21. Chapter Twenty-one
Ah, Elentari Star Queen...
Shaking, Gildor's hand went to the hilt of the sword sticking out of Orgol's stomach. Maybe he ought to pull it out. Or maybe the man would bleed to death if he did. Unless he was dead already. His face was much too still, the eyelids half closed, the mouth half open. Gildor could not remember having ever felt this bad before, and his throat made a choking noise.
A detached voice drifted towards him out of nowhere. 'If you are going to be sick, my lord,' it said, 'you had better do it in the bushes.'
Stumbling, Gildor managed to reach the nearest shrub before his rising stomach rid itself of its contents. The disgusting act left a foul taste in his mouth, his knees turned to jelly and he shivered. It was as if the mortality of these lands was somehow contagious, infesting every region of his body with disease.
Slowly, he turned around. The scout and one guard were each tying up one of Orgol's men, using the captives' own belts. A third man lay motionless; Gildor could not see if he was dead or alive. The other Elvish guard was also down, but he did move, albeit feebly. From the entrance of the valley Glorfindel approached, carrying a limp form in his arm.
The whole scene reminded Gildor of a tale told by a skilled storyteller, the way it was done at home: everything vividly alive, visible, audible, even tangible, yet clearly distinct and distinguishable from the larger reality in which it was enacted. The difference was that there was no larger reality here. The tale going on around him was all there was; he was imprisoned in it while it enfolded itself, and he had to act the part assigned to him, unable to withdraw.
He watched Glorfindel lay down his burden, as a mother would put an infant back into the crib.
'Dead?' the scout inquired.
'Merely unconscious. But I fear she will have to be bound all the same.'
Nodding, the scout proceeded to do so, while the unscathed guard helped his comrade, who was bleeding from a head wound, to sit up. Glorfindel knelt beside Orgol to examine him at length. By the time he was done, Gildor had ceased trembling, but he still felt ill.
Closing Orgol's eyes, Glorfindel looked up, but he remained silent.
'I did not...' Gildor began, his voice unsteady. 'It was never my intention to-'
'Calm down, mellon. The man attempted to kill you, did he not?' There was naught but sympathy in Glorfindel's voice.
Gildor nodded miserably.
'What is wrong about self-defence?' Glorfindel rose and came towards him.
Gildor shook his head. 'I slew the one man who should have stayed alive.'
'At the cost of your own life? He would not have spared you. He hurt you even now,' Glorfindel said, gesturing at Gildor's shoulder.
Surprised, for he had not felt any physical pain until now, Gildor raised a hesitant hand to touch himself. When it came away red, it dawned on him that it was not his own failure that hurt so badly, or not in the first place. It was the killing itself, the bloodshed.
Indeed, the other Elf replied into his mind, as if Gildor's emotions spilled over and he caught them. It is a terrible thing to slay someone, even if he is evil.
Suddenly, Gildor had to blink back tears. I have lost my innocence, have I not?
Yes, and I know how this must affect you, for I have learned to dread it. Glorfindel closed the remaining distance between them and touched the younger Elf's cheek, his face seeming to reflect all the sadness of Arda marred.
For a moment, Gildor failed to understand him, but then he knew. On leaving the Halls of Mandos Glorfindel had received a new life along with his new body, pure and untainted by anything his first body had done or experienced. But with it, he had also received the risk of losing that purity again - and by coming to Middle-earth, that risk was multiplied a hundred times.
It had to be something Glorfindel dreaded more than anyone - because he knew what it meant. Gildor placed his own hand over Glorfindel's, overwhelmed by the desire to spare his traveling companion the agony of repeating this experience. Mighty as his spirit had become, he remained in need of protection. Perhaps it was presumption on his part, but if it was in the power of Gildor son of Inglor, to give it...
He swallowed - and was reminded of the sour, unpleasant taste in his mouth. 'I need a drink,' he croaked.
Not much later he sat beside the newly fed campfire sharing the remaining contents of a water flask with the wounded guard. They had four prisoners; the woman, who had come to and was muttering ugly sounding words in her own language; the incapacitated guardsman at the entrance of the valley; and two others, one with a swollen jaw to which Glorfindel vainly tried to apply a healing touch, because the man howled too loudly at the mere approach of the Elf lord's hand. The scout had also killed his opponent, but seemed to bear it with equanimity. Unless the diligence with which he was piling stones on the corpses of the dead was a form of atonement.
Glorfindel, wrapped in his own cloak, which he had retrieved together with his sword, summed up the situation. Three of the mortals had escaped, including the female who had cut off Orgol's ring. There was no telling whether Beregar would find his way back here, whether he caught her or not. They could wait a while, as it was hardly to be expected that their captives were capable of walking by night with their hands tied behind their backs. But if the Númenorean had not returned by first light, they would not tarry here.
'But one of us should go ahead to inform the High King. Perhaps he can spare us some horses,' Glorfindel concluded. 'Not that we deserve them.' He sighed. 'This expedition cannot possibly be called successful.'
Nobody gainsaid him.
'I will go ahead,' the scout offered, dropping the last stone on the pile covering Orgol.
The bed was excellent, and the palace was quiet. All the same, the Ciryatur woke up before dawn. For a while, he lay thinking of the silver-haired Elf maid who remained sitting on her horse in a corner of his mind, looking utterly enchanting in the moonlight. But not for long; he hated to lie awake doing nothing.
He rose and found his way to the window to watch the southeastern horizon. No signs of the dawn yet. Without waking his aide or any of the other servants, he dressed and left the suite assigned to him. Outside, crystalline lamps, like those in the royal palace at Armenelos lighted the corridor. He had always wanted to know what the Elves did to make their lamps shine so brightly without using fire, but the one time he had asked, they had not been able to explain it to him. When he had pointed this out to them, they had asked him if he thought he could explain to a bird how it was to have arms. A most arrogant answer.
His feet led him to a kind of covered courtyard with a stairwell and a softly splashing, surprisingly melodious fountain. Its music had a soothing effect, he discovered, but he had no wish to be soothed, so he climbed the stairs instead. At the top, greatly to his surprise, he met the silver-haired maid.
'Mae govannen, my lady,' he said in his best Sindarin, not knowing if she had Quenya. 'You look radiant enough to make the sun reluctant to rise, knowing that she will pale beside you.
She raised her eyebrows ever so slightly. 'Let us hope that the sun-maiden does not see it that way, my lord. Though I love the stars, I would miss the day, should it fail to break.'
'So, you are not up because you prefer the night, in order to shine the more brightly?'
'Both day and night are dear to me to me,' she replied promptly, ignoring his invitation to be more forthcoming.
The Ciryatur decided it was enough, for a start. He smiled as if she had accepted his compliment.
'A wise lady, I deem. Would you be so kind to direct me to your King's private quarters?'
She seemed reluctant, as if his request put her in a mild sort of quandary.
'It is a matter of some urgency.'
'Very well, my lord,' she said at last.
No guards stood posted outside the royal quarters, but this did not surprise him. This Elvenking seemed to suffer from an innate lack of formality; that Glorfindel fellow had not been so bad, after all.
He opened a few doors and found, among other rooms, a library dimly lit by the first grey streaks of approaching dawn. Though it would be interesting to discover what writings Gil-galad considered useful or pleasant, the Ciryatur suppressed his curiosity and opened the next door.
The lamp just outside the door illuminated part of the room, and he could see one half of a large bed, and a mattress on the floor beside. The mattress was empty. The bed was occupied, by two persons lying too closely together to be anything but a couple. And even as the Ciryatur stepped inside to take a better look, on half of the couple sat up.
It was the King. The part of him that was visible above the sheets was clad only in his unbraided, slightly tangled locks. 'Good morning, my lord Ciryatur,' he said amiably when he saw the Númenorean. 'You honour me by waking me in person.'
The sound of his voice obviously roused his bedmate: the admiral saw something move under the covers. 'It is the Ciryatur of Númenor paying a visit,' Gil-galad told whoever it was, and turning back to the admiral he explained: 'The captain of my guard was wounded in a skirmish, a few days ago, and is still on his way to recovery. You will excuse him if he does not sit up to greet you?'
Another male. I knew it!. Those rumours about Elvish habits were true, then; no smoke without a fire. 'Is it common practice for the High Kings of the Noldor to nurse wounded officers in the royal bed?' the Ciryatur inquired, with a slight edge to his curiosity.
'I could not tell you, being the only High King of the Noldor I have ever been familiar with.' Gil-galad rose, stepped across the mattress and walked to a dress stand to cover all of his six feet and more with a dark blue robe. From there he went to the nearest window to pull the curtains aside and let the dawn inside. 'Is there something you need to discuss with me, my lord admiral?'
'There is,' the Ciryatur replied. 'It concerns one of my men, who left my ship before we sailed into the Havens. It occurred to me that the ladies who returned yestereve may have met him in the hills. But maybe we should speak of it elsewhere, so as not to disturb your - captain any further.' He was rather satisfied with himself: this hardly even sounded like a stratagem.
'Catamite?' asked Gil-galad. 'Is that a Númenorean term? What does it mean?'
The admiral felt his cheeks grow hot. He could not imagine he had actually used that word, though it had indeed been in his mind. Had the Elvenking read his thoughts? He cast a glance at the bed. Its remaining occupant had raised himself on an elbow and was staring - no, glaring - at the King with piercing grey eyes in a pale face, framed by long, raven black hair.
'You must have misheard me,' he replied coldly. 'Captain, was what I said.' And with an effort, he tried to think of nothing, in case these Elves continued their mental prying.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.