Turn All Your Flesh As Gold
Deliberate fudging of timelines for dramatic effect. I also used Aʒūlēz, Aulë's name in Valarin, since Quenya didn't actually exist yet. A fana (pl. fanar) is the voluntary physical form assumed by one of the Ainur. Kelvar is the collective name for animal life.
The servants of Aʒūlēz never rested; their work might ebb, the music of their hammers soften, but as the heart of Arda never ceased burning, so the forge-fires of the Smith's folk never went out. In their workshops beneath the great peaks of the Pelori Mountains, the smoke of those eternal blazes drifted up through crevices in an ancient caldera's husk, as though the volcano's clotted heart still simmered and boiled.
Those fires produced all manner of wonders, from tiny, razor thin sheets of crystal imbued with harmonies of the Great Music that sang visions when struck, to behemoths of stone, metal and glass that moved and groaned, driven by their own power. Then there were the deeper forges, where crucibles of gems and stones were mixed and left to grow, and the pressure and heat grew so great that only the hardiest fanar could survive.
Aʒūlēz the Maker thought of these things as he drifted invisible and untethered, and of the marvels he had wrought here in his workshop, a mountain hollowed from root to tip into a cavern of surpassing size and depth. Much Aʒūlēz had made, but his heart desired ever newer and more marvelous things brought forth from his own hands. And more; there was a new Making, simmering in his meditations as he glimpsed half-complete dreams.
He had not yet dared, but the desire had become like agony. Aʒūlēz had waited so long, and desired above all else the fulfillment he and his siblings were promised: to have learners that were not of his order, children that would rejoice in the knowing and the making of things.
The Smith wavered – some part of his spirit knew the transgression - but desire had already won out. Merely the flick of a thought, like throwing a pebble, and Aʒūlēz summoned the two servants he had need of.
Aʒūlēz remembered the Song, but the Ainur had no part in shaping Children of their Father, and their forms were unclear in his mind. This new design might become his greatest, but it was not yet complete. Aʒūlēz required more knowledge before it could be brought to fulfillment.
Then the Vala reached down and hummed, echoing the mountain rooted beneath his drifting consciousness. The air thickened, liquefied, crystallized, then cooled, and Aʒūlēz sealed himself inside the mold of rock and stone. Like many of the Valar, Aʒūlēz found taking a fana uncomfortable. Crushing a spirit allied with the foundations of Arda into flesh and bone suited them ill, but this form was not so alien to the Smith's nature.
“Master?” called a voice below him.
The newly-wrought stone giant leaned down to examine the tiny figures of his maiar, each no longer than the smallest finger of his fana. The workshop had no light, but the Vala's molten core churned and shone out through his eyes and mouth, illuminating the darkness and refracting in beams of orange and white off the dense crystals clustered on his shoulders and chest.
Admirable One's eyes gleamed golden in the reflected light, which gave Skilled One's white garments a fiery cast. Skilled One and Admirable One did not wear the rough stone skin of their master, however finely and delicately shaped. They had skin that breathed and pulsed, flushed itself with fluids and tingled with sensation. Even robed in flesh, Admirable One had the luster of gold, fitting for the chief of the Smith's folk. Skilled One mirrored him, a paler copy with his alabaster coloring, broken by the shining obsidian of his hair-wires and eye-gems.
Among the Smith's servants, few had mastered the art of molding forms from living tissue. The kelvar and the Children were to be made of such mutable and unstable stuff, wet and fragile. It appealed little to his people, masterful as they were with metal and crystal and all forms of stone.
Admirable One stepped forward beneath the Vala's gaze. “Master, how may we serve you?” Behind him, Skilled One cast his eyes to the floor, allowing his superior to speak.
Aʒūlēz reminded himself to reply in kind - cumbersome, fallible vibrations through air, not the lightness of thought. “Admirable One,” he began, but stopped short. When the Smith spoke in this form, the noise ground like stone against stone, booming and echoing in this vast chamber. It was difficult to connect himself and his thoughts with the noise.
The sound waves were purer when heard without ears, Aʒūlēz reminded himself, tucking away the observation. His design cannot correct the limitation, given the restrictions of corporeality, but perhaps he might amend it.
Below him, the two maiar waited patiently for their master to gather himself.
“You are practiced in the skill of living fanar?” Aʒūlēz finally asked, wishing not to reveal his purpose. He had not yet shared this thought with the other Valar, nor his wife, and desired for this design to stay secret a little longer.
Admirable One bowed, but his golden gaze never left the Vala's face. “We are, Master. Do you have need of our skill?”
“And you know much of kelvar,” Aʒūlēz said, as his thoughts returned to the desire that haunted him.
Admirable One bowed lower. “Yes, Master. I have studied them, to better understand the Children.” The maia's voice had a liquid quality to it, like molten metal.
“I wish to know more. Explain to me the principles of the design,” the Vala instructed.
“Your honored wife, the Giver of Fruits, would know more than I of such things, Master,” Admirable One demurred. A lock of his hair slipped over his shoulder like a trail of liquid gold. Aʒūlēz marveled at the thinness and suppleness of the filaments, and made another note. A smith that did not know the properties of his material could not use it to its full advantage.
“The Earth-Queen does not know of forges and hammer-blows. You can tell me in the ways I wish to know,” Aʒūlēz said after a moment.
Admirable One bowed again and the coverings of his eyes fluttered. “As you wish, Master. I have drawn illustrations, if you wish to examine them as I explain?”
Aʒūlēz could not remember the sign for assent when one wore a fana. “I wish to see them. Skilled One, please go and retrieve them,” he instructed.
The shapes under Skilled One's face moved, and his bow was slower to come before he left. Admirable One's mouth curved upward once his sibling was gone. Aʒūlēz added these to his observations, though he did not understand them.
“Admirable One,” said Aʒūlēz, “do you remember the studies we spoke of, that you conducted upon kelvar?”
The golden maia knelt down, hastily and without showing care for his fana. “Master, I swear to you, I abandoned such experiments at once! You explained to me my errors with such patience, how could I continue against your will?”
Aʒūlēz remembered the sign this time; he moved his head from side to side, keeping the stone ductile as heated glass. “No, Admirable One, I did not mean to chastise you. Did you keep records of your results?”
Fanar of flesh needed to inhale a particular mix of atmosphere, but Admirable One seemed to have forgotten. “No, Master,” he finally said. “I destroyed them as you ordered. But...perhaps I might reconstruct a few from memory, if that was your wish?”
“That is not necessary,” Aʒūlēz said, after a moment of consideration. He did not wish to encourage his servant's disobedience and disregard for the work of others.“Is you fana damaged?”
“No, Master.” Admirable One drew himself up, and arranged the folds of his garment. “It is more fragile than metal or stone, but such a small thing cannot damage it. The kelvar have a marvelous ability to repair their own damage, if given enough time and fuel. Some can even regrow lost limbs, or reroute function around damaged places.”
Aʒūlēz marveled himself. “Truly? They can be so hardy?”
Admirable One performed the head-shaking sign that meant no. “Only a few kinds. I perceive that the Children will not be able to perform such feats.”
Another place to improve the design, Aʒūlēz noted. If they must exist in a darkened world, they must be hardy, for their own safety.
“Tell me what else you have discovered,” said Aʒūlēz, and he lowered himself to the floor of his workshop, trying to place his limbs in the same manner as Admirable One.
“Of course, Master. Anything you wish,” said Admirable One. The maia's mouth curled upward again, showing a flash of white. Aʒūlēz wondered what it signified.
Yes. Choosing Admirable One was the correct result. There was much Aʒūlēz had yet to learn. And much he had yet to make.
Mahal - the word had a good heft when it echoed in the Smith's thoughts. Mahal, the Maker.
Aʒūlēz cradled the first word of his newborn tongue close, and listened closely as Admirable One began to speak.
About the Author
Anthropologyarda is a lifelong fan of Tolkien's works with a particular interest in exploring obscure corners of the legendarium, and applying science to Middle-earth. Their Tolkien-centric writing can be found on tumblr here.