13. Chapter Thirteen
Shortly after breakfast, one of the healers came to change Tárion's bandages. When she told him his wound was healing well, even better than expected, he used the opportunity to ask her if she would kindly bring him the sketchbook sitting on the desk in the King's library and a piece of charcoal. When the healer pointed out to him that he had better not use that arm yet, he reminded her the wound was in his left shoulder.
Moreover, doing something he loved to do would speed his recovery. Eventually she complied and even helped him to sit up. He did not start drawing until she had closed the door behind her. Why let her discover that he was left-handed? He would hardly have to move his shoulder in order to draw; he could work from the elbow and even from the wrist. After a brief hesitation he gave his hand free rein to see what, or rather whose image it would come up with.
It turned out to be Celebrimbor, son of Curufin.
So that is what occupies your mind, Tárion said to himself, not in the least surprised. He had known Celebrimbor well, after his days as Gil-galad's spy in Ost-in-Edhil. Celebrimbor had revealed a few things regarding the workings of the Elven Rings (though Tárion knew better than to think it was all). Part of that knowledge derived from Annatar, still unmasked at the time, and Tárion wondered if it would not be possible to use the Ring and yet avoid being touched or searched by the Dark Lord's mind. Sauron was not easily fooled, of course, but perhaps it could be done. After all, King Finrod Felagund had succeeded in hiding Beren's mortality from him even after their imprisonment in the dungeons of Minas Tirith.*
And the truth was, that Tárion yearned to use Nárya's powers of healing and renewal on himself. Not to cure his more recent wound, but to heal, or at least diminish the burn marks marring his body since the Fall of Gondolin. He still failed to understand how Gil-galad could bear to look at him when they undressed to make love, and he had never rid himself of the habit of trying to cover them with his arm and hand. His beloved could kiss the scars all he liked, and patiently repeat to Tárion that they did not make him ugly, it did not help, not in the long run.
He remembered vividly how the King had contrived to find out why the Captain of his Guard always went alone to the bath-house. It had been in the early years of this Second Age of the Sun. Gil-galad had commanded Tárion to accompany him on a ride to a small lake in the Emyn Beraid. It was a hot afternoon, and the King suggested they should take a swim. It took another command for Tárion to strip and join Gil-galad in the water - the last thing he wanted was to show those hideous scars to the one he had loved almost since he first set eyes on him, before the end of the First Age. That his love would remain unrequited was a thing he could live with, but how was he ever to bear the disgust and rejection he would see in the King's face? Yet he could but obey.
Gil-galad was indeed shocked, but it was a shock caused by dismay, not disgust, and his eyes held compassion, instead of rejection. Back on the lakeshore, where they sat down to dry, he asked if he could touch the scars. Surprised, Tárion warned him that he might be caught up in the unabated memory of pain such a touch would stir - but Gil-galad did it all the same, and he had not even pulled his hand away when his body began to shudder with the agony of past, yet ever-present sufferings.
It was then Tárion realised his love was not unrequited after all.
'My lord king,' he remembered saying, 'I would like to make a request.'
'Go ahead,' was the answer.
'Do I have your permission to kiss you?' His own boldness amazed him to no end.
The sudden radiance on Gil-galad's face took his breath away. 'How I was hoping you would say that!' he almost cried out. 'I could never have done it, being who I am. I would never have known if you merely obeyed me.' He laughed happily. 'Permission granted... provided that henceforth you will not mylordking me. Call me Arto, as those dear to me once did.' Before I lost them all when Nargothrond fell, was his unspoken thought - but Tárion could hear it clearly in his own mind.
'Arto,' he said softly, and they kissed until the breeze rising at dusk told them they had tarried much too long.
It was almost perfect. Except that the ugly scars and the agonising memories were still there, almost seventeen hundred later. And except for his conviction that Nárya was able to heal both, if he could but find a way to handle it while keeping Sauron's evil mind at bay. The knowledge that his lover had put the Ring of Fire back into the shrine beside the bed was no incentive to resist temptation.
Grimly, he tore the page with Celebrimbor's face from the sketchbook and threw it to the floor. He had better draw someone else. Not his lover, whom he had depicted countless times, in every conceivable and several inconceivable positions. But who could tell what his inventive hand would think of next?
The hand began to sketch, to the sound of distant thunder somewhere in the Ered Luin. When the picture was finished Tárion saw it was Glorfindel.
He put down the sketchbook, and not only because his shoulder wound bothered him. Why the Lord of the Golden Flower, his captain and friend, slain by the Balrog all those years ago? Why did his past keep intruding on him?
I will have a look at that Ring, he found himself thinking.
At that moment, someone knocked on the door of the King's bedroom. 'Enter!' he said.
It was the Shipwright himself, lord Círdan with his silvery hair and beard and his almost un-elvish tan. Seeing that Tárion was alone in the room, he frowned. 'Apologies for disturbing your rest, Captain,' he said formally, be it not unkindly, 'but I was told I could find the High King here.'
'The King left last night on an important errand, my lord.' Tárion was not ready yet to disclose the reason behind Gil-galad's absence. 'Can I can help you?'
'I'm afraid not,' the Shipwright said. 'With that black head of hair you do not resemble the King closely enough to pass for him, which would definitely be useful if he does not return soon.'
'What happened?' Tárion asked, more than a little alarmed.
'This very moment, the admiral's ship of the Númenorean fleet sails into the Southern Harbour. Undoubtedly Tar Minastir's Ciryatur expects to be received by the High King of the Noldor in his royal palace.' Círdan sighed. 'Let us hope this Númenorean is a true Elf-friend, and not easily insulted. Or else we may lose Tar Minastir's support against the Dark Lord.'
The sound of rain lashing the windows seemed to confirm his worries.
When the thunderclap came she was not surprised, for she had sensed it coming. Nor did it scare her, for her tree stood in a valley, not on a plain, where it would risk being struck by lightning. And the foliage would shelter her against the worst of the downpour. The leader of the swarthy men fingered his golden ring. 'I ask again,' he said in his heavily accented Sindarin. 'What do on horse, girl? Ride errand for Elf-king?'
Celebrían wished he was looking at her face instead of at her exposed breasts, but she realised only too well that he had torn her tunic and shirt just for that purpose, and that it was the least of her problems. Ever since they had captured her last night, she wondered why he had neither raped her nor allowed his men to do so. The most logical explanation she could think of was that he had a master who wanted her whole - a master whose identity she hardly dared guess, and who certainly did not love the Eldar.
'If that were the case,' she said haughtily to Orgol - or so she thought his name was - 'do you think I would admit it?'
'Still no, eh?' Orgol spat.
'I am merely a lady of the High King's Court,' she said, raising her voice above the noise of the rain; the drops were so heavy that some did penetrate the leaves now. 'By now, they will have discovered my disappearance, and they will certainly search for me. I would take care if I were you.'
'Why ride in dark?'
That was the weak point. Spies liked the cover of darkness. 'Why not?' she countered. 'They will come.'
'No find us here.' He turned and strode away, but he would be back. Celebrían dreaded that moment as much as she feared that he was right: she would be hard to find. The tree to which they had tied her grew in a sheltered, narrow valley that only betrayed its presence to those who suddenly found themselves inside. Only someone who knew where to seek it would find it other than by accident. She did not doubt that her mother and the King would send a search party, but she could only pray that at least someone in it was aware of this valley's existence.
And that Orgol and his people - she had counted nine males and two females, but five, including one of the women, had left early this morning - would not take her to this master of theirs before the search party would find her. She tried to convince herself that they would not leave before the others returned. She told herself how fortunate it was that at least one of them spoke Sindarin, however badly.
Surely an enemy you understood could not be as bad as an enemy with whom no conversation was possible? She supposed she was lucky these people were not yrch, though she was not quite sure why. What more would an orc-chieftain instructed to spare any captives have done than this Orgol had? Or what less? Would orcs have fed her and given her water to drink, like these people had, even if the bread was mouldy, and the water tasted of mud?
A shower of chilly drops landed on her head, almost making her jump. She shook her head in annoyance. What could she do to help herself? There was a story about a captive who had been found with the help of a song**, but there it was the seeker who had done the singing, and if she tried it anyway they would probably gag her. Not a good idea. What else could she do to prevent herself from panicking? It was hard to think, distracted as she was by her own worries and fears.
Hours later, she still did not know a satisfactory answer.
One of Orgol's men came sauntering towards her, licking his lips. When he began to squeeze her breasts, Celebrían turned her head away; he smelled of wet clothes, and his breath stank. An angry string of words put an end to his disgusting ministrations: Orgol. Though it had stopped raining some time ago, his boots squished as he approached. He grabbed her chin and wrenched her face towards his. 'Speak,' he said. 'Or I give you to men.'
'And would your master condone that?' she asked defiantly, managing not to let her voice tremble. 'Would he not rather have me untouched?'
It angered him that she had guessed he was not acting on his own. 'No master, I,' he growled, fidgeting with his ring.
Yes, you have, she wanted to say, but suddenly, realising how truly she had spoken, she also recognised the deeper and more dreadful danger she was in. Somehow, the man was bound to this master of his, and by turning this into a battle of wills, she ran the risk of betraying herself, and perhaps others, to someone stronger than she was. It would be best to guard her mind from all outside probings, she decided.
She cast down her eyes. 'But what is my life worth, when I tell you what you want?'
'You woman to me,' he replied. 'Not other men. Tell me secrets of Elves.' He grinned wolfishly. 'Secrets of Elven magic. Of life undying.'
Now Orgol, too, reached for her breasts, but instead of grabbing her roughly he began to tease her nipples with the soft flesh of his thumbs. 'Like it?'
Of course not! Was he deluding himself, or would a mortal woman be susceptible to this kind of thing even when tied to a tree? Celebrían had to admit to herself that she knew precious little about mortal women. But whatever was the case, she hoped that he would take her shiver for a sign of pleasure, for she realised now, as she ought to have done much earlier, that her only chance of rescuing herself lay in tricking him. Secrets of life undying. So that was what was on his mind? 'Untie me,' she said, 'and I shall show you secrets of the Elves.' Again, he reached out, but she would never know what he was going to do, for in that instant, the other five members of Orgol's company returned, soakingly wet - and they were bringing a new captive.
*at least, according to the version in the Lays of Beleriand (HoMe 3). The reference is to the Minas Tirith of The Silmarillion, not that of LotR.
**Maedhros son of Fëanor, found by Fingon son of Fingolfin, while hanging by his wrist on a precipice of Thangorodrim (Silmarillion).
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