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Three Meetings in Gondolin
Three
dbalthasar
Or: three times that Idril Celebrindal had dealings with Celebrimbor, while Gondolin still stood. PG, and for once no warnings apply.

It is a spring day bright with the promise of summer when Idril Celebrindal turns her attention to the last group of refugees from Nargothrond. These are the folk who have been taken in by the House of the Mole, most of them smiths and craftsmen of distinction, and though she tells herself and others that she has left them until last because they are the least in need, she knows in truth that it is because she hesitates to spend some hours in the company of her cousin Maeglin. He had made his feelings known, and, though she has refused him as kindly as she may — and they are in truth too close kin, at least according to the customs of the Noldor — she knows he has not entirely accepted that refusal.

So she brings several of her maidens with her as she comes to tour the workshops and the great forge, and she rests her hand on Maeglin’s wrist to hold him a handspan further off, and she exerts herself to smile and be gracious to the men and women who come to meet her. They are settling in better than many, and she thinks they know it, thinks she feels a certain guilt in their praises of Maeglin’s courtesy and the work they’ve taken on. But they have still lost home and kin and the work of lifetimes, and she is as gentle as she knows how to be.

As they enter the smaller western forge, which has been taken over by a pack of jewel-smiths, one of the men who rises from his bench catches her eye. He is tall and fair, his black hair caught ruthlessly back with braids and a set of unmatching pins, and even as he rises with the others he is still sketching out some idea for his neighbor, his broad hands so expressive that she can almost see the object’s shape.

“Who is that?” she says, and knows instantly that she has made a mistake. Maeglin’s muscles tighten under her hand, and the corner of his mouth pulls taut before he masters himself. And then he smiles, and leads her toward the stranger.

“Allow me to present one of our midwinter guests,” he says, meaning that he came in with the last wave of the refugees, straggling in through the early snow with little more than the clothes on their backs. “Lady, this is Celebrimbor son of Curufin, who is a jewel-smith like his grandfather.”

She knows her face changes — there are no good omens there, not a single good echo — and she sees Celebrimbor’s smile twist out of true.

“Curufin’s son I am,” he says, “though I’m not sure he’d claim me any longer. I renounced his works thirty years ago, and served Orodreth until his city fell.”

She has heard that tale, lesser gossip passed around the fire once the story of Luthien had been thoroughly recounted and examined and told again, each new detail adding to the wonder. She still does not understand how Luthien could bind herself to a Man, mortal and flawed and strange, but she has seen the single-minded certainty of those who have found their path, and she recognizes it in Celebrimbor.

“My father welcomed you,” she says, for that must be true for him to be there at all, and it is well in the face of Maeglin’s malice to remind others of that fact, “and so do I. You and all your colleagues.”

He bows at that, a strand of hair escaping from its pins to lie sweat-damp on his forehead, and she lets Maeglin turn her away. She will not forget that Feanor’s grandson dwells within these walls.

==

There has been trouble in the workshops, Idril hears, sitting among her ladies while the harper plays and they all stitch busily at her wedding clothes. Maeglin quarreled with Feanor’s grandson, over a commission he had given Celebrimbor which Celebrimbor has either failed to finish or refused to give up. No one is quite sure which, but the whole thing devolved into a shouting match, and the two of them ended up in the king’s hall, arguing the matter before Turgon. Celebrimbor, says the wife of a silver-smith, planted his feet like a mule and said the jewel was not finished and could not be, while Maeglin raged and swore and accused him of being as covetous as Feanor.

“And what did he say to that?” one of the embroiderers asks, and the silver-smith’s wife spreads her hands.

“Nothing! Though his face was white as bone and his hands shook with anger. Just that the stone could not be finished, and he asked the king to void the contract.”

“What did my father say?” Idril sets down her needle, frowning. She has kept one eye on Curufin’s son, and cannot imagine him admitting defeat so tamely.

“Bade them hold their peace,” another woman says tartly, “and told Celebrimbor to return his fee if he could not do the work. And he did, dropped a purse the size of a baby’s head in Maeglin’s hand, and stalked out of the hall as though he were king himself. Maeglin was not pleased.” She pauses. “They say, lady, that the jewel was to be your wedding-gift.”

The harper adds a flourish to the song’s end, but the rill of notes does not soothe Idril’s worries. There is more to this, she fears, than meets the eye.

It is some days later than she contrives to encounter Celebrimbor on the walls above the craft halls: a very public place, where they may speak knowing that they cannot be overheard. He is not dressed for the workshop, but in a decent gown and boots and his hair is loose except for a pair of silver pins. HIs face is still set and pinched and Idril leans against the sun-warmed stones and offers silence rather than a smile. He bows in greeting, but his eyes are wary.

“Lady Idril.”

“Master Celebrimbor.”

He does not deny the title, but cocks his head at her.

“I want to know,” she says. “What did Maeglin plan to give me, and why did you stop him?”

Celebrimbor stills for just an instant, his eyes widening. They are dark, blue as the sky between the stars before the making of the Sun and Moon, and for a moment Idril remembers ice and loss, and smoldering wreckage on the shores of a long-lost sea. But he is not his father or his grandfather, and she waits while he thaws into motion, resting his elbows on the wall a careful arm’s-length from her. The wind stirs their hair into banners, black and gold, and there is no one close enough to see.

“Are you sure you want to know?” he asks, and it is her turn to tilt her head in question.

“Why would I not?”

“It would pain you.”

She considers that, and all the things that might bring her sorrow, and allows herself a fleeting smile. “Best let me be the judge of that.”

HIs mouth twists as if he would argue the point, but then he shrugs. “He asked me to make a jewel to capture the light of the Sun, one that could show things as they had been. Hold it up before a thing maimed or broken or worn with age, and you would see it as though none of those things had ever been.”

Idril’s breath catches in her throat. That is indeed a gift with a sting, to one of the Eldar wedding a mortal Man, a reminder cloaked in kindness that she will long outlive her beloved, and that her children will carry mortality in them like a worm in the bud.  From anyone but Maeglin, she would have called it merely clumsy. “And you took it upon yourself to spare me this? Or were you protecting Maeglin?”

She would like to be angry, to strike out and lessen the hurt, and Celebrimbor makes a sound that might have been a kind of laugh. “I didn’t do it for you, lady, and most certainly not for him. I will not be used that way.”

As quickly as it had filled her, the anger drains away. “No more should you. It was a cruel thought, but I would have survived it.” She
brushes a strand of hair from her mouth. “Did it work?”

Celebrimbor glances sideways. She’s not sure what he reads in her face, but his expression eases. “Oh, yes. And the light of the Sun gives it certain healing properties. But I will not be the stick he prods you with.”

“And if I tell you it will not harm me?” Idril smiles.

“Tell me that it will not grieve you unduly,” he says, and her breath catches for an instant.

“It will sting. Yes, it will hurt, and I do not know if I will ever want it, but if I did —“ She leans hard against the solid stones, staring blindly into the cloud-hazed sky. “When he lies on his bier, it is possible I will want one last sight of him unwearied. I would like to have that choice.”

“Then you shall have it,” he says, his voice grave, and slides his hand into a purse half-hidden in the folds of his gown. He comes out with a stone as brightly green as new leaves, glowing with its own soft light. It is carefully cut, a dozen neat facets around a central table, and when she takes it she can see that it is clear as glass, and possible to see through. Curious, she holds it to her eye, but the towers of Gondolin are strong and whole and nothing changes. She starts to hand it back, but Celebrimbor shakes his head.

“It’s yours if you truly want it. It was made for you. I’m only sorry it’s still un-set.”

“Make me a proper setting, then,” she says, striving for lightness, and he shakes his head again.

“I am banished from the House of the Mole. I have no workshop at present.”

“There are workshops in plenty in the House of the Wing,” she says. “And Tuor and I would be glad of your presence.”

==

It is late, so late. That refrain has been running beneath her every thought, quickening her heart. She has spoken to her father, and he will not yield, will place his trust in the great city he has built; Tuor, though he carried Ulmo’s warning, has no stature by which he can defy the king. And that leaves only some means of escape, for those few she can lead away, but such things are not constructed quickly nor without notice. And yet they must, and she has begun, though the need for secrecy means everything moves more slowly, and now that winter has settled in it is harder than ever to break the rock and hide the spoil where no one will realize what they are doing.

She takes a deep breath, swallowing the fear that threatens to overwhelm her. Whatever is coming, whatever event casts this shadow, reason says there is still time. Nothing can attack Gondolin in the dead of winter, not even the forces of the Enemy, and that gives her time to finish her work. She takes another breath, and scratches on Celebrimbor’s door.

He opens it at once, for all that it’s late, beckons her in to the small common room, the fire burning low in the brazier and the shutters closed tight against the night winds. A branch of candles is lit on the table, and a scattering of unset gems lies between his wine cup and the pitcher.

“What is is, Lady?” he asks, and sets a chair and pours the wine, a cup for each of them.

“I need your help,” she begins, and then she sees, in the candlelight, the twist of black metal that circles one wrist beneath the cuff of his shirt. It is galvorn, black as jet and hard as mithril, the metal Eol brought into being in his dark forges. Maeglin makes it now, and does not share its secrets; it is the gift of the Mole, and his guard goes black-armored on parade, flaunting their secrets among the muster.

“Name it,” Celebrimbor says, but she hesitates.

“You’re working with Maeglin these days?”

He frowns, and she reaches across to tap the bracelet. It rings like mithril beneath her nail, though the note is deeper, and he turns his wrist, displaying the neat twists, the ends wound neatly around each other to form a knot.

“That’s my making.”

“He doesn’t teach that craft.”

“Not eagerly,” Celebrimbor says. His expression is at once mischievous and faintly embarrassed, and he slides the bracelet from his wrist, spinning it on the table top so that that it falls, chiming, and scatters the jewels. He gathers them back again, and glances sideways at her. “I wagered him that he could not do a thing, and said that if he succeeded I would teach him certain parts of the jewel-smith’s art that he very much wants to know. And if he failed, he was to teach me the rudiments of galvorn. He… did not succeed.”

“And he taught you how to make that.” Idril knows she sounds skeptical, but she has known Maeglin for many long years.

Celebrimbor laughs softly. “He taught me the theory, as badly and as baldly as he could, and he tried to leave out steps and measures and techniques, but he told me enough that I could invent the rest. I doubt I work it exactly as he does, or as Eol did, but —“ He spins the bracelet again. “It is galvorn, correct in all its properties. I made this to wear so that it would annoy him.”

“I expect it does that,” Idril says, and Celebrimbor dips his head. Perhaps it is the wine, or the late hour, or simply the craftsman’s pride escaping, but she has never seen him so relaxed. She is almost sorry to spoil his mood.

As if he has sensed her thought, his smile fades. “You said you needed my help?”

“Yes.”  She takes a last breath, and lays it all out before him, Tuor’s warning that Turgon ignores, her distrust of Maeglin, all her own fears, and the ceaseless chant of doom running in her blood. “And so I — Tuor and I — have decided to make a second secret way out of the city, one that I hope we will never use, but that no one but us will know until we have to reveal it. It’s well begun, but now we need a door. Or, more precisely, a lock, one that will keep it shut and answer to none but those I say. Can you make me such a thing?”

“How big a door?”

Idril blinks. That is not a question she had anticipated. “The same as any other cellar door — it has to look like all the rest, so no one will pay any attention to it —“

Celebrimbor is nodding. “All right. Yes, then, I can make a lock. Do you want it actually invisible, or just one that won’t open to anything but your touch and those you approve?”

“Can you make it invisible?”

Celebrimbor nods again. “Yes, but then there would have to be a dummy lock, and that makes it more complicated. I think it would probably be easier to make a lock that looks like all the other locks. There are enough doors in your father’s cellars that surely the keys go missing sometimes.”

“They do,” Idril says, remembering epic shouting matches between the stewards of the various houses and the Keeper of the Keys. “They do indeed.”

“Then I expect I can contrive.” Celebrimbor reaches for the pitcher again, but his hand falters. “You’re very certain of this.”

“It was foretold,” Idril begins, and shakes her head. “But that’s not why. I have never been a coward until now, but I fear the ruin of our city, of everything I hold dear. I cannot do nothing.”

“I don’t call that cowardice,” Celebrimbor says, and pours the wine.
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This is superb. Brilliant and delicate and threaded with melancholy while also hopeful. I laughed at Celebrimbor's bit about Maeglin 'not succeeding' and then trying to not fulfill his part of the bargain. Of course Celebrimbor could make galvorn with enough information, even fragmented and misleading.

I love your Idril as well, and her steely competence.


Thank you very much! Someday I want to write the full story of Celebrimbor's encounters with Maeglin (I cannot for the life of me ship them, contrary to most of AO3), because Celebrimbor is just that clever,and he would want to know those secrets badly enough to gamble his own.

I'm becoming increasingly fond of Idril, who seems to have had an enormous fund of common sense, and the leadership skills needed to make use of them. (And a father who had more sense than to say no to her marriage, but I think she would have found a way around any prohibitions, and he knew it.) And who took her mortal husband to Valinor and got to keep him forever anyway. :-)

A lovely story! I like your Idril -- she has steel, and she reminds me of Elrond in some ways. Which does follow! :)

Celebrimbor is cocky, only he really is that good. And of course he can work out how to make galevorn.

She is very like Elrond! Or, rather, Elrond is very like her. But I like her solid practicality, and her willingness to do whatever is necessary to save her people. Plus too much sense to run off with Maeglin!

It's not cocky if you can do it? I suspect that's Celebrimbor's basic motto....

I'd need to brush up on my Elvish history to appreciate the nuances, but nonetheless I liked this a lot. Full of the sadness I associate with the Elves, but with leavening flashes of humor. Good stuff!

Thank you! I am probably going to file some of the serial numbers off this one at some point (in my copious free time!), as there are some story/ideas that I'd like to explore in more depth myself...

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