22. Chapter Twenty-two
They left the valley at dawn. Gildor made up the rear, subdued and pensive. His wound was a mere scratch and would not bother him much, but Glorfindel wished he were better able to heal Gildor's less visible hurts. The younger Elf had embarked on this journey of his own free will, though both Glorfindel and Finrod had warned him that the lands of Middle-earth were mortal and not seldom dark and that encounters with death were inevitable here. Having to slay a man who might have proved redeemable, instead of one of the Glamhoth(1), seemed a hard way to drive such a truth home.
Still, he was on his way to safety and a meeting with his own kindred and kin. Not so their captives. For all they knew, a terrible fate awaited them at the end of their present road. Orgol had feared the Elves, so much was clear. There was no telling what lies about the elder race his master had fed him and his people, but Glorfindel cringed inwardly when he looked at their faces. They held anger and defiance, fear and resignation, but no hope, not even of the lesser kind that the Eldar called 'looking up'. It was one thing to be detested and dreaded by orcs, but the hatred of these mortals weighed heavily on him.
Something must be done about it, he decided. Though he shared no tongue with them, some form of exchange had to be possible. At this slow pace, it would take them until dusk to reach their destination, as the Elves from the Havens calculated, so he had one day to find a way into the gloom of these mortal minds, hoping he would be able to carry a ray of light with him.
As soon as the occasion offered itself, during their first rest, he turned towards them. The captives sat huddled together, their hands still tied behind their backs, some of them looking anxiously at the bows held by the two guards. How could they know that the Elves would not shoot to kill, should any of them attempt to flee? Glorfindel sat down in front of them, crossing his legs. It was the woman who looked up first, her face grim with bitterness.
'Do not fear us so,' he said, simultaneously conveying the thought. 'The Eldar do not kill the defenceless.' The Age of Kinslayings was over. Had to be over.
He caught the meaning of the words she hissed at him: Easy to say.
'What makes it so difficult to believe?'
Blades, was the answer. Bound hands. Death.
Now, the others started paying attention, too. He tried to explain to them that, if they suffered to be led to the Elvenking in Mithlond, they might find the Elves more friendly than the master they had served until now.
The oldest of the mortals spoke up, a man with a leathery face and thin, grey hair. The master would not agree, he replied. Elves are...
Elves were what? The man's thoughts were garbled, and Glorfindel was unable to follow him. He frowned - not in the last place because at that moment, Gildor joined them. The younger Elf's presence might spoil everything yet; for after all it was by his hand that their leader had fallen.
You had better go, Glorfindel suggested to him.
With a shake of his head, Gildor sat down beside him on the ground. 'What was it you said, sir?' he asked the grey man, eyeing him intently. Some of the others glowered at him, and one man spat in the grass. The grey man scowled, but suddenly, in an accusing voice, he launched himself into what actually seemed to be an answer.
Gildor's face acquired a look of intense concentration. At one point, he interrupted the man. 'Heal the forests?' he asked in a puzzled tone.
The man nodded, and continued to speak. Now the woman chimed in, too. Númenor, Glorfindel caught. It sounded like a curse.
At last, the tale appeared to be told. After a long silence, Gildor uttered a sequence of words, slowly, a little haltingly - but in the language of Orgol's people.
The mortals gaped, even more surprised than Glorfindel, who needed but little time to realise whence Gildor's linguistic prowess hailed. It was Gildor's grandsire Finrod Felagund who, upon his first encounter with mortal men in the First Age, had learned their tongue by simultaneously registering words and thoughts, combining what he heard with what he knew about the workings of language. Gildor had quite obviously inherited this ability.
He repeated his words, leaning forward as if he was offering part of himself to them - and at last the woman responded.
After a short exchange Gildor turned to Glorfindel. 'I doubt whether I understand it all correctly, and some of it fails to make sense,' he said. 'But the native lands of these people appear to have suffered badly from the axes of the Númenoreans. This "master" of theirs claims that the Elves have the means and abilities to heal the hurts of the earth, but that they will use them only for their own good and begrudge them to all others. Also, the Elves have allied themselves with Númenor, and like the Númenoreans, they despise what they call 'lesser mortals', who can be shot like animals, if it suits the lordly ones.' He appeared as troubled as Glorfindel felt. 'What have our kinsmen been up to, all these years? What makes these people believe that we can heal the wounds of the Earth like a physician heals the hurts of the body? And if the Eldar of Middle-earth do know how to work such wonders, why would they keep their knowledge to themselves? This is beyond my comprehension; clearly my understanding of this mortal tongue is too limited still.'
It is not, I fear, Glorfindel thought, hiding his dismay from the staring eyes of their captives. Though the account of these people was a mixture of lies and half-truths, he understood it well enough. They would have to be interrogated further and their words would have to be sifted, but what he had heard so far was worse than the Elder King(2) had predicted and his friend and teacher Olórin had feared. His mission seemed daunting indeed. Too daunting, perhaps.
The severed finger was clammy to the touch, and Beregar gagged when he pried the ring off. He tucked the piece of jewelry safely away. Beneath him, the girl stopped squirming. She stared up at him, her eyes black holes in a face framed by a mess of dark hair.
'Why do you claim this ring?' he asked her.
'You have it,' she snapped. 'So gloat, and let me go.'
He laughed curtly. 'Forget it. I will take you to Mithlond, to the Númenorean shiplords and the Elvenking of Lindon. No doubt they will be curious to hear what your little war band was doing here.'
This appeared to be a dreadful prospect, for a shudder ran through her body. 'Then you will have to drag me there, for I will refuse to walk.'
'In that case I shall carry you, but I think I shall truss you up first to prevent you from kicking and beating me when you are dangling over my shoulder.' He shifted his weight and began to fumble for her belt clasp.
'If you mean to rape me...' she cried in a shrill voice.
Beregar, who had no intention to do so, suddenly saw how he could manipulate her fears. 'And what will you do to prevent it?' he asked tauntingly. 'Tell me more about this little trinket you cut from your leader's hand? Or about the reason for your presence in the foothills of the Ered Luin?'
She was silent, and he allowed his hand to crawl up her ribcage towards her left breast. A dangerous game, for he was not sure where the limits of his restraint lay. But before he could touch the dangerous curve, she grabbed his wrist and yanked his arm away. 'How do I know I can trust you?'
'When my fellow Númenoreans cut down those trees, did they also rape the woman of your people?' Actually, he could imagine that some of them had, but at the same time he was prepared to swear the offenders must have been punished by their betters. Whatever this girl might claim, the Edain of Elenna the Starward knew the meaning of honour.
'Very well,' she said finally, in a composed voice. 'If you swear you will not violate me, nor truss me up to carry me like a bundle, I will answer your questions to my best ability.'
At that moment, the moon reappeared, and looking up Beregar noticed that the wind rose to blow away the clouds. The moonlight was bright enough to set out for the Elf-havens right away, which seemed the best thing to do, as he was too excited to sleep anyway. But he realised he could not trust his captive to walk along meekly, so he said: 'You will also consent to be held on a leash.' He would loop the belt around her neck; that way, she would risk to strangle herself if she took to her heels.
'Turning me into a dog?' the girl said caustically. 'How like a Númenorean. But as you wish - if you give me your oath,' she added, with an air of dignity that seemed oddly at variance with the bloody robbery she had committed earlier.
'I shall not take you by force.' Beregar raised his voice. 'So I swear by...' He fell silent. Not his honour; keeping a woman on a leash could hardly be called honourable, though it was not entirely unpleasant either. '... by that ring,' he said at last, earning himself a fiery flash from her eyes.
Not much later they were ready to go, she with the belt around her neck, Beregar with the loose end in his hand. 'Where do we go?' she wanted to know.
Looking around, Beregar suddenly realised his plan had a serious flaw: he had lost his bearings during the chase. So he told her the one thing he knew with any certainty: 'South.'
To his surprise, she cast a fleeting glance at the moon and started to walk. Either she had a better sense of time and place than he had - or she planned to lead him astray. He followed her lead, touching the handle of his stabbing sword with his free hand.
They descended a hillside until they reached a glade, silvery grey in the moonlight. It looked familiar, and Beregar realised this was where he had camped with the Elves the previous evening. So they were going into the right direction, and she was not misleading him. Not yet.
'Now tell me your story,' he commanded.
'That ring belonged to my father,' she said when they entered the woods again and negotiated a forest floor dappled with pale flecks of moonlight. 'He was not of Orgol's people. He was a great lord from the South, who married Orgol's sister - my mother - though his relatives claimed she was far beneath him. My father never stayed long with us, but he returned every twelvemoon to visit his wife and the daughters she bore him. I am the younger of the two; my sister is married and stays at home. It was my father who taught us the language I am speaking now.'
Interesting. Could her father have been a Númenorean lord who had settled on the coasts of Middle-earth? It would explain the disdain in which this 'great lord's' relatives held their kinsman's leman - for that was all this girl's mother could be; that she was his wife seemed out of the question. 'What is your name, niece of Orgol?' Beregar asked.
'I am Zabathân.'
Adunaic for 'humbled'. Either she was trying to mock him because of the leash, or it was a deliberate - and telling - choice made by her father. 'I do not believe you,' he told her. 'You offered me that name far too easily. Nor do I like it. I shall call you... Dolgunithil.'
She halted, wheeling. 'You bastard! I - am - Zabathân!'
Beregar smiled thinly. Dolgunithil meant 'Night-maiden' - but dolgu was the evil word for night, the good word being lômi, a loan from Quenya. He felt no remorse, being more and more inclined to think that Zabathân was a dig at him, and not her real name. 'I will call you Zaba,' he said in a tone of finality. 'Now continue your tale.'
'First give me your own name.'
'Call me Falmalion.' Son of many waves - a good name for a sailor.
Zaba snorted. 'Well then - Falmalion. Two years ago, when my father visited us again, he showed us a precious ring of gold with a gemstone, a gift from an even greater lord than he was, who went by the name of Annatar. My father had entered his service. One day he would take us along to meet this Annatar, he said, and we would receive gifts of our own. That was his promise. But my mother's brother was promised nothing, and he coveted this precious ring, and before my father departed Orgol poisoned him with cowlweed(3) and took it from him. I hate - hated him.'
'Then what were you doing in his company?'
She laughed curtly. 'He thought I did not know he was my father's murderer. When the lord Annatar marched against the Elves, he left his home with his band of companions and his wife. He hoped to find Annatar, and serve him, and be rewarded. That is how we ended up in those hills. I joined him when it was too late to send me back, and awaited my chance. Tonight, I thought I was lucky. But now,' and all of a sudden Zaba spat like a cat, 'you have robbed me of my father's ring, and it was all for nothing.'
Indeed he had. And to be honest, it troubled him greatly. Perhaps it was the play of light and shadow among the trees, the wind whispering weirdly in the leaves, the strangeness of the situation, but Beregar strongly felt that something was not right. Uncanny, it was - a night decidedly more dolgu than lômi.
'And I intend to keep it,' he said aloud.
1)Sindarin: Noisy horde
3)A silly attempt to 'translate' monk's hood into Middle-earth terms.