12. Chapter Twelve
The King cast a glance into his bedchamber to see if all was still well with Tárion, supposing him to be asleep. But he was not.
'Something is amiss,' he said, even as Gil-galad was about to close the door again. His eyes were luminescent points among the shadows in the room. 'Why is the lady Galadriel so upset?' Seeing his lover's raised eyebrows he added: 'She touched me long enough to create rapport. In time, it will fade if not reinforced. But right now, I can sense her clearly.'
'Do not worry,' Gil-galad said evasively. 'Or it will delay your recovery.'
'Celebrian,' was all Tárion said after a brief silence, sighing almost imperceptibly. 'Then do not fret about me, or it may delay your recovery of her. And when you find her... handle her with care.'
'I will,' Gil-galad replied. 'Tárion?'
'I love you.' And with Tárion's smile to accompany him he left, closing the door. He ran to the courtyard, mounted his patiently waiting Nimroch, and rode.
Galadriel waited outside the palace, probably less patiently, but keeping as tight a rein on her fear as she did on her nervous palfrey. She had changed into a knee-long tunic, leggings of soft leather, and riding boots. Four guards and two scouts would accompany them. Gil-galad found himself wishing that Tárion was among the guards, if only because his night view was amazing even for an Elda.
'Southwest,' Galadriel said. 'Towards the Ered Luin.'
'How far?' he inquired while the search party set into motion, the scouts riding ahead to look for tracks, the guards flanking them to watch out for enemies.
'Too far to sense her precise whereabouts,' Galadriel replied in a measured voice, just when he thought she was not going to answer.
'She did indeed pass by here,' one of the scouts announced presently, raising his voice barely enough to be audible. No need to cry out their errand, in case the wrong ears were listening.
'Would that the moon were full,' the King heard one of the guards mutter. As it was, they had to go by the light of a crescent, and that of the stars.
'It could have been worse,' he told the speaker. Though not much. And if this was not his fault, nothing else was, either. But he knew too well that he did bear considerable blame for Sauron's conquests and their present predicament. Not having committed Celebrimbor's grave errors was scant excuse for failing to discover the true nature of Annatar, Lord of Gifts and Corruption, in time to prevent disaster.
True enough, he had sent Tárion to Eregion to spy on both Celebrimbor and Annatar; possessing his dead father's skills as a gold and silversmith the Captain could easily pose as a craftsman, even though he seldom applied those talents and preferred painting and drawing. But it had been too late. By the time the High King's spy reached Ost-in-Edhil, Annatar had left for his secret forge in Orodruin. And Celebrimbor's tongue could not betray more than its owner knew, which was preciously little. King he might be, Gil-galad said to himself, but his policy had been flawed. It still was, for he could not bring himself to destroy the two Elven Rings in his possession. That Galadriel could not discard hers either was cold comfort.
They were ascending a slope, and well above the level of the palace and the harbour, when Gil-galad was jerked out of his self-deprecatory mood.
'My lord King,' said another guard, who was staring back instead of ahead. 'Look, over there in the Gulf. The ships.'
The Númenorean ships, anchored in mid-stream with lanterns in top, were closer by than Gil-galad had realised. Soon they would reach Mithlond, probably before noon the next day. Their admiral would have to be received with all respect due to him and his liege, Tar Minastir of Númenor. Including a personal and warm welcome by the one who had requested his presence in the first place - the High King of the Noldor.
If they would not find Celebrian before daybreak, and barring the possibility that this admiral would be an easy-going and forgiving man, something might take a wrong turn - be it the elf-maiden's fate or the war against Sauron.
Will I be ruthless enough to turn back in time, if the need arises? Gil-galad wondered.
Being captured had not been a part of his original plan. The men - for men they were, not yrch - had come out of hiding to search for him and his companions. Watching them from behind the rock that shielded him Glorfindel saw there were only five of them. Two had bows, but no arrows notched to the strings, so they did not hunt to kill, most likely. And if they judged that five against three was worth a try they were either brave enough, or overconfident. Who were they? Even if they turned out to be the Dark Lord's servants these men, being mortals, could not be irredeemably evil like the yrch were.
Behind him, Gildor and Beregar were talking entirely too loudly. Glorfindel signaled for them to subdue their voices, and stepped into full view. Walking slowly towards the men he spread his arms, with upturned palms to indicate that he meant them no harm.
The five halted, while he moved forward step by step, taking in their faces. Four of the five were young, two beardless; the fifth had grey at his temples. They were small, between five and six foot; he stood more than a full head taller. Their hair, cropped short, was dark and lank, their skin light brown, their faces were grim, even angry - but he could detect little malice in their eyes. They spoke softly to each other, and though he did not know the language he could read most of the thoughts underlying the words, and snatch up some of the images flashing through their heads.
They recognized him for an Elf. This one did not look like a scout either, their thoughts went. Did he and the other one belong together; had they first found the wife - Glorfindel perceived the image of an Elf-maid with silver hair - roaming alone through the wilderness, and was this the husband? But this one had no horse, nor was he alone.
Glorfindel stopped dead. These men had come upon a lonely Elf-woman, here in the foothills of the Blue Mountains? What had they done to her?
Perhaps they could take him captive as well, the men deliberated. If his comrades should come to his rescue, they could be dealt with - this was followed by the image of a drawn bow - but apparently the other two had turned tail. Yes, they ought to take him. Their master would like that.
Did they mean the Dark Lord Sauron, Gorthaur of old, master of werewolves? Was that where they had taken their captive? Glorfindel wondered in dismay.
The mortals moved closer, very carefully, as if he were some kind of wild animal that could shy and flee any moment. The distance between them was less than twenty yards, less than eighteen - he had to make up his mind. If he used his powers in self-defence and swept them off their feet, they might never willingly tell him where this Elf-maid was. And being who he was Glorfindel refused to coerce them into speaking, nor would he rip anything from their minds that they were unwilling to divulge.
He took his decision and waited for them to reach him, outwardly calm, yet inwardly not without apprehension. Mighty as he was, he remained vulnerable to physical injury and abuse. Though he mastered his flesh like only the twice embodied did, he was still bound to it. This was a grave risk, to himself as well as to the errands he was running. And yet, if pursuing a set course one hears a cry of distress, it should be heeded; betimes, following one's path means straying from it.
The next instant, they were upon him. Several pairs of hands grabbed him, and making derisive remarks that betrayed their disdain for one so easily overcome they tied his hands on his back with a rough rope. Glorfindel sought the eyes of the oldest of the men and held them with a piercing gaze. Stepping back, the man cried out in fear or shock; the Elf could not say which.
They had to be careful with one of this race, one of the beardless youths said, speaking for the first time. Elves were dangerous and could not be trusted, as the master used to warn them.
Glorfindel turned his head in surprise. His dismay at the remark did not prevent him from noticing that the speaker was female.
The others nodded, and soon, he had a rope around his neck as well, held by the largest and strongest of his captors. Another gave him a hard shove between his shoulder-blades. Stumbling, he found himself jerked up by the rope. Gagging, he struggled to regain his balance and barely succeeded to do so before they were on their way. He wished with all his heart that Gildor would do as he was told and take the shortest road to Mithlond, instead of deciding to court real danger. But even as he did so, the air was rent by a crack of thunder, soon followed by a heavy rain that did not bode well: on muddy paths their trail would be too temptingly easy to follow.
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