45. Chapter Forty-five
The commander of the Númenorean army received him outside his pavilion, which seemed rude, as his visitor was sent by the High King. However, Glorfindel guessed that there was a different reason behind the admiral's lack of manners - an enlightened guess, given the circumstances.
'What would draw your friend Gildor to our camp?' he heard the Ciryatur answer his query. 'I was not even aware of the fact that he had joined this campaign.'
'We believe that he is looking for a comrade, someone who was lost during tonight's skirmish, but who was not found among the fallen.'
'I see.' The Ciryatur nodded, his expression betraying nothing - or nothing that an Elda who had known but few mortals in his first life and not many more in his second, could read from the face of a sly and experienced man. 'Would you like me to order a search for your friend, master Elf? Or can this wait until dawn?'
'There will be no need to spare any of your men for a search, my lord admiral,' Glorfindel replied, spotting an opening. 'With your permission, I shall conduct the search myself.' He smiled. 'It will not be necessary for me to enter any of the tents - unless it is your own, for a few moments? As it happens, there is one other thing I have to discuss with you - a request from my king.' He cast a glance at the guards and at the officer who was standing around without any apparent purpose.
Shifting his weight to his other foot, the Ciryatur hesitated, as if he tried to determine how best to refuse and under what pretext. Glorfindel decided not to wait for the outcome. Quickly he slipped past the admiral to invade the pavilion.
The sight that hit him there made him freeze one step beyond the entrance. What in Arda was the harebrained fool thinking? Provided the processes going on inside Gildor Inglorion's mind could be described as thoughts.
The next moment, he heard Beregar speak up. 'No. I will flee no more, as if I have something to hide. It was folly to keep what was never mine to take in the first place, without even knowing what it was. It could have had dire consequences for Middle-earth, and maybe Númenor as well. It will be no more than proper if it has dire consequences for me.' His eyes took in Glorfindel's presence before they came to rest on something just behind the Elf. 'Do with me as you please, my lord admiral.'
Stepping inside the Ciryatur said in his coldest voice: 'A commendable decision, young man.' He turned towards Glorfindel. 'You will not have to search any further for your wayward companion, master Elf. Would you be so kind to remove him from my presence?'
'Leave, Gildor.' Glorfindel could hear that his own voice was only marginally warmer than the Ciryatur's. 'You have not heard the last of this.' He imagined Gil-galad raising his voice in wrath before putting his cousin in chains and sending him back to Aman - provided such a thing would still be possible after the coming battle. Should they turn out to be victorious, though, he might also have to commend Gildor for his enterprising spirit.
To his credit, Gildor made no objections. Tearing his gaze from Beregar, who gazed impassively at one of the tent poles, he bent his head. 'Come, Zaba,' he said softly.
'No! Not the half-breed girl!' the Ciryatur snapped. 'What is she doing there, looking underneath my pillows?'
Zaba, still bent over the field-bed, looked up and stabbed a finger at the admiral. `You have my ring. I want it back!'
Somehow, Glorfindel was not surprised.
She would have to die for that, he decided in the lengthy silence following her allegation. The girl was nothing but a nail in his coffin. But it was Beregar, of all people, who spoke first. 'It is no use seeking it, Zaba.'
'I know he has it!' she cried. 'Why else was I drawn here?' She never lowered her arm. 'Admit it.'
What nonsense was that? The Ciryatur stared at her. How was it possible that this piece of dirt had the evil courage to accuse, no, attack the commander of the Númenorean army in his own pavilion, in the heart of his own camp? He did not deign to reply.
'You must be wearing it somewhere on your body,' the girl rambled on, straightening herself and taking a step towards him. 'Hand it back. It is stolen property!'
Beregar and Gildor spoke up simultaneously, one drowning out the other; the only word that the Ciryatur caught clearly was the girl's name. 'Guards!' he bellowed, not trusting the Elves to react adequately to this savage, and doubting that Beregar would lift a finger to protect him. When she advanced much too fast, he knew that the guards would be too late. So he jerked his dagger from its sheath and pointed it at her, his hold firm and stable. No need to stab or thrust; she had enough momentum.
The blade was forged by a master smith and honed to remarkable sharpness. And the demented female was unable to halt herself in time. He watched her impale herself on the metal, saw it slide though her tunic and felt it pierce the mailshirt she wore underneath as if the rings were made of dough.
She blinked. When the outrage on her face reshaped itself as pain, the Ciryatur pulled the knife out and stepped back, bumping into his belated guards. He heard one of them swallow a curse, and he realised he had stepped on his foot. Before him, the girl crumpled to the ground, a stain spreading across her chest like a blood-red peony opening many times more quickly than nature had intended. Her hand crawled toward it as if to pick it. But it was too feeble.
Beregar was the first to drop on his knees beside her, followed immediately by Gildor, whose face resembled a marble bust.
'My lord,' one of the guards ventured, 'did you call us?'
Stupid question. 'I did. Stand by,' was all he said, without turning his head.
The girl's eyes had dropped close. 'Is she dead?' the Ciryatur inquired, satisfied to find his voice unaffected.
'No.' It was Gildor who whispered the answer, barely audible and none too convincingly.
The guards at the Ciryatur's back were a reassuring presence. He cast a glance at Glorfindel. The Elf appeared shocked, but not outraged or accusing. And rightly so; this was a clear-cut case of self-defence.
'But she did not attack you,' Beregar protested.
He sounded whiny and childish, the Ciryatur thought. 'Did she not?'
'Her hands are empty.' This time it was Gildor who spoke; his voice seemed to have lost its usual Elvish clarity. He was trying to prevent the red flower on the girl's chest from growing any larger, using his own cloak.
'I see a weapon on her hip. For all I knew she would have drawn it.' For all he knew she had been about to draw it. 'Take her out of here,' he added.
Now, Glorfindel also knelt beside the girl, and motioning for Gildor to move aside a little, he laid a hand on the wound. Looking up he asked: 'Could you please provide a hurdle, my lord admiral? Too much jolting could prove to be fatal.'
The Ciryatur shrugged. He did not believe that she would survive, but they were free to keep up their hopes - though why they should care was beyond him. She had been an embarrassment to everyone, including the Elves. Nothing but a nuisance. 'Go and find something to carry her on,' he told the nearest guard.
'Before I forget, my lord admiral,' Glorfindel added almost absently, his eyes still resting on the girl's pallid face, 'King Gil-galad requests you to deliver the sailor Beregar Falmalion up to him. He wishes to adjudicate the case himself.'
Suddenly, he did look up, and it seemed to the Ciryatur that the Elf's clear, grey gaze put a choice before him that had little to do with the Elvenking's immediate wishes.
Elves were seldom forgetful. Glorfindel knew when to choose his moment, the admiral thought resentfully. Intruder. He closed the shutters of his soul.
Why? he wondered. Had she not listened to anything he had told her? Had she wilfully closed her eyes to the devastation around them that was so obviously wrought by the Dark Lord? Blind fool! Beregar thought, helplessly furious and ready to blame the victim. But his next thought was: who was it that failed to convince her?
He remembered their kiss before the gates of Mithlond. Somewhere inside his mind, its meaning had slowly evolved from pleasure to promise and from there to a determination to pursue - until the Ciryatur's hounds had hunted him down. Bending over the limp figure on the pavilion floor he felt a keen sense of loss, and little hope. How could the girl possibly survive a wound like this, even though Gildor did his utmost to staunch it? Beregar saw the golden head hover above Zaba's face, mouth slightly parted, as if he wanted to breathe the life of the Eldar into her. Why look so despondent, Elf? Mortals die all the time. Even had she lived to a ripe old age, Zaba's life would still have been the blink of an eye to the likes of Gildor.
He realised there was something wrong with this thought, but he did not know what, and he was loath to dwell on it.
Vaguely, he could hear Glorfindel convey some request from the Elvenking to the admiral. It was about his delivery. One of the more ambiguous words in this world. He felt like an object bandied about by people who cared more about their own prestige than about his fate, but at that moment, he could not care less.
He would like to cry or shout, but he felt too numb to do either.
When Galadriel's daughter reported back shortly after daybreak she looked grim, and he guessed that not all the injured had survived the first encounter with the enemy. She looked tired as well, though less than he had expected. 'Am I in time, Captain?' she asked calmly. Almost too calmly, as if his verdict could not possibly affect her. Was she hoping he would discipline her, perhaps remove her from the King's Guard? That way she could back out and still salvage her pride: all I did was finish my work. One wonders if the Captain would want the healer to walk out on him with a wound half-dressed, if he were injured?
Tárion took a deep breath. 'You are in time.' Despite himself he added: 'Are you well?'
'Well enough, thank you.'
He was about to order her to take some rest when Celebrían went on: 'Captain, what would your answer be say if I asked to be dismissed from the King's Guard?'
So now she put his previous thoughts to shame, knowing that this was precisely what he wanted to do, and offering him the perfect opportunity. No more risk of having to choose between her and Arto in the thick of battle. 'To rejoin the healers?' Tárion heard himself ask. Every drop of blood that she shed would make her hands less fit to heal; therefore it would also be for her own good, if he sent her away.
'That would be the main reason.'
But not the only reason, apparently. What else could it be? Not fear, of that he was certain. He yearned to say: 'Then go, my lady.' He had the power to do so, and her prowess in battle would hardly make much difference.
Tárion did not know what possessed him in that brief instant when he decided to deny them both their own good. Unless it was fate. Unless it was one of the myriads of minor notes in the great music that the Powers had made before the world came to be. Unless it was his awareness that their own personal good fell just short of being good enough.
'I could not honour such a request, were you to make it,' he replied slowly. 'You have committed yourself. We are at war - and the members of the King's Guard are warriors. They protect their King and fight for the good that he defends, light and liberty, the right of the earth to breathe, the right of the springs to run clean, the right of living things to grow and prosper freely under the Sun. Fighting the evils that infest this world is also healer's work.' He eyed her gravely. 'Are you indeed asking for permission to leave the Guard and join the healers?'
Celebrían shook her head. 'I am not, Captain.'
Then why did you ask? he wanted to say, but he knew. And thus she was avenged for his testing of her in the armoury. Maybe he had been closer to failure than she had. How strange it was that the same love could strengthen and weaken you at the same time, almost as if the strength and the weakness could not exist without one another.
The first rays of the sun glanced off the crown of Celebrían's head, drawing silver sparks. 'Go and take some rest,' Tárion told her. 'We will not march immediately.'
`Thank you,' she replied, very composed. It occurred to him that she would have made a worthy queen.
Gazing after her, he saw Argon join her and speak to her. His second in command seemed about to throw an arm around her shoulders, but then apparently remembered that she was a different kind of comrade. Watching the two until they disappeared behind a tent Tárion heard Gil-galad emerge from the pavilion behind him. His lover laid a hand on his shoulder, and he placed his own on top of it. For a while, neither of them spoke.
Gil-galad was the first to break the silence. 'I wonder how she would have reacted if you had told her you would honour her request,' he said pensively.
'Should I have, Arto?' Tárion knew only too well that the King was at least as unhappy with her presence as his Captain was.
Gil-galad sighed, squeezing Tárion's shoulder rather hard. He did not reply.
Tárion chuckled mirthlessly. A foolish thing to ask. 'Yes and no,' he answered his own question.
'What's that?' Gil-galad suddenly exclaimed.
Turning his head, Tárion saw a rider approach from the direction of the Númenorean camp. The horse Glorfindel's, but the rider was -
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