19. Chapter Nineteen
'So they stole your cloak, too?' Gildor asked Glorfindel, once they were on their way back to the valley where they hoped that Orgol and his company could still be found. He began to unclasp his own cloak.
Glorfindel raised his eyebrows. 'Are you offering me yours?'
'Just for modesty's sake,' Gildor said, referring to Glorfindel's remark after their little wrestling match on that spot near the Gulf(1), when he had been wearing even less than his travelling companion did now. It seemed much longer than a day ago, a confirmation of his secret hopes that these mortal lands would prove a breeding ground for excitement. 'I do not want to suggest you are shivering,' he added.
Glorfindel held out his hand. 'Though I am not in the least ashamed of walking half-naked, this cloak is precisely what I need - lest others think my gooseflesh is a sign of fear.'
With a grin, Gildor handed him the garment. 'And that would be a mistake?'
'Thank you, dear friend,' Glorfindel said rather loudly, draping the cloak around his shoulders and giving the owner a companionable pat on the back. Subduing his voice and approaching Gildor's ear with his mouth he added. 'A mistake? Gildor, Gildor, you have no idea what we are up against.' And with those words he hurried ahead, the only among them who knew the way.
Gildor halted, halfway up the slope they were ascending, not knowing precisely what to make of Glorfindel's last remark. He believes I am not serious enough, he said to himself. And maybe he is right. What have I been through in my life? His worst experience until now was a broken wrist grown hale in less than half a moon(2) - nothing compared to Glorfindel's fall into the abyss beneath Cirith Thoronath, caught in the fiery coils of a Balrog's whip, or to his grandfather's death in Sauron's dungeon, after his fight with the werewolf. Stories, they used to be for him, tales from days that his eyes had never seen. Tales fit to make a young boy shiver pleasantly in his safe little bed, and a somewhat elder boy dream of being the greatest of warriors, who battled balrogs and werewolves and overcame both. And what was he now? A boy playing at being grown-up?
He had to take this seriously. It was a mission for a king he had yet to meet, but whom he was willing to serve against the Enemy. If he had to face death in a fight -
His heart skipped a beat as realisation struck. Having to face death in a fight would not be the greatest problem.
'Gildor,' a voice said, a few feet above him, 'why do you halt?'
Raising his head, Gildor saw that it was Beregar who spoke. Further up, the other four - Glorfindel, the two guards and the remaining scout - reached the top of the ridge they were scaling and halted, outlined darkly against the evening sky.
'Dusk is near,' Beregar went on. 'If you tarry here, we may not reach that valley before nightfall.'
'But why should we want to?' Gildor asked, climbing on. 'Under the cover of darkness we will have a better chance to approach these mo- these people unseen.'
The Númenorean frowned, but said nothing.
'How good do mortal men see in the dark?' the scout asked him when they joined the others.
'I could not tell you.'
'Are you not one of them?' said the scout.
'Indeed,' Beregar replied with what Gildor thought was a decidedly crooked grin. 'One. Not all. The quality of mortal eyes tends to vary considerably. All I can do, is show you how well I can see at night, or maybe I should say: how badly, compared to an Elf. Any Elf.'
Glorfindel's mouth curled. 'You will be put to the test before we reach our destination. Our plan is as follows: first' - and he pointed to a small glade further down the slope, dotted with purple flowers - 'we will rest there, and take some food, waiting until dark...'
'I see. You want to attack by night, when you are at an advantage,' Beregar interrupted him. 'Even when those people keep a fire burning and set a watch, you Elves may be able to sneak up close without a sound, knock the watch out from behind and grab the others, including this Orgol you are so eager to lay hands on.' He nodded. 'Well. What is my part? I assure you that I am a good sailor, but a bad sneak. I never did such a thing before.'
'Your role,' replied Glorfindel, 'depends on the quality of your night vision.' He did not correct Beregar, Gildor noticed. For someone mostly dealing with winds, waves and riggings, this young man's perception of the situation ahead was remarkably clear.
'I see,' Beregar said pensively.
In the dell, they sat down on the grass to eat and drink. The search party had brought a beverage made of apples that reminded Gildor of home. This surprised him a little; he had not expected the same kind of trees to grow on both sides of the Sundering Seas. Had the Noldor brought a few apples along on their return to Valinor, at the end of the First Age?
Suddenly, one of the guards turned to Glorfindel. 'What if it comes to a fight, my lord - do we kill?' he asked, addressing him as their undisputed leader. Which, of course, he was.
'Our aim must be to capture the leader, and incapacitate the rest. 'These people are not orcs, only mortals ensnared by evil, and not irredeemable. So let us not take lives,' Glorfindel replied, pausing before he went on: '... except in the direst need.'
To Gildor's annoyance, his stomach fluttered.
Orgol had set a watch. The man hid in the shadows at the entrance of the valley, taking care not to show himself against the faint glow of the nightly fire in the centre. Still, all the Elves could see him, his back against a rock, his spear pointing outward. Beregar thought he could discern movement somewhere ahead of them, but that was all, as he whispered to Glorfindel.
The watchman had indeed shifted his spear a little, and the blade had caught the light of a few stars visible through a gap in the clouds. So the young mortal was not entirely blind at night.
'Good,' Glorfindel whispered back. 'One of us will disable the watchman. You take his place, to prevent anyone from escaping this way.' In the firelight, Beregar would be able to see them coming. 'Repeat my words.'
'You grab the watch,' the young man breathed. 'I bar the way out.'
'Do not kill anyone unless to save your own life.'
'No killing except in self-defence.'
He did not question Glorfindel's right to assign him this task - one that minimised his risk of having to shed the blood of fellow men. The Elf lord realised that Beregar reminded him of Tuor of the Edain House of Hador, the remarkable mortal who had won the hand of Idril, daughter to the King of Gondolin. And this was a simple sailor? But there was no time to pursue this question here and now.
He motioned the scout, the best woodsman among them, to go ahead and deal with the watchman. After a while, his eyes caught a flurry of movement, soon followed by the all-clear signal. He tapped Beregar on the shoulder. 'Hold on to my cloak until you can see where you are going.'
A soft snort, and the rest of the company crept forward.
The scout had knocked his target out and was binding and gagging the man when they joined him. Beregar took up his position and spear, while the five Elves started their advance, remaining well outside the restless patch of dull, orange light. Gildor was nervous, Glorfindel noticed, knowing what his travelling companion dreaded most. He hoped it would not come to that.
A second watchman sat beside the flames, facing the valley mouth. When the Elf lord counted the sleepers lying around the fire, he did not get further than seven. Strange. Together with the two keeping watch this made nine, but this afternoon, there had been eleven. Had the missing members of Orgol's company returned to their dark master, or were they still around, guarding other entrances to the valley that had escaped his attention?
He decided they had no choice but to go forward. When he nodded towards the guard closest to him, the guard began to creep cautiously past the watchman. The others, including Glorfindel, closed in until they reached the edge of the firelight.
The sudden, piercing alarm cry from the bushes nearby made him wince. He realised that one of the women of the group must have left previously to relieve herself. Wheeling, he managed to dodge the knife she threw at him in the nick of time. Behind him, he heard the confusing noises of men scrambling up, cursing and shouting. At least two people cried out in pain, and his ears caught a gurgling sound that boded ill for the one who emitted it.
When the woman ran towards the entrance of the valley, Glorfindel spun, casting aside Gildor's cloak to be able to move more freely. He took in the scene in two heartbeats. Two men fled into the opposite direction. Two were down, and so was one of the Elven guards. Three men, Orgol among them, were fighting the other Elves.
By showing himself unveiled, as he was in the Blessed Realm, Glorfindel might have put an end to the violence if not a fourth man had attacked him right then, stabbing at him with a short sword. Quick like lightning the Elf lord evaded it, sweeping past the blade to hit his assailant on the jaw with his fist. Obviously he used too much of his considerable strength, for he heard an ominous crack. His enemy screamed and dropped his weapon, and his hands flew to his face. Glorfindel turned back to the others, just in time to see Orgol go down, a blade buried in his stomach.
At the same moment, the person fighting the scout ducked to launch himself - no, herself - at Orgol's fallen body. Steel flashed. The woman, hardly more than a girl, veered up and bolted, while the scout landed on his knees, unbalanced by the momentum of a blow that hit nothing but air instead of meeting with solid resistance.
Gildor, white as a sheet even in the light of the flames, stared at the sword rising from Orgol's stomach. The Man's eyelids fluttered, and he emitted a strange, rattling sound. Glorfindel took a step towards him, just when the second guard knocked the last of their opponents down. It was then that he saw the blood on Orgol's hand - the hand where the ring should have been.
One finger was missing.(3)
Immediately, he raced after the fleeing woman, hoping that Beregar would intercept her. She was to far ahead even for his long strides to catch up with her.
At the mouth of the valley, a figure sprawled on the ground, not visibly wounded, the watchman's spear tumbled across her legs. But this was the woman who had fled first, Glorfindel saw. The girl who had cut the ringed finger from Orgol's hand, was nowhere to be seen.
And neither was Beregar.
1)see the end of Chapter 9
2)Elves heal faster than humans, see the Commentary to the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, in the History of Middle-earth, Volume 10.
3)Sorry, but I couldn't resist the temptation to include some finger cutting.
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