20. Chapter Twenty
The King listened intently to her account. They were sitting in his library, in a silent palace; it was late. Celebrían, properly chastised and for once the meek young daughter, had left to take a bath and go to bed. She had avoided Gil-galad's face, except for the brief time it took her to offer apologies, which he hurriedly dismissed as being misplaced. But Galadriel did not mind too much if he blamed himself a little for the trouble her daughter had landed herself in: Celebrían had acted foolishly and in distress, but while she was wholly responsible for the folly, he was at least partly responsible for the distress. His bond with the captain of his guard was unusual enough to catch the unwary by surprise, and dubious enough to be frowned at - and not just by an infatuated maiden.
Yet this was of minor importance beside the presence of evil nearby in the Ered Luin, and the appearance of a re-embodied Noldorin exile in the lands of Middle-earth.
'Glorfindel,' Gil-galad mused. 'I have heard much about him and his heroic deed at the Eagle's Pass, both from Tárion and others who survived the Fall of Gondolin. Fascinating to think that such a legend is walking our shores now. And a grandson of Finrod, too...' He seemed to lose himself in memories, not all of them fond, and a shadow crossed his youthful face. Artanáro Gil-galad had his own burdens to bear; he too was a survivor of a fallen kingdom, with a father slain in battle and a sister speared to a tree by Morgoth's orcs.
Galadriel, warding off the fire and the smoke, the blood and destruction that assailed the gates of her own long memory, waited for him to grope back to the present.
'A pity they did not return with you,' he continued at last. 'Did they state their errand?'
'They did not,' she replied, 'though Glorfindel undoubtedly has one. What little I gleaned from his mind tells me that the divine spirits from before Arda are involved, perhaps even the Greater Powers, and that he was sent back to Middle-earth for a purpose. I think we will hear more about this soon.'
'Provided he does arrive.'
'If my eyes do not deceive me,' Galadriel said slowly, 'there is little in these lands that can prevent him from doing so, if that is his wish. The Enemy, but nothing else, I deem.'
'Speaking of whom...' Gil-galad said, 'if I rightly understand your tale, Glorfindel said there was a ring that appeared to be a - conduit of evil?'
She nodded. 'So he did. Celebrían also saw this ring, and she sensed the evil, though it was Glorfindel who connected the two.'
'It could be one of Celebrimbor's rings. He and his smiths made a great many of them,' the King remarked with a frown of concentration.
So he had, and most had been taken by Annatar-Sauron, to be used for his purpose of dominating and enslaving others. Unfortunately, no one alive knew the exact nature and number of these other rings. For Celebrimbor had died, and with him all the members of the Gwaith-i-Mirdain, the Guild of Jewelers of Eregion, as far as she could tell. Celebrimbor had erred, but to what extent? How far did the consequences of his mistakes reach?
She could only hope Gil-galad did not judge Celebrimbor too harshly. Fëanor's only grandson had been deeply in love with her, and though she had been unable to return his love, bound as she was to Celeborn, she had understood him better than anyone alive. The last of the Fëanorians, so eager to redress the ills of his House, that he was blind to the darkness in himself and the dangers of his innate ambitions.
Yet she doubted whether Gil-galad was capable of seeing it this way. He would remember too vividly how Celebrimbor's father had driven Finrod to his death and tried to usurp the crown of Nargothrond.
With an abrupt movement that betrayed some inner restlessness, Gil-galad rose and strode to the nearest bookshelf. After a brief hesitation he took down a thin, unadorned volume. But he did not look into it, and when he spoke, it was not of Celebrimbor. 'This mortal, Beregar,' he began, 'what do you make of him, great-aunt? What is he doing there?'
'He proved a clever young man, and pleasant enough company,' Galadriel replied, 'yet he seemed to avoid my eyes, and I did not have the opportunity to take him aside and search his soul. Nor could Glorfindel and Gildor tell me why he left the admiral's ship and joined them.'
'Maybe the Ciryatur of Númenor knows the reason,' Gil-galad said.
'Now there,' said Galadriel promptly, 'is a man whose soul I would be eager to search.'
She immediately regretted the sharpness of her voice, but it did not escape the King. 'So you disliked the fellow at first sight,' he said almost smugly.
Galadriel shook her head: the High King of the Eldar should be above such pettiness. 'This has nothing to do with my likes or dislikes. Let me rather say that something in him stirs up doubt in my heart and mind.'
'So you do not trust him.' Gil-galad's thumb slid across the cover of the manuscript from the bookshelf in a caressing gesture. 'But that is worse than mere dislike, is it not? If you should chance to speak with him, will you attempt to fathom Tar Minastir's admiral for me?' He smiled, as if to encourage her.
Galadriel, who needed no such encouragement, did not smile back. 'I would - for the sake of our struggle against the Dark.'
He was still trying to bar the woman's escape from the valley with the help of the watchman's spear, when another, younger woman came running up. 'Halt!' he cried. A futile command, for almost without breaking stride she dived under the spear shaft, and launched herself into the passage leading out of the valley. The first woman, seeing his attention diverted, used the opportunity to try and get away as well. But Beregar noticed it from the corner of his eye, and in a reflex he flipped the butt of the spear up and around, aiming it at her head. When the wood connected with her skull, she slid soundlessly to the ground.
Dropping the spear he remained immobile, but only for an instant. He was supposed to let no one escape. So he wheeled to pursue the young woman into the darkness.
Though at first he could see almost nothing, he went forward with outstretched hands, knowing the first resistance they would meet with was a row of bushes just outside the valley. He listened carefully, assuming that the fugitive saw as little as he did, perhaps even less, and would soon stumble into some obstacle or other, thereby betraying her whereabouts. But the clamour of the fight going on behind him, however distant, overrode all other sounds - if there were any, for she could just as well have halted, just to mislead him. Straining his eyes, he tried to penetrate the blackness ahead. But it seemed useless, and he would have given up if not at that moment a gust of wind had blown aside the curtain of clouds far enough to reveal a thin sliver of silvery moonlight.
Faint as it was, it was enough to see her among the rustling trees and bushes, no more than a dozen yards ahead of him. Beregar leapt forward, but she saw him and fled. He followed her along the slope she negotiated, noticing that she was young and agile and that her feet were nimbler than his, yet knowing that he had the stronger legs.
Even so, it took him annoyingly long before he was able to catch his prey, and mainly because she stumbled and fell down. Drawing his dagger he dropped to his knees, and sitting astride her back he put the tip to the side of her neck. It was then Beregar saw that she clutched something peculiar in her left fist. There seemed to be blood on it. When he tried to pry it out she began to fight him, ranting in a foreign language - yet the reason he let go of her hand was that the object it held was a finger.
'Whose finger is this? Why are you holding it?' he asked in Adunaic, without much hope of a response. But Quenya seemed even more pointless.
Just as he decided she was not going to reply she replied in the same language: 'Curse you Elves!'
'I am no Elf,' Beregar told her with a satisfaction that surprised even himself. 'I am a man of Númenor. Elves do not use this tongue.'
The next moment, his pride was put to the test. 'A Númenorean. That is even worse. The high and haughty Elves talk down to us, and their eyes pierce our souls. But they leave the woods alone.'
'And we do not?'
'You have a whole island for yourselves! Yet you come here and cut down our forests for your proud ships and lofty palaces, without asking if those who live here need the animals for food and fur, and the wood for their homes and hearths.'
For a child of a lesser people, she was remarkably well spoken. All the same, Beregar was angry. 'This is the first time I set foot in Middle-earth,' he objected. 'I never cut down any of your precious trees!' What a weird discussion; why did he prolong it, sitting on top of her while she kept clutching that severed finger? Though it was fortunate that she did: the idea alone was a remedy against arousal. Suddenly, he decided he had enough of it. 'And now, answer me. Whose finger is this? Did you cut it off?'
Silence. But this time, he did pry her fingers open, resisting the temptation to use his dagger. Once more she fought and cursed him, managing to turn on her back. But he squeezed her firmly between his knees, and in the end he was able to snatch away the grisly thing, quickly dropping it to avoid further contact. Gazing at it he saw a narrow band of gold below the second knuckle, adorned with a stone like the eye of a wild cat.
'Ah, I see,' he said. 'You wanted to steal a pretty trinket! You are a common thief.'
'I am not!' she snapped, hitting his thighs with her fists. 'It is mine!'
While she said it, clouds obscured the moon again. The ring remained visible, though, glowing faintly and almost ghostly in the dark.
He left the path of his dreams to re-enter the waking world because of a movement close by. Looking aside he discovered that Gil-galad had joined him, the first time since Tárion's injury that he did not use the mattress his servants had put beside the great bed. Does he think I am well enough to bear his nightly tossings? Tárion wondered, resolving to keep this in mind as a possible argument in favour of his own recovery. Though he had to admit Gil-galad seemed preoccupied, and had possibly just forgotten he was going to sleep on the floor again. And he was not going to sleep yet, so much was clear. Instead of lying down he remained sitting, a booklet on his knees, illuminated by the steady glow of an ancient Fëanorian lamp. For a while, the Captain of the King's Guard merely gazed contentedly at his lover's profile, outlined in a crystalline sheen that made his hair glint like burnished gold. But finally he asked: 'What are you reading?'
Turning his head, Gil-galad grinned. 'Words. Yours, to be precise. The report of your sojourn in Ost-in-Edhil with Celebrimbor's Mirdain. The one I bound in leather, with a royally calligraphed title page. Despite the fact that you are the author I failed to learn the content by heart, so I'll have to reread it.'
'To look for what?'
'Things about rings.'
Tárion smiled. 'In that case, skip the first half, which is mainly about mechanical devices and the stories Celebrimbor used to tell over a goblet of wine - or a carafe. But what is it you are looking for? I wrote little about the Three there.' Actually, he had not written much about rings at all, and less than he had learned about them. He had not been sure what it was he had learned, nor what exactly it meant, and he had not wanted to present anything but certainties in his report.
Gil-galad shook his head. 'This does not directly involve the Three.'
Raising himself on an elbow Tárion eyed him inquisitively. 'What happened? Before I went to rest I heard that the lady Galadriel was back with her daughter, to my undying relief. But could it be that there is more news than Celebrían's safe return?'
'There is.' Abruptly, Gil-galad laid aside his lecture and shut the lamp case, causing the glow to fade. The gesture made it plain that he did not want to stop reading the report as much as prevent his lover from reading his face. And this usually meant that he had something to tell but did not know how, because of the effect it might have. Tárion's mind brushed against Gil-galad's, a mental caress that was returned at once - and for a moment Gil-galad seemed to waver, on the verge of sharing. But then he withdrew.
It was late. Tárion decided to give it some time. Nestling against his bedmate he murmured: 'I am sure it can wait.'
Silently, Gil-galad pressed his lips against his lover's hair.
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