Gwindor paces Celebrimbor’s workshop like a rehearsing orator. His voice rises in indignation and a few drops of spit escape his lips, but he seems not to notice.
“There is not one of them with the least idea of consequences. Half of them have not been within a day’s ride of Angband’s gates.”
He takes a breath; adjusts his teeth. “You would think that experience would count for something in the king’s council. You would think—but they don’t want to hear it. What are you working on there?”
His tone hardly changes, and it takes Celebrimbor a moment to realize that he is being addressed. “What, this?”
The worktable behind him is a constellation of string and pins and paper. “Much less exciting than it looks, I’m afraid. I’m drafting some models for the foundry expansion.”
The expansion necessitated by the increasing demand for arms. He waits for Gwindor to say you are against me, too; to call his friendship, his loyalty into question. But Gwindor’s anger seems to have burnt itself out already. He looks tired. “What else are you working on?” he asks. “I know you, you always have a side project.”
Celebrimbor has several, as it happens. Agarwaen’s strange black sword is sitting on his workbench wrapped in felt; he decides not to mention this project to Gwindor. It seems he will always be tugged in all directions, no matter what strings he severs.
Instead he pulls a leather map case from beneath it, undoes the clasp, and clears a space on the table to lay it. “Here you’ll find this interesting. It’s a compilation of accounts of the geography beyond the Ered Wethrin.”
Gwindor pulls up a stool and settles onto it. He leafs through a few pages and raises an eyebrow. “Planning an expedition?” he asks.
“I think about it sometimes,” says Celebrimbor. “An expedition, I mean. Going off where no one knows me.”
Gwindor traces a watercourse with his finger. “There are simpler ways of getting yourself killed.”
“I was joking,” says Gwindor. “It was in poor taste. I apologize.”
He flips through a few pages of notes. “Mapmaking is a bit outside your usual purview, isn’t it?” he asks.
Celebrimbor makes a noncommittal noise. “It interests me,” he says.
Gwindor shifts uncomfortably on the stool, putting a hand to his back. “I mean no disrespect to your furnishings, but this is not very conducive to conversation, or comfort. Let’s go back to my place.”
He leads Celebrimbor past the main doors of the family home to a service entrance leading directly to his private quarters. Celebrimbor does not ask who he is trying to avoid. Gwindor fumbles about his clothes, muttering. He has forgotten his latchkey, it seems, and must knock on his own door. He grows impatient when it fails to open immediately, and knocks more insistently. The door flies open and there is Talchim glaring at them. “What do you think you’re—oh, it’s you, sir. I thought you were the laundry. Why didn’t you come around the front if you haven’t got your key?”
Gwindor’s anger is returning; Celebrimbor can see it in the set of his shoulders and mouth. When Talchim goes off to fetch drinks he pokes the fire ineffectually, then sinks into one of the chairs beside it. Celebrimbor pulls over a table for the maps and sits down opposite him. “Now tell me about your project,” says Gwindor.
Celebrimbor launches into an explanation: the collection of various accounts, usually conflicting; the difficulty of converting scales; differences in Noldor versus Dwarven conceptions of cartography. “Of course, the only way to settle it would be to take a surveying team over the mountains,” he concludes.
Gwindor runs his tongue over his teeth contemplatively. “Would you really go there?” he asks.
“Maybe. I don’t know.” says Celebrimbor. “It wouldn’t be because I’m looking for death. It would be dangerous, but it’s dangerous everywhere these days. Don’t you ever look at a map and want to know what’s beyond its margins?”
Gwindor takes his time answering. Talchim comes back with the drinks and stokes up the fire properly.
“I suppose I might have, once,” Gwindor admits, finally.
“But not now?” asks Celebrimbor.
Gwindor turns his attention to his drink. “This is a very interesting project; you must let me know how it progresses.”
Celebrimbor accepts the rebuff and considers how best to salvage the conversation. But Gwindor plucks a map from the stack in front of him. “Tell me about this one—what are these lines meant to represent?”
Celebrimbor understands that he is being granted a favor. “That one is fascinating,” he says. “A colleague from Nogrod gave it to me many years ago; their cartographers have some remarkable ideas on mapping terrain.”
He could talk for hours on the subject, easily. Out of habit he glances up at Gwindor, looking for signs of boredom. His mouth is set in a slight frown, and his eyes follow Celebrimbor’s finger across the paper landscapes laid out below. Not rapt, but deliberately focused.
He sees now what is being asked of him. It is a favor, but it runs in the other direction. Celebrimbor, granting it freely, keeps talking.