Celebrimbor smothered a smile. “No, it’s fine. He just watches me.” Therion had taken to trying to make himself Celebrimbor’s protector. He wasn’t sure what Therion’s goal was, but he found the thought of the smaller elf trying to protect him amusing. He was pretty sure Therion had little training in arms and had never fought anything more than practice matches with an opponent.

Coroniel was still frowning. “I wouldn’t feel safe if anyone was looking at me that way. Maybe once you join the House of the Mole you could get Lord Maeglin to help you shake him off.”

“Maybe.” Celebrimbor was unconcerned; all he could think about was the blade he was going to start crafting tomorrow.

~

Celebrimbor showed up at the House of the Mole early again, and was briefly worried that he wouldn’t be let in wearing his ragged clothes. No one said anything to him, although he caught a few glances out of the corner of his eye, and the guards seemed to be expecting him.

One of the servants led him to the forges, and showed him his workspace. Celebrimbor began to inspect the forge, anvil, bench, and the tools available to him. While he was still investigating, the master smith arrived and introduced himself as Tulyano.

Tulyano showed him the materials he would be working with and ran through the rules of the forge. There was nothing out of the ordinary to how the smithy was run, and the forges themselves were high quality and would allow him to make the most of the materials provided.

With that, Celebrimbor started work. At first, he was worried that he had been overconfident; his skills were rusty and motions that were as natural as breathing before took thought and effort. Soon though he was working with the metal like he always had before. He could feel what was needed almost instinctively, and was attuned to the tiniest change in the structure and form of the sword he was forging.

 

Celebrimbor tried to restrain himself and come in at an appropriate time each day, but found himself in his usual habit of losing track of hours at a time. He managed to not fall asleep in any inappropriate locations in the smithy, and managed to stumble home whenever he felt exhaustion overcoming him. 

He also tried to restrain himself as he crafted the sword, but soon found himself deviating from the original design. His goal had been to craft the sibling of his own sword, but stronger and more flexible. He found the House of Mole forges and equipment different from anything he had used before, and in some ways much better. There were some features in the bellows that he recognized from the dwarves, and he wondered how anything of dwarvish make had arrived in Gondolin. Then there were the tools that were unique to him. There were files with surfaces using minerals he’d never thought to use and burners that could concentrate heat beyond anything he’d experienced before.

Occasionally, the urge to tell his father about some new feature he’d discovered popped into his mind and then a pang of sadness would follow. The sadness was less because he doubted he’d ever see his father again, and more because if he did, Curufin wouldn’t care. The joy of making had slowly seeped out of him as the Oath ate up more of his heart. He no longer cared for things because they were clever or beautiful, he only cared that he possessed them. Celebrimbor’s grief didn’t linger long though; he had resigned himself to his father’s changed personality years ago, and it was only the reminder of happier times that hurt. 

Most of all, Celebrimbor hoped he’d be able to talk with Maeglin once he was finished. He had so many questions and ideas, and he suspected that Maeglin would have something to say in response to all of them.

When he had finished, he stood in the smithy looking at the sword, reluctant to tell anyone it was done. He knew that the sword was excellent, better than his current sword, but he couldn’t stifle the fear of rejection that lurked in the back of his mind. He also had the empty feeling he always had after finishing something that he poured himself into. 

He finally made himself find Tulyano, and gave him the sword for inspection. Tulyano’s face lit up as he held it and then stepped away for a few practice swings.

“Marvelous. Marvelous! How did you—no, we will talk of that later. Let us find Lord Maeglin.”

Maeglin was in his study again, planning an expedition with some of his miners. Charts and maps were spread upon the desk, and they were holding a heated discussion over which direction they should pursue in their next endeavor.

The conversation stopped when Celebrimbor and Tulyano walked into the room. 

“Is something the matter?” Maeglin asked. 

“Caron has finished his sword and it’s ready for your assessment.” Tulyano motioned Celebrimbor to step forward with his sword. “Apologies for interrupting my lord. I think you’ll see why I am excited in a moment.”

Celebrimbor presented the sword to Maeglin with a shallow bow. Maeglin held it lightly in both hands. He found the point of balance, and balanced it on his hand. He swung the sword a few times and then handed it back to Caron shaking his head.

“It is amazing. But I think you knew that. Well, you have passed the test with flying colors. Welcome to the House of the Mole Caron.”

Celebrimbor knew he was smiling too widely, but that was better than crushing Maeglin in a hug. 

“Thank you my lord. I look forward to working together.”

Chapter Text

Coroniel drained her mug of beer, and was considering whether or not to get a second when she saw Therion sit up across from her.

“Caron’s back!” he said. Coroniel wondered if he’d finished his project; it seemed a little soon, but she was no smith.

Therion sighed. “Valar - why does he always have to look so good. Coroniel, are you sure he hasn’t said anything about me yet? I think I’ve been pretty obvious.”

Alassion rolled his eyes. “You have been extremely obvious.”

“And no,” Coroniel said. “I really don’t think he’s noticed.”

“Damn. Do you think I just have to come out and ask him if he'd like to sleep - Caron! So good to see you again! And are those new clothes?”

Coroniel looked over at Caron as he sat down next to her. Instead of his usual rags, or his outfit from Niquisno’s, he was wearing a plain linen shirt over black hose with a black tunic over everything. 

“Yes, apparently my former clothes were not adequate for a member of the House of the Mole.” Caron grinned as he broke the news.

“What? How did you finish already?” Côlwen asked, shocked.

“I might not have slept very much,” Caron replied

“I still don’t see how it’s possible if you were forging a sword anything like the one you showed us.”

A couple of elves also dressed in black came up to their table.

“Congratulations Caron! Welcome to the House,” one of them said.

“Thank you,” Caron said. “I’m looking forward to working with you.”

“Likewise! Listen, let me buy you a drink!” 

Throughout the night, the pattern repeated itself, their conversation frequently interrupted by black garbed elves offering congratulations. The table proceeded to get extremely drunk, thanks to the good will of Caron’s new House.

Coroniel chuckled to herself as she started on her fifth beer, remembering the innocent elf who had been considering whether or not to have a second drink earlier in the evening. An idea occurred to her.

“Hey, everyone!” No one looked at her. Côlwen was deeply involved in interrogating Caron - she still didn’t believe that he could have finished his sword in the time he said. Caron was trying to explain exactly how he’d done it, which was requiring more props and diagrams than Coroniel thought was necessary. Therion had taken advantage of the flowing alcohol and Caron’s need to commandeer the whole table by stationing himself next to him so that Caron was practically draped across his lap. Alassion was nodding off, and Lodrien was flirting up a storm with the smith at the neighboring table. 

“HEY!” Coroniel bellowed. The conversation suddenly stopped, and Alassion sat bolt upright with a snort. 

“We need,” she hiccuped. “We need to plan a real celeration.” She tried again. “Celebration.”

“Yes!” Therion looked at her from around Caron, who had somehow ended up in his lap. “We haven’t had a real celebration in so long.”

“What would a real celebration involve?” Caron asked. He attempted to get up, but didn’t succeed, and fell back onto Therion. Coroniel frowned, and tried to lightly kick Therion under the table. She must have misjudged the force behind her foot, because Therion slightly jumped and gave her a wounded look. Stop being creepy she mouthed. Therion just managed to look more wounded, and tightened his hand on Caron’s hip.

“Something fancy!” Alassion was now fully awake.

“Oooh.” Lodrien had turned back towards the table and was drumming her fingers against her drink. “Let’s see, last time we celebrated we had dinner at Calima and then went to that concert.”

“No concert this time,” Coroniel said. “We should go dancing or something.”

“That’s not fancy,” Alassion insisted.

“How about we go to Lindë,” Côlwen suggested.

“What’s Lindë?” Caron asked.

“The fanciest bathhouse in Gondolin,” Côlwen replied.

“I am still very poor,” Caron said.

“Don’t worry about it.” Coroniel waved her hand. “You won’t be next time we celebrate.”

“And then that new place, Túvima, for dinner?” Therion asked.

“Yes!” said Alassion. “Cori can you get out of Rodyn dinner? If so, let’s go this Rodyn.”

“Of course I can get out. I am a grown elf. I do what I want.” As she gestured, she sloshed a large quantity of beer out of her mug.

They left not long after that, pouring out into the night with more congratulations and well wishes for Caron. Despite her inebriation, Coroniel was quite proud that she won the battle over Caron with Therion. He had chased off more than one potential friend through heavy handed flirting and drunken mistakes. It had required linking arms with Caron and pulling Therion down to hiss in his ear, “You’re not allowed to ruin the most interesting person I’ve ever met,” but she’d succeeded, and deposited an unmolested Caron at his room before stumbling the rest of the way home.

~

Coroniel took a last look in the mirror before heading out the door to Lindë. She fixed her outer headscarf, checked her pockets for everything she would need, and then left her room. When they had made plans for going to a bathhouse and then a fancy restaurant, none of them had considered the complications of finding clothes that could easily be taken off and on and were suitable for a nice dinner. 

She thought she had met the need as well as she could, although she still wasn’t completely happy with her outfit. She was wearing a full length dress for once, with billowing sleeves and a full skirt. Over that, she had belted a dark grey tunic, with an asymmetrical collar that she thought made her avoid looking too much like someone in a handmaid of Vána painting. She walked towards Lindë purposefully. An important part of looking fashionable was just moving with intention.

When she arrived, she joined her friends waiting in the foyer. Once Lodrien showed up, late as usual, they were shown to the private alcove for their personal effects.

When the attendant left, after showing them the robes they could wear outside the baths, and giving them a tray of drinks to share, Côlwen carefully watched for the door to close before exclaiming, “Sooooo fancy! I think the robes are silk.”

“I doth require refreshment. Where is mine goblet?” Alassion said in attempted Valinórean Quenya.

Caron shot him an appalled look.

“Sorry, we’re not all ancient,” Alassion said as he pulled off his outer robe. Caron just rolled his eyes.

“Did anyone else find dressing for today a huge chore,” Coroniel asked.

“Belain, yes,” Therion said. “I never considered how inconvenient the latest styles are to getting naked.”

“There is one advantage to only having one set of nice clothes,” Caron said, his voice muffled as he pulled off his shirt. Once his shirt was off, he frowned at his shoulder, which had several angry red scars. He looked worried. “Do you think my scars are a problem? I never thought about how much I might stand out with them.”

“No, there are plenty of elves in Gondolin with scars that are just as impressive as yours or more. Especially since the Nirnaeth,” Coroniel said. She didn’t add that if anything made him stand out, it would be that he currently had the body composition of a greyhound; there wasn’t anything he could do about that.

Lodrien had already shed her clothes and was clearly itching to get to the actual baths. “I’m going to find us a pool.”

“Wait, I’m almost ready,” Coroniel said. She hurriedly folded her smallclothes and put them on the shelf with the rest of her things and followed Lodrien out.

Lindë had dozens of pools amid the marble columns. In the center of the room, a pillar with intricate carvings rose from the largest pool. The pillar had spouts at different heights that poured water at different pressures and temperatures, as indicated by the gems set by the spout. Rooms for dry and wet heat lined the sides of the large room. Interspersed among the pools were spaces to sit and talk, or lay down and relax.

“Can you imagine being a regular member here?” Lodrien said in a low voice.

“I cannot comprehend,” Coroniel replied. “What about this pool? I think it would fit the six of us nicely.”

“Perfect!” Lodrien slipped into the water, ducking underneath.

When she surfaced, Coroniel laughed from where she sat sitting on the edge of the pool. “Did you really want to get your hair wet?” Her own hair was still in braided coils on the top of her head. 

Lodrien looked annoyed for a moment. “Maybe not.” Her face cleared. “Oh well,” she said, and ducked under the water again.

“You may thank me now for suggesting this place,” Côlwen said as she placed her robe on a nearby bench and slipped into the pool.

Caron also slid into the water, sinking up to his chin. His eyes seemed to close involuntarily. “Valar, I had no idea I was so sore.” 

“Considering all the hammering, folding, and bellows work you must have done in the past few weeks, I’m relieved to know that you feel pain and are not some automaton,” Côlwen said with a smile.

They chatted about light topics as they relaxed, asking Caron about his new job, teasing Lodrien about the smith from the Mole who she was seeing tomorrow, and pumping Alassion for court gossip.

Coroniel was just about to suggest taking a break and heading over to one of the sitting areas when an unfamiliar voice called out to their group.

“Tyelperinquar, I didn’t know you were in Gondolin!”

Coroniel watched the color completely drain out of Caron’s previously flushed face. His expression froze in a pleasant smile, but his eyes were full of horror.

Coroniel recognized the elf approaching them as one of the oldest in Gondolin. He had been a friend of King Finwë’s and had taken part in the great journey from Cuivienen to Valinor. He was a Lord in Gondolin and a trusted advisor to King Turgon. He also seemed to know Caron.

“Tyelperinquar, when did you arrive in Gondolin? I had not heard of your coming.”

“Greetings Romwë. I didn’t realize you were in Gondolin as well. I’ve been keeping a low profile; I was not over eager to join yet another court.” Caron, or she supposed Tyelperinquar, said this smoothly, as one accustomed to talking with the ancient elders. Coroniel glanced at her friends in the pool. Alassion looked surprised, but everyone else still just looked mildly puzzled.

Romwë must have noticed their faces as well because he switched to Sindarin. “My apologies, you probably speak Sindarin with your friends. You must go by Celebrimbor these days.” He still spoke with a rolling Quenya accent, and pronounced Celebrimbor slowly and precisely. 

“Yes,” Celebrimbor said. “Only my family still calls me Tyelperinquar.” The name Celebrimbor did ring a bell, and Coroniel wracked her brain to remember which genealogy it belonged to. Was he Lord Angrod’s son? She vaguely remembered Angrod having a name below his in the family trees she’d had to memorize years ago. But that would make Caron, no Celebrimbor, one of Finwë’s lineage, and raised more questions than answers.

Romwë knelt down examined Celebrimbor’s shoulder. Celebrimbor stood up in the pool to allow him a closer look. “It looks like you’ve had some troubles to deal with.” He looked deep in Celebrimbor’s eyes, and Coroniel felt something thrum through the air. She shivered involuntarily; she didn’t think she’d ever get used to the way some elves could wield power so casually. 

“But your soul is still unshadowed, despite your trials.” Romwë looked around at them all with a smile. “And you still look exactly like your grandfather!” 

“Really,” said Alassion, the only one capable of words at this point.

“Yes, although young Fëanáro was never so thin; really Tyelperinquar, you must come to my house for dinner some time.” Coroniel’s mouth dropped open ever so slightly; she could finally visual the correct family tree.

“I’ll try to make time,” said Celebrimbor quietly. 

Romwë looked at the group in the tub and seemed puzzled. Coroniel couldn’t imagine what their faces looked like at the moment. “Well, I’ll let you get back to your friends. I’m sure I’ll see you in court soon. I’ll let King Turgon know we ran into each other.”

“Farewell,” Celebrimbor said, the frozen smile still on his face. With a small bow Romwë left.

For a long moment, no one said anything. Finally Alassion broke the silence.

“Well, I guess now we know that the Fëanor in the Lairus Gallery is actually the most accurate. Who would have thought?”

“How are you joking about this,” Therion said, fury in his voice.

Lodrien cracked a small smile. “I mean, it’s a little funny that we’re sitting in a pool with Fëanor’s grandson, and what, Curufin’s son?”

“I renounced my father.” Celebrimbor’s voice was toneless. He was still standing, frozen in one place.

Coroniel was still wishing that she had paid closer attention to history in school, and current events as an adult.

“You’re still Curufinwë, son of Curufinwë, son of Curufinwë. And a liar.” Côlwen spat out the words with such venom that Coroniel turned to her in surprise.

“I assume Caron is still your what, mother name? He hasn’t really lied; when we asked about his family he just declined to tell us.” Coroniel didn’t understand Côlwen’s ire. She didn’t feel like Caron had been lying about who he really was. He hadn’t been hiding his intelligence, or his skill. He also hadn’t pretended to have an unshadowed past or masked how he had arrived in Beleriand. If anything, his name was just a final puzzle piece that tied together all the other pieces she’d fit together around that missing piece. 

“Just lying about being of the House of Fëanor,” Therion yelled. Alassion anxiously glanced around, a few elves were looking over at them.

“Calm down Therion,” Lodrien said. “So what? You didn’t care last night.”

“I didn’t know he was one of their spawn last night! I thought he was just some kid who was dragged across by his parents.”

“I mean, I can now say for a fact he wasn’t lying about his age,” Alassion said. “I think he is still some kid who was dragged across by his parents.”

“Do you know what your family did?” Therion now addressed Celebrimbor.

“Something awful I’m sure.” Celebrimbor was still speaking in a monotone, but at least he turned to look at Therion now. He didn’t flinch from the rage in the other elf’s face.

“We’d been living in peace for so long, until your family came along. Fëanor’s wars killed more than just him. The orcs killed almost everyone in my village, and enslaved most of my family.” 

“You don’t even know what you’re talking about. My aunt and uncle told me we were under constant attack before the Noldor showed up,” Lodrien said, glaring. “What I don’t understand is why you care so much; you were born in Gondolin, Therion.”

“Don’t you care about your family?” Therion asked.

“How can you say that?” Lodrien’s eyes flashed. Unlike Therion, both of her parents were dead, killed by Morgoth’s forces before Turgon had even discovered Tumladen. 

“I should go.” Celebrimbor looked between Lodrien and Therion.

“Don’t bother.” Côlwen left the pool, her eyes snapping in fury. “I’ll not break bread with a liar.” Therion followed her. He looked back at Alassion, Lodrien, and Coroniel. “I can’t believe you’re siding with him.”

“What side?” Coroniel asked.

“You need to calm down,” Alassion said. Therion’s mouth worked in a wordless rage, before he spun on his heel and stalked after Côlwen.

Celebrimbor finally slumped on one of the benches beneath the water and put his head in his hands. 

“I’m so sorry.”

“They’re overreacting,” Lodrien said. “Holding onto grudges from before they were born. Pinning the faults of your father onto you.”

“But really, how long did you think you could go before someone recognized you? It’s amazing you went this long,” Alassion said, with a slight shake of his head.

Celebrimbor sighed. “I know. I don’t know what I was thinking. Only that it was really nice to not be seen as doomed, or my father. Or my grandfather.”

Coroniel studied him. Celebrimbor looked defeated. She tried to imagine not wanting to be yourself so badly that you would rather starve, live in the worst places Gondolin had to offer, and do the most mind numbing work there was for pennies. She couldn’t.

“You know, I meant what I said. I don’t feel deceived; I think in a way you were really honest with me,” she told him. Her brow furrowed with concern. “I don’t think King Turgon is going to feel that way though.”

“Sweet Manw ë ,” Alassion said with alarm. “Nor will Lord Maeglin feel that way.”

“Shit. I hadn’t even thought about Maeglin.” Celebrimbor finally seemed to be panicking. “Alassion, which one is more likely to kill me? If I confess to that one first, I only have to go through the ordeal once.”

“King Turgon. He has the legal right.” Alassion was completely serious. “But actually, I think you need to tell Lord Maeglin first. I think you have a few days until Lord Romw ë will speak with King Turgon, but you’re supposed to see Lord Maeglin tomorrow .”

“Right,” said Lodrien. “I would likely officially repurpose Caron’s celebration outing into Typerinquar’s rescue outing.”

“Yes, we can still go out to eat, and well, I was going to say pretend we’re lord and ladies, but this must all seem rather ordinary to you,” Coroniel said.

“Not really, Gondolin is more lavish than Nargothrond, and certainly more so than Himlad. It might be even fancier than Tirion, although my memory might be suspect.”

A thought occurred to her. “Will you still be able to help carry that dresser I found up to my room tomorrow, Tyelperinquar?” She wrinkled her nose. “Elbereth, what a mouthful.” 

Celebrimbor actually cracked a small but genuine smile. “You can call me Celebrimbor. And yes, if Lord Maeglin doesn’t kill me I can still help with the dresser.”

“Yeah, ‘Celebrimbor’ is not much better,” Coroniel said.

Lodrien nodded. “You’re going to need a nickname. After we figure out how to tell Lord Maeglin and King Turgon about your secret identity, we can tackle your name.”

Celebrimbor looked between all of their faces. He still looked overwhelmed, but he had lost his deathly pallor.

“Thank you. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to speak to me again.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Coroniel said. “If I was willing to be your friend when you were a ragged vagrant destined to be locked in a murder attic, of course I’ll be your friend when you’re a lord.”

Celebrimbor shook his head. “I’m still basically a ragged vagrant. Just now I’m a politically problematic ragged vagrant.”

Chapter Text

Celebrimbor had thought he had been nervous the first time he stood in front of the House of the Mole—that was nothing compared to what he felt now. He had a knot in his stomach that had nothing to do with hunger. He stood outside the gates for a few minutes, steeling himself to walk in. With a deep breath, he walked through the gates.

He tried to smile and nod to the few people who greeted him as he walked through the grounds. When he arrived at Bôrion’s office, there was no response when he knocked. This was a difficulty he hadn’t anticipated—what if he couldn’t find Bôrion or Maeglin? He began to wander through the house, feeling awkward as servants shot him looks.

Just as he was about to give up, he heard voices from one of the rooms. He looked through the doorway and saw Maeglin and Bôrion discussing something while Maeglin ate breakfast. He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders in the doorway.

“Caron, what are you doing here?” Bôrion asked.

“Pardon, but I have an urgent matter to discuss with Lord Maeglin.”

“So urgent you couldn’t wait to schedule some time with me?” Maeglin said, with a raised eyebrow.

“I have something to confess,” Celebrimbor said, trying to surreptitiously wipe his sweaty palms on his shirt.

“Already?” Maeglin asked with some amusement. “You’ve only been here a few days; what could you have possibly done in that time?” Celebrimbor remained standing awkwardly, not sure how to respond.

“Well sit.” Maeglin gestured to a chair at the table. Celebrimbor glanced at Bôrion.

“Anything you need to say to me you can also say to Bôrion,” Maeglin said with a frown. Celebrimbor had practiced what he would say, but now found all his words had fled.

After a moment of awkward silence, Maeglin said, “out with it.”

“I was not entirely truthful when I told you who I was,” Celebrimbor started. He watched as Maeglin’s face darkened, but pushed on. “We are actually cousins of a sort. Caron is the Sindarin translation of my mother-name, but I’m more commonly known by my epessë, Celebrimbor.”

Maeglin did not immediately react to that, and Celebrimbor realized he would have to spell out the family tree further.

“My father is Curufin, son of Fëanor.” Recognition dawned on Maeglin’s face.

“So, when you said you were no one special, that was a lie?”

Celebrimbor wanted to protest, he was not of the opinion that he was particularly special, but he knew that was missing Maeglin’s meaning. 

“Yes.” He didn’t know what else to say.

“And why are you telling me this now?” Maeglin asked.

Celebrimbor winced. “Someone recognized me.”

“So, because you were going to be forced out of your assumed identity, you decided now you could deign to be honest with me.” A thought seemed to occur to him. “Does King Turgon know?”

Celebrimbor swallowed. “Not yet.” Valar, this sounded awful . “I will be announcing myself to him after meeting with you.”

“Do you wish me to provide some sort of coverage for you?” Maeglin looked disgusted.

“No, not at all. I just thought since I was already known to you, I should speak to you first.” Celebrimbor gnawed on his lip. “I have no expectation for any intercession from you on my behalf. You can do with me what you wish.”

“I ought to have you whipped,” Maeglin said. Celebrimbor tried not look too taken aback; he did not think Gondolin doled out such barbaric punishments. From Bôrion’s expression, he was also surprised at Maeglin’s words.

“That would be your right; I am still a member of your House.” Celebrimbor met Maeglin’s eyes. Maeglin looked away.

“I will let the King deal with you.” He drummed his fingers against the table, trying to decide what to do with Celebrimbor. “What were you thinking? You’re of the line of Finwë, someone was bound to discover you. And as I understand it, there are many who bear no love for your side of the family.”

Celebrimbor sighed. “You are correct. And I wasn’t thinking. Or rather, I was only thinking of the temporary respite of being able to truly divorce myself from my father.”

For a moment, Celebrimbor thought he saw something vulnerable and raw in Maeglin’s eyes, and briefly he wondered what would have happened if they could have met as kin, in other circumstances. Before he could say anything though, Maeglin’s face hardened and the moment was gone.

“I’m not sure you can be trusted to go to King Turgon, given how duplicitous you’ve been so far.” Maeglin looked over at Bôrion. “How should we deal with him?”

“I cannot spare the time today, but I agree that he should be watched. I can get one of your guards to escort him to the palace.”

“Good, do that,” Maeglin said. He looked again at Celebrimbor. “This is immensely disappointing. I’ll have to think about how to deal with you further.” Celebrimbor felt like an embarrassed child in the presence of his younger cousin. “Now, I have many other things to do.” Maeglin gathered up some of the papers on the table, nodded at Bôrion, and strode out of the room.

Bôrion gave Celebrimbor an utterly exhausted look, but all he said was “follow me.” Celebrimbor tagged along behind Bôrion as he dispensed orders in the kitchen, to a few secretaries, and to a number of other servants. Finally he led him outside to the guardhouse and explained the situation to the captain of the guards.

“And so, Lord Maeglin would like someone to escort Celebrimbor to the Palace, and make sure the situation is accurately described to the King, and any necessary actions that his Lordship should take make it back to him,” Bôrion finished. 

The captain, an elf named Intyamo, nodded gravely, but his eyes held faint amusement. “I understand, and I can certainly find someone to undertake this duty.” He closed the ledger he’d been writing in. “You can leave him to me,” he said to Bôrion. With a last suspicious look at Celebrimbor, Bôrion thanked Intyamo and left.

Intyamo stood. “Uilo, I’m heading out. The approved rosters are on my desk.” He turned to Celebrimbor. “I’ll take you to the palace myself.”

Outside the gates of the House of the Mole, Intyamo laughed aloud. “I cannot believe your family is still such a disaster.”

Celebrimbor, walking quickly to keep up with Intyamo, thought he must have misheard. “Pardon?”

Intyamo shook his head. “Another lifetime ago, I was friends with your Uncle Nelyafinwë. You probably don’t remember me, but I remember you. I actually sailed across the sea with Fëanor’s host. My wife, who is less of a fool than I, was one of Fingolfin’s people and so we were able to choose to go to Gondolin with King Turgon. I am grateful for the choice we made no matter how bitter the sundering; it was very clear to me by that point that your family invites calamity as light invites insects in the night. That you would go as far as you did to shake your association with them is not surprising to me.” Here he chuckled again. “However ill-conceived an idea it may be. You do know who you look like?”

Celebrimbor sighed. “I am aware.” After a moment, “I shouldn’t feel insulted given that I agree with everything you’ve said, but I still am.”

Intyamo clapped him on the shoulder. “There’s that family pride. If I hadn’t already been sure of your identity, I would be now.”

~

The nerves that abated somewhat while walking and talking with Intyamo came back in full force once they were in the palace. Intyamo had taken him to someone whom he assumed was Turgon’s head secretary and then had stepped back, leaving Celebrimbor to announce himself. At the name Celebrimbor Curufinion of the House of Fëanor, the secretary’s eyebrows almost shot off of his forehead. He’d guided them further into the palace before leaving them in a hallway in front of some imposing marble doors.

That had been an hour ago, and with every passing minute Celebrimbor’s anxiety rose as he contemplated the upcoming conversation. It was clear that Turgon would not turn him out of Tumladen, with how many times he’d been told he was forbidden from leaving under pain of death. He was also fairly certain Turgon wouldn’t order him to be summarily executed, although as the seconds ticked on he became less and less certain. He wondered if they had prisons in Gondolin, or maybe some sort of mini exile outside the bounds of the city, but still within the valley.

Finally, the door opened, and a steward invited them inside.

Celebrimbor had thought he’d been waiting in front of a council chamber, but inside he could see that it was actually a large office. They walked through an antechamber, with tables and chairs set up so that the room could be used for meetings. At the far end was another set of doors; these were much smaller than the outer doors and made of wood. 

The steward knocked on the doors. “Come in,” said a voice from within.

Celebrimbor had another moment of panic when he realized that however many times he had gone through what he would say to Turgon, he had not considered how he would greet him. The casual way he greeted him the last time he had seen him when Turgon was High King Fingolfin’s second son, was very different from how he should greet him now, as High King of the Noldor in the East. Certainly, groveling was an option, but he didn’t think completely abasing himself would endear him to Turgon either. 

As the steward introduced him, he sank to one knee and bowed his head. “Hail Turukáno, High King of the Noldor.”

There was a moment of silence before Turgon said, “Rise, Tyelperinquar.”

Celebrimbor was surprised by how different Turgon looked now. It wasn’t just his shining crown, or the layers of necklaces, intertwined with symbols of kingship, although both were very different from the basic clothing and simple jewelry Celebrimbor remembered him wearing. His whole manner had changed: Turgon’s bitterness had been transformed to sternness; the arrogance that he once had was now replaced by an air of wisdom.

He also had an air of complete exasperation. “I should have known even my strongest wards and bewilderments wouldn’t be enough to keep you people out.”

“I really did have a hard time finding the city,” Celebrimbor offered.

“Did you consider that that was on purpose?” Turgon asked. He sighed. “Sit down, you're here so I need to figure out what to do with you, like it or not.” Celebrimbor quickly sat down.

Turgon turned to Intyamo. “Welcome Captain Intyamo, please have a seat. it’s good to see you again. I trust my nephew sent you along for some purpose?”

“Yes,” said Intyamo, sitting down. “Celebrimbor has actually been known to us for several weeks, although he was going by the name Caron, and did not share his true identity. Lord Maeglin thought it would be wise to send someone along to make sure he actually made it here and gave an account of himself.”

“Can you explain why you’ve been in the city for weeks, but I am just learning about it now?” Turgon asked Celebrimbor.

There was nothing for it. “Well, I’ve actually been here for several months.”

“And why did you not come to me immediately?” Turgon punctuated his question by rapping his knuckles on the table with each word.

Celebrimbor swallowed. “I had no nefarious designs. I just…” He trailed off, trying to figure out a way to say what he felt. “I just had a chance to truly separate myself from my father and the rest of my family. There were no expectations, no notoriety, and no assumptions before anyone even spoke to me.”

Turgon sighed heavily. “You understand how someone from Fëanor’s branch of the family living here in secret could be construed? Because I do know you, at least I did know you, I have some confidence that you did not mean anything treasonous or otherwise evil of it, but that will not be how everyone sees it.”

Celebrimbor closed his eyes. “I know.”

“We’ve also had experiences with the thralls of Morgoth. Elves we thought were free, but were still shackled to Morgoth in their hearts.” Turgon searched his face, looking for a telltale flinch.

Celebrimbor held his gaze. “I was not held captive by Morgoth. I also heard there was a place in Gondolin for those who had been enslaved by Morgoth and that you were not one to turn away those in need.”

Turgon sighed and looked out a tall window that overlooked the eastern part of the city. “It has been many years since we rescued any of those folk.” He turned back to Celebrimbor. “Well, come now. Give an account of what you’ve been doing in secret in my city. Spare no details.”

Celebrimbor proceeded to tell Turgon of everything he had done in Gondolin since his arrival. He spoke of his time at Tinnedir’s, and his new place, although he left out the likely illegal nature of his flimsy rental property. He explained he’d been working for Medlinor, and told how he’d manage to weasel his way into an interview with Maeglin. He told Turgon of his friends, where they spent most of their time and what they did. By the end, Turgon still looked exasperated, but also a little amused.

“I like to think Gondolin has a place for all within its walls, but clearly some things are easier than others.” He turned to his steward. “Make a note that we need to revisit the topic of smaller housing units at our next council meeting.” He turned back to Celebrimbor. “I am now convinced that you are not an agent of your father or uncle sent to sow chaos,” he held up a hand to prevent Celebrimbor from speaking, “but the fact remains that you cannot remain living under an assumed name, completely outside of court, and without any explanation as to how you got here.” Turgon’s brow furrowed in thought.

They were interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Father, can I come in?”

“Come inside Itarillë.”

Idril Celebrindal entered, a curious expression on her face. “There was a rumor—aha!” She cut herself off with a shout and ran over to Celebrimbor. She pulled him onto his feet and embraced him.

“By the stars! Tyelpë, What are you doing here?” She didn’t wait for an answer and hugged him again.

Celebrimbor allowed himself to just feel happy for a moment, greeting his cousin after so many years apart. Idril was the closest in age to him of anyone in his family, although they hadn’t met until they were both in Beleriand. They likely would have remained strangers if the tension between their families had not been so great; both recently of age, they’d been quiet and withdrawn, overwhelmed by their baptism into a world of death, pain, and terror.

But they didn’t have the opportunity to hide in their separate camps. Turgon and Curufin had dragged them along to the endless negotiations between the Fëanorian and Fingolfinian camps. The presence of their children was an unspoken promise to leave violence at the door, however angry they became.

Those long days with nothing to do but listen to their fathers yelling at each other had been the start of a friendship Celebrimbor still cherished. He’d smuggled her books and scrolls that her camp lacked. She’d shared the Sindarin mead and other delicacies that she filched from Galadriel. They’d shared stories, created games, and talked for hours about everything and nothing. When she’d vanished with Turgon without a word, he’d felt more isolated in Himlad than ever before, even though all he’d lost was a letter correspondent at that point.

But Gondolin had been good for her. The fearful look was gone from her eyes, and she carried herself with confidence. From the rings on her ears and fingers, Celebrimbor surmised that she held a position on the council, and maybe some other offices of esteem. 

“Itarillë! You look well! Still no shoes I see.” He glanced down to where her bare toes peaked from underneath her skirt.

“I’m a great lady now—that means no one can tell me to put on shoes.” She cupped his face in her hands. “I wish I could say you looked well, but really, you look terrible.”

Celebrimbor smiled wryly. “I had a bit of a time getting here.”

Idril laughed and released him. She turned to Turgon.

“I’m sorry father, it looks like you were dressing him down and I’ve ruined whatever mood you were trying to set. I just had to see for myself if it was really him.”

Turgon sighed, resignation on his face. “I was just trying to decide what should be done with him. You know, he’s been here for months without telling me. If I do nothing, it would appear to undermine my authority.”

“Months!” Idril smacked Celebrimbor’s arm. “I can’t believe you didn’t announce yourself. What were you thinking?”

“I’ve been asking myself that often these days,” Celebrimbor said.

“How about you announce him at the upcoming feast for Yavannasar?” Idril suggested. “That’s the most significant feast day since he’s arrived, so we could say that we were waiting for the occasion.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Turgon said thoughtfully. “Some might ask why we waited so long when Tuor’s coming was celebrated immediately, but I think we can truthfully answer that Tuor’s coming and his message from Ulmo was indeed a cause for celebration, while Tyelperinquar’s coming is a bit more,” he paused and frowned, “complicated.”

Turgon surveyed Celebrimbor, who was wearing the black clothes he’d been granted upon his acceptance into the House of the Mole.

“And, we can say that he’s been given to the authority of my nephew, and maybe imply that he’s needed to prove himself there in some way.” That was true enough, Celebrimbor supposed, even if the order of events was a little off.

“But, if we are to release you back to the city, you must swear fealty to me.”

“Yes, of course,” Celebrimbor said.

Turgon stood and walked from behind the desk. Celebrimbor stood and knelt before him.

“Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondolin, and to King Turukáno, ruler of the realm, to do and to let be, to work and to rest, to keep the secrets of the realm and speak when is commanded, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my king release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Tyelperinquar son of Curufinwë, of the House of Fëanáro.”

He remembered swearing the same before Orodreth, and a cold finger of fear travelled down his spine. He hoped this king did not come to the same end as the last he had sworn before.

I, Turukáno son of Ñolofinwë, King of Gondolin and High King of the Eastern Noldor, accept your fealty. Rise cousin, and become one of the Gondolindrim.” Celebrimbor rose before Turgon, and they clasped hands before Turgon walked back to his desk.

Idril leaned against Turgon’s desk. “People will worry about how he found his way here. With his and Tuor’s arrival, that’s more people discovering Gondolin than has happened in many years.”

“Yes, I have some questions myself about how you found us.” Turgon narrowed his eyes at Celebrimbor. “But later, in private. For now, I think you must be vague. Maybe say you were guided by the Valar.” That was also true enough. Turgon leaned back. “I think this is as solved as it’s going to be for now. Intyamo, you can give Maeglin a full account of what happened? Good. Well Celebrimbor, welcome to Gondolin. Now, everyone out, I’m already late for my meeting with the agricultural committee.”

~

In the hallway, Istyamo turned to Celebrimbor. “It certainly sounds like I should expect you back at the House of the Mole tomorrow, by the King’s decree. I will bring word back to Lord Maeglin.” With that, he waved goodbye, and walked off with a purpose. 

“Oh, I hadn’t even thought about that,” Idril said. “I bet Maeglin is quite unhappy with you.”

“Yes, it seems so,” Celebrimbor said. He doubted he’d be welcomed back to the forges with open arms after his deception, but his future position in the House of the Mole could wait until tomorrow.

“I have a more urgent problem that I must beg your help with. What level of dress will be expected at the feast?”

“Your nicest clothes, certainly,” Idril said. “Tarnin Austa is the only higher holiday.”

“That might not work,” Celebrimbor said, and described the clothes he had bought for his first meeting with Maeglin.

“Oh no, that definitely won’t work.” Idril twirled a piece of her hair while she thought. “I can get you some old clothes and then you can come by some time and spend some time with my tailor. You won’t be exactly stylish but—”

“I have no interest in style, I just don’t want your father to get the impression that I’m taking my introduction to Gondolin with less than complete seriousness.”

Idril nodded. “I understand. I have some jewelry that will work for you as well; we can figure that out when you come by for the fitting.”

Celebrimbor breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, I owe you a debt for this.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s the least I could do for you.” For a moment, grief showed in her face. “I had assumed you died in the Nirnaeth or the Fall of Nargothrond. It’s hard to grieve for someone when you don’t know what really happened and no one around you really cares.” She smiled tentatively. “But you’re not dead, and now you're as safe as you could be, and so I’m happy. Things are not as bad as they seem.”

Celebrimbor didn’t know if he completely agreed with Idril, but she had not seen two homes overrun by the forces of Morgoth, so he excused her optimism. Still, the meeting with Turgon had gone better than he had anticipated; maybe there was cause for a little hope for them all.

Chapter Text

As Coroniel redid her braids for the umpteenth time, she cursed herself for agreeing to go to the Yavannasar feast with Celebrimbor. At the time, the idea of watching the whirling kaleidoscope of Gondolin’s nobility at such close proximity was tantalizing, but faced with the actuality of having to be inspected by them in return it was becoming a prospect of increasing dread. She also had not comprehended at the time the level of attention Celebrimbor would be receiving. Well, that’s because he failed to mention that until you asked if he had any specific part in the feast yesterday she thought. No doubt he asked you to come with because he’s dreading it even more.

Her mother bustled into the room again. She was getting ready at her parents place because however reluctant she was to admit it, her mother's assistance modifying the nicest dress she owned and pulling together the best jewelry the family had was the only way she stood a chance of not being thrown out of the feast. 

“Blessed Tavros, I can’t believe I didn’t realize the necklaces we planned for you to wear wouldn’t work,” Corondes said. “Here, try these. One is Lícissë’s, another is Ninquemë’s, and the last two are from my neighbor.” She handed the necklaces to Coroniel.

“Four necklaces, is that really necessary,” Coroniel said automatically. She was just going through the motions of outrage; she knew that the sculpted neckline of her gown would look awkward without jewelry.

“Coroniel! Surely you know how they dress - we must try every measure available to keep you from shaming our family.”

As she layered the necklaces, Coroniel reluctantly admitted to herself that they created a striking profile. 

“Is Celebrimbor here yet?” she asked.

“Yes,” Corondes answered. Coroniel started towards the door. “But you’re not finished dressing yet,” She said in a panic. “He shouldn’t see you yet!”

“Ama, how many times must I tell you? We’re not going as a couple.” 

“But—”

Coroniel ignored her as she started down the stairs. Her parent’s reaction to the news that her new friend Caron was actually named Celebrimbor and was from the most infamous family in Beleriand had not been what she anticipated. Corondes seemed more in favor of him than ever, and had redoubled her hints that here was the answer to Coroniel’s unfortunate unmarried state.

Her father had just said ‘hmph’ and offered no further commentary when she mentioned that her new friend was in fact Fëanor’s grandson. She’d been expecting yelling, and further restrictions on Celebrimbor’s presence in his house, but his family affiliation didn’t seem to move the needle either way as far as her father’s approval went.

As she rounded the last curve of the staircase, she saw Felmeon and Celebrimbor deep in discussion in the foyer. Celebrimbor looked up at her and smiled.

“Cori! You look amazing, except—”

She waved him off. “Don’t worry, there’s a belt that goes over all this.” He looked relieved. “I needed to see what you were wearing so we could at least match each other’s level of dress.”

Celebrimbor laughed. “Whatever we do, knowing my family, we’ll be terribly underdressed.” He looked at her with an appraising eye. “I think we at least match each other well enough, except my hair looks so sad next to yours.” 

Coroniel blushed; she rarely wore her hair uncovered, and she felt self conscious about the traditional ornaments her mother had used in her hair. 

“If you brought the jewelry you didn’t use, come upstairs. I think we just need a few more tweaks to the details,” she said.

“Yes, I have everything Idril lent me,” Celebrimbor said and followed her upstairs.

~

Evening was just beginning to fall when they arrived at the Square of the Palace. One by one, multicolored lamps winked on, framing Glingal and Belthil . More lamps were strung along the path to the palace, which blazed with golden light. The fountains in the courtyard short up in gleaming silver arcs, light radiating from the pools themselves. 

As they walked towards the palace, surrounded by elves much better dressed than themselves, Coroniel had the urge to grab Celebrimbor by the sleeve and demand they go somewhere, anywhere, else. She was just about to reach out when she noticed his face; he looked like someone walking towards his death. She took a deep breath. Any way she embarrassed herself would probably fade from gossip in a few days; If Celebrimbor acted with perfect decorum, he was still going to be the talk of the city for weeks. Instead of clutching his arm, she linked their elbows together. Celebrimbor glanced down at her with a small smile that did not reach his eyes.

When they reached the door, one of several heralds at the door bowed to them.

“How should I announce you?” she asked them.

“Celebrimbor Curufinion,” Celebrimbor grimaced, “the Third, of the house of Fëanor.”

“And you?” the herald asked. Coroniel looked at her blankly for a long moment; she’d never imagined that she’d need to provide titles.

“Uh, just ‘guest,’” she said.

“Guest?” The herald looked taken aback. “That’s highly unusual.”

Celebrimbor turned to her. “What about a professional title?” 

“I guess you could say Coroniel, Journeyman of the City Engineers.”

“Just journeyman?” The herald looked at her condescendingly.

“Yes,” Coroniel ground out.

Celebrimbor squeezed her elbow as the herald led them into the ballroom. She pounded her staff on the ground.

“Announcing Celebrimbor Curufinion the Third of the house of Fëanor and Coroniel, Journeyman of the City Engineers.” The music continued playing, but to their mutual horror almost every eye in the room turned to them. Celebrimbor had assumed what she now thought of as his noble face, a stiff smile that didn’t reach his eyes and an expression as immobile as a stone statue. 

The herald led them to a seat along the main table, terrifyingly near the head table, but at least not at the head table itself. Right now the seats to either side of them were empty; Coroniel wondered who their companions would be and if they’d be insulted by being seated next to her. 

They didn’t have to wait for long—more elves were streaming in as the heralds announced one guest after the other. To Coroniel’s left was seated an elegant woman and her husband, both dressed in gold. The woman struck up a conversation with her immediately; she seemed to find Coroniel fascinating and did not seem put out at all by her comparatively lower class.

A few minutes later, on Celebrimbor’s right, Lord Romwë and his wife were seated. 

“Tyelperinquar, how wonderful to see you again. And who is your friend?” Romwë greeted them.

Celebrimbor introduced Coroniel and Lord Romwë introduced his wife who immediately started asking them about their lives with genuine interest.

The table in front of them already had light appetizers to eat. Coroniel had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it was something to do other than drink, and her glass of wine was already decreasing at an alarming rate. On the other, she was certain to ruin her dinner with the number of sausages, cheese, and small pastries she was eating to calm her nerves.

Finally, trumpets rang out, and the elves seated at the head table began to file in. There were twenty seats total - enough for each of the Lords of the twelve houses and their families as well as King Turgon, Lady Idril, and their guest Tuor. As they stood for the procession, Coroniel stared at Tuor, the third Edain she had ever seen. He was astonishingly tall, almost the same height as Turgon. He had short blond hair, blue eyes, and most shocking to her, a neatly trimmed blond beard. 

When Turgon arrived at the table, he turned and addressed the crowd:

“Welcome to you all. As we celebrate the harvest again, we give thanks to Yavanna for all her gifts. We have had another year of plenty, thanks to the blessings of the Valar and the hard work of our farmers. As we feast upon the bounty, let us not forget those who work to grow food for the city, and prepare it for us.

“We are also blessed by new arrivals to the city. First, Lord Tuor son of Huor of the House of Hador who was once a guest in our city. He has come to our city through many trials and hardships with the blessing and guidance of Ulmo. His coming is a sign of the Valar’s continued love for Gondolin and its people.

“I am also pleased to welcome my cousin, Celebrimbor son of Curufin of the House of Fëanor.” Here, Turgon motioned to where Celebrimbor and Coroniel were standing. “He arrived here from Nargothrond, escaping through much peril. He has sworn an oath of fealty to me, and I look forward to the great works he will bring to Gondolin.” a faint murmur rose up around them. Coroniel saw curious glances, and a few hostile ones.

“Now,” said Turgon, a bit louder. “We feast in celebration of Yavanna and her bounteous harvest! Alcar na Yavannan!”

“Alcar na Yavannan,” the assembled elves repeated back. Turgon took his seat, and motioned for everyone else to sit down as well.

“It seems I wasn’t the only person surprised you’re here,” Romwë said to Celebrimbor.

“We’re all surprised I’m here,” said Celebrimbor after draining his wine glass. “I’m just glad no one is coming at me with a sword yet.”

Romwë frowned. “I’m sure no one wants to kill you,” he said.

“You’re very kind,” Celebrimbor responded. Coroniel casually glanced around the table. He was right, no one was coming at them with sharp objects, although there were a few dark looks. She resolved to treat the evening like she was watching a play. Surely there was some dramatic irony to be spotted here, and maybe if she took a step back from her own self-consciousness she’d enjoy herself more.

To her surprise, dinner went smoothly. There was no murder, and the elves they were sitting with remained courteous. She managed to remember all the arcane table manners she’d learned as a child, and did not see any glares tossed her way as she carefully selected the silverware for each dish from the baffling array she was provided with.

She said as much to Celebrimbor, but he just looked at her in alarm. “It’s far too soon to start celebrating, the most difficult part of the evening remains.” 

“But later in the evening we won’t be trapped in one place; we can evade potentially disastrous situations.”

Celebrimbor shook his head. “That’s what you’d think. In reality, it’s just easier for you to be beset on all sides. You wouldn’t think to look at them, but some elves can move very quickly in all their finery.” He glanced around, almost as if he expected an ambush.

After the last course had been served, King Turgon stood again, and held out his arm to Lady Idril. The double doors behind them opened up, revealing another glittering room, with strains of music drifting out. They led a procession of those seated at the high table through the doors, as the rest of the room rose and prepared to follow them. 

Romwë explained, “Now comes the part of the evening for song and dance. It’s traditional for everyone to participate in the first dance. I’m sure you both will know it; it’s the yávililtë, and it is very much the same as the dance we had in Valinor by the same name.” Celebrimbor held out his arm for her, and she held it, trying to mirror the position of the other ladies around her. “After that, there are a few more traditional dances, and then typically some faster paced, modern dances.” Coroniel wondered how recent ‘modern’ was. With how ancient Romwë was, they still might be older than her.

Inside, the ballroom was as beautiful as her glimpse through the doors had hinted. The room was oval in shape, with arching doorways open to the night along both sides. Chandeliers strung with lamp stones lined the room, and garlands of leaves, fruits, and flowers swooped down from the ceiling in honor of the harvest. The ceiling was painted to look like the night sky. 

She lined up facing Celebrimbor, pressing their palms together. Fortunately the yávililtë was a simple dance, because her eyes kept on skipping around the room, trying to take it all in. 

“Do you enjoy dancing?” Celebrimbor asked.

“Actually, yes,” They were momentarily swept apart by the dance; Coroniel crossed arms with the elleth next to her and spun in a circle. She met back up with Celebrimbor. “It’s the one advantage of being short–it’s easy to find partners who can toss me in the air and do all the fun dances.” They turned to clap the hands of the elves on either side. “Therion and I used to go dancing all the time; he wasn’t afraid of lifts.” She frowned as they swapped partners, and circled their new partners. Therion still wasn’t talking to her—he was framing his friendship as a choice between himself and Celebrimbor. Coroniel refused to stoop to his petty fights, which apparently meant she had chosen Celebrimbor.

Celebrimbor also looked worried when they met again. “I’m afraid I’m not a skilled dancer,” he said. “I know all the main styles of course, but I could never do the improvisational dance that I think you’re talking about.” Coroniel just smiled. She was sure that Celebrimbor was a passable enough dancer. She was beginning to realize that when he said he wasn't good at something, what he meant was that he wasn’t one of the most skilled elves on Arda at that skill 

They finished the last few skips of the dance and joined the rest of the elves cheering at the finish. She and Celebrimbor chose to dance the next one as well, another simple dance, with clear patterns to follow.

After that dance finished they stepped away from the whirling crowd in search of more wine. They stood to the side, watching the dancing elves. 

“Is this like Aman?” Coroniel asked.

Celebrimbor was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know; I never really spent much time in Tirion, and when I was there I was too young to go to any of the feasts and dances.” He surveyed the room. “But from my few memories, this seems grander.” He took a sip of his wine. “Maybe it’s just because it feels like there’s an actual threat to Gondolin. Like this could all vanish some day.”

Coroniel quickly looked at him. “Do you feel it too?” she asked.

“What?” Celebrimbor was confused. “I was just thinking about the threat Morgoth poses to all the free people of Beleriand.” He looked at her closely. “What were you talking about?”

Coroniel shivered. “I don’t know, I–” she was distracted. “Is Princess Idril looking at us?” Looking wasn’t the right word. The Lady of Gondolin had her eyes opened wide, and was pursing her lips in such a way that her teeth stuck out. If Coroniel was going to put a name to the face, and she would never do that, she would have called it a rat-fish face.

“Oh!” Celebrimbor grinned. “The wise and beautiful Lady is signalling that she’d like me to ask her to dance.” He set down his drink at the small table they were standing next to. “Pardon me.”

Coroniel watched as he walked over to the front of the room where Idril stood, and bowed. Idril offered her hand, and they whirled off into the next dance. 

As she expected, Celebrimbor wasn’t a terrible dancer, even when set against the fast paced dance that was playing. It helped that Idril was the most skilled dancer Coroniel had ever set eyes on. She effortlessly arched, twirled, and stepped; she looked like the embodiment of the music itself—light and playful, by turns a tumbling waterfall of notes, or a series of quick bends.

The dance ended, and the next one began. It was slower, based on gliding steps and slow turns. Coroniel looked around at the nobility in the ballroom. Of the people not dancing, some looked angrily at Idril and Celebrimbor whirling in the center of the dancers. She started slightly; one of the darkest glares was Lord Maeglin. He was standing near King Turgon while a beautifully dressed elleth tried vainly to engage him in conversation. His whole attention was seized by Celebrimbor and Idril. Other faces she saw looked appraising. She actually noticed a few of those measuring glances trained on herself. Oh no, am I going to have to learn about politics? she thought. None of the people she saw looking at her moved to talk to her though; she remained alone by her table. 

The dance ended, and Celebrimbor and Idril ended up next to where Lord Glorfindel and Tuor were standing. Idril spun into Tuor, and then they started the next dance together. Glorfindel and Celebrimbor spoke for a moment, but Coroniel’s eyes were drawn to Idril and Tuor. She had heard that mortals were slow and clumsy compared to elves. Tuor did seem less certain than Celebrimbor of the steps, but he still moved more beautifully than many of the other elves on the dance floor.

Celebrimbor appeared at the table while she was still watching the dancers.

“I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too badly,” he said.

Coroniel shook her head. “You both were a vision of grace. Of course, I’m beginning to think that’s how everyone who dances with Princess Idril looks.”

“It’s true.”

Coroniel set down her wine glass and turned to Celebrimbor. “I can’t believe you’re friends with Princess Idril.”

Celebrimbor shrugged. “We’re closest in age to all of Finwë’s descendents, so we were often stuck together after our families reconciled.”

“No, now that I know you’re related I’m less surprised you’re friends; I really meant I can’t believe you thought you could get away with not telling anyone your identity when you’re the kind of friends with Princess Idril where you make silly faces at each other and rescue the other at dances.”

Celebrimbor put his hand over his face. “Have we not spent enough time establishing I’m an idiot?”

Coroniel laughed. The problem with Celebrimbor was that in many ways he was the most knowledgeable person she had ever met; in other ways he seemed completely oblivious. 

Speaking of, “You know, the whole city is going to be speculating about you two.”

Celebrimbor frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you look good together and I could tell from watching everyone that some people were wondering if there might be a unification between the sundered branches of your family.”

Celebrimbor gave a surprised laugh. “Oh Valar, no. That is not where my interests lie.”

I know that, but no one else does. You might want to send some hints to your other cousin that you have no interest in Princess Idril.”

“You mean Maeglin? What was he doing?”

“Just glaring at you,” Coroniel said. 

Celebrimbor looked concerned, but then shook his head. “I think he might quickly realize that I’m not a threat to her affections for many reasons.” He looked significantly at the dance floor, where Idril and Tuor were still dancing.

“Really?” Celebrimbor might end up being a better source of gossip than Alassion. She looked at Tuor—he was very handsome and tall, but also alien in a way. “How old is he? Eighteen? Thirty? Fifty? I have no idea, but it’s very strange to think of.”

“I know; I don’t understand how their ages work, but the Edain can be quite wise and well-spoken even at twenty.”

Coroniel was still staring. “And the hair on his face. I don’t understand the appeal.”

“I think it’s rather exciting,” Celebrimbor said. 

“Hm, yes, it does make me wonder what kissing him would be like.” 

They were interrupted from their inappropriate fantasies by Coroniel’s neighbor at the dinner table, Lady Ârbes. She wanted to introduce her friends to Celebrimbor, and to her surprise, Coroniel. After sating the ladies’ curiosity, they rejoined the dancing. 

To Coroniel’s surprise, she was actually enjoying herself. While there were still some less than friendly and condescending looks, no one was outright rude, and many people were friendly. Romwë found them again and conversed, the wine flowed, and many of her favorite dances were played. 

The highlight of her evening by far occurred later. She was talking with Lady Ârbes again, when she heard, “Lady Coroniel?” She turned, and there was Lord Glorfindel, as glowing and handsome up close as he looked from afar.

“Yes?” was all she could manage. I should bow, she thought, but she couldn’t move.

“I heard you enjoyed this style of dance.” Lord Glorfindel motioned at the dance floor, where a lively reel was starting up, the elves still dancing spreading out to allow for elaborate spins, acrobatic jumps, and dramatic dips.

I am going to murder Celebrimbor ran through her mind, but she said, “I do.” 

“Would you do me the honor of dancing with me.” Lord Glorfindel bowed. As a little girl, when she and her friends had giggled and dreamed, asking who they were going to marry someday, she had always said Glorfindel, even though sometimes she had thought being married to Idril sounded nicer. And now, he was asking her to dance. 

“Yes,” she managed. Glorfindel held out his arm with a smile, and led her out to the dance floor.

Glorfindel danced with all the athleticism and grace that one would expect from one of Gondolin’s greatest warriors. Coroniel had been worried the dress and jewelry she was unaccustomed to wearing would hinder her, but her body knew the steps despite the additional weight. As Coroniel flew through the air, able to move with him in ways that she had thought would only happen in her mind, she decided that Celebrimbor could live for now. 

It was very late by the time they left, tipsy and tired from too much wine and dance. The cold predawn air was still, and a few birds were beginning to chirp.

“Now it’s my turn,” Coroniel said. “That was not nearly as bad as you led to me to believe.”

Celebrimbor shook his head. “We were lucky, I think Itarillë had more to do with that than anything else.”

“And now are you going to be hanging around court all the day, doing Lordly things?” she asked.

“Oh no,” Celebrimbor said. “I believe I’ll be doing whatever Lord Maeglin sets as my tasks.”

“Oh dear,” Coroniel said. 

Chapter Text

“It’s really not so bad,” Celebrimbor said. 

Alassion did not seem to believe him and was looking at his hands in horror. Celebrimbor also looked down.

“Shit,” he said, and peeled off one of his fingernails. He glanced around, and awkwardly put it in his pocket, aware that loose fingernails were generally frowned upon in eating establishments. “I just need to be better about wearing gloves.”

He had now been working for the House of the Mole for months. His first day there as Celebrimbor instead of Caron, he’d been stopped at the gate and told Lord Maeglin wished to see him. He’d found Maeglin at a table in the workshop, with a chunk of rhodochrosite in front of him alongside tools and solutions to help assess composition and quality.

“You asked for me my lord?” Celebrimbor said.

“Yes.” Maeglin straightened, and stared at Celebrimbor with a gaze that seemed to pierce right through him.

“I understand that Lord Turgon has essentially given you over to my keeping.”

“That is what I understood as well,” Celebrimbor said.

“Be that as it may, I hope you don’t expect the same position here as when I first extended the invitation to join my smiths when I only knew you as Caron,” Maeglin said.

“I do not,” Celebrimbor said. “I understand that my deception must have consequences.”

Maeglin looked at him with consideration. “You know, I think the worst thing I could do to you is give you a dull purposeless task. You would dread that more than any pain. If for instance I asked you to count these nails,” he gestured at a bucket of nails nearby, “and score them, and then I asked you to do that every day you were in my service, I think you would be offering to cut off your own fingers instead within a week.”

Celebrimbor swallowed, he didn’t know whether his honest reaction of horror would encourage Maeglin or not. Please no, he thought. He didn’t know how his cousin had been able to guess his worst nightmare so easily, but it unnerved him.

Maeglin smiled. “Fortunately for you, I am not cruel. You will not be working in the forges for the most part, except for when they need cleaning, maintenance, and repair. That will be your main duty, although I expect it won’t take much of your day. Report to Haldir in the yard, he’s been told about you and will provide your daily and weekly tasks.” Maeglin waved his hand, sending Celebrimbor off and turned back to the stone in front of him.”

Celebrimbor didn’t leave. “My lord, if I may?” he asked.

Maeglin looked up with annoyance. “What?”

“I understand that I am not working in the forges, but may I use them outside of work?” he asked. He held his breath.

Maeglin raised his eyebrows. “No.”

“Please my lord. I know that most work is done by the dinner bell—I would not use the forges except when they were not in use already—only late at night or very early in the morning.” He was not above begging for this.

Maeglin looked at him closely. “You have to buy all your own materials.”

“Not a problem.” Even doing menial tasks for the House the Mole meant a per diem three times what he made for Medlinor. Celebrimbor knew he could save the money he needed for anything he wished to craft.

“If I hear you have bothered any of my actual smiths at all, or any of your other duties are not completed satisfactorily, your privileges will be suspended immediately.”

Celebrimbor suppressed a smile. “Of course; understood my lord.”

“You need to get approval from the forgemaster first before you start any projects, even in off hours,” Maeglin continued. “Now, we both have work—are you satisfied?”

“Yes, thank you for your generosity.” Celebrimbor bowed and hurried out of the workshop before Maeglin could take back his reluctant permission.

The work was hard, and frequently required handling dangerous chemicals and tools. On any given day he was calibrating bellows, scouring tools with wire brushes and lye, and treating surfaces with acid. He knew Maeglin had him working in the forges to shame him, to have him serve where he was qualified to be a master, but he must have underestimated how much Celebrimbor was enjoying working with people who were not constantly comparing him to his father, or even worse, refusing to work with him because of his father.

Or rather, he would have thought that Maeglin would have understood exactly the pain and pressure of a dark family history and the animosity that could bring, but it didn’t seem his cousin had made that connection. Maybe Turgon had shielded him from the worst of the hate. Either way, he was not bothered by the cleaning and maintenance of the forge or the labor he did on the grounds. It also helped that he was able to eat as much as he wanted for the first time since he had arrived in Gondolin. He hadn’t realized how hunger had sapped his energy and given him constant headaches, but now that it was gone he felt like he had twice the strength he had ever had. 

Not everyone forgot the sword he had forged for his test. His disfavor with their lord kept many away, but often while scrubbing off rust or patching a vent, someone would catch his eye and surreptitiously nod him over to their workbench. He’d casually make his way over, and then consult with them on the tempering problem they were having, or give his opinion on the shape of the weapon they had forged. 

That was already more engaging than anything he had been doing before, but several weeks in, Haldir told him he was now expected to care for Lord Maeglin’s private workroom himself. 

The workroom was meticulously organized, but everything within it was unlabeled. As he put substances back where they came from, he had to be very cautious not to mix agents that would result in unexpected poisons or explosions. The third time Celebrimbor recognized a potentially dangerous chemical, he began to wonder if his cousin had thought this would be a convenient way to get rid of him. He hadn’t been given any sort of protective clothing, and had to on several occasions improvise a glove from a scrap of leather. 

He found Maeglin afterwards and stopped him in the hall.

“What,” Maeglin said flatly.

“I wanted to ask you how you found the job I did with your workshop,” Celebrimbor said.

“It was fine,” Maeglin looked at him warily.

“Good. good. You have many interesting ingredients in there.”

“What of it?” Maeglin asked.

“Well, if I’m to regularly visit there and try to discover whatever loose and unlabeled substances are present, I’d like some protective gear,” Celebimbor said, smiling benignly.

 “Ah.” Maeglin seemed to realize what he was getting at, and then looked surprised. “So you understood my organizational system?”

“Yes, it’s by related chemical properties, but my point is that it’s rather dangerous.”

Maeglin was looking for a way around Celebrimbor. “So ask someone for some protective gear. I don’t know where the collection for general use is.” He glanced back at Celebrimbor. “You seem to know your way around them well enough—you’ll be fine. In fact, if you’d like to take any of my waste solutions for your own use, you’re welcome to it.”

Again, Celebrimbor wasn’t sure if this was meant as an insult, an attempt to injure him, or a genuine gift.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll take you up on that offer.” Whatever Maeglin’s intent, this was the only acceptable answer.

“Now,” Maeglin said, and tried to edge around Celebrimbor.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Celebrimbor stepped to the side. “I’ll let you be on your way.”

With a parting glare, Maeglin hurried past him.

So yes, on the whole , Celebrimbor thought, it really wasn’t so bad.

“Anyway, the whole point of bringing up Maeglin’s workshop, is that I think I have an idea for the temple project you’re working on, Cori,” Celebrimbor said. 

Coroniel was now also frowning at his bloody finger. “Have you told Lady Idril about what Maeglin is asking of you?”

“And alienate him further? No thank you. I’m fine, my hands have always been hideous. Look at all these old scars—it’s what happens when you work with heat and sharp objects your whole life.” Celebrimbor waved his other hand in front of his friends, trying to illustrate pre-existing scars that were visible underneath the bandages on a few of his fingers.

Alassion, Lodrien, and Coroniel looked unimpressed. 

“You’re saying we could go into the workshops in the House of the Mole sometimes and just, I don’t know, mess around?” Coroniel sounded doubtful.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m there most nights working on my own projects. That’s why I haven’t been available very often.” Celebrimbor awkwardly shifted his shoulders. He was rapidly putting on weight, which he was thrilled with. Unfortunately, it meant he’d need to buy new clothes soon.

“If it’s allowed, then yes, I suppose. When can we go in?” 

“Tomorrow there will be too many people, but I’ll check if we can use one of the side rooms the next night.” Celebrimbor was excited. He and Coroniel had talked in the abstract about working on something together, but they hadn’t had the space or opportunity until this point.

“I have some extra eye shields; should I bring them?” Coroniel asked.

 “Only for yourself—I finally received my own gear from Haldir. Bring a mask for your nose and mouth as well.”

“You’re both strange,” Lodrien said. “And your hobbies are hazardous.”

Coroniel just grinned at her maniacally.

~

They surveyed the swirling glass that they had just finished. Coroniel took off her eye shields so she could see the end result better.

“Alright, I’ll give it to you that it solves the problem of the temple wanting both privacy and light, but will it scale? And is it strong enough to work as a wall?” she asked, her voice muffled by the cloth wrapped around her nose and mouth.

Celebrimbor picked up a hammer, hefted it slightly, and threw it at the glass. It bounced off without leaving any mark. They both had to jump aside.

“You’re insane,” there was laughter in Coroniel’s voice. “And you look insane; your scarf is crooked.” She tugged him down, removed his eye shields, and straightened the scarf Celebrimbor had tied around his hair.

Celebrimbor laughed and pulled the cloth around his mouth down as well. 

“I think I’ve just solved all your problems. And it will scale - it’s cheap, just lithgaer, bastalith , and limestone like all glass. The swirling effect is just a standard chemical reaction, also from common materials, and the strength is just a minor strengthening spell that I can teach you right now.”

Coroniel looked sceptical. “I can’t do spells, and I also don’t know how to make glass.”

“Well, isn’t your job just to give them a plan and then have someone else implement it? Besides, as I said, I could teach you both”

“I can’t just give them a plan I barely understand.” She shot him a look. “But I can suggest a contractor.”

Celebrimbor considered it, and then discarded the idea. “I don’t think that will work—unless they’re willing to only meet on nights and feast days. Lord Maeglin would throw me out at a minimum if he found out I developed something with his tools and then spent any of my normal work day on a project outside of his purvey.”

“Yeah, feast days wouldn’t work but I might be able to convince them to meet at night. It would be less bothersome to the temple guests I think.” Coroniel pursed her lips. “Fine, fine, let me do a few more tests on the model and then I can draw up some plans.”

Celebrimbor pulled up his face cloth again, and rummaged for some tools they could use to measure and test the sheet of glass. 

“Here’s an idea: you could use this as an opportunity to establish how essential you are to the City Builders. I’ve heard some wild rumors about me already—say you’ve somehow befriended me, make it sound like it was actually difficult and you didn’t just need to feed me a few times, and I can use the arcane arts of Fëanor for this project but I will only work with you, and I will only work by moon and starlight.” 

“Oh Elbereth, that reminds me,” Coroniel said as she adjusted the scale she was using. “I heard the wildest thing from my co-worker. He told me that you wore black because you were actually in mourning for yourself because you were actually dead. I think, and I didn’t follow this completely, he heard Thorondor brought your body to Turgon as a gift to somehow aid Gondolin, and then, here it’s unclear if Turgon did this, Thorondor, or something else, you were somehow reanimated. You're still dead somehow, but you're an automaton, or golem, or something not quite living.”

This theory was wild enough that Celebrimbor actually set down the ruler and pencil he was holding. “What? I don’t understand—don’t they know I’m working for Maeglin? Surely they’ve realized he has a pretty strict color scheme at this point?”

“I pointed that out!” Coroniel said. “My co-worker just seemed to think that was a convenient cover.” She shook her head.

“So far the wildest thing I’ve heard about myself is that I created some kind of evil sword, and was somehow going to fight Maeglin, or had already fought Maeglin? I’m not sure. Anyway, the gist was that Maeglin was somehow holding me in check and without him I would do something terrible.”

At this point Coroniel was laughing too hard at the image of evil Celebrimbor locked in some existential battle with Maeglin to offer any concrete critiques of the theory.

“But, I think there’s actually the opposite rumor going around as well, depending on your politics,” Celebrimbor continued, “that I am holding Maeglin and his evil sword in check, and that maybe I was sent by the Valar to protect Gondolin or some such nonsense.”

“The people of Gondolin seem obsessed with your swords ,” Coroniel said, putting as much innuendo as she could into the last word.

“I’m not surprised—Gondolin is the most lustful place I’ve ever lived. I wonder if Turgon has any idea, or how much he can be blamed,” Celebrimbor said. “Do you have the measurements you need? I’d like to take the glass outside and look at it in the moonlight.”

“Is it really?” Coroniel asked. “And yes! We should also see how it looks in the daytime before we commit to the color scheme.

Celebrimbor checked that it was cool enough to handle, and then carried the glass outside the workshop. He set it upright on a bench, and turned it several different ways so that the different angles could be considered. Suspended within the clear glass, repeating circles of blue and red bloomed in a clear solution, mesmerizing the eye.

“I think we should go for a lighter shade of blue,” Coroniel said. “Otherwise, it looks really pretty. The priestesses of Vána will also like the constant movement, you could say it’s symbolic of her eternal dance.”

Celebrimbor nodded. “That’s what I was thinking.”

Chapter Text

Coroniel had thought at first that she would eventually acclimate to Celebrimbor and the energy he exuded. She never did though; he remained full of surprises as the years went by. Some were good—he was as generous as he was brilliant and was the kind of person who left everything he touched a little better than when he arrived.

Sometimes his knowledge and skill was the gift itself. Whenever they collaborated on something, Coroniel felt the elusive joy of creating something more than the sum of its parts. The glass wall for the temple of Vána was a good start. Her masters, both the real head of the department and the engineering master who actually understood and evaluated her work, praised her creativity and skill, for once crediting her for the designs and sketches she created as well as celebrating her find of Celebrimbor. 

“He’s very difficult to work with,” Master Galbon said, “but he’s clearly inspired.”

When she told Celebrimbor that, he was amused. “I was doing an impression of my father on a good day,” he told her.

She continued trying to enlist Celebrimbor whenever she thought an artistic touch might help whatever city work she was tasked with. It was exciting to see her own ideas make the city more beautiful. Even when their plans were rejected, whether because they were too elaborate or didn’t fit with the aesthetic of the city, they would write them down and save them. Coroniel didn’t expect to use them ever, but sometimes she would page through the notebooks and dream of a city without walls, with fewer fountains and more trees, and plenty of spaces for work and leisure, not under any lord, but just for those of like mind to gather and create things together.

Celebrimbor also gave her actual gifts. The first occasion was the customary gift exchange for Turuhalmë during the first year Celebrimbor lived in Gondolin.

Coroniel was proud of her find—a small set of well-made tools for Celebrimbor so he would finally not have to borrow from the House every time he needed to make something. She had been assured that these were the essentials, and were in the preferred style of a master jeweler, yet still reasonably priced, so she didn’t need to worry about giving an inappropriately large gift for their first Turuhalmë.

Celebrimbor was suitably enthusiastic when he opened his gift. She noticed him surreptitiously checking the joins in the tools before praising her selection—a sign that he was genuinely happy with her gift and not just being polite.

“I’m sorry, my gift is a bit cheap compared to yours; I hope you’ll still like it,” he said. She smiled, sure that whatever he had purchased would be fitting, if inexpensive.

As she drew out the coiling arm band, her smile faded. It was impossible that this was cheaper than her gift. The gold spiral looked like it was intricately woven and the whole piece shimmered with gem dust. She looked closely at the interlocking bands. The pattern was not perfectly repeating—within the loops were tiny symbols and figures, each representing a part of her life. There was the antler pattern her mother’s tribe used next to a Finwean sun. A dancing woman leaped impossibly small, suspended between the bands of metal. The equations she worked with the most were there, next to cherry blossoms—her favorite flower.

“Brim,” she said quietly. “How did you make this?”

“What do you mean?” he asked. “It’s basic goldsmithing, filigree, and etching. Do you like it?”

“Yes, of course, I just—” she slipped the armband on. She realized it wasn’t just beautiful, it had some sort of power woven in as well. There was nothing flashy; the world didn’t turn over and show it’s secret formulas; she didn’t feel unspeakable power coursing through her veins. She simply felt like she’d walked into a room, expecting nothing but strangers, but instead a friend was smiling from the corner. As soon as she put on the arm band she felt reassured. 

“How could you afford the materials? It looks so expensive. And I’ve never seen something as intricate as this in my life.”

“Oh.” He looked a little embarrassed. “Well the gold isn’t really gold—it’s an alloy mixed enough that I don’t think it could still be classified as gold. I used a mix of white gem dust and granted it slight luminescence. And as for the intricacy,” here he smiled a little, “I don’t know, I’ve been doing this since I was small and I was having fun.”

Coroniel was still gaping at the band. “I don’t know what to say—I never thought I’d own anything like this.” She wrenched her eyes away. “But thank you—I don’t think I’ve ever received a gift that has been so perfectly made for me before.”

Celebrimbor lit up with a real smile then. “I’m glad you like it.”

~

Celebrimbor was also capable of unfortunate surprises. Not all of them were his fault. There were many people in Gondolin who would always mistrust him because of his family. Therion and Côlwen were two such people. Côlwen would eventually speak with Coroniel again, but never to Celebrimbor. Therion was worse—there were several times when they’d ended up in the same tavern as the other and Therion would begin speaking to the other patrons. Eventually the growing animosity and poisonous glances would make Coroniel and Celebrimbor uncomfortable enough that they had to leave. Coroniel always chafed at this, but Celebrimbor was adamant that confronting Therion was a recipe for disaster.

There was also still Cemenon, or as Alassion called him, the-not-so-secret-admirer for the way he would frequently be seen lurking around their favorite places. Coroniel found it hard to joke about him though—his burning stare made her very uneasy. Whenever it was directed their way, she wanted to cover Celebrimbor with a blanket and drive Cemenon off. Celebrimbor also refused to do anything about Cemenon, even though he no longer had any claim to be guarding Celebrimbor. 

Events came to a head one evening after the bi-annual games. They were stumbling home, surrounded by other revellers, celebrating or bemoaning their champion’s victory or defeat when Cemenon appeared in front of them. Coroniel and Celebrimbor to lurched back, almost falling over. 

“What do you want?” Coroniel demanded.

Celebrimbor tried a friendlier tack. “Are you enjoying the games?”

“You’re visibly intoxicated,” Cemenon said. Celebrimbor looked around in confusion. They were surrounded by visibly intoxicated elves, and no one was stopping them from going home.

“And?” Coroniel asked.

“That’s against the King’s Law.”

“Someone better tell the other thousand people in the street right now.” Coroniel was so angry she could feel her breath constricting and her vision tunnelling as she looked at Cemenon.

“Peace, Cori,” Celebrimbor said, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“He’s not allowed to do this,” Coroniel said. She was yelling, and a crowd was gathering around them, but she didn’t care.

“It will be fine,” Celebrimbor said quietly. 

“No, it’s not fine.” She turned to Cemenon. “Leave us alone!”

“Are you resisting a guard of the city?” Cemenon asked, finally whirling on her.

“We’re not; just do whatever you’re going to do,” Celebrimbor said.

“If you’re taking him in, you have to take me in too,” Coroniel said, baring her teeth.

“Cori, please, just come by the guard house in the morning.” Celebrimbor turned to Cemenon. “I assume you’re not stashing me in the dungeons? Do you even have dungeons?”

“That’s enough,” Cemenon said. “Give me your knife, and put your hands behind your head.”

Coroniel almost grabbed Cemenon, thinking to escalate the situation further, but something in his voice gave her pause. There was something almost unhinged in his eyes. She didn’t want to give up, but she also knew that getting into a fight in the street was foolish.

“The eastern guard house.” Cemenon didn’t answer her. “I will go straight to Princess Idril if anything happens. She knows me and she’s friends with Celebrimbor.”

“Yes,” Cemenon bit out. “Now walk,” he told Celebrimbor. 

Celebrimbor shot her a last warning look, as he walked off in front of Cemenon. The onlookers, seeing nothing else interesting was going to happen, began to wander off, and Coroniel was left standing in the road clenching her fists with helpless anger.

~

Despite her raging headache, Coroniel was outside the eastern guard house when the first bells of dawn rang. 

The guard was changing, and Coroniel was almost run over several times before she finally tucked herself away in a corner. She wasn’t exactly sure where to go—there didn’t seem to be any public office or obvious place where Celebrimbor was being kept. 

She finally decided to go into what appeared to be the main building. Here there were several desks, and a large table, and still no clear person to go to or place where she should ask after Celebrimbor. She planted herself in front of an elf hurrying across the room.

“Hello, excuse me.” He stopped and looked at her, surprised.

“Can I help you? What are you doing here?”

“I’m looking for a prisoner.”

“What? What are you talking about?” He looked puzzled, with a measure of wariness thrown in.

“Last night, an elf was taken in for public intoxication,” Coroniel said evenly. “He’s tall, dark hair, grey eyes,” she held up her hand to forestall the protest that she’d just described half the elves in the city, “he has Aman-bright eyes, and a silvery undertone to his hair, and was wearing black clothing.”

The guard shook his head. “I haven’t seen anyone who matches that description. And public intoxication? Who would bother to take anyone in for drunkenness during the games?”

“I know,” Coroniel said. “But nonetheless.” She saw Cemenon out of the corner of her eye. “Sorry, I see the guard who took him in. HEY!” she yelled at Cemenon, waving. He started, and looked around with an apprehensive air.

“WHERE IS CELEBRIMBOR?” Coroniel continued yelling. Cemenon hurried over.

“Hush, hush, I’ll go get him.”

“Why doesn’t anyone know that you took someone in last night?”

“It wasn’t important.”

“Then why did you arrest him in the first place?” Coroniel asked.

“Would you like me to get him?” An edge was starting to creep into his voice.

“Yes,” Coroniel said flatly.

“Well, meet me around the side of the building.” Cemenon gestured behind him. 

Coroniel glared at him as walked away, and then hurried to the side entrance.

A few minutes later, Celebrimbor appeared, following Cemenon. Coroniel looked at him carefully. He appeared unharmed, if tired. He lifted his hand to push back a loosened braid and Coroniel noticed red lines on his wrist. Coroniel grabbed his hand.

“What’s this?” she demanded.

“Can I leave?” Celebrimbor ignored her question and addressed Cemenon.

“Yes, and don’t cause any more trouble.” Cemenon looked like he wanted to leave himself.

“Wait a moment, I’m not satisfied,” Coroniel said. “What is your excuse for taking him in? Why are—”

“Cori, leave it. Let’s go.” Celebrimbor grabbed her hand and began walking away.

“You can’t be serious,” Coroniel said.

Celebrimbor continued walking so quickly she had to jog to keep up. Outside the yard, he turned onto a small street, dropped her hand, and ran down the stairs to a small garden level yard.

“Turn around and keep watch,” he said. He shifted his clothing and began urinating into a flowerpot.

“Brim, what in the unholy pits?” Coroniel said, nervously looking up and down the empty street. 

Celebrimbor groaned in relief. “I’m sorry, but I’ve had to piss for about four hours. Cemenon wouldn’t untie me, and when I asked he actually stood on me. But I managed to hold it.”

“What? He stood on you? Brim, he can’t treat you like this. You have to do something.”

Celebrimbor straightened his clothes and stood next to her at street level. “I don’t have to do anything.”

“Why are you letting him treat you like this? One word to your family—”

“I’m not asking them for help,” his tone was final, as his eyebrows drew together in annoyance.

Somehow, the depth of his stubbornness could still surprise her. He was capable of reasoning about so many topics, listening patiently to all manner of people, and considering different viewpoints in any matter of art, science, technology, or social question. But when he had dug into something like this, there was nothing anyone could do to change his mind.

But Cemenon’s actions had crossed a line, and Coroniel was capable of a kind of futile mulishness of her own.

“He’s abusing his power as a guard of the city. Come on, if not for yourself, think about the precedent he’s setting. He could be treating someone else this exact same way.”

Celebrimbor lifted his eyebrows slightly, unimpressed. “But he’s not. His problem is with me, Celebrimbor of the House Fëanor, specifically.”

“Come on, you were doing nothing wrong and he locked you in a cell.”

Celebrimbor laughed mirthlessly. “They don’t even have holding cells. Cemenon just left me tied to a pipe in a supply closet all night.”

“That’s worse.” 

“This was a minor inconvenience. I’m not bothering any of my family over this.” Celebrimbor began walking away.

Coroniel breath in through her mouth and out through her nose, trying to quell her rage. He was impossible.

Chapter Text

The autumn day dawned bright and clear; there was a crispness in the air that hadn’t been there yesterday and the sky was an unusually bright shade of blue. A perfect day to get out of the palace , Idril thought.

She already had plans to see Celebrimbor today, but she had his address and didn’t think he’d mind if she stopped by his place early. He always loved seeing Eärendil, and Eärendil would love an adventure in the city.

As she dressed and did her hair, she found last night’s argument with her father still bounced around her head; sleeping on problems did not always soothe or solve them. 

She had brought up the argument in favor of listening to Ulmo again. They alone of the Noldor on these hither shores still seemed to have the ear of a Vala; it seemed to her they should heed his advice.

“Leave, and go where? Shall I march to Angband and challenge Morgoth myself like Fingolfin?” Turgon had demanded.

“We cannot know what’s beyond the Pelori until we venture, maybe Ulmo—”

“There you are wrong, for I have sent many elves beyond the mountains with the express purpose of obtaining aid from Aman. So far, I have sent dozens to their death. Voronwë is the other one who has returned.” Turgon had started with a moderate voice, but by the end he was yelling. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

“No, Itarillë, you did not see the forces of Morgoth, but I did at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. I know that treachery was our ultimate undoing there, but when I think of the hosts of Morgoth that I saw, I know we could not defeat them with the strength of Gondolin alone. And he has only grown in power since then.” Turgon sat down heavily, the weight of how alone they were falling heavily on him.

“But now that Thingol has fallen, and Melian’s protection no longer encircles it, maybe Doriath—”

Turgon cut her off with a despairing laugh. “I counted on no aid from Doriath when I received Findekáno’s summons to join him and I certainly count for no aid from Doriath now when they are weak and vulnerable. Yes, I know that they should have more motivation now to stand with us against Morgoth, but they love us no more than they did before, and their policies were alway to place their own welfare above all others. I doubt that young Dior has changed that policy.”

“There is still Maedhros—”

Turgon silenced her with a look, and that was the end of the argument. Idril didn’t have an answer to how they should stand up to Morgoth, only the words of a God, bolstered by the man she loved more than anything else in the world except Eärendil, and the complete surety that Gondolin was destined for destruction in unholy fire. She sighed heavily, and the bright day seemed dimmer as last night's argument ran through her mind. Who knew how many times they would retread that tired fight? Probably until the forces of Angband overran the city.

She found Eärendil and his nanny Olbawen after she had finished getting ready. She helped her finish dressing Eärendil and collecting everything he would need for a trip out the palace. It always amazed her how much support a tiny child required. She remembered children being born during their trip across the Helcaraxë — she couldn’t fathom how those parents had coped keeping a child alive in an environment that seemed bent on the destruction of even the strongest of them. 

Finally ready, the three of them left the palace. It was slow going. First there was Eärendil himself. He was just beginning to walk, and loved to move about on his own legs, but fell over frequently and tired quickly. As they moved at a snail’s pace through the palace grounds, Idril was constantly stopped by courtiers, lords, ladies, and council members wanting to greet her, say hello to Eärendil, or ask her advice on something. Idril glanced at the sun, and then at the gate, thirty paces away. She had thought she’d surprise Celebrimbor with an early visit, but now she’d be lucky to catch him before he left the house.

After they left the palace grounds, they moved somewhat faster, but Eärendil still wanted to stop and look at everything. She could have hurried him through the city, but his curiosity was wonderful to see, and he loved to talk, using the handful of words he knew and babbling when he just wanted to say something.

Finally they were in the Willow district, near where Celebrimbor lived. She began watching the houses, and stopped when she saw the right number, although the suffix was missing. She was surprised — it was a large house, with an actual lot that had space for a garden. Celebrimbor had told her his place was run down.

“This doesn’t look too bad,” Olbawen said.

“No it doesn’t,” Idril said as she rapped on the door. An elf with brown hair and slight stoop opened the door. 

“Can I help—oh!” The realization that the Princess of Gondolin was standing on his doorstep sank in. “Your grace, how may I be of service.” He bowed deeply.

“Greetings! I’m here to visit my cousin.”

“Your cousin?” The elf looked confused.

“Yes, Celebrimbor. An inch or two taller than me, dark hair, large build, a smith. He said he lives here.”

The elf was beginning to look worried.

“Oh yes, Celebrimbor. He doesn’t live here exactly.” He swallowed. “Follow me.”

Idril and Olbawen were led around the house and past an overrun garden. In the back, next to the wall, was a rickety shed. The walls appeared to be made of spare boards, the different kinds of wood warping away from each other. The whole thing was on a slight angle, and Idril guessed that the floor was dirt.

“He lives there, Princess. Please let me know if you need anything.” The elf bowed hastily and almost ran off, trying to escape Idril’s dark look.

“This is not a legal residence,” Idril told Olbawen. “You know, I created the building codes for a reason. Tyelpë should know better.” She knocked.

Celebrimbor opened the door. “Taltye! I thought we were going to meet by the palace?”

“Yes we were. It is just such a beautiful fall day that I couldn’t resist a walk.”

“And who is this?” He turned to Olbawen.

“This is Olbawen, Eärendil’s nanny,” Idril said as Celebrimbor and Olbawen bowed to each other.

Eärendil reached for Celebrimbor. “Up! Up!” he demanded.

Celebrimbor grabbed Eärendil and tossed him up a few times as Eärendil squealed delightedly. 

“Oh my goodness, you’re so big! If you keep growing at this rate you’ll be as big as a horse next time I see you.”

Eärendil found the idea of being as large as a horse so ridiculous he had to bury his face in Celebrimbor’s hair as he laughed, suddenly shy.

“Come on in while I get ready.” Celebrimbor ushered her inside.

“I’ll stay out here,” said Olbawen, eyeing the house doubtfully.

Idril stepped inside. “Tyelpë, this house breaks so many codes. In fact, I think this is a repurposed shed.”

“It’s absolutely a repurposed shed. It’s great — I can do anything I want to it. Also, it’s so cheap, so don’t rat out the landlord and ruin this for me.” Celebrimbor was braiding his hair back, his voice muffled as he talked around the pins in his mouth.

Idril looked around the small room. It was dark and smokey. The only window had no glass, only a pair of wooden shutters, so Celebrimbor would have to choose either light and air or dark and privacy. The fireplace was decidedly makeshift, with a small tripod over it for cooking and a rickety chimney.

“This place is a fire hazard.”

“I’m careful.” Celebrimbor was sitting on his bed as he pulled on his shoes, one of only two seats in the room. The bed was so narrow she thought her cousin’s broad shoulders would barely fit. 

“I didn’t write the fire code only for my cousin to ignore it and die in a tragic and predictable blaze.”

Celebrimbor rolled his eyes at her. “Really, I’m fine. Besides, if I lived someplace nicer I wouldn’t be able to make things like this.” He reached up to a shelf built into the wall and took something down. “Eärendil, I have a present for you.”

Eärendil looked up from where he was studying a book upside down.

“Present?” he repeated, eyes eager.

Celebrimbor handed him a toy knight on a horse. 

“I know you said he really likes boats, but I know very little about boats.”

They watched as Eärendil lowered the lance on the night, and then grabbed a sock and made it face the knight. He wiggled the sock on the ground and made hissing noises. He then roared at the top of his lungs and nudged the horse. All on its own, the knight began to gallop towards the sock monster. He screamed in delight.

“For that matter, how does he know about boats? The rivers here are hardly large enough for a coracle.”

“He loves stories about the sea. I have several stories about my adventures when Atar would take me sailing with Findaráto, and they’re his favorite. He loves to hear about seeing seals and whales, and I set him in a rocking chair and say the movement is the waves.” 

Eärendil grabbed a sharp looking tool out of Celebrimbor’s bag and seemed intent on giving his sock monster the tool. With a panicked look Celebrimbor snatched it out of his hand. 

“Let’s go to the park—I haven’t made my room suitable for a child.”

“Your room isn’t suitable for an adult!”

~

They went to one of the few parks in the city, a square of green surrounded by marble. There were fountains of course, but these were gentle bubbling fountains with ducks that swam in them. They played with Eärendil until he was tired. 

With Eärendil napping on Olbawen, Celebrimbor and Idril sat on the edge of the fountain watching the other people strolling in the park. 

“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Celebrimbor asked.

“What? I just wanted to see you! I’m so busy now, and you're so busy with whatever nonsense Maeglin has you doing; thought we were due to spend some time together.”

Celebrimbor raised his eyebrows at her. “That’s true enough. How is Tuor doing?”

“Tuor is well. He is still hungry for knowledge.” She smiled faintly. “He wants to master Quenya and insists that it’s all we speak at home.”

“That is no hardship.”

“I do worry that that is slowing Eärendil’s learning.”

“Is Eärendil’s speech behind where it should be?”

Idril nodded. “Tuor says he thinks it is typical for mortal children to learn language more slowly, but he’s not sure. I just worry so much for him.”

“He seems very happy and healthy; I’m sure he’ll learn to speak well soon enough.”

“No, no.” Idril found her fears and worries that she kept pent up tumbling out. “This is just the first thing I don’t know! We really have no idea how a half-elven child will grow. How much of him is mortal and how much is elven? Tuor tells me that the Atani must do things like boil water to keep disease away, and that cuts can become terribly inflamed even if they look clean. And Eärendil was sick last month in the way of mortals. He grew terribly hot, but he shook like he was cold and cried terribly.”

Celebrimbor took her hand and squeezed it, concern on his face. 

“And then I cannot help but think,” Idril tilted her head up, looking at the sky and willing the tears to stay in her eyes, “I can’t help but think that I don’t know whether he will have the life of the Firstborn or the Secondborn or some blend of the two. And that I will in all likelihood have to part from them forever someday.”

“I’m so sorry Taltye. I cannot imagine what that must be like.”

“I thought I knew what I was doing, and I would choose Tuor again if the choice was given to me, but sometimes I watch them playing together in the evenings and I’m struck by the knowledge that my time with them will be so short, and then I will be alone again forever.” 

Celebrimbor just squeezed her hand. He didn’t say anything; no one in Gondolin could truly understand her pain, but at least he didn’t offer empty reassurances or platitudes.

Idril took a deep breath. “Most of the time I am very happy. Maybe the happiness is sweeter because it is temporary; that’s what Tuor says and sometimes I believe him.”

“Mortals do have a wisdom of their own.” That sat in silence for a few minutes while Idril mastered herself.

“Have I complained about my father yet?”

“Not today actually. He must be bothering you less than usual,” Celebrimbor said with a smile. As one of the few people in Gondolin who could listen to rants about the High King without anxiety, Idril subjected him to all her complaints. 

“Far from it. I’m just sick of thinking about it. I’m so tired of being ignored. And yes my father listens to me in some things, but I can’t help but think if I were a son instead of a daughter he would listen more carefully.”

Celebrimbor shook his head. “I do not understand why our family hesitates to include women in matters of governance. You know, many of the Atani tribes and some of the Sindar I met in Himlad had no such traditions. Women inherited leadership the same as men.”

Idril grimaced. “Ah well. You can’t control what family you’re born into. Anyway, I’m determined to do whatever I can to make certain I get my full share of years, few as they may be, with my family.”

Celebrimbor looked at her curiously. “Are you planning something?”

“No. Not yet anyway. But I pray for a useful vision, beyond the hateful dreams of fire and death.” Idril shook herself, as if to dispel the dark turn the conversation had taken. Eärendil raised his head and blinked sleepily a few times before jumping up, suddenly awake.

“What shall we do now?” Celebrimbor asked.

“Let’s have tea someplace where we can sit outside.” 

Celebrimbor made a face. “I’m so tired of what you call tea. If I’d realized I was sacrificing proper tea by coming to Gondolin, I may have taken my chances on the outside after all.”

“Oh come, it’s not so bad. You just need to add a few spoonfuls of honey.”

As Idril carried Eärendil home that evening, she tried to press the bright day into her heart to carry with her through the frustrating weeks ahead. For all she mocked Celebrimbor for playing at being a common laborer, she understood the impulse. His thin-walled home afforded him more privacy than Idril’s suite of rooms. She and Tuor had talked about moving to her house in the Bronze District, but she would still be surrounded by staff and counselors at all times. She sighed, trying to expel her jealousy with her breath. She was a princess, blessed with the powers of her ancestors, with a noble family by birth and marriage. She should be counting her blessings, not wishing for a different fate.

Chapter Text

Coroniel slid the armband up her arm. Through the years, Celebrimbor had given her many more pieces of jewelry, much of it magical, but the armband remained her favorite. In addition to the feeling of reassurance it provided, it also reminded her that some people truly saw and understood her. Despite feeling sometimes like a cipher adrift in a sea of simple addition, there were friends who knew her to her core.

She didn’t actually need that reminder tonight—she was feeling seen and appreciated by the wider world for once. She had finally been promoted to the rank of senior journeyman, and had been given oversight of not one but two apprentices. Tonight they were braving the cold and celebrating her promotion with a stop at all of their favorite taverns. 

Coroniel had high hopes that it would be a wild night because they were celebrating Celebrimbor’s new position with the Royal Smiths as well. He had been doing more than cleaning at this point for the House of the Mole, and had been given some minor projects, but Maeglin still held a grudge over his initial deception and Celebrimbor’s hopes for true collaboration and innovative work had never materialized.

Celebrimbor had been growing frustrated over the years, but had refused to ask for anything more, in a typical and irritating display of stubbornness. He continued to take side commissions from Turgon though, and when finally the forgemaster himself had asked him if he would join the Royal Guild, Celebrimbor actually believed he was being asked on his own merits and not out of some bizarre pity.

As she tried to decide between scarves, she heard a commotion in the street. She frowned; it was too early for any sort of antics, and she couldn’t recall any sport going on in the dead of winter that would cause a city-wide ruckus. She continued getting ready; she needed to leave soon and she was sure she’d find out whatever it was at the first tavern.

“Coroniel! Coroniel!” The noise was coming from the opposite window; her neighbor Helegnes was trying to get her attention.

Despite the time, Coroniel went over to the window and stuck her head out. Helegnes usually didn’t bother her when her windows were closed, so it was likely something urgent.

“What is it?” Coroniel asked.

Helegnes looked truly distressed. “Doriath has fallen!”

“What?” She had never set foot outside of Gondolin, but she knew how significant Doriath was, and how strong the Enemy must have become for it to fall. The dread she sometimes felt when thinking of the world outside of Tumladen woke again, knotting her stomach and settling there. 

“How?”

“It, it—” Helegnes was overcome. “Can I come over?”

“Of course.” Now Coroniel was seriously worried. She shut the window and opened the door for her neighbor.

Helegnes walked inside and sat down at the table. “Doriath has fallen,” she repeated.

“But how? Did Morgoth’s forces overwhelm them? Was it the dwarves?”

“No, it was the sons of Fëanáro. They attacked another elven realm for the sake of the Silmaril, and killed King Dior, Queen Nimloth, and their young children.”

Coroniel wished she was sitting down. She staggered to the seat across from Helegnes. The thought of Doriath falling not from Morgoth, but from other elves was beyond belief. She suddenly realized why Helegnes was so upset.

“Your brother,” she breathed. Helegnes’ brother had chosen to follow Maedhros instead of Turgon, and to their knowledge was still one of his sworn soldiers.

Helegnes started to gasp with dry sobs, gulping air. “I don’t know. I don’t know,” she kept repeating.

Coroniel stood back up and put her arms around Helegnes, letting her cry into her shoulder. 

As her mind finally began to process the news, the implications began to sink in. If Doriath had fallen, Gondolin was the only great realm left. And that meant that their downfall would be sought with all the more fervor. Ever since the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, there had been a feeling held among the citizens of Gondolin that it was best not to look too far into the future. It was not often spoken, but creeping pessimism snuck into their lives in other ways. Some no longer looked to each new year with the expectation that it would be brighter than the last. Fewer children were born. Times of celebration sometimes took on a manic tinge, as the revellers threw themselves into the joy of now to block out the sorrow of later.

“But what happened?” Coroniel asked, still hardly able to comprehend the news. Helegnes’ sobs had slowed.

“The rumor of what happened is confused. Someone said Lord Nelayfinwë still lives, but some of the others were slain.”

The realization of what this would mean for Celebrimbor struck her. Coroniel looked wildly at the door; he had planned to drop by her place and leave with her for their night out since she was between the House of the Mole and the first tavern. 

“Do you know if Lord Curufinwë was slain?” Helegnes just shook her head.

“I should, I should…” Coroniel didn’t know what she should do. There was no etiquette for how to handle the death of your best friend’s estranged father, especially not when it occurred during a heinous crime. 

“Are you waiting for someone?” Helegnes asked.

“Yes, Celebrimbor is supposed to be here any minute.” 

Helegnes’ eyes widened. “Oh no.”

Coroniel glanced at the door again. If she went out, she was just as likely to miss him as she was to find him. All she could do was wait.

~

Celebrimbor finished up his work on time for once, cleaning up his workspace and putting away his tools well before the dinner bell. Knowing that he was only going to be at the House of the Mole a few more days, he didn’t see much point in starting anything new—he wouldn’t have time to finish it before he left. He could also finally give up on winning Maeglin over. He’d held onto hope that one day his cousin would be so impressed and overwhelmed by something he created that he would have to at least respect Celebrimbor. But that had never happened, and the hope of another future where they became friends, drawn together by so many similar threads, was abandoned.

He waved to a few fellow smiths and Intyamo as he left. After several years, he was friends with many of the elves there. The House of the Mole had never lived up to his dreams of a true brotherhood of like minded craftsmen though; another potentiality that he would toast goodbye tonight. Celebrimbor shook his head. He was surprised at how maudlin he felt this evening, but goodbyes were hard even when the destination was something exciting. 

He stopped at a street food vendor on his way to Coroniel’s place. He knew she’d make fun of him for getting food before their night of going to many places where food was served, but he was always hungry after work, and knew he’d be in a better mood after eating. 

As he watched the vendor cook the crepe he had ordered, commotion began rising in the street. Someone was yelling, two elves ran by him with urgent expressions on their faces, and people were stepping out of their shops and homes.

“What’s going on?” the vendor asked.

“I’m not sure,” Celebrimbor replied. He noticed two elves walking by speaking urgently. “Friends, what news have you heard?”

“Doriath has fallen,” said one grimly.

“What, how?” he asked, his heart sinking. He had known it was inevitable that tragedy would strike the wider world, it was part of his reason for seeking Gondolin, but that did not make the news any easier to bear.

“In the foulest of ways. The sons of Fëanor attacked Menegroth, in search of the Silmaril.” Celebrimbor began to hear a dull ringing, and it was hard to pay attention to the next words. “Dior Eluchil and Nimloth are dead.”

“They even killed the children,” the other elf spat.

 “Foul beasts.”

“The children,” Celebrimbor said, automatically repeating what he heard.

“Yes, two boys, younger than ten, and a baby girl.” The elf continued, working himself in a greater rage over the atrocity. Celebrimbor stood frozen, unable to react to what he had heard. 

“Hey, HEY.” Celebrimbor looked up. The vendor was holding his crepe. “Your food’s ready. What’s going on?”

He mutely shook his head and began walking, not knowing where he was heading. He walked the slush covered streets, going over the last times he had spoken with his father and uncles in his head. Curufin’s poisoned smile and Celegorm’s eyes lit with menace crossed his mind.

“Where are you going?” He was stopped suddenly by someone stepping in front of him. It was Cemenon. He was not alone. He saw Therion there, and some other familiar and unfamiliar elves. Celebrimbor looked around, startled to see many angry faces staring back at him. 

“I told you he’d come this way,” Cemenon said. Celebrimbor saw that without realizing it, his feet had led him towards home. They were on a small side street; there was still a general sense of commotion coming from the main road a block away, but no passersby or people on any kind of daily business here.

“How could this have happened?” someone demanded.

“Explain yourself!”

“Traitorous filth.”

Celebrimbor felt his heart begin to race and his muscles tense, the urge to fight or run rising in the face of so much hostility.

“How can I answer for their deeds? I was here. I have no contact with any of my House,” he said.

“You came here under false pretenses, lying to our lords, our King,” Therion said.

“What evil have you brought?”

“I’m not my father.” His mouth was suddenly dry.

“No, but he raised you, taught you, you followed him for years. Perhaps to end his evil you need to be ended as well.” Celebrimbor turned to the elf who had spoken. He could have sworn he’d never seen him before, but the hatred in the other’s eyes was personal.

“Son of a traitorous, murdering, thieving monster”

“End? What do you mean?” Celebrimbor asked. No one seemed to hear him.

“You and your family are a blight on the Noldor,” someone spat.

“Fëanor's madness has cursed us all”

Celebrimbor’s resolve to remain calm was crumbling beneath his growing anger. Anger at his father and uncles for becoming the monsters many had already believed them to be blended with anger at the accusations that were being thrown out by the crowd. The fact that if he were facing his father right now he would be saying similar words did not decrease his rage. 

“You know nothing of curses,” he said, turning to the elf who had spoken. He took a step forward. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and ducked. A rock flew past his face. He turned and saw a fist heading towards him. He stepped out of the way, his hands automatically rising. A savage joy filled him—it had been so long since he fought anything and in a strange way he missed it. 

Someone rushed towards him and Celebrimbor struck back, the muscle memory of years of training serving him well. His assailant staggered, but someone else was moving in on his right. As he turned, a kick buckled his knee from behind, and he fell to his knees, but still managed to avoid the punch coming at him.

He rose to his feet again, angling his body to throw another punch when something hit his head from behind. You're surrounded; get out! flew through his mind, but he knew he couldn’t escape the tight circle around him. He lurched forward and caught himself before bringing his knee up into the groin of the elf across from him

Someone to his left punched him in the stomach. Breath stolen for a moment, Celebrimbor spun around and saw Cemenon. With a snarl Celebrimbor threw himself at the elf, all of the helpless fury and shame suppressed for years rising up, surprising him with the strength of emotion. As he let loose a flurry of blows, he felt a dark joy at Cemenon’s surprised face behind upraised arms. 

His attack only lasted seconds before another blow to the head sent him reeling. Someone wrenched his arm back; he heard a pop and felt a flash of pain. As another punch blinded him, all he could think was shit .

He fell to the ground, cold radiating up from the ice as hot pain flashed through his body with every blow. He tried to curl in on himself, but someone wrench his head back and placed a foot on his neck, blocking out air and preventing any kind of protective movements. He clawed at the foot, panicking as he fought for breath. Not like this , he thought, before the darkness edging his vision swallowed him whole.

Chapter Text

The first thing Celebrimbor became aware of beyond the pulsing pain was that he was lying on an unpleasantly slimy surface. His first attempt at rising was a failure; something was wrong with his wrist and pushing on the ground just resulted in shooting agony. His other arm wouldn’t move. 

He rolled onto his back and tried to rise using his abdominal muscles. That was an even bigger mistake, and he found himself back on his side dry heaving. Finally he managed to sit up by pushing himself up with his elbow. He became aware of a strange high-pitched sound. It was very irritating, more so when he realized it was coming from his own throat.

After several minutes of sitting hunched on the ground, trying to comprehend the agony of breathing, he managed to master himself enough to consider standing up. Celebrimbor wiggled his feet; they at least seemed unharmed. It took several tries, but he finally managed to stand and lurched to the wall of a house as the world swam around him.

When he finally oriented himself he realized he was only a few city streets from Coroniel’s home and a few more from his own. As he staggered to the end of the street, the handful of blocks ahead felt like a ten league march with no food or water. It would have to be Coroniel’s then. He spat out a mouthful of blood and took a shallow breath. I’ve done harder things , he told himself. He couldn’t recall what those things were at the moment.
~

Coroniel walked out to the street for what felt like the hundredth time. It was a little over an hour from when Celebrimbor was supposed to meet her, but it felt like it had been days. Her normally quiet district had been humming with activity, but was now slowing down. Everyone had been running home, or to their friends and family, or to the square. The original news was constantly distorting. She heard Amras and Amrod were dead, or only one. The other pair of twins, Elured and Elurin, had escaped, were lost, or were dead depending on who was talking. The darkest tale was that baby Elwing’s skull had been smashed on the ground. She didn’t know if she believed that; there was a version where she had been spirited away by forest creatures, saved by Lady Galadriel in another telling, or had flown away all by herself in perhaps the oddest rumor. Maedhros had the Silmaril, and he had also lost it. Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, Dior, and Nimloth stayed consistently dead, so she supposed that much was the truth.

She anxiously looked up and down the street. It looked the same as last time. She was about to go inside when something caught her attention a few houses away. She hurried over. It was definitely an elf, and the clothing looked familiar.

“Brim,” she said cautiously. 

The figure’s head fell back. It was Celebrimbor. One eye was swollen completely closed and the other eye was barely open. There was blood coming from his nose, mouth, and several cuts and abrasions on his face. 

“Shit” was all Coroniel could manage. 

“Cori.” His voice was a harsh whisper. Coroniel looked up and down the street, looking both for hidden enemies and for someone who could help her get Celebrimbor up the stairs. Neither appeared; the few people on the street were on the other side and didn’t spare a glance at them.

“Alright, we have to get you up somehow.” After a few disastrous attempts to pull him onto his feet, Coroniel finally wedged herself under his armpit and managed to ignore the pained sounds long enough to get him on his feet. “Come on, it’s not far, you can make it.”

Make it they did, with much cursing over the stairs and two painful collapses. Finally in her room, she took one look at her impractically tall bed, and eased Celebrimbor onto the floor next to it.

She stared at him in dismay; she had never seen anyone as badly injured in her life. She had no idea what to do. Should she mop up the blood? That might just make him bleed more. She was pretty sure he had some broken bones. Should she try to immobilize them? But how to even begin?

She squeezed her eyes shut; she needed to ask for help. She opened her mind and reached out to the only person she could think of.

Ama, she thought urgently, and sent out an image of Celebrimbor in his injured state. Her mother noticed immediately. With a pang of guilt, Coroniel realized that her mother always had her mind open to her. 

Corondes sent back several images of her cloak, shoes, and a satchel and the sense of haste that she had. After a moment, Coroniel saw an image of water pouring out of a tap. That was instruction , she thought. But should he drink the water, or should I clean him? She was reminded why she rarely communicated mind-to-mind; it felt strange and intrusive and was never quite as easy as it seemed.

She ended up doing both, first coaxing him to take a few sips of water, and then starting to mop up the worst of the blood on his face. 

She was just beginning to contemplate looking for blood elsewhere when her bell rang. She ran down the stairs to let her mother in.

Sel nín.” Corondes embraced her for a moment. “How are you?” she asked, anxiously searching her daughter’s face.

Coroniel just shook her head. Words like ‘worried’ and ‘scared’ seemed too weak and detached to explain how she felt. Corondes kissed her on the forehead after a moment of silence.

“Come on,” Coroniel said, and led her mother to her room. 

Inside, Corondes pursed her lips before turning to her daughter. “Get me a bowl of warm water, a bucket of boiling water, and an empty bucket. Once you’re done with that, bring some clean rags and some snow from outside.” With that, she knelt down next to Celebrimbor and began cutting away his clothing. She began to hum, drawing power from Song, and guiding it through her hands.

Coroniel stood in the middle of her room in amazement for a moment, before running next door to borrow a bucket. Normally, she saw her mother as a little bit shallow, and would have described her as flighty, even though she knew that wasn’t fair. Corondes had faced more than her fair share of danger and had told her and her brother tales of the aftermath of attacks by orcs and other terrifying creatures who endangered her tribe in the woods of Núath and on the banks of the Narog. She was still proud of her skills as a healer, even though she no longer used them in Gondolin. Coroniel had theoretically known her mother had seen and treated serious wounds, but for some reason she had still expected to spend several minutes consoling her after seeing Celebrimbor. Instead, Corondes didn’t seem bothered in the least. 

Coroniel shook herself and followed her mother’s instructions. 

~

Coroniel heard the bell ring and leaped up to see who was in the courtyard; she had already learned more about setting bones that she ever wanted to know, and would have cheerfully greeted a dragon at this point. 

Downstairs, she was greeted by Alassion and Lodrien’s apologetic faces.

“What a terrible night to choose to celebrate a well-deserved promotion,” Lodrien said. Her face changed, shifting to shock. “Wait, is that blood? What happened? Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m fine. Celebrimbor was badly beaten though. He’s upstairs with my mother.”

“What? Who attacked him?” Lodrien looked ready for violence herself.

“I have no idea,” Coroniel replied.

“I have a good guess,” Alassion said darkly.

“Yes, well, we’ll have to wait until he’s coherent to confirm.” Coroniel wasn’t angry; maybe that would come later, but she wasn’t sure. If anything, she felt defeated.

“What can we do?” asked Lodrien.

Coroniel stared off in the distance for a moment. She hadn’t thought beyond the next minute ever since she saw the slumped body of her friend.

“Someone will need to tell whoever is in charge of the Royal Smiths. I don’t think he’ll be reporting for work tomorrow. In fact, he probably won’t be coming in for at least a week.”

“I can do that,” Alassion said. “I know who to talk to.”

“And if someone could grab clothes from Celebrimbor’s place, he’ll need those at some point,” she continued. 

“Easy enough,” said Lodrien.

“Could you bring us all something for breakfast tomorrow too? I couldn’t eat anything right now, but I’m sure Ama and I will be ravenous in the morning.”

“Of course.” Lodrien bit her lip. “We’ll celebrate sometime soon.”

Alassion shook his head. “I doubt Brim will feel like celebrating in the near future. Valar, I can’t even imagine.”

“Me neither,” said Coroniel. They remained silent for a moment trying to absorb the new world they’d been plunged into. Silmarils, kinslaying, and doom had always been someone else's story. It still was, but that someone else was a friend they saw at least once a week. The brooding evil that was outside the Echoriath seemed closer than ever.

They bid each other goodbye, and Coroniel slowly went up the stairs to her room. Her mother was putting her supplies away.

“Who was that?” Corondes asked.

“My friends.” Coroniel sighed. “They wanted to apologize about picking the worst day for a celebration.”

Corondes smiled wanly. “You have very good friends.”

“I have a very good mother,” Coroniel said. Corondes opened her arms, and they held each other for a long moment. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Of course sel nín ,” Corondes whispered. She leaned back, surveying her face. Coroniel saw a familiar glint appear in her mother’s eye. “This is very tragic, but you now have an opportunity to be the first face he sees when he wakes up.”

“Ama!” 

Corondes laughed. “It worked on your father—I think it will work on Celebrimbor too.”

Coroniel found herself laughing along; she knew her mother was trying to goad her out of fear and sadness and she let her for a moment. 

“Ama, you’re supposed to be the responsible one, the guardian of your daughter’s heart. You should be warning me away from cursed princes.”

Corondes winked. “I have never claimed to be the responsible one. You claimed that title for yourself before your tenth begetting day.”

~

Coroniel woke up at her usual time, despite staying up most of the night. It was still dark out, but it was usually dark during winter in Gondolin, the high mountains blocking out the sun for the short hours she was in the sky.

She paused at the door, listening to her mother’s deep breathing and Celebrimbor’s labored breath. She then quietly left her room to walk the cold dark streets thinking of nothing in particular, wanting only to be alone. She rounded her block for the third time when she saw Lodrien hurrying by, a clay container under one arm, and a wrapped parcel under the other.

“Lodrien!” she called.

Lodrien stopped and turned. “What are you doing out Cori?”

“Just walking. I woke up and knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep. I thought I’d snatch a few moments alone before the day begins.” She peered at her bundle. “What did you get for breakfast?”

“An absurd number of pastries.”

“Perfect.” They walked back to Coroniel’s room, opening the door as softly as they could. Corondes was still asleep, but Celebrimbor turned his head from where he lay on the floor. 

“Elbereth!” whispered Lodrien. Celebrimbor tried to smile at her, but his split lip quickly snuffed out the attempt. 

“Hello Lodrien. Hello Cori.” His voice was a painful rasp.

Coroniel closed the door behind her as Lodrien set breakfast down on the table. “How are you feeling?”

“Awful.” Corondes stirred as Lodrien opened the lid on the jar she’d been carrying, releasing the enticing aroma of spiced tea. “But better than if I had woken up in an alley like I expected to. Or dead.”

“I imagine if you were dead you’d feel better.” Lodrien got out four mugs and began to pour the tea. “But we’d all feel worse.”

“Oh that smells marvelous.” Corondes rolled over to the side of the bed and peered down at Celebrimbor. “You’ll probably be able to eat and drink if you just try to use the right side of your mouth.”

“I’m not hungry at all,” he said. “I’m very thirsty though.”

Corondes sat up. “You should still try to eat.”

Lodrien approached Celebrimbor with a glass of water. “I’ve never seen someone’s face look so terrible.”

“Thanks,” Celebrimbor said drily. 

Corondes examined him critically. “The full bruising hasn’t happened yet. He will look far worse tomorrow. And in a few days you’ll be all green and yellow—you’ll look like one of the urkō from my childhood.”

From as much as she could read on his swollen face, Celebrimbor didn’t look very upset about his orcish future.

“I’ve always wondered what being disfigured would be like,” he said.

“You will have to keep wondering!” Corondes put her hands on her hips. “I was very careful to preserve your face. You’ll be beautiful again in a few weeks time. I think you’ll only lose the one tooth, and that will grow back eventually.”

“Thank you,” Celebrimbor said with sincerity. “Can you help me sit up?” he addressed Lodrien.

With effort, much swearing, and only a small bitten-off scream, Lodrien helped Celebrimbor into a sitting position leaning against the wall.

Celebrimbor was breathing heavily and had his eyes closed again. “So, I have several broken ribs, maybe a broken collar bone. Probably a broken wrist. What else?”

“Your shoulder was dislocated, you have kidney and tracheal trauma, and your nose was broken. And of course you are covered in cuts and bruises, but you’ll live!”

“Thank you,” Celebrimbor said again, but his eyes were far off. 

For some reason, Coroniel was reluctant to ask Celebrimbor what happened last night. Dawn was starting to creep in through the windows, and maybe if they just didn’t talk about it, the evil of last night would diffuse with the literal darkness.

Corondes had no such compunctions. “What on earth happened last night?”

“To me, or to the world?” Celebrimbor said. Coroniel wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.

“To you of course!” Corondes threw her arms up in the air. “The truth about what happened in Doriath will sort itself out in the end.”

“Do you know if he’s dead?” Celebrimbor asked.

Corondes sighed and was quiet for a moment. “No one will really know until we hear from the King—whoever broke the news last night was not working in an official capacity and much of what I heard was confused. But yes, all reports say that Lord Curufin is dead.”

Celebrimbor just nodded almost imperceptibly; he didn’t look surprised. He answered Corondes’ question as if he hadn’t received confirmation of his father’s death. “After I heard about the fall of Doriath I just started walking aimlessly, or maybe not, I think I was actually heading here, and then I was stopped by Cemenon, Therion, and several other elves.”

“The bastard,” Coroniel breathed.

“Yes, well, they weren’t happy with me, and started a fight.”

“How many?” asked Lodrien, her eyes wide.

“Maybe seven or eight? I’m not sure.”

“Seven or eight!” Coroniel exclaimed. “Cowards.”

“And they didn’t kill you?” Corondes asked thoughtfully. “Do you know why they stopped?”

Celebrimbor shook his head. “No, I lost consciousness and when I came to, I was alone.”

“You are alive and that is a blessing,” Corondes said with finality. “Now Celebrimbor, Coroniel, pay attention.” She began to lay out herbs and bandages, and give instructions for how and when to use them. She firmly advised Celebrimbor to rest, hinted that Lodrien should leave soon, and left with a promise to return tomorrow.

“I will let you rest,” said Lodrien. 

“Can you go by work and let them know I won’t be in?” asked Coroniel.

“Of course. I’ll also see you tomorrow? Maybe bring some dinner?”

“That sounds nice.” Coroniel smiled up at her.

When Lodrien closed the door behind her, Coroniel began aimlessly tidying; nothing needed cleaning or was out of place beyond the table and the dishes from breakfast, but she didn’t know what to say to Celebrimbor, and cleaning was the only thing she could think of to put off the conversation.

Finally she realized she’d moved the candles on the table three times, and made herself stop. She turned to Celebrimbor.

“Do you want me to help you lay down? Or help you up on the bed?”

Celebrimbor looked at her bed doubtfully. “No, I’m not tired.”

Coroniel sat down on the floor next to him. “Do you want to talk about anything?”

“No.” Celebrimbor continued staring fixedly at the other side of the room.

Coroniel did not know what to say to that, and could only sit in silence next to him for several minutes.

She cleared her throat. “Alassion let the Royal Smithy know that you wouldn’t be able to start today, and probably wouldn’t be able to come in for the rest of the week.”

“Hm.”

“I think that means that King Turgon will hear that you were injured.”

Celebrimbor just closed his eyes. “Cori, please. I want to not think about any of my family for a little bit.”

“Right, well, I guess I’ll let you be.” She sighed. Coroniel could already tell she wasn’t going to be a great caretaker, and Celebrimbor was going to be an equally bad patient. Unfortunately he would be unable to do anything for himself for at least a day, and couldn’t go back to home which she knew from experience was barely above freezing during the winter.

She stood up and resolved to try to get some work done. 

She was surprised when she heard her stomach gurgle several hours later. She’d actually managed to write up a proposal with half-way decent estimates and timelines for her upcoming project.

She glanced over at Celebrimbor, who was still sitting up against the wall. Seeing his clenched jaw and furrowed brow, Coroniel realized that he was supposed to have something for the pain awhile ago. She felt a stab of annoyance; why hadn’t he said anything ? He should know that she wouldn’t appreciate any sort of martyrdom while he was living in her room. 

“I’m getting us something for lunch,” she announced. “When I come back, we’ll figure out those herbs Ama left us.”

Celebrimbor just nodded. Coroniel grabbed a ceramic pot with a lid and a basket and left her room.

~

She returned not long after, but feeling better. The brisk walk to a local shop to buy some soup and bread had done much to lighten her mood. The walk home carrying her burdens was slower, but she was still resolved not to let Celebrimbor’s mood influence her own—he was allowed to be sad after all, considering the night he’d had.

Still, when she opened the door, she hadn’t expected to see Celebrimbor sobbing into the side of the bed. She set the soup on the floor and slowly walked over.

Again, she sat next to him, but this time she didn’t try to say anything and only set a hand lightly on his knee. Finally his sobs slowed.

“I don’t know why I’m even crying,” he said, his face still turned towards the bed. “I don’t even consider them my family any longer. I didn’t even think I cared if they lived or died.”

“But you loved your father once, didn’t you? And from what you’ve said, you still cared for some of your uncles.”

“Yes,” Celebrimbor whispered. 

“I think you’re allowed to mourn them still.”

Celebrimbor tried to sit up, and Coroniel helped guide him the rest of the way. 

“It’s not just mourning their deaths, although you’re right, of course I am. Caranthir and Celegorm really showed me more of the world than anyone else ever did. The fact that I know anything beyond crafting and books is thanks to them. But, I’m so worried that I’m just going to go through this again.”

“What do you mean?” Coroniel asked. 

“They still don’t have the Silmaril, at least, that’s how I heard it. And so, when it resurfaces again…” He didn’t finish his sentence, but just looked at Coroniel, stricken.

“I don’t understand, Morgoth holds two Silmarils—why not try to get those?”

Celebrimor leaned his head against the wall, looking exhausted. “We can’t overthrow him; I think they’ve given up.”

“Then, isn’t all hope lost?” The despair that Coroniel tried not to think about came rushing at her. “Not just for them, although they swore to take back all the Jewels, so if two are out of their reach there’s nothing they can do. But if Morgoth cannot be defeated surely he will find Gondolin eventually.”

Celebrimbor didn’t respond.

“How much longer can we go on like this? Knowing that it’s hopeless?” 

“Do you ask me for hope?” he finally said, bitterness in his voice.

“No,” Coroniel said softly, feeling drained. She should let Celerimbor rest, and be alone with his grief. Or not.

“Yes,” she said more firmly. “Yes, I’ll ask you for hope. You should be dead several times over – how have you kept going? You told me once that you were cursed. What was it? ‘To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well,’ but you’ve kept on beginning things.” 

“Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to find Gondolin and let the wild have me.”

“That’s bullshit. I know you don’t believe that. You’re always trying to make things better, you’re always dreaming about the future, you’re always trying to call out the beauty that’s in everything, and make everyone around you see it too.” Now Coroniel felt tears gather in the corner of her eyes; she was too tired to regulate her emotions. “And even if your family kills again, even if all most people see when they look at you is them, that doesn’t change who you are.”

Celebrimbor looked at her for a long moment. “No, you’re right, I usually do have hope that somehow we’ll make our way through. I don’t have any reason to, but it’s there. And if you don’t have any hope, spite and stubbornness can work just as well.” He tried to smile, but it quickly fell. “Everything just hurts now.”

“Oh Valar, the medication.” Coroniel jumped up and ran to the table where Corondes had left the herbs and instructions.

“I wasn’t talking about physical pain.”

“That is more bullshit. You’re not allowed to invade my room and then just sit there suffering when there’s a remedy.”

Celebrimbor looked like he was about to protest her description of him, but thought better of it.

“This is for pain, this is cleaning the wounds, and this is for sleep—I think we should use all of them at this point.”

Together they changed the bandages, and Coroniel brought in more snow from outside and put snow wrapped in cloth on the worst of Celebrimbor’s injuries. Then, she finally persuaded him to attempt to get into the bed. With a few more tears, which she tactfully ignored, Celebrimbor made it into the too-tall bed. 

She worried for a moment that the herbs wouldn’t work, despite the fact that she had put more than what her mother suggested in the tea. Celebrimbor’s restless shifting eventually stopped though, and Coroniel breathed a sigh of relief. She sat down, exhausted even though it wasn’t midafternoon yet, and feeling too tired to drag herself to bed; she was also thankfully too tired to muse on hope or the lack thereof any further today.

~

She woke with a start. It was completely dark in her room, and she felt disoriented after her unexpected nap. Someone was ringing the bell. She dragged herself up from her chair, stiff from sleeping in a slumped position. 

The bell rang again.

“Cori, are you awake?” Celebrimbor asked from the bed.

“Yes, yes, I’ll go see who it is. Probably Alassion with dinner or something.”

She slipped on some light shoes and went down the stairs. When she saw who was in the courtyard she immediately shut the door again. 

“Cori, you don’t have to let me up; I just want to talk,” Therion said.

“I don’t have to do anything with you. Leave.” She didn’t go back up the stairs though.

She heard Therion sigh heavily through the door. “I’m sorry.” Coroniel didn’t respond.

“I’m sorry,” Therion repeated. “I’ve been an ass. Maybe worse.” She heard a thump against the door. “I don’t expect you to forgive me for breaking apart a friendship of years or being so stubborn and reactionary, but I still wanted to apologize.”

Coroniel answered despite her intention to ignore him. “You certainly are an ass and have been so for years. So, what’s brought about your sudden repentance?” She wondered what he would admit to.

There was a long pause. Finally Therion said, “Have you heard from Celebrimbor?”

Coroniel faced a moment of decision before deciding to wrench the door open. Therion stumbled in; he’d been leaning his forehead against the door and was surprised to have his wall taken away from him.

“And why are you asking after his whereabouts? I thought you were apologizing to me?”

Therion looked like he was in absolute agony, and not just due to the black eye and sizable bruise on his forehead. Coroniel had no pity.

“So you haven’t seen him?” Therion began to wring his hands. “Last night, there was… there was an altercation. And I thought I stopped it before it went too far. But you’re such good friends, I would have thought you heard by now…” He trailed off, fear growing in his eyes. Coroniel kept her face impassive. Let him squirm for a bit , she thought.

“Heard what?” she asked.

“I fear Celebrimbor may be gravely injured, or, or—”

“Dead?” Coroniel supplied. 

Therion started. “He’s not, is he? I thought I would have heard if we had— because I thought I stopped them in time, but I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t you stay and check?”

“I don’t know, it happened so quickly.” 

“It’s because you’re a coward Therion, and I think half the reason you’re here is because you’re afraid you might face consequences for your actions.”

“No! I’m really worried. He’s fine, right? You seem to know something.”

“He’s not fine! He was beaten by what, seven other people?”

“Eight,” mumbled Therion. 

“And you can continue to stew in your guilt!”

The door to the ground level neighbor’s home opened. “Is there a problem?” her neighbor asked cautiously

“Yes, everything is fine Fornamo. Therion was just leaving.”

Therion put a hand on the door. “But Celebrimbor is alive, right? Please tell me I have not become a kinslayer.”

Coroniel sighed. “Yes, he’s alive, thank the Valar. Now leave; I’m done talking with you.”

“Thank you Cori.” Therion opened his mouth, something clearly on his mind, but closed it again and slipped out the door without another word. 

Coroniel stared at the closed door for a long while after he left. She had told herself she didn’t care that Therion no longer spoke to her, and that it was his loss if he would end a friendship over so small a thing as who else she considered her friend, but she knew it still bothered her a little. Therion had been her friend since childhood. They had taken lessons together, planned their futures together, and spent much of their time together. She still didn’t know if she could ever forgive him for the violence he brought to her city directed at someone she loved. Asking for forgiveness was better than nothing at all she thought as she slowly made her way up the stairs. It was more closure than she had hoped for.