27. Chapter Twenty-seven
After refreshing himself in the room assigned to him and his traveling companion, Glorfindel made a tour of the royal palace. As he liked to reflect while walking, he had politely declined the offer of a guide.
His thoughts drifted back to the meeting with Gil-galad. Initially, he had considered rebuking Gildor, whose arrogant and somewhat disrespectful attitude towards the High King had disappointed him. In the end, though, he had refrained from doing so, hoping that nothing more lay behind it than a resurge of confidence after the unfortunate slaying of Orgol. But just in case it was pride of being born in Aman as the scion of an elder line, neither of which was due to personal merit, Glorfindel deemed it advisable to keep an eye on him. That Gildor had invited himself to the meeting with lady Galadriel and the Shipwright was mostly annoying, but Gil-galad had not seemed to mind.
The present High King of the Noldor, who had been bearing the crown longer than all his predecessors in Middle-earth taken together, had immediately aroused his curiosity. Gil-galad seemed less imperious than Fingolfin, less impetuous than Fingon and less impervious than Turgon had been. Quick to think and decide, act and command without wasting time, he would probably be an excellent army commander. Whether he was also a good tactician and diplomat remained to be seen. His questioning had been very straightforward, and Glorfindel did not think this King was someone who suffered fools gladly. Gildor would have to watch out. Not that Glorfindel minded.
His feet had carried him to a corridor adorned with wall paintings on both sides, and he halted to take a closer look at them. The choice and combination of colours, the style and the brush strokes had something familiar, and he recognised several of the places and scenes depicted. Turgon's old palace of Vinyamar, with waves crashing on the seashore. A fountain in fair Gondolin, made of shining marble, its spray sparkling in the sun, so vividly alive that Glorfindel imagined he would be able to feel the spray on his cheeks if he stepped but a little closer. A battle scene that made him turn away abruptly: the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumerable Tears - a small part of it, yet more than enough horror in black and red.
On the opposite wall he saw a ship resembling a large white lily leaving a harbour, a tall mariner on deck who looked back towards the quays. Eärendil. A couple in a birch wood in autumn: Idril and Tuor - not the youthful warrior but an elderly mortal with silver-grey hair and lines in his face, just as he was in Valinor - for though Idril's spouse had been granted the life of the Eldar he had remained as he was on his arrival in the Blessed Realm
The murals were all beautiful, painted by a master's hand; they could vie with anything Glorfindel had seen on the other side of the Sea. He also knew who had made them. Could it be that the artist was alive and here in Mithlond? In that case, he must be easy to find.
And find him Glorfindel would, for he remembered his promised to King Turgon of Gondolin in the Houses of the Dead. Judging that he had enough time left to seek the painter out before the evening meal he walked on, a new purpose to his steps.
'I am the captain of your guard, Arto, not a council member,' Tárion told Gil-galad, 'but if you wish me to attend this meeting, I will do so.'
They were sitting on his bed, face to face, closely togehter, Tárion's legs crossing Gil-galad's thighs and encircling his hips, Gil-galad's knees pressing against Tárion' flanks. They liked to sit like this, their mouths mere inches apart, in an intimacy that could slide into love-making in a matter of moments if they wished, but did so ever more seldom as the yeni passed by and lust and passion gave way to different delights and urges.
'My wish is not a command. Do not attend if you are not ready.' Gil-galad's fingertips touched Tárion's cheek.
'If need be, I would be ready to face both the Balrog and his slayer.' When Gil-galad could not suppress a chuckle, Tárion smiled, taking his lover's hand to press it against his lips. 'There is naught to be concerned about.' Not for you, he thought. His pangs of conscience had increased since he knew Glorfindel was here - the birth pangs of a truth that wanted out like a child ready to be born. No way to avoid delivery, and little chance of postponing it.
Slowly, Gil-galad shook his head. 'Maybe your presence will not be required. Try to recall everything that Celebrimbor ever told you regarding the rings he forged with the Dark Lord's knowledge. Tell me, even if you doubt whether your memories can be trusted. There are ways to shift bare facts from embellishments, and as you know my kinswoman Galadriel is good at such things...'
Too good, Tárion was inclined to think; there had been moments when he had resented and resisted her scrutiny. Yet he also knew that at times, even too good was barely good enough, and that what made the golden Lady daunting, also made her dangerous to the Enemy. 'As I told you before, both of us were drunk, that night when Celebrimbor said more in scant hours than otherwise in a month,' he said, 'nor was there any way for me to tell if his wine held truth or merely jests and fancies. But as these are matters of the utmost importance, you shall have it all now, be it ever so unlikely and dubious.'
Gil-galad smiled. 'I suggest you begin with the most unlikely parts, after which the rest will seem all the more believable.'
'What would you say,' Tárion said slowly, 'should I claim that some of Celebrimbor's rings could convey invisibility to the wearer?'
'That he must have been very drunk to say such a thing - or that you were, if you recall him saying it.' Gil-galad snorted. 'Invisibility... now what purpose would that serve?'
Tárion sighed, clearly remembering the reason why they had imbibed as much as they had: the taint of their ancestry.
'I fear I was too far gone to ask him,' he said, 'but I am convinced that he was serious when he said it.'
The first person he asked, a dark-haired maid carrying a tray of food, knew at once whom he meant and described him the way to Captain Tárion's lodgings. Her directions were accurate, and before long Glorfindel was gazing at a wooden door carved with various species of birds and flowers. He hesitated, not sure what to expect if Tárion were alone in his room. Yet loath as he was to be the cause of further, or renewed, hurt and grief, he raised his hand at last and knocked.
No answer came, and once more, Glorfindel rapped on the door. For an instant he thought he heard something, yet no one responded this time either, and he felt disappointed. With a sigh, he turned to go - but then checked himself. Why not cast a brief glance inside the room to try and ascertain that he had not gone astray, and that it was indeed Tárion's?
The door was locked, but this did not pose a problem to one of the twice embodied. Looking around and seeing there were no witnesses to be disturbed or frightened by what he was about to do he let his hröa melt away until his fëa could pass through the wooden barrier.* Once he was inside, it was a matter of moments to build himself up again and take in his surroundings with the eyes of his body...
... and to realise he had committed an error. The room was not empty at all.
Tárion sat on the bed to the left of the door. He was not alone: opposite him Glorfindel saw someone he had met for the first time only hours before: Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor of Middle-earth. They were both fully dressed except for their shoes, nor were they engaged in anything that could be called love-making, yet the way they sat closely together with their legs interlaced left nothing to be guessed as to the nature of their relationship.
Glorfindel was shocked. Tárion, he spoke into the mind of the King's Captain, just as the two on the bed looked his way and his incomprehensible presence registered on their stunned faces. I believed you to possess more integrity than this - but it appears that I was mistaken.
The Grey Havens were within sight. It was late in the afternoon; they could probably reach the town gates before dark, though not before dusk. Beregar surveyed the army camp outside, wondering if it was there he would find the Ciryatur, or on his ship in the harbour, or with the High King of the Noldor. If offered lodgings in the royal palace the admiral would no doubt have accepted, being the kind of man he was. Beregar decided to count on the possibility that his commander-in-chief was in Mithlond - and maybe he should also trust in the High King's hospitality.
But there would be a few more difficulties to solve. Turning to Zaba, he said: 'We had better not use the open road. Being female you may have better ears than we poor males, but you are also much more attractive to the average Númenorean soldier loitering in an army camp with the prospect of battle ahead. As the Elvish ways of dealing with women are more courteous' - he was convinced that this was no lie - 'I believe you will be safer inside Mithlond town. So I suggest that we make a detour under cover of the bushes.'
Zaba studied his face at length. He managed not to avert his eyes. At last she said to his relief: 'Strange, that you should prefer the Elven people to your own. But as I also believe that I will be safer inside their town than in that camp down there, I shall follow your lead.' She made it sound as if she was bestowing a special favour upon him, but swallowing his pride he nodded and went ahead.
By the time they reached the last copse of trees that separated them from the town gates, dusk was setting in. Time to carry out his plan. Removing his cloak, Beregar threw it about Zaba's shoulders and pulled the hood over her head, signaling for her to be silent.
'Why?' she mouthed.
'The gatekeepers may have received instructions to look out for a woman in men's clothes, to bring her to the King for interrogation,' he whispered, deliberately omitting to mention that in that case, they would certaubkt be looking for him as well. 'If you wear it, the cloak reaches to your feet and they will not be able to see that you wear breeches underneath.'
'Do not object against anything I will do,' Beregar went on. 'Or not before we are well past the gates.'
This time, Zaba did not nod at once. 'If it is very bad,' she whispered at last, 'rest assured that I shall pay you back in kind.'
Beregar shrugged. Throwing an arm around Zaba's shoulders and pulling her close, he stepped out of the bushes and did not halt until they were well within sight of the gatekeepers. Then he turned his face towards hers, embraced her like a man uncaring of the reputation of the woman he is with, one hand on her left breast, and kissed her deeply.
*I'm not making this up. To quote the HoMe, Volume 10, Morgoth's Ring, Commentary to the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth: "The resurrection of the body (at least as far as Elves were concerned) was in a sense incorporeal. But while it could pass physical barriers at will, it could at will oppose a barrier to matter. If you touched a resurrected body you felt it. Or if it willed it could simply elude you - disappear. Its position in space was at will."
As this seems to have been Tolkien's final view of Elvish re-embodiment, I felt justified to use it here.
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