25. Chapter Twenty-five
'You never slept, did you?' Beregar asked. 'You just pretended to.'
Zaba sat up. 'I did; lightly, though I do not expect you to believe me. The chill and my empty stomach woke me up. Which is just as well.' She gazed pointedly at the weapon across Beregar's legs.
He rose to sheathe it, still clutching the leash. If he had preserved some of the food the Elves had given him the night before, he could have offered it to her, if only to show her that he did not mean her any... real harm. He was hungry, too, but a Númenorean sailor could do without a meal. Or two. 'Perhaps we can catch ourselves some game,' he said, though he knew that hunting would be impossible for lack of bow or spear, while setting a trap and waiting for the next haunch of venison to walk into it would take far too much time.
'Does your kind feed on raw meat, Falmalion?' Zaba asked mockingly. Though she did not say it aloud, Beregar could almost hear her think: Like the predators you are?
He hesitated between: How like your kind to suggest such a thing, and: No, except when the name of the game is female. In the end, he said nothing at all.
'Or do you have flint and steel?' Zaba continued. When he shook his head she went on: 'Then we will have to content ourselves with dew, tree-bark and the hope of food ahead. How far is this grey haven where you are taking me?'
'Less than a day from here,' Beregar replied, attempting to sound more confident than he was. It was not as if he had ever been there before. Nor was he certain he would be able to find the place.
'Then let us move on.'
'Are you that eager to meet your destiny?'
'Perhaps I have met it already,' she replied promptly.
He was not quite sure what she meant, unless this was her way of telling him that she thought him capable of anything. Well, maybe it would encourage her to disclose the secret of Orgol's ring.
'Move on, then,' he said, waving vaguely with his hand.
Zaba leaped to her feet and set off, pulling her leash taut enough to make him wonder why she was trying to strangle herself.
He dropped it. The girl wheeled and stared at him. 'Why do you not run?' Beregar asked, but he knew the answer. He ought to have realised long before that Zaba would never leave him without the ring.
After a thoughtful silence she replied: 'If you dropped it by mistake, you will catch me again. If not, there is no need for me to run.'
'No mistake. I mean you well.' Beregar could only hope she would believe in his show of good will.
'Then give me my ring back,' Zaba retorted promptly, removing the belt from her neck and clasping it around her waist again.
'I might do just that, if you tell me about its secret.'
'Do you believe yourself, son of the shifty waves? There is no way I will tell you.'
'What an interesting reply,' Beregar told her, managing to ignore the slight. 'It would suggest that knowledge of its secret will make me want to keep the ring, would you not say so? And that, in itself, would be more than enough to make me want to keep the ring - were it not that honour and duty bid me to deliver it into the hands of the lord admiral of Númenor.'
Her eyes flashed, but to his satisfaction she kept her mouth shut. He ought to win this battle of wits and wills: she was female, very young, and at best a half-breed. He would have to remain on his guard, though.
They plodded on. At some point, Beregar's stomach grumbled audibly, and when Zaba halted he did the same, preparing for a scathing remark, and ready to retaliate. But all she said was: 'Horses.'
'I hear nothing of the kind,' he said. 'Are you an Elf in disguise?'
'A woman.' Zaba smiled maliciously. 'We have keener ears.'
The next moment, he heard it, too. 'Let us seek cover, lest these riders mean you harm,' he told her. 'It would not surprise me if these were fierce Elves with piercing eyes. You never know what they are up to.'
Crouching between the bushes side by side with Zaba, Beregar saw he was not entirely right. Of the horses that passed them by at a distance of about fifty yards, all but one were riderless. Sent by the Elves of Mithlond to provide Glorfindel, Gildor and whoever was still with them with mounds, he guessed.
Realising that the Elves would probably return the same way some time later, he considered waiting for them in order to rejoin their company and ride the last part of the way. Eventually he decided against it. They would undoubtedly be aware of what Zaba had done, last night in Orgol's camp. They were very likely to ask questions. She was capable of telling them that he had the ring now, and if they would not use some Elvish trick to take it for themselves, they might use another Elvish trick to make him return it. Better to let them pass by. The horses were useful enough as it was, for they solved his orientation problem. All Zaba and he had to do was follow the hoof prints back to reach their destination.
From the last hilltop, the Havens seemed smaller than they had looked from the deck of the admiral's ship. Almost insignificant - as if their builders were children, compared to the mighty Eldar of the First Age who had raised Gondolin the White in memory of Tirion upon Túna in the Blessed Realm. The powers of the Firstborn have indeed begun to wane in Middle-earth, Glorfindel said to himself. As Olórin and the Lord of the Breath of Arda had foretold before his departure.
Yet the might of the Eldar would still be enough to overthrow the Dark Lord, if only they fought the right battle and made the right choices. One of the tasks he had been charged with, was to offer them counsel and a choice. Much would depend on the High King and Lady Galadriel. He could only hope that Finarfin's great-grandson would prove easier to deal with than his iron-willed daughter.
Outside Mithlond, the Númenorean encampment fanned out irregularly, occupying every available patch of level ground. It was considerably much larger than Glorfindel had expected given the number of vessels in the Ciryatur's fleet, but scanning the camp his eyes also found many Elvish tents in the dark blue and shimmering silver of the High King of the Noldor. The forces of the Eldar had already joined their mortal allies - but they were visibly fewer in number.
The company began to descend the last slope towards the encampment and the town beyond. Gildor, whose bright eyes began to shine through the clouds on his face again when his gaze swept across tents, town and quays towards the glittering Gulf of Lune, turned aside and asked: 'What do you think, Glorfindel - would Gil-galad consider it improper if I sought out the admiral first, to tell him that we lost Beregar? Not that we ever promised the man to keep an eye on him, but it seems right to inform him.'
At least Gildor asked his opinion now. Compared to his jump overboard, this could be called progression. 'If you were to put it like that,' Glorfindel told him mildly, 'it might indeed be considered improper, given the ambiguity of the word "lost".'
'Why? We do not know whether the boy is alive or dead.'
Glorfindel suppressed a smile at the word boy. When it came to experience, Gildor could lay as much claim to that title as the young sailor. 'Why declare a man dead before you have seen his body? Orgol's ring is still moving. It is behind us now, for we passed it some time ago, but it remains headed for the Havens. A direction Beregar is more likely to take than this girl - from which I infer that he is alive.' That Beregar had killed the girl to lay hands on the ring was a possibility Glorfindel refused to consider yet, loath to believe the worst before he was certain that it had come to pass.
'So,' Gildor said, 'I can properly go to the admiral first, provided that I inform him Beregar is not lost?'
'Most certainly,' Glorfindel said with a stony face. 'Do tell the Ciryatur about your joint adventure. Keep him interested and occupied. Win me the time I shall need to advise King Gil-galad that Beregar had best be intercepted...'
'... before he can divulge the existence of Orgol's trinket to anyone else, including the Ciryatur. Or above all the Ciryatur,' Gildor finished Glorfindel's sentence.
Definitely progressing - and he seemed to have overcome the worst of his guilt as well. 'Do not mistake me,' Glorfindel warned. 'I do not claim this is proper behaviour. But sometimes, propriety is a lesser concern.'
The southeastern gate of Mithlond loomed close now. It was made of steel, and well-wrought like any other work of the Noldor, but Glorfindel doubted it could withstand the full onslaught of the Enemy, if put to the test. His faith in the strength of gates had fallen into the abyss together with his burning body: Gondolin had boasted of seven gates, yet none of them had kept the Enemy out. Not strength, but secrecy had protected the fairest city ever to adorn the face of Endor, and treachery and misplaced trust in the work of Elvenhand had doomed it.
The gatekeepers eyed them curiously, paying more attention to the mortals than to the other members of the company. With their sallow complexion, coarse hair and black eyes the two looked out of place among the tall, pale-skinned and fair-faced Elves, and Glorfindel saw their apprehension grow under the intense scrutiny of his fellow Firstborn. He turned to Gildor. 'Perhaps we should see these two safely lodged before you seek out the admiral.'
One of the gatekeepers overheard him. 'The mighty Ciryatur of Númenor?' he said, while his companion waved the company on. 'Seek in the royal palace and you shall find him. Though I hear he is a haughty man who does not suffer Elves gladly.'
Gildor smiled. 'I know. It is possible you owe that particular favour to me.'
'Then allow me to thank you, my lord...,' the gatekeeper said promptly, sketching a bow and making Glorfindel wonder if he was being pert, or if this was normal behaviour among the High-King's soldiers.
'My name is Gildor, and I am always happy to oblige.'
Keep a rein on yourself, Gildor, lest you go to far one day, Glorfindel warned him silently. As the Vanyar say: Life will be less sad the fewer follies you have to regret.
And much too sedate, was Gildor's reply. I have Noldorin blood, remember? Just like you do. Why else are you here, but to become a matter of story and song?
That is something you will discover soon now... But this was a thought Glorfindel kept to himself.
He was in a quandary. What Celebrían wanted was foolish, rash and founded on anything but reason. Why help her carry out the wild plan she had just laid before him, asking, or rather, demanding his assistance - except because he was no wiser than Galadriel's daughter? Now that Círdan had pledged to aid him in his endeavour, could he in all fairness refuse to do the same for her?
If only Celebrían would not do it for the wrong reason. The love she thought she had lost had never been hers to lose. But she believed otherwise. And so she had appealed to the one who, in her eyes, marred her happiness, thinking that if she had any chance of finding support, it was with the King's captain and lover.
Tárion could have told her that he did not stand between her and the one she longed for. He wondered if, in truth, she did not rather love Gil-galad, the radiant High King of the Noldor, than Artanáro of Nargothrond - his Arto, his soul-mate of all the long yeni of the Second Age, the one for whom he would cut his heart out and doom his soul to Mandos until the end of days and beyond, if the need arose.
Yet, at the same time, he knew that Celebrían would do for her King what he would do for his beloved; could he deny her what he would not deny himself?
He sighed. If he agreed to do as she asked he would have to outwit a shrewd Shipwright as well as a clever King. No mean feat - should he prove to be successful.
Concentrating on his art usually had the effect of cleansing and clearing his mind. Stretched on his own bed in his own room to rest his body from the exertions of the morning, Tárion lifted his eyes towards the rough sketch of Gondolin on the wall in front of him. He studied it intently, watching it grow before his mind's eye, until he could remain idle no more but had to put his hand to it to bring the vision one step closer to visibility. So he rose, declaring himself fit enough.
He picked up a piece of charcoal from a table in the corner and began to work on the figure standing on the balcony of the King's Tower. The lonely figure of Turgon, whose wife had perished on the Helcaraxë and who had built a city from passion unslaked.
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