23. Chapter Twenty-three
As soon as the Ciryatur had closed the door behind his back, Tárion sat up. 'Did you have to embarrass the man, Arto?' he said disapprovingly. 'He did say "captain", though I admit the other word was foremost in his mind and his tongue almost slipped.'
Gil-galad shrugged. 'I merely asked him what "catamite" meant. It is not a word I have ever heard before. If my question was embarrassing, something must be wrong - either with the word itself, or with the thought that lead to its use, would you not think so?'
Tárion shook his head. 'You will not fool me by trying to look innocent. The fact that he refrained from speaking the word aloud was indication enough that it was dubious. I do not know the meaning either, but it would surprise me if it were a compliment. And this is a man with whom you had better remain on good terms.'
'I know, Valanya, I know.' Gil-galad seemed contrite, though not nearly enough. He went to his wardrobe. 'We need his help. Middle-earth needs him, or Sauron's darkness may engulf it yet. I can only hope that I will never have to grovel before him, for to be frank, this is not a mortal I could ever bring myself to estimate.' He turned back towards his lover. 'He wanted to know why it was in this time that Sauron had gone to the attack. It did not seem wise to tell him of Celebrimbor, and how he and his jewel-smiths succumbed to the deceptions of the Enemy.'
Nor would the Ciryatur hear it from anyone else here in Lindon, whether Galadriel, or Círdan, or Tárion himself. Elrond and Celeborn were far away in besieged Imladris, but they, too, would never reveal it of their own accord. And no others among the living knew why the world East of the Great Sea was imperilled again, for the Gwaith-i-Mírdain had all perished, and Mandos kept their spirits confined in his Halls.
'Yet the time may come,' Tárion concluded aloud, knowing that Gil-galad was aware of his thoughts, 'that we shall have to disclose all.'
'Let us pray that it will not be in this Ciryatur's time,' muttered the King. He stared at the bed. 'You are doing it again, Valanya.'
It was only now that Tárion noticed he was covering the scarred half of his chest with the bed sheet. He dropped it. 'And I thought I had rid myself of that habit,' he said frowning in annoyance, realising too well that such a relapse meant he felt exposed in some way - and not to his lover.
'You will succeed yet,' Gil-galad said. Suddenly his eyes fell on Tárion's sketchbook, which had slid to the floor some time during the night. Picking it up, he studied the portrait Tárion had drawn last. 'Who is this? I do not think I know him.'
'You do not, for you have never met him. It is Glorfindel. The famous Balrog slayer of Gondolin, of honoured and cherished memory.' Tárion smiled wistfully.
Gil-galad could not have been more astonished. 'What? Who? Why draw Glorfindel, of all -' He checked himself.
Too late. Suddenly, Tárion understood what must have guided his hand when he made this portrait. 'He has returned to Endor, has he not?' he said slowly. 'Incredible as it seems, Glorfindel is here, and the lady Galadriel has met him. Has she not, Arto? That was what you were so loath to tell me, last night.' His voice was thin and taut; if he spoke but one more word, it would snap. His fist clutched the coverlets. Glorfindel as a memory of the past was one thing, but to have him nearby as a living reality...
'Yes - and rightly so,' Gil-galad burst out. 'Clearly, it wakes up past sorrows that should have remained asleep.' He sat down on the bed, his hands closing over Tárion's. 'Easy, my love. If he arrives here, you will not see him until you are ready to face your memories of Gondolin.'
I do not fear my memories of the fall Gondolin anymore, Tárion wanted to say. This is about something else. But was it, truly? And why not let Gil-galad believe that he still dreaded the memories of fire, ruin and death that an encounter with Glorfindel might stir up in his soul? After, all how could he even know whether Nárya had entirely cured him of those fears?
Yet it was another part of his past that shook him so. It was not a shadow of flame that Glorfindel of Gondolin cast ahead, but one of a very different kind.
Time to leave my bed, he said to himself, or I will never stop brooding.
No sooner had Gil-galad closed the door behind him, or Tárion rose from the bed. I feel well, he told himself. Not perfect, but well enough.
While he dressed, he found himself thinking of Nárya again, and of other rings of power. What exactly was it that Celebrimbor had been telling him, back in Eregion, when he had blurted out his misgivings over a few cups of wine?
By the time it was light Zaba informed him that she could impossibly go on without taking a long rest. He was only too happy to grant it to her; they had pushed on for most of the night, pausing only briefly to drink from a brook they crossed, and he was hardly less tired. The girl curled up in a leaf-strewn hollow in the ground. It did not seem to bother her that the leaves were moist, as she fell asleep at once. She had to be exhausted indeed.
Beregar tied the end of her 'leash' to his belt, which brought her close enough for him to hear her regular breathing. Now that it was light he could see her more clearly, and he observed her for a while. She was on the thin side, but not unattractive: a firm mouth, high cheekbones, dark hair bound back by a strap of leather, long lashes, and long legs. But for her skin, which was a little too dark, she looked deceptively like a woman of Númenor.
Pulling his sword from its sheath he laid it across his thighs, and then he took out Orgol's ring. The ring that had belonged to Zaba's father, if what she had told was true. He stared at the pale gold, gleaming in the early morning light. Or my ring. But that was no more than a stray thought, for if this thing did not belong to Zaba, it should go to the Ciryatur.
At that moment, he felt the urge to put it on. Just once, to look if it would fit his finger, he told himself. Not to keep it, of course. If he took Zaba to the Ciryatur, she would speak of it, and he would have to hand it over anyway. Unless he let the girl go. Or killed her, to make sure she would not come after him and betray him, or worse.
But she trusted him despite all her accusations against the Númenoreans, or she would not have gone to sleep so easily. He had sworn not to rape her. That oath he would keep. But he had not sworn to spare her life, had he? He looked from the peacefully sleeping girl to the ring in his palm. A plain, narrow band of gold adorned with a small green gemstone that could be an emerald, but just as well a stone of lesser value. Nothing special, really. Not something you need to live long and prosper, is it, Beregar Falmalion? Not an object to covet at the cost of your conscience.
So, why would he desire it?
At that moment, Zaba suddenly opened her eyes, as if his thought had roused her from sleep. 'In case you consider to kill me,' she said softly, 'I must warn you. It would not be the wisest thing to do. There is a secret to this ring that not even Orgol knew - nor did the Master called Annatar ever reveal it to him, or he would have used his knowledge to survive. But I know what it is. My father told it to me, shortly before he died of Orgol's poison.'
He could, of course, repeat his threat to rape her if she would not divulge the secret. Her part of the bargain was openness, was it not, and now it turned out she was withholding important information. But looking at the girl, Beregar suddenly realised he did not want to harm her - not to such an extent, though he felt she did deserve some form of chastisement for that barbarian act of cutting off Orgol's finger. Moreover, if he did not want to become the kind of man he despised, he owed it to himself as well to find another way to make Zaba speak.
By winning her trust, for instance.
The High King studied the most recent reports the scouts had brought in. Most of the enemy outposts in the Emyn Beraid appeared to be withdrawing towards the river Baranduin in the Southeast: orcs, evil beasts and birds, and corrupted mortals. It was easy to guess they would rejoin Sauron's main host to defend the Sarn Ford, the only crossing between the Sea and the Baranduin Bridge, against the combined armies of Lindon and Númenor.
Some of the troops, though, were heading due south past the Ered Luin; the accursed crebain must have warned the Dark Lord that the Númenorean admiral had sent one third of his fleet to Lond Daer at the mouth of the river Gwáthlo. Some of Sauron's other forces were probably also heading that way. Gil-galad had send spies further southeast, but most of these had not returned - not yet, he hoped - while the few who had, were unable to tell him what the other enemy forces had been instructed to do. The war captains who had landed at Lond Daer were now marching on Tharbad, hopefully in time to intercept any troops that tried to join the Dark Lord's main host at the Ford.
The armies of Elves and mortals would also have to reckon with many smaller forces coming from all over Eriador to join Sauron, except from the direction of besieged Imladris. But though they would still be outnumbered, they were not without a chance, the King said to himself.
When the last of the messengers, a youth sent by one of the Númenorean captains, had delivered his report and was about to leave Gil-galad raised a hand. 'A moment, if you please. Though this has no bearing on your message or the upcoming confrontation, I would ask you a question.'
They were alone in the room, and this seemed as good a moment as any to satisfy his curiosity.
He waited for a nod of assent, until he realised that the young man took his words for an order to stay, instead of a request, and was waiting for the King to speak on. The habits of the Númenoreans were changing, becoming more formal and hierarchicall, riddled with rules, rituals and rights of precedence, Gil-galad mused. 'Well then,' he said. 'If you do not wish to answer, tell me so. What I need to know, is the meaning of the word catamite.'
When he saw the youth flush with acute embarrassment he knew they had been right to suspect the term. You do not have to reply, he was about to say; it is of no matter. But the other opened his mouth. 'It is a... we use this word for a... for a young man who allows himself to be... used like a woman by another, older man.'
With an effort, Gil-galad schooled his face. He did not immediately know what to say. The messenger stared at him with a mixture of aggression and apprehension, and the King suddenly realised that the young man's ears had heard his less-than-innocent question as a barely veiled, immodest proposal. 'I see.' He kept his voice carefully neutral. 'Thank you, sir; you may go now.'
With an audible sigh of relief the messenger bowed and left in a hurry.
I wonder what Tárion will say to this, was the first thing Gil-galad thought when the young man had backed off. The second was: So they do this thing among themselves, though they are ashamed of it and condemn it in others.
The third thought - and he could not help smiling maliciously to himself - was: Even so, our friend the Ciryatur did not get his facts entirely straight. Maybe I will disabuse him of his erroneous notions one day soon.
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