42. Chapter Forty-two
Robbed of his horse by a spear thrust, Gildor continued to fight on foot, trying to stay alive by slaying the orcs that were after his death. The reality of the foul creatures surpassed his wildest imaginings of vileness and ugliness. To hack at the crooked limbs, to plunge his blade into the hideous bodies, to see the dark blood gush from the wounds, to hear the screams - and sometimes a crunching sound when the blade, hitting with force, broke or shattered a bone - he had thought it would be disgusting or horrible, but it was not so. It felt strangely natural. And if he had been afraid at first, he soon forgot to be so in the frenzy of fighting.
Swinging his sword, feeling it connect, wrenching it free, Gildor wondered why this killing did not disturb him more. He vaguely recalled people discussing, back in Valinor, whether all Orcs were descended from tortured, disfigured Quendi, or whether the Black Foe had merely captured a number of Elves at the Waters of Awakening to dissect them and model his fighting machines on them. No Elf had ever returned from the Pits of Utumno to tell the true tale, and not even the Powers knew all there was to know. But if these Orcs were naught but beasts roughly shaped like Eru's children, if their speech was merely reeling off texts set in them by Morgoth(1), then why did he feel so satisfied at each kill?
There was so little time to reflect that his thoughts came in bits and pieces, sometimes repeating or overlapping or looping back to where they had begun. But there was a moment when one of the orcs looked straight back at Gildor while he pierced it with his blade, and at that moment he saw understanding taking the place of hatred in its eyes, just before they were extinguished.
Had it been recognition? Had he freed the soul of a Child of Eru from its prison of a body; could it be a work of mercy to kill Orcs? This was such a shocking idea that Gildor froze for an instant. Too late he saw the spear that shot towards him. If another blade had not blocked it in the nick of time, his own soul would have been ripped from his body and fled to Mandos.
'Concentrate on what you do!' he heard Glorfindel bellow from atop his horse. The orc whirled, recognising his new foe as the more dangerous of them. The spear struck again, going straight through Glorfindel's mail into his flank...
... or would have, if Glorfindel's form had not blurred for an instant, as if he became incorporeal for the split heartbeat it would have taken for the spear-tip to pierce his flesh. The weapon slid out of the hole it had made in the mail shirt. The wielder froze in mid-movement, and Glorfindel rode him down. His body seemed to remain slightly out of focus, as if his fëa trailed the memory of his hröa along, yet he was more clearly visible than any other warrior on the battlefield, for he radiated the soft sheen of the rehoused whose selfless deeds have greatly enhanced their spiritual power(2), and his head, the golden hair tied back, shone like a sun soaring past in the night.
Gildor took a deep breath. He had suspected that Glorfindel was invulnerable to physical danger, but now that it appeared to be true, it was more unnerving than he would have thought.
Then he recovered. 'Thank you!' he shouted, turning to liberate the next Orc from his miserable existence.
By the time he began to feel tired and sore, while the weight of his sword increased with every stroke, the last of their enemies turned tail and fled. Gildor stared after them, trying to assess his findings and wondering whether it was mere battle frenzy that had made him think killing Orcs was as good for the slain as for the slayer.
'It is over,' Glorfindel said, emerging out of thin air to Gildor's right - maybe literally. He was not only unscathed, but also unruffled. All the other warriors within sight, even those who were not injured, bore at least some evidence of having fought in a battle: torn surcoats, damaged shields, spatters of orc blood on their armour. In Glorfindel's case, the only blood seemed to be on his blade. His aura had dimmed and he almost looked his ordinary self again - except that there was nothing ordinary about him.
Glorfindel held out a hand. 'Want a ride?' he asked. 'Your poor horse will never bear you again, I fear. His voice was unchanged, like his fair face - and suddenly Gildor smiled, despite the loss of his mount. They had driven back the Orcs, and Glorfindel would remain Glorfindel in all that was essential, no matter what befell.
Grabbing the outstretched hand he swung himself on the horse.
'They will not break through,' someone said in a low voice; it took her a few moments to realise that it was the King himself who had spoken. The words rippled outward, spreading across the body of his guards and through the ranks of warriors that were aligned behind them. It was more than a sigh, less than a gust of wind. Even so, they stood by until the enemy forces were routed and the first messengers came hurrying back to report the estimated numbers of casualties, of wounded and of foes slain. Only then, the guards were ordered to dismount.
While the others left with Argon, Celebrían stayed behind. At the Captain's raised eyebrow she said: 'I am a Healer, and I hear there are injuries to be treated.'
She had expected the retort, delivered in an almost scathing tone: 'Then perhaps you had better join their ranks from now on, my lady?' What she had not expected was that it would come from Gil-galad.
Nor could she have predicted the Captain's reply: 'Allow me to disagree, lord. I need your guard complete - and so do you.' Without waiting for Gil-galad's reaction he turned to Celebrían. 'You have leave to spend the rest of the night tending the wounded, but you will report back to me at daybreak, or as soon as you are done.'
Or done in, by fatigue? You do not know me. Neither of you does. 'At your orders, Captain.' With a curt nod she rode away, giving Gil-galad no more than a cursory glance. Are you still certain that you want to die for him? she found herself wondering while she rode away.
'You cannot make Celebrían abandon her present course by being unpleasant to her,' Tárion told the King when she had left. 'And what would you propose to do if she did change her mind, send her back to the Havens? Do you have an escort to spare? But it takes more than a snide remark to make her change her mind; I can read it in her.'
'Gut reaction,' Gil-galad said, a little ruefully. 'I fear I am not entirely reconciled to her presence. But I stand corrected. There is no way back for her, now that she has committed herself, and my - our only consolation if we fail, is that we probably will not live another day to face her mother.'
Indeed. Tárion wondered what Galadriel would do if Sauron the Abhorred were to be victorious. Would she make a last stand in Mithlond, or sail West and risk being shipwrecked? As the only surviving leader of the Noldorin rebellion, the lady was still banned from returning to the Blessed Realm, and he remembered that none of the ships that his father Turgon had sent across Belegaer in the First Age had withstood the wrath of Ossë and Uinen. And the memory of all Powers, both the greater and the lesser ones, was as long as Eä.
Suddenly he heard Gil-galad chuckle. 'What was I thinking, Valanya? If anything can influence her, it may be the realisation that the injured need her healing hands more than I need her fighting capacities. You did it on purpose, did you not?'
'Partly,' Tárion admitted, though he suspected that Galadriel's daughter was very well able to see through his motives for giving her leave to go. 'But Celebrían's hands are also wise in the way of weapons, Arto - or I would not have allowed her to fill the empty place in your guard.'
Gil-galad raised his eyebrows, but before he could comment on this Tárion heard his voice speak words that he had not planned to say: 'She will have a role to fulfil yet before the coming battle will be over.' And though he did not know whence those words came and it was only the second time in his life such a thing happened to him, he could easily give it a name.
After a silence, the King asked quietly: 'And did your foresight tell you, in what way?'
Tárion shook his head. 'I cannot tell you anything above what just spilled out of my mouth. But we had better hope that Celebrían will not decide to stay with the Healers, or so it seems to me.'
'She will be tired, if she stays up all night to tend the wounded.'
'Undoubtedly. But as we are close to the Sarn Ford, we will not march far, will we? Nor does it seem likely that the great battle will take place tomorrow.'
Even as he said it and saw Gil-galad nod, Tárion heard the rapid pounding of hooves, and looking he saw two Númenorean horsemen approach from the Southwest, one holding a torch aloft. They were riding at speed through the Elvish encampment, and many a warrior scrambled to his feet to draw near and take a closer look.
The riders held their heads high. Apparently the Ciryatur's troops had been successful on the other flank.
Unless his sense of time was affected, which could very well be the case in the dead of night in a strange country among people of a strange race, the enemy was closer by than he had expected. Beregar wondered how he would acquit himself; he had never swung a blade in a fight where no quarter would be given. He wondered how good Zaba would prove to be, and whether he would be able to protect her, if necessary. He tried not to think of the possibility that she would have to safe his life. That it could be fear he felt in the pit of his stomach was something that he was not quite ready to accept.
And then the Orcs were upon them, growling, snarling and yelling in a way that made him want to stop his ears - but as he had no hands free this was impossible. Had they ever told him that he would have to contend with horrible, alien noises as well as sharp weapons? Beregar could not remember, but there was no time left to think: the moment when his sword connected jarringly with something equally hard he was reduced to his body and the will to survive.
At first the world became a blur, a chaos of sound and motion, then it became a painful jumble of shocks and blows, twists and turns, while the blade in his fist seemed to grow heavier and heavier and his muscles cried for a respite he could not grant them. He knew that Zaba was beside him, and once he thought he heard her shout, but he failed to understand how he could have thought it was possible to keep an eye on her. It was difficult enough to see ahead with the sweat pricking in his eyes; or at least, he hoped it was only sweat and not also blood.
Vaguely, he noticed that his calf hurt and that he had lost his helmet, but he had no time to dwell on it: the foes kept surging towards them, a wave of oversized black, bloodthirsty insects; at least, they seemed to have more arms than he did, or maybe it was their numbers. But insects were not supposed to have legs that ended in hooves. As soon as this thought crossed his half-dazed mind, Beregar realised the legs were attached to horses. There had not been riders before; the Enemy must have kept them in reserve.
Except that these could not be enemy troops, for the orcs attacked them and they fought back.
Beregar found a shield on the ground, and picking it up he ducked behind it for a while to regain his breath and his ability to think straight. Númenoreans? Elves? In the gloom, it was difficult to make out which. He watched the horsemen with detached amazement, as if he was observing the fray from a safe distance. His countrymen were supposed to be on the other flank, while Círdan's riders could not have come from behind the lines - or could they? And why did there seem to be so few of them?
There was a lull in the fighting, or else it was moving away from him, which probably meant that the Orcs were being driven back. It occurred to him that he ought to join the pursuit, and for that he needed his helm. It had rolled a few feet away. Stretching out his arm to pick it up, he glanced around to find Zaba. When he could not see her anywhere he wondered with a peculiar, sinking feeling if she had been slain. Or had she moved on to rout the orcs? Then he remembered what she had told him about the secret of her father's ring, mere moments before they joined the Elvish ranks.
Could it be that she had made herself invisible? Nonsense. He raised the helm to his head.
'That is no Elf!' a voice cried, close by and accompanied by the heavy thuds of hooves. Definitely a mortal, quite harsh - and a little hoarse as well. It is he!'
'Pillar of Heaven, you are right, Eremir!' shouted another voice - one he knew from the streets of Romenna. 'It is him - Beregar!' Realising that they were up to no good he began to scramble away before the man added: 'We can take him. His Elvish friends are dead or chasing orcs. Eremir! Cut off his escape route!'
1)For various theories on the origins of Orcs not given in The Silmarillion, see HoMe 10, Myths Transformed, VIII and IX.
2)HoMe 12, Last Writings, XIII. Another reference to Glorfindel's duel with the Balrog, which saved the lives of many fugitives of Gondolin, including Eärendil's.
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