14. Chapter Fourteen
The plan was to follow the trail until nightfall. It seemed likely that the people who were taking Glorfindel away would halt to take a rest by the time it grew dark. If they did, the two of them would creep closer to assess the situation. Should it turn out that Glorfindel was indeed a prisoner they would try to free him while his captors slept, assuming they could overpower the watch without making too much noise. It was especially this last detail that could prove difficult. At least for one of them.
For me, Beregar thought sullenly. I should have known better than to follow a trail together with an Elf. How many times had Gildor put his finger to his mouth - six times? Seven? Had no one ever told him how noisy mere mortals were? When the thunder rolled away to the east, the heavy rain had become a drizzle, no longer loud enough to drown the swishing of the branches Beregar pushed aside, or the sopping of his shoes on the muddy track. How did Gildor avoid making such sounds? How on earth did Elves move so quickly and elegantly?
By being Elves, he supposed. But that last, reproachful gesture was one to many. He halted, and folding his arms across his rain-soaked chest he waited for the other to notice the sudden silence. Two heartbeats later, Gildor looked back again, wiping his wet hair from his forehead. Seeing Beregar's defiant stare, he retraced his steps.
'What ails you?' he asked softly.
'Incurable mortality,' the young man replied. 'Stop expecting me to move like the likes of you, or I shall heed Glorfindel's counsel and go to Mithlond.' He raised his voice, ignoring the Elf's frantic gestures. 'Listen. We agreed that the people who took Glorfindel away had to be Men. If they are too far ahead to be heard by me, surely I am too far behind to be heard by them. So why go to all this trouble to remain silent?'
His companion immediately tried to disabuse him of the notion that he had a point. 'Beregar,' he began to explain patiently: 'I am thinking of Glorfindel, not of his abductors. If I can hear them - and last time I listened I could - he can hear you, too. It may worry him that we have ignored his wish. Or he... may inadvertently betray us.' That didn't come out very convincingly, and suddenly Gildor shrugged. 'Well, if he has not noticed our presence by now, he never will. Let us resume our pursuit. And move as you like, if you must.'
Once he was looking at Gildor's back again, Beregar allowed himself a smile. He had achieved his aim: being able to walk more or less normally. Glorfindel's possible worries did not concern him. The lord he served was the Ciryatur of Númenor, and through him Tar Minastir the King.
Though it was obvious that Gildor used his ears as much as his eyes, Beregar kept his gaze on the footprints in the mud. There were five sets, one smaller than the rest. A boy? Or did Elves have daintier feet than Men and did those prints belong to Glorfindel? But Gildor's feet were hardly smaller than his own. He frowned. Why would spies take a boy along? Perhaps these people were not enemies. Perhaps Glorfindel accompanied them of his own free will. 'Gildor,' he began, just an instant before he bumped into the Elf, who had halted without warning. 'Ai!'
'Ai indeed,' Gildor muttered. Beregar had stepped on his heel.
'My pardon, Gildor,' he said, 'but I am as clumsy as the next mortal. Why do you stop?'
'To listen. You should be able to hear it as well.' Gildor actually sounded encouraging now, like a teacher who tries to get the best out of a somewhat benighted pupil.
Like the good boy he was, Beregar did his best. 'Was that a horse?' he said after a long pause.
'More than one, I think. Coming from the South - and they seem to be heading into our direction.'
'A company of riders, sent by the King of the Noldor to hunt trespassers,' Beregar suggested. 'Let us hope they will not just shoot anything that moves.'
'Elves do not shoot E -' Gildor began, and stopped abruptly.
Beregar, familiar with the history of the First Age and its Kinslayings, bit his lip. He saw that his companion looked troubled - ashamed and sorrowful at the same time. But just as he thought serves him right, Gildor sighed deeply.
'Forgive me, Beregar,' he said. 'I was presuming. As you said, let us hope they will not shoot anything that moves; though hiding may be a better option if these riders come too close. We do not even know if they are Elves. The group we are following is out of earshot anyway, so from now on we will have to rely on reading the tracks. I guess you are as good at that as I am.'
He was unexpectedly generous, but Beregar, a sailor and not a woodsman, doubted it was true. 'There is nothing to forgive,' he replied. 'I was provoking.'
Gildor grinned, an engaging grin. 'Shall we go on, then, each trying to grow wiser by studying the ways of the other kind?'
'If you think I am up to it,' Beregar could not refrain from saying.
'I can always pretend I do,' Gildor shot back.
Now it was Beregar's turn to grin. But not for long, for the riders were indeed coming towards them.
Galadriel was on edge. She could feel something in the air, despite the rain, or perhaps thanks to it. Gil-galad had felt it as well, if she was not mistaken; it would not surprise her if he had brought along one of his rings on this search, just as she had brought Nenya. Celebrimbor's rings heightened their awareness of nature, a nature sadly pervaded with death and decay yet living nonetheless, in a way few could discern. Rocks remembered, trees and plants could sense, streams could convey messages. Somewhere in these mountains, something was not entirely to their liking. And this search party was drawing closer to it.
The King was no longer with them. Galadriel had not counseled him to leave. But a few hours after dawn, wondering aloud whether any fate in Arda could or would be changed by his personal decisions, Gil-galad had at last turned his horse to gallop back to the South Haven and the Númenorean ships about to anchor there. His anxiety for Celebrían was undiminished, but a King should place the well-being of his people - let alone great parts of Middle-earth -before that of a single person and let his conscience eat him in private. Galadriel would not hold her daughter's fate against him, whatever it might be.
However, she was by no means sure he would be back in time to offer Tar Minastir's admiral the welcome appropriate to his rank and mission.
He had left them shortly before the weather changed - for the worse, many would say, but not Galadriel. She liked thunderstorms, perhaps because in Valinor they were rare, never menacing, never damaging. Celeborn - and suddenly her heart ached, for Celeborn was with Elrond in Imladris, surrounded by Sauron's armies - failed to see what was so enticing about them since his favourite tree in Doriath was destroyed by the lightning Melian's Girdle had been unable to ward off.
With a sigh Galadriel relegated her memories of an age long past and lands long perished to a more suitable time. She had barely done so when one of the scouts abruptly reined in his horse, uttering a cry and staring at the routed, rain-softened path they were following. She eyed him questioningly
'My lady...' He faltered.
Galadriel urged her mound forward, and went still. The scout jumped from his horse and picked up Celebrían's mithril hair clip, two or three long, silver hairs still attached to it. His companion dismounted and knelt to examine the impressions of feet and horseshoes scattered all about.
Galadriel never shrank back from the inevitable. 'My daughter was taken captive,' she stated.
'I am afraid so,' the kneeling scout murmured, handing her the clip.
Closing her hand around it, Galadriel cast about with her mind, searching for any trace of Celebrían. She found none.
'We will follow this trail,' she declared, urging on her mare, sick with fear and stony-faced.
They continued through the diminishing rain, wet and wary. Several miles further on, another, fresher trail coming from the Southwest merged with the first one. No hoof prints there, Galadriel saw, just feet. Apparently the scouts saw more, for again they halted. Walking back along this new trail for a number of yards they studied the tracks at length. Galadriel dismounted, too, and joined them, careful not to disturb anything.
Finally, the scouts rose. 'This is strange,' the first one said. 'Most of these prints belong to mortals, we deem. But one set is very superficial, and barely visible.'
'Which would be easy to explain when the owner of the feet is Elvish,' the other scout went on. 'Though who this could be, we cannot tell.'
'Perhaps we can,' a clear voice said from behind a large, leafy bush. The next moment, some branches were swept aside and two people stepped into view. Both were equally soaked, but one looked to be a mortal, while the other's appearance confirmed what the voice had implied: that he was an Elf.
His fair hair, which would probably shine like spun gold in the sun, was plastered to his head. Two thin braids dangled along his cheeks, gleaming wetly, and his appearance was as bedraggled as the young Man's. Nevertheless he smiled engagingly.
But Galadriel froze. She knew that face. A fist closed around her heart and squeezed, until her eyes burned with tears. Nothing, not even Nenya, had prepared her for this.