31. Chapter Thirty-one
Gildor sighed. Until the arrival of Glorfindel and Celebrían all had seemed to go well. Returning to the palace with Zaba he had deliberatly broached the subject of the men of Númenor ravaging Eriador with the High King's approval. She had promptly agreed that it must be addressed. That the two other mortals arrived separately, yet with the same complaint, had only served to affirm her credibility. Gil-galad appeared to be duly disturbed, though Gildor had to concede that his royal cousin bore himself with dignity. Postponing the matter until after the battle was a clever move - a victorious leader would have an edge on any who would accuse him - but inevitable, and it would not affect the gravity of the complaint.
What had not occurred to him was the possibility that Celebrían would resent her captivity enough to hold it against Orgol's followers even after Orgol's death. And why Glorfindel would do so was beyond him - had he not released their captives, allowing them to return home if they wished? That he was humouring Galadriel's daughter was hard to imagine.
Watching them approach, Gildor realised he did not know what effect their arrival would have or what they would decide, and a feeling of inadequacy assailed him. He was still young, a newcomer hardly weathered by any storm of events this side of the Sea. What did he know, what could he show that outweighed the heavy years of experience anchoring his elders to this ground, these lands of Middle-earth?
Gildor decided to ignore the feeling. I can handle this. The Ciryatur's reaction had been predictable enough; he would seize on anything that would put the accusers of his beloved island in a bad light. Nor did the confusion of Zaba's companions come as a real susprise, and when she informed them wat was going on it changed to dismay. They must have counted on Glorfindel's clemency. Zaba merely looked grim. She will not turn tail now, he thought, smiling at her. She seemed not to notice.
'Will you lodge a complaint, my lady Celebrían?' he heard Gil-galad ask.
'I have not made a decision yet, my lord,' she replied, avoiding her mother's eyes.
'Do not wait too long,' the King advised her. 'Unless you accuse them I cannot keep these people' - he indicated Zaba and her friends - 'here against their will. Should they wish to depart,' he added suggestively.
Zaba translated the exchange. Hearing the woman confirm that yes, she preferred to leave, Gildor suppressed a sigh. Do not underestimate Gil-galad. The face of the Ciryatur, who naturally would be relieved to see the last of the plaintiffs, betrayed a grudging respect for the King. The lady Galadriel nodded pensively.
Glorfindel, on the other hand, sought Gildor's gaze, as if he suspected something. Strange, for he could not know who had led Zaba to the palace, nor could he pry freely into Gildor's mind, despite his considerable powers. Raising his eyebrows, Gildor stared back, only to discover that it was unpleasant to be studied so intensely by someone who had passed through the Houses of the Dead, where lies and deception withered in the presence of Mandos. It was all he could do not to look away.
At that moment Zaba spoke. 'My friends wish to leave,' she announced, while they rose. 'I shall stay. I vow that I will not leave, regardless of what the lady here decides to do.' If anything, she sounded even more defiant than before, as if she considered herself innocent and trusted that she could prove it.
'Very well,' Gil-galad replied. 'Shall we finish supper, then?' He inclined his head politely towards Zaba's two companions, whose departure from the dining hall nevertheless resembled a flight more than anything.
If Zaba decided to stay, Gildor mused, it had to be because she wanted the ring back more than anything. Her chances of recovering it were slim if either Glorfindel or he would reveal that she had cut it from Orgol's hand with finger and all. How badly she must want it, if she stayed all the same.
Suddenly, he wondered where Beregar was.
As he lay on his bed, feeling drained, Tárion knew that he could afford to miss supper. Yet he felt obliged to attend tonight's meeting to discuss the rings forged by an Elvish craftsman and a crafty Maia. The enemy.
The enemy without. There was an enemy within as well, one he had not been courageous enough to face until Glorfindel made the confrontation inevitable.
Why did I never tell Arto? What did I fear - that he would doubt the sincerity of my love, asking himself if it could ever be wholly free of ambition? That he would be unable to banish suspicion entirely from all the nooks and crannies of his mind if he knew who sired me? That I would lose him before he could wholly belong to me?
'Are you the enemy?' Tárion asked aloud. 'My desire to posses? My wish to keep what I considered mine?' Possesiveness, of old the temptation of the Noldor. His father's error: Turgon had loved the creation of his heart to a fault, sacrificing thousands for his city without being able to save her. Tárion winced. He was the offspring of an accursed Noldorin exile who had betrayed his people, the children of Ilúvatar, for a thing of his own making. Folly to think he was free of that taint.
But Arto wasn't his; he had not created Arto.
Yet he had made part of what was Gil-galad, the King, serving and counseling him long before they became lovers, ever since their first meeting before the end of the First Age. Tárion still remembered the day when a group of survivors from fallen Gondolin had come to Círdan's dwellings on the coast of Arvernien to announce Turgon's death and offer their services to young Artanáro of the House of Finarfin, the new High King of the Noldor. When they knelt before him Arto had balked, shouting: 'I never asked for a crown. What little is left of our realms in exile can easily do without me!' He had been about to walk out on them all when one of the Gondolindrim grew wrathful, rose to his feet and grabbed the unwilling youth by his wrist, saying: 'Who else is there? Should another take the crown? Shall I put it on my head, and shoulder the responsibility for what is left to defend, as long as we still have hope? Am I born to it - or are you?'
Despite the situation some had thought it a good jest, and chuckled. But Artanáro's eyes had met those of his challenger, and something had kindled in them. He had pulled his arm free, asking: 'What is your name, and what was your position, back in Gondolin, friend?'
'My name is Tárion, and I was a member of the King's Guard.' Tárion had dropped to his knees again, trembling with emotion, exertion and burning pain, the flames of Gondolin still searing his body and mind.
The young king had stared at him for a while. 'Very well then,' he had said at last. 'Arise. Gather me a King's Guard of my own and captain it for me.' Suddenly a smile broke through on his face and he had resembled a sun, with that cloud of gold radiating from his head - but his eyes were stars. Tárion knew that this had been the moment when he fell in love with him, though he had only realised it later.
After that, there had been many occasions on which Gil-galad turned to him for counsel - and to be gainsaid. Consummating their love had only been the confirmation of an existing bond. Had there ever been a right moment to tell his lover the truth? Or was he deluding himself now?
Do not do this to yourself. Tárion sat up awkwardly, his muscles aching; He wondered if this was how aging mortals felt. The last thing he wanted was to attend this meeting, but it would be cowardly to stay away. So he began to braid his hair, singing a sad song his mother had taught him - she who had loved in vain and lived on a single night shared with her beloved one, though all he had shared was the grief of a husband whose wife was in the Houses of the Dead, and who took her with his eyes shut. The song summoned her to his room, a living image smiling a loving smile to chase away his memories of her gnawed corpse in the street. When his voice faltered he wiped his face and put his boots on.
His eye fell on the drawing of Gondolin. He gazed at it for a moment, picked up a piece of charcoal and sketched a female figure at the base of the tower, gazing up at the balcony with love and hopeless longing. Then he put down his charcoal and left for the King's council chamber, not bothering to don a cloak.
He had to cross the outer court to reach the palace building. Stepping outside he noticed that the wind had freshened. The air was very moist, as if it could rain any moment. Unaffected by the chill he paused in the midst of the empty yard to gaze up at the sky, but clouds obscured the stars.
Something caught his attention, a movement, glimpsed from the corner of an eye. There it was again: a shadowy figure slipping away down the flight of steps leading to the wine-cellars, in the corner of the yard. But the outer door to the cellars would be locked now, and Tárion decided to investigate.
At the top of the stairs he paused, his keen gaze piercing the darkness. A young fellow, a mortal to judge by his eyes, crouched before the cellar door peering up uncertainly.
'Who are you?' The captain of Gil-galad's guard raised both hands with the palms turned outward to show he had no blade - and to be prepared in case the other would throw one. 'Shall I call the guards?' he went on when no reply came.
'No.' The voice was strangled, as if the young man was sorely troubled, too.
'Then I repeat: who are you?' Tárion took one step down.
The other rose. He looked to be a Númenorean, as tall as Tárion. 'My name is Falmalion,' he replied, his tone more normal now, though still tense.
'So, what are you doing down there, Falmalion?' Tárion watched the man intently.
'Who is asking?'
'The captain of the High King's Guard.'
A pause. 'I lost my way,' the young man replied at last. 'Please, take me to the king. I have something important to show him.'
Lost his way? 'Very well,' Tárion said, after a brief hesitation. 'But first, disarm.'
He had no wish to see Orgol's former followers punished. But watching and listening, and finding the girl's tone too belligerent, he had decided to intervene: maybe she would realise that truth had two sides, and relent a little. Alas, the Ciryatur had tipped the precarious balance he had tried to create, and Celebrían seemed to have given in to resentment. Was he so out of touch with the reality of Middle-earth that it led to errors of judgment? Olórin should have gone in his stead.
But no, Glorfindel rebuked himself: you deemed yourself fit to go. This was unworthy of him. Moreover, he sensed that there were undercurrents here of which he had not known, strong enough to sweep away his best intentions. Also, he would like to know what Gildor's role was in all this, but that could wait.
He seated himself beside Galadriel, and turning to her he asked: 'What else troubles your daughter, besides her experience in the foothills of the Ered Luin, lady Artanis?'
The lady raised an eyebrow, perhaps at the use of her old father-name. 'You spoke to her more recently than I did, Glorfindel.'
He eyed her gravely. 'Are her other concerns of such a nature that she would confide in me, little more than a stranger? Confidence seems hard to come by, in these lands.'
'And these days,' Galadriel confirmed. 'But what burdens my child is not for me to reveal, as it is of a very private nature. But you see sharply and truly.'
As did she, though Glorfindel noticed she made no attempt to fathom his mind. No doubt she knew too well that he could resist her, and foresaw that he would.
And whatever Celebrían's troubles were, in the end they did not prevent her from showing some clemency towards the girl Zaba. Instead of lodging a complaint she suddenly said, while the last dishes were cleared away: 'I would speak with you, Zaba. Do you trust me enough to follow me?'
'Do you trust me enough to take me along?' Zaba countered, ever on edge.
Celebrían smiled faintly, and for a moment she was her mother's image, but for her hair. 'Let us take care of each other, then' she suggested.
The Ciryatur looked annoyed when they left together. He departed soon after, claiming he needed to rest. To recover from the shock of having been accused by the likes of Zaba, probably.
After supper, Gil-galad, Galadriel, Gildor and Glorfinfdel repaired to the council chamber, where Círdan waited for them at the oblong table. As he guessed from their faces that something had happened, the King proceeded to give an account. Though Gil-galad was plainly disturbed by the affair, it was remarkably efficient. Perhaps he was cut from such cloth as sailed well against the wind - or the Shipwright had taught him to be succinct.
Meanwhile, Glorfindel was disturbed, too. Temporarily distracted by the events, now he became increasingly become aware of a foul presence, not far away. It was creeping closer and closer to the council chamber, and after the first, vague forebodings he was able to give it a name, too: Orgol's ring.
He knew that it was upon them when the door opened and Tárion stepped in. He was not alone, and the identity of the second person, the one who radiated the danger, came as a shock .
'Beregar?' Gildor cried incredulously. 'I thought -'
'Beregar?' Tárion interrupted him sharply. 'He said his name was Falmalion.' He turned to the young Númenorean. 'Why did you give me a false name?'
Beregar moved forward past Tárion. Gildor took a step towards him.
In that moment, Glorfindel saw that the young man was wearing Orgol's ring. Though he sat on the wrong side of the table, between Círdan and Galadriel, he leapt up, shouting. 'Ware-'
Another voice drowned him out. 'Death to the Elvenking!' cried the young man. Like a snake his hand shot towards the dagger at Gildor's hip, pulling it - and throwing himself at the King with the blade in his raised hand.
But it was not Gil-galad who fell to the floor.
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