35. Chapter Thirty-five
It was only when he had completely emptied his stomach and all he had left to throw up was acid bile, that he began to feel a little better. Of course, now an increasingly foul smell permeated the room, but at least the filth had been expelled, or so it felt. Even the fog inside his head began to lift.
Carefully, Beregar sat up. The headache was mild, compared to what it had been only a short while before. Cautiously, he put his legs to the floor on the clean side of the bed, and rose slowly to his feet. Dizziness threatened to overwhelm him. Seeking support against the wall he managed to stay on his feet, but for all he knew he was aboard a ship braving the seasonal storms off the Far Harad coast.
He needed fresh air above all now. But once he had crossed the heaving deck to the other side of the ship, the porthole could not be opened, as he could have known - even though it was, in fact, a high window framed in small panels of coloured glass and overlooking a kind of courtyard with a fountain. He supposed it was as beautiful as anything Elvish, but at the moment he could not care less. At the other end of the softly carpeted gangway he reached the cabin door, which he could not open either, but after his fist landed on it, others did it for him. Two Elvish immortals to be precise, armed to the teeth as if ready to engage in deadly combat with the unhappy mortal called Beregar.
He wondered if Elves ever sickened. But they were able to feel nausea, to judge by the way they blanched when they caught the stench emanating from the ship's hold. There was no way they would let him leave. But exchanging a look and probably more, given the Elvish powers of mind-speech, they seemed to reach a favourable conclusion. Pointing some sharp tip at him - as if he could possibly flee in his present state - they led him away to what he supposed would be another place of confinement, with hopefully some fresh water.
It was then, that they encountered Zaba, a fierce-looking apparition blocking the narrow passage they had just entered. 'You!' she cried at Beregar. 'Where is my ring!' What was she doing here?
'Move aside, please, adaneth,(1)' one of his gaolers told her.
Apparently, she was not intimidated by his blade, for she did not obey. 'My ring.' Her stabbing finger made Beregar flinch. 'He stole it!'
'I do not have it anymore. It was taken from me,' he told her.
'The Captain of the royal guard. On the Elvenking's orders.'
Zaba's eyes narrowed. 'And you are a prisoner now?'
Wishing he could deny it, Beregar remained silent.
'So you are,' she concluded. 'Serves you right for being a thief!' And she moved aside.
They marched on. Looking back - a movement that made him feel sick again, Beregar saw Zaba stand in the entrance of the passage, looking pensive. He wondered if she would try to lay hands on the ring. Perhaps he ought to warn her?
But no. It was not as if she had any chance of stealing it from the High King.
When Zaba did not return from her - alleged? - visit to the privy, Celebrían knew that she had failed to win the girl's trust. But for that wretched Númenorean she might have succeeded. That man was more than a nuisance.
She left her room. Maybe Zaba had decided to return to the streets of Mithlond to find the young sailor who had robbed her of her precious, evil ring. Not the wisest thing to do; he would most likely be dangerous, and it was doubtful whether Zaba was his match. Celebrían resolved to ask the guards at the main gate whether the girl had left the palace. If she had, they could organise a search.
On her way out, she encountered the Captain of the Guard - Gil-galad's lover, she thought with a pang of sorrow that ebbed away when she saw how despondent he looked. And his long, black braid had come partly undone, as if he had been tugging at it. Seeing her he gave her a courteous nod, though his stride seemed to falter.
Now that they had met again, she could just as well remind him of their previous conversation. 'Captain,' she began, 'have you considered my request?'
Hardly, it seemed, for he blinked, as if he had some difficulty remembering what she was talking about. Nonetheless he said: 'Indeed I have, my lady.'
She waited. At that instant, a faint flicker of movement seemed to flit like a shadow across one of the walls. They both turned towards it, but there was nothing to be seen in the corridor, nor on the stairs that Tárion had just descended, and they turned back to face each other again.
'And what is your answer?' Celebrían asked at last.
'I will help you.' After a brief hesitation he added: 'I understand your position maybe better than you think. Come to the armoury the night before the armies march, after the first change of the guard. I shall join you there.'
'Thank you,' she said, smiling.
His smile was but a faint reflection of hers. She fololwed him with her gaze until he disappeared from sight.
At the main gate, the guards assured her that no one had left save Círdan the Shipwright. The one she sought was probably still in the main building.
'If she shows herself, do not let her leave the palace,' Celebrían told them.
They replied that they had received no orders to that effect.
'I beseech you,' she said. 'It is of the utmost importance. The King needs to hear what she told me tonight.'
They exchanged a look. 'Very well,' one of them said at last. 'We can promise you that we will consult the King first.'
That was good enough. On her way back across the yard, she wondered if she should not seek her mother's advice.
He had said yes to Celebrían's request without being entirely certain that it was the right thing to do. But now that it was said, he would abide by his decision; he understood her too well.
Despite the King's explicit command, he had been unable to remain in the bedroom. Dreams kept eluding him, and dark images were too difficult to ward off while he lay still, having naught to do but to grind the same hard grains of thought over and over in the mills of his mind. As he could guess where Gil-galad had gone it was there he headed, but try as he might he could not think of anything to say, especially not after the distracting encounter with Galadriel's daughter.
Gil-galad was slowly ascending the road from the cliffs, on his way back to the palace, when they met in the dark. Tárion knew him by his black silhouette and the way he held his head; his eyes were hooded.
'My lord...' he said uncertainly while they both halted.
'I thought I had old you to stay in my bedroom,' Gil-galad's voice said, 'but perhaps I should have foreseen that you would not obey the King's command?' Was his tone mildly sarcastic, or merely flippant? They had been together for more than seventien centuries, and yet Tárion could not tell. But he knew the problem did not lay in the King's voice as much as in his own ears.
'It pained me to think of you, walking alone,' Tárion said softly. 'Please, lord. Blame me for lack of sharing, but not for lack of caring.'
'Well spoken. What other beautiful phrases have you thought up since I left?' Again that same tone.
'None,' Tárion replied. 'I would have coined the most beautiful phrase in all Arda to beg your forgiveness, if there was any point in doing so, and if were anywhere near enough. But as...'
Gil-galad pushed past him, shaking his head. 'Come. I would rather not talk about this outside in the drizzle. Beside me,' he added, when Tárion made to follow behind.
'You are right,' he added after a while when they reached the postern at the end of the cliff road. 'It would be utterly pointless.'
Tárion's heart sank. 'Maybe you should appoint someone else to captain your guard in my stead,' he ventured, closing the postern behind them.
'Why? Because of your oversight concerning Beregar?' Gil-galad asked while they crossed the Western Court, their shadows running into all directions in the light of the high lanterns. 'You corrected it well enough when you tripped him up, did you not? If one error makes people unfit for their tasks, I should have abdicated yeni ago. Which, naturally, I could not do, having no heirs of the body.' He paused before going on, his tone pensive now: 'I remember someone asking me if I should not wed a maiden and beget an heir, instead of binding myself to a male lover. I also distinctly remember waving this concern aside, though maybe for the sake of prudence I would have done better to heed those wise words. Or have you forgotten?'
Being the one who had raised the question, Tárion had not forgotten, but as it was rhetorical, he did not reply. 'I only meant to suggest that you remove me from your vicinity, lord,' he explained while they entered the arched passageway leading to the main courtyard.
It was pitch dark in the passage. 'Do you think that would help?' Gil-galad asked, suddenly very close by. 'Do you truly believe that if I wished to eradicate your face from my memory, it would suffice to cease looking at you?'
He halted, and Tárion could feel his hot breath stroke the skin of his cheek and caress the corner of his mouth. Stop this, Arto! he wanted to shout. Do you have any idea what you are doing? But the answer was most likely yes.
'Please, have done with me, lord,' he said hoarsely, 'Or tell me what you wish of me. Is remorse not enough? Then command me to grovel, to abase myself, or whatever it is that will satisfy your outrage - short of demanding that I take my own life.' For you would feel too guilty if I did.
A strangled noise. 'I will never be done with you!' Gil-galad replied fiercely, and he strode on. 'Come.'
He spoke no more until they were back in his room, and then it was only to say: 'Undress. Time to go to bed.'
At first, Tárion failed to comprehend why Gil-galad would still tolerate him in his bed; surely he would not want to make love now? Then it dawned on him. What the King desired had nothing to do with love or pleasure, nor had the need craving to be satisfied anything to do with lust. All the same, he would subject himself to whatever it was his King would have of him. He turned away, more loath than ever to bare his scarred chest while Gil-galad was watching; it was bad enough that he could not escape exposure now, only postpone it.
Slowly, he unbuckled his belt.
Sitting on a chair in her own room, Galadriel gazed at Nenya, the Ring of Water, resting in her palm. White was its stone of adamant, white as water, though only on the surface. Its depths held many hues: the colour of stormy oceans and sunlit seas, of rushing rivers and dancing streams, of starlit lakes, still meres and stagnant pools; brooks frozen, grinding ice and whirling snowflakes; hailstorms, showers, veils of mist; dewdrops on grass; pearls of sweat, crystal tears innumerable. And across its surface she could see rings widening with time, rippling slowly towards the shores of history, on which they would break when Great Song ended.
And then the long lives of the Elves shall lie wholly in the past, a voice echoed in her mind, one that she knew to be her most beloved brother's.
Water will slow when it freezes over but unless the ice will break and thaw the world remains barren; life needs must flow. Snows will protect the dormant seeds; rains will slake the thirst of the soil and make them sprout; stagnant pools grow murky and foul, but flowing waters cleanse and sweep the filth away. What is this Ring? The power of water, hers to command? Blessing, or danger? A gift unlooked for, doom inevitable? Blood sang in her ears with the voice of the Sea, words of the Lord of Waters: In the walls of Doom there is ever a breach, until the full-making, which ye call the End. So it shall be while I endure, a secret voice that gainsayeth, a light were darkness was decreed.(2)
Yet for an exile on these shores, the lure of the Sea was like Doom, and Celebrimbor's ring of water only made the yearning more poignant. What am I to do with this fateful circle?
A face built itself in her mind, framed with silver hair, flowing and shining like a moonlit river, smiling at her, the eyes full of longing. You are ngoldo, wise in lore, my garlanded maid, it told her. Surely you can find knowledge in water.
But you are my sage love, she thought; how shall I find true wisdom without you? And even as she thought it she knew that her spouse was thinking of her in faraway Imladris, besieged but not fallen. The long miles of Eriador, raped and ravaged by the Abhorred One, lay between them, but he lived. And Galadriel knew what she must do.
2)Unfinished Tales, Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin.
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