30. Chapter Thirty
Though he did seek Zaba for a while it was with little hope of finding her, and by the time it was fully dark Beregar gave up. He felt strangely indecisive. He knew he ought to report back to the Ciryatur and hand him the ring, but he was loath to part with it. On the other hand, what if Zaba went to the Elves with her tale, convinced as she was of the validity of her claim? In that case, they would surely try to take it from him, perhaps by force. They would not dare to take it from the Ciryatur, and was entrusting it to a fellow Man not arguably better than to let the Elves gain possession of it? If it was true what Zaba had told him this ring was designed - no, destined - to be worn on a mortal finger.
Though not necessarily the Ciryatur's. Why would he, Beregar, be less worthy? What if he went to find this Annatar lord of Gifts? If he put the ring on, would its Giver not be aware of it and summon him, as he had summoned Orgol? Giving rings was a sign of magnanimity; did this not speak to Annatar's advantage? And undoubtedly, this lord would be able to reveal the ring's secret to him.
Choose, Beregar, he said to himself. Choose your path.
But as it was too difficult to think straight on an empty stomach he let his feet carry him to the brightly-lit harbour where the Númenorean fleet kay docked. There, he went aboard the vessel he had left less than a week ago, though it seemed like months. No one was guarding the ship, as if there was nothing to steal - or none to do it. Were Elves supposed not to steal? Beregar wondered, feeling vaguely amused. He thought of the famous story of the Elvenking who sent a mortal on a thief's errand, long ago in the dark past. Though if he recalled correctly, it had been a morally ambiguous case...
The galley was empty, but he managed to find some bread and dried fruit, and a flask of ale. His hunger stilled and his thirst slaked, Beregar went on deck again; already, his course seemed clearer. The tall vessel rose high above the quayside and his gaze was drawn eastward across Mithlond, to the wide lands beyond that lay brooding under a clouded, starless sky.
He jumped when a voice behind him exclaimed: 'Beregar! You are back!'
Wheeling, Beregar saw that it was the Ciryatur's aide, holding a folded parchment. He suppressed a curse. 'Does that surprise you? Was I declared dead?' he asked, too sharply. 'I am not a rehoused Elf, in case you wondered.'
'Eh, no - sir,' the aide replied, blinking. 'It is merely that did not expect to see you here. If you are looking for the Ciryatur, he went to the palace, shortly ago.' He hesitated. 'I suppose you do not have the time to tell me of your adventures?'
'Not now,' Beregar said; his feet began to itch. 'I am sorry.'
The aide held out the parchment to him. 'Well, then.... If you would be so kind to hand him this, sir? He asked for it, but I have some more tasks to carry out here.'
Nodding, Beregar took the parchment and left the ship. Down on the quay he folded it out, to discover that his hands held a map of Lindon and the lands east and south of it, as far as the river Greyflood. Could this truly be chance?
Staring at the carved door of the room he had just left, Glorfindel wondered if he could have acted differently. As often, the answer seemed to be both yes and no. Yes, because he had overstepped the bounds of his messenger role. No, because Gil-galad had a right to learn the truth. Glorfindel would never demand that Tárion reveal it, nor would he betray him, were he to remain silent. But he had known beforehand which path his old friend would be likely to choose, and also that Tárion would abide by his choice, whatever the danger and at whatever cost, for better or for worse.
So be it - yet Glorfindel's heart bled for Turgon's son. Tárion had suffered horribly because of his vow to survive the fall of the city. Turgon had been wrong to exact it from him, confusing a king's power of a king with a father's love: he had been fey indeed, in that fateful hour. Much of Tárions silence had to be rooted in his reluctance to speak of Turgon at all: for him, too, it was both yes and no. Yes, I love the father who did not want me to die. No, I hate the king who compelled me to live.
I shall be there when he needs me, Glorfindel promised himself.
And Gil-galad? He was ready to be there for him as well. But the King was not an old friend and might not want to become a new one, once he heard who had dug into the past to uproot the present.
Whatever was to be gained by his return, Glorfindel thought, something was doomed to be lost as well, and by being who he was and knowing what he knew he was enmeshed in this doom. The world was marred from the beginning and joy and grief alike would nurture any who took their nourishment from it. How could it be that he had remembered that life could be painful, but had forgotten how the pain felt? And now that he did remember, what could he do but help others to take heart, and look up? And in that hour, Glorfindel wondered if the role had had to play this side of the Sea was not more than that of a messenger.
Pensively, he crossed the outer palace yard. A shadow flitted across his field of vision, speeding towards a dimly lit archway. The shadow was topped with a silver sheen and looked like a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. Glorfindel had met this huntress before, at a time when she had been the prey. He wondered what it was she hunted. It was the first time he saw Celebrían since she and her mother rode away to return to Mithlond, not long before the attack on Orgol's camp. Perhaps he should speak to her, to ask her if all was well.
A faint, rumbling sound caught the King's ear, and he was fairly certain it came from the girl who had entered with Gildor. 'I would suggest that we do not remain standing here,' he said with an inviting gesture. 'Some of us are hungry and look forward to a meal. It seems to me that the dining hall would be the obvious place to use it.' The girl seemed surprised at his hospitality, but her eyes lit up eagerly, confirming his suspicions.
The Ciryatur frowned. 'My lord King,' he said, 'I fear this cannot be dealt with while sharing pleasantries and enjoying the delicacies of your table, however much I was, indeed, looking forward to them.'
'My lord admiral,' replied Gil-galad, equally politely. 'It is not my intention to do much about this at all, at the moment. Our armies will march in three days. Should we be defeated, then neither you nor I may survive to deal with any complaints these people wish to lodge against us. If we are victorious, we may find ourselves better disposed towards the plaintiffs.' And both of us may need a better disposition.
The Ciryatur smiled thinly, and Gil-galad knew what he was thinking: that to this case, delay could be fatal. The man erred, but there was no need to point it out.
While they proceeded towards the dining hall, he turned to Gildor. 'Will you tell these people that they may put their case before me during supper, but that we cannot hold court before the upcoming battle has been fought?'
'Perhaps it is a matter that can be easily resolved?' Gildor offered.
'Possibly,' Gil-galad said. 'But there is the matter of appointing an independent judge. I cannot very well sit in judgment while I stand accused, can I?'
'True,' Gildor conceded. 'The physical difficulties alone would be insurmountable.'
Gil-galad bit his lip. This was something he could have said.
'Maybe the lady Galadriel could judge,' Gildor went on.
'The lady Galadriel is kin,' Gil-galad objected, mostly to curb the ambition he sensed in his cousin, as the lady would refuse anyway. If Gildor would argue against everything he said, maybe he would truss him up and send him to Tol Eressëa with the next shipment. Was he deluding himself now, or did Gildor's crest indeed fall a little?
'I shall translate your words for you,' the hungry girl suddenly spoke up in excellent Quenya.
'Pray do so, my lady,' the King said, intrigued, and relieved that he would not have to depend on Gildor.
On reaching the dining hall, he invited the strangers to sit across him at his table. That Ciryatur did not object had to be due to the fact that he, too, was curious to hear more about this complaint. Gil-galad decided not to address the matter right away, but when the girl - whose name turned out to be Zaba - had stilled the worst of her hunger, he turned to her and said: 'Now tell us, what is this complaint against the Númenoreans and the... Elvenking?'
Gildor sat up expectantly; Galadriel seemed to reemerge from the depths of memory. The admiral looked disdainful, as if he expected the girl to lie. Gil-galad did not: the anger he sensed in her was honest.
Zaba put down her spoon, eyeing him gravely with a pair of piercing eyes. 'The men from Númenor destroy our land,' she said, gesturing at the two other mortals to include them in her complaint. They seemed to trust in her capacity to speak for them as well, though they did not understand a word. 'They cut down our trees to build their ships and houses. They kill our animals. And what they do not need for themselves they trample underfoot. We live of the forests, hunting and gathering food - but each year the woods decrease, because of the likes of him.'
She stabbed an accusing finger at the Ciryatur and raised her voice. 'Seldom do we cut down a living tree, or shoot a breeding doe or a fawn. Why do they come to these shores when they have a whole island of their own? But they do come, and they rape our land, as they rape us - do they have no women on their island to satisfy their lusts? And while we do not accuse the Elves of doing any such things, they do not prevent it either.'
Elsewhere in the hall, both the Elves of Lindon and the Númenoreans of the Ciryatur's retinue were aware that something unpleasant was going on at the King's table. Unrest awoke, low-pitched still, but ready to rise. The King leaned back in his chair, briefly closing his eyes. If she spoke truly - and in his heart he knew that part of it was true - the guilt lay at his door as well. He had allowed the Númenoreans to cut wood in Endor, be it not on the scale implied by Zaba. His friend Tar Aldarion, long dead now, had made the first request, but it had not ended there. It had been the price for Númenor's support against the slowly lengthening shadow in the East.
He turned to the Ciryatur, who needed no further encouragement to speak. Shrugging, and still looking disdainful, the admiral said: 'For all I know it is the Dark Lord who destroys their woods and allows his servants to rape at will. Did you not write in your letter to Tar Minastir that he had overrun all Eriador save Lindon alone, my lord? These people must have mistaken his minions for our mariners; would the true men of Westernesse take women by force, shoot breeding animals or trample on herbs and flowers? Never. As for myself - I never laid a single ax to a single tree in my entire life!'
No doubt you have your foresters to do it for you, thought Gil-galad, who had felled a number of trees himself to build this very palace, yeni ago. He turned back to Zaba, ignoring the voice in his mind that warned him not to pursue this matter any further. 'How can you be sure that all these deeds were done by the people of Númenor, and not by servants of the Dark Lord?'
'I do not speak of the last few years alone,' she said dismissively. 'This has been going on for much longer: the old ones of our people remember their old ones lamenting it. And this Dark Lord has passed us by, marching against the Elven realms. We heard of his quarrels with the Elves, but what are they to us? And what are you to us? Surely no more than we are to you, creatures almost as short-lived as animals, no more than ripples in the sea of your time.'
'And yet,' Gil-galad said, 'you come to us to lodge your complaints.'
'Maybe that was folly, then,' she said, her eyes growing hard. She turned to the admiral again. 'But you are mortal, too. Why do you side with the immortals? Because they allow you to have your way with our forests and steal our trees?'
Trying to drive a wedge between them, was she? Gil-galad wished he could afford to admire her wholeheartedly for her cleverness.
'Your forests?' the Ciryatur said. 'Your trees? Did you make them, or the animals that roam through them?'
'No!' Zaba cried. 'If they are ours, it is because we care about them. Do you care about the trees?' She sought Gil-galad's eyes. 'Do you care about the forests, Elven King, or does your people only care about things that gleam and glitter?' Her hand made a seeping gesture around the hall, where many a jewel shone at the throat, wrist or brow of many an Elda.
The tension in the hall rose. Several Númenoreans leaped up from their seats and not a few Elves looked dismayed or angry. Most of these were Noldor - Elves of rocks and metals, of buildings and crafts, makers rather than tenders and keepers.
The other mortals, who did not follow what was being said, began to look worried.
'We care about the forests,' Galadriel spoke up suddenly. Catching and holding Zaba's gaze she went on: 'We care for them because of what they are, not only because of what they can give us. I have seen acorns grow into tall oaks and being felled by other things than axe-blades, and I have mourned them. I have seen many generations of animals being born, grow, beget young, and die of old age, not by arrows and spears, and I have mourned them. I have seen green lands being destroyed and swallowed by waves, and I have mourned them. I have grieved for all that your old ones, and their old ones, and their old ones before them have ever grieved for, knowing that death would not release me from the sorrows of this marred world. And I am merely the oldest of many here. We would have to be dust and ashes to remain unaffected. As we may yet be when our regrets have consumed us.'
Zaba attempted to withstand the Lady's gaze. She held out long, but in the end she had to look away. Yet, with her eyes cast down and her voice subdued, she still clung to a last shred of defiance. 'Surely it must be difficult not to err, when one has so much life to do it in. '
Truths, Gil-galad thought, tend to have two sides. That is why it is so painfully difficult to speak unequivocally, and to make the right choices . 'Yes,' he said, before Galadriel could reply. 'We do. I do. Sometimes, the Elves envy those who can die away from their tainted decisions and the ensuing regrets, Zaba.' He rose. 'I acknowledge your right to complain. Your accusations cannot be dismissed. Neither can they be dealt with at the moment. But until we return from the battle against the Dark Lord' - I will not say: if we return - 'you are welcome to remain here as our guests.'
'My lord King, said a loud voice from the entrance to the hall, 'apparently he shorter-lived also have enough time to err. These people belonged to the group that captured the lady Celebrían and me and held us prisoner for a while.'
Everyone gazed at the speaker, who was standing in the doorway of the dining hall. It was Glorfindel.
The Ciryatur rose abruptly, upsetting his chair. 'These savages laid hands on the lady Celebrían?' he cried. 'But that is outrageous! Without wanting to usurp the King's authority' - a brief pause, but he did not look at Gil-galad - 'should these people not be confined, instead of being treated like guests?'
'Shall I lodge a complaint, then?' Celebrían asked, joining Glorfindel.
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