16. Chapter Sixteen
Gildor's smile faded. For some reason the lady - and he could easily tell she was one, despite her simple attire - seemed overcome by grief, her eyes shining with tears. But surely his and Beregar's appearance did not warrant such a reaction? He studied her face, which was beautiful even according to the measure of the Eldar, and framed by hair of a most remarkable colour: not quite gold and not quite silver but a little of both, mingled, yet somehow distinct.
Suddenly he knew what memories the face called up and why it looked familiar. Even as he opened his mouth to speak, though, she shook her head rather vehemently, as if to rid herself of a temptation she knew to be false.
Or false hopes, as it turned out, for she whispered sadly: 'No, it could not be. You are not he. He was killed in Sauron's dungeons, long ago, and he does not return.'
'Would you be speaking of Findaráto, son of Arafinwe*, good lady?' Gildor asked her in Quenya, taking a step closer and bowing courteously. 'It is said that I resemble him closely, though none who see us together would take one for the other.'
She blinked, and regaining her voice she said in the same language, sounding like an eager child more than anything else: 'So he has left the Houses of the Dead?'
Smiling once more, Gildor replied: 'Indeed he has, many years of the Sun ago. I am his grandson. Gildor Inglorion is my name.'
She must have expected this, or else she was in complete control of herself again, for if she was surprised she hid it well.
Someone else did not, though: behind him, Gildor could hear Beregar's sharp intake of breath at this revelation. It seemed to him the young man was overdoing it a little, even taking his grandfather Finrod's favourable reputation among mortals into account. Also, it amazed him that Beregar understood Quenya: he had been told it was the language of the court at Armenelos, not that of Númenor's more common places, where his companion hailed from.
'Then let me bid you welcome to these mortal shores, Gildor Inglorion, grandson of the brother closest to my heart,' the lady said gravely, 'even though I do not rule here. But I think I can claim to speak in the name of the High King Gil-galad as well.' She paused, and now a smile appeared on her face, though it held more sadness than joy. 'Would your grandmother be Amarië of the Vanyar? Did she wait for my brother?'
'Yes, to both questions.' Gildor's inclined his head. 'I will be greatly honoured to tell my grandsire's sister Artanis all that befell her brother after his return from Mandos, if and when she wishes me to do so...
'... but not here and now,' she finished his sentence for him, confirming his guess with a gracious nod of her head. 'For ours is no pleasure ride. Nor do I believe your errand is of a leisurely kind, if it warns you to hide at the approach of strangers.' She caught Gildor's gaze, subjecting him to the most thorough scrutiny he had ever undergone from someone not of the Ainur.
As he had nothing to hide from her, his eyes met hers unblinkingly. After a while, she released him and they both knew that he could have broken free, had he wished so - be it not without effort, or without creating antagonism. When he introduced Beregar to her, the young mortal received the same treatment. He held his own for a considerable time, but in the end he looked down.
'Lady Artanis,' Gildor began.
She shook her head, and changing to Sindarin she said: 'Here in Middle-earth, I am called Galadriel. And perhaps you would be so kind not to speak the Ancient Tongue, for not all of my companions have that language.
'As you wish, my lady.'
An exchange of facts and findings followed, and both parties reached the conclusion that they were chasing the same group of people, and for the same reason: to obtain the freedom of someone who had in all likelihood been taken captive. Joining efforts was the best course they could take, most of them agreed. Beregar did not partake in the discussion, leaving it to the others to take the decisions. Gildor still was not sure why the Númenorean came along at all, assuming the young man knew what he was doing. But he liked him well enough to wish that he could trust him more than he actually did.
They mounted on one of the scouts' horses, Beregar behind Gildor. Riding barebacked did not seem to bother him, though mortals were supposed to prefer saddles. The scout whose horse they took, went ahead on foot to check the footprints and watch out for other traces left behind by the captors and their captives. The riders followed at a walking pace. Galadriel spoke little; she could have asked for tidings of the Blessed Realm now, but apparently her concern for her daughter prevailed over her curiosity.
After a while, Beregar pressed more closely against Gildor's back, and the Elf felt his breath tickle the sensitive skin of his ear. 'So, Gildor Inglorion, here in Middle-earth you are Finwe's eldest surviving descendant in the male line**,' he murmured. 'How interesting...'
A shiver ran along Gildor's spine, most likely caused by Beregar's hot breath. He could not in all honesty claim that this had never occurred to him. Yet all he said was: 'Gil-galad has been High King for more rounds of the sun than I have seen in my life.' He was not quite certain, but he thought he could feel Beregar chuckle.
It was shortly after this exchange that they came upon a swift stream descending from the higher regions of the Blue Mountains. The footprints led straight into the water, but when the scout on horseback crossed to the other side, he had disturbing news.
The trail did not continue on the opposite bank.
He offered her freedom.
Celebrian was in doubt. Who could her fellow captive be? To judge by his appearance he was an Elda who had beheld the shining Trees of Valinor, and she was tempted to trust him. Yet there was something peculiar about this golden haired stranger. Raised as she was by one of the mighty among the High Elves she could tell that his seeming lack of resistance only served to hide a power strong enough to make Orgol shake with fear - if he wanted. Why did he feign to be helpless? He seemed to be on her side, but was he sincere?
Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, had deceived the Elven-smiths of Eregion, pretending to be their friend. The face he showed them was noble, his counsels seemed wise and he claimed to love Middle-earth like they did. But it was all fake: a mask of fairness to cover the foulest designs, sweet words to hide bitter grudges against the Powers, aid merely given in an attempt to enslave them and in darkness bind them. Though some had distrusted him, none, not even her own mother, had seen him through until it was too late. Now Annatar of the Gifts was Sauron once more, wielding his One Ring in an attempt to conquer and rule them all.
This offer to help her could be a trap. The Dark Lord hated her mother and would use all possible means to harm her. By now, Sauron probably knew that Galadriel's daughter was a captive in the hands of one of his servants. Maybe he had sent another servant to ensnare her, clad in a semblance of light and beauty. But lacking the capacity to dispel such illusions, Celebrian could not possibly do more than decide what to believe. She could take the risk to open the gates of her mind, or she could keep them locked, thereby barring her road toward freedom. The choice was hers.
But not yet, as it turned out. So deeply had she been absorbed in thought that she had failed to notice the approach of Orgol, followed by three of his men. This time, however, she was not the target. After barking a command in his own tongue Orgol switched to Sindarin to address his other captive. 'Name!'
'Glorfindel,' came the calm reply.
Celebrian frowned. That name belonged to a great warrior of old who gave his life to protect the fugitives of Gondolin from a Balrog, long yeni*** ago in the First Age. Few deeds matched the sacrifice made by Glorfindel of the Golden Flower, and the Eldar considered it presumptuous to bestow the honour of his name upon their children. If this... person claimed it for himself, would it not mean that he had stolen it to hide his true identity? Or was he an exception to the rule?
'You sent by Elf King?' she heard Orgol ask - a familiar question.
The answer was familiar, too: 'I am not.'
She could hear several sharp, slapping sounds. If this was a performance staged for her benefit, it was disturbingly realistic. 'Is lie,' Orgol growled.
'I do not lie.'
Another blow, more violent this time. 'Will take you to Master of Middle-earth. But first...' Orgol paused. Another command in his own tongue, followed by what she guessed to be the translation. 'Told men to cut away clothes. Prick you with knife in soft places. Take pleasure of you. Maybe speak true, then.' He laughed maliciously.
The malice was genuine, Celebrian realised suddenly, regardless of whether his master would let him carry out those threats. Or perhaps Orgol could carry them out without leaving visible traces, knowing that Elves healed fast.
She made her choice. If you are able to free yourself, then do it! she cried out. Never mind me!
On the other side of the tree, the sound of snapping ropes could be heard. A shout of surprised fury was followed by shrill wails of fear, and suddenly the leaves of the trees and bushes in front of her were greener and shinier, as if lit by a light from an unseen source. There was an answering red glare, but it was soon spent. Celebrian's ears caught a string of angry words that could only be curses, followed by the swift trample of feet, and cries in the distance.
A blade cut through her bonds, and she was free to move. Celebrian turned to look at her liberator, still wondering what he could be, but without fear now. No child of the dark could emanate such brightness, and if he called himself Glorfindel it had to be his true name, whatever the explanation was.
He gave her a brief smile before he took her by the hand. His other hand, holding the dagger he must have wrested from one of his enemies, gestured towards the entrance of the valley. 'Come, my lady, let me lead you to safety.' The light vanished.
They hurried away through a copse of alder trees. Looking back, Celebrian could see several drawn bows, the arrows pointing to the thirty feet or so of exposed ground they would have to cross before reaching cover again.
'When we leave the shelter of the trees, use me as a shield,' Glorfindel told her. 'Just in case, for if they shoot it is unlikely that their aim will be true.'
Celebrian nodded: she could guess his intentions. And indeed, when they started to cross the open space to the rocks beyond he unveiled himself again. This time, she saw more than a reflected glow on the foliage: his entire form shone with a radiance that matched Gil-galad's helm when it caught the rays of the sun, though it was softer and easier to look at. Though much further removed, Orgol and his people appeared to be badly affected by Glorfindel's sheen - was it their mortal eyesight, or were they truly creatures of the darkness who could not bear such light? Whatever it was, they had to shield their eyes, which prevented most of them from using their bows; the few arrows that were fired went wide because the archers were virtually blinded.
Glorfindel did not halt when they reached the cover of the rocks but urged her on for a while; of course, they could not be sure Orgol would simply take his losses and refrain from pursing them. In a small dell at the foot of a steep slope, they finally allowed themselves a moment of rest. It was then Celebrian realised her breasts were still exposed, and as if her companion had not had amply opportunity to see them she blushed furiously, gathering together the remnants of her bodice to cover herself.
'I wish they had not taken my cloak,' Glorfindel said with a slight frown. As the bodice was torn, it was plain that she would need one hand to keep herself decent, which could be impractical or even dangerous. Suddenly, he unclasped his belt, removed his tunic and held it out to her. When she hesitated to accept it he laughed softly. 'I do not mind going on bare-chested, my lady...?'
'Celebrian,' she replied. 'But will you not freeze?'
He shook his head. 'It is not cold, lady Celebrian.'
Though she did not quite agree, she felt she had no choice but to accept his offer and put the garment on. The fabric was softer and finer than anything she had ever worn, and briefly she wondered what it was made of.
'Now,' Glorfindel went on, 'you must tell me where to accompany you.'
'Mithlond,' she told him. 'It is a long walk, I fear. I wish we had my mare, so we could ride. She bolted when Orgol tried to mount her.'
'She may have made for her own stable - or we may run into her yet. But whether on foot or on horseback, I will take you home.'
He was about to move on, but she laid a hand on his arm. 'Thank you for rescuing me. I did not know you could break your bonds so easily.'
'I should have done so right away, instead of doubting you,' he said.
'No. I should have trusted you, my lord Glorfindel.'
He sighed. 'The Enemy has truly cast a long shadow over Middle-earth, when he can cause even the hearts of the Eldar to harbour such distrust of one another.' He was silent for a moment before adding: 'But we will prevail.'
*Quenya for Finrod, son of Finarfin
**As said in a note to an earlier chapter, in this story Gil-galad is not Ereinion son of Fingon, but Artanáro/Rodnor son of Orodreth, who in his turn is a son of Angrod, Finrod's younger brother. According to Chr. Tolkien, this was his father's last statement concerning Gil-galad's parentage. (History of Middle-earth, Vol. 12, The Peoples of Middle-earth.)
***a yen is 144 years of the Sun
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