36. Chapter Thirty-six
As Tárion undressed very slowly, Gil-galad was ready first. He waited on the other side of the bed until Tárion turned around with all the reluctance to be expected under the circumstances. His right arm twitched and started moving up towards his chest as if to cover the scars, though the owner seemed hardly aware of it. He looked resigned, or more than that: his expression made it apparent that he would not only undergo any treatment the King chose to mete out to him but willingly accept it. Anything, even -
At that moment, Artanáro Gil-galad realised he might yet begin to dislike the person living inside his skin. He watched Tárion's arm come to an abrupt halt, the hand, just short of being a clenched fist, hovering in the vicinity of his heart. 'How do you want me, my lord King?' the owner asked, in a remarkably even voice. 'Facing you, or not?'
'Just let me think,' Gil-galad heard himself say, looking at the planes and angles of Tárion's body. His voice seemed disconnected from the rest of him, as if someone else was speaking. He felt he was not remotely in control of it.
The next moment he threw himself abruptly down on the bed, on his back, arms and legs spread wide in welcome. Does this answer your question? he asked using mind-speech, amazed that it still came out unsteadily, despite the absence of sound. This way, you will have to face me, will you not?
The muscles in his lover's abdomen rippled as if he was laughing - or sobbing. Gil-galad watched his face for a moment that could have been a month or an age, and saw incredulity gather like a cloud. Well, maybe he had been playing hide-and-seek with him. But then, his lover had played hide-without-seek for many yeni.
'I,' Tárion began, and then he, too, changed to mind-speech. I thought you...
... had an evil sense of humour? Lame joke.
A blink. I thought you considered yourself - abused this way?
And then it was easy. I did, at first. But I could not remember a time when I did not want it so, or when I did not enjoy it. So what more do I want? What else could I want? And stop looking down at me from such a distance. I don't like to be that far beneath you...
Tárion promptly dropped on his knees beside the bed. The cloud of incredulity began to disperse. 'Where did your anger go?' he asked, using his voice again.
'It is still there, but I realised it was wasted on one who has had his fair share of pain fighting on the right side. Who needs a quarrel when there is a common enemy? If you feel better begging my forgiveness, then grovel if you must,' Gil-galad replied. 'But I would thank you if you kept it short.' Bliss, he thought, seeing Tárion's smile, is one of those spring mornings when a tree that was naked the day before is suddenly covered in gossamer green.
'Do you forgive me, Arto?' Tárion said.
'If you wish me to cease loving you, Valanya, try something worse. Like falling under the Abhorred One's sway, for instance.'
'Elbereth protect me!'
'And there is this other matter.' Gil-galad said, his face straighter than his voice was level. 'I need your advice about something. So I will have to be nice to you, will I not?' Seeing Tárion's eyebrows go up he shook his head. 'The advice can wait. First things first.'
Tárion bent over the bed, bringing his face close to Gil-galad's. 'Have I ever told you that I love you, too?'
Gil-galad pretended to think hard. 'Well, there was that time at the swan lake, and -' The mouth descending on his did not immediately succeed in silencing him. - I distinctly remember a sailing trip when we borrowed Círdan's new boat, he went on, and a yen or two ago you...
...One of the more misleading things about mind-speech, Tárion interrupted him, is that in theory, it is possible...
...to keep talking... while kissing...I know... but... Gil-galad gave up. Elves were great speakers. But not all the time.
He rose before dawn and left the room with Gildor still asleep, though the younger Elf's lips were moving as if he was dreaming a conversation.
That night, lying awake in his bed, Glorfindel had vainly tried to decide what he would prefer the Lady and the High King to do. If they agreed to let him take their rings to the Undying Lands he would have to embark soon, in case the Enemy would win this war: even with the Númenoreans at their side the Eldar could suffer defeat. If the Three were entrusted to him, he could not partake in the battle.
Would this be a grief or a relief? Glorfindel had found himself wondering whether he could fall again. While he passed through Tárion's door, the door had passed through him without harming him. What was possible with a slab of wood, was also possible a piece of metal, though he was not entirely certain it could be done quickly enough in the heat of battle. He had not dared take the risk during the fight with Orgol's men, nor had it been necessary then. And if, as he foresaw, Gil-galad and Galadriel would keep the three Rings, he would still have time enough to establish his own invulnerability.
Yet he was reluctant to make the discovery. If he could no longer die by weapon, and the Dark Lord prevailed, would he be able to withstand a spirit from before the Shaping of Arda? Finrod's words, spoken by Gildor, sprang to mind: Darkness would seem more daunting and grief more poignant and evil more harmful than ever it did ere I died. Could any valour of the heart protect him against the darkness, grief and evil that would befall him, were he left standing alone?
And what was valour of the body, if there was no pain to fear, if fire could burn and iron bite no more? Or must he make himself vulnerable and face the Halls of Mandos once again? It occurred to him that maybe the Powers had not meant him to stay when they sent him here, and even less to do battle; maybe the second house of the fëa was not built for mortal shores. Would it not have been better if they had sent someone else? Someone who would not have felt obliged to take up arms against the Enemy?
But they had sent him. So he had to believe he was where he had to be. The choice what to do was his.
He found himself roaming the corridors of the palace searching for the room where they had put Beregar. To pull Galadriel and Gil-galad from their beds demanding a decision was out of the question; he would have to wait. But meanwhile, he could go and see how the young mortal was doing.
It took him some time to find what he sought, but Beregar was awake when the guards showed Glorfindel in. He was standing at the window and gazing down into the depths of the courtyard, his face pale. The room, though small, was pleasant enough, but on the bedside table sat a tray of untouched food.
'Are you not well, Beregar?' the Elda asked.
'Would you be, if you were a prisoner?' When Glorfindel did not immediately reply the young man went on: 'Do the Elves also execute assassins if they fail to kill?'
Seldom did the Elves mete out capital punishment. King Turgon, Glorfindel's former lord, had executed the murderer and husband of his sister, heeding no pleas for mercy. But Eöl's knife had been poisoned, and he had tried to kill his own son; no mitigating circumstances there.
'It is for the High King to decide your fate,' he said at last. 'But I would be surprised if Gil-galad will let life pay for injury.' It was possible that the King would leave punishment to the Ciryatur, but this was not a reassuring thought, and Glorfindel refrained from saying it. 'Do you know why did you do it, Beregar? You were influenced by Orgol's evil ring, were you not?'
'Evil...' Beregar muttered. 'Yes. Evil. It told me to kill... no, it made me think I had to to kill...' He cleared his throat. 'It made me realise I envied the Elves. As many mortals do. It... suggested that I would be praised and admired if I killed their king. As if I asked for such praise. It was a lie, of course. I don't know why I fell for it.'
Because you were too weak to resist it, Glorfindel thought. You do crave praise and admiration; your face and voice belie your words. Few were entirely without such desires. In this, Men and Elves were not all that different. But only the Eldar lived long enough to outgrow them as they matured and learned to recognise their own worth.
'Why do you envy us?' he asked, wanting to hear it from Beregar's mouth.
'You are more beautiful than we are. More skilled. Better. Stronger. Swifter, with keener eyes and ears. You have magic. You do not get sick. Do not age. You do not -'
Glorfindel remained silent. He saw Beregar swallow. Before the silence could become oppresive he said quietly: 'Do you also believe that we do not suffer? Know no fear? Cannot... betray, and be cursed?'
Cringing, the young mortal looked away. 'Just leave me, Glorfindel.'
'And leave you to wallow in your misery?'
Beregar sat down heavily on the bed. 'Can you help me then?'
'I do not have the answer to that,' Glorfindel said. 'But what I can do, is try.'
Emerging from his dreams, he noticed that some someone was gently brushing his hair, or the part of it that had escaped his braid. Without moving his head he asked: 'Would it not be more practical if I were sitting?'
The brushing stopped. 'I was trying not to wake you,' Gil-galad's voice said.
Tárion sat up and felt at the back of his head, where the other half of his hair seemed to be partly braided still.
'That is the half you were lying on.' Gil-galad untied the leather thongs that kept the remainder in check. His own hair was messed up even more thoroughly, but then he never bound it as tightly as Tárion used to do.
For a while they did not speak, brushing and rebraiding each other's hair, softly humming and basking in the quiet satisfaction that pervaded the room. Without consciously attempting to read his lover's mind Tárion was able to catch a few stray thoughts or fragments of thoughts, amused, pensive, relaxed, sometimes barely crossing the threshold of conscious thinking, mere wafts of music or wisps of light. And he sensed that Gil-galad caught the same images and snatches of wordless significance from him. Was it truly stronger than ever before, or was that merely how he wanted it to be?
'I do not think it was quite as strong the previous time,' Gil-galad said.
'When was the previous time?' Tárion mused. 'Over a yen ago(1), if my memory serves me right. And I do not think the play was quite as rough.'
'Are you complaining?' his lover grinned, sending a vivid image his way.
They had, in fact, reversed roles at some point last night. Tárion had sensed a residual anger that Arto quite simply had to ride out, and he had spurred him on without minding the hurt. There was no pain he could not withstand by calling a worse one to the field.
'I will tell you presently,' he replied, fastening another hair clip and surveying the result.
'Now you sound like Celebrían yesterday at supper, undermining the case of Orgol's people.'
Celebrían! Suddenly Tárion did feel the urge to lock away part of his mind. He was about to hide it behind a flippant remark when it dawned on him that he could not possibly keep this from Gil-galad, not after all that had transpired between them.
'Arto, there is something I have to tell you concerning Galadriel's daughter,' he said. 'But it must remain a secret.'
Slowly, with a slight frown, Gil-galad nodded. When Tárion finished, though, he shook his head vehemently. 'Sickle of the Valar! This is madness! How could you ever face her mother, should the worst come to pass? You know why she is doing this, do you not?
I will deal with her mother when and if I have to. 'I do. So does Celebrían. She is no child, and I gave her my promise. Do not make a liar out of me. If I am telling you this, it is because I did not want to keep any more things from you.'
'Still,' Gil-galad said, an unexpected hard edge to his voice: 'I could decide that you had no right to make such a promise. I could act on what you told me, and forestall this folly.'
Tárion froze, as if an abyss suddenly opened before his feet. Was he wrong in believing they had smoothed it all out? Had their lovemaking lulled him into false security? Was this the true power contest? If so, the peril was dire. In this he could not yield, even if he were ready to admit that his promise had been rash - which, as it happened, he was not. 'You could also bid me guard her with my life.'
'And what, if I bid you stay here? You are not fully healed yet.'
'Did you find me lacking in endurance tonight?' Tárion asked with a stony face.
Gil-galad blinked. Then he laughed curtly. 'This is a test, is it not? Do I want to know whether I have any other power over you than the power of love that wishes you naught but well? Do I truly want to discover who rules whom and by what right?'
Tárion took a deep breath. 'At this moment,' he said, 'we are standing at the precipice of Caragdûr, the rock of execution from which my father had Eöl thrown to his death, the abyss into which Tuor flung the traitor Maeglin. It was a black rock and a long fall. We can try to push each other over the edge. We can jump in of our own accord. And we can turn our back to it and walk away together.' He laid a hand on Gil-galad's shoulder. 'All I can or will rule of you is your heart. And I trust it to do right by both of us.'
The kiss they shared was one of peace and settlement. 'Guard her the way you would guard me, then,' Gil-galad finally said.
'I shall.' Tárion straightened. 'Now what advice was it you said you wanted to ask of me, last night?
The answer was a rather exaggerated snort.
'Very well,' Tárion said wrily. 'What would I do with Nárya and Vilya, if that decision fell to me? Would I let Glorfindel take them West to be unmade by their maker? Or would I risk letting them fall into the Abhorred One's hands, should this war be lost?'
'And the answer?' Gil-galad rose from the bed and went to the table where his royal circlet rested.
You are not going to put it on my head so soon again! Tárion thought. If ever.
His lover did not touch the circlet. Instead, he turned around with a frown. 'Did you put the ring that we took from Beregar into the cabinet? I remember it was on this table when I left last night. But it is gone now.'
With a sinking feeling, Tárion rose as well. 'I am certain that was still there when I went after you.'
'And when we came back?'
They stared at each other in dismay. They had both been far too distracted at the time to pay any attention to the table and what was on it.
Without bothering to dress first they searched the entire area, crawling about on all fours. Finally, they faced each other on the floor between the table and the bed, feeling more than a little ridiculous.
The conclusion was inevitable. 'Someone entered and took it.' said Gil-galad.
'Arto,' muttered Tárion, 'I have been a complete ass to walk out of here while that accursed thing remained here unguarded.'
And all, because he had desired to forget. This was, how guilt crept upon Eru's children, how failure insinuated itself into Arda: one finger wrongly lifted here, and elsewhere disaster would strike; one small error perpetrated in the past, and future realms were fated to fall.
'That makes two of us,' Gil-galad said. 'I should have locked it into the cabinet right away. Or put a guard or two before my door. So here we are, two foolish scions of Finwë, worthy of all those kinsmen who also heaped mistake on error, back in the old days. Our own fathers not excepted.'
Tárion laughed mirthlessly. 'But who could have taken it?'
Again, they stared at each other. It was only too obvious that the thought crossing Tárion's mind also crossed Gil-galad's. What, if Glorfindel had overestimated himself, and had fallen prey to the lure of this ring?
1)That is correct, yes: 144 years. But they're Elves.
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