He resembles his grandfather, is Gandalf's first thought, when he spots him.
The Maia is frozen in his spot and clinging to his staff. Though Fëanor is even longer dead than Celebrimbor himself, Gandalf recognizes the likeness between them in an instant. Perhaps it's the cocky smile, the ease with the dead elf holds himself with. A result of a confidence that Fëanor's grandson lacked in life, if the tales are correct. Despite all of these thoughts that run through Gandalf's head, Celebrimbor continues to saunter slowly towards the clearing. His steps neither make a single sound nor does the Fëanorian cast a shadow.
"Olórin, what a pleasure to see you," the dead Fëanorian greets him, stepping into the light of one of the lamps that brighten Imladris. "I wondered, who called me forth this time. I never expected you. Usually it's only Elrond who talks to me."
"Your presence isn't unwelcome," Gandalf manages to say, not able to completely set aside his suspicion.
Like the Nazgûl, Celebrimbor's true appearance is white, but his features aren't thin, his fëa not eaten up by a dark Maia and centuries of slavery. At the first look Celebrimbor appears to be the elf he was in his life. Though it's difficult to tell since Gandalf never met Fëanor's grandson and since he possesses a mortal body himself, his sight is dimmed.
Celebrimbor smiles, choosing to lean against a railing while the Bruinen runs through the valley several meters below him.
"You're surprised to see me," Celebrimbor realizes and laughs.
The sound, carefree and without any worries of the world, surprises Gandalf almost as much as Celebrimbor's presence itself.
"You must forgive me suspicions," Gandalf offers his apologies. He senses no evil coming for the ghost, but he has been deceived in the past. Saruman comes to mind. Yet, if this is Celebrimbor, Son of Curufin, than honesty might work best. "We live in dark times. Sauron has risen again, the One Ring has been found and I've recently been betrayed by an old friend. I've not the strength to quarrel with a spirit about the reason of it's existence."
"Have no fear, Mithrandir. My name has been forgotten by many. No matter, if the current burdens of the world can be placed upon my shoulders, but I assure you that have no intention to harm you or to hinder you in your ways to aid the free people of Ennor," Celebrimbor says and raises his hands to show them he's not armed. It's a very human gesture and not often seen among the Eldar.
"Assuming that I've not wandered into Irmo's realm on accident and you're actually gracing me with your presence, may I ask why you're here, Celebrimbor?"
The question arises mostly because Celebrimbor looks like a true spirit, a fëa that is almost alive and not a ghost trapped in a cycle of emotions and events. For one, Celebrimbor is clad what must be rich robes, no hint at the armor he was wearing at the point of his death. Just as the wounds are missing which most spirits carry around, a constant reminder how their life ended. Many ghosts fixate on the living, envying them so much that they turn violent sooner or later. Yet Celebrimbor acted differently. Gandalf couldn't see any anger in his soul.
"Aside from the One Ring, two of my own are creations are currently residing in Imladris," Celebrimbor answers. "For a long time I just watched the world go on, while I waited until Sauron returned. I always suspected he would, after Gil-galad couldn't finish him off last time."
"You have taken to counseling Elrond?" Gandalf isn't exactly surprised to hear that.
The Lord of Imladris has always been closer to the House of Fëanor than he was ready to admit. While he tried to breach the subject in the past, Gandalf noticed how uncomfortable it made Elrond and quite a few others in his household. As if they felt guilty for still feeling love and affection for those they lost long ago, and didn't wish to draw outsiders into it. The knowledge makes Gandalf a little sad, mostly because it means the wounds the Doom, which the Valar laid upon the shoulders of the Noldor, still haven't completely healed yet.
"I try to help, whenever I can," Celebrimbor hums. "Often I just stand guard and keep those away the sentinels might miss. If you permit it, I'll accompany the fellowship."
Gandalf maybe old, but he's not a fool. The smile tells him that the Fëanorian isn't exactly asking for his permission, so he grumbles his agreement and hopes that Celebrimbor doesn't bother him too much.
"You wish to send Legolas of all people?" Elrond raises an eyebrow.
In the past days they've been discussing the members of the fellowship. Of course Aragorn would go, no matter how much Elrond wished he could talk his son out of it. Boromir was bound to travel into the direction anyway and knew the lands surrounding Mordor well. Picking the best warriors among the dwarves had also hardly been difficult. The argument that the ringbearer would need loyal friends far more than warriors to protect him, has been difficult enough to swallow. It doesn't sit well with Elrond to send out four Halflings, who never have seen a battle before, but Celebrimbor was firm on it. They all risked sending the followship to certain death. But with Sauron gaining strength each day, they had to act. Soon.
As healer Elrond is accustomed to choosing who lives and who dies, but as Lord responsible for so many people trusting him, such decisions are always heavier and more difficult to bear.
"There's nothing wrong with nominating the Thranduilion," Celebrimbor counters. He's looking out of the window, perhaps seeing something Elrond is unable to perceive. "He's strong, capable. Young."
"Exactly, his father will kill me for endangering his beloved child," Elrond moans. "What a way to die! To survive millennia of fighting against the shadows, only to get strangled by an overprotective father."
Celebrimbor scoffs. "It's his own wish to make an impact. Thranduil can rage as much as he wants, he let Legolas travel to Imladris. It means, he's aware of the dangers his son can face."
"Can you at least explain me why?" Elrond throws a suspicious glance towards his long-dead friend. "For it looks a little bit like revenge for me."
Many had forgotten it, over the course of centuries, but quite a few Noldor never forgave the Sindar for not aiding in the war against Morgoth. After the Kinslayings those complaints quieted down, but they never completely vanished. Not to mention that the younger ones blamed Oropher's and Amdír's rash decisions in the Last Alliance for the heavy losses they suffered. Thranduil on the other hand refused to claim responsibility over the fact that Gil-galad died in a mad attempt to salvage what remained of their army. Elrond forgave his friend long ago, since Thranduil lost more family during the last war than he did. But he didn't know how Celebrimbor saw the subject.
Especially since the Sindar refused to aid, when the Fëanorians were forced to flee Himlad in the First Age. Which brought the brothers, Curufin and Celegorm, to Nargothrond in the first place.
Apparently Celebrimbor can follow Elrond's line of thought.
"Oh no, that was long ago. We could debate endless if my father and my uncle had been less eager to attack Doriath, had they received help from Thingol after the dragons descended upon our homes and burned our land," he protests and makes a dismissive gesture with his hand. Elrond's heart clenches, because he looks so very much like Maedhros in that moment. "I'm far more concerned, because Legolas is the only Elf, who can accompany the fellowship. We don't have any other options."
"What about Glorfindel?" Elrond suggests. Though it's difficult to tell how well Imladris will fare without the Balrogslayer protecting it.
Elladan and Elrohir are capable of doing the job, just like himself. But in times like these their strength is needed elsewhere. Elrond is going to spend a lot of time in the healing wards, saving lives and his sons are fighting in the north, keeping Angmar away.
"Glorfindel is too conspicuous. Sauron could sense him miles ahead, since our dear Balrogslayer never learned how to hide in plain sight," Celebrimbor grumbles and turns around to look at Elrond. He flickers in the morning sun, almost vanishing into the light. "Unlike the twins, who are exceptional at it. But I shudder to think of what Maglor will do to me, if I take Elrohir and Elladan from his side."
"There's always Erestor." Elrond hates to say it, but his old friend is perhaps even a better option than Glorfindel.
Very few people are aware how old Erestor actually is. How many wars he fought and how competent he's with a sword in his hand. But the thought of letting Erestor in arms reach of Sauron, makes Elrond more than just a little uncomfortable. He'll rather march with the fellowship himself than let that happen.
"As long as it's within my power to prevent it, Erestor will never have to face Sauron again." Celebrimbor's growl borders on protective. Obviously feeling the same need to protect Erestor. "The fellowship will end up in Mordor sooner or later, and I wish to spare him that fate. I remember the state he was in after Maglor rescued him from Angband. He shouldn't have to go through that again. No matter how long ago it was, such things leave marks."
Pain flickers across Celebrimbor's face and Elrond tries very had not to think of how his cousin meet his end.
"Especially since he'd be the first to volunteer," Elrond mumbles under his breath. "What do you think, Mithrandir?"
His gaze turns to Gandalf who followed the conversation, sitting silent in a chair and puffing his pipe, lost in thought.
"While I'm not familiar with Erestor's history, I must agree that I'd feel more comfortable with Legolas at my side," Mithrandir says. "The ring preys on those with a heavy heart. As much as I'd welcome a Fëanorian warrior at my side during a battle, the danger remains that the ring will corrupt him. Forgive me for saying it, but Legolas is unblemished in that regard."
"True enough," Celebrimbor says and shrugs again, but the ring on Elrond's finger tells him that the matter troubles the Fëanorian far more than he wishes to let on.
While the storm raged around them, Gandalf takes great delight in cursing Celebrimbor under his breath. He saw the ghost a few times ever since they set out from Imladris, but kept his distance. Especially when Aragorn was awake. Strange Celebrimbor feared possible detection from Estel the most, while the others remained obvious.
"Bloody Fëanorians," Gandalf curses. Though he knows it's Saruman's power that probably keeps Celebrimbor away.
When they're forced to turn around and head towards Moria, Gandalf wonders if he's actually going to see the ghost again as long as they're done there. For Celebrimbor Moria must be the worst reminder of what has been lost over the ages. How much the enemy destroyed over the years.
"Are you aware of what sleeps beneath these stones?" Celebrimbor hisses, when Gandalf sees him the next time.
They've made progress and wandered deep into the mines. Currently they're resting and Gandalf takes the time to study the dark halls. He has seen Khazad-Dum at the height of its glory. When sunlight fell through the ceiling, bathing the kingdom of the dwarves in wonderful shades that surpassed even Aulë's own halls. But the beauty flees at the memory of what still sleep in those mountains.
"Yes," Gandalf whispers back, half afraid that he will wake the terror if he speaks too loud. "I know of Durin's Bane."
Though he had been more concerned with Lothlórien at the time. The death of Amroth left a gap, since the King left no heirs which could rule the realm. Instead of aiding the dwarves settle down in Erebor, Gandalf had been more busy with of convincing Galadriel. The princess of the Noldor always had been a proud woman and the Sindar scorned her powers before. Only thanks to her husband's urging, Galadriel returned from Belfalas and ended her watch, in which she kept a close eye on Mordor. Until today Gandalf wonders if that has been a wise decision.
"We need to be careful," Celebrimbor says. The voice is closer now, not just a whisper in the back of Gandalf's mind.
On his hand Narya gleams and reveals Celebrimbor, who isn't far away from the company. Immediately Gandalf notices the difference. The Fëanorian looks far more than Maedhros right now, dressed in armor, sword drawn and standing guard. His heritage is impossible to ignore. This is a warrior who faced Angband, lived under the Doom of the Valar and survived the War of Wrath. He's also the creator of the Three Rings of Power.
It's a relief that he's not alone. That he has aid in this kind of war. Neither Galadriel nor Elrond can leave their homes. They need all the power to protect their people. The Eldar don't have enough numbers left after the Last War to send out armies.
"I hope we can avoid the Balrog," Gandalf murmurs. The thought of facing that ancient evil makes him uneasy.
Very few have fought Morgoth's greatest creation. It's even questionable if Sauron is truly the worse choice. Sauron, too, lost a lot of his power. He's no longer the general he used to be. Especially without the One Ring.
"Unlikely," Celebrimbor says in a cold, even voice that frightens even Gandalf. "But perhaps I can think of something, which makes the upcoming days a little bit easier."
"Are you sure that this is a good idea, Telperinquar? Technically this goes far beyond, what Námo allows."
"I don't care what Lord Mandos says. He's far too occupied with the battles looming at the horizon to notice your absence. Besides I doubt he'd hinder us in aiding Olórin."
"I admit the prospect is appealing. It should fall to us to banish the last of the Valarauka from Endórë."
"In case someone asks, we can always sell it as attempted diplomacy. Aiding the Free People of Middle Earth, regardless of reward or a lightening of our judgement."
"Sometimes I wonder how Orodreth could ever believe your reannouncement of our house. You carry far too much my spirit to keep up the image of the redeemed and sensible Noldor for long."
"Practice, grandfather. It all comes down to practice."
When the Fellowship is attacked in the chamber, Celebrimbor has to cheat. Of course it's not the first time that he's balancing the odds, Elrond's sons tend to get in trouble far too often, but with Narya so close it's almost too easy. Well, perhaps he has some aid from an unseen power. Frodo can't die just yet. Celebrimbor cares little for the Hobbit himself. He's one unlucky dude who has to carry the One Ring to Mt. Doom. Celebrimbor will throw the Halfling into the chasm if he has to, if that's what's going to take in order to end Sauron and this bloody war once and for all.
But until this happened, he'll stop at nothing in order to help Frodo survive.
So if a mithril shirt miraculous makes its way from Bilbo Baggin's trunk in Rivendell onto Frodo's body, no one comments on it. The Fellowship is far too relieved to find Frodo alive in order to care that the Hobbit hadn't been wearing the shirt yesterday. Even Olórin doesn't notice. Grief over Balin's death and memories of Thorin Oakenshield distracts him.
Call him vindictive or just a Fëanorian, but Celebrimbor is glad to see Gandalf grieve. He watched the Istari, but aside from this one here, the others never actually truly tried to understand the people living in Middle Earth. But Gandalf too, has been caught up too much in schemes evolving around the ring and Sauron's return, and while Celebrimbor understands he isn't ready to let go the issue yet. The end of Thorin Oakenshield hit too close to home.
Perhaps Bilbo was meant to find the ring, but couldn't have someone made sure that this one amazing dwarf bloody survives? No, instead he's stuck haunting his own mountain.
Bloody, blasted, stupid wizard, who couldn't pay attention long enough to notice what the Arkenstone truly was.
Oh, one day Celebrimbor is going to take advantage of the fact that the proximity of the great rings triggered some old Maia powers in Olórin. One day Celebrimbor is going to have nice little chat with the wizard. About glowing stones, vengeance and blind, if well-meaning gods.
But first, the Balrog.
Several figures stand over the chasm. The hobbit's desperate cry rings through the air, but the gathered company doesn't care about the troubles of the living. Instead the Fëanorians are unsure what to do now.
"We came to fight a Balrog," Celegorm speaks up. He has taken the form of Huan, the great hound of Oromë, because sharp teeth and claws are can do more damage sometimes than a sword. "You promised us a Balrog, Telpe."
"I agree. It's rather disappointing to prepare for battle and be left behind in such a manner," Caranthir adds. Over his shoulder he carries a heavy battle axe, one he still intends to use. The lurking Orcs aren't just as satisfying as taking down an ancient evil.
"I'll have my revenge," Fëanor growls. "I recognized the bastard, before Olórin cast him down. I'll not leave until I've stabbed something."
"There're still plenty of Ors around, father," Curufin grins. "But I understand the desire for vengeance."
For a moment one says anything before Maedhros offers, "We could jump after them."
Seven pairs of eyes meet him, stunned.
The eldest son of Fëanor shrugs. "Well, we're dead. It's not like as if it's going to hurt."
Fëanor's mad cackle answers everything before he leaps into the abyss, sword drawn and ready to resolve some millennia old anger issues. His sons follow him, more or less enthusiastic.
Seven flames burst into the scene. Ambarussa comes as one and is the first to aid Gandalf. They shield the Maia by attacking the Balrog with a swift maneuver and give Gandalf a moment to catch his breath. The mortal body he inhabited for centuries isn't the best way to battle ancient evil. Flesh and bones hinder him in this occasion. He's too heavy and can't channel his true spirit in the way he needs in order to prevail against Morgoth' servant.
So Gandalf doesn't ask when eight spirits come forth and engage a battle, which he's the only witness to.
A great beast in form of a hound roars and the mountains shake. Gandalf watches Celegorm jump and when he leaps on the Balrog's back, it makes a screening sound when sharp teeth tear at the wings. No living being could withstand the wails the Balrog lets out as the Fëanorian warriors charge into the battle. They're difficult to decipher, but Gandalf recognizes Maedhros among the flames. Tall, red and angry. Terrifying, just as he had been in the War of Wrath. Back then he had been still in a mortal, just like Gandalf is right now.
Free of the weight and of the limitations holding him back, Nelyafinwë finally becomes the King he was born to be. The others help, of course, but in the end it's Maedhros who delivers the fatal blow. The Balrog's existence wavers under the assault of seven spirits made of wrath, fire and the light of the Silmarils. Gandalf spots Celebrimbor fighting at his father's side. They move in tandem, mirroring each other's movements perfectly.
As if the rift between them never existed.
Gandalf takes a deep breath and joins in. He can't do much, not like this. The Fëanorian's are better at purging Arda's greatest evil than him. But he can aid them. He's still a Maia, possesses a few skills that the Fëanorian's don't have. It doesn't come without a cost, but Gandalf doesn't care about it as he slams his staff into the ground.
He doesn't care why. Or how. But ever since Celebrimbor appeared before him in the moonlight in Rivendell, Gandalf has been stumbling. Tripping over his own feet, because he felt alone. Saruman's betrayal shouldn't have been such a surprise. They all commented on his unhelpful behavior before, but he's still a friend. The only kin he had left beside Radagast. To hell with the fact that he should be asking questions. But if the members of the House of Fëanor are the only ones willing to help him, he won't send them away. With a loud cry Gandalf leaves his body behind and slams his spirit against that of his twisted brother. When light engulfs him and the pain comes crashing down, Olórin realizes that he might not wake up again. Maia can die. Cease to exist. He was prepared for that, when he ventured into Moria. Despite knowing that Saruman would get exactly what he wanted out of this maneuver.
But there're worse ways to die and at least Arda doesn't have to demand anymore sacrifices from the House of Fëanor than it already has.
Gandalf groans when he comes back to himself. He's laying in the snow. It's cold, he's freezing and hungry. Also hurt. His entire body aches, like it never has before. He barely dares to open his eyes and look at the damage, but the pounding headache tells him that it doesn't get better if he stays here. Opening one eye, Gandalf sees the sky first. Free of clouds so that he gets a wonderful on Varda's work. Star are shining above him and their light comforts him.
Until he notices that some stars are much closers than others.
The Maia blinks and when the fuzziness goes away, several faces meet him.
"Oh no, not you," Gandalf complains, because... why him? "Leave me alone and let me die in peace."
"Such harsh words, Olórin. I'm treating your wounds," Fëanor answers. "Besides I can't allow you to die just yet. You've work to do. Estel is good at what he does, but he lacks your knowledge and your abilities. I don't want my great-grandson to sacrifice himself even further than he already has."
The words register and memories come rushing back. Gandalf remembers why he's here. On his left lies the Balrog, finally dead. Huan, no Celegorm, if his eyes are working properly, has taken to the task of ripping the heart out. Caranthir is swinging the battle axe with great precision, but its not wood he's chopping. Rather he seems intend to seperate the head from the body. Not a bad decision, just to be careful.
But given the fact that Gandalf can breath freely, it means the spirit of the Balrog is gone. He doesn't want to know what happened to it.
All that matters is that he's still here. His task isn't finished yet.
"Sauron needs to die," Gandalf says and attempts to get back on his feet.
Fëanor's gentle hands stop him. He presses Olórin back to the ground.
"He will, but you're no use for us in that state," the old Noldor Prince says and keeps working. Slowly the pain ebbs away, but Gandalf knows he's far from healed. That will take time.
Gandalf looks directly at Fëanor. The Spirit of Fire doesn't look much different than he did in life. With him, it's always been more obvious what kind of power lurked beneath the skin. As of the mortal shell never could quite contain Fëanor's spirit.
"Thank you," Gandalf finally breathes. Quietly, because he has a few broken ribs. "I don't think I'd have managed that without you."
"Don't mention it. I'm just sorry that you had to kill your own brother," Fëanor answers, surprisingly mellow.
The wizard blinks. He hasn't thought of it like this. The creature not just far away, hasn't been his brother. Not for a long time. He's not like Curunír, who still has a face, feelings and a soul. But yes, it still hurts somewhere. But that could just be his broken body talking.
"It's fine. I was prepared to make that sacrifice," Gandalf whispers. He doesn't think that anyone, but Fëanor can hear him. "I've learned a few things, ever since you accused of being inactive fools. Watching the Noldor die and bleed once was bad enough. I couldn't have lived with myself to let that happen to innocent people again."
Fëanor smiles. It's the kind of a smile a father reserves for the accomplishments of his children. He looks proud and Gandalf nearly cries at the sight.