18. Chapter Eighteen
The thing crashing through the trees was a horse, they saw when the scout returned, leading it by the reins. As soon as she set eyes on it the exceedingly beautiful Elf-lady called Galadriel became even paler than she was. Her daughter's mount, Beregar said to himself with detached pity. Not good at all.
The animal's appearance did not change the plans of the Elves, but it did enhance his status: from a sack of luggage behind the back of Gildor Inglorion he was invited to become a rider in his own right. It surprised him that the Lady would invite a Númenorean sailor boy to mount her daughter's horse, but he did not hesitate to accept.
Shortly afterwards, they came upon a spot where the muddy bank of their stream was turned up by many feet, and so they, too, left the water. The tracks continued along the brook, which wound its cold and silvery way toward a narrow gap in the hills. The young man began to wonder where this expedition would end: For all they knew the people they chased were on their way to Dunland or even far Harad, and who could tell how far ahead they were by now. What would the Ciryatur say if he did not return until this war was over and that Dark Lord done with?
His worries turned out to be unjustified. For who did they meet in that gap between the hills but his and Gildor's erstwhile companion Glorfindel, scantily clad, and a girl with silver locks and finely chiseled features who wore the Elf-lord's tunic? That she was lady Galadriel's straying daughter was made abundantly clear by the way she raced towards her, while the Elf lady herself jumped from her horse like a courier about to deliver an urgent letter. They began talking rapidly in an unfamiliar Sindarin dialect.
Beregar grinned when they embraced, and not just because this meant they could give up the chase and head for the Havens. Apparently mothers were the same wherever one went. His own had barely been able to let him embark and sail to war.
That Glorfindel also embraced Galadriel - and in his present state of undress at that - was more of a puzzle to him. They appeared to know each other from a distant past, and she seemed to surprised to see him alive, referring to a heroic death against some fiery demon called Valarauko(1). When it turned out that Glorfindel had indeed been dead for a couple of centuries, Beregar felt decidedly uneasy. Hurriedly, he decided that these were Elvish things that common, down-to-earth mortals had no time and no business dwelling on. To him, Glorfindel looked very much alive; that was what he would stick to. So he dismounted - Galadriel's daughter would want her own horse - and while the Elves exchanged information he waited more or less patiently until the entire company would be ready to turn North.
However, there was a hitch. One of the guards voiced the opinion that the abductors should be tracked and, if possible, captured for interrogation; the King would surely want to know who they were and what they were doing in the Ered Luin. The lady Galadriel and her daughter should return to Mithlond, of course, perhaps accompanied by one other person. But the least the rest of them could do, was trying to find this Orgol and his people.
'It is almost evening,' Beregar objected. 'In the dark they may be difficult to see.'
But Glorfindel supported the idea. 'I believe I can find my way back to that valley,' he said. 'And the leader of this band of mortals must, if possible, be brought before the King - I perceived some evil at work in him that it seems imperative to lay bare. Let us attempt to capture him.'
'And I have felt it, too,' the silver-haired girl said. 'He should not be roaming freely in these lands.'
'A truth that applies to other persons as well,' her mother replied promptly, and despite the deceptively mild tone, Beregar felt that her daughter could expect whatever lecture it was the Elves reserved for wayward offspring. He could see the girl realised it, too.
'Where is your sword, Glorfindel?' Gildor suddenly asked. He was right: the Elf-lord was not only scantily dressed, but also scarcely armed.
'That is another, personal reason why I would find Orgol again,' Glorfindel replied. 'I was disarmed when they captured me, and he took the sword. You know who gifted that blade to me. I would be a most ungrateful recipient if I did not even try to retrieve it.' His gaze seemed to be drawn towards Galadriel.
She gazed back with raised eyebrows.
'Olórin,' Glorfindel told her. Who- or whatever that was.
The eyebrows did not come down at once. Beregar had the impression of some silent kind of exchange taking place.
'There is more to this,' the Elf-lady said at last.
'There is,' the Elf-lord agreed calmly, without any further explanation.
'Who will accompany the ladies back to the Havens?' asked the guard who had raised the matter.
It would have been easy for Beregar to say: 'I will.' He failed to understand why he did not, except that he felt some vague thrill at the prospect of fighting. In the end it was one of the scouts who offered to return with the ladies, taking the horses as well, for Glorfindel thought the animals would not be of much use higher up. The saddlebags were emptied of the remaining packages of food the search party had brought along, and soon, Beregar found himself climbing south with Glorfindel, Gildor, the two guards and the remaining scout.
'How many men are we up against?' he asked Glorfindel.
'Nine, and two women,' was the reply.
Six against nine, then; the women would be easily dealt with. Those odds were not too uneven, Beregar mused. He hoped Glorfindel would be any good without a sword, until he realised the Elf might have other, less usual weapons at his disposal.
The dinner was not too much of a trial. It was obvious to Gil-galad that Tar Minastir's admiral did not like him. But as a well-bred scion of an important Númenorean family, the Ciryatur obviously knew how to cage his personal sentiments in public places. And he did appreciate the food and the wine set before him, for he did not begrudge himself any of the dishes or drinks set before him.
They continued the discussion, begun that afternoon during a first war council, of the planned reconquest of Eriador. The Númenorean troops, mostly camped outside the Havens now, and the Eldar of Lindon would be divided into two separate hosts. One would be arrayed on the flanks of the Emyn Beraid to descend on the Enemy's northern forces. The other host would march southeast to engage Sauron's armies at Sarn Ford and Tharbad - and hopefully join the troops the Ciryatur had previously sent to Lond Daer at the mouth of the Gwathló. If the northern host would prove victorious, it would march on to the besieged valley of Imladris and try to relieve Elrond Half-Elven and the lord Celeborn.
Fortunately, the ships had brought large amounts of supplies, or the High King of the Noldor would be hard put to provide in the material needs of the recently arrived troops. Most of the arable lands of Eriador lay under the Shadow. The country of Lindon, partly covered with mountains, did produce enough to sustain its own population, but there was no surplus.
It was a poor host who could not feed his guests from his own table, Gil-galad thought sadly. But the delivery of Middle-earth and its oppressed peoples far outweighed his kingly, Noldorin pride, and so, when the Númenorean leader offered him additional provisions for his own troops, he managed to accept them in with grace and humility.
It was not until the Ciryatur brought up the matter of the Dark Lord himself that a note of unease crept into the conversation.
'This Sauron,' he began, 'the servant of Morgoth in ancient Beleriand-now-under-the-waves...' He paused. 'You are certain it is he, my lord King?'
'I am, my lord Ciryatur. He showed the Eldar a friendly face for a while, but he shed his mask of benevolence some years ago,' Gil-galad replied.
'Less than five, I am told,' the admiral mused, stroking a chin on which the shadow of a black beard was becoming more visible by the hour. 'Ere I departed, my lord Tar Minastir, king of Andor the Land of the Gift, discussed the sudden overwhelming power of this Dark Lord with me. Almost seventeen centuries of undisturbed peace, and then without warning he rises and sweeps across the lands of Middle-earth like the avenging wind, trampling almost everything underfoot. We wondered' - he stressed the we ever so slightly - 'what could have caused this. Living far from here, we did not find the answer. Perhaps the High King of the Eldar found it?'
In fact, the High King had the answer without having to seek for it. Vengeance was indeed one of Sauron's motives: the wish to repay the Elves their hiding of the Three and their escape from his attempt to enslave them. And he owed the rapid increase of his powers to the Elven-smiths of Eregion, who had taught them many secrets of heir craft, enabling him to forge his One Ring in the fires of Orodruin and pour much of his essence into it. So, it was to undo the follies and faults of the Elves that Mortal Men had come to these shores. But this was a truth Gil-galad was reluctant to confess. Not yet, not to this man. It was not shame that prevented him from speaking freely, he said to himself, but love. His beloved Middle-earth itself was at stake - and Middle-earth was worth a subterfuge.
'The answer we found,' he said slowly, 'is that he must have been building this power from the day he was pardoned, at the closing of the First Age.' Strictly spoken, this was true enough. 'Alas, since that time we have been lacking in vigilance, for we mistakenly believed him to be sincere when we watched him bend his knees to the Herald of the Valar...'
'You were there?' the Ciryatur interrupted him, sounding a little troubled.
It was not for the first time that Gil-galad was confronted with this slowness to grasp the longevity of the Eldar. Or was it unwillingness? But whatever was the case, he was glad that it seemed to distract the Númenorean from the matter of Sauron's sudden onslaught.
'I was,' he said. 'I would as lief have speared him on the spot, but one does not slay a supplicant before an emissary of the Holy Ones.'
Now the admiral became curious. 'You bear him a private grudge, my lord?'
'He killed my beloved kinsman Finrod Felagund in his dungeons.' And on hearing this dire news, Artanáro Gil-galad, at the time still in his early youth, had sworn an oath to avenge his great-uncle. It had earned him some sad but indulgent smiles and a considerable amount of derision. Slay Sauron Gorthaur, the mightiest of the Maiar? Who did this stripling think he was?
Yet his oath held. Confronted with Sauron there was only one thing he could do. Fight.
The admiral's next question was predictable: 'You have a personal reason to fight this enemy, then?'
It could damage their cause, if this Númenorean believed he was here to aid in a quest for personal revenge. 'It is first and foremost as King of my own people and protector of Middle-earth that I fight him, my lord Ciryatur,' Gil-galad replied evenly.
Their eyes locked. At last, the mortal was forced to look away. But the King began to be vexed with himself. He was no longer a stripling. He ought to be wiser than to antagonise this man.
'And do you know why the Dark Lord saw fit to strike now, of all times?' the admiral insisted.
Gil-galad was saved an answer when the doors to the dining Hall flew open, causing a collective silence among Elves and men. The guard who launched himself inside was highly excited. 'My lord King!' he shouted. 'Lady Galadriel is returning to the palace. She has found her daughter!'
The King jumped up, but he had to steady himself on the edge of the table, giddy as he was with relief. Recovering, he said: 'Excuse me, my lords, ladies,' and strode away to meet the ladies at the gates. He paid little heed to the footsteps that followed him, thinking it was the guard who had brought the news, or some other attendant. It was not until the two women and their lone escort pulled up their mounds, the red evening light colouring the Lady's hair and her daughter's grave countenance above the unfamiliar, too large tunic, that he discovered the unexpected nature of his company.
'Well, well,' the Ciryatur's deep voice spoke at his shoulder. 'Two fair Elven ladies suddenly appear at your gates - passing strange. Do I rightly assume that there is a tale behind this, my lord?'
Gil-galad cast him a glance. It was long enough to see that the Númenorean looked at Galadriel's daughter with what seemed to be more than a passing interest.
1)Quenya for Balrog
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