38. Chapter Thirty-eight
'If I understand you correctly,' Gil-galad said slowly, 'Beregar told both his admiral and the girl Zaba that I had the ring?'
Glorfindel nodded. 'So he said. But he meant no harm,' he added quickly. 'Nor can we tell with any certainty that this led to the theft.'
'Yes, do defend him!' the King said. 'He will need it. Though I am inclined to lenience, I doubt if his admiral will be of like mind. Knowing the man a little by now, I suspect he sees this attempt on my life by one of his sailors as a loss of face that may give me an unfair advantage over him. He may want to exact a severe punishment.'
'Does Beregar stand in peril of being executed?' Galadriel looked dismayed. 'Did you not visit Númenor repeatedly, Glorfindel? Do they decree capital punishment for such an act?'
'Not that I am aware of,' Glorfindel replied, 'though it could be that I failed to notice any changes they made. But Beregar's deed may well be considered treason. Would you deliver him up at the Ciryatur's request, my lord King?'
Gil-galad sighed deeply. 'To be honest, I do not have an answer to that. Yet. But I am well aware of the possibility that I may need one soon.'
The three of them fell silent, all thinking the same. Chastising Beregar for his folly seemed right, and as the young man acknowledged that he had acted wrongly he might even see the justice of it. But the price of a life was not refundable.
Gil-galad would undoubtedly be aware of all this. He had been the target of the attack, but under normal circumstances he would rise to the occasion and turn a deaf ear to any requests to deliver up Beregar; of that, Glorfindel was convinced. Unfortunately, the circumstances were not normal; there were other, and greater interests at stake.
There had to be another solution.
It was Beregar himself who confirmed Glorfindel's account: yes, he had told both Zaba and the Ciryatur what had happened to the ring after Tárion had forcefully pulled it from his finger. Gil-galad had regretted the necessity to verify the Elda's words, but he trusted that Glorfindel would see the reason of it.
Beregar had been ready enough to speak. He had even apologised, in an embarrassed and almost grudging way. Gil-galad had listened to the stammered apology with as much grace as he could muster, given the fact that the young man was a terrible fool. He had even accepted it personally, though not in his capacity of High King of the Noldor. That would take a more formal occasion.
Not that it solved much of the newly brewed troubles. Beregar's account had greatly reduced the likelihood that Glorfindel had taken the ring to (and Gil-galad berated himself for suspecting him in the first place). The two new suspects, however, only complicated the matter.
Zaba could be subjected to questioning and even to a body search, but in order to do so they would have to find her first - and after breakfast she had vanished. The Ciryatur's whereabouts were known, but his status safeguarded him from being interrogated, let alone having his person searched.
It was above all the admiral who worried the High King. It seemed a singularly bad idea to march against Sauron the Deceiver in the company of a man holding a ring that could bring him under that same Deceiver's sway. But unless Zaba had the ring and they would find her soon, Gil-galad saw no possibility to avoid it. Even if the departure of the joined armies could have been further postponed - which was not the case - the Ciryatur would not become any more searchable for it.
So the King had the entire palace and all the courts combed out as thoroughly and discreetly as possible. The girl was nowhere to be found; though according to the gatekeepers she had not left. And while Glorfindel could tell the ring was not far away, he was unable to locate it accurately, as if he were somehow less attuned to it after having rejected its evil suggestions. Or so he said, and that was something Gil-galad had to take for granted.
Meanwhile, and ironically enough, the only person who was entirely above suspicion, seemed to be Beregar. As Tárion had pointed out, even Gil-galad himself could be the culprit.
'Theoretically, you could feign the ring was stolen to be able to wield it secretly, without anyone being the wiser,' he had explained without batting an eye. 'I never saw it lying on that table, so I cannot be wholly sure that you ever put it there - as you cannot be wholly sure that I am not lying to you, having taken it during your absence.'
'There are moments when I wish that you were more simple-minded,' Gil-galad had told him with an exaggerated sigh, and that had been the end of the discussion.
Now, he was sitting opposite the Ciryatur at the council table, the last meeting of the captains concluded, the last instructions handed out to be distributed. One night separated them from the road that would lead them either to defeat and enslavement, or to victory and the liberation of Eriador.
Though not all, Gil-galad mused sadly, remembering Zaba's complaints and accusations, may welcome this freedom with open arms.
'My lord King,' the Ciryatur intoned. When the King looked up he continued: 'With your leave, there is one more matter that I would discuss.'
He was entirely too deferential. Bracing himself, Gil-galad stabbed a pleasant little smile at the other. 'But of course.'
'I hear that last night, one of my sailors, a young man by the name of Beregar Falmálion, made an attempt on your royal person. I am relieved to see that he failed. Also, I understand that you hold him in detention.' The Ciryatur waited.
'That is correct,' said Gil-galad. 'And thank you, my lord admiral.'
The other inclined his head. 'As the perpetrator of this abject crime is a subject of Tar Minastir, the King of Númenor, whose representative I am in the realm of Lindon, I have to request that he be delivered into my hands, after which I shall send him home to be tried and punished according to our ancient laws.'
I am more ancient than your laws! All the same, a blunt denial was not advisable, even though Gil-galad could maintain that the verdict was his to give. 'Is my assumption right that such a trial would require the presence of those who witnessed the assault?' he inquired. He could not for the long life of him see Galadriel take ship to sail even a quarter of a mile west, as this would make her sea-longing unbearable. Nor was he sure it would be wise for him or Tárion to venture upon the waters that separated them from most of their kin, living or dead.
'The evidence could be presented in the form of written and sealed documents. The royal seal of the High King of the Noldor will undoubtedly be good enough for a Númenorean court of law.'
'I am glad to hear it,' the High King of the Noldor said, swallowing an incensed retort. 'Even so, it would take some time to draw up such documents. Moreover, I would prefer that this be done in the presence of the accused, enabling him to have his reaction to the accounts of the eyewitnesses put on record. We cannot tread carefully enough. So, my lord admiral, I would suggest that we postpone further decisions until after our encounter with the Dark Lord, hoping and praying that we shall prevail.'
The admiral did not reply at once, but the flicker of annoyance crossing his face spoke volumes. He had to realise that he could hardly demand a yea or nay here and now, however much he would like to do so. His jaws worked, but finally he nodded his assent and rose. 'As you wish.'
Gil-galad sensed his outrage. He envied Galadriel, who would have known what the other was thinking. He also wondered what the Numenórean really wanted of Beregar. Punish him - or interrogate him about his experience with Orgol's ring? And how far would he go to secure the young man, knowing how reluctant the 'Elvenking' was to thwart a man whose help he needed?
She met the Captain in the appointed place, dressed in a tunic and leggings.
He had a shield lying at his feet, with a folded coat of mail, a helmet, a sword, and a bow on top. To her dismay and annoyance, he had also brought his second-in-command, introducing him as Argon son of Arminas, a survivor from the Dagor Bragollach, who had fled to the Falas after Morgoth Bauglir had overrun Dorthonion in the First Age. Why did he have to draw others into this? What, if Argon were to cross her mother's path? One furtive glance could be enough to tell Galadriel that something strange was afoot - and she would not shrug such an observation away.
Celebrían cast a stern look at Gil-galad's bedmate as he stood there between the almost bare walls of the armoury, but unlike last night he withstood her gaze with ease now. Of course, she thought. I am the needy one, the one who is asking the favour.
Then, she saw the archer's butt on the farthest wall. So she was to be put to the test first?
'My lady.' The Captain of the King's guard sketched a - mocking? - bow before he turned to his second-in-command. 'As we still need replacements for two members of the King's guard who were slain during the recent skirmish in the Emyn Beraid, let us test this particular applicant's abilities.' He held out the bow to Celebrían, while Argon handed her an arrow from the quiver on his back.
Applicant? Taking both bow and arrow, she raised her chin defiantly. 'Do you think I would have made my request if I could not shoot or handle a sword?'
'Ah,' the Captain said, 'but does that make you fit for the King's Guard?'
She put the arrow on the string and aimed. 'You tell me.'
'Fire,' he said.
She loosed the arrow. 'Good enough?'
'Good shot,' he agreed. She had hit the target. 'But just good is not good enough. Second arrow, please.' Argon handed her another arrow from his quiver. The captain picked up the sword and the shield and took a few steps back. 'I am the enemy. Shoot me.'
Celebrían stared at him.
'Why do you hesitate?' he said. 'Shoot me.'
She aimed, but he had already raised the shield. She lowered the bow to aim at his legs instead. Something flashed past her face. The bowstring snapped and one of the ends hit the chin she had raised in defiance but a short while ago. For an instant, the pain took her breath away, and tears blinded her eyes, though she managed not to cry out, or drop the bow.
She heard the screech of metal on metal. Blinking away the moisture she discovered that Argon had blocked the Captain's second sword stroke, the one aimed at her neck. The blade was sharp enough to kill.
'What does this tell you, my lady?' the Captain asked her.
She swallowed. Would he have killed her if Argon had not been swift enough. Fury rose in her, and she opted for defiance. 'That a good bowstring has gone to waste!'
'Not if it spoke to you when it snapped.'
After a rather long silence, she offered: 'A dead guard is a bad guard?'
'Close, but not close enough.' The Captain waited.
It began to dawn on her. 'You mean that good guards do not need to be guarded, and that if they are slain, they are slain in defence of their King, not because they were too slow, or because they hesitated?' Célebrian shook her head. 'I do not ask to be guarded.'
He merely gazed her. That was when she realised what he was really telling her: that even though she was prepared to die for Gil-galad, the Captain could not allow her to fall. Her presence in the battle would demand that he defend her with his own life first, not the one he loved.
So I did find a way to come between him and Gil-galad... And she could see that the Captain was well aware of it. By making her a member of the King's Guard he could watch over her and at the same time stay close to his lover, thereby reducing the risk that he would have to make a choice that would rend his heart. But eliminate it, he could not.
Then why had he agreed to her request, last night? Because he knew that she would join the army regardless? She did not understand him. Did he expect her to desist now, having made clear to her what it was she was doing?
Celebrían straightened. 'This situation fell short of reality,' she objected, turning deliberately to the Captain's second-in-command. 'Had the Captain been an orc, I would not have hesitated.'
'You will not only face yrch,' replied Argon. 'Many of our foes are mortals. Usually, they are not hideous to look upon. Will you slay them as readily?'
'If they serve the Dark Lord, I surely will.' But will I? How can I be certain? I never killed one before. Celebrían turned back to the Captain. 'I have no need of your protection, sir. My mother taught me to wield a blade, my father taught me to shoot. I assure you that you can do your duty by the King as you always do, Captain.'
She saw her words hit home. Putting down shield and sword, Captain Tárion bowed once more, and indicated the pieces of armour at his feet: 'Put this on and we shall test your prowess, though I do not doubt that your mother taught you well. Should this indeed be the case, then we have found a new member of the guard - for the time being.'
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