10. Chapter Ten
Had Celebrian truly just arrived? Or was she merely feigning innocence, while in reality she had been eavesdropping for the Valar knew how long? Reading her face was useless; other maidens would probably have betrayed themselves but this was Galadriel's daughter, and at this moment she looked as stern and inscrutable as her mother.
'You may come in,' Gil-galad replied. The exchange with Tárion, interrupted at such a crucial moment, had left him agitated; he could only hope that his tone was as measured as he intended it to be. 'What is your errand, my lady?'
She showed him the jar in her hand. 'The chief healer told me to take this salve to your wounded - captain, my lord King.'
Not so well schooled as her mother, after all: able to control her facial expression, but not yet her speech. The slight hesitation between 'wounded' and 'captain' sufficed to tell Gil-galad that she had heard enough to know what Tárion was to him. And worse, that she knew he considered using the Ring of Fire, considered to bare, not only his own innermost mind but the secrets of all and everything in his Kingdom this mind had ever touched, to the wielder of the One Ring. And to what end? To save his bedmate? There were things no one could excuse even if they were done for love.
How much of a liability was Celebrian? Her tone had slipped; next time it could be her tongue.
He decided to be blunt. 'What exactly did you overhear?'
She took a step back, apparently just as dismayed as he was at having been found out. 'I know what you intend to do. And why.'
The King's fist tightened around the Ring until it dug painfully into his palm. He was loath to defend himself by saying that he hesitated, that the final decision had yet to be made. It would sound too much like a subterfuge.
They both jumped when a ragged voice from the bed said: 'That he wants to do it does not mean he will do it. And I tell you, my lady, that he will not.'
'But you would!' Celebrian replied, 'and who is to tell if that is any better? For you are his... his...' An odd sound escaped her, and in a shrill voice she added: 'It is wrong!' And with that, she wheeled and fled the bedchamber, her hand still clutching the forgotten jar of salve. Not that Tárion needed it. The previous one was far from empty.
Gil-galad realised that she fled because she was on the verge of bursting into tears. He wondered what t was that was wrong in Celebrian's eyes. Slowly he turned back to his lover and took his place beside the bed again. Tárion's eyes fluttered open at the sound, but he did not speak.
'Yes, you would do it,' Gil-galad said pensively. 'There is nothing you would not do if you considered it your duty, even to the point of killing yourself. But it will not happen.'
'Indeed it will not,' the wounded Captain said after a long silence. 'For I do not intend to die; I can assure you that much. I am an Elda, Arto, not one of the Engwar(1). I can feel that my body has begun to heal; you will be surprised yet.' He actually managed a smile, one of the rare ones reserved for Gil-galad alone. The smile that had been the spark to kindle his love when this Second Age of the Sun was newly born and Tárion had offered his services to the High King of the Noldor.
The recovery was all the more remarkable as the healer who had told him the Captain's condition was critical was also of the Eldar, and usually correct in her assertions. But the love of his life seemed to possess an extraordinarily resilience, Gil-galad mused. As if his promise to Turgon of Gondolin, the ancient promise to survive, spilled over into the next era. Or as if a promise given to one High King could be passed on to his successor.
He squeezed Tárions hand, willing his strength to flow into the body that so often had felt like an extension of his own.
The next moment, he was pulled out of his memories and reveries. 'Do you realise that she is in love with you?' Tárion asked softly.
'You mean, Celebrian?'
'You don't seriously think I am referring to her mother, do you?'
Celebrian? It would explain much. 'I am sorry,' Gil-galad murmured involuntarily, as if she was still there and could be apologised to.
'Why? Because you return her love?'
'Now I believe that you will live,' the King said with undisguised relief. 'You would not dare to mock me if you were going to die, Valanya.'
He definitely did not feel up to his task. Keep an eye on those Elves, the Ciryatur had said. I do not quite trust them, adding: I need to know why this Gildor insists on going to the Ered Luin. However, he had not divulged the reasons behind his distrust, and the young sailor had no idea to what exactly he was supposed to pay attention. Moreover, he had little experience with Elves, and none at all with distrusting them. His parents both admired the Eldar, and he had grown up believing they were good, true and beautiful. And wise. But if the wisdom was doubtful, as the behaviour of Gildor seemed to indicate, what did that say about the rest?
Though they were undeniably beautiful. All over, as he had ample occasion to notice before Gildor covered himself. And the short bout of wrestling that had ended in the naked Elf's defeat stirred something within him, something akin to desire, though it did not arouse him. He was not sure if that was a good sign. He wondered if the Elves were truly good. They daunted him.
They headed south for the Blue Mountains, whose flanks rose steeply not far behind the shore; the Gulf had broken the range in two at the end of the First Age, when the world was changed. The day was almost done. The sun was setting, her last rays painting the barren peaks in hues of orange and gold that belied the colour in their name. It was distance that turned mountains blue, Beregar knew, and as far as he was concerned, these here could have remained that way. He was a mariner, not a mountaineer.
That night, the Elves tried to draw them into their conversation. But claiming fatigue - not at all feigned, as they kept up a pace that would have broken an older or lesser man - he lay down on the other side of their small fire. They spoke softly, in a Quenya unlike that of his homeland, and despite the Ciryatur's orders he did not attempt to follow it. The slow cadence of their sentences, sung rather than spoken, rippled towards him like waves until he felt like an infant rocked in a cradle. He had a vision of a high, everwhite mountain that was not the Meneltarma, of a land with lush green meadows and sun-dappled forests, of a great city with diamond-dust in the streets, and of a slender white tower pointing heavenwards. It could have been a dream, yet he felt more awake than ever, and what he saw looked too real, too sharply contoured, too vivid to be a dream.
He could not recall at what point the vision faded, but when he awoke next morning, the first thing he saw was Glorfindel's face. The Elf smiled. 'Did you sleep well?'
'Yes, thank you,' Beregar said. It was true; he felt completely rested, and ready to run all day - ahead of the Elves, if need be. He wondered if his vision of last night had anything to do with it, if the Elves had perhaps refilled his body with strength. They ought to be capable of such a thing, if what he had heard was correct.
Gildor emerged from behind Glorfindel, stretching himself lazily. 'What do you think, Beregar? Will the fleet reach Mithlond today?' he asked.
Beregar scanned the overcast sky. As it refused to give away the position of the sun, he could not check the exact direction of the wind.
'Southwest to West,' Gildor said. Had he memorised the constellations of last night, before the clouds came?
'In that case, our ships will certainly reach the Havens today,' replied Beregar with some confidence.
They left after having emptied the bag of supplies, which meant they would have to hunt today, and find fresh water.
'We will have to tread more carefully here,' said Glorfindel by the time they reached the foothills. 'If your eyes did not deceive you yesterday, Gildor, there are enemy spies roaming these hills - in addition to the winged ones overhead.'
Beregar wondered why they halted here, as the landscape had not changed markedly during the last few miles. With a frown, he eyed the crebain dotting the sky. 'Should we not seek cover, then?' he suggested hesitantly. He pointed at the tree-clad slope, hundred yards ahead and to the left of them.
Gildor looked around. 'Some birds can easily hide among the trees. And they have been watching us for some time already.'
'Indeed they have,' murmured Glorfindel, who did not stare at the sky either. Before he knew of it, two pairs of Elvish hands pulled Beregar behind a rock jutting out a bit across their path, and from there into a narrow gully half overgrown with what looked like brambles.
'What's that,' he began, ' why are you-'
'Ssh,' Glorfindel wispered. 'Some of the shrubs here have eyes. Speak softly. They may have ears as well.'
1)the Sickly, one of the Elvish names for mortals.
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