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Fic: Ties That Bind
Three
dbalthasar
Two times Celebrimbor avoided his kin, and once he couldn't. Set at the end of the First Age, with apologies to purists for playing somewhat fast and loose with the timeline. ~3500 words.

Celebrimbor has been as far east as Nogrod, Tumuzahar as he has learned to call it in his limping Kuzdhul, but though he has expanded his knowledge considerably in the process, he is no closer to finding a new source of the ore he needs to make galvorn. In fact, the Firebeards who still dwelled there encouraged him to give up that quest: the metal is cursed, they said; witness the fate of those who first made it. Maeglin’s treachery is still raw after nearly fifty years, and it had little enough to do with galvorn, but there’s no arguing the point. Instead, he works his way north to the slopes of Mount Dolmed, and returns empty-handed along the old Dwarf Road, traveling as unobtrusively as he may. Once on the eastern banks of the Gelion, he falls in with a small band of Haladin traders, and goes south with them, intending to skirt the northern edges of Taur-im-Duinath and search along the Andram, on the off chance that there might be useful metal there. There is not much else he can do: the Isle of Balar is closed to Fëanor’s grandson, and what’s left of the Falathrim are no less wary; he himself has no desire to seek what’s left of his kin at Amon Ereb. On the other hand, there is work in plenty for an Elven smith even in the ruins of Beleriand, and as they sit around the night’s small fire, Darlas says again, “Winter is coming, and our holding is snug under the forest eaves. Come south with us, and wait for spring.”

It would be easy, Celebrimbor thinks, not least because Darlas has made it clear that the invitation includes sharing his bed, and the Man is intriguing, short and dark and broad-shouldered like the rest of his kin, with strong hands and a tireless stride. Like all his kin, he laughs mostly with his eyes, the skin tightening at the corners so often that it is creased into delicate patterns, and Celebrimbor would like to feel the whisper of those ridiculously long eyelashes against his cheek. And yet he is sure that what he seeks does not lie in the south.

Before he can answer, Daruin rolls his eyes and reaches for his harp. They have seen no orc-sign for days, nor any other foul creature, and it seems safe enough to risk a song. The Haladin pass the harp back and forth along with a flask of ice-wine, and after a while the harp settles at Celebrimbor’s knee. There is no protesting that he is no singer, for all that it’s true; by the standards of Men, any Elf is a master-harper, and he lifts the battered instrument to his knee.

He has not played in a long time, his hands roughened and marked by an entirely different art, but he manages a set of scales, feeling his way into a simple tune he remembers from his childhood. The words he sings first are Quenya, a round made for the youngest of his uncles, the twins’ voices meant to chase each other around the circle of the tune. Daruin is the first to recognize that it’s a round, his head tipping, and Celebrimbor stills the strings while he renders the words to Sindarin. He coaches Daruin in the verse, and then they sing it together, and finally in parts, the measure’s break between their beginnings weaving unexpected harmony. They have just begun a fourth circuit when there is movement in the dark behind him.

“Who sings of Ambarussa?”

Celebrimbor drops the harp and draws his bow, spinning to face the stranger. Darlas and Daruin have drawn swords, and Hardang raises his spear while Agathor scatters the fire. An Elf looks back at them out of the dark, his own bow drawn and ready, and Celebrimbor’s breath catches in his throat.

“Uncle,” he says, and lowers his arrow’s point.

“Nephew,” Maglor says, without much affection. He lowers his bow, scowling. “What are you doing here? Avoiding our doorstep?”

In fact, yes, Celebrimbor thinks, but he has learned better than to say such things aloud. He makes explanations and introductions instead, and as the Haladin rebuild their fire and collect their scattered goods, he lets Maglor draw him aside. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Daruin wince as he collects his harp, and realizes that some of the strings snapped in the fall. That can be mended, at least; he hopes the frame is undamaged.

“How dare you sing that?” Maglore demands, low-voiced. “How dare you teach it to Men?”

Amras is dead, Celebrimbor remembers, killed at the Havens of Sirion. He always liked the youngest of his uncles, though by the time he was half-grown Amras had removed to the south; any grief he might have felt is attenuated by long absence and  deadened by the memory of precisely what Amras was doing when he was killed. But uncles are not brothers, he reminds himself, and takes a careful breath before he answers. “It’s a good song, I meant no harm by it.”

“It was not made for Men.”

“What harm does it do?” Celebrimbor asks, still trying to swallow his anger. .

“It’s not theirs. It’s ours — our family’s.”

“You taught it to me,” Celebrimbor points out.

Maglor gives him a look that is still all too familiar from childhood lessons. “As much as was possible.”

“I am no musician,” Celebrimbor agrees. “What harm is there, Uncle?”

 “You had no right to share it,” Maglor says. “It’s not yours to teach.”

“You sound like Grandfather. Will you hoard every song you ever made?”

He sees Maglor’s face go pale even in the firelight, sees his hand twitch as though he would reach for a sword’s hilt or simply strike out, but then he masters himself. “I made it for Ambarussa. Let it die with them.”

Celebrimbor winces. He has no brothers, nor loved his father; he hated Celegorm, and what he feels for the rest of his uncles is too complicated to be called love. “I wouldn’t want him forgotten. He was always kind to me.” And that is true, too, kinder than his father and more joyful than Celegorm, a hunter who did not always choose to kill. “I remember once he sang the birds’ songs back at them, and they came circling us in confusion —“ And there he stops, because that was also Elwing’s gift, and Elwing is dead at his uncles’ hands.

Maglor flinches, too, a tired, guilty grief that washes over him like a wave, and Celebrimbor hurries on, not wanting him to say something they will both regret. “While the music lasts, we will remember them.”

Maglor shakes his head, but he is looking past him, at Daruin still struggling with his harp beside the remade fire. “I’m sorry that I startled you,” he says, in passable Westron. “Let me see if I can mend that.”

==

It is some years before he passes Amon Ereb again, and this time he is alone and making haste, his pack heavy with ore. If he can reach Tumuzahar before summer’s end, there is a chance he can persuade the Dwarves there to let him use their workshops. He can’t make galvorn in anything less than a proper forge, and Tumuzahar’s forges are still well-kept and strong. He will have to teach them the process, of course, but he thinks that is a good thing. They are no friends to Morgoth, and need all the weapons they can find to use against him. There has been no talk of curses in the last few years, only of metal and smithcraft and danger lapping at their doors.

Toward evening, he falls in with a trio of Green-elves heading east along the same path, and they invite him to camp with him under the eaves of a stunted wood at the foot of Ramdal. They have shot a brace of rabbits along the way, and he has salt, and dried fruit, and a handful of fresh berries harvested that morning, as well as a flask of the ice wine he learned to make from the Haladin. That is enough to make a kind of stew, and they scrape the pot clean with the last crusts of his flat travelers’ bread. They are very wild elves, he thinks, leaning back against his pack listening to a conversation that is only half in Sindarin. He learned a bit of their speech when he was a boy in Himring, before the forge became his consuming passion, and he is content to let them talk, speaking when spoken to and letting himself drift when he is not.

A twig snaps in the dark beyond the firelight. He is on his feet in an instant, bow drawn with a galvorn arrow; the Green-elves have disappeared into the trees. A cloaked figure looks back at him, firelight running on his naked sword. His hair is russet, and Celebrimbor is not surprised to see that his right arm ends at the wrist.

“Uncle.”

“Nephew. Your friends have abandoned you.”

Celebrimbor grins in spite of himself. “I lack their gift for the treetops.”

Maedhros smiles back, though there’s a wry twist to it. “I mean no one any harm. I’d hoped to share your fire.”

“It’s not entirely mine.”

There is a moment of silence then, broken only by the crackle of the fire, and then someone speaks from midway up an ancient beech. The words are Sylvan, and not entirely polite, and Celebrimbor darts a glance at Maedhros, who mercifully seems not to understand. “As you please,” he calls back, “and thank you for your company this far.” He looks back at Maedhros. “They’ve decided there’s too much company here tonight.” And of entirely the wrong sort, Himben had said, but there’s no need to share that detail.

Maedhros’s smile twists further, as though he’s guessed it anyway. “Let me bring my horse.”

Celebrimbor nods. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the Green-elves’ packs disappearing one by one, snatched back into the shadows, and he thinks he can just hear them moving away. By the time Maedhros returns, picketing his rangy bay at the edge of the firelight, the Green-elves are gone, and it’s just the two of them by the fire. It’s not a particularly comforting thought, and he concentrates on the fire.

Maedhros lifts down a small pack, sets it at his feet so that he can open it one-handed. “Are you hungry?”

“What do you have?”

“Waybread.” Maedhros rummages further. “Sausage. An early plum — two.”

Celebrimbor’s mouth waters at that — it’s been a while since he passed orchard or fruiting grove, and nothing was ripe them — and Maedhros tosses one to him. Celebrimbor plucks it out of the air, feeling like a child again, and sinks his teeth into it. His mouth fills with juice and fruit and he shivers from the simple pleasure of it.

“We grow better in Amon Ereb,” Maedhros says, carefully casual. “But these are good.”

Celebrimbor pretends he didn’t hear, and passes over the flask of ice-wine. Maedhros sniffs, takes a cautious sip, and then a larger one, nodding approval.

“What is this?”

“Ice-wine, the Haladin call it. If you freeze mead overnight three nights running and skim the ice off each morning before it melts, you get this. It’s stronger and keeps better.” He prods another stick into the fire. “I spent a winter in one of their villages a few years back. I expect there’s a way to do the same thing with heat, only I’ve not had the chance to figure it out.”

“You should come to Amon Ereb,” Maedhros says. “You’d be welcome there.”

“You know I can’t.” Celebrimbor shakes his head.

“Curvo is — your father is dead,” Maedhros says after a moment. “Tyelko is dead. We — Makalaurë and I would not turn you away.”

Celebrimbor keeps his head down, still poking at the fire. Curufin disowned him not quite a hundred years ago — well, he disowned Curufin first, refusing to follow them into banishment, richly deserved for everything they’d done. He’d stayed under Orodreth’s wary eye, and fought for Nargothrond when the dragon came; after its fall, he’d followed his fellow-smiths to Gondolin, and failed to save that city, too. He fled with Idril to the Havens, and nowhere had he been free of his father’s shadow. Or his grandfather’s. It is possible that Amon Ereb is the only place left on Middle Earth where he might be seen for himself.

And yet. Maedhros led his men against the Havens, slaughtering Elwing and her people, and still failed to take a Silmaril. There is a terrible price for that kinship. “I’m curious,” he says. “How was it decided that I was not to be asked to take Grandfather’s Oath?”

Maedhros grimaces. “You were too young.”

“I was old enough after the Dagor Bragollach.”

“Your father didn’t think so.”

He and his father were already locked in silent combat, Celebrimbor striving to invent smithcraft all on his own to prove to Curufin that he was unneeded, Curufin determined to teach his son humility. Neither plan had worked particularly well, though Celebrimbor had taught himself a great deal. “What did you think?”

“That it was your father’s business.” Maedhros won’t meet his eyes.

“And if I asked to take it now?”

This time Maedhros does look at him, his mouth twisted awry. “No. I would tell you no.”

And that is all the answer he needs. He may like Maedhros and Maglor best of all his uncles — might even love them, in some peculiar, complicated way — but he cannot, will not, forgive what they have done, any more than they can forgive themselves.

“I am going on to Tumuzahar in the morning,” he says, and Maedhros bows his head.

==

The road west has grown more and more perilous of late, but rumor still finds its way to Tumuzahar, and when he hears that a force is building in the Havens to fight back against the Shadow, Celebrimbor can no longer stay in the Blue Mountains. He has only managed to make a little galvorn, enough for a quiver’s worth of arrowheads, but the Firebeards have taught him a clever way to pierce and flute the blade so that it uses the least amount of metal and yet is still deadly. He hopes this will be skill enough to earn a place with Cirdan, or Gil-galad, if he has fully taken up his rule. Nàr and Murim decide to go with him at least as far as the Sirion, and they are joined by three Men, Haladin who ventured this far north in search of better swords to keep their holdings safe. The party should be small enough to pass unnoticed, but the lands are roused, and they end up dodging packs of orcs and other fell creatures through the broken lands. Celebrimbor leads them toward Amon Ereb, on the theory that his uncles will have kept their land somewhat clearer, but even within sight of the hill and its towered walls, the orcs take them by surprise. The first volley cuts down Nàr, and wounds two of the Haladin. Hardang sounds his horn in desperation, and then the three of them stand back to back over their wounded and prepare to sell their lives as dearly as they can.

When he finally wakes, he is surprised to find that this is not the Halls of Mandos, or at least he is reasonably certain he would not be allowed to linger in quite such pain there. He manages to turn his head, blinking the room into focus, and sees stone walls and plain furniture, ordinary Elvish make. A half-grown boy is sitting beside the window, a book turned to the cloudy light, but he lifts his head as Celebrimbor moves.

“Stay still. I’ll fetch the healer.”

Amon Ereb, then: help came in time after all, at least for him. He hears the door open, and sees two men behind the boy. The healer bends over him, checking bandages and murmuring to himself, but Celebrimbor has eyes only for Maedhros.

“My people?”  He’s not sure he actually manages to give the words breath, but Maedhros understands.

“The Dwarf Murim lives. The others — we avenged them, the orcs are dead, and we buried them where they fell.”

That is good, and proper, and still he weeps, turning his head away. The healer clucks, lifting him with the boy’s help to let him drink, and the syrup of poppies soothes him into oblivion.

When he wakes again, the pain is lessened, and he learns that along with too many cuts and bruises to count he has a badly broken leg and will be abed for a month or more. There is no point in arguing, the pain when he tries to move convinces him of that, and so he lies propped up on pillows in a pleasant room that overlooks the walls. In the distance, he can see the sky and the flat gray-green blur of the plains, while his uncle’s men walk patient watch along the parapet. The healer professes himself cautiously pleased, and the healer’s boy is gracefully attentive, always ready to fetch and carry or to provide distracting conversation when Celebrimbor has reached the place where no position is comfortable for very long.

“I’m sorry to have lost my arrows,” he says, on an afternoon when the pain is too slight for poppies and too great to let him listen to the boy read. “Were any of them recovered, do you know?”

The boy puts down the book willingly enough. “I can ask. What makes them so special?”

Celebrimbor nods to his quiver, still leaning against the wall where they stripped off clothes and armor. At least someone has scoured away the blood, black and brown. “Fetch one, I’ll show you.”

The boy does so, though there’s a flash of a look that suggests he’s merely humoring an injured man. Celebrimbor takes it from him, frowning slightly at the shape. Perhaps a tighter curve would serve him better? “You see the metal.”

“It’s black.”

“It’s galvorn, Eol’s iron, sharper and harder than the finest steel. And very rare. There are few who can make it any more.” He turns the shaft between his thumb and forefinger, so that the pierced head seems to flicker, shifting light and dark. “The Firebeards taught me how to open up the shape, to save every ounce of metal without losing the strength of edge or point. I made two dozen heads from a weight of galvorn that should have made ten.”

The boy nods without great interest. He has a severe face, stern in repose, and looks older than his years. Celebrimbor sets the arrow aside and drags himself up a little on his pillows, trying to find a comfortable spot.

“Do you want the pot?”

“No. Thank you.” What he wants is to find some position in which his leg doesn’t ache, or his hip, or the healing cut on his shield arm. What he really wants is to be out of there, healed and gone. Everyone has been very kind, and he’s afraid he’ll want to stay.

“Why do you want to leave so badly?” the boy asks, and Celebrimbor frowns, a new thought coming into his head. It should have occurred to him weeks ago, if he hadn’t been drugged past curiosity.

“You’re not the healer’s apprentice.”

“I am. But not just that, no.”

“One of Eärendil’s sons.” Celebrimbor closes his eyes. That is a tangle he doesn’t even want to begin to imagine. It has been some thirty years since the Third Kinslaying, thirty years in Maedhros’s house, raised by the men who killed their mother.

“I’m Elrond.” The boy considers him, his expression unreadable. “And you are Curufin’s son.”

“I am not — I renounced him,” Celebrimbor says. “He disowned me. Not that it’s done me any good.”

Elrond looks faintly disapproving. Not everyone appreciates the Feänorian sense of humor. “I suppose that makes us cousins.”

That would be why they call it Kinslaying. Those words would be unforgivable, and Celebrimbor swallows them and nods.

“And they are your uncles,” Elrond says, as though he’s still working out the tangles of their family trees. “Yet you will not stay.”

There are no easy answers to that, especially not to Elwing’s son. He swore no oath, and he has known as long as he could remember that neither his father nor Celegorm were wise or kind. They were his world when he was Elrond’s age, his lesson in how not to be, and his other uncles had not been present, for good or ill. “I always hated my father,” he says at last, and Elrond nods.

“You’re fortunate,” he says, and lifts the book again.
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Oh, dear. Such a very complicated family! And I do love the ending.

A very complicated family. And I'm glad you like the end.

I love your Celebrimbor so much. He's still quite young, and he's making his way in the world and trying not to be his father or his uncles, only some of his uncles -- well, there are contradictions. I really like your Maedhros too. And Elrond, in the last section. So very good!

Thank you! Celebrimbor would find it easier if he didn't still like his surviving uncles, in spite of everything. It doesn't help that his uncles kind of like him. And yet he made his choice when he refused to leave Nargothrond with Curufin and Celegorm. And Elrond... Who gets the last word, and no one can argue with him on that one.

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