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Flowers in Amber - Part 2

Title Flowers in Amber - Part 2
Rating: Teen
Pairing: Elrond/Celebrimbor
Genre: Drama, Romance, Slash
For Adlanth

The question was met with excited applause from the audience but Annatar shook his head and held up his hands. “No, my friends, not tonight, the hour grows late and I am sure our guest is weary,” he said, bowing to Elrond.

“Not at all,” Elrond countered. “It is never too late for another song or story.”

“But I have nothing prepared,” Annatar protested. “I could not possibly. . .”

A groan rose from the crowd and several people shouted, “Please, Lord Annatar, please.” Elrond was reminded of children trying to wheedle another story before being put to bed.

He gave Annatar a small nod. “It seems the crowd will not take no for an answer,” Elrond said. “If you would be so kind, I would love a song as well.”

Annatar sighed and surrendered gracefully. “Very well, one song then. Perhaps Master Elrond would do me a kindness in turn and suggest something.”

Elrond had put himself on the spot. He thought for a moment then said, “How about the' Lay of Leithian'? It is an especial favorite of mine.”

Annatar’s eyes flickered for an instant with a look Elrond could not place, but he smiled and bowed low. “An excellent suggestion, Master Elrond,” he said, and took the stage.

He was a striking figure, standing tall and proud upon the dais, his hair pulled back in a bejeweled braid. Just before he began, he raised an eyebrow and Elrond was struck by how closely the mannerism mirrored his brother Elros. In fact, Annatar’s stance and the curve of his lips were remarkably like Elros as well. The effect was almost unnerving.

A harpist began the tune, followed by a flute and viol. After the introductory notes Annatar joined in, lifting his rich tenor voice in song. His smooth tones filled the Great Hall, weaving images of enchantment, dread, fear, and finally sorrow for the maid “more fair than any child of men” who lives now only in memory. Elrond sat enthralled, or ensnared he could not be sure, feeling every note, every emotion as though he lived the events instead of hearing them sung.

By the time the song ended, and he came back to himself, tears were coursing down his cheeks. He glanced around, wiping at his eyes hastily with his sleeve, but no one was looking, except Annatar. Everyone else seemed to be waking from a dream or spell. After a long moment, the audience gave an ovation of subdued, reverent applause. Elrond suppressed a shudder. There was power here, the room all but crackled with it, but whether for good or ill he could not say.

Annatar acknowledged the applause with a humble bow, then turned to Elrond. “I hope I was able to do the song justice, Master Elrond.”

His look was hopeful, eager. Elrond gasped aloud, for the aspect was identical to that of his mother whenever his father returned from the sea. He still saw that look in his dreams. Elrond swallowed hard, his heart beating like a bird in a snare. He rose quickly. “I have never heard it sung better,” he choked out. He turned to Celebrimbor and gave a stiff bow. “Please excuse me, my lord. I fear the wine has gone to my head a bit. I must go lie down.”

Celebrimbor gave him an odd look but replied with equanimity. “Of course you may go. I shall send for you in the morning. I hope you are well by then.”

“You are most kind, my lord. I am sure I shall be,” Elrond said. He all but fled the hall.

He rushed through the lobby to his chambers, stopping by a privy down the hall where he promptly lost his supper. He staggered to his room, his head spinning, and found his bed turned down and a fine dressing gown lying upon it. He scrambled out of his evening wear and slipped it on, then kindled a fire though the room held no chill. Pulling a chair close to the hearth he huddled in the dressing gown, pulling it close around him like a frightened child. What was wrong with him, with everyone? Was he seeing shadows where none existed or was he the only one seeing clearly?

He must have dozed, for the next thing he knew he was awakened by a knock at the door. He answered it to find Celebrimbor standing there with a look of concern. “I wanted check on you,” he said. “Are you ill?”

“No, my lord. As I said, the wine was a bit strong. I am feeling much better now.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Celebrimbor said, relief plain on his face. “I was worried about you.”

“Thank you, my. . .”

“Please stop calling me ‘my lord’,” Celebrimbor broke in. “I cannot stand such formalities. May I come in?”

Elrond drew back from the door, chagrined. “Of course, do come in.”

Celebrimbor entered. He looked at the fire and then at Elrond. “Are you cold?”

Elrond sighed, shaking his head. “It was just a passing chill.”

“Let us get to the heart of the matter,” Celebrimbor said. “Your dislike of Annatar is very strong, I can see that, but you are working yourself into a bad state of mind over nothing.”

“I do not dislike Annatar,” Elrond protested, “I simply do not trust him. Please, let us not discuss him further tonight. I am more interested in what you have built here and what you hope to achieve.”

Celebrimbor’s face lit up, his eyes filled with excitement. “What I am building, what I hope to see come to fruition, is a realm more glorious than Valinor right here in Middle-earth. We have the will and the knowledge within our grasp, all we have to do is reach out and make it happen. Imagine a world where the ravages of time are slowed, perhaps stopped altogether, where the sorrow of our long years may be turned to joy and enrichment. It is nothing less than the reshaping of Arda, this time in our image, to heal this land long marred.”

Elrond could not help but be caught up in Celebrimbor’s enthusiasm, though his mind still urged caution. “It is a beautiful dream, but this is not Valinor and never will be, and I do not see that as a bad thing.”

“You are young, Elrond, and were not born under my curse, the curse that claimed my kin and continues to haunt me. There are those of us who still live under the doom of Mandos. You cannot understand.”

“I know well the sorrow that doom has wrought,” Elrond said sadly. “The only way to fight it is to remain vigilant and not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

“Which is exactly what I intend to do,” Celebrimbor said with finality. “You will see tomorrow. I promise.” He took Elrond’s hand in both of his. Elrond felt that familiar flutter in his stomach.

“I hope you do not find me too forward, but you remind me very much of Maglor,” Elrond said softly.

Celebrimbor smiled. “Most tell me I look like my father.”

“Perhaps. I did not know him well.”

“Nor I, as it turned out.” A cloud of pain crossed Celebrimbor’s face, but then the sun of a smile broke through. “But, please, let us turn from these heavy subjects. It is yet early. Might you still be up for that game?”

Elrond squeezed Celebrimbor’s hand. “Nothing would please me more.”

Celebrimbor called for a servant and had him fetch the board. Arantyalmë, or chess as it was called in the East, was well known among the Elves who had taken an instant liking to the complex strategy the game involved. Celebrimbor’s set was one of the most exquisite Elrond had seen. The white pieces were ivory and the black pieces jet. The board was ebony inlaid with alabaster. Elrond chose white and so went first. The two men played for over an hour before Elrond found himself hemmed in and was forced to surrender his king.

“You are an excellent player, Elrond. I wish you were a member of my court so we might play often. I think it possible you might even best me the next time.”

“It is a pleasure playing with someone of your skill. Gil-galad has little interest in the game but he plays me occasionally out of kindness,” Elrond said with a chuckle.

“He is missing out on one of the great joys in life.”

“So I have told him, many times.”

Celebrimbor laughed. Elrond decided he liked the sound very much. For the first time since coming to Ost-in-Edhil, Elrond felt truly welcome, truly happy.

He and Celebrimbor talked far into the night, finding they had many areas of interest. Elrond even discovered smithing and masonry was not as dull as he had imagined. The way Celebrimbor described the process was fascinating. There was something about forcing a piece of metal or stone to your will that Elrond found admirable, even noble. They also spoke of books they enjoyed and the healing arts, of which Celebrimbor knew little. They ended up laughing and chatting together like old friends, all of their cares forgotten for a time in the delight of each others company.

Finally Celebrimbor stood and stretched mightily. “It is getting late and I must be going. Perhaps we can share another game tomorrow night.”

“Nothing would please me more.”

“Then it is settled. Shall I have you called to breakfast or would you prefer to ring for someone when you are up and about?”

“I would prefer to be called. I do not want to be late to accompany you to the forges.”

“Very well, it shall be done.”

Celebrimbor moved to leave and Elrond said, “Thank you for coming by to check on me, my lord. This evening has been the most pleasant I have had in a very long time.”

Celebrimbor nodded. “I enjoyed myself as well. Until tomorrow then.”

“Until tomorrow,” Elrond echoed. He watched Celebrimbor leave, the room seeming suddenly cold and empty without him.

The next morning Elrond was up and dressed before the call came. He tried to do some reading but his mind was on Celebrimbor and the evening they had shared. He paced the floor trying to sort out his feelings before finally giving up the exercise. What did it matter the reason for his attraction? Celebrimbor was very much his own man and Elrond was charmed by who he was and the things he had done. It must have taken great courage to repudiate his father, to forge his own path. He could have fallen prey to anger, bitterness or despair but instead he had lifted himself up and his people as well.

When the servant arrived to escort him to breakfast, Elrond was more than ready. He was happy to see that he and Celebrimbor would be dining alone. Annatar was nowhere to be seen, and though curious as to his whereabouts, Elrond refused to ask about him. He did not want to think about the man until he had to.

Breakfast was a lavish affair since the work of the forges was physically arduous. Elrond was astounded by the sheer number and variety of the meats and pastries on offer. Though he managed to fill his plate with only a few items, Celebrimbor ate as though he might never be served a meal again. Elrond found it amusing, watching him consume a whole duck and a plate of cakes while never allowing their conversation to lull.

After they had their fill, and for Elrond even a little more, they went to the forges. Elrond was unprepared for its size and number of workers. Fires blazed, steam rose, and the clang of metal was so loud it hurt his ears. Celebrimbor stripped off his shirt and Elrond tried not to gape at the glorious sight before him. Celebrimbor’s arms and chest looked sculpted from marble, his skin pale and smooth as moonstone. His chest and arms bulged with corded muscle. His apron rode low on his hips, giving Elrond a welcome view of his muscular abdomen. He looked as dauntless as the strongest warrior, as noble as the most peerless king.

He picked up a lump of gold and handed it to Elrond. “What do you feel when you hold this?”

Elrond thought it was a joke, but he saw Celebrimbor was serious. “Nothing. It is a lifeless piece of metal.”

Celebrimbor smiled as though pleased by the answer. “Ah, but that is where you are wrong. It is where we were all wrong. Annatar has taught us to listen to how gold, how all metals speak. Close your eyes and let your mind go blank, then fill it with gold, concentrate on that lump of metal in your hand.”

Elrond thought this the maddest thing he had ever heard, but he did as instructed. He closed his eyes and thought of gold, concentrated on the piece he held. At first there was nothing but the feeling he must look foolish, but when he focused his mind, a faint song came through. The song grew in his mind and he saw a gold band adorned with a blue stone. The sound of strong wind whistled in his ears, a breeze touched his face. He opened his eyes in surprise and the song was gone, what he had felt was gone, as though it had never been.

“What magic is this?” he asked, hastily putting the gold back on the workbench.

“It is not magic. This is what Annatar has taught us. When we listen with our hearts, the metal tells us what it wants to be. This gold wants to be a ring. It wants to hold and nurture a bright gem and adorn the hand of a man or woman of nobility and power.”

“How did you know?”

“It says the same to all who will listen, the key is to listen.”

“Truly remarkable,” Elrond said, impressed by Annatar for the first time.

He spent the day in the forges, watching Celebrimbor work, mulling over the lesson of the metal. Nothing in the world was without its own song, Elrond realized, though he thought it something he should have known all along. Did not the world come into being through music? Yet he had never thought about it in those terms. Perhaps there was something to Annatar’s gifts after all.

Thinking of Annatar made Elrond wonder about him again. He had not shown up all day. Finally, Elrond broke down and asked Celebrimbor of his whereabouts.

“He has gone to Moria to speak with the Dwarves about a project we have been working on. He will not be back for a week.”

Elrond felt a flood of relief, followed by annoyance. He had agreed to stay to come to a decision about Annatar he could take back to Gil-Galad, but how could he form an opinion of the man’s works if he wasn’t there?

“That is unfortunate, for I wanted to see his work as well. I hope I did not distress him with my hasty departure last night.”

“He was understandably worried by your sudden illness. He thought he might have done something to upset you. But it is no matter. He told me to give you his regards and to say he will see you upon his return if you are still here.”

‘If I am still here,’ thought Elrond with irritation, and just when Celebrimbor had almost convinced him might be wrong about Annatar’s fair-seeming.

After a productive day, they left the forges together. Elrond had met many of the other smiths and spoken with them about the projects they were working on. Almost to a man, they praised Annatar and his guidance. They all said they were doing the best work of their lives since his arrival and had more ideas than they could complete in many years. Despite Annatar’s untimely absence, Elrond came away with a much brighter outlook than when he had arrived.

That evening Celebrimbor sent word that he was having a private supper in his rooms and asked Elrond if he would like to join him. He accepted readily, but looking through the wardrobe in his chambers he found himself fussing over what to wear. His wardrobe had been furnished with a variety of plain and elegant clothing that was tailored to fit him to perfection. He wondered how formally he should dress for an audience with Celebrimbor. He didn’t want to insult him by going too casually dressed, nor put him off with too much formality. He finally decided on a black tunic with a simple silver star embroidered upon the breast and black trousers with red piping down the legs. After a moment’s hesitation he topped off his ensemble with a silver hair clip Maglor had given him as a gift when he first came of age. Elrond was not much on possessions, knowing how fleeting such things were, but had kept and treasured this simple piece of jewelry for yeni.

When he finished dressing, he went to Celebrimbor’s rooms on his own, after asking a servant for directions. He could have called for an escort but did not think it necessary to pull someone from their duties to show him around. Arriving at Celebrimbor’s door, he paused to wipe his sweaty hands on the back of his pants, check the shine on his boots, and rapped decisively.

Celebrimbor opened the door, bursting into a smile at the sight of him. “I see you found me without assistance. Please come in.”

“I hoped you wouldn’t mind if I familiarized myself with the place a little. There is something extraordinary around every corner here.”

“It gladdens me to hear you say that. One grows complacent when one lives in a place for long. It is easy to take our gifts for granted until we see them through new eyes.”

“Very true, very true,” Elrond said. He looked around Celebrimbor’s room, pleased to see the splendor of his halls was not in evidence. The furniture of his sitting room was simple and contained none of the ornate carvings he had seen in other furnishings here. The draperies were pulled back, revealing a golden twilight sky beyond where Eärendil outshone the waning sun.

“Would you like to take a walk in the garden before supper? I do so often. It is a pleasant change from the forges. I do some of my best thinking there.”

“I would love to,” Elrond replied.

The gardens were as beautiful as the halls, with flowers in profusion everywhere, filling the air with perfume despite the early autumn chill. Elrond found the atmosphere and company relaxing, though the only thinking he did was about Celebrimbor. They retired just after sunset for a quiet supper and another round of chess. This time Elrond was able to run Celebrimbor’s king to ground with his knight and rook.

“Ah, to have bested me so quickly in our games is a good omen. I believe I have found my partner at last,” Celebrimbor said.

“It was a fluke, I am afraid,” Elrond replied. "You left your queen unprotected and after that. . .” he trailed off with a shrug.

“It was a mistake, to be sure, but I did not see your counter coming. Very masterful.”

Elrond felt his cheeks redden. “You are most kind, my lord.”

“I see you revert back to formality when emotion comes too close,” Celebrimbor said. “But in this case I do not mind. It was worth it to see you blush.”

Elrond blushed again. “I have never realized that, but you are right, I do. It is just that I do not often receive a compliment from one whom I admire.”

“Are partners so rare for you? I would not have thought it.”

“Not more so than many others I should think," Elrond said uncertainly. "We are still talking about arantyalmë, are we not?”

“Definitely not,” Celebrimbor said. The look in his eyes was tender and a little expectant.

“You do me too great a kindness, my lord. . . Celebrimbor,” Elrond amended with a nervous smile.

“Oh, Elrond, you must know the figure you cut, your effect on others when you let your guard down and they see the man within.”

“I do not often let my guard down.” Elrond found his palms were sweaty again.

“Perhaps you should. Learning to trust is a good thing. It has taken me many years to learn this, and much heartache, but I have prospered since.” He reached out and laid his hand upon Elrond’s.

Elrond pulled his hand back. “Forgive me,” he said at Celebrimbor’s disappointed look. “It is only that. . . that. . .” he winced and held up his hands. “They are a bit damp, you see.” He looked so mortified that Celebrimbor burst out laughing.

“Oh, Elrond, you are oblivious,” he said at last.

He stood and moved around to where Elrond sat, purposely reached down and took both of Elrond’s hands in his. “See? What’s a little dampness between friends?”

Celebrimbor pulled Elrond to his feet and kissed him boldly. Elrond had little experience and none thus far to prepare him for the rush of his blood, like the blast of fiery air from a furnace, at the kiss of this beautiful grandson of Fëanor. He forced himself, just once, to not consider every horrid possibility that might occur should he give in to his feelings and returned the kiss valiantly.

His action inspired Celebrimbor to daring and they were soon divesting each other of their finery at a breakneck pace. Celebrimbor lifted Elrond in his strong arms and tumbled him into bed. As though in a dream, Elrond watched Celebrimbor’s hands, the hands that could speak metal to life, do the same to his taut body. His skin spoke its own language to Celebrimbor and he understood, cherished every word. Elrond’s hands, still damp, spoke encouragement with every touch, sought to return the pleasure his partner wrought tenfold. The ending was sweet and slow, in contrast to the swift beginning, and Elrond let himself go, lost in unimaginable sensation. When it was over, Elrond gathered Celebrimbor into his arms wanting to hold him and never let go. Celebrimbor embraced him, his fingertips entwined in Elrond’s hair.

The rest of the week before Annatar’s return was the best week of Elrond’s life. He and Celebrimbor spent so much time together that Celebrimbor neglected his work, not even reporting to the forges. Elrond expressed concern but Celebrimbor brushed it off, saying he deserved a vacation. They talked and played countless games of chess, most of which Celebrimbor won, and made love both frantically and leisurely for hours at a time.

At the end of the week Annatar returned as promised, but Elrond was no longer bothered by his games and tricks. He watched Annatar for a few days at the forges but could not see anything that raised any particular alarm. The man was hard working, patient with novices, a source of endless knowledge and shared ideas freely and collaboratively. In the end, Elrond decided there was no feasible reason to extend his visit. He met Celebrimbor in his rooms one last time before his planned journey home the next day.

“I wish you could stay,” Celebrimbor said. “I wish you did not have obligations elsewhere.”

“So do I. However, we have time. The world is at peace, your work is going well. I will speak with Gil-galad about Annatar. There is something undefinable about him that urges me to caution but I have to admit it is only a gut feeling. I have no evidence that he is untrustworthy.”

“I am glad you agree to that at least,” Celebrimbor said. “But, against my better judgement, and for you, I shall keep an eye on things.”

“I can ask no more,” Elrond said.

There was a pause as each regarded the other, reluctant to say the words.

“I hate good byes,” Elrond said at last, gruffly.

“So do I.”

“Then let us not say it,” Elrond said. He hesitated a moment then stepped up, took both of Celebrimbor’s hands in his and kissed him, a prelude to something deeper, to something in the far future. The vision clouded before his eyes and he foolishly took it as a good sign. The world had shifted again, new paths lay ahead.

He left and a long moment passed before Celebrimbor snapped out of reverie. He looked down to see a silver hair clip resting in his hand.



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