40. Chapter Forty
They were going uphill again to crest the last of the ridges of the Emyn Beraid, and Gildor could still feel the sore spot where his wound had been; it was closed now, but not fully healed yet. A mile ago or so, he had stopped humming his old Valinorean walking song to concentrate on moving in such a way that the strain would be minimal. He could not remember that scaling hills had ever been less than pleasant, back home, except when he was a toddler with very short legs.
Not long after these thoughts had crossed his mind, a bareheaded Glorfindel, whose hair shone like metal in the pale sunlight, approached them in the company of one of Círdan's warriors. Suspecting that they had been found out despite their concealing helmets, Gildor turned towards his own companion, who had been marching doggedly at his side ever since they left the Havens, a day and a half ago. 'Do not speak,' he said warningly. As the craban flew, it was two hundred miles from Mithlond to the Sarn Ford and several dozens more by road. By evenfall, they would have covered about one tenth of that distance, but no more. They were still close enough to the Havens for his companion to be bundled back.
His companion merely gave an annoyed little shrug. Gildor could only hope for the best, yet he remained carefully optimistic. Glorfindel would not resort to force.
When the two riders reined in, he greeted them politely, both in Quenya and Sindarin, and asked: 'How did you know it was me, making up the rearguard of this impressive host?'
Glorfindel inclined his head in reply to Gildor's greeting. 'The scions of Finwë tend to stand out literally, especially when flanked by someone markedly shorter than they are. Not to mention the fact that your armour is incomplete; I can guess that you helped yourself to the leftovers - for the most part.' He surveyed Gildor's companion, who had to make do with a mail shirt and a pair of greaves - and the helmet, upon which his gaze came to rest. 'Though I would have appreciated it, Gildor, if you had asked me for that helm, instead of letting it disappear miraculously while I was away.'
Gildor pulled a face. 'There was no helm left that fitted, and I did not think that you would mind, knowing that you do not need it.' Knowing how immaterial rehoused Elves could be he wondered why Glorfindel wore armour at all. When the other's face remained unreadable he conceded: 'Well, maybe apologies are in place, if you can refrain from looking beyond their face value.'
Glorfindel sighed, and maybe the corners of his mouth trembled a little. 'Do you think you can keep up the army's present pace, given your condition?' he asked, letting the matter of the helmet rest.
'If I had not felt up to it,' Gildor replied, a little more defensive now, 'I would have remained in bed.'
'I was simply asking a question,' Glorfindel said dryly. 'If your answer is that you can hold your own, who am I to doubt you? When I spoke to the healer last night she was less sure, but your body is yours to govern - as is your spirit, I may hope.' He cast a glance at the silent figure at Gildor's side. 'If you and your companion do not mind, I and my companion - he indicated the other rider - 'will join you for a while. Between the four of us, we can even share these horses.'
At that moment, Gildor's companion hissed softly.
Gildor took another and much better look at the second rider. As he wore a helm only his nose, mouth and chin were visible - but he realised that he had seen them before.
'Well met, Gildor Inglorion,' said Beregar. It came out a little hoarsely, and he cleared his throat.
'You?' Gildor asked, astonished, but without any lingering resentment. 'But I thought you were a prisoner in the royal palace!' He turned back to Glorfindel. ' Did you free him?'
'Not me. Gil-galad.' Now Glorfindel looked almost mischievous. 'He decided to put our friend to the test by entering his room in disguise. He needed to know if Beregar feared the Ciryatur's justice enough to take a chance. Obviously, he did.'
'I was ready to make a dash for freedom in case I saw no guards outside the door,' Beregar took over. 'I figured that if it was one of my fellow countrymen who came for me, the guards would have been disabled. But they were there, which meant my liberator had to be sent by your King. And then it turned out that it was your King.'
Gildor looked at the other Elf. 'But why bring him here?'
'It turns out that he is less safe in Círdan's vanguard than the King thought he would be,' was the answer. 'Some time ago, a liaison officer sent by the Ciryatur eyed him rather suspiciously. And as he is not to be delivered up -'
'As far as I am concerned, he is welcome,' Gildor interrupted him, stressing the word I and gazing pointedly at the person beside him.
Now it was Beregar's turn to take another and better look at Gildor's companion, and his mouth became a round gap. He recognised her.
'Yes, it is I!' Zaba said, her voice soft and threatening. 'Thief!'
Gildor cringed. Yesterday, it had taken him considerable time to find her, and even more time to talk her into accepting his company. But what had seemed a fine idea the day before - keeping an eye on Zaba to prevent her from committing some folly or other - now turned into something awkward.
'Zaba, I do not have the ring anymore,' Beregar told the girl.
'But you stole it.' Zaba paused. 'To make amends, you ought to let me ride, at the least.'
'You can ride pillion with me,' the young man replied mockingly. He was not going to make this easier either.
'Do you want a knife in your back?'
'No, for you will sit in front of me, and maybe -'
'Never!' she spat.
This means trouble, Glorfindel.
And who was it that took her along?
Gildor was piqued. You brought Beregar. Can he be completely relied on?
Perhaps not. Glorfindel seemed weirdly amused. But I guess we can rely on them to keep an eye on each other. Why do I have the impression that they trust each other less than we trust either of them? 'Zaba,' he said aloud, dismounting. 'You can ride my horse for a while. Should he bolt, for whatever reason, do not fear - though I doubt he will do so. But any horse that has carried me will always return when I call.'
Despite the helmet she wore, Gildor saw the girl's face fall. Glorfindel could not have warned her more clearly to refrain from carrying out some undesirable plan that involved stealing a horse. He turned towards Beregar. 'Can I borrow yours for a while? I bear you no ill will.' Yet he could not help adding, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice: 'I do hope that you do not bear me any ill will either, for thwarting your designs.'
Glorfindel groaned. But after a moment of blankness, a sudden grin appeared on Beregar's face - a little embarrassed, but the message had come across. 'Borrow my mound as long as you want.' Jumping down, he handed Gildor the reins. 'In this case, amends are wholly in place.'
They were marching through a landscape of gently rolling downs, with small brooks and copses of trees and shrubbery. It reminded the Ciryatur of Emerië, Númenor's sheep-country, except that there were no sheep here. There were no people either. Once, though, the country must have been populated, for here and there he saw deserted houses, seldom intact, scorched and ravaged fields, uprooted bushes, tree stumps and what looked like burned out pyres with black things sticking up that could be bones, though it was hard to be certain. If this was what the Dark Lord Sauron and his minions left behind, he could imagine why the Elves were none too happy to have them on their doorsteps.
He also understood why the provisions he had brought from Númenor were so popular with the Elvenking. In fact, if Tar Minastir had not come to their aid, the Eldar of Lindon would have been wiped out within scant years. Even now, Gil-galad had little left to rule. His pride and arrogance were innate flaws and not built on achievements. Maybe he will fall. If Gildor was to succeed to his crown - which seemed probable given his kinship to the heirless Gil-galad and the fact that they seemed to have left him behind in Mithlond - the matter of the Númenorean endeavours in Middle-earth would be easier to settle. It would take the new King some time to gain prestige. Or maybe a little help from Númenor, at a price.
At that point, hoof beats from behind announced the return of the liaison-officer Herendur. 'Did you find him?' the admiral asked after the customary exchange of greetings.
'Alas, no, my lord,' Herendur replied. 'But I did not find that lofty Elflord either. The Shipwright told me that he had left to see their King. He declared himself willing to convey my message. But as you instructed me not to alert the Elves to the fact that we are trying to find Beregar, I told him there was no message. Do you wish me to ride to the Elvenking now?'
The Ciryatur shook his head. He doubted that Glorfindel had really gone to Gil-galad, or that if he had, he had taken Beregar along. Someone must have noticed the previous liaison-officer's stare and drawn the conclusion that the young man had been recognised. Glorfindel had simply transferred him elsewhere. Provided it was Beregar, in that Elf-helm.
Well, he said to himself when Herendur had left on his next errand, if Beregar does indeed march with this army, I have more than a week left to find him. And even an Elf like Glorfindel cannot remain elusive all the time.
Another night descended. While the four of them sat around their little campfire, Glorfindel involuntarily stared back into the dark; apparently, this was becoming a habit. The dark seemed to stare back at him with a thousand eyes, and few of them benevolent.
Dangling at the tail of the army was not how he would have preferred to approach the Dark Lord, or any foe, for that matter. The previous time he made up the rear of a large body of people on the move had been when Gondolin fell. His fëa remembered it but distantly, as through a long tunnel: the frenzied trampling of feet in flight, the foul, orange-red glare covering them all like blood, the roars of dragons and the screeches of crashing buildings, the mingling smells of fear and fire. And after that the laborious ascent to the cold, sunless heights of the Cirith Thoronath, carrying the badly injured and the small children, with a precipice on one side and an abyss on the other.
But there, the enemy had come from behind, leaping at him and Tárion and their fellow warriors while they covered the retreat of the Gondolindrim. Glorfindel touched his long hair; he had worn a metal cap in the Eagle's Pass, but this had not prevented the defeated Balrog from grabbing the locks that had slipped from underneath it to drag him into the chasm and to his death. After his rehousing in Aman he had cut those locks when the memories of that moment resurfaced - and earned himself many strange looks - but by the time his hair had grown long again the images had paled enough to keep the knife away.
Glorfindel closed his eyes to the empty, savaged landscape. In the starlight it looked ghostly, and he knew it was haunted indeed. If he listened with the ears of his fëa he could hear the lingering laments of the people, animals and trees that once lived and flourished here but were either dead ore enslaved now. It would be long before anyone could turn it into a place of life and happiness again - if they would succeed to in pushing back the Dark Lord from these lands.(1)
A hand touched his shoulder. 'You are looking grim, Glorfindel,' Gildor said softly. 'I guess that you feel it more keenly than I do. Still, even I can sense the evil of it. They don't appear to notice much, though. There are definitely advantages to being mortal.'
Opening his eyes, Glorfindel studied Beregar and Zaba, who were matching stares across the fire. Though the two had ceased to oppose each other vocally, they had by no means made peace. He sighed. Why did you really take her along, Gildor? Keeping an eye on her is only part of the tale, I suspect, and perhaps not even the most important part.
I also thought - the younger elf hesitated for a moment. I thought that seeing Sauron's orcs might convince her that we fight him for a reason?
Glorfindel shook his head. Gildor, Gildor... if what Beregar tells me is true, Zaba's father served the Deceiver. Countless mortals have seen orcs, and yet sided with the Enemy, as they did for the first time in the Battle of Innumerable Tears. Another dark and distant memory.
Zaba is too honest for that!
A remarkably passionate defence. He could have foreseen that Gildor would remain optimistic - Finrod Felagund also stubbornly believed in the good sides of Men, and as a child, Gildor had absorbed his grandsire's bright philosophies like a sponge.
Glorfindel rose. The shadow in his mind had taken on a more definite shape, and he knew now what bothered him.
'Where are you going?' the other Elf asked.
'To the King,' Glorfindel replied. 'To warn him.' Do you think you can keep those two in check?
Of course I can! 'Warn him against what?'
'Against the evil I sense on our flanks. Would it be so strange if the Dark Lord were trying to ring us about?'
(1)It would take about an age: it wasn't until Third Age 1600 that hobbits founded the Shire - and that's where we are here.