Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 13. Family Matters
Ariashal never glanced up from her embroidery. She was seated on a private balcony, carved from the mountain so it would be shielded from the constant winds. It faced away from the city, so that she never had to see or smell the noxious smoke.
Below her was a walled garden, carved from within the mountain. Some of the giant boulders were left in place, jutting intrusively from the paved garden floor. In the center was a small fortress, with miniature siege engines scattered about. Trees shaded the garden, a waterfall splashed into a pool. A pair of white wolves lay attentively in the shade, alert to all activity.
Sighing, she laid aside her work to see what her children demanded of her.
Imrahil, the eldest, had managed to gain the lower branches of one tree. Tall and sturdy, he was as fearless and confident as his father. His hair was long, wavy, black; Ariashal suspected he had inherited that from his father as well. From her had come rounded features and soft blue eyes.
"Let me up!"
Adrahil, her second born, struggled to climb the tree. Like his brother he was tall for his age. Unlike his brother, his features were more angular, reminiscent of the men depicted on the Numenorean tapestries that graced the castle's walls. He could be stubborn, willful, difficult. Already he was resisting the lessons of his tutors, preferring to practice with his sword.
On the other side of the garden, her daughter Zimraphel busied herself in the dirt. Her nurses kept a close watch on her, for she was insatiably curious, forever digging into things. Ariashal often heard her speaking with her guardian wolves.
There were other children here as well, offspring of Angmarim nobility and society chosen as playmates for the young Royals. Also running around were some of the servants' children, not from any desire for democracy, but from the need to keep a good mix of ages and sexes around. And if any friendships formed from the playground, so much the better. The royal children would need confidantes as they grew older.
Ariashal noted that her husband treated his children equally. They had all, to some degree or another, inherited his gift for sorcery; he had begun giving them simple lessons. He played no favorites with them, never praised one at the expense of the others. She much preferred this method. It was a far cry from her father and his endless testing of her brothers, or the not-so - subtle reminders of her own feminine inferiority.
Ariashal could not quite believe the changes that had taken place over the years. Her father had died recently; she only learned of it when a brief message sent to the King made a passing reference to the fact that her brother was now in control of Rhudaur. That she found out in such a roundabout way only added further turmoil to her feelings about her old family. They never acknowledged the letters sent when her children were born; never once wrote to inquire after their health. She was uncertain whether they were surprised to think that she had actually borne children, or if they preferred to not think of her at all.
The fact that her old family no longer wanted her made her even more passionate and possessive towards her new one. During the day she had the children's education to supervise; at night she had the King's needs to tend. After the birth of Zimraphel, she and the King agreed to have no more children. He was forced to resort to ever-more elaborate rituals to keep her and the unborn child safe from harm. Whatever it was that wanted his offspring, it was growing ever bolder and more dangerous. The risks to all were too great. Accordingly she drank the foul-smelling potion he mixed for her, thus ending her child-bearing.
It did not end her love life. Removing the chance of pregnancy increased their desire. Now they could engage in any activity they wished, without the fear of creating a life. For the first time she was able to explore some of the frontiers of sexuality, with a man capable of pleasing her. She was well aware of his limits; she knew better than to try and dominate him, even in play. Much easier to give herself over to him, to let him do as he would, trusting him to stop before hurting her.
In turn she had managed to gain his trust, something which she had thought impossible. He was considerably less guarded around her; she even managed to get him to laugh. He was comfortable enough with her that he no longer kept completely swathed in cloth. She quickly adjusted to the sight of bits of clothing moving about the room apparently of its own will.
And she had even grown used to the flying beasts. A few times she had actually braved going for rides with the King. She sat in front of him, braced against the saddle, while he handled the reins and kept Nardu under control. Her first few flights were low and slow. She marveled at the power in the wings, at the way the ground slipped past, the way the wind felt in her hair. As she gained confidence he took her on longer flights, far out into the mountain peaks. Here they found a refuge far from Carn Dum, where they could be utterly alone.
It was during one of these interludes that she learned the truth about her old family.
They were laying on his great cloak, in a small cave sheltered from the sighing winds. Ariashal had learned to read his moods, despite the fact that she could not see him. Now she knew that something was troubling him. It had bothered him during the ride here, during their lovemaking, and it was bothering him now. She recognized this mood. He would not talk unless she asked him.
"My lord," she began, gently stroking his chest, "something has upset you. What is it?"
He drew a long breath. "I did not wish to burden you with this, but I fear you have come to know me too well. It is your brother. He has reneged on our treaty."
That idiot! "How?"
"He wanted to renegotiate after your father died, and I refused. He has not sent his annual tribute for four years. I forgave him one year, for they had a drought. Now he says that he is no longer my vassal, and that he will do as he pleases. And he wants our daughter as a bride for his grandson."
"No! He will not take her!"
"She is too young to even consider marrying, so she is in no danger. He is my vassal, whether or not he wishes to believe otherwise. I have not been forced to take the field for many years, Ariashal. I had hoped that the treaty would keep my southern borders peaceful for some time, long enough for the population to grow. I see now that this is impossible. This summer I will have to go on an inspection of the fortifications along the border. While there I will hold a full review. Perhaps that will convince him of the error he has made, and he will not take advantage of my patience in the future."
"I would very much like to accompany you."
"Of course you will. It will be good for the children. They need to understand their kingdom, and be seen by the people."
"When do you plan to leave?"
"In a few weeks, when the grass is ready. I am not ready to wage war against them; my army is still too small. I have many orcs, but they are ill-disciplined at the best of times. I will see what has happened, and if needs be I will send east for more men. Khamul will not fail to supply me."
"Khamul! I thought you hated Khamul."
"I do not hate Khamul. We merely see things differently. As an example, he thinks that I should have a harem, and sire no children by my concubines. I see my children as my most loyal allies.
"There have been times when I disliked him. But he is a man of his word, and he will do what is needed. To speak truthfully, if I can avoid going to the east for men I would be much happier. I want as little to do with the east as is possible."
"Maybe my brother will be reasonable."
"Perhaps. It will be much better for all if he submits gracefully."
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