17. Chapter Seventeen
After Círdan had left, he laid the sketchbook aside and dozed off for a while. Waking up, he saw that the rain had ceased, though the sky was still overcast. His gaze went to the cabinet beside the bed. It was within reach. Two steps, at most.
I am well enough to rise, Tárion told himself, and proceeded to do so. Though his legs felt shaky, he did manage to take the two steps towards the cabinet. If he knew anything about his lover, he would find one of Celebrimbor's rings there - and it was not too difficult to predict which one it would be.
He had judged Gil-galad correctly, it turned out. The cabinet did contain Nárya - the ring best suited for his purpose. After a moment's hesitation, he took it in his hand, using the other to steady himself against the wall. 'You love me well, Arto,' he murmured. Gil-galad could easily have decided not to trust him and hide this ring.
Yet he had left the decision to take it or leave it to the one he held most dear.
Suddenly, Tárion felt dizzy, and he had to sit down on the edge of the bed. His eye fell on the sketch book, and he wondered what Glorfindel would have done, his admired lord and captain in the days of Gondolin the White.
Of one thing, he was perfectly certain. Glorfindel never overestimated himself. Seeing he could not be sure he would overcome the Balrog by fighting on with his blade, he had done the one thing he knew would be decisive. When the fiery whip coiled around his waist he had thrown himself into the abyss, pulling the demon with him. And so, the good had perished with the bad - as happened far too often.
On the edge of the bed, Tárion shuddered. The memory of the Balrog's heat made his own pain flare up. He gazed at the Ring's gemstone, a large ruby. Its glow seemed to hold the promise of healing both his scars and the memory of burning with cleansing fire. Its depths seemed to hold the spark of life itself.
But that, he realised, was precisely where the temptation lay. Maybe Time's scars could be healed. Maybe its passage could be slowed and its changes toned down. But Time could not be reversed, nor the past be erased. The dead could receive new bodies, but no spark from any Ring made by Elvenhand could revive a corpse. Even the rehoused among the dead could never more be the living they once were, he realised with a certainty that went above and beyond experience. Though all the dead of Gondolin be restored to life in the Undying Lands, they would never become their old selves again, his fellow Gondolindrim, united in their love of their white city and their hatred of the Black Foe, Morgoth Bauglir. Revival was not creation, nor was healing the same as undoing. The hopeful youth he had been ere he was hurt and marred in body and soul was lost forever, and nothing could undo it.
And even if it could be undone, was it worth the risk of exposing his mind to the Dark Lord?
Tárion smiled. He would not use the ring. In a way, Nárya had done its work without having been put to use.
At that instant, the door flew open as it only did when the King came rushing in like the wind from the West. Seeing the patient poised on the edge of the bed, he halted in mid-stride. 'Captain! You are over-exerting yourself!' he said sternly, though with a glint in his eyes.
Tárion showed him the Ring of Fire. 'I was testing myself.' He held it out. 'I have no need of it. Thank you for trusting me, Arto.'
Gil-galad gave him his most forbidding stare. 'It seems that my trust was misplaced.'
After a rather long silence, Tárion replied dryly: 'I never promised you I would not get up if I felt better, did I? If you leave me alone with something as important as Nárya, why not accept that I can judge minor things like the state of my own health equally well?'
Gil-galad was grinning and shaking his head at the same time. 'If you believe you are less important than that ring, you are a worse fool than you always say I am.'
'Arto,' Tárion said, 'if you do not hide "that ring" away right now, I will do so, against your better knowledge.'
'Stay put!' the King commanded, swiftly closing the distance between them and taking the Ring of Fire. When Nárya was out of sight, he dropped to his knees before the bed to grab Tárion's hands. 'Do you think you can take care of yourself, Valanya? Or I will not be able to march in five days.'
'The Númenoreans claim that is all the time they need to prepare their troops.'
'Five days,' Tárion repeated darkly. 'I must make haste to get well, then.'
'Forget it. You are not going to war,' Gil-galad told him. He shivered when his lover's hand traced the outline of one of his ears. 'And I will not be seduced. You are unfit -'
'Ha!' Tárion interrupted him. 'Why should I want you, in your current mud-spattered state? Take a bath. You smell of wet horse!'
'Do you think I returned to my apartments just to check on you? But,' Gil-galad went on, 'you are graciously allowed to advise me which stately robe I shall wear for tonight's dinner with all those great Númenorean lords and Tar Minastir's very demanding Ciryatur.'
'What about the cloudy one with the silver lining? You will look magnificent in it.' But if you believe I will be left behind like a dainty lady while you ride to fight the Enemy, you are sorely mistaken, my heart. Tárion smiled faintly. Gil-galad should have exacted a promise from him. But knowing the past and Turgon's unreasonable demand at the Fall of Gondolin, that was one thing his beloved would never do.
Kneeling down, Galadriel listened to the speech of plants and stones, trees and rocks. Some had noticed the passing of creatures on legs, but whether these were squirrels or Elves, foxes or Men, they could not tell. However, when she heard the stream complain of rough feet trampling through her waters for a while, she knew what must have happened.
'They must have used the brook to obscure their trail,' a voice said from behind Gildor Inglorion's back. The young mortal.
One of the scouts scowled, probably because Beregar had beaten him at it. Galadriel rose with a smile; the Númenorean was by no means stupid. 'Indeed they did. Let us ride upstream for a while.'
'Upstream? How do you know, lady?' Beregar asked.
'The stream speaks to her,' Gildor informed him.
'Can the lady not give her own answers?'
'She can,' Galadriel said. 'And he is right. I was listening to the voice of the waters.' But they did no longer speak as clearly and beautifully as they used to do in the First Age, when the Lord of Waters sang to the Eldar of Beleriand, and especially to her brother Finrod, with the music of rivers and falls and windswept lakes. But fair Beleriand lay under the waves, and the once splendid caverns of the river Narog where Finrod had dwelled had become the abode of fishes. Regret rose in her like water from a deep and ancient well.
The company crossed the brook and rode upstream for a while, until the scout on foot raised an arm, motioning them to be silent. They all listened silently for a few heartbeats. Something was crashing through the bushes, not far away. Something rather large, to judge by the noise it made.
'Should we not hide?' Beregar whispered.
Galadriel and the mounted scout shook their head.
'It does not come our way,' Gildor said over his shoulder.
Suddenly, one of the guards dug his heels into the flanks of his horse and galloped off.
'I trust you know the way back to the Grey Havens, my lady,' Glorfindel said to Celebrían. 'For as I have never been to these lands before, I do not.'
She adjusted his tunic; it was too wide for her, but the blue fabric matched the silver of her hair as well as it matched his gold. 'If I were you, I would not trust me overmuch,' she replied with a wry smile. 'The Havens are north of the Blue Mountains, but whether we should go due north or more to the northeast, I cannot tell. When they captured me, I was blindfolded.'
'How long did you ride before they came upon you?'
'More than half of the night, I think.' she frowned. 'But I did not head straight for the hills when I left. I was... distracted.'
Distracted, or distraught? Glorfindel said to himself. Now that Celebrían no longer shielded herself so rigidly against him, he could sense a sorrow in her that bordered on grief. He guessed that it had more than a little to do with her reason for leaving Mithlond, apparently in a hurry, and in the dark. Her mind had wandered and she had let her mare run free. 'Do you wish to speak of it?' he asked.
She shook her head. 'I am sorry.' Her chin went up. 'But you do not have to feel sorry for me.'
'Then I will not,' he replied gravely. Her defiance was too dignified to be belittled by an indulgent smile.
Inspecting their surroundings and the sky, Celebrían pointed at a ridge, approximately two miles ahead of them. 'I think we had best climb that, to get a better idee of where we are.
To this, Glorfindel agreed, and they set out. For a while, they proceeded without speaking, but about fifty feet beneath the top of the ridge Celebrían broke the silence.
'You say you have never been to these lands before. Does this mean you come from one of the refuges of the Silvan Elves beyond the Misty Mountains? Then how did you cross the territory occupied by the Enemy? And have you been to Imladris first?'
'No. I did not cross land, but the Great Sea. I come from the West.'
She halted, blinking, as if he were a Vala suddenly manifesting himself in the fana(1) of a Firstborn. Finally she asked, her tone a little uncertain. 'From Valinor itself?'
'From Valinor,' Glorfindel confirmed.
Celebrían looked him up and down as if she was seeking something: a clue, some sort of proof. Not knowing what it was she expected to find he felt strangely exposed, though her gaze did not linger on his bare chest for more than a heartbeat. Quickly, he began to climb the remaining part of the slope.
'My mother was born and raised in Valinor, before she... departed,' she said, catching up with him.
'You mean: before she joined the rebellion of Fëanor?' Seeing her frown, Glorfindel raised a hand to forestall her protest. 'It is not my intention to accuse her, my lady,' he said calmly. 'I, too, rebelled against the Valar, and the Curse of Mandos also fell on my head. What is your mother's name? I may know her.'
'Her father named her Artanis.'
'Ah.' He smiled. 'Nerwende Artanis, who later acquired the epessë(2) Galadriel. Yes, I do know her.' But it would be best not to tell Galadriel's daughter that once he had been as foolishly smitten with her mother's beauty as almost every other ner(3) in Tirion, he decided.
Reaching the top of the ridge Celebrían searched his face and asked, her tone a little anxious: 'Did you return to the West at the end of the First Age, when the remaining Noldor were offered the pardon of the Valar?'
He had hoped it would not occur to her to ask that particular question, loath as he was to speak of his death and re-embodiment with a young maiden whom he barely knew. Some things were impossible to explain, others were too personal. But lying was out of the question. 'I did not,' he told her. 'I returned to the Undying Lands through the Halls of Mandos.'
That gave her something to digest, and while she was silent Glorfindel surveyed the terrain ahead of them and saw they were going into the right direction: beyond the foothills of the Ered Luin he saw rippling patches of pale light on the blue grey waters of the Estuary of the river Lune. Where it widened into the Gulf he could discern buildings, and quays on both sides of the water, and harbours filled with mighty warships: the Númenorean fleet had anchored. But much closer by, through a gap between two hill flanks, something else caught his attention: movement between the trees, and hints of colour among the foliage. People.
Beside him, Celebrían murmured: 'I wonder if I would prefer death and rehousing to prolonged exile.'
'My lady,' Glorfindel said, 'dying is not something I can recommend.'
1)Quenya: raiment (of flesh)
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