44. Chapter Forty-four
'They abducted Beregar?' Gil-galad asked, trying to keep his anger at bay, just in case Glorfindel would turn out to be mistaken. 'Are you certain?'
Glorfindel sighed. 'Everything points to it.' He hesitated. 'Abducted - or worse.'
Gil-galad shook his head rather vehemently. 'I am sure that if they had killed him, there would be a body. It would look as if the yrch had slain him, and we would not suspect it to be otherwise.'
'If they had killed him, they would have been yrch,' Tárion muttered somewhere at his elbow.
For a few heartbeats, Gil-galad found himself thinking that he could have lived with it. A dead Beregar could not tell anyone who it was that had given him his freedom against the Ciryatur's wishes. The next moment he cursed himself for entertaining such thoughts. He felt the back of Tárion's hand caress his to reassure him, a seemingly casual movement - though if Glorfindel had looked their way it would never have fooled him. 'You say that Gildor stayed behind to search the battle ground more thoroughly, to see if he could find Zaba?
Glorfindel shook his head. 'I did not. It was what Gildor said he would do.' The implication was obvious.
'If it should turn out that he went to the Númenorean camp on Beregar's behalf...'
'You will truss him up and send him back to the Blessed Realm, my lord King?'
'Let us say,' Gil-galad mused, 'that I can see why they were happy to see him leave.' All three of them chuckled, though briefly, and without much mirth.
'What do you intend to do now?' Tárion asked at last.
Gil-galad shrugged, feeling powerless and more than a little annoyed. He could not even admit to the Númenoreans that he had been aware of Beregar's whereabouts.
'One wonders,' Tárion muttered, 'if Beregar was abducted because the Ciryatur wants to question him about Orgol's ring.' The suggestion that it was the commander of the Numenórean fleet who had stolen the much-debated piece of jewellery hung heavily in the royal pavilion. No one seemed eager to embrace it.
'What if I ride to the Númenoreans, pretending that I am looking for Gildor,' Glorfindel offered suddenly. 'Meanwhile, I could look and listen and investigate a little.'
To see, hear and sense things that others would miss. If anyone would be able to find out more, to achieve anything unaided against hidden and not-so-hidden evil it would be Glorfindel, the twice embodied. Slowly, Gil-galad nodded. But even Glorfindel, he realised, would not be able to spirit Beregar away from under the admiral's very nose. 'Should you find him,' he added, 'please tell the Ciryatur that I would appreciate it if Beregar were to accompany you back here.'
'Tell him?' Glorfindel asked, nonplussed.
'Yes,' said Tárion, who had once thrown Gil-galad's letter into the fire because it failed to use the word 'beg'. 'No request, no plea. It is the High King of the Noldor who occupies the high ground here. Though maybe he should have raised his banner a little sooner, instead of playing the role of the mysterious rescuer to avoid a confrontation with the Ciryatur.'
They were in perfect agreement. 'Spoken with the High King's tongue, Captain,' Gil-galad said to Tárion, catching the flicker of dark amusement in his lover's eyes before he turned to Glorfindel. 'Tell him, that I have decided that Beregar is not to be tried on the isle of Númenor. If anyone has a right to judge him, it is the injured party.'
'I thought the injured party was Gildor?' Glorfindel remarked.
Was he unhappy with his assignment? Or was he merely trying to be funny? Come on, Gil-galad thought. Surely you see the point?
'Shall I go?' Tárion suggested, his tone slightly malicious. But he knew too well that the Ciryatur would consider it less than respectful if he did, and Gil-galad did not even have to shake his head.
But Glorfindel did. 'You can leave it to me,' he said with the ghost of a smile.
When he had left Gil-galad turned to Tárion. 'I am not wholly sure about raising the banner. But I am inclined to think that it would have been better if Beregar had remained in Mithlond.'
'I am not wholly sure,' Tárion replied pensively, 'that one of your guests from the Blessed Realm would not have taken matters into his own hands anyway.'
They had recommended Beregar as astute, adventurous, and ambitious enough to venture outside the well-trodden paths, should the occasion demand it. Not easily defeated either. A few private conversations with the young man had confirmed this assessment, or so the Ciryatur had thought. But at the moment, Beregar was the image of dejection: slumped on the pavilion floor, his head bent, his hair, sweaty and mussed and obscuring most of his face.
The admiral checked the hourglass. They were running out of time, yet he could detect no signs of compliance or co-operation in the prisoner's attitude.
He found it hard to believe that Beregar, while in possession of the ring, had not asked the Dark Lord why he had launched this massive attack on the Elven realms, sweeping assorted tribes of lesser mortals before him. The most obvious explanation for his silence would be that the Elves had somehow used magic, had ensnared him and woven their dark webs of enchantment about the defenceless young man. Perhaps that golden-haired sorceress had done something with him; she could turn a man inside out merely by gazing at him, laying bare his inmost thoughts - unless he was strong, of course.
I was strong enough, the Ciryatur thought with pride. She never reached my innermost recesses. But then, he had the blood of Elros in his veins, though he was not of the line of Kings.
Most of the sand had trickled down the hourglass by now. 'Time is almost up,' he told the pitiable figure on the floor. 'Do you remember?'
Slowly, Beregar lifted his head. 'He strives to rule the world by force, and the Elves will not yield him their freedom. That is why he attacked these lands.'
The Ciryatur stared at him, feeling his fury rise. 'I do not believe you,' he said harshly. 'He would not say it so openly if that were his goal. Obviously, the Elves have tampered with your brain. So: why did he attack?'
'I did not claim this was what the Dark Lord said,' Beregar had the cheek to reply, straightening a little. 'But it is the truth.'
'Truth has as many faces as it has tongues,' the Ciryatur spat. 'Your truth is Númenor's and your king's, not the truth of the Elves. You defy your commander - I should have you executed!'
Beregar blinked, but to the Ciryatur's disappointment - it would be so much more convenient if the boy would simply consent to talk - he did not cower or beg for mercy.
He remembered they had also applied the term 'brave' to this young Romenna sailor when they recommended him. Stubborn, he said to himself. That describes him better. Too stubborn for his own good - or mine, for that matter. 'However,' he went on, 'as I still believe that you have some interesting things to report, for the time being I shall merely inflict a little pain to make you see reason and be more forthcoming.'
When he looked at the hourglass again, all the sand was in the lower half. The next moment, his ears caught the hiss. It was soft, yet distinct, and it sounded suspiciously like 'Bastard!'
His head jerked up. 'What was that?'
Beregar had the evil courage to look astonished. 'Nothing, my lord.'
The Ciryatur reached him in two steps, raising his hand.
He heard the word clearly, and having younger ears than the Ciryatur had, he knew it came from outside the pavilion. It was followed by... not words but something else, something resembling an idea or a suggestion rather than a fully-fledged thought. It had not originated in his own mind but was sent to him, and in conscious language it would have taken the form of: Stall for time.
'Wait!' he heard himself shout before the Ciryatur's fleshy fist connected with his head. 'Maybe I do remember something!' The next moment, the blow descended and he toppled.
It took some time before the worst pain ebbed away. If his words had diminished the impact, he hated to think how his head would feel if he had not cried out. Gazing up he saw a face, contorted with fury, hover above him like an ominous, red-hued moon. An arm shot out to yank him to his knees again. 'What do you remember?'
'What the Dark Lord told me.' Stall for time. The truth was, that there was nothing to remember: he had never had a chance to ask the master of the ring anything. Questioning and interrogating was apparently Sauron's prerogative. Offering, tempting, seducing - and afterwards bending and binding wills, commanding and coercing. Those he held in his clutches had to respond and obey. Beregar knew that now. He shuddered.
'Speak!' the Ciryatur cried impatiently.
So he did. 'The Elves,' he began, rubbing his head, trying to think of something plausible. It must have been an Elf outside. But 'bastard' - was that an invective that an Elf would use?
'What about them? Beregar, I swear, if you -'
'He believes they do not belong here,' Beregar interrupted him. 'Because they are deathless, while nothing else here is.' Now where did that come from? This is folly, he thought suddenly. Why am I doing this? What am I fighting for? His palms and armpits were moist with sweat. So he would be punished - what of it? It would be just, even though the one who decreed it was not a righteous man.
The Ciryatur balked. 'He is no more mortal than they are!'
At that instant, there was a noise at the entrance of the tent. A hand pulled the flap aside and a head poked in. It belonged to the officer Herendur, who had been ordered to wait outside. 'The Elf lord Glorfindel requests an audience with you, my lord,' he said.
Throwing Beregar a threatening look, the Ciryatur strode out of the pavilion. He does not want Glorfindel to see me, Beregar thought. Had they discovered his disappearance, and was the Elf here to look for him - maybe even to help him? Was it Glorfindel who had send that thought and told him that he must stall for time? But what could he hope to achieve?
A sudden sound made him turn his head. He stared. Opposite the entrance of the pavilion, a knife blade protruded from the oiled cloth. Beregar had barely noticed it when it began to slide down, slicing through the tent cloth with a soft, scraping noise. Someone, it appeared, was making an attempt to help him escape. Someone other than Glorfindel.
When their mouths finally separated, Zaba eyed him in wonderment. 'I though you despised us,' she breathed. She touched her lips.
'No, no!' he whispered urgently. Ah, Elbereth! How terrible that she should think such a thing! 'I never...' He faltered; after their kiss, his tongue seemed to have lost its taste for words, while his brain and senses were a whirlpool. What an awful time and place for such an awkward situation.
He noticed that he was holding her firmly, thinking that he should let go of her, but failing to do so. This is madness. He thought of the fate that had befallen his grandsire's brother. Aegnor had chosen never to leave the Houses of the Dead, for he loved a mortal maid who had passed beyond the Circles of the World(1). Should I have foreseen that on these shores, mortal dangers could take the form of a woman, Gildor wondered? And would it have kept me from leaving home?
At last, Zaba moved. 'I need - time,' she breathed. He felt her hands slide off his waist.
'Yes,' Gildor replied softly, finally tearing his arms from her. 'But please let me... your wound...' He touched the strip of cloth around her head where it was darkened with blood.
'Feels warm...' she whispered. Then her fingers closed around his wrist and she pulled his arm away. 'It is just a scratch.'
Her hand was cold, and the world reasserted itself. Inside the pavilion, the Ciryatur's voice rasped: 'I do not believe you,' and from his vantage point outside, Gildor could see a single rider approach between the double row of torches lining the main road through the camp. What is Glorfindel doing here? he thought, still a little dazed, but then his mind found leverage. So his royal cousin wanted Beregar back?
Watching Glorfindel draw closer he registered the Ciryatur's increasingly heated words inside the tent, culminating in threats of execution and torture. He also registered the rage emanating from Zaba, and the hiss that rose from her throat like vapour from a boiling cauldron. 'Bastard!' Too loud! But could he blame her? Turning to touch her shoulder he caught her next, silent curse. To his relief, the first one seemed to have gone unnoticed.
But what to do to save Beregar from his own commander? Remembering that the young man had proved sensitive to it before, Gildor did the first thing that occurred to him: using mind-speech to tell Beregar that he should stall for time.
'Wait!' he heard Beregar cry, just as Glorfindel reined in and dismounted, a scant ten feet away.
Not much later Gildor heard a male voice announce Glorfindel's arrival. Footsteps followed and he assumed that the Ciryatur have left the pavilion. The risk seemed worth taking, so he raised his dagger - to discover that Zaba had beaten him to it and was cutting through the tent cloth with her own blade.
'No!' he breathed. She must stay outside; she could not risk being caught. It occured to him that maybe he ought to take her to safety before he undertook anything else. But there was no time to do so if he also wanted to free Beregar, whose predicament was worse. It also crossed his mind that he was imitating someone, but that thought he dismissed as irrelevant.
Meanwhile, Zaba was shaking her head. As he could guess well enough why, Gildor was forced to desist. If he truly wanted to prevent her from entering he would have to take resort to violence, and that he would not do. He sighed, and indicating himself he raised one finger. I will go first.
She drew back a little, apparently willing to humour him in this. The cut was wide enough, and he slipped inside. Glorfindel, he thought, using mind-speech, try to prevent the Ciryatur from re-entering, if you can. But he doubted the other Elf would catch the thought, not expecting it to be there.
Beregar seemed hardly surprised; he must have noticed some of the activity behind the pavilion. At Gildor's gesture he rose and Gildor began to cut through the rope tying Beregar's hands behind his back. While he did so, he saw Zaba dart to the trunk at the foot of the Ciryatur's field-bed. To find the accursed ring, undoubtedly, though it seemed unlikely that she would be successful.
I have to break the hold it has on her, Gildor said to himself. She must be delivered from evil.
'That is not where I would hide it,' Beregar whispered to Zaba, as if he had caught Gildor's thoughts. 'But if I were you, I would stay away from it, knowing what it did to me.'
'He is right,' Gildor said softly. Love, he added silently - wrong time, wrong place to say it aloud. By now, he had cut Beregar's bonds. 'We have to hurry,' he urged. 'Zaba, please. If the Ciryatur returns and we are still here -'
'I will not come with you.'
1)Read The Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, in Morgoth's Ring (History of Middle-earth 10).
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