43. Chapter Forty-three
The remaining orcs had retreated. If this was all the enemy could achieve... But tempting though it was to think so, the Ciryatur knew better. Perhaps the average orc withstood a blade no better than a wheat stalk withstood the scythe, but not a tenth of them had been reaped yet. Moreover, not all Sauron's ranks consisted of orcs. He did not doubt that next time they would face Men.
Our own race, the Ciryatur mused. Whatever their origins - and the idea that they were bred from Elves was very appealing - Orcs were twisted and hideous to look at, not to mention that they were savage beasts that ate everything that moved including their own kind. One could shed their dark blood, dwell on it for a moment, and not think twice about it. But Men, even lesser Men...
What had prompted so many his own kind to rally behind this Deceiver, as the Elves called him? Nothing but deceit? Surely it took more than a convincing lie or even a tempting offer before a man in his right mind would consent to fight alongside those foul creatures? The Ciryatur knew what would tempt him: a realm of his own, a crown and the power and means to fulfil his desires whenever they took hold of him. Health and a long life -
- the life of the Eldar. He laughed harshly at the impossible, yet irrepressible thought. His aide, bent over what the admiral suspected was his personal diary, looked up abruptly, but the admiral shook his head. Outside the pavilion, the noises and shouts following this night's upheaval were gradually dying down, now that the orcs were beaten back
He wondered if those were hoof beats, in the distance.
It was unlikely that Sauron had offered all his mortal followers glittering prizes. Only the leaders would fall for that; the rank and file would need different incitements. Men who fought alongside orcs must have more to win than to loose. Which probably meant that they had never had much to begin with. Which, in its turn, meant that the Elves would fight an army of mortal have-nots with the help of an army of mortal haves - the Númenoreans.
It seemed that noble motives had little to do with this war.
Funny. But this time the Ciryatur merely smiled avoiding to draw his aide's attention again. Once more, he listened to the noises outside. Definitely the pounding of hooves. The horses - two, he thought - were approaching rapidly. He waited
`My lord!' he heard the officer Herendur cry even before the hoof beats stopped. 'We have him!'
The aide jumped up. This time, the Ciryatur was prepared to satisfy his curiosity. 'I suspect that Herendur is referring to Beregar,' he explained. 'I sent some riders to the eastern flank, because I suspected him to be hiding among the Elves. Apparently, I was right.'
A hand threw aside the flap covering the entrance to the pavilion. Herendur and one of his fellow horsemen stepped inside, dragging along Beregar. They had gagged him and tied his hands to his back, and he hung between them like a rag, limp and unresisting.
The darkness made their search more difficult than it would have been by day, but he would not postpone it, and neither would Gildor.
'Yes, those two did join us,' several of Círdan's foot soldiers had answered in reply to their query, 'but once the fighting started, we paid no more heed to them.'
Glorfindel lifted his torch. They had covered most of the battleground by now, a cruel enough task, as not all the Elves had survived and their sightless eyes brought too many past horrors to the surface. None of the slain who wore Elvish armour were mortals, though.
'I do not understand this,' he heard Gildor mutter. When Glorfindel turned around the younger Elf continued: 'Unless they deserted together. True love in times of war, how -' He fell silent rather abruptly, as if something bothered him.
Glorfindel chose to ascribe it to the aftermath of the fighting. Gildor's first battle. His own first battle in the rebuilt house of his fëa. A house that, in the heat of battle, seemed to have done his thinking for him, refusing to be heroically wounded or slain merely to prove the courage of its dweller. He smiled briefly - apparently his body was more practical than his soul, knowing that it would serve its purpose better if it remained in one part.
'What do you think, Glorfindel?' he heard Gildor say.
He abandoned that trail of thought. 'You may have a point, Gildor.' There was a possibility that Beregar and Zaba had fled, together or each apart. He froze. What was that? He knelt to inspect the turf at his feet. Hoof prints?
Definitely. But perhaps they belonged to their own horses. He rose, lifting his torch. 'Gildor, did we pass by this spot when we left to join Círdan's riders?' All he knew was that he had not been too attentive at the moment, gazing ahead rather than looking around or down.
'No, we did not,' replied Gildor, joining him. 'I would surely remember that dolphin-shaped piece of rock, if I had come across it before.'
Glorfindel did not immediately recognise the dolphin. But Gildor was the kind of person who saw a shape in the thinnest wisp of cloud, and he seemed certain enough.
'Orcs do not ride,' he said pensively, kneeling. 'And there were no mortal riders among the troops that attacked us tonight.'
'Are you suggesting they were made by Númenoreans?' Gildor asked. 'Were they not supposed to fight on the other flank? Then what were they doing here?' When Glorfindel did not immediately reply he went on: 'Do you think that they were after Beregar? I remember you saying that one of their liaison-officers may have recognised him.'
Glorfindel straightened. 'I did, and yes, this is indeed what I think. Let us look further. If we find footprints close to the horses, and perhaps signs of a struggle, it could imply...'
... that Beregar was captured!' Gildor said almost enthusiastically, as if he had successfully solved an abstract riddle presented by one of his teachers in Aman. Then he sobered. 'To be punished by his admiral?'
Most likely. And if fellow Númenoreans had indeed abducted Beregar, the Ciryatur would soon know for certain that the Elves had blatantly ignored his request that the young man be tried and judged in Númenor.
I should have left him in Mithlond, Glorfindel thought. Regardless of what Gil-galad said about keeping an eye on him. For all I know they may have killed him. But this was not something he would say aloud; he refused to incriminate the Númenoreans without further proof.
Trotting to his horse Gildor cried: 'Let us ride to the Númenorean camp! Hurry, Glorfindel!'
'And tell them what?' Glorfindel asked. 'It seems to me that we had better seek out the High King first. And before we ride anywhere at all, I suggest that we search for evidence to confirm our suspicions.'
Gildor halted and nodded reluctantly. 'You are right, we had better look further first. Perhaps - perhaps they took Zaba as well?' Then, gazing into the night, he added thoughtfully: 'If we find our evidence, but we are unable to determine if these fellows abducted one or two persons...'
'Yes?' Glorfindel said.
'You go to Gil-galad,' Gildor finished in a remarkably assured voice, 'while I will search for the girl. After all, I am responsible for bringing her along.' He swallowed audibly. 'I bet there are stray orcs roaming about. If anything bad befalls her... if I find her corpse... the blame will be mine.'
'Are you not jumping from conclusion to conclusion now?'
'Jumping a river stone by stone will eventually take you across,' Gildor retorted.
Obviously, not all of his teachers' lessons had come across. What if the stones lead nowhere and you drown midstream? Glorfindel thought. 'Gildor,' he began, about to mention the possibility that Zaba had left them by choice. But his companion threw him such a forbidding look that he decided silence was golden.
He wondered, though if it was merely his sense of responsibility that sent Gildor chasing after Zaba.
'Where is Minohtar?? asked the Ciryatur. 'I heard only two horses.' He motioned for Eremir and Herendur to force Beregar to his knees. Beregar felt terrible. The gag was tied too tightly around his face, his head was pounding, and his calf hurt enough to make him consider toppling over, but they had already seen that he was conscious.
'I have brought his body,' Eremir replied hesitantly. 'He took an arrow in the eye and dropped from the saddle. His horse bolted.'
The Ciryatur sighed, shaking his head. 'A pity. See to it that he is properly buried. Herendur, you wait outside my pavilion until I give you leave to retire.'
The two cavalry officers bowed and departed. The Ciryatur turned to the kneeling sailor. When Beregar kept his head down, it was jerked up painfully by the hair. 'Look at me!' the admiral said coldly.
So Beregar looked. To his own surprise, he did not flinch. He even had a moment of lucidity. For the first time, it struck him that the man was ageing, the skin directly above the upper lip showing the thin lines that Beregar remembered from his own grandmother?s face. They made the mouth look smaller, and he knew it would look smaller still in death.
Not that he would ever see the admiral dead, his own death being more likely to precede the old man?s now.
'Who let you out of that room in the Elvenking?s palace?' the Ciryatur demanded to know, one hand still holding Beregar?s hair, while the other cut away the gag.
'I could not see his face, my lord,' Beregar replied truthfully. 'It was getting dark, and it remained hidden beneath his hood.' He wished he could rub his temples.
'But it was an Elf.' Not a question.
'I suppose it was,' Beregar admitted. 'If it had been one of us, he would hardly have left me in Glorfindel's care.' Us, he thought. Somehow, it sounded peculiar, as if there was a gap between his own mortality - his own humanity? - and the old man's that nothing could bridge.
The Ciryatur yanked his head backwards. 'You will restrict yourself to answering my questions!'
'Yes, my lord.'
'Tell me what happened when you put that ring on your finger.'
Beregar wondered why the interrogation took this particular turn, but not for long. Someone had stolen the ring from the Elvenking?s quarters, and he had asked himself often enough if it was Zaba - and what had happened to her? - who had taken it. But she was not the only suspect. He hesitated. What harm could it do if he told the truth? Could he speak freely?
'Answer me!' the Ciryatur snapped.
'I... I heard a voice. Talking inside my mind, suggesting to me that I kill the Elvenking.' Beregar shivered.
'I know that. You claimed the same thing in Mithlond. But whose voice do you say it was?'
'The voice of the Dark Lord whose armies we will face soon at the Sarn Ford.' Was that a sharp intake of breath, behind him? But there was no one behind him. Unless the gasp had been outside the tent.
The Ciryatur had not noticed anything, but then, he was getting old, and old men were often hard of hearing. He let go of Beregar's hair at last and rubbed his hands above the brazier in the centre of the pavilion. Rubbing his hands... am I co-operating that well? the young man wondered with some bitterness. His gaze wandered towards the large, carved trunk on one side of the pavilion, at the foot of the Ciryatur's elaborate field-bed. It was almost the size of a coffin.
'How do you know it was the Dark Lord?'
Yes, how had he known? His headache prevented him from thinking clearly. He tried to shrug and was reminded forcefully of his bonds. 'I just did.'
'Because the Elves told you it was he.'
Again, not a question, but he decided to reply as if it were. 'They did not, my lord. I knew that it was the one whom they name Sauron. He told me so. He tempted me into doing something that I would never have done otherwise.'
'You lie!' The Ciryatur seemed about to strike him, but his arm dropped back to his side.
'I do not, my lord.' If you stole the ring and plan to put it on your finger, you will do so knowing to whom you expose yourself, and not without warning.
His brow furrowed, the Ciryatur studied Beregar's face. 'If it was Sauron, did you ask him why he attacked the Elves and overran Eriador?'
'I do not remember,' Beregar heard himself answer. 'I was - confused. I still am.'
'You do remember that you were my spy, I may hope? This was the thing that you were supposed to try and find out.'
'Yes, my lord.'
'Then make sure that you remember the rest as well.' The Ciryatur's smile was thin and decidedly unpleasant, but his next words seemed to belie his expression. 'For if you do and it proves useful, there may be something in it for you, too, young Beregar.' Acquittal, his eyes suggested. Or no trial at all.
Eventually, they had discovered evidence of a struggle, but nothing indicated that more than one person had been taken captive. ?I will find her,? Gildor had declared once more, and so he would, whether Glorfindel liked it or not. But his companion had voiced no more objections.
Once Glorfindel was on his way to Gil-galad, Gildor mounted his own horse. He had come across several interesting pieces of evidence he had not bothered to report to his companion. A single set of small footprints not made by orc boots. And beyond the stretch of rocky ground where he had lost them, another set of prints, this one made by horseshoes. They ran northward from the battle-field, but following them he noticed that they swerved back west to join a broader track pointing straight towards the Númenorean camp.
He joined it in his turn, using the reddish glow of the distant camp fires as a beacon, just like the riders who preceded him must have done. As it was a camp of mortals, he could approach more closely on horseback than would have been the case if it had been Elvish, but at some point he decided it would be safer to leave his horse among the bushes and proceed on foot. He even went as far as removing his armour to be able to move more stealthily.
Asleep or not, most of the Númenoreans were in their tents, and he took care to avoid the light cast by the fires. Though a number of men saw him pass by at a distance - and Gildor took care to raise his hand in greeting - none halted his progress. Eventually he reached the great pavilion in the middle of the camp that had to be the Ciryatur's.
When it came within full sight, Gildor discovered that he was not the only one able to use stealth. In the shadows behind the pavilion, his eyes made out something resembling a small-sized, grey boulder. Drawing near, though, he saw that it was no boulder: rocks did not breathe. Slowly and carefully Gildor crept closer. At a distance of about ten feet he halted, and softly he cleared his throat, hoping for the best.
The boulder did not yell; it merely froze and stopped breathing for a few heartbeats, after which it acquired a head, and a face, and became Zaba. She had tied a piece of cloth around her head, and he could see some brownish stains on it, but otherwise she looked unhurt.
'You...' Zaba whispered, recognising him. 'You are hard to shake off, Gildor.' Yet she sounded relieved rather than annoyed. Almost glad.
'And you,' he murmured, bridging the remainder of the distance between them, 'are taking a great risk to venture inside this camp. The Númenoreans will scarcely offer you the kiss of peace when they recognise you. Not after you lodged that complaint against them. Come, let me take you out of here.'
Shaking her head vehemently she turned her right ear back towards the pavilion, pointing with a finger. Gildor, relenting for a moment, listened, and heard the Ciryatur's voice say. 'Well, what is it to be, Beregar?'
'I am trying to remember!' came the - half-desperate - reply. 'Please, give me some time, my lord.'
'Very well. Until this candle burns down.'
The admiral's last words were followed by a heavy silence. Gildor wondered how long the candle would last, and what the exchange had been about. He eyed Zaba questioningly. She shrugged. 'I was only just ahead of you,' she breathed. 'But we had better not speak.'
He crept a little closer still, until their arms almost touched and he could feel her body heat. Why had she followed Beregar and his captors into this camp? After all the hostilities and foul looks that had passed between her and the young Numenórean sailor it was difficult to imagine that she would take any risks to free him. In which case it had to be something else that had drawn her here. And Gildor knew what it had to be.
Impulsively, he laid a hand on her shoulder. 'Zaba...' Instead of pushing his hand away the girl turned her head. 'Zaba,' Gildor repeated very softly, 'leave now, if you value your freedom. Not to mention your life, and possibly your soul. I do. I value all of these.' While he said it, he realised that he meant it with all his heart.
Zaba gazed at him, her lips parting as if she were about to speak. Yet she did not. Was it hunger he read in her face? What was it that she craved so desperately, that made her stare at him as if she were starving and he were a piece of bread?
Gildor could not have said why he did it, but suddenly her face was between his hands and his lips were on hers.
He had not intended it to be more than a short kiss of friendship, a pledge of trust. But when her hands grabbed his arms and her mouth and tongue began to devour him, to his utter amazement Gildor found himself responding.
He was kissing a mortal woman, and his heart stood still.
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.