8. The Seventh Cloak
It was a dreary morning, with heavy clouds almost touching the canopy of the Golden Wood. A fine rain infused the air, and mist rose from the ground. Parvelui and Maedhvel pulled sheets of gauze across the windows to keep the room dry. The light in the bower was dim, barely bright enough for needlework, and none but Elven eyes would have been able to sew in this gloom at all.
Belegwen passed a new thread throw the eye of her needle. She held it up against the window to make use of what little light there was. When she bent over her work, the braids of her dark hair falling down the sides of her head seemed to cast a shadow on her face.
"My mind is heavy," she said to her friends, "for I am making this cloak for one who is consumed by anguish and by dark thoughts."
The others were quiet, so quiet that the dripping of the rain from leaf to leaf could be heard.
"He has much to worry about," said Aerwing eventually. "He knows that his people are fighting a losing battle even now, and he fears they will not hold out when the real strike comes." She smoothed out the creases in a hem she had just completed.
"That is not all," said Faenchiriel. "He dearly loves his father and brother and he is anxious how they will fare without his help. The one he deems too careworn and the other too trusting to withstand the onslaught of the enemy. He is impatient to return to them and fulfil the duties he has in Gondor."
Salabeth frowned. "He resents the quest. Submitting to the judgement of others is not to his liking. He is a prince in all but name and accustomed to lead, not to follow. More than once he has felt that his advice had been disregarded, his vote overruled, but most keenly does the very destination of the journey irk him. He thinks that he knows better."
"Better than the wisest of this Age?" said Gathgael with scorn. "What can a mere man know about such things?"
"Don't condemn him. He has his share of wisdom, though it may seem folly to us," said Belegwen. "Gondor has always relied on strength and on valour, and this is their way of thinking. It has served them well, and many are living in the shelter of their swords. Can you marvel that he believes strength will be the answer to the menace of these days?"
"I do not marvel," said Aerwing, "but I am uneasy. If he resents the quest, and if his loyalty is divided, then there is a danger that he will use his strength unwisely. I cannot foresee what shape that danger would take. Could he force the whole company to go to Minas Tirith or persuade Estel to take them that way?"
"I do not think he could, but he might try," said Salabeth.
In the silence of the room, they pondered on images of flashing eyes, of raised voices, of swords drawn between friends.
"Can we not prevent him, or warn the others?" whispered Maedhvel.
"It is not for us to interfere," replied Aerwing, "and the Lady Galadriel will know all that we have seen, and more. If a warning can be of any use, she will give it."
"That is true," said Belegwen. "There is only one thing that we can wish for him: that he will remain faithful to his companions and not be turned aside by his delusions."
She took the cloak and held it to her brow. The drizzle had turned into a downpour and the Golden Wood was filled with the sound of rushing water. Inside the bower, all was hushed and dim.
"But what if your blessing fails?" said Salabeth at length.
"It must not fail," said Belegwen.