39. Chapter Thirty-nine
If there was one Elf he could trust, Beregar thought, lying in his bed with his eyes closed, it was Glorfindel. Not that he had done or said much; he had mainly listened, asking only occasional questions and leaving the telling of the tale to Beregar. And to his everlasting relief and surprise, Beregar discovered that Glorfindel did not condemn him. Not once did he say: 'That was wrong,' or: 'You should not have done that.' All he had wanted to know was, whether the young man knew why he had acted like he had.
The answer had been rather humbling, for he had acted mostly on impulse (when he took the ring from Zaba), wishing to be his own master instead of serving the Ciryatur (when he put it on), and refusing to relinquish those dreams (when Tárion had confronted him in the courtyard - the last moment when he had been in control of himself).
'What a stupid reasons to do something stupid,' he recalled saying.
'Yes,' Glorfindel had replied. 'I know what you mean. I left Valinor impulsively once, wishing to be my own master, instead of a pupil of the Valar, and refusing to retrace my steps when we were warned that we would bring doom upon our own heads. It was not quite the same - if anything, it was more stupid, for we knew who it was that we followed: Fëanor, rebel and kinslayer. Madness in the footsteps of a madman.' After a brief pause he had added: 'None have ever hated me more for this folly than I have.'
'But you redeemed yourself.'
'I was granted the grace to do so.' The Elda's smile was pained and peaceful at the same time, the strangest smile Beregar had ever seen - but then, Glorfindel was the strangest person he had ever encountered: someone embodied twice yet completely at one with himself.
I wish I could redeem myself.
'You will be granted that grace as well, if you truly desire to be at one with yourself,' Glorfindel replied, speaking Beregar's thought aloud.
Beregar had deliberated for a moment. What he had to tell was not much, and he would betray his own admiral if he told it. On the other hand: was it possible at all to commit any form of betrayal face to face with someone like Glorfindel?
'Perhaps I should tell you,' he had said tentatively, 'that the Ciryatur hates the Elves and sent me along with you and Gildor to spy on you. Not that there was much to discover. But he suspects your King of not being sincere about his motives for fighting the Enemy.'
At that, Glorfindel had looked pensive. 'I thank you for your trust,' he had said. Not much later he had left, leaving Beregar to doze off.
When the door opened again he woke. The unwholesome tension in his body was wearing off at last. Maybe the Elves had added something to the drinking cup beside his bed to help him relax. It had to be evening: the room where they had confined him was full of twilight and shadows.
And then one of those shadows moved towards him. A cloaked shape it was, the head covered with a large hood that obscured most of the wearer's face. All Beregar saw was a chin and a lower lip, but the light was too dim and the skin of the unknown visitor's face too much overshadowed by the hood to tell if the absence of a beard was natural, or the result of shaving. He did not hear any footsteps, but as the floor was carpeted and the figure's every movement bespoke stealth, his visitor could just as well be a Man as an Elf. The shape was not particularly tall, but perhaps it was stooping. It looked shapeless enough.
A hand emerged from the wide, dark cloak, making an inviting gesture. Beregar frowned. Was he supposed to follow this image of secrecy out of the room? One thing seemed certain: Gil-galad would hardly summon him for another round of questioning in such a peculiar way.
He hesitated. This could be a liberator of either kindred, elf or mortal. It could also be one of the Ciryatur's men trying to spirit him away for unpleasant purposes. As his attempt on the Elvenking was ultimately a stain on Tar Minastir's honour, he, the assailant had to be punished. Even if his head would remain on his shoulders, justice would still be severe. He had reasons to believe that it would be much harsher than Gil-galad's.
Once more the hand beckoned him, urging him to follow. If only he knew to what fate and end. Beregar rose from the bed to approach his visitor warily. 'Who are you?' he asked in a subdued voice.
Shaking his head, the other pointed at the door, and turning quickly he seemed to float towards it, too fast for Beregar to yank off the hood. For a few erratic heartbeats, the young man was poised between remaining in this room in fear and distrust, and grabbing his chance.
Freedom or death, he thought dramatically. He suppressed a snort - at whatever fate had in store for him, at himself, or both. And blown along on a gust of recklessness he followed the cloaked figure to the door.
'No, Arto, I will not take Nárya,' Tárion said. Gil-galad had decided it would be better if the Ring of Fire and the Ring of Air were not to remain in the same place, however carefully warded the cabinet was that had held them both until now.
His lover eyed him anxiously, turning Nárya around between his thumb and forefinger. 'Have you had foresight of... some dark fate awaiting you, Valanya?'
He avoided the word 'death', but Tárion did not have to look inside Gil-galad's mind to know how large it loomed there. He wished he could reply with a wholehearted 'no', but the truth was more complicated. 'I would lie if I claimed to be free of premonitions, he replied, gently smoothing out a fold of his lover's surcoat. 'But it is not foresight. More like a shadow and a threat, but nothing as personal as seeing my own fall -'
A long sigh escaped the King.
'- or yours,' Tárion added pointedly, though the King had not voiced any fears regarding his own fate, leaving such concerns to his lover.
Gil-galad grunted softly. 'I suppose you have a right to worry, too,' he conceded.
With a slight shake of his head, Tárion placed his right hand across his heart in such a way that it also partly covered the burn marks of the Balrog's whip smouldering underneath his clothes and mail. 'I shall not use the Ring of Fire to heal myself, though I know it can be done. Aware as I am that it must never be used as long as Sauron the Abhorred holds the One, I can withstand its lure. I have. Even so, do not entrust Nárya to me.'
At last, Gil-galad nodded in acceptance; if there was disappointment in his face, it was no more than a vanishing shadow. 'You will always withstand its temptation,' he said, more gravely now. 'Still, if you are loath to accept it regardless, I will not repeat my request.'
'Good,' Tárion said, and changing his tone he added: 'For if you would, I might start thinking you are offering me a ring to celebrate our betrothal.'
'If you do not watch your tongue, I may just do that, once all this is over! A silver ring, of course, according to the laws and customs of the Eldar that we are always so keen to honour...,' Gil-galad said mockingly while he gazed through the gleaming circle of gold. 'Who, then?'
'You know who,' said Tárion, resigned to the fact that even Gil-galad's banter had an edge today. He carried a heavier responsibility than anyone else in this endeavour. And his hatred of Sauron was much too personal for him to be able to relax.
Gil-galad kept procrastinating, as if it was still possible to decide otherwise. 'Do you think Círdan(2) will accept it? Fire is not his element.'
'That will make him even less tempted to wield it. He will accept. But you had better make haste. Sunrise is near.'
'Come then. Let us go. May Manwë keep us under the One.' The King clenched his fist around the Ring of Fire and laid his free hand on Tárion's mail-clad shoulder. They turned their backs to the cabinet holding Vilya, knowing that only Galadriel would be able to open it.
The riddle of Orgol's ring would have to remain unsolved. At present, there was nothing they could do about it.
She climbed the tallest tower, in the hour when the grey, predawn cold extinguishes Elbereth's lights. If the night's blazing, cloudless clarity - menel aglar elenath!(1), she thought - was to be taken as a portent, the radiance of the stars would dispel the Deceiver's shadows. But this was the hope of one who looks up - neither foresight, nor ultimate trust. Her hand hovered over her chest, where Nenya hung on a chain underneath her gown, and she corrected herself. She did have estel, or she would have let Glorfindel take the Ring of Water overseas to keep it out of Sauron's hands.
She knew better than before why she kept it, though even now it increased her longing for the sea: she could feel it tugging at her soul like the breeze tugged at her robes. But the land needed her; these shores wanted her. Here, she still had blessings to bestow. Nor did the realm on the other side of the Great Sea want anything that she could yield, except herself. Her life would be past there, a tale told in full; an end would come to her story, and though she would continue to exist she would, in a way, cease to be.
Too well she remembered why Fëanor had rebelled, why he had been right to say no - and why she was still unable to beg forgiveness for agreeing with him, much as she loathed his deeds.
Her gaze swept south- and eastward, to where she knew Sauron was awaiting the hosts of Elves and Men, though all she saw was a hint of blackness on distant hills. She wanted him to perish, as her most beloved brother had perished through him. Yet another reason why she would not depart overseas, even if she could. She would not turn her back to the ancient foe of her house. Though she would remain in Mithlond, her hatred would march with Gil-galad's armiy, along with her hopes - and those were forces to be reckoned with.
She turned her eyes towards the Númenorean camp beyond Mithlond, where the standard of the King was raised, showing the White Tree and the stars. Beside it hung the Ciryatur's own banner, the tall ship it bore only half visible. That it did not fly properly was merely for lack of wind, yet Galadriel was reminded of the shadowy patches in the forest of the man's mind: the part of this mortal that seemed to eschew the light. She knew that even the flawed could be instrumental in achieving victory - and who was entirely without flaws? - but even so she was concerned about the how.
Finally, she looked down at the courtyard, where the King's mount Nimroch awaited him, flanked by the horse of his Captain and soulmate. The members of the King's guard were waiting beside their mounts. Galadriel knew all of them, and one in particular. It was still possible to prevent her from riding.
She would not do so, though the dealing of death would affect her daughter's healing powers. No one had prevented her from leaving either, more than an age ago now, before the first rise of the Sun, whose early rays lit the eastern horizon with their flames now.
My love, she spoke to faraway Celeborn, knowing that her thoughts would touch his mind, I left our daughter freedom of choice to meet whatever fate awaits her. I trust that you and I will not come to regret this choice of mine.
But wisdom is hardest won at the shortest range, and her heart did flutter all the same.
Many leagues to the east, Elrond Half-elven, lord of the new refuge of Imladris, raised his head heavily from his desk. He must have fallen asleep poring over maps and reports, most likely after having read for the better part of the night. Celeborn watched him from the doorway. He came straight from his bed, refreshed by the fair vision in which he had walked this night. Never since the fall of Eregion and his and Elrond's retreat to this cloven valley had he been able to touch the face of his lady in a dream. This night had been the first time, and though Galadriel's expression had been grave and full of concern, the touch had given him hope.
No such reprieve had been granted the Peredhel, it seemed, for the countenance looking up from the desk was etched with fatigue. One cheek showed the indentation of the quill shaft on which it had rested. It remained visible longer than it would have on the face of a full elf.
Elrond rubbed his eyes, a familiar gesture that had often made Celeborn wonder how eyes must feel to make such a gesture necessary. A blink was all he ever needed to focus.
'You dreamed of another attack coming up?' Elrond asked.
Celeborn shook his head. 'My dream was hopeful. I came to cheer you up.'
Elrond straightened, stretching a little and suppressing a yawn. He pushed a stray lock of his dark hair away from his forehead. 'Did you see Sauron defeated?' he asked gravely, even cautiously.
'Reluctant to rejoice?' Celeborn said, half smiling - he had needed no special foresight to see this reaction coming. 'Nothing as clear as that; hope, not certainty. Still, something is about to change, and I have faith that it will be for the better.'
Elrond rose; the crease in his cheek was growing less now. He nodded pensively. 'I had a dream, too, though' - he gestured at the parchments strewn across his desk - 'mine may have been caused by the reports my head was resting on. Crebain from the West massing above the encampment of our besiegers. Riders leaving. Unrest among the ranks of our enemies. Something is afoot indeed. More, I could not see but I shall share your hope, my friend. If one of the wise among the Eldar tells you to be of good cheer, his words should not be dismissed.'
'That is kind of you.' Celeborn's smile broadened. Elrond was kind, though at times he forgot to include himself in his own kindness. 'My wisdom also tells me that this siege will not last much longer.'
'Yes,' Elrond said. 'We had better prepare for another attack. But this time it will be ours.'
(1)Rough translation: the star-host's heavenly glory. Taken from the hymn A Elbereth that Frodo hears in Rivendell.
(2)According to the History of Galadriel and Celebrían in Unfinished Tales, one marginal note to the narrative states that Gil-galad didn't entrust Círdan with the Ring of Fire until he set out for the War of the Last Alliance. Personally, though, I find this version more likely; for those involved this battle must have appeared no less decisive.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.