Bearer of Gifts
This is an amateur effort and not intended to infringe on the rights of J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien or any other copyright holder. No monetary profit is being made.
A big thank you to CC for beta reading, and to Lis for nagging.
Technically, about two thirds of this fic - everything not surrounded by quotation marks - should be in italics, since those parts all are Celebrimbor's thoughts. But since I don't want to give anyone a headache, I'll leave it in the normal format.
Time: Second Age 1697
The basis for this story is information from the Appendices and from Unfinished Tales. In the Second Age Sauron - in disguise - approached the elves with offers of cooperation, which were rejected by everybody except the Noldor of Eregion under the leadership of Celebrimbor. This cooperation resulted in the Great Rings, but once Sauron made the One Ring, Celebrimbor discovered just who he was dealing with and hid the rings. Sauron, wanting to get them, attacked Eregion and captured Celebrimbor, who eventually told him about the Seven and the Nine but remained stubbornly silent about the Three until he was eventually killed and ended up as the banner of Sauron's army.
"What shall I do with you?" you ask once again, in a voice so even that it is impossible to gauge your mood. The expression on your beautiful face would bring some clarity into this, but even elven eyes cannot penetrate utter darkness. And even if there were light, I do not know whether my eyes can still see.
Why do you ask this question? It is not as if you would listen to what I tell you. Quite the contrary, you would strive to do exactly the opposite. Do you think I have not seen through this game of yours yet? At the beginning I may have been blind, but be certain that I see clearly now. Too clearly to still try and bother to reply to your questions. You will tear the answers from my mind if you really want them, so why should I waste on you what little strength is still left to me?
"You are worthless to me now. An insignificant little creature that has outlived its usefulness." You speak from a different direction now, your steps inaudible as you move.
You sound as if you think you are the first to say this to me. Do you truly believe that such words can hurt me when they come from you? I am glad that I am no longer valuable to you. It is a consolation to know that I will not be your tool any more, whether I will it or not.
"If you did not insist on refusing to answer my questions, you might find that your situation is not as final as you believe it to be." A hint of kindness is behind your words, a promise that cooperation will be rewarded. Such a beautiful voice, and yet it has been treacherous. Promises of great works, of great power, laced with poison.
Finality holds no terror for me. Perhaps it shall be my fate to linger in the Halls forever, but compared to remaining in your presence, it is a welcoming prospect.
"You will not die before I allow it." Your speech becomes harsh at a sudden, almost threatening. Small disturbances in the air betray your movements as you come closer. So careless. It is not like you.
Maybe I will not die. But neither will I recover from your hospitality. I will not allow myself to return to a state where I can again feel what you do to me. Never underestimate the Eldar. I told you this when I still believed in your guise, and I tell you so once more. I may not die, but I will not live again either. I refuse to recover only to be able to again feel whatever torments you choose to inflict on me. You may not allow me to die, but I will not allow myself to live.
"Death could come swiftly to you. One answer is all it will take." Once more you speak kindly, but there lingers an undercurrent of tension which you cannot hide completely.
Do you think I still care whether I die now or not? I am worthless, as you like to tell me. And if my life is the price to pay for the means to oppose you, then so be it.
You are so close that your breathing is audible. "I already have the Nine, and the Seven soon will be mine as well." In your words lies conviction. You believe what you say, because you no longer have any reason left to doubt this truth.
But the Three never will be yours. Not while there still is one elf left in Middle-earth. And the more desperately you search, the fiercer resistance will become. I was too blind to see behind your mask when you approached me. But my fate teaches others that you must be opposed. Never will the Three be in your hands.
"The Three will come to me. They too must obey the One." There is a hint of doubt in your voice now, even though you try to sound firm.
You must be desperate if you allow yourself such delusions. The Three you will never rule, and they will defy you until the end. I made them, and I know them as I know myself. Part of my soul has gone into them while I worked on their creation. And as I resist you now, they know that you must be fought. I gave much of myself to make them, and this sacrifice has not been in vain. I understand now how Fëanor felt about the Silmarils. If such masterpieces are created, they must remain safe at all cost, even if the price is the life of the maker. And the Three know that they must stay hidden from your eyes, for they know what I know.
"You are but a single elf. Your work may be pretty, but there is a limit to what your kind can do." Your steps are carelessly audible as you retreat once more to a safe distance, as if you were thinking that anything could still threaten you here.
The Silmarils were wrought by the hand of Fëanor alone, and yet they lay at the core of your master's downfall and defeat. Do not be so certain that the Eldar can only create powerless toys. Your lord could not touch the Silmarils, and you will not be able to lay your hands on the Three. They will refuse your touches, and they will remain pure.
"It amazes me how foolish you can be."
I was a fool to trust you and not see through you masquerade. That I cannot deny. But I have learned from my mistakes.
"There is no use in resisting me. All you can hope to achieve is prolong your suffering before the inevitable happens. Your answer will be rewarded. Once more I ask you. Where are the Three?" Impatience unmistakably lies in your voice. You have long tired of asking this one question over and over again, just as I am tired of hearing it. And still we continue this game, as if it were merely a matter of time before I accept your offer and speak of what you so desperately want to know, in exchange for what you offer.
Bringer of gifts you may have been, but your gifts carry destruction inside. I will not again accept anything from your hands, even if it is death. We are past the point of no return, you and I. You must follow the path you have chosen when you attacked Eregion. And I know that I will never walk out of this place alive. What compromise can we possibly reach?
"Where are they? You will not regret it if you speak now." Promises once more, of death and of release. Of mercy.
At first you could tempt me with your talent and your words, but now I know you. Nothing you can say will convince me. You should have realized this long ago, if you are truly as wise and far-seeing as you claim. Continue to ask me. But I assure you that the world will come to an end before I give you the answer you yearn for.
"I could force you."
Then why have you not done so until now? I find it hard to believe that kindness has held you back, or that you feel compassion for me. You have used me ever since you came to us, and you say yourself that I am of no value for you any more. What holds you back from forcing me to reveal what you wish to know?
"Do you want to be tormented?" You sound troubled, almost as if you wish that this will not become necessary. A wish that would be at odds with earlier deeds.
As if there is anything you have not done to me yet. Let me share a discovery with you. After a while, not even torture can frighten anymore. It is merely a familiar sensation. You have done to me all you could, and you have failed. My belief in the necessity to keep the Three safe is stronger than my fear of what you can do to me. My silence is the reason why you hurt me, why you will kill me, but in the end it will bring you down as well.
"All you need to do is reveal where you hid the Three."
Do you believe that one of the House of Fëanor will betray what his own hands have wrought?
"Their bearers will be found. And the longer I must search, the more they will suffer. Will you be responsible for that?" Responsibility, always the key to the hearts of those chosen to lead and protect others. You know well how to wield this weapon.
My people have died to ensure the safety of the Three. I do not betray their sacrifice. The bearers of the Three will resist you with all their might. I have given them the means to fight you, and they will use them well. And when you realize that you cannot win against them, you will remember me. It is my gift to you, Annatar. You will never forget me.
A sharp intake of breath can be heard, followed by approaching steps. You are not pleased with this, a realisation that makes me feel a pang of satisfaction. "You will be remembered as the one whose actions brought the ruin of his people. They will not be able to resist me forever, and the war I shall wage on them will only end when the Three, the Seven and the Nine are mine. You can decide the fate of your kind now. A time of war and ultimate destruction, or a peaceful existence."
An existence under your rule. Has history taught you nothing? Wage war on them if you want. They will fight you as they fought your master, and they will prove to you that you are not invincible. Your lord could not subdue us, and you will not achieve it either. It seems to be the fate of my House that we shall oppose your master and his slaves, and I shall continue in the footsteps of those who have come before me. Rebellion has its merits. I was too young to see this when my elders spoke of it, but time has taught me better.
"Where are the Three?" Impatience is paired with irritation. If there were light to see, if I could still trust my eyes to see, your handsome face would wear an expression of anger. Darkness is preferable to this.
I tire of your questions. You are a fool if you still believe I will answer you. Once I shared with you, and in this I planted the seeds of my own destruction. I will not make the same mistake twice.
"You found it not so difficult to speak of the whereabouts of the Nine and the Seven." You seem somewhat mystified by this fact.
What you must realize is that they do not matter. Your spirit is forever inside them, as is mine. But neither your influence nor mine will ever win over completely, and this conflict weakens them. They already are powerful rings, and yet they could have been much more. But the Three are beautiful and mighty in their purity. You know it, or you would not be so desperate to find them. Their power is not shadowed by an opposing force. Not even the One will ever completely control them.
You approach once more, close enough for cool breaths to caress my fevered skin. "Opposition to me will only bring mayhem and destruction to the world. Is that what you wish for? Middle-earth could prosper if the Eldar united their power with mine. But instead your kind chooses to waste precious efforts on fighting what should not be fought. You could stop this now. Tell me where the Three can be found, and I shall end this before it spirals into utter chaos."
End your quest for dominance, and chaos will be avoided too. If you are so concerned to bring order to Middle-earth, then prove it and stop your attacks. There was no order brought to the lands when you laid waste to Eregion. The land is dead now. If a lack of living beings is what you view as peace, then you must be fought.
"Who are the bearers of the Three?"
I do not know. I gave them to those I trust, and they are free to do likewise. You will never know. And I refuse to speak to you of this any longer.
For a moment you remain quiet, as if you cannot believe what you have heard. "Your silence makes you worthless in your determination, and if you do not speak, I will have to find another way to put you to good use. My army will begin its march tomorrow night, and the Eldar will need to see what happens to those who defy me."