50. Chapter Fifty
'He deserves to die,' Beregar whispered urgently when Gildor remained silent. 'He is a murderer, and he will probably turn traitor. He should be disposed of - surely you can see that?'
Gildor was not sure when a person could be said to deserve death and if so, who was entitled to do the slaying. But this was not the moment for niceties, and in all honesty he preferred a dead Ciryatur to a living one. 'Yes. The man is a liability,' he said at last, agreeing with the one thing he could wholeheartedly agree with. He knew that he was being less than honest with the young mortal, but if a stained conscience was his price of passage to these shores he was willing to pay it.
'So you are with me if we try to approach him?' asked Beregar.
'Have I not been with you since the battle began?'
Beregar accepted the question for an answer. 'Then let us seek him out before dawn.' Pulling his cloak around him he curled up on the ground as if the matter was settled. 'I need some sleep first.'
'I shall wake you,' Gildor promised him. He was not particularly tired and when he stretched out it was not to dream, but to reflect, his gaze on the star-clustered dome of heaven.
They crept towards the admiral's campfire in the chilly hour before the first light, when life burns low and the world seems to revolve at its slowest. Nevertheless they were late. The Númenorean guards were stirring already, as if they had been forewarned. From their vantage point behind a low ridge neither Beregar nor Gildor could see the admiral, though Beregar recognised his aide and several other members of his personal retinue. Was he still asleep? Or had he withdrawn to some secluded spot?
'He is b-busy swearing allegiance to Sauron and r-receiving his instructions,' Beregar murmured, vainly trying to keep his teeth from chattering. The toes of his leather boots were dark with dew and his face was pale with apprehension, until it split open in a huge red yawn.
Gildor was not cold, but he shared Beregar's nervousness. 'If he goes over to the Enemy he will have to inform his men of the change in strategy.' It was hard to imagine that the entire Númenorean army would obey without any kind of protest. But it might not come to that. The Ciryatur would have to address his troops, and to do so he had to be visible. One arrow should be enough. 'We will have to wait and see what happens,' he added.
They were fighting on foot now. She sensed rather than saw Argon go down: something fell away that had been there since the battle began, the previous day. Turning she saw him lie on the grass, a javelin piercing his eye, lodging itself in his skull. For an instant, it looked as real and unreal as a scene from a sad history of the Elder Days, sung to life - and death - by a skilled minstrel, a tale full of tears and sorrow. Then the maddening truth pierced her mind: this was happening now.
She screamed with fury. Argon was worth dozens of yrch, so she would have to slay them by the dozens to avenge him. And blade in hand, Celebrían charged. So did the other guards, and so did their Captain, and the High King whom they were all sworn to protect.
But right now, she was bent on killing and kill she did. No time to fear the foes, nor time to fear herself as she decapitated one orc with a clean sweep of her blade and gutted another. She lost count when the Dunlendings replaced the orcs, led by a huge chieftain in a wolfskin. Of course, he went for Gil-Galad.
Celebrían leaped. So did Tárion, and he was faster. He launched himself into the swiftly closing gap between the Dunlending and the High King, but she saw that his shield-arm was dragging and that it was too late for him to raise the shield properly. He would be skewered.
She threw her blade with all the force she could muster. It did not pierce the Dunlending's armour but it hit him hard, unbalancing him long enough for Tárion to move his shield in place, block his blow and retaliate with his own sword. It was then Celebrían realised that she was unarmed now, but before she could panic, a voice shouted her name.
Turning her head she saw it was Gil-galad. He held up her sword, which he had caught or picked up, and when she nodded he threw it at her, mouthing what looked like a 'thank you'. She plucked the weapon from the air - deftly, she thought almost amused - and fought on. It crossed her mind that she was a fool: you go to war, prepared to die for the one you love, and what do you do? You save his lover.
It was, she discovered, a liberating thought.
The Dark Lord kept sending in fresh troops, as if he spawned them on the spot. Círdan appeared as grimmer as he had during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. The Elves had no more reserves left. Glorfindel was not sure about the Númenoreans, what with their commander being such an uncertain factor. He wondered if the Ciryatur was not holding back part of his cavalry - and if so, whether this was wisdom or cunning duplicity. However, the Númenoreans who did fight, were doing so side by side with the Elves, not against them. Hope had not withered yet; as always, despair was bad-mannered, presenting itself too soon.
If their defeat were sealed, he would let their enemies cut him down as if the body he wore now was his previous one. To his best knowledge he would be the first to die twice. He pulled a face: a few more such musings and he would look forward to his second death. But no: he was as alive as he had ever been, and he loved to be in the body. With renewed vigour he raised his blade - to a distant clamour, amidst the din of battle, that had not been there a mere moment ago. 'Círdan!' he shouted, disposing of his opponent. 'Are those trumpets sounding afar?'
The Shipwright's bearded face relaxed a little. 'Indeed they are,' he cried. 'The Númenorean reinforcements are coming.' He sobered. 'Let us hope the Ciryatur does not send them against us.'
No doubt Círdan was wise to be careful, but Glorfindel's heart could not help leaping. Hope did suit him best, after all. He smiled.
So the ring could render him invisible if he accepted Annatar's offer... This meant that he would be able to pass through the ranks of the enemy without being attacked or waylaid. But the admiral saw no compelling reason to do so. One stray arrow was all it would take, and even if he made it all the way to the master of the Rings he would be alone and defenceless and wholly at his mercy. It seemed a possibility to be considered only in the case of dire need, in the face of defeat.
He smiled thinly. Defeat seemed less likely than it had last night, now that the troops he had sent to the mouth of the river Baranduin were approaching; even his ageing ears could hear them bray. As they had marched only a few hours today, they would be fit enough to join the fray - and they could tip the balance.
If Annular appeared to be winning the Ciryatur could still side with him. He could, for instance, capture Gil-galad before the Elvenking could fight himself to death; and the High King of the Noldor would be a valued prize. If, however, Annatar were to lose this battle, what else was he but another gambling warlord? Hardly someone with whom it was wise to ally oneself.
And I will still have the ring, the Ciryatur mused; who can tell if I cannot make it work for me without help? Or, if Annatar was defeated, some kind of deal would be possible. But whatever was the case, he would cherish his ring. It had become precious to him. It was worth holding on to, regardless of what it could do.
The Ciryatur touched his lips to it and rose to don his mail, join his officers and give them their orders.
'There he is!' Beregar hissed, pulling an arrow from his quiver and nudging Gildor with his foot. 'You had better shoot, too. Two have a greater chance than one.'
To his utter astonishment, Gildor's long fingers closed around his wrist. 'Wait.'
Had he gone mad? There would never be a better chance than now. Their enemy was perfectly visible and unprotected, they had ample cover here and they even had a fair chance to get away afterwards. He tried to pull his hand away, but Gildor held it in a vice-like grip. Why were those damned Elves so strong? 'Let go of me,' he whispered urgently.
'First, we need to know what he plans to do,' Gildor whispered back. 'Unless he orders his army to go over to the enemy, it would be folly to slay him.'
No, Beregar thought. He had been a fool all along. The Elf was not out for revenge. He must have decided that it was no use crying over a dead woman of a lesser race, the object of ancient Elvish name-calling: afterborn, sickly, usurpers, strangers, self-cursed, heavy-handed, night-fearers and whatnot(1) - he remembered reading these things in his Elvish history book.
'You betray her,' he said, choking, though he knew that it would not avail him. 'You value her no more than an orc!' Gildor's grip was hard enough to hurt, though it was nothing compared to way his heart was being squeezed to death. 'No, you must be the orc, to condone this deed and protect the one who did it.'
'Peace, Beregar,' murmured the Elf. 'Listen to me, for all our sakes, and most of all for the sake of Zaba's memory. My heart yearns to avenge her death, but if you kill your commander now, this battle will surely be lost, and with it Middle-earth and even Númenor also, in the end. Is justice for Zaba worth such evil? Nothing you do will call her back to this world.'
If he claims that she would not have wished it, I will hate him. Convinced as Beregar was that Zaba would have wanted revenge, he would have to contradict Gildor and defend her way of thinking - her way of being. Yet he felt no wish to fight over the dead.
When Gildor did not reply, Beregar asked. 'Do Elves only reason? Have you no feelings?'
'Yes,' replied Gildor, without explaining which question he was answering. He was still holding Beregar's wrist, but his eyes strayed, and the young man followed their gaze. The Ciryatur was fully armoured now and addressing his officers, but a competent archer would still be able to find his eye. With his free left hand Beregar pulled his dagger. Gildor, watching the Númenoreans, paid him no heed.
Or so Beregar thought, until the Elf turned his head and said, without attempting to wrench the weapon from his grasp. 'Kill me if you must, friend - but first tell me this: if you do this and you survive, could you live with the knowledge that your deed cast all Middle-earth into darkness?'
Though he knew the answer, Beregar did not speak for a long while, weighing the dagger in his hand, and his options with it. Somewhere far away, he heard a peculiar sound. At last, he said: 'Sadly enough there are many things that mortals can learn to live with, Gildor - more than you seem to realise. The problem is rather that I am not sure if I could die with such knowledge - and dying is not something that I can avoid.'
He sheathed his dagger. 'You can let go of my wrist now.' It was about time, for he recognised the distant sound now. Trumpets. Listening again, he could also hear the noises of the ongoing battle approach the place where they were hiding.
When Gildor finally did as he was asked, Beregar went on: 'Did you hear what orders the admiral gave to his officers?'
The Elf nodded.
They were approaching the core of Sauron's army, a heart of shadow and flame. This was good, Gil-galad thought. If only he could come face to face with the ancient foe of his House... At that moment he knew with the certainty of foresight that it was his destiny to face the Deceiver with Aiglos in his hand, though the where and when remained veiled to him. Since before they set out from the Havens, he had hoped and prayed that it would happen in this very battle.
His fingers tightened around his spear. The shaft was his determination, the blade his will, the tip his hatred for the fallen Maia. The rays of Anor glinted on the metal, a spark as bright as Sauron's fire was dark. If only he could vanquish this enemy, his army could fall apart around him, his star could fall into darkness - and it would not matter, for the light would still prevail.
And it seemed that his army did indeed fall apart as they split the ranks of the orcs like a wedge, in a final attempt to turn the tide of evil. Tárion was still with him, but he did not see Celebrían, he knew that Argon was dead, and the King's guard had been decimated. Jerking his spear out of a body and plunging it into the next foe he licked his dry lips, tasting blood. He ventured a glance towards the Southwest. The Ciryatur remained an uncertain factor, while the Númenorean reinforcements -
The trumpets blowing from afar actually surprised him. The sound did not only bridge the space separating them from him and his warriors, but also the doubts that had settled between him and the race of Men like dust that dulls all things fair and shining. All about him, the Eldar shouted with joy. The fighting slowed down as the trumpeting reached the ears of their enemies. The orcs hesitated, listening, while their mortal allies glanced around in confusion, unaware yet of what was happening.
Gil-galad used the opportunity to gaze southeast once again. His keen eyes could discern banners and flashing spears and long columns rippling along the river bank like a glittering serpent. And he saw something else, as well.
He turned aside. 'The Ciryatur is sending in the rest of his cavalry!' he bellowed into Tárion's ear. And his captain and lover flashed him a grin and repeated the battle cry of the Edain of old on the top of his voice: Lacho calad! Drego morn!(2)
'We will take him yet!' Gil-galad shouted, raising his spear.
Yet strangely enough, what had seemed within reach when he thought they were losing the battle receded now like a tide running out. The dark presence ahead did no longer loom as large; it was no longer the menace it had been, but began to elude him, withdrawing faster than the King and his host could press on. The orcs and Sauron's mortal allies fled before the wrath of Gil-galad and his remaining guards, before Círdan's shipwrights, before the Númenorean horsemen - led by the Ciryatur on his great war-horse. It was an ordered retreat, as if a great will controlled them, telling them to withdraw in order to regroup later. No end had come to the struggle yet.
Today was not the day, then, Gil-galad thought, a drop of disappointment diluting his triumph. Maybe not tomorrow either. But the light was bright and their hopes were alive. For a while the shadows shortened.
(to be concluded in the Epilogue)
1)These nicknames are all derived from The Silmarillion.
2)Sindarin: Flame light, flee night.