34. Chapter Thirty-four
He woke up, or came to - he didn't know which - on a bed in a pleasant room. Elvishly pleasant: everything was intricately beautiful, from the finely woven carpets to the flowery embroideries on the curtains and the carved back of the chair beside the bed. Nothing was rough, nothing made in a hurry: the embroideries must have taken years of needlework, the carpets wagonloads of patience on their way to perfection.
It crossed his mind that he disliked Elves: they had all the time of the world to make all that they did appear flawless and superior while Men had not.
Surprised at that thought he sat up, winced and fell back. His head hurt as if he had imbibed two bottles of cheap Hyarrostar brandy(1) within a few hours. He almost passed out again. What...?
His hands met across his stomach, fingers groping - the ring! Last he knew he had worn a ring; where was it now? A keen sense of loss pervaded him, and a knife of pain pierced his temple when he tried to remember. There had been a voice asking questions, countless questions.
Who are you, what are you, where are you from? What is your age, your gender, who is your lord, your station in life?
How did you come by that ring?
Tell me. Join me. Come to me, serve me and I will confirm your possession of it and charge the ring to its full potential.
What would you wish of me? Power Riches? The life of the Eldar?
Then tell me - who are you, what, where, how? Come! Hear me, heed me, and make haste!
Words. And more words. The voice had been fair enough, and it had even convinced him of the unfairness of death in a world that also harboured the undying. Why had he not heeded it? Why not left town to seek out the owner? His head was thick with shadows, clinging like sticky flakes of soot. Thinking made him feel dizzy and nauseated.
Who was he? A man who had run an errand to the palace. To the King. Or had the voice sent him? Had he wanted to obey, or not really - and was that why he had tried to slip down those stairs, just before this Captain of the guard had seen him? And had he merely imagined that it kept speaking to him when he followed the Captain, or had it been real?
Are you still there?
You dislike the Elves?
I envy them.
So you do dislike them.
I cannot stand them.
You hate them.
I hate them.
Their king has great power. He draws it from his subjects. Such is the way with the Elves.
Yes. I hate them.
They do not die.
But they can die by violence.
Their king can be killed.
He has no heir. If he dies, they will falter. Maybe fade. Who shall lead his army?
Maybe I should kill the king.
I will kill him.
Other men envy the Elves too.
They will praise me for killing their king.
All will know I am powerful.
He did not know which voice was his own and which was not. If there was any other voice but his own. Had he killed the Elvenking? Why did he not remember? He did remember blood. Not his own. His head hurt. His knee hurt; it had hit the floor hard.
My ring. I want my ring. The world was bleak and dreary. Again, he tried to rise; an axe split his skull. Orgol, his mind groaned. Orgol wore it. The bastard who murdered the father of the bastard Zaba
Zaba. She wanted the ring. Had she taken it? No; someone else had, but he could not see either of them for the shadows in his mind.
Suddenly, the door was thrown open. He could hear people speaking: clear, melodious voices. A growl. Fragmented sentences: '... ask the King...' - that was an elf. '... right to see him. He is my...' - this was a mortal. He knew that man. '... must speak to him!'
The sound of a door slamming, loud as thunder. Footsteps approaching. A face looming. 'By my father's tomb! It's you! What nonsense is this?'
It was the Ciryatur. Beregar opened his mouth. 'My lord... I have...'
The admiral's head was a thundercloud hanging over him. 'The Elves claim you assailed their king with a dagger.'
'I did,' he croaked.
A fist grabbed the front of his tunic and pulled him up. The pain was almost unendurable and he felt sick. 'Why did you do it?'
Beregar moaned. 'The ring. It's the ring's fault.'
'The ring you took from the girl Zaba?'
What did the Ciryator know of Zaba? Beregar shook his head, which only increased his nausea. 'Mine.'
'How can a thing be at fault?' his admiral asked, eyeing him intently.
'It... it has a voice.'
'Where is it now?'
Beregar did his best to remember. 'The Elvenking had it ripped from me,' he replied at last.' The admiral let go of him and he fell back.
'Will you... help me, my lord?' he managed to ask, swallowing bile.
'You must answer for your own folly,' the Ciryatur said, his voice cold with fury now. 'How am I to explain to the Elvenking why one of my men tried to assassinate him? And blaming it on an artefact! A weak excuse, Beregar Falmálion!'
'Yes, lord,' he heard himself say without wanting it. Then a thought crossed his mind, relatively clear. He grasped it by the tail. 'How did you know... I was here, my lord?'
'Chance, and curiosity. I had set out for the harbour to find my aide, who should have reported to me hours ago, when I saw the guards outside this door. It was never guarded the previous times I came this way, so I asked them what was inside. They informed me readily enough that it was a young Númenorean, who had attempted to kill their High King. They seemed to wonder if I, the admiral of Tar Minastir, had something to do with it.' How dare they! his tone implied. 'I did not know that it was you until I saw you lying here.'
With that, he turned and left. Beregar barely managed to roll over to the side of the bed before his nausea overwhelmed him and he began to vomit.
The healer was a woman of few words; she spoke only three times before she left Gildor to his musings. The first time was to ask what had happened, to which Gildor answered that a crazy mortal had attacked him with a knife. To say that he had tried to save the king despite the fact that it had not really been necessary might leave the impression that he was given to boasting.
When she spoke again after she finished dressing the wound, it was to warn him that the herbal concoction that went with the treatment would taste bitter. This proved to be an understatement. In Aman they would have made it taste better. Not that he had ever needed such a draught there: in the Blessed Realm, few were wounded, and none by the actions of assassins since the first rise of the Sun and Moon.
The third time the healer spoke it was just before she left, in reply to his question. 'Give it three days before you mount a horse for more than an hour. Tomorrow you can walk, but do not run yet. Come to me in the afternoon and I will refresh the bandages. Elbereth protect you.'
Three days? Surely he was more resilient than that - and the armies would march in two. Pulling up the leg on his uninjured side and staring at the panelled ceiling Gildor tried to make sense of himself, though he was perhaps a little too light-headed to think well. Why had he risked his life for a king who had gazed down at him with the eye of a frosty star, a king who had acquired his crown by default and allowed it to be tainted by errors? A king who had declined the invitation of the Powers to join his kindred in Valinor, preferring to remain where he could be a petty power of his?
A king he envied?
One of the carvings above him seemed to pull a face at him but this had to be a trick of the light. All the same, it was company of a kind. 'It was no attempt to be noble,' he told the carving. 'As I said, I had no time to think.'
The face considered this. 'He is your kinsman,' it offered.
'Blood is thicker than water? In the House of Finwë, this does not always apply,' Gildor told it. 'Fëanor betrayed his brother Fingolfin at Losgar, his sons Celegorm and Curufin betrayed their cousin Finrod. Maeglin betrayed his uncle's city, and would have abducted his cousin Idril if Tuor had not forestalled him.'
'Fingon rescued his cousin Maedhros from Thangorodrim.'
'Does not count. They were lovers.'
'I do not know about that,' the face said primly.
Neither did he, for sure. 'You are being evasive.'
'No, you are, Gildor Inglorion. Why not admit that your reflexes are sound and your heart is hale, even though your mind tells you to be a proud scion of Finwë - as if pride never went before that House's fall?' The carving mostly resembled a disembodied grin now.
'For an outcrop of wood, you seem to know a great deal.'
'I was part of an oak once, listening to the tales of the wind, and waving its branches at the Gil-estel(2) whenever it shone at dusk or dawn.'
'But the oak was obviously cut down. So now you can no longer greet the star of hope.'
'Another, mighty star(3) lies beneath me,' replied the face. 'Alas that it fell from the heaven of blessedness onto this hard earth, and appears to have been hurt in the process.'
'It will heal,' Gildor said, smiling.
He blinked when, instead of the face on the ceiling, it turned out to be Glorfindel who spoke. 'If you can smile, you do not feel too bad, I gather?' The other was standing beside the bed, looking down on him with a mixture of fondness and exasperation.
'Did I wake you up?' he asked when Gildor did not immediately reply.
'As I was having a conversation with a ceiling panel, it is possible that I was asleep.' Once more Gildor gazed up, but Glorfindel's elongated shadow obscured the carving now. 'However, I did hear your question, and the answer is: I will be hale in two days.' He showed Glorfindel his arm, wounded in the fight with Orgol. 'You see this? Nothing left but a thin line; I must be the fastest healing Elf in Middle-earth.' When he saw the other raise his eyebrows he continued swiftly. 'Did you wake me up to congratulate me for heroically rescuing my cousin, or to rebuke me because I omitted to mention Zaba's story concerning the ring?'
Glorfindel sat down on the bed; to judge by his facial expression, the fondness had defeated the exasperation. It was some time ago, Gildor thought, that he had seen his companion other than worried, preoccupied, or sternly disapproving.
'It would not have made much difference if you had mentioned it,' Glorfindel said, 'for I could feel that Beregar wore the ring as soon as he entered the audience chamber.' He paused. 'You did well, though you probably owe your life to the Captain's presence of mind.' And then he frowned again.
'Glorfindel, what troubles you?' Gildor asked impulsively.
To his surprise, Glorfindel gave him a fairly straightforward answer. 'There are moments when I doubt the wisdom of returning to Middle-earth. Or maybe the word returning is misplaced. These are not the lands that I knew and loved once. Fair Gondolin is gone forever; Beleriand lies under the waves.
Yet this is not all. Do the trees seem less green here, and the heavens less blue, and the stars less radiant because this is not the Blessed Realm? Or because Middle-earth itself has diminished? Or does it merely appear to be so, because I tend to colour my recollections of the past too gaily to paint over the grey of old griefs? I cannot tell; all I have discovered, is that dying does not make an Elda invulnerable to the sting of death. Not that I expect you to understand this.'
'Maybe I do,' Gildor said.
As Glorfindel eyed him doubtfully, he explained: 'When my grandfather Finrod heard you were to return here, he told me that he greatly admired. "I fear I would not have the heart, were such a request made to me," he said. "Darkness would seem more daunting and grief more poignant and evil more harmful than ever it did ere I died. Tell Glorfindel this, should he find himself in need of encouragement." So, here you are.'
Unexpectedly Glorfindel laughed. 'O Gildor,' he said, 'it appears I was right after all to take you along. If your grandsire were here, I would assure him that he is both wiser and more honest than I am - and that I am less admirable than he believes me to be. I am not even a good messenger.'
Suddenly realising that he had missed the very part of the meeting he had most desired to attend, Gildor said shrewdly: 'Well, if you were right to take me along, surely you will no longer object to tell me why you were sent here in the first place?'
Snorting softly, Glorfindel said: 'Very well then, if you insist.'
When he finished the account of his mission, speaking of the three Elven-rings, the counsels of the Powers, the doubts of Olórin, and of the reactions of the King and the Lady, they were both silent for a while. Finally Gildor said: 'You believe that they will say no.'
Glorfindel nodded. 'My heart warns me that they will. Though whether this would be for good or for ill, it fails to tell me.'
He took the road leading towards the cliffs beyond the South Haven, walking with long strides but deliberately not running. It would be wrong to run now, whether it would be his legs that ran, or his heart, or his mind. The sky was clouded and he missed the stars and the moon. He decided that he would continue until the few lights still glowing in the palace windows would no longer illuminate his path, and even Elven sight would fail.
Where the paving ended and the road became a track he halted, listening to the rustling of the leaves and the distant surge of the Gulf of Lune. The mournful cry of a night bird pierced his ears. He sighed. The One had granted the Firstborn many gifts, but the gift of oblivion was not among them. This was a place of memory: Tárion and he had been standing in this very spot to discuss the location of the new palace, yeni ago when the Second Age was young and innocent - as innocent as they were. They had never kissed and hardly even touched, save for a brush or two of the mind, yet Gil-galad remembered how the air had seemed to crackle between them and how they had laughed at some silly joke that no one else would have thought funny.
If only he could forget - for then he would not have to be so furious. He yearned to forget that he had ever loved Tárion, or that his lover had failed to tell him the truth for so many years, either of these, or both. But he was an Elda, not graced with forgetfulness but doomed to remember even if he would not.
Gil-galad checked himself. One more thought and he would be blaming his creator. But it was his lover who had hurt him, who should have spoken when he had remained silent, or remained silent when he had spoken, for why reveal the secret now? It was Tárion who had betrayed his trust by not being the Tárion he had seemed to be: not a highday of the Valar(4) but a rival scion of kings whose desire for power was thwarted by an accident of birth.
It was Tárion he should blame, if no oblivion was possible.
He took a few more steps into the ever-thickening gloom; soon it would be irresponsible to walk on. A few more yards. Then he paused again, remembrance invading him once more. Gloom had been the colour of Beleriand towards the end; the shadow of Mandos' Curse becoming longer and longer, Morgoth's black arm reaching further and further. And after the War of Wrath was won by the hosts of Valinor and the fumes had dispersed, grey waves had swallowed the tormented soil, because it was marred beyond repair. The mortally wounded land had found oblivion in the dreamy depths of the sea, and Gil-galad remembered that he had envied it, for young though he was, his memories had burdened him even then.
Of course, Tárion would also wish to forget, both the agony of destruction and the taint of his birth. His father and mother were both dead, their bones buried in the depths of the sea, together with the shattered stones of Gondolin. Reproaches would find no ear, questions would remain unanswered, fury was futile without a target to fire it at.
Why not bury such feelings and memories? Except that the Eldar could not forget. Not in a ten thousand years. They were bound to regret, and to despise and reject all those who marred what should have remained fair and untouched.
I have an aim for my anger, Gil-galad said to himself. I shall whet the spear of my wrath. And the High King of the Noldor returned the way he had come.
1)I'm sure the Númenorans could easily have discovered the distilling process
2)The Star of Hope, the name of the Silmaril on the brow of Eärendil, who sails the heavens in his ship Vingilot; the elvish equivalent of Venus.
3)One possible etymology for Gildor seems to be Gil-taur, 'mighty star'.
4)See note 3 of Chapter 33
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