32. Chapter Thirty-two
Zaba studied Celebrían none too kindly. Did she take the question as an insult? She was touchy enough, and Galadriel's daughter did not need her mother's depth of insight to see the resentment in this girl. But suddenly Zaba did speak. 'No, I was not raped by a Númenorean. Why would you want to know? Why bother?'
'It would explain the... intensity of your feelings,' Celebrían replied, feeling a little embarrassed. 'And I thought that if such a thing had happened, maybe you would want to talk about it.'
'First you accuse me, and now you would offer me a sympathetic ear?' the girl asked, her face clearly betraying her disbelief.
I accused you because you accused Gil-galad. But all Celebrían said was: 'I changed my mind. You were a member of Orgol's company, but you did not harm me, or lay hands on me. I will not hold his deeds against you.'
Zaba's hard eyes seemed to soften a little. 'Then let me say that I do not hate the Elves. Nor do I hate every Numenórean. My own father was one, and he chose to spend part of his life among our people. "I will stay till your mother's death," as he used to say to my sister and me. "My life-span is three times hers, and afterwards we will sail home." But he never had the chance to take us to his island.' She blinked.
With her eyes Celebrían encouraged her to speak on, and after a brief silence she continued: 'Still, even if Orgol had not murdered him he would not have returned, I fear. His fellow Númenoreans condemned him for siring two daughters on a short-lived "savage" and living among the people of the darkness, as they called us in their arrogance, without truly knowing us. Those were the wood thieves, the people who chased us before them, the people who shot the doe and her fawn. This is the kind of Númenorean that I hate. And my father had begun to hate them too, I believe, or he would not have turned away from the king of his island and entered the service of another lord. But I do not expect you to understand such things, my lady,' she finished condescendingly.
You will be surprised. 'Not? Many of my mother's kinsfolk named my father a Dark Elf, and a rustic oaf, looking down on him and the others of his people. Nonetheless she wed him.' And I resent all those among the Noldorin exiles who still think like that, though some of them have never even seen the Light of the Trees.
It was obvious that Zaba did not know what to say. Well, let her be tongue-tied for once. The girl was hardly more than a child, yet she presumed to fire the arrows of her wrath at a great and wise King who had worn his crown longer than all the rulers of Númenor together had worn theirs.
And who is not entirely blameless, meddling too little in the affairs of Men, spoke a voice in a remote corner of Celebrían's mind, a voice she would rather ignore, and not because it resembled her mother's. But it could not be ignored. Zaba was partly right, as that same King had admitted in all honesty. 'Sit down,' she said, indicating a chair by the fireplace and seating herself in the other one. 'And tell me again, what was it you said about your father being murdered, and having entered the service of another lord?'
Zaba's fingers grasping the armrests turned white. 'It is painful for me to tell. But it would explain why I followed Orgol... though I hated him probably more than you did.'
Again, she sounded condescending; if Celebrían had not realised that Zaba was treating her as she would treat a mortal maid of her own age, she would have been annoyed. But if the girl had little direct experience with Elves, it had probably not occurred to her that the youthful looking female she was speaking with could very well be much older than she was.
'I was partly responsible for my own predicament, and I did not hate Orgol even while he was alive,' Galadriel's daughter said. 'As it is, I pity him, entrapped as he was by our foe, and losing so much of what little life was allotted to him.'
Zaba frowned, suddenly tense again. 'Orgol, entrapped by your foe? I do not understand.'
'Tell me your story,' Celebrían said, 'and I will explain.'
It went all very fast. The instant after Beregar drew Gildor's dagger, the Captain's leg shot out. His foot hooked around the Númenorean's ankle, toppling him before he could reach the King. But in that same instant, Gildor Inglorion moved. With cat-like agility he leapt between the assailant and his target, and when his body encountered the dagger the blade buried itself to the hilt into his flank. The Man's weight dragged the Elf down and both crashed to the floor, Gildor on top of Beregar. Tárion crouched, and there was a brief flash of metal. Gil-galad knelt down more slowly, sheathing the knife he had drawn when Beregar attacked.
Though Galadriel had risen to her feet, the table still partly obscured her view. Like Glorfindel and Círdan she moved to the other side.
The High King was easing his cousin from atop the sprawling Beregar. Around the hilt of the dagger sheathed in Gildor's side the blue fabric of his tunic was hardly darkening yet, but she knew this would change once the blade was removed. Gildor's eyes were hazy with shock and pain, and his mouth hung slightly open. Beside them, Tárion dug one knee into the small of Beregar's back to keep him down, and the tip of his blade touched the skin below the young man's ear. Beregar did not struggle visibly, but his body, lying on its stomach, was as taut as a bowstring.
'Take care. He has not surrendered,' Galadriel told Tárion.
'I know,' the Captain replied. 'But I will need something to tie him up.'
Rummaging beneath his sea-grey robes Círdan produced a length of rope; it was just like him to carry such a commodity around even in a royal palace. Galadriel tore a strip of cloth from her underskirt, while the Shipwright left the room to find the King's chief Healer.
'That ring he wears had better be removed,' Glorfindel warned, but even as he said it the young man's hand curled up into a tight fist.
'Shall I use force?' the Captain asked. 'My lord King?' But he did not look at Gil-galad while he spoke.
'Wait,' Gil-galad replied absent-mindedly, his attention focused on Gildor.
Galadriel knelt down with the cloth in her hand. 'You can pull the dagger out now,' she told the King. A pity Elrond was not present; he had the best touch of all. But the Peredhel was besieged in Imladris, together with her own spouse. Unless Imladris had fallen. She took a deep breath. Worry later. It is not as if this is the first time you do so.
While Glorfindel assisted Tárion with Beregar, Gil-galad carefully removed the weapon and laid it aside. Gildor's jaw clenched, but a groan escaped him when Galadriel pressed the cloth firmly against the wound. 'How bad is it?' the King asked.
'I will survive,' Gildor murmured. His gaze, still clouded, sought Tárion's. 'Whoever you are... thank you for tripping up... our friend here.' He grimaced. 'A little higher and...' He faltered, but they could all finish the sentence: the blade might have embedded itself in Gildor's heart.
The Captain, busy tying up Beregar, did not respond; he could hardly point out that it was not for Gildor's sake he had brought the young man down. Guarding his King was quite simply his duty - and especially after bringing an assassin along.
It was Gil-galad who broke the silence. 'You tried to save my life,' he said in an odd voice.
'That is... because I had no time... to think.' Gildor shook, his mouth contorted; Galadriel realised he wanted to laugh at himself but failed because it hurt too much. No one else laughed, though.
His hands tied firmly behind his back, Beregar was hauled up and planted on a chair. His gaze was distant and troubled. Rising to his feet, Gil-galad turned towards him. 'Why did you try to assassinate me?' he asked, sounding more puzzled than angry. 'Look at me.'
Beregar did not speak or move.
'How did you come by Orgol's ring?' Glorfindel wanted to know.
The young man kept his mouth shut and averted his eyes when Galadriel sought his gaze.
'He stole it from Zaba,' Gildor murmured. 'Or so she said. And it was never Orgol's ring to begin with.'
'It is better if you do not speak,' Galadriel told him. The cloth was turning red.
'But I should have told -'
'Yes, you should have,' Glorfindel said with a heavy sigh, and even Finrod's sister could not deny that Finrod's grandson needed some taming and trimming. But such had ever been the case with the scions of Finwë. Including Nerwende Artanis, also known as Galadriel.
Meanwhile, Gil-galad had reached a decision. 'I do not like this at all, but it seems that we have no other choice but to take that ring. Though it may be difficult to determine to whom it belongs and what should be done with it, this young man certainly has no claim to it if it was on Orgol's finger when you' - he looked at Glorfindel - 'first saw it.'
Beregar snarled, attempting to get up, but Círdan's rope had been long enough to tie him firmly to the chair, which in its turn was heavy enough to withstand his efforts.
'Let me do the nasty work and take that ring, my lord,' Tárion offered, drawing his dagger again. His face was turned towards Gil-galad now, but he seemed to be addressing the golden circlet on the King's head rather than the King's person. Apparently something else was wrong as well here. Brushing the Captain's mind Galadriel she could sense a great sorrow, an ebbing of hope. And the Captain was not known to give up hope easily.
'It is better that I remain the only one to touch this ring,' came Glorfindel's voice. 'Having done so before, I know what awaits me, and I know I can ward against the evil it contains.'
The King nodded. 'Very well.'
Beregar began to curse, and though he did so in Adunaic it sounded ugly enough to be a variety of the Black Speech. He spat at the Captain, but in the end, it took no more than Tárion's hand pulling Beregar's head back by his hair and his blade against Beregar's pale, exposed throat to make the young mortal go limp and uncurl his fist. Glorfindel pulled the ring from Beregar's hand. He seemed appalled, but as he gazed down at the gleaming circle resting in his palm his expression changed ever so slightly.
Galadriel thought of her own ring, Nenya, hanging on a chain around her neck, the ring she could not wear as long as Sauron the Abhorred held the One. And she knew that the shadow that lay on these mortal shores was longer and deeper still than any of them had realised.
On the chair, Beregar slumped, his head dropping sideways.
Though he stood corrected by Gildor's action - his cousin appeared to be cut from the good, old cloth, after all - it was not Gildor who worried Gil-galad most. When the Shipwright returned with a hurdle, two servants to carry it and a healer to hover over the patient, Gildor maintained that he was very well able to walk to the nearest bed. This proved to be slightly beside the truth and he left horizontally, but it did hold every promise of recovery.
Gil-galad's real concerns were equally divided over two others: the young mortal, badly affected by the forceful removal of the ring; and Tárion. It was unlike his Captain to make such an error of judgement as he had; he should have given notice of Beregar's arrival before bringing him in at all. And his mind was so tightly shut that Gil-galad wanted to shake Glorfindel and shout: 'What have you done to him!'
Perhaps the object of his displeasure noticed something, for Glorfindel closed his hand abruptly around the ring. The other he laid on Beregar's forehead, and a frown creased his own. 'My lady?' he said, and Galadriel joined him to follow his example.
She nodded. 'His mind walks in the realm of shadows.'
'He was called by the Darkness, but without the ring he has lost his way,' Glorfindel said. 'He must rest, though not unguarded, and if he cannot find back to the light of his own accord, I shall go and seek him.'
Tárion turned to Gil-galad. 'With your permission, lord, I will assign two members of the guard to watch over him.'
'Do so,' Gil-galad said, venturing a smile. He received one in return, but it was so brittle, and so heart-rending that it doubled his concern. What is wrong, Valanya? I beg you, answer me.
Tonight. But that was all the response his mind received, and the Captain turned and left the audience chamber.
While the Lady took the chair on Beregar's right, eyeing him intently, Glorfindel opened the hand that held. 'This was Orgol's link to the Dark Lord,' he said softly. 'And Beregar's, once it was on his finger.'
'Do you believe that it was the Abhorred One who suggested him to kill the King?' Círdan wanted to know, taking the chair on Galadriel's other side.
'That is hard to tell.' Glorfindel raised the ring between the thumb and index finger of his left hand. The jewel caught the light of the gemstone lamps and flashed with a dark, sharp flame. Then he put it on. It fitted his finger easily.
'What are you doing?' Gil-galad cried, taking a step forward.
Spreading his fingers and gazing down at the ring as if he was trying it on in a jeweller's workshop, Glorfindel laughed curtly and said: 'This ring does not affect me. I desire not what its whispering voice promises, and he who had a hand in its making and rules it now, knows that it takes more to ensnare me. He will not waste any efforts on me.'
'What does it offer?' asked Gil-galad.
'A measure of power to impose order on my direct surroundings,' said Glorfindel. 'At least, as far as I can tell; it speaks no more to me. But if I can only control things by keeping them on a tight leash, I would prefer to let things run wild.'
As Manwë had chosen to do with Melkor, during the Noontide of Valinor - and who was wiser than the Elder King? Yet much evil had ensued.
Glorfindel took the ring off and put it on the table and went on: 'But if we want to know what it whispered to Beregar, we shall have to ask him.' They looked at the young man, but he had not yet come to his senses.
'So trying to kill me Beregar's was idea of imposing order?' Gil-galad asked sceptically.
'Or the ring - or its master - made the decision for him,' the Shipwright mused.
'Whatever is the case, it is a dangerous thing,' Glorfindel replied. 'It must not fall into the wrong hands. Maybe it ought to be destroyed.'
That was what should have been done with the Three - except that their power to create and heal and preserve had been too great to throw away. 'Could it not be wrested from the Dark Lord's influence and be put to good use?' Gil-galad heard himself ask. 'The Elven-rings can be used for good purposes as well, even though we cannot wear them.'
'The Three were made by Celebrimbor alone,' Galadriel objected. 'They are unstained.'
'Yet they were made to control,' Glorfindel said, just as Tárion returned. They, too, are rings of power, and in their own way no less dangerous. In fact, it is for their sake that I was sent here.'
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