48. Chapter Forty-eight
The bowl she had found did not bear much resemblance to her own mirror - Celebrimbor's gift, left behind in Lorien and awaiting her return. If return she would.
Yet it was beautiful: a steel basin, a product of Noldorin craftsmanship, stainless and flawless. It had been wrought to last, to withstand the onslaught of time unscathed for many a yen. A healer to wet a cloth for cleaning a wound could have used it. It could have been used on the royal table to hold scented water for washing hands. Galadriel liked to think that it had, in fact, been used for both purposes - healing, cleansing - and possibly more.
Tonight, only starlight would touch the surface. Hopefully it could be done, she mused, emptying the jug she had filled in the Fountain Court. What, after all, was the source of power? The vessel, the water, the watching eye? Her soul, her will, her living breath? She touched the ring hanging on a chain around her neck. Nenya, her ring - yet attuned to the Water that was not her creation; entrusted to her care, yet not to be claimed by her finger, nor ever to be loved too dearly by her heart. The old sea longing tore at her, coursing through her veins, even making her break into a sweat. Briefly she wondered if this was akin to what mortals called fever. It abated when her skin lost contact with the metal, but it was not gone. It would never be entirely gone while Galadriel remained on these shores.
She blew on the water, softly, as if it was a creature not to be disturbed too much when it could not fully be controlled. Gentle ripples spread lazily towards the rim until the tide ebbed out and the surface gleamed smoothly again. Though the sky above was overcast, bright stars blinked back at her from the surface, while yet more stars danced in the unexpected depths, as if the shallow bowl had become a bottomless trough of time ready to yield up past, present and future at random. Steam rose from the water and the liquid glass misted over. But she was schooled to sift the images that met the mind's eye, and bending over her makeshift mirror, Galadriel looked and penetrated the mists.
The first image she saw was that of a member of the King's Guard, riding to battle. The image of her daughter.
On the brink of battle she felt oddly at peace. Not because she was wholly unafraid of being slain or having to shed blood: Fear was legitimate as long as it did not aspire to rule supreme. So was regret. There was no fighting without some form of defeat, no victory without some kind of loss, she mused, and the thought of Zaba crossed her mind like an arrow honed with regret. Choosing was part losing.
Perhaps, Celebrían thought, this is why the wise among the Firstborn will embrace fate, instead of rattling its chains and calling it bondage, fearing themselves robbed of will and freedom. I am here because it is my place to be here, not because - and inwardly she smiled at herself - of a silly maiden's vain infatuation.
She looked ahead. To Eldarin eyes the enemy forces were visible in the distance; they were riding straight towards them. The far bank of the river Baranduin and the hills beyond were coated with layers of black, flecked with the dull red of flames and crimson smears that had to be blazons on banners. The dome of the sky was pale and remote; the tiny, dark specks that had to be crebain looked displaced in its indifferent vastness.
She could remember her mother saying once that they were on their own 'in these lands, in this age,' and her father replying that such had been his life of old - 'and why should it not be thus?' She had been a child then; fearing that her parents disagreed with each other she had hoped that both of them were right, that the longing for another place and time and the certainty of being at home here were of equal value.
Her father. Her mother. Galadriel would have discovered days ago where her daughter had gone. She had not intervened, for she would not. Her mother was able to face loss, having survived the innumerable tears of Beleriand. Celebrían could only hope that her father, besieged in a vale far from here, would prove as strong - or else, that they would meet in the Halls of Mandos. And all of a sudden the thought that her sire and she were braving similar dangers lifted her spirits.
'Wondering about the battle, my lady?' she heard someone say.
It was Argon, the Captain's second-in-command. A good soul, though perhaps a little too eager to think that he was in need of support. 'I am Celebrían, sir, a member of the guard, nothing more,' she told him. Did his face fall a little? She hastened to add: 'But you were right, I was wondering about something. The Dark Lord's entire army is arrayed on the other river bank. Will they cross the water when we draw nearer?'
He shook his head. 'We shall be the ones to cross it.'
'But we will be at a disadvantage if we do,' she objected. 'I know that there is a ford, but even so the water will make it more difficult for us to charge.' It did not take an experienced strategist to see that.
'Indeed,' he replied, 'but we have no choice in this matter - Celebrían. It is the only way to engage them. And we have not come this far merely to stare at the enemy from across the water. But' - he hesitated - 'yes, it will cost us.'
He sounded as if he would rather have spared her the truth. She was convinced that the next thing he would do was ask her if she dreaded the fight. So she forestalled him. `Do you fear defeat?'
A sharp intake of breath. Silence. Then he replied, looking straight ahead: `Death I can face, but more than our lives is at stake here. Yes, I do fear defeat.'
Was this why Argon paid so much attention to her? To reduce the vast dread of that which could not bear contemplating, which was too large for a single soul to grasp, to the more penetrating but also more manageable fear for a single person's life and well-being? When he kept avoiding her face Celebrían's gaze wandered towards the leader of their army, the one whose shoulders bore the responsibility now and might have to bear the consequences later. Did Gil-galad fear defeat - and how would he manage his fear?
They were very close now. Even their mortal allies could probably see the differences between the various Mannish contingents and the more numerous Orc troops. Or hear them: most of the clamour and shouting came from the glamhoth(1). And while the Deceiver's mortal warriors had raised many different standards, the majority of which bore animal devices, the standards of the orcs were all similar: a ring of flaming gold encircling a black void, like a widened pupil staring into the dead of night.(2)
One ring to rule us all...
Never. And at that moment, Artanáro Gil-galad wiped all thoughts of defeat from his mind.
There were enough hours of light left for the battle to begin today. The waters of the Baranduin gleamed dully, mirroring the slate sky. On the other side, the orcs were shaking their weapons at them, leering and yelling. They taunted their foes in their own black speech, of which the King knew enough to recognise the words for 'coward', 'foul', and 'cruelty', and a few terms referring to body parts or activities not openly mentioned among more civilised people. He had learned these during the War of Wrath from captured Easterlings who knew some Orc-speech. After repeating them once, he had felt obliged to rinse his mouth.
Some of the mortals were shouting insults, too, their language hardly better than Orcish, though their voices jarred less. He saw Easterlings, and warriors of other Mannish tribes: Dunlendings, Southrons, even men resembling the Edain. But when he found himself wondering, sadly, why mortals were so easily corrupted, he checked himself. Not even the deathless Eldar were exempt from folly, as this war amply proved. Men had just very little time in which to grow wise - yet Ilúvatar had willed it so.
His eyes - he had to force them - moved up the enemy ranks to the dark presence at the heart of the host they were facing. The same image of flaming gold around a black void met his gaze, not round like a ring, but stabbing at the sky like a tall finger. He could feel an alien mind touching his own, painful as an unexpected dash of cold water against a hot skin: so there you are, little Elvenking... are you my match? Your kinsman Finrod was not - and he had seen the Light of the Trees.
Gil-galad shuddered, fighting the loathing that rose in him like bile. With an effort, he shielded his mind against the Dark Lord's prying; the answer would be that Finrod Felagund had been lamed by Mandos' Curse and his own guilt, but he would die before he would admit such a thing. I am grateful for the reminder,. he shot back.
Tárion caught his reply. 'What reminder?' When Gil-galad told him, he smiled. 'Strengthening your resolve by trying to undermine your confidence? Oft evil will shall evil mar, as the saying goes.'(3) He paused. 'Will this be the moment?'
'It will.' And Gil-galad gave the signal for Círdan to send his archers forward for a first volley. He looked toward the Southwest, where some companies of Númenorean bowmen, but not all, were readying themselves. The Ciryatur would keep most of his troops back during the first onslaught; the Elves would bear the brunt of the attack, once they would cross the river and Sauron would launch his own forces.
Gil-galad's eyes roamed the lines of kneeling archers, and suddenly he found himself wondering if Beregar was among them, a lone mortal among the Eldar.
He shot his first arrow into the compact mass that was the enemy. If he had been an Elf, he would probably have known where it landed and what it accomplished. As it was Beregar saw too many foes fall to be sure if his arrow had felled one. Nor did he have much time to look: the enemy was shooting back and he had to retreat quickly behind the shield wall of Círdan's shipwrights.
When he asked them for a bow the Elves had been surprised in a slightly condescending way, as if they would never have guessed that he could handle one. He had bristled, though none of them had actually questioned his ability to shoot, even though they were supposed to be better archers than Men were. But they had bows to spare after several of their warriors had been slain during the orc attack of the previous night, and they were probably reasoning that even chance hits were better than none at all. He bore his grudge against their Elvis price and self-assurance in silence, while his voice thanked them for the weapon.
Many arrows thudded into the tall shields before him, others flew over the barrier, and some of these struck home. His bane was not among them. Neither was Gildor's. Amidst the screams and shouts Beregar glanced aside; Glider had also asked for a bow. It seemed a poor exchange for the war-horse that had been offered the High King's kinsman, but the other Elves had shrugged and granted his request.
When Beregar had asked Gildor why he joined the archers' ranks the reply had been: 'Do you not want my company then?' He had nodded, be it not wholeheartedly. Almost as by chance they had ended up in the right wing of Gil-galad's army, close to the Númenorean troops.
He darted forward, another arrow notched. Draw. Loose. 'Good shot,' he heard Gildor cry beside him, but he could not tell whose achievement the other was referring to; there were too many archers within earshot. Could be me, he reassured himself, knowing he was no mean bowman. Compared to other mortals, a voice in his mind warned.
Behind the shield wall again. He smelled blood. An arrow whistled past, hitting nothing but earth. Nothing? Poor mother Arda. What wrong had she done? A strange thought, quickly replaced by the realisation that the arrow had missed him by an inch. No time to dwell on it, though: forward again. Beregar manoeuvred a little further towards the end of the line, where the Elvish warriors almost brushed sleeves with his fellow Númenoreans. It was only after his bowstring had thudded back against his leather-clad forearm that Beregar noticed how Gildor seemed to be copying his manoeuvre.
Together, they withdrew behind a different part of the shield wall. Beregar could have sworn that the elf was following him. Why? What was happening here? Forward, aim, shoot - and no time to ask questions: when the signal pierced the air, the exchange of arrows was over and the charge began.
When he praised Beregar for his shot - the young man handled the Elvish longbow with ease and his prowess was remarkable - his words seemed to fall on deaf ears. For some reason Beregar had closed up like a clam, shutting the world out and himself in. That the young mortal was tense was not too hard to understand; the prospect of having his spirit ripped from his body held no appeal for him either, different though their fates after death would be.
Yet Gildor suspected there was more to it, a suspicion bordering on alarm; not quite foresight, yet more than a feeling. It had emerged after Zaba's burial, and this was also why he wanted to keep Beregar company.
He even had an inkling of what was behind it, but any attempt to figure it out would cause him to dwell on Zaba's fate, and he knew he must not do so. Not while he fought on this field. It could tempt him into recklessness, into seeking revenge and abandoning himself to fury, to his desire to annihilate the one who had given her father that malevolent piece of jewellery. But by courting death he would risk consigning her memory to Mandos together with his houseless spirit, instead of honouring it on the living earth, like she would have wanted him to do.
That, he would not do. If he fell it should be defending life, not throwing it away.
When the charge began, he saw Beregar move further away again from the centre of Gil-galad's army. The archers were not supposed to partake in the first mass attack but to hold back and save their arrows for enemy warriors who broke through. In itself, spreading their range a little was all right, so why did Beregar's movements strike him as furtive?
Pot and kettle, Gildor muttered to himself following the young man, half an eye on the fighting in the river, while his ears tried to ignore the shrieking of metal and the yelling of the orcs. He saw several black-armoured shapes scramble out of the water onto the riverbank and loosed another arrow. He was not the only one to do so; none of the orcs survived. Looking aside he saw Beregar halt and raise his head, nostrils wide, like an animal catching a scent.
The scent of Númenor. Of the Ciryatur. I was right, Gildor muttered to himself, although he had never consciously guessed what Beregar's intentions were. He sent one more arrow towards the next cluster of orcs crossing the river. Then he turned to follow Beregar again.
1)Sindarin, meaning 'din-horde'
2)No, not a lidless eye. That belongs to the Third Age. I don't know if this image is canonical; I used it because it works for me.
3)Stolen from the Rohirrim, but I don't feel sorry.
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