4. Chapter Four
'Mother, I will not leave,' Celebrian said stubbornly. 'If darkness will engulf the last free lands of Middle-earth, I would not want to sit alone on Tol Eresseä knowing that everyone I loved was in the Halls of Mandos.'
'The sole purpose of bringing you here was to give you a chance to leave and live,' said her mother, whose patience was audibly stretched. 'Your father and I agreed on this before the destruction of Eregion. Can you not see why we would have it so, my daughter?'
She could. But her parents had not consulted the object of their loving care. Celebrian had ceased to be a child several centuries ago, and she did have a mind of her own. Given her mother's character, she considered this quite an achievement.
Her mother seldom put pressure on anyone, as guidance and counsel usually achieved more lasting results. But this was her own daughter and a thing too close is never seen clearly. Celebrian knew she would not obey, and she also knew she would not be carried to a ship trussed up like one of Sauron's captured spies.
They both knew there were too few ships; too many would not be able to flee. 'Yes, I can see why you would have it so,' Celebrian replied slowly. 'As most parents would. But will the farrier's daughter be able to embark, or the fletcher's son? Why should I be chosen?'
Though she could not look away at will, she had never been afraid of her mother's gaze. Nor was she now; her mind was open and she had nothing to hide.
'What a bitter contradiction,' Galadriel mused at last. 'I feel the call but I cannot go; you could go but you do not feel the call.'
Celebrian turned away to one of the windows overlooking the shipyards. Even now, at the hour of the noon meal, the shipbuilding was in full swing. Many of Círdan's people were at work, more so than ever, it seemed to her, and the hammer strokes seemed frenzied like never before. 'Is it... your Ring?' she asked.
'Do not speak of it!' her mother said rather sharply.
Before Celebrian could react, the distant sounds of activity ever present in the background rose to a clamour. Galadriel, nearer to the door, reached it first. A few moments later they were hurrying through the corridors.
In the Forecourt, many voices were shouting simultaneously. From what Celebrian's ears were able to catch, she understood that enemies had crossed the Emyn Beraid and were even now breaking through their first line of defence. The whole court had exploded into a frenzy of activity. Warhorses were being led from the stables, squires were bringing shields and banners, and in the midst of it all the High King came striding down the Great Stairs in his shining armour, doing full justice to the epessë that named him Star of Radiance. Not for the first time, Celebrian found herself gazing admiringly at his awesome appearance.
The Kingsguard waited in the centre of the court, Tárion the Captain already on horseback. Gil-galad briefly conferred with him before turning to mount his own stallion, white Nimroch. A squire handed him his spear.
A broad-shouldered figure with flowing, silver-white tresses emerged from under the arch of the gate: Círdan the Shipwright. He hurried towards the King, and drawing near with her mother, Celebrian could hear their exchange.
'My men are ready,' said Círdan. 'Is it your wish to take them along?'
Gil-galad shook his head. 'Let them prepare to defend the Havens.' He held out an arm.
Círdan clasped it firmly. 'May Elbereth protect you.'
'And you.' The King mounted. Then, his eye fell on Galadriel.
'Do you still keep them in the place you showed me before?' she asked, her deep voice calm as a summer sea.
'I do, kinswoman,' Gil-galad answered. 'No doubt you will know what to do when we fail to return.'
Galadriel inclined her head.
'Nai auta i lóme,''(1) said the King. He had to be in a very solemn mood, to use Quenya. The next moment, he rode away surrounded by his guard.
Celebrian followed him with her eyes until he disappeared under the arch of the gate. Turning towards her mother, she saw saw Galadriel's forehead crease slightly.
'What is it, Mother?' she asked. 'Apart from the subject we discussed earlier?'
'I cannot tell you yet,' was all her mother said.
She is not happy to see me look up towards Gil-galad, Celebrian said to herself. Why not, I wonder?
They did not enter the palace again but left by the main gate. Círdan tried to dissuade them from it, in case the Enemy should breach all their shield-walls within the next few hours. But Galadriel was not easily dissuaded, if at all. And so they went down to the quays, while Círdan rejoined his army of shipwrights.
It was when they stood gazing out across the Gulf of Lune, that Celebrian thought she felt a sudden ripple in the air, as a portent of things to come.
They rode at full speed, the King in the lead, the Captain of the Guard a horse head behind him. They could only guess how many enemies had broken through the defences; for all they knew, they could be galloping to their deaths. Gil-galad glanced aside at what little was visible of Tárion's face between the protective steel pieces of his helmet. Not a trace of fear, only concentration, and a mouth set in a familiar way. No mercy for the enemy, none for himself.
No one Gil-galad knew had been closer to death. He remembered the tale well, though Tárion had only told it once: how long ago, when Gondolin had fallen and its survivors were fleeing, he had found his spirit hovering above a badly damaged body lying below a cliff in the Cirith Thoronath. How he had come to realise that this shell of flesh was his own; all he needed to do was tear his gaze away from it to hear the call of Mandos. But he had not looked away; he had returned to the blaze of pain and the agony of loss to which he had been reduced in that hour of utter darkness. And somehow, he had summoned the strength to rise and stumble on through the pass until he found other fugitives able to tend to him.
For Tárion had promised to survive, and he had survived.
Since then, Death had a familiar face to him: the still face of one lying motionlessly below a rock face. He would not hesitate one heartbeat to die - not only for his King, but also for every single member of this too small company. Gil-galad fervently hoped he would not. But there was no way he would exact a promise to survive from someone who had suffered so much by making the first one.
He wished he could ride to battle like the others. He wanted to be just a guard, just a warrior, just anyone who could fight heedless of peril and die for - well, Tárion, in his case - without wondering what would befall his people, his lands, this Middle-earth, if he fell. Maybe he would, some day: if everything was to be gained, nothing to be lost, and estel was all that was left. But not today, for today there was still hope of both kinds. And he, the High King must needs be its token.
A High King who had no son to inherit his crown.
A curse on idle wishes; he ought to concentrate on present dangers. His keen eyes saw a flurry of movement in the distance. They had not yet reached the Emyn Beraid; could the Enemy have advanced this far?
The Captain of the Guard had seen it, too; he readied his bow and raised it. He did not draw and loose, though, for the rider approaching them was a scout of their own. Before he reached them he shouted something about making haste, about yrch crawling through the hills like insects. Pulling around his mound and galloping along with Gil-galad for a while, he warned them: the foes were closer than they seemed, for the wind came straight and strong from the West and most of the din of the Glamhoth(2) was blown the other way. That, he guessed must have been one of the reasons behind this attack.
'Is the Enemy's main host advancing?'
'We cannot tell. It may well be.' The scout glanced over his shoulder at the riders following the King. 'My lord, allow me to say that you brought a rather small force.'
'At least four to one. And' - he hesitated - 'not all of them yrch. Some are evil Men from beyond Mordor.'
Much harder to fight than orcs. Mortal foes... Gil-galad thought. But no, the Orcs were the mortal foes.
'Ride on to the Havens,' he told the scout. 'Tell the the lord Círdan to send reinforcements.'
'And if it's a ruse?' Tárion said when the scout swerved to head for the Havens. 'Other enemy forces closing in from the South and the North?'
'What would you have us do, then?' Gil-galad asked.
'The same,' his Captain replied. 'A danger one sees...
'... is worse than a threat one fears,' the King finished.
They hurried on. Above the thundering of their horses' hooves, the faint clamour of battle could be heard.
(1)Quenya. I hope it means 'may the Shadow pass away'
(2)Noisy horde, Sindarin word for Orcs.