The doors started to swing open smoothly at Celebrimbor's command, but--
"Vrag!" I snapped out. The doors shuddered to a halt at my order and closed much more quickly than they had opened. Celebrimbor looked at me questioningly. "Did you not hear it?" I asked, though hearing was perhaps not the right word. I had felt the grating through the soles of my feet, a sound too deep for the ears to hear. "The right door is unbalanced." I tugged at my beard, frustrated enough to rip it out by the roots.
Celebrimbor said something that I could only recognize as swearing after two years of working with him, for even curses sound like poetry in Elvish. He stalked over to the old gateway, his light boots and slender build scarcely making a sound even in his anger. I followed him inside and found him examining the hinge area of the door.
"I don't see any flaw here," he said.
I fetched a ladder and stood it near the hinge. Some of us are not as ridiculously tall as elves. I examined it by eye and saw no more than he did, but sight is the least of a rockwright's senses. Tapping with my smallest hammer brought me an odd echo. Feeling with my fingers found a crack where none should be. "Shlak," I swore. "Here." I took his hand and ran it over the crack.
"Shlak, indeed," he sighed. "If the door had opened fully it might have broken free and taken half the wall with it." The look he gave me was admiring; I scowled back.
"I keep telling you--"
"Eyes are over-rated," he completed for me. "Just because elves have the eyes of eagles--"
"Very well, you have heard me say it often enough," I laughed. "But do you listen?" On the ladder I was taller than he, an odd perspective.
"To you or to rock?" he teased.
He sobered. "Not well enough, it would appear." He leaned his forehead against the stone. At first I thought he was--finally!--listening to it or using that odd sense that elves dislike calling magic, but then he sighed again. "Lady Galadriel is coming tomorrow to see our progress. I had hoped to show her a working door."
Aha. It had not escaped me that Celebrimbor entertained feelings for his liege lady that I hadn't felt since Andvari died. Three years was too short a time to forget the touch of my beloved's hands, but I could not remember the fire in my veins, could no longer feel it. The sudden ache of Andvari's absence made my voice harsher than it should have been.
"Foolish elf. Don't you know that showing the work half-complete is bad luck?"
The right door was lying on the ground outside and Celebrimbor and I were arguing over the best way of dealing with the crack when Eregion's lady arrived. Celebrimbor was insisting that we could mend the crack well enough to hold, and I was arguing--rather loudly, I confess--that we needed to drive mithril anchors deep into unblemished rock if we did not wish the gate to come crashing down in a hundred years' time. The noise was such that neither of us heard her coming.
"Is aught amiss?" Her voice was soft, yet she had no trouble making herself heard over our argument.
Celebrimbor turned hastily and bowed. "Lady Galadriel!" he exclaimed. I turned with more dignity.
She wasn't what I had expected, despite all my partner had said in her praise. Celebrimbor was beautiful--all elves are--but she outshone him as diamond outshines granite. Or no, as mithril outshines gold: harder, brighter, and stronger. "Narvi Kundinul at your service," I said, bowing more deeply to hide my confusion than I might have otherwise. My face was hot and I prayed that neither elf would see my blushes.
She gave back bow for bow. "Galadriel daughter of Finarfin, at yours and your family's." I had no family save my grandmother's sister's kin. "Is there a problem?" she asked again, nodding to the dismounted door and the hinge we'd been bickering over.
Celebrimbor laid a hand on the offending hinge. "The stone here is not as strong as we thought. I fear it will put us behind schedule."
I shook my head. "The schedule expected something like this." I should know, I had written it. "If no greater disaster occurs, we should still finish on time." Celebrimbor looked at me in gratitude and surprise. Silly elf. "Unless one works entirely in cut stone one must expect--flaws." Flaw was the wrong word, but the Elvish tongue gave me no better.
Galadriel tilted her head to one side, giving me a glimpse of a thick, golden braid. "I have worked some little with wood, never stone. Wood is never flawed; it merely carries with it the character of the tree." She laughed, a sound as potent as the finest brandy. "Sometimes that character is...difficult."
"Yes! The stone carries the character of Middle-Earth." Now why couldn't Celebrimbor understand so easily? I warmed with admiration for the lady.
"You must forgive Celebrimbor," Galadriel said, once again understanding what I had not said. "He is much given to working in metal, which has no character to speak of."
Celebrimbor gave a martyred sigh. "Metal is uniform, malleable, and predictable." Unlike dwarves, he might have added in Lady Galadriel's absence.
Galadriel nodded. "Yes, exactly."
I chuckled, and then laughed out loud at Celebrimbor's offended expression. "My thanks, my lady, for your help in keeping your kinsman in line."
She smiled at me and I realized I would give my last ounce of gold, I would give my tools, if it would earn me another of her smiles. "I regret that I cannot stay and assist you further--" She raised a brow and gave Celebrimbor a mischievous look. "--though I doubt much that you need my help--but I must meet with your king. Perhaps you will be here when I return this way?"
I gave the door a jaundiced look. "I don't doubt it." Two days to the East-Gate, two days back, and however long she talked to Durin. It would take longer than that to repair that cursed hinge and remount the door. Even when the door was hung and all was working well, we would still have the engraving to do.
"Then I will see you--" She gave me another smile and my knees went weak. "--later." I vaguely heard Celebrimbor making his farewell, and even heard my own voice saying all that was polite, but nothing was real except her smile until she turned and strode off down the passage to the east.
Celebrimbor went back to looking at the hinge, I think. I sat on the edge of the prone door, my legs too shaky to hold me. I wanted her, I desired her, as I hadn't wanted anything since Andvari died. I had thought that forge dead, cold and rusted, and now it burned my hand at the touch. I couldn't imagine desiring any save Andvari, my partner, my mate, but an elf? And married to another? I hid my face with my beard.
"Narvi," Celebrimbor called from behind me. "I think--" He fell silent. I didn't hear him move--those damn soft boots of his and how could anyone work around stone without steel in their boots?--but suddenly he was squatting in front of me. "It takes many that way," he said, "their first meeting with Lady Galadriel." I looked up at him, the elf all sympathy for a dwarven plight, and wanted to apologize for all the times I thought him a fool for loving his liege lady. "You feel," he continued, "like her eyes are too keen, that she saw into your heart and learned your innermost secrets."
I blinked. "No." Perhaps he was a fool after all. If she had seen my heart she would surely have challenged me to a duel for the insult, if she didn't declare war on all dwarfdom. Thank Mahal that she had not. Celebrimbor lifted a brow, waiting for me to say more. I shook my head.
"Well--" He shook his head as well, not in negation, but rather to free his thoughts. "I--uh--think you're right. We need to drive anchors into...less character-filled rock."
Celebrimbor had a chamber in the West Tunnel complex near our workshop, but except in the worst of weather he preferred the semi-permanent camp he had made for himself up the valley a ways, beside the Gate Stream. I, a sensible dwarf, normally retreated underground when the day's work was done, but that night Celebrimbor invited me to share his fire and his supper.
I lit the fire for Celebrimbor when we arrived at his camp, but when he started preparing the food I went to sit by the stream out of his way. I had eaten at the elf's fireside often enough to learn that I was happier not knowing what went into the food. It was all good, but fungus and dead leaves and what looked like tree roots made me nervous.
The Gate Stream chuckled slowly in its bed, the water well below the rock on which I sat. It had been a dry couple of years, a mercy when your work was too big to bring inside, but the guards on the old gate were complaining about rising food prices. The guards were nearly the only dwarves I talked to any more, stuck out in the West Tunnels as I was, and even they never stayed long. The duty was considered punishment, so far from the life of the rest of the city, and a month here covered most infractions. My own presence here was not punishment, though sometimes I wondered if I had earned someone's disfavor.
"Narvi?" Celebrimbor stood before me with a plate and goblet in his hands. I took the food from him and examined it while he went back for his own. Meat and vegetables and things, grilled on a skewer. I nibbled at a piece of meat and decided I was right. I truly did not want to know what went into cooking this. The meat was tender and tangy and grilled rabbit didn't normally taste this good. If he had done something strange then ignorance was rather tasty.
Celebrimbor came back and I pretended I hadn't been inspecting the food in his absence, while he pretended that he didn't know I had. He sat cross-legged on the ground, leaning back against a rock.
"Do you truly think we will finish on schedule?" he asked after taking a few bites.
I shrugged. "I wouldn't have said so to Lady Galadriel if I didn't. Oh, we've certainly used up our budget for 'character,' but barring further surprises we're fine." I picked up my goblet and drank, nearly sputtering to find wine, a rather good red, instead of water. I glared at his grin. "All right, when--and where!--did you get this?"
"A friend of mine sent a cask of it to me from the city with the last caravan." 'The city' to Celebrimbor was Ost-in-Edhil, not Khazad-dum. "It won't keep well now that it's open, so drink up."
I took a sip more appropriate to the wine than my previous gulp. After two years out here did I have any friends left in Khazad-dum who would remember me with a cask of wine? Was there anyone left who remembered me at all? "In a month we'll be finished," I mused. The greatest project of my life, complete. What then? What would it be like to move back to the city, my city, and live surrounded by my own people again?
"A month." Celebrimbor shook his head. "I've never tried to predict when a project will end like you have. The work takes as long as it takes. I'm amazed at how close you predicted this."
"That's an attitude only an immortal can afford." I hid my face behind my goblet and took a sip to fortify myself. "Will you be--are you eager to return to your friends, your people?"
He didn't answer immediately, so I turned my attention to the food. It was impossible to rush Celebrimbor when he wanted to think about something. Besides, the food was good and I was hungry, even if I couldn't identify everything I was eating. I was fairly sure the mystery things were vegetables, not meat, but that was as far as I could say.
"I miss the music of the city," Celebrimbor said slowly. "My own workshop. Friends. But I'll miss this place, this time, as well. I've learned much here, and not just about rock." It was his turn to hide his face behind his goblet. "And you?"
"Khuzdul." I realized as soon as I said it that I shouldn't have, but continued anyway. "I dream in Elvish now. Sometimes I fear that when I return to the city I'll discover that I've forgotten my own language."
"Speak some of it to me now," he said softly.
I looked down, unable to meet his eyes. "I cannot. Durin has forbidden it."
We both addressed our attention to the food until it was gone. Celebrimbor took my plate and returned with the cask of wine.
"What else do you miss?" he asked as he refilled my goblet.
I thought about it. "Students. I could not ask any to come with me here. I miss teaching."
His mouth curved up. "Am I not student enough for you, Master Rockwright?" he chuckled.
"You are a master in your own right, Master Smith. Learning from other masters is a pleasure, but teaching the children is a joy."
"I have never taught my craft to another," Celebrimbor said. "Few would learn from the last of my line, and none would entrust their children to my teaching."
I had thought he had lost his ability to shock me any more. Our students were our immortality! But perhaps that didn't matter to an immortal elf. "Why--"
His turn to shake his head. "I cannot speak of it." He studied a pebble at his feet with great concentration.
Oh. Celebrimbor had been introduced to me as the greatest of the elven smiths and I knew him myself as a master at blending stone and steel and magic. How could his people let that skill pass away from them? How could Celebrimbor live, knowing his knowledge would die with him? His face forbade questions.
"Tell me about Lady Galadriel," I asked instead.
He laughed at me then, though his eyes spoke gratitude. "Why? Has the lady ensnared you?" I gave him a look, combined with a long-suffering sigh. "She is one of the oldest living elves in Middle-Earth," he relented. "She was born in Valinor before my--before the Exile...."
I was lying naked on a wide, soft bed in a place I had never seen, never even imagined. A gentle breeze, smelling of flowers, blew through openings in the walls. Muted green light lit the room and I knew it for sunlight through the leaves, though I had never walked beneath the trees to see it. Lady Galadriel sat beside me on the bed, clothed only in long, golden hair. She smiled at me and bent to lay a kiss in my palm. Her hair trailed across my other hand and rippled through my fingers like water.
She parted my beard and found the breasts that might have nursed children if my life had been different or Andvari's longer. Her own breasts were larger, swollen as if with pregnancy, yet smaller than those of the race of Men. I felt her chuckle as a vibration against my belly. "Celebrimbor thinks you are male."
I wasn't too surprised. "Does he? I thought he might have learned the truth by now." Fingers trailing across my chest, alternately fondling and lightly pinching, made me shiver.
"Celebrimbor doesn't always see what's right in front of him." Her breath whispered against my skin as she bent and took my nipple into her mouth.
I woke cold and confused, lying on hard ground. It took me a moment to recognize Celebrimbor's camp. I lay beside the dying fire, wrapped in his blankets. He sat across the fire from me, staring into the fire, asleep or in deep thought. Who could tell with a creature that slept with his eyes open? My body had that curious lassitude that said it had found its release, and I hoped desperately that he truly was asleep.
The sun was not quite up, though the birds were twittering like mad, reminding me of why I preferred sleeping underground where it was quiet. My head was not sore, nor my mouth foul, so I had not drunk too much the night before. I must have fallen asleep listening to Celebrimbor's tales--for which I had better apologize!--and he had covered me and let me sleep. His tales must have crept into my dreams, for he had told me much of Galadriel and I could remember confused images of her from my sleep.
He had told much, but not all. There was something he was not telling me, a shape his stories skirted without touching. I shrugged. There were things I couldn't tell him, an entire language I couldn't tell him in. Each of our races had its secrets, as did each of us.
The sun came up, though we still lay in the mountain's shadow and would until nearly noon. Celebrimbor stirred, stretching, and built up the fire, setting his small kettle on to heat. Breakfast would be pot-luck with the guards, probably porridge, but Celebrimbor needed his tea in the morning. After two years I was nearly as bad. He always brought me a cup, even when I was not fool enough to fall asleep at his fireside. I would miss that when the month was out. Could I get elvish tea in the city? Even if I did there would be none to bring me a cup every morning before I was quite awake.
Unwrapping myself from the blankets I realized that I smelled rather strongly of my body's release. I didn't think Celebrimbor could smell it, elf noses seemed not as keen as dwarf, but anyone else I encountered that day certainly would. After spreading the blankets where the sun would hit them later in the day I ducked upstream with a bucket for a cold wash, carrying the water well away from the stream to avoid contaminating the water I might drink later that day.
Celebrimbor handed me a mug of tea when I returned. "Water cold today?" he asked with a smirk, telling me he had heard my yell as I sluiced the bucket over my head to rinse away the soap.
"Why, no," I lied. "Quite warm, in fact. You should try it."
He shook his head, smiling, and went back to his tea.
We made good progress that day. Drilling the rock for anchors was heavy labor, but when I asked the guard commander she was happy to loan me several guards to help. When our door was finished and the old gate blocked up and hidden, the guard force here could be reduced, so even my temporary assistants did not mind the work. The old doors required a squad of dwarves to open or close them, and more to guard. The new gates could be opened with a word, and when closed and locked with the proper Khuzdul words few enemies would see them, let alone carry off an assault.
The presence of so many other dwarves made me glad I'd washed so carefully that morning. That I could dream of Lady Galadriel--that I could dream of her like that--was a shame that I wouldn't willingly share with any, let alone a group of bored and gossipy guards.
My ears and hands were numb by the end of the day. Despite Celebrimbor's presence we chanted the hammer song that all dwarves learned as children. Prohibition against Khuzdul or no, I wasn't going to trust the rhythm of an untrained hammer without it, not when my hand held the drill. Celebrimbor kept silent, out of the way, and I think the guards forgot he was there.
We had decided on four anchors the day before. Two were drilled when we stopped for the night.
"We should not do this."
Galadriel stopped, her hand mere inches from my body. "Why ever not?"
I eyed her hand, wanting and not wanting that touch. "I was married. You still are."
She drew her hand back and rested it on the bed. "Nothing we can do here will affect my love for my lord or his for me. Would Andvari begrudge you happiness because he is gone?"
"Dwarves desire but one in all our lives," I insisted stubbornly, pushing back a spark of jealousy at the mention of her lord.
She laughed. "And yet you feel this! Perhaps others of your kind have felt this second wakening and feared to speak of it."
"It's not natural."
She looked at me sadly and then smiled. "Very well." We were both dressed, she in a long white gown very different from the tunic and leggings she wore when I first saw her, I in my accustomed garb. "Will you stay and talk with me? For I am lonely here, and saving my kinsman's presence, so I think are you."
I shrugged. "Few of my people come to the West Tunnels and none stay long."
"You have been lonely for longer than that, my dear Narvi."
I had colleagues in the city, students, even friends. Not many of the latter, admittedly, but enough. Andvari had introduced most of them to me. I shrugged again.
"What will you do when you finish the doors?" she asked. "Does another task worthy of your skill await you?"
I shrugged yet again. "Few great works remain to be done in the city. I will teach my students and do such lesser projects as I am given."
She frowned. "And will this content you?"
"It's not what I would like, but a project like the west doors comes along only once in a lifetime, if that. Teaching the young rockwrights will content me." She looked unconvinced and I sighed. Elves. "I am a dwarf, my lady, almost two hundred years old. In a little more than a blink of your eye I will be dead, gone, nothing left of me but the work of my hands and the skills I pass on to my students."
Her eyes were much too piercing. "Do you fear death?"
I glared back, resenting the question. What would an elf--an eternal, immortal child--know of death? Death to her was a curiosity, something that happened to other people, and not even her own people.
She gave a loud laugh, as harsh as the cry of a crow. "Think you so? I have known more death than you can imagine, child of peace. I have seen battles where the dead outnumbered those now living in Khazad-dum and Ost-in-Edhil combined. You are young enough to know naught but peace--I am old enough that this seems but the breath between battles." She looked at her hands, white and fine, unstained by work, unmarked by scar. "I have dealt death, carving flesh as you carve rock."
"Orcs," I dismissed.
"Orcs and other foul creatures of the Enemy's twisting. Men, and even dwarves that He swayed to His side. And--" She fell silent, her eyes sad and tired and very, very old.
"Do you fear death?" I turned her question back on her.
"Death or the end of exile," she said. "You are beloved of Aule and I think he must be most pleased with you." She reached out to touch my work-roughened hand. "Master Rockwright." She sighed, looking off into a distance only she could see. "My gods are not so pleased with me."
I woke in my own bed, my body tight with longing for no reason I would think. The guards who were still helping, and even Celebrimbor, felt the sharp edge of my tongue that morning. Before the sun had cleared the mountains Celebrimbor deserted me for the workshop to form the mithril anchors. No doubt he was glad to part my company.
Despite my foul mood the work went apace. By the time the setting sun painted the snowcap of Caradhras with blood the last of the holes were done. About then Celebrimbor emerged from the workshop, anchors in hand. Grooved and ridged, the rods were difficult to drive into the rock and impossible to pull out. He wanted to start that night but I refused. Fatigue and failing light bred mistakes, and we could not afford any.
We were both clothed, seated in comfortably padded chairs before a gentle fire. She wore a white dress, familiar from the night before, but I was wrapped in a soft wool robe, the color of the darkest of cinnabar.
"Did my clothes offend your eyes, my lady?" I asked, amused at the change.
She smiled. "Nay, nothing about you could offend. But Durin--" She gave me an uncertain look. "Durin can sometimes be tedious. I amused myself by thinking what color would suit you best."
I laughed. "Does an elf call a dwarf long-winded?" Given how long Celebrimbor could talk....
She kept her face serious. "Naturally. For we love the sound of our own voices better than yours."
I did my best to match her expression. "You mean if my voice twittered like a bird Celebrimbor might listen to me on occasion?"
I felt a moment of triumph as she broke into laughter. "Celebrimbor listens to you more than you might think."
"I know." I would miss him, more than I would ever admit to him, more almost than I could admit to myself. He was more than colleague, more even than friend.
"Do you think he does not know?" she asked softly, so softly that I must have imagined it, for how could she answer my thoughts instead of words?
The chairs were placed a small distance apart. If I reached out my hand and she reached out hers we could touch, and what then? "Were you discussing food prices with Durin?" I asked instead, remembering the guards' complaints.
She gave a small, almost secretive smile. "Among other things." She took a sip from a goblet that was suddenly in her hand and I found that I had one too. I drank and it was wine, sweet and tart and very cold. "The drought has affected much. We have made an agreement to hold prices stable for this winter, but if the rains do not come in the spring I fear our storehouses will be depleted." And prices would rise again. She cocked her head at me. "Tell me truly, do the current prices pain your people?"
"I know less than you, away in the west. The guards grumble, but they do not fall silent in worry."
"It is well, then, for our farmers grumble too. If both sides grumble equally then the deal must be fair."
"Are your talks finished then?"
She nodded. "I will start back in the morning, and see you the day after."
My heart froze. And then? What then? I could no longer imagine not seeing her.
All four anchors were driven into place the next day with no surprises to delay us further. "We should be able to show Lady Galadriel a working door tomorrow," I told Celebrimbor after dismissing the guards. The door was encased in rope, ready to be lifted into place in the morning.
"If she has finished speaking with Durin," he agreed.
I bent to check one of the ropes that looked as if it were fraying, but it was only dirt. "They finished last night." The rope was elvish-made and I could see why Celebrimbor had insisted we use it. It was strong, easy on the hands, and knotted well. The miners would hear of this.
Celebrimbor was watching me with a raised brow when I looked up. "And how do you know this?"
How did I--? I knew, but I couldn't tell even myself how I knew. The sun rose in the east, Lady Galadriel was returning. Even without knowing how I knew I could not doubt it. "I don't know."
With a sympathetic look he laid a hand on my shoulder and steered me towards the guard hall and supper.
I was wearing a pale green shirt of some light gossamer fabric, with billowy sleeves that would be a danger in any workshop. A dark green vest of some heavier fabric lay over the top, with a skirt of the same material.
Galadriel winced. "Not a good look for you," she said ruefully, shaking her head.
I laughed. "Bored again, my lady? Was there too little in the Long Passage to entertain you?" I plucked at the fabric covering my arm. "The sleeve will never do. My hands must be free to work."
A sad, almost guilty look crossed her face. "Your hands will always be free, Narvi, that I promise you." The shirt was gone; the vest became a heavy tunic with decent, close-fitted sleeves, the skirt loose trousers.
Greatly daring I reached out and touched the full sleeve of her gown. I could feel the heat of her body through the thin fabric. "And what of you? Does not the clothing get in your way?"
"I do not wear this gown while tending plants or other tasks that require hands. Most of my work is done with mind and voice, and the gown--" she gave a tiny snort of amusement, "--impresses the impressionable." She was wearing a simple tunic and leggings. "Do you prefer me as you first saw me?"
"What if--" I stopped the words in time. She waited, just looking at me, and I knew I could not out-last the patience of an elf. I found, in fact, that I didn't wish to. "What if I preferred to see you as I second saw you?" I asked, blushing only a little.
"I thought you had decided that it was unnatural," she said gently.
I brushed my hands over her hair. "Dwarvish lore says that a second desire does not happen." I shrugged. "Clearly that is wrong, for I feel this. Nowhere does it say that such desire should not happen."
She laughed. "Sophistry, my dear Narvi! I thought that was an elvish vice!"
I scowled. "Not so, my--my dear Galadriel. For the lore also says that where there is desire only those who desire can say yea or nay." My hand cupped her cheek. "You do not say nay and I find that I have no will to do otherwise."
I held my breath as the doors swung open, listening for any sign of strain, but heard nothing ominous.
"Noch." The doors swung shut, gently as at the approach of evening, not with the violent hurry of approaching foes. The doors met each other and their frame with near-silent perfection. I returned Celebrimbor's anxious look with a grin. "Mellon." The doors opened again as smoothly as they had done before.
"Congratulations," a voice spoke from directly behind us.
I spun. "My lady!" I refrained from pulling her into a kiss only at the last moment, bowing to hide my confusion and wondering where that impulse had come from.
She touched my face with one gentle hand, "Dear Narvi," and then smiled at my partner. "Celebrimbor." She nodded towards the doors. "It goes well?"
"Oh, very well!" I fought down giddiness and failed. "We need only test all commands and we will be ready to start with the inscription."
"That is excellent news." She let us demonstrate the doors several times, though I expect the sight of a swinging door failed to excite unless those doors had been your life for two years. "Narvi--" She laid a hand on my shoulder after the doors had once again opened at her command. "Lord Durin has given me leave to ask you if you will come to Ost-in-Edhil when your work here is finished, to help with the building of our city's gates and walls." I barely heard her describing the work yet needed in her city around the frozen lump that had taken up residence in my heart. Never to see Khazad-dum again, never to be surrounded by the murmurs of my people's voices, my people's language? "We have much to learn from you," she concluded.
I bowed again, not trusting my voice. Her eyes caught mine when I straightened. An elvish student will never die, a voice spoke in my head. True immortality for the master. Part of the lump crumbled and melted, enough that I could speak and pretend to composure as we said our farewells.
Celebrimbor looked at me and shook his head after the lady left. "I think you need wine and better food than the guards' eternal stew after this day." He laid a hand on my shoulder where the lady's had been and turned me towards his camp. "Noch," he said to the doors. He said it badly, failing to soften the final consonant, and the doors remained open.
"Noch," I said correctly and they swung shut. Night indeed.
Celebrimbor steered me to our previous spot by the stream and put a goblet in my hand. I drank down half the wine in a single gulp.
"Will you come to Ost-in-Edhil?"
I looked up at him, wondering if elvish rulers were so different from dwarvish or if Celebrimbor was just naive. He was concerned for my reaction but also confused. "Durin's leave amounts to a command," I explained. He looked stricken.
"I'm sure the lady didn't mean it like that!"
"I know she didn't." If I chose to believe that who would it harm but myself?
"It's only for a few years," he said uncertainly.
I only looked at him. A few years as elves counted time, or as dwarves did? He reached out to touch my cheek and then sat down beside me to wrap his arm around my shoulders. I leaned into his embrace, his warmth thawing the ice in my chest. Truly, what did I have to call me back to the city? I had no friend as good as Celebrimbor there, no work save repairing what previous generations had built. My students had gone on to other masters. In the elves' city there was real work, Celebrimbor, and even--my face went hot--Galadriel.
"If you don't wish to go--" Celebrimbor said, his arm pulling me closer.
I shook my head. "No, I will go."
"--You don't have to," he completed as if I had not spoken. "I am the chief of the craftspeople of Eregion, and if you do not wish to come we will not have you there."
And what a mess that would make between our two peoples!
"No, truly," I said, laying my hand on his knee. "There is nothing for me back in Khazad-dum. At least in your city I will have work."
He looked unconvinced. "What of teaching the children?"
I laughed, though it did not sound entirely steady to my ears. "I will have an entire race of you children to teach. What master could ask for more?" My students would never die. If elvish tales were to be believed they would carry my teachings across the Sundering Sea, back to Mahal himself.
Celebrimbor studied me closely and gave a small, tentative smile. "You will not lack for students, I promise you." He looked down at my hand on his knee. "If you are ever unhappy there--" he trailed off.
"I will be happy," I promised him.
He laughed. "See that you are!" He laid his free hand on top of mine. "I have none now that I would call family," he said, no longer laughing. "But if you permit I would be pleased to call you brother."
His hand looked impossibly delicate atop mine, yet I knew his strength, steel to my granite. You will never be alone, he was saying, and I knew he would fight both our peoples for my sake, embroiling us all in a war too horrific to imagine.
"No," I said. He flinched as if I had hit him. "I will not be your brother, though you shall be mine." He looked confused and I grinned. "I...shall be your sister."