7. Chapter Seven
For the benefit of the readers, I will use the names of the POV characters as headings from now on.
Gildor was the perfect lookout. Not only could he see much further than any of the Ciryatur’s sailors, he also had a better night vision. Like a feline, indeed - though the admiral suspected the other Elf’s eyes would penetrate the black shadows of the new moon just as easily. Maybe even more so, as their light was more piercing. But Glorfindel seemed reluctant to relieve his companion in the crow’s nest. He climbed up only once, and not for long, his face a little taut when he descended. The Ciryatur wondered if he was afraid of heights, though nothing he had ever heard about Elves indicated they were prone to such afflictions. A bad experience in the past, then, and still haunted by the memory?
Whatever it was, it did not mean that Glorfindel remained idle. Once they had entered the Gulf of Lune the wind diminished considerably, and the Ciryatur had ordered the oars to be put out. Save the admiral himself and his second-in-command all the sailors were expected to row, and Glorfindel had taken his place among them, seemingly without a second thought. At first, the Númenoreans, the Ciryatur among them, had laughed a little, for surely these Elves were too slender to be of much use pulling an oar. Glorfindel had soon disabused them of the notion by rowing for two subsequent shifts and seeming none the worse for wear, and now they all wondered how strong he actually was.
Meanwhile, Gildor’s reports were not encouraging: the enemies seemed to be almost everywhere, and they were closing in. Orcs defiled the mountains to the north and south, more numerous than the Elven scouts who tried to intercept them. To the southeast, large groups of unspecified Mannish origin were marching towards the Havens, the earth groaning under their feet. Or so Gildor claimed; the Ciryatur heard nothing of the kind. Also, there were many dark birds in the air, and that was something that did draw the Ciryatur’s attention.
‘Are we up against crows as well?’ he asked Glorfindel, who joined him on the foredeck.
‘It is conceivable that the Enemy uses crebain as spies,’ the Elf answered.
The Ciryatur could not help wondering who exactly the Enemy was, and why he had invaded Eriador. The Númenoreans knew his name: Sauron, a powerful Maia. The Dark Lord, as Gil-galad called him in his letter to Tar Minastir, had been the greatest servant of Melkor, also known as the Morgoth. Yet in books of ancient lore the Ciryatur had read that after the War of Wrath this Sauron had begged the pardon of the Lords of the West, and had been forgiven. Was he as thoroughly evil as the Elves claimed, or had his wrath been aroused for a reason?
He looked at the Elf. It was possible that Glorfindel knew nothing, though it seemed unlikely. Yet, if he did know something, he would certainly not speak of it before he had seen the High King of the Noldor. By now, the Ciryatur had learned not to probe if he did not want to run the risk of hurting his own vanity and pride. Still, it could be worthwhile to do some investigating once he reached Mithlond. Tar Minastir would greatly appreciate it.
They were passing the port of Harlond to the south when Gildor announced he could see the Grey Havens now. The ships had obviously been sighted as well, for, inaudible to mortal ears, a horn was being blown.
'And there is a battle going on,' the young Elf added abruptly.
'Where?' the Ciryatur shouted up at him.
'Between the southern harbours and the hills beyond. Elves, Orcs, and Men in black. But the Orcs are faltering, I think.'
'And the people at the Havens?'
'I see many on the quays and on the vessels in the harbour. Several of them look our way. Some are waving their arms, but at each other rather than at us, I believe.' Gildor laughed. 'Though I am sure they would be cheering more diligently if they knew some of us were able to discern them.'
'Have you greeted them yet?' Glorfindel asked.
The Númenorean admiral, who recognized a rebuke when he heard one, suppressed a grin. If they were lovers, they were certainly not of the turtledove kind.
Gildor, unchastised, raised an arm and swept it from side to side in an exaggerated wave.
'Did they see you?' the Ciryatur wanted to know.
Bending forward, his long hair covering his cheeks like a curtain, the younger of the two Elves peered East. 'I do not think they are paying attention anymore,' he declared at last. 'There is some upheaval, it seems. A lone rider galloping from the East... holding something in his arms.' He straightened, and his tone became grave. 'Some body.'
'I will not lose him,' Gil-galad said softly but defiantly.
Tárion looked half lost already, ghastly pale, eyes closed, his unmoving body covered by a sheet that looked like a shroud. Galadriel had to watch him very carefully to see the rise and fall of his chest, though her mind could sense the wavering flame of his life. He lay in the King's bed - not for the first time, she knew, though she had never told either of them that she did. How and when they had first become lovers was unknown to her, but Gil-galad's mien and behaviour made it abundantly clear that their bond was strong. He would fight hard for Tárion's life, and with every means he had at his disposal.
The thought chilled her, for she realised what those means were.
'What say the healers?' she asked.
'They give me little hope,' the King murmured without taking his eyes from the still face on the bed. 'The wound is not poisoned, but he has lost a tremendous amount of blood. He is of the Eldar; a mortal would have succumbed before I ever reached Mithlond. Even so...'
Galadriel bent forward to pull away the sheet. 'Let me have a look.'
'No!' Gil-galad said sharply, but too late; the upper half of the Captain's body was bared to her view. She could not suppress a small gasp.
The shoulder which had caught the blow meant for the King was bandaged, but below the white linnen, a large area of Tárion's chest was covered in scar tissue, in some parts pale and stretched, uneven and puckered in others. Burn marks, plainly. Some time during this warrior's unknown past, something had scorched him most horribly, eating away so much of his skin and flesh that by rights he ought to have died. Yet he had lived to suffer an agony that no one - not even an orc - should be required to endure. Almost against her will, Galadriel touched one of the scars with a fingertip.
Fire blazed inside her, searing through her with a force that held her body rigid for several heartbeats and took her breath away. 'Remove your finger,' she heard Gil-galad say as from afar. But she was struggling already, and with an effort broke the contact.
Surely that is not what you feel when you touch him? The question spilled out of her on an upsurge of emotion.
He learned me to turn it into another kind of fire... the King replied. Then, his mind snapped shut and he said with the voice of his body: 'He cannot die. I was convinced I would never wish to...' He put the sheet back in place, his hands not quite steady. 'But now that I am faced with the possibility of seeing him go...'
Never before had she heard Gil-galad speak so incoherently. He was about to break, so much was clear. Galadriel's gaze went to the small cabinet of carved wood on the other side of the bed.
Gil-galad saw it. 'They are not there anymore,' he told her. 'I removed them as soon as I entered this room.' An almost inaudible click, and the inlaid doors openend, enabling her to see the velvet-clad emptiness inside.
Galadriel was not surprised. 'You consider using one of them to heal him,' she said flatly. Nárya, the Ring of Fire, doubtlessly.
'And you believe it will be our undoing.'
'You know the truth of that.'
'Sauron is not almighty.'
She rose to face the King. 'He is a Maia. He bested my brother, who was instructed by the Valar and whose eyes beheld the glory of the Trees, in a combat of song and spells.'
He did not bat an eye. 'Finrod Felagund was under the Curse of Mandos. That is why he failed. But the Doom of the Noldor ended when Angband was destroyed and Morgoth cast into the Void.'
'Sauron was Morgoths greatest servant, and he has grown in might. He forged the One Ring to control all others. Including yours - and mine.'
Gil-galad gazed at his Captain, whose face seemed to have changed imperceptably: it was no longer peaceful. He turned back to Galadriel. 'Would you forbid me to use it, Keeper of Nenya? Would you not rather link your powers to mine? Two are stronger than one.'
'You are the High King,' Galadriel replied calmly. 'And I forbid naught. How, pray, could I who failed to beg Celebrimbor to destroy them, tell you what to do in this matter? But' - and she took a step towards the door - 'If you think I will aid you in this, you do not know me wel enough. I know of better ways to use whatever power is within me.'
And she left, her mind concentrating on what she could and should do, if the King succumbed to temptation.
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