28. Chapter Twenty-eight
'How did you enter, lord Glorfindel?' Gil-galad demanded to know, as angered at the intrusion as he was confused by the manner of it, though he tried to remain at least coldly polite. And why did the intruder look reproachful, as if it was his right to deal out blame? It is not as if I am in the wrong, or Tárion, is it?
Glorfindel sighed. 'I... passed through the door, my lord King,' he replied, his voice coloured by genuine embarrassment. 'Such are the ways of the rehoused, though I would not have acted thus, had I known you two were here to witness it. It was never my intention to breach your privacy, and I beg your forgiveness. If you wish,' he added after a slight pause, 'I shall try to explain what I just did.'
Gil-galad's anger subsided a little. He had the impression that the other tried to distract him, though he could not begin to guess why. Deciding to take the abilities of rehoused Eldar for granted, at least for the time being, he turned his mind to the other matter and replied: 'I do not; I would prefer an explanation for the breach of privacy.'
When he looked aside, it was apparent that his lover was deeply disturbed by Glorfindel's sudden appearance. Tárion stared at the intruder, motionless, as white as his own sheets and looking even worse than the first day he had lain wounded and unconscious in the King's bed. 'So you walk the earth again, Glorfindel of the Golden Flower - but why are you here?' he asked at last in a tight, almost frightened voice.
'To bring you a message, Tárion of the King's Guard,' replied Glorfindel,after a brief pause. 'When no answer came to my knocking, I assumed that the room was empty, and as I doubted if his was the right door, I decided to enter and seek confirmation that these are indeed your lodgings. But once more, I beg your -'
'You can cut the apologies,' Tárion interrupted their visitor with uncharacteristic bluntness. 'A message? Who sent you?'
Glorfindel seemed to brace himself before he replied quietly: 'The King of Gondolin. Turgon. We met in the Halls of Mandos.'
Tárion must have been holding his breath, for Gil-galad heard it escape with a hissing sound. 'From - from Turgon? A message? I do not understand. Why does he have to send a message? Could he not wait for his release, so he could speak to me in person? Does he doubt I will sail West one day?'
Glorfindel remained silent, his face pleading: Do not make me say it!
'Why, Glorfindel!' Tárion cried anxiously.
It was not a question. Glorfindel's silence spoke volumes: Turgon would not leave the Houses of the Dead until the end of Arda, either by his own volition or by Mandos' decree. Gil-galad could think of no other plausible reason why Turgon would request someone else to convey a message. But what could the shade of a dead King have to say to a surviving member of his former guard?
Tárion shuddered, hugging himself in a vain attempt to regain a measure of control. He did not ask what the message was. Perhaps he was unable to speak. Or else he knew what it would be but dreaded to hear it.
Gil-galad gripped Tárion's shoulder for reassurance. He was reluctant to leave him - and also, he had to admit to himself, curious to hear the message. At the same time he realised that his presence was likely to preclude any private revelations, even though Glorfindel was too polite and Tárion too overcome by emotion to ask him to leave. This was something between the two of them, and withdrawing would be a matter of trust. 'Shall I go?' he said, to neither of them in particular.
It was his lover who answered, a stark 'Yes,' though he added in mind-speech: I will tell you later. I promise to tell you all. His mind-voice seemed to fade, as if he was withdrawing into the realm of memory, and Gil-galad could not help wondering what terrible distance of time and space it was that made Tárion sound as remote as he did at this moment. A vague sense of dread crept upon him.
'There is indeed a reason why you should go, my lord King,' Glorfindel suddenly said, while Gil-galad slid the bolt aside that had not barred the rehoused Elda from entering. 'The ring we spoke of previously, is in Mithlond. I expect that young Beregar will soon be led before you.'
To his surprise, Zaba responded to Beregar's kiss, her mouth opening under his. Their tongues touched and snaked around each other, and before long Beregar realised he enjoyed this much more than he had expected - to the point where he felt a familiar and pleasant tightening in his groin and he knew he had to put an end to it before he was entirely carried away and lost sight of his purpose. Especially, he realised, as Zaba's right hand was sliding towards the pouch on his belt that contained the ring.
Pulling the girl's hand away he tore his lips from hers. Loud enough to be heard by any Elven ears within a hundred yards distance, and slurring a little to suggest the intake of some strong beverages he said: 'Sho let's go to my cabin on the ship, my shweet dove. Much better than a tent shared with shix others, don't you think sho?'
'Oh, yes!' Zaba's voice rang out. She leaned into him, looking hazy, as if he was caressing her in the most intimate of places, instead of roughly gripping her wrist.
Pressed closely together they reached the gate; surely no couple could look more lustful. The Elvish guards exchanged a look - though without smirking the way mortals would have done - and allowed them to pass. Beregar wondered whether they were naive, or just not used to the deviousness of mortals.
'Ah, Falmalion,' Zaba said loudly while they stepped inside Mithlond, 'you are such a sweet boy!'
How clever of her to mention his name, now that they were past the guards and he had only one way left to run - probably straight into the arms of more Elves. Nonetheless, Beregar said to himself with a surge of triumph, he had won the game, having been cunning enough not to give her his true name. 'Falmalion' would mean nothing to a couple of gatekeepers instructed to arrest one Beregar. In one swift movement, his dagger was out and poised to cut her throat, unnoticed by the Elves behind them. 'Walk on,' he murmured. 'And not a word.'
She did as he told her, for how could she know there was no way he would kill her now, after that kiss? Removing the dagger blade as soon as he judged safe, Beregar smiled, very satisfied with himself.
But if he believed that the girl would stay close as long as he had the ring she claimed as hers, he erred. Before he was aware of it, Zaba pulled herself from his grasp and darted to the left to vanish into the gloom of a narrow passage between two houses. 'Hey!' he cried. 'Stop!' But no Elves materialised to intercept her, and her footsteps faded quickly.
Blinking, Beregar stared at the spot where she had disappeared, feeling strangely empty. He still had the ring, but its secret had eluded him.
Was it his imagination, or had he been measured against his own grandfather? He knew of the bond that had existed between Finrod and his young great-nephew Artanáro in Nargothrond, but until today he had supposed it would provide the King and himself a good base to build on: service freely chosen, and mutual support, and friendship, inspired by an example they had in common. Instead, the King's gaze had been cautious, cold like stars on a frosty night, or a chilly piece of metal. If he had to live up to an image of Finrod Felagund that Gil-galad had nurtured and cherished over the yeni, blowing it up until it topped even the summit of Mount Taniquetil itself, he was doomed to fail. But why, he wondered, should the right of measuring, weighing and judging be the prerogative of Angrod's grandson? After all, Gil-galad had merely become High King of the Noldor by default, because he was Finwë's last descendant in the male line available in Middle-earth.
Surprised by his own reasoning Gildor Inglorion marched through the streets of Mithlond with the vague purpose of checking on the mortals he had left at an inn called the Northern Light. Right after his meeting with the King he had been vaguely discomfited, no more, but now that he walked alone with his thoughts his feeling of being at a disadvantage grew. He had decided not to dine at the royal table; before they met next, he would have to find a way to deal with this second cousin of his.
The streets were virtually empty; most people would be at home for the evening meal, or in the army camp outside Mithlond. It was almost dark; lamps were burning at the corners of many the houses, glowing with the light of gems wrought by Elven-craft. He would probably have found his way even in the increasing gloom, but it was by the sheen of one of the lamps that he saw the black-haired girl clearly enough to recognise her at once.
She did not seem to recognise him; most likely her mortal eyes and memory were too weak - not to mention the fact that he had one of the crystalline lamps at his back. When she halted to peer at him it was too late. In two swift steps, Gildor bridged the distance between them, and catching her by a wrist he drew her under a staircase running up along the wall of a house. His other hand had almost covered her mouth when she said in Quenya: 'Not necessary. I will not shout.'
Gildor could only hope this was true, but as he wanted to speak with the girl anyway and her command of Quenya was to her credit, he granted her the benefit of the doubt. Defying the shadows, his eyes took her in. Short - she barely reached to his chest - dark complexion, short black curls and remarkably fierce eyes, for a mortal.
'You are the girl who cut off Orgol's finger,' he said. 'Why?'
'The ring on that finger was mine, Elf-boy!' she replied with a vehemence and fury in her voice that bothered him more than the slight. Was she speaking the truth? The girl herself seemed to believe so.
'Where is it now?' he asked.
'In the belt pouch of a Númenorean sailor who calls himself the Son of Many Waves - though I do not believe it is his true name.' She tried to pull herself free, but unsuccessfully.
Gildor frowned. Falmalion? That had to be Beregar - but why had he given her a false name? In the silence following the girl's words he could hear soft footfalls somewhere in the street, but they did not draw closer. He waited for the sounds to fade before he asked: 'And where is, eh, Falmalion now?'
'Somewhere in this town,' the girl said. 'Our ways have just parted.'
They ought to have been intercepted at the gates. Had the guards let them slip through? Then either Gil-galad's orders had been less than clear, or his gatekeepers were unfit for their task. A poor excuse of a leader in either case, Gildor said to himself. 'So -' he began. 'What is your name, by the way? I am Gildor, son of Inglor.'
Again that fierce look. Though she reminded him of the others mortals of Orgol's little band, her presence was decidedly stronger. 'I am Zaba.'
He did not know the tongue, but to judge by the way she uttered the name, it could very well be a invective she had chosen to be proud of. He smiled. 'Well, then, Zaba of the Uncurbed Pride, do you know what the Son of many Waves intended to do with his prize?'
Zaba snorted. She hesitated to reply to the question, though, as if she did know the answer but was trying to decide whether it was advisable to disclose it. At last she said: 'He claimed that he would take it to the Ciryatur of Númenor. But I am not sure that is what he will do.'
Securing the ring would be a great opportunity to prove his worth, Gildor realised. Not that he overestimated himself to the point of believing he could carry this off on his own. But then, he was not alone. Turning to Zaba he asked: 'If you claim Or- this ring for yourself, I assume you are willing to put your case before a counsel of Eldar?'
'A council of elders and betters, you mean?' she said mockingly. 'What Elves are you referring to? Those in power here?'
'Yes,' Gildor replied, relishing the thought that he would be sitting among them tonight. And maybe on many occasions.
'And if I say no?' she asked.
'You do not trust us?'
'I have no reason to.'
Gildor swallowed his retort, telling himself this had nothing to do with him, a newcomer from abroad who had done... well, little harm in Middle-earth. He sighed. 'It is not as if anyone can still take it from you,' he said. 'What do you have to lose?'
Many a warrior chose to follow in the High King's footsteps by fighting with the weapon of his choice, and there was only one spear left in the armoury. When Celebrian raised her lamp to take inventory, the shaft cast a long shadow across the wall. But it was not a spear she came to seek, nor a sword, but a bow. And before long, she had found one. It was of a lighter kind than the great bows used by the Noldor and it suited her well. Like both her parents, Celebrían was tall but slender; strong, but not powerfully built. This bow she could string and draw with ease.
And she would. With a quiver full of arrows across her back Celebrían left the armoury to test her neglected skills; never mind that she would be late for supper.
She did not fear another encounter with obtrusive Númenoreans: no better argument to tell them off than this bow, and as she was bringing a lamp to illuminate the target, the failing of the light would not hinder her. And who would question her presence at the archery butts if she told them that she had no intention to die unresisting, should the upcoming battle end in defeat? It was true enough.
To that, some might object that she was lacking in faith, or hope, Celebrían mused. Especially the latter.
And perhaps, sadly, this was true as well.
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