15. Chapter Fifteen
The Númenorean admiral had no intention of leaving his ship until the current cloudburst was over. It would be too detrimental to his dignity if he were to appear before the High King of the Noldor looking like a drowned kitten. The report of his dripping aide confirmed his suspicions that the High King, too, shunned the weather, though there seemed to be a local dignitary waiting on the quayside. Not Gil-galad, but he did not look like an average member of the Elven public. And though his silver hair clearly identified him as an Elf, he had a beard. Were Elves not supposed to be beardless?
'Not this one, obviously. Ask him if he happens to be waiting for me,' the Ciryatur said, 'and whether he is the one they call the Shipwright, if he does not volunteer the information.'
He did, though. 'The Shipwright he is,' the returning aide told his admiral, 'and also the master of these harbours.'
The renowned Círdan himself. An Elf of consequence, then. 'But is he waiting for me?'
The aide shook his head. 'Only looking, he claimed. Professional interest. He has been building ships since before the Sun and the Moon, if we are to believe him.'
The Ciryatur frowned. Númenorean officers, even minor ones, were supposed to be educated; they ought to know who the Shipwright was. How had this one managed to become an admiral's aide - by bribery?
'By the way, my lord, the rain seems to be decreasing,' the young man went on.
'Good,' the Ciryatur said. 'Go and ask the lord Círdan when I can expect the arrival of his King.'
As it turned out, the Shipwright could not tell, but he promised to make inquiries. 'Not that I saw him send anyone,' the aide added. 'Nor did he show any intention of going himself.
How peculiar, the admiral thought. Why would he tarry? He began to feel he was not being treated with the proper respect.
Galloping dangerously down the slippery hillside, the King blessed the rain. By now, he was close enough to the Havens to have a good view of the admiral's ship, and he saw no activities on deck to indicate an imminent disembarkation. On the quayside stood Círdan, watching the newly arrived fleet and engaging in conversation with a sailor. Though the Eldar did possess rainproof screens for the protection of delicately dressed ladies and scribes carrying precious scrolls, the Shipwright seemed to have forgotten their existence. Conveniently so.
The sailor walked away, probably to convey a message. By now, the rain had become a drizzle, but with a little luck Gil-galad would be back in time to receive the admiral in person, though clad in mud-covered riding leathers, instead of the robes of state appropriate for the occasion. He realised he might have to apologise. But given the dire straits in which they were, even that would be acceptable.
He thought of his letter to Tar Meneldur, father of Tar Aldarion, the first plea for help against the growing shadow in the East he had ever sent to the Númenoreans. 'If you have any strength of Men to spare, lend it to me, I beg.'*
That was the second letter; with a rare show of disapproval Tárion had thrown the first draft into the fire because he thought the wording too haughty. At first Gil-galad had been annoyed, even though there were no witnesses present. 'You wish to be High King of the Noldor?' he recalled asking angrily. 'You think you can do better than I have done so far? Am I to play the beggar?'
At that Tárion, looking pained, had unexpectedly dropped to his knees and spread his arms. 'But is it so difficult to humble oneself a little, Arto? And tell me, how am I to know if I would be a better or worse ruler than you are? My head was never meant to wear the crown; fate decided otherwise, and you of all people should know that I do not covet what I cannot have. Or do you think I envy you the burden?'
Gil-galad, contrite even before Tárion finished speaking, had pulled him up and embraced him. 'Forgive me, Valanya. I know you do not. All the same, I will have to put it on your shoulders for the time it takes to draft a new letter.' With a wide smile he had placed his golden circlet on Tárion's dark hair, a gesture he had often repeated since in earnest and jest, though only when no one else was present. And seating himself to put his quill to a fresh piece of parchment he had added, pulling a face: 'You've wasted my effort. That letter took me hours to write. The least you can do now is to tell me what to write instead.'
Putting the circlet back where it was supposed to belong, his lover had started to dictate a replacement for the burned draft. Their recent letter to Tar Minastir, many years after this useful incident, had been a model of humble courtesy from the beginning.
Suddenly, Gil-galad smiled to himself. Though his present appearance made him a humble king indeed, it occurred to him that an apology would perhaps not be necessary even if he was late.
At that moment, Nimroch skidded, and he was almost launched over the animal's neck. With an effort, he managed to regain the saddle and keep the horse from sliding down the rest of the hill. He just considered slowing his pace a little when he saw someone leave Círdan's side to make for the palace. Was the Ciryatur growing impatient?
The Elven King kept him waiting much to long. When the aide told him about the horseman galloping towards the harbour at full speed, the Ciryatur, bored as he was, decided to allow himself this little diversion and make an appearance on deck and have a look. The worst of the rain was over, and his formal robes of dark blue silk could tolerate a little moisture without showing it.
Walking up to the rail he saw that the rider - bearing an urgent message? - was close by now, yet kept up his breakneck speed. He raced towards the very edge of the water, but just as the admiral thought that both horse and horseman would end up between quay and ship the animal halted abruptly without so much as a flick of the reins, less than a foot from Círdan's left shoulder. The Shipwright did not bat an eye, but the Ciryatur thought he saw one corner of his mouth twitch.
The rider leapt from his horse, his gaze seeking Círdan's across the animal's back. Though no words were spoken, a kind of exchange appeared to take place, during which the Númenorean had the time to observe the newcomer. It was a fair-haired Elf, boyishly slender, dressed simply in a light grey tunic and a cloak of the same hue. His boots and dark grey leggings were spattered with mud, as was the not-so-white horse waiting motionlessly at his side, like an attending guard. Somehow, the horse made a less casual impression than the rider did.
The latter looked up, raising a hand in salute. 'Hail, my lord Ciryatur of Númenor,' he said, and fell silent again, eyeing the admiral expectantly.
The Ciryatur cleared his throat. 'Have you come to bear me a message from your king?'
'I have come to bid you welcome to the lands of Middle-earth and the Kingdom of the Noldor, and to invite you to disembark, and ride with me to my palace.'
My palace? Inwardly, the Númenorean cursed himself. So this bedraggled stripling was the High King of the Noldor? Why did these damned Elves always look so damned young? As a high official and a distant kinsman to the King of Elenna the Starward, the Ciryatur was entitled to a much more dignified reception - but now he had spoiled any advantage this lack of respect could have given him by addressing the mighty Gil-galad as an errand boy. And no doubt this was precisely what the High King had intended, to judge by his complacent smile.
He drew himself up to his full Númenorean height, which was considerable. 'Thank you, my lord King, for your gracious invitation, which I gladly accept. If it would suit you to wait a while until my horse is brought ashore?'
'No need to wait,' Gil-galad said cheerfully, and indeed behind him a groom approached from the direction of the palace, leading a magnificent black stallion towards the admiral's ship. 'While you are here, this horse from my own stables is at your disposal, my lord.'
The Shipwright looked smug, so this was probably his doing.
Nodding in acknowledgement, the Ciryatur made ready to disembark; despite himself, he was eager to mount the black. But stepping onto the quay, he made another discovery he did not like. That the Noldorin King looked slender as a boy was mainly due to his height, it appeared. In fact, he was not slightly built at all, and he looked to be as strong as any Man of true Dúnadan blood. But the worst was, that he stood taller than the Ciryatur himself.
It occurred to him how easy it would be to dislike this Elven King.
She was tied to a tree and her breasts were bared, but as they pulled him closer by the rope around his neck he read in her eyes that she was a maiden. Not raped, then. Compared to the horrid images his mind had conjured up while they led him into this secluded valley by mid-afternoon, this did not seem too bad. Yet Glorfindel was angry. For the first time since his fëa was rehoused, he was truly angry. An unpleasant experience, for it reminded him of the destruction of Gondolin, of his furious struggle with the Balrog, and of his own death in the flames fanned by the wind of their fall. But he was strong enough to turn his mind away from it, thanks to his stay in the Halls of Mandos.
Close to the silver haired Elf maiden stood a man. It was a sallow-skinned fellow of average build and height, not yet past his prime, as far as Glorfindel could judge mortals. It was to him the Elf was brought now. The mortals had ceased to yank him forward once he had learned to anticipate their abrupt jerks and pulls, moving just a little earlier and thereby unbalancing them, instead of losing his own balance.
Ignoring the leader, Glorfindel observed the maiden's face, searching her eyes, gently brushing his mind against hers. He could sense her dismay at seeing another Elf in captivity, and pity - did he really look pitiful? - but that was all she offered him. He did not know what to think of the way she closed herself against his tentative, gentle probing.
'Look here!' the leader of the mortals barked.
Slowly, Glorfindel adjusted his gaze, allowing him to capture it. He knew at once that something was wrong with this Man - very wrong. In the shallows beneath the surface of his awareness another presence lurked, shadowy, dark...
...Evil! Reeling, the Elf from Aman pulled out, though the instant he recognised it, he also knew he would be able to hold his own against it. For black as it was, the power of the shadow was weakened by the mortal flesh and blood of the Man who hosted it. Glorfindel did not knew how it was possible for the shadow to be where it was, though he began to guess who it could be. What he did know, was that he was not prepared to confront it even in this mitigated form. Not yet.
And so, he cast down his eyes as if he feared the Man before him.
He heard the mortal snort. 'Elf fear Orgol, eh?' A chuckle. 'Elf man know Elf woman?'
Glorfindel looked up again. 'No,' he replied truthfully. 'This is the first time I ever set eyes on her.'
The Man hit him hard enough to split his lip. 'Is lie!'
Glorfindel caught a brief flash from the inside of his hand - the gemstone of a golden ring. Immediately, he knew it for the source of Orgol's evil, though this time he was on his guard against it and it hardly affected him.
'She said...' the Man went on, seeming to look for words. 'Search-party.'
'No,' the Elf maid said. 'He speaks the truth. I have never seen him at the High King's Court, and I know everyone there.' Her voice was lower than expected and almost devoid of emotion, Glorfindel noticed. Could it be that she, too, was under the influence of the evil he had sensed in Orgol? Licking the blood from his lip he thought of Morgoth's thralls, back in the First Age: Elves who had succumbed to the will of the Enemy and who had been released from Angband to sow his evil among their own kindred. What if Sauron the Deceiver copied his dethroned master in this? On the other hand: would she be bound if she was on the Dark side?
Orgol seemed to accept her explanation. He gave his men an order in his own tongue, and they dragged their latest captive to the tree and tied him to the other side. Glorfindel yearned to show his true strength, but judged it too early. He felt that he had to know for certain where the silver haired maiden stood before he acted on her behalf.
'Will be back,' he heard Orgol say to her, 'for secrets of Elves. And for sport, eh?'
What had she told him? Offered him? Glorfindel wished she would drop her defences. I can free you, if you want, my lady, he spoke to her in his mind. Answer me, please.
She remained unresponsive, but that could denote lack of belief as well as lack of interest. He sighed. Perhaps he should take the risk anyway?
*UT, p. 200, Aldarion and Erendis
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