37. Chapter Thirty-seven
It was not until breakfast that Celebrían told her mother of her conversation with Zaba, last night, and of the girl's disappearance and unexpected return, after which she had spent the rest of the night in Celebrían's room. Zaba claimed to have lost her way inside the labyrinth that was Gil-galad's palace. But Galadriel, taking her clue from her daughter's voice, doubted the veracity of the girl's claim.
Reflecting on Beregar's foiled assassination attempt, Galadriel was more than a little concerned. If Zaba had actually touched Orgol's accursed ring, could it be that she had sensed its lure while she was roaming about the palace? Could it be that this ring had drawn her to itself, craving another mortal to be worn by, and that she had been looking for it?
At that moment, Zaba arrived at the breakfast table, and Galadriel observed her for a while.
Though the girl ate normally, she was silent and withdrawn, a remarkable contrast with her very vocal presence during last night's dinner. It was a little worrying. But Galadriel's worst fears did not come true until the High King entered and stabbed her mind with a thought like a spear thrust, as if he was handling Aiglos itself: Someone stole Orgol's ring from my room, last night.
Zaba, Galadriel thought immediately, though she would rather not believe it. The girl's anger at the Númenoreans had been great but also honest, untainted by evil. At this very instant she met Galadriel's searching gaze without averting her eyes. But then someone asked her to pass the salt and the contact broke - too soon.
'Zaba could not know where the ring was,' Gil-galad objected when Galadriel took him apart after breakfast. 'Unless someone told her that I took it. to my appartments. Whoever stole it must have known I did.'
He eyed her inquisitively, but when he did not say it, she did. 'I knew. So did Círdan.'
The King shook his head. 'Not the Shipwright. I questioned the guards a the main gates and they told me that he left the palace soon after last night's - eventful meeting,' he said, his tone almost apologising, as if he expected her to take offence on Círdan's behalf. 'He did not return while they were on duty, which was until dawn. I was in my room when he left.'
He paused and went on: 'Nor could I think of any reason why he would take it. Or you, my lady,' he added tentatively.
It would be pointless to protest her innocence. If he thought her capable of this theft, he had never known her. 'And Tárion?' she asked. 'He touched it.'
She caught the outrage flashing crossing his face before it composed itself again. Whatever had been amiss the night before, today the King stood up for his Captain as faithfully as ever. 'Have we established, then, that it is necessary to touch the thing in order to covet it?' he asked sharply.
'I, too, have touched it.' Glorfindel said, joining them; obviously he had overheard a great deal of their conversation. 'And more. If touch is decisive and you are listing suspects, my lord, my lady' - he inclined his head - 'you would be well-advised to put my name prominently on the list. After all, I joined the rebellion against the Powers once. Who can tell if I will not lapse into folly again, with a clean record waiting to be filled with new errors?'
There was more than a touch of mockery in his voice. Of course: he was speaking to one who had never been pardoned for her part in that same rebellion. If this ring was designed for mortal men, Galadriel mused, then why did it affect Elves as well, as it seemed to do?
She saw the King frown, and for a moment she thought that Gil-galad would reply in kind, telling Glorfindel that he had, indeed, put him on his list. But when he opened his mouth it was to say: ' I see. You decided to secure it in advance, confident that we would consent to entrust you with the Three and let you take all the rings west, there to be unmade by Celebrimbor's repentant fëa. I did not see you at the breakfast table, my lord Glorfindel. Perhaps you went to the harbour to tell our good Shipwright that he could ready a vessel for you?'
Galadriel saw Glorfindel's gaze pass from the King to her and back to the King again, reading the same choice in both of them. 'As a matter of fact,' he retorted, unfazed by Gil-galad's royal bout of sarcasm, 'I paid a visit to the armourer, asking him to fit me out for battle - in case you would not consent to entrust me with the Three, as I now suspect is the case.'
The silence following those words was eloquent enough. Glorfindel briefly bent his head before continuing to the King alone: 'But first, I paid a visit to your prisoner, young Beregar. We spoke at length. Part of it will have to remain private. Some things, though, may be of interest to you, my lord.'
When the admiral and his war captains had mustered the Númenorean army they had all agreed that it could have marched yesterday, if only the Elves had made a little more haste. But then, the Elves had all the time of the world to procrastinate, trifle and get distracted from their purposes. If the Noldor had not neglected to attack Morgoth while they still could, during the long years of peace in First Age Beleriand, they would be harping and singing less sadly today - or so some scholars of Armenelos claimed. The Ciryatur was inclined to agree. He liked First Age history, especially as it taught him that the Eldar, though immune to sickness of the body, were not that much better protected against the ailments of evil and failure than mortal Men.
At least this army, he thought, surveying it with satisfaction, would not fail. It was large and well equipped, shining blades whetted, spears sharpened, shields burnished, helmets polished. It was also eager to march and for the most part eager to fight orcs and the lesser and more stupid people of Middle-earth. Tar Minastir had decreed that it would be a waste to recruit too many farm lads and fishermen for a war that was in the fist place a conflict between immortals, and sent the better part of his standing army.
The Elvenking's explanation for the Dark Lord's sudden onslaught, or rather his vague suggestion that Sauron had been planning this attack since the Age was young, had not really satisfied Tar Minastir. The Ciryatur agreed wholeheartedly, especially as his own attempts to delve beneath the surface of the conflict had foundered on Gil-galad's glib evasiveness. His spies, planted in Mithlond to listen around and ask innocently curious questions, had fared little better. All they had been able to discover, was that some Noldorin lord, a master craftsman, had made a mistake by not perceiving Sauron's true intents when he should have. This was intriguing, but too vague to be truly illuminating.
And young Beregar was a complete disaster. Almost. Thinking of Beregar, the Ciryatur reminded himself to ask the Elvenking that the young man be delivered up to Númenorean justice.
But surely the army would prevail. And his host - Tar Minastir's he corrected himself - was far more numerous than the Elvenking's. The admiral wondered if, rejoined with the forces he had dispatched to the mouths of the Gwáthlo, it would be large enough to occupy all Eriador, thereby securing its many riches for Númenor. The island had few enough natural resources, and no silver or gold, or mithril. The lands of Middle-earth had all of these. Occupation would even solve the problem of an Elvenking prepared to interfere with Númenorean woodcutting on behalf of the Dunland savages. In fact, it was an attractive thought, save for the tiny detail that his mandate did not include the word 'conquest'.
He tried to imagine what his king would say to such an endeavour. Would he applaud it?
Most likely not. Tar Minastir envied the Eldar, but he still loved them enough to wish them well. His son would probably be interested, but he was too young. By the time his sire would surrender the sceptre, the Ciryatur would be heading for his tomb.
The admiral returned to the commander's pavillion for a last consultation with his captains. In the afternoon, he would once more see Gil-galad, the deathless one whom Beregar had failed to slay. Maybe he could seek out the silver maiden, too.
It occurred to him that if he would succeed in conquering Eriador, she might be among the spoils of war.
Despite the healer's advice to take it easy, Gildor was up and about long before the morning grew old. Before he rose, he had been trying to decide whom he would seek out. The ceiling panel had dissuaded him from visiting Beregar, after he had jumped between the young man's blade and its intended victim. A pity that events had taken this ugly turn; there had been moments when Gildor had believed that despite their differences, the two of them could be friends.
Gil-galad would be too busy today, nor was Gildor very eager to face his kinsman and witness another display of embarrassed gratitude. They had best forget about the incident and learn to coexist peacefully. With Glorfindel he had already spoken; he had no idea what to say to the lady Galadriel even if he met her by accident, and the Captain of the Guard who had saved his life by tripping up Beregar would be to busy making preparations for tomorrow's march.
Zaba, he thought suddenly. What had become of Zaba, who had put her complaint before the King on Gildor Inglorion's advice, merely to run into an adjournment of her case, and from there into trouble?
The girl proved difficult to find, also because Gildor could not move with his usual speed. Few people knew who he was looking for, and none of those who did know had set eyes on her after she had eaten breakfast in the dining hall. Too soon, Gildor grew too tired to pursue this mortal phantom. Resolving once again not to be left behind when the armies marched he asked the way to the armoury. When it proved empty of people and almost empty of weapons, he proceeded to the palace smithy. There, he hoped to find someone who could provide him with the pieces of armour he had not brought with him from Valinor, such as a helmet.
It was there that he found the one he was no longer looking for. From a cautious distance, Zaba stood watching one of the smiths hammer away at his anvil. Though her back was turned towards Gildor, he recognised her small, compact figure and the tautness of her body - the poise of one never wholly at rest and ever ready to bolt - or to strike. The poise of a cat. And he could relate to felines.
He watched her watching the smith, who did not seem to mind having an audience as long as he could ignore it. Despite her tension she stood very still, the only still thing amidst the energetic movements of the smith, the rise and fall of the hammer, the dance of the fire in the forge and the erratic flight of the orange-red sparks. Gildor, whose Noldorin blood was rather diluted after Finwë and Finrod had wedded Vanyarin women and Finarfin a daughter of the Teleri, wondered what the innocent metal thought of being beaten so mercilessly, and if it hissed in distress every time the smith plunged it into his cold water basin.
The next moment, just when it occurred to him that he could just as well ask its opinion about being thrust into living flesh, Zaba spoke up. 'Do you have a sword for me?' she asked the smith.
Without ceasing to work he answered: 'Try the chief armourer.'
'And where is he, if I may ask?' Gildor put in, this being his problem as well.
Zaba wheeled. 'You!' she cried loudly, before the smith could reply. 'Much good did it do me to complain to the Elvenking! I ended up being accused myself! Where was your support?'
'And a good day to you as well, Zaba of the Uncurbed Pride.' Forgetting his incompletely healed wound, Gildor made a mocking bow, which he regretted immediately. 'If I recall correctly, no formal accusation was made against you. And as for supporting you, the complaint you did make had nothing to do with what you told me in the streets of Mithlond about this stolen ring.' He also remembered smiling encouragingly to her all the same, but without her noticing it, and he doubted she would believe him now if he said so.
At the words 'stolen ring', she seemed to flinch. It could have been the restless light in the smithy or his own imagination, but he did not think it was. 'Why a sword?' he went on; she wasn't tall enough to handle a Noldorin blade.
'What does one do with a sword?'
'Kill,' Gildor admitted. 'But whom do you want to kill.?'
'Do you Elves usually kill friends?'
He swallowed an indignant retort. 'So, what enemies would you kill?'
'If you two have no further need of me,' the smith put in, 'go and take your altercation elsewhere.' The intensity of his hammering increased.
Gildor frowned, about to tell him that his manners left something to be desired. But Zaba said: 'Let us find the chief armourer,' and grabbing his arm she pulled Gildor along. He winced. 'What ails you?' she asked him.
'Incident,' he replied curtly; despite everything, he was loath to accuse Beregar to the face of someone who could not possibly be his friend. 'Who are your enemies? The Númenoreans? The Elves? If so, I do not think I will assist you in your search for the armourer.' And if I find him myself, I will warn him not to provide you with any sharp edges.
'I do no not need you! And if you are injured, as I think, you cannot stop me, Elf boy.'
Gildor sighed. 'So you intend to do something I would prevent, if I could?' he asked.
Seeing her eyes, half-defiant, half-troubled, he felt a sudden surge of pity. The girl was alone. Not even the other two members of Orgol's company had remained with her, as if they did not truly consider her one of them despite everything she had said in the dining hall. In Númenorean eyes she was a mere bastard, while the Eldar of Lindon would treat her correctly but deem her worth little attention and less interest.
'Is there anything I can do for you, Zaba?' he asked. 'I do hope that you are not planning -
'- to kill any of your proud allies, who will promptly blame the Elves for letting me run loose, and sail back home?' She laughed mirthlessly. 'How stupid do you think I am? If I want your King to do anything for my people - because he feels obliged, or guilty - would I alienate him by such an act?' Turning away she added: 'How desperate am I, to go for counsel to the Elves! But maybe I will find other counsel yet!' And with that she marched away.
'Zaba!' Gildor cried, fearing he had made a bad thing worse. 'Please wait!' Following her was not possible; he could walk, but in his present condition he could not yet run. 'Wait, Zaba!' he cried again.
But she did not halt.
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