24. Chapter Twenty-four
Much to Celebrían's relief, her mother had intercepted the Númenorean admiral directly after the breakfast session at the royal table. She hoped he would be subjected to relentless scrutiny and end up properly subdued, for his eyes had a way of roaming over her that was more than a little disturbing. Did he think he was Beren Erchamion or Tuor son of Huor, that he could win a daughter of the Eldar? she thought - until she realised it was the man who troubled her, not his mortality.
Celebrían sighed, for it occurred to her that her own pursuit of Gil-galad had not been much loftier, though they were of the same kindred. Her vain pursuit, she corrected herself. Could it be that she was fated to remain alone, pining away for love unrequited until she faded? But what was love? she found herself wondering. How could she be sure that she had truly lost her heart - or that such a loss was irremediable?
She resolved to seek advice. But not from her mother, whose counsel tended to be coloured by too much concern regarding her own and only child. What she need was impartial wisdom - and she knew where too find it: with Círdan the Shipwright.
The quays were busier than usual, crowded with the big, loud and sometimes ungainly men of Númenor. Their tall ships, fitted out with oars as well as sails and looking like floating castles, were all huge enough to harbour one of the slender Elven vessels inside their bellies. Flocks of seagulls circled about the masts, screeching and wailing.
Círdan was not in the harbour, nor in one of the shipyards, but passing by the archery butts she saw him at last, watching a contingent of shipwrights-turned-bowmen practise their shooting skills. He, too, had a bow, but it was unstrung. Instead, he was talking to someone dressed in the silver-blue cloak of the royal guard, embroidered with the King's arms.
Celebrian froze, for the one standing beside Círdan was Tárion, Captain of the King's guard and master of the King's heart, apparently far enough recovered to be afoot. And she felt betrayed, even though she told herself that there was no reason why the Shipwright should not be talking to the Captain as if they were old friends. They were. But confiding in Círdan was out of the question now.
She was about to return to the palace when she saw Círdan string his bow and hand it to the Captain, together with a grey-feathered arrow. Tárion threw his cloak back, nocked, and without pausing to aim - or so it seemed to Celebrían - he put the arrow squarely into one of the targets before handing the bow back to the Shipwright.
Bull's eye. Of course, she thought. He was a warrior, after all and despite everything. It would never do to think that Gil-galad's lover thanked his position to anything but his fighting skills and his capacity to lead the King's guard.
Time to leave, she though. Turning away from Captain and Shipwright, Celebrían was struck by an idea that was so strange that she forgot to pay attention to her surroundings for a while. And so it came to pass that, back in the harbour, she suddenly found herself in the company of two tall Númenoreans, who flanked her on either side. They smelled unpleasant and unfamiliar; if they were drunk, it was not on wine.
'What is such a fair young maid doing alone in a crowd full of sailors? Not very wise,' declared one of them, and the other added: 'We had better accompany her to some safe place. What about our ship?'
It had never before occurred to Celebrían that she needed company when she went out, because the need had never arisen until now. Maybe her experience with Orgol's men should have taught her to be less naïve, but how could she have known that even Númenoreans did not always keep their lusts in check? Her hairs rose. 'Thank you, sirs, but I can find my way home,' she said in a tight voice, increasing her pace a little.
They did the same. 'Good idea,' said the first man to his companion, ignoring her.
Or rather, ignoring her words, for his hand came to rest on the small of her back. 'Will you please remove that, sir?'
'Move it? As you wish, sweet maid.' The hand crept down.
Celebrían felt herself flush for shame and anger. She spun towards him. 'Despite the scarcity of their years, some mortal men are still too long-lived, it would seem.'
He grabbed her arm, his face going red. 'You pointy-eared bitch, do you think -'
'If I were you, I would let go of the lady,' someone interrupted him. 'In which case a report to your superiors could, perhaps, be avoided.'
They all turned. The speaker was Captain Tárion.
His face was even paler than was usual in one of the Eldar, and he looked far from well. Had he overexerted himself by walking all the way to the archery butts, and shooting that arrow? She feared that in this condition, he would hardly be able to master one of those men, let alone both. Yet it did not deter him. A storm built in his dark grey eyes while they locked with those of the man who held her arm. Celebrían, mortified, refused to think what might happen if any harm befell him in her defence. 'Release me!' she ordered the Númenorean, attempting to sound like her mother did in certain situations: clear black ice over deep, cold waters.
She did not know what it was that had the desired effect: Tárion's words, the threat on his face, her tone, the attention they were drawing from Elves and mortals alike, the fact that this was, after all, Eldarin territory, or all of these together - but the man obeyed.
'You can go now,' Tárion told the two Númenoreans.
When they had gone he turned towards her, and she saw him sway for a moment. 'Will you accompany me back to the palace, lady Celebrían?' he asked courtesy, making it sound as if he asked her a favour, instead of offering her protection, or at least the semblance of it. Maybe he was.
It was almost more painful than hearing Gil-galad say he loved him, and her desire to refuse was strong: how could she walk side by side with him? But she had already fled once, that night when she took her horse and allowed herself to be carried away. And she knew, not that her cause was lost, but that it had never existed. There was only one road she could take: the one that led onward.
'I will, my lord Captain,' she replied with hard-won calm. She could only hope that before they reached the palace, she could summon the courage to broach the subject she needed to discuss with him.
She saw them on the tower, the High King pointing southeast, the Ciryatur shielding his eyes against the mid-morning sun. Naturally, Gil-galad's eyesight reached as far as the Baranduin, beyond the gap between the Emyn Beraid and the Ered Luin (1), but Galadriel doubted if the mortal's eyes were keen enough to see the rippling silver of its waters across the leagues.
When she joined them the two were talking of war and weaponry, but they broke off their conversation to greet her. As Galadriel preferred to discuss the struggle against the Dark Lord without the Numenórean admiral, she did not mind; nor had she ascended the tower to speak of the upcoming battle.
I leave him to you now, Gil-galad spoke into her mind before he turned towards the winding stair. She nodded once and walked over to where the Ciryatur stood at the parapet, staring across the undulating, sunlit fields.
'A beautiful country, Lindon,' he remarked, casting her a glance. 'It reminds me of my homeland, though this is new and interesting. I am not sure what I would rather do: explore it at leisure or cross it at speed to engage the foe.'
'If we prevail against the Dark Lord, you will be able to do both,' Galadriel said. 'And you are right, my lord admiral: the lands of Middle-earth are fair indeed, and though my true home lies in the West, they are precious to me, treasures to be preserved against... whatever would damage them.'
'Then it appears we have one thing in common, though we be of different kindreds, as Time is your enemy as well as ours,' he remarked, turning aside to give her his full attention - and receiving hers in return. 'We mortals are doomed to die, and the same sun that calls forth the flower also causes it to whither. Perhaps this is the reason why the Elves prefer to watch these fields and hills and streams, by the light of the stars?'
'I love them in any light, and at any time,' she replied, catching his eyes to search his soul, though he had already bared part of it of his own accord. 'And even the stars can die.'
He did not flinch or look away. 'Some do, but most stars merely move away to return after a while, never leaving the vault of the sky, unless the heavens themselves be rent apart.'
Loath to speak of the End of Arda with him Galadriel remained silent, until he finally tore his eyes from her gaze, bowed and left rather quickly.
She had not known many mortals in the long yeni of her exile. But those she had met reminded her of the woods of ancient, lost Doriath and her new home, Lórinand (2): patches of light amidst shades of night, like a dappled forest floor; the twilight beneath the canopy of leaves pierced by sudden, blinding rays of sunshine. The Eldalië were different: their spirits glowed more evenly. They could shine brightly or dimly, in the same way that the luminosity of the stars could vary, but with them, there was no abrupt crossing from light into darkness, and back. A strange race, come alive with the rising of the Sun and marred like the face of the wayward Moon.
Her thoughts strayed for a moment. Despite their strangeness, her brother Finrod had loved mortals. And he had allowed his love become his undoing. Is that what true love is? she found herself wondering. Allowing your love to become your undoing, because you will lose it when you do not?
As Celebrimbor's love of Arda had become his undoing, when he made his attempt to impart a little changelessness to these changing lands? What guarantee was there, that one's true love was the right love?
She pulled herself together, concentrating on what knowledge she had gained of the Ciryatur. Though no longer a young man, he was in the prime of life, strong of body, without any other signs of aging than the same loss of childlike wonder that dulled the eyes of many adults among mortals. His resolve was firm, his mind ordered; he possessed both the patience to wait for the right moment and the insight to know when it was there. But the woods of his soul were dense and sunbeams few and far between. And what guided his steps were thoughts of means and ends, rather than questions of right and wrong.
What troubled Galadriel most was that there were areas into which her mind's eye was unable to penetrate, as if she was walking in a fog. Perhaps she could force it to lift, but such were the ways of the Enemy, whose eye would ravish all that it could. Yet she could sense the envy of Eldarin longevity hiding in the heart of this mortal forest of a man, the awareness of death, and the fear of dying.
But why was death so dreadful to them? Galadriel wondered. Why, if it is a gift?
Before they resumed their march, Glorfindel ordered the guards to untie the hands of their prisoners. Both guards objected, until he pointed out that the mortals were unarmed and would hardly be able to outrun them. If each elf would keep an eye on one of their captives, the chance that any of them would escape was small. Glorfindel did not mention his uneasy conscience, but Gildor was fairly sure that it lay at the root of his decision.
The mortal he was supposed to watch was the elderly man. The easiest prey, but Gildor had not expected to be assigned the hardest task after having unintentionally killed Orgol. His own conscience was more than uneasy: it still hurt. As did his vanity, if he was honest with himself: he had acquitted himself less than well in his first serious fight.
When they moved on he succeeded in banishing Orgol's dead face from his memory, but it was promptly replaced by that of the girl who had cut off Orgol's finger. He wondered what had become of her. Would Beregar have caught her, was he still chasing her, or would he be lost, trying to find the way to the Havens?
'Glorfindel,' he said, keeping an eye on his mortal, 'should we not search for the girl that took the ring, or for Beregar?'
The other shook his head. 'They are ahead of us, moving towards Mithlond, like we are. Or one of them, at least.'
'You can sense their presence ahead?' Gildor asked, amazed. Sometimes, there was no telling how far Glorfindel's powers reached, but this seemed hard to believe.
'Not theirs. But I faintly sense the presence of the ring, whether it is in Beregar's possession or the girl's. I feel it as a faint itch inside my head.'
'Where you can't scratch...' Briefly, Gildor looked aside, but his grin disappeared when he saw that it actually bothered Glorfindel. 'Why can you sense it?' he asked, a little subdued.
'I am not sure,' Glorfindel replied, 'but the explanation could be, that the ring touched me when Orgol slapped my face.'
So Orgol had hit Glorfindel? But when Gildor told himself he could feel less guilty now for killing the man, it failed to have the desired effect.
Shortly after they set out again, his's ears caught a faint rumbling, somewhere ahead. The other Elves heard it too, and they tensed, listening in silence. The mortals seemed at a loss.
'Hoof beats,' one of the guards said at last. 'Coming this way.'
'Riders, sent by the King,' the other supposed
Their captives looked more apprehensive than ever. 'There is no need to worry,' Gildor told them in their own language, anticipating Glorfindel's request. He wondered if he had used the correct words, for none of them looked relieved.
The second guard was almost right. It turned out the King had sent only one rider, but he brought six extra horses: four unsaddled and unbridled, for the Elves; two saddled with the reins tied to the pommel. Being Elven horses the animals followed the rider of their own accord, and they waited calmly while he hailed the company.
The rider himself was surprised. 'Eight people? I was told to expect six, at most.'
Six? Four Elves, Beregar, and Orgol, if captured - but apparently no others. What could this mean? That the High King assumed they were ruthless enough to kill Orgol's followers? Careless enough to let them run? Or merciful enough to let them go? Gildor wished he knew, as it would tell him something essential about the unknown kinsman he would in all probability meet before nightfall.
A hand landed softly on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. 'I have need of you, master of tongues,' Glorfindel said.
A few moments later, Gildor found himself inquiring whether the four mortals would follow the Elves to the Havens of their own free will, if given the choice. Or, that was what he hoped he asked.
Apparently he did. Glorfindel's offer baffled them as much as anyone - except Gildor himself, who knew his traveling companion well enough by now to have expected this.
The grey haired man wanted to go home, embarking on a long rant against Orgol, who had led them all astray in those miserable Blue Mountains, and if he had but known... One of the other men agreed with him, but the woman declared her intention to come along, and the third man - the one with the swollen jaw - nodded at her words. They had a bone to pick with this Elvenking, and with Númenor, she added.
Privately, Gildor doubted if a High King beset by enemies would be prepared to engage in bone-picking with a couple of disgruntled mortals, and the idea that the Ciryatur of Númenor would even pause to hear their complaints was distinctly funny. It seemed best to him not to translate that last announcement; after all it was possible that he had misunderstood them. He dismissed the idea they would want to lodge a complaint against him because he had killed Orgol.
The important thing was that everyone was mounted now and they could proceed at speed. In a few hours, he would finally set eyes upon the largest remaining settlement of the High Elves in Middle-earth.
1)assuming the earth wasn't bent yet during the Second Age
2)the original name of Lothlorien
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