Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
Playlist Navigation Bar
Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 3. The Curse
Ariashal was cursed.
No one was ever certain when it had happened, or why. It was never clear if it was a curse directed at her personally, or if it was meant to discredit her entire family. Regardless, it was she who bore the brunt of it, and it was she who was the agent of its actions.
Ariashal was the youngest child, and only daughter, of Turabar, King of Rhudaur. Her grandfather had managed to depose the old Dunedain family, and her own father had waged ceaseless war against the neighboring kingdom of Cardolan. Every summer her father and brothers, uncles and cousins, would ride out to do battle with the Cardolani forces; and every fall they would return, with stories of small towns captured or men killed. They never really managed to do much more than harass Cardolan; they lacked the manpower to seize control of so large an area. All winter long she would listen as they planned how they would run their summer campaign, and lament how little they could do with the army they had. Eventually one of them would mutter about what they needed, and what they would have to do to improve their chances of conquest.
And so, as soon as she was old enough, Ariashal was married.
Her first husband was a young lord, a man whose father held lands close to the Weather Hills. She was barely thirty, young for a Dunedain bride; he was only a few years older. She was sent off with jewels and dresses, promises to bear many children, and the hope of a decent alliance.
Her new family distrusted her from the start. They too were Dunedain, and they wondered aloud if, perhaps, there might not be some--lesser-- men in her background. After all, Rhudaur was small, and shared land with the Hill folk. Perhaps, they sniffed, just perhaps there was a touch of -- impure-- blood in her veins. Not enough to completely disqualify her from the ranks of High Men, but still.
For several long years she endured their sanctimonious taunts and cold silences. Her husband listened to them, too. What had started out promisingly was soon strained. He was really his mother's son; he spent more time doing her bidding than pleasing his wife. When Ariashal failed to produce children the whispers turned into full-fledged insults. She spent many hours in her private apartment, lonely, miserable, sewing and reading, hoping for deliverance.
She got her wish. One late winter afternoon, during a hunt, her husband foolishly wandered out onto some ice while chasing a deer. The ice broke, plunging him into the deadly water. His body was not recovered for several days.
Her father-in-law soon spoke to her. With neither husband nor family to keep her there, he saw no point in preventing her return to her ancestral home. She managed to conceal her delight. It took an indecently short amount of time for them to pack her up and send her home.
A few years later she married again. Her next husband was from the Hill folk. She was dismayed at the thought of marrying a Lesser Man, but her father and brothers insisted. He was an old tribal leader, used to the harsh life of the wilderness. Ariashal was stunned to find that her new accommodations were nothing more than a bed at the end of a long hall, with a curtain drawn in front of it for privacy. The rest of the family slept outside the curtain. At night she could hear their every move, and they hers.
The Hill folk had a much rougher diet than she was used to; she was often ill. Their women ridiculed her for her delicate constitution. They sneered at her more patrician sensibilities. For her part she saw no charm in living in a long, drafty building with the whole family, a huge fire blazing away in the middle of the floor, and domestic animals freely wandering in.
But her husband was indulgent of her. He was kind to her. For he was no longer young, and their marriage was lacking. After three years with no pregnancy, the eldest of his nephews began to insinuate that Ariashal needed to be replaced.
Things came to a head during the annual feast to celebrate the harvest. Mead and ale were flowing freely, and the young man openly challenged Ariashal's right to be there. Her husband angrily drew his sword.
The fight was furious. They traded blows, slashing into each other, spattering blood across the floor. Finally the younger man plunged his blade into his uncle's chest, and it was over.
Ariashal left within the hour.
Her third husband came from within Rhudaur. He was a member of the former royal family, and only agreed to the union in the hope that he would thus be able to regain the throne. He came to her home, consummated the marriage, and left within weeks, ostensibly to fight Cardolan. The next time she heard of him, he had taken ill with fever; he died despite the best efforts of the healers.
The market for husbands was now considerably smaller. Dunedain might be longer lived than other men, but even so, she was getting older. Fewer people were willing to gamble a son on a woman who had borne no children, and been widowed many times. Neighboring courts openly referred to her as "cursed", which drove Ariashal to despair. None of the deaths had been by her hand; she had not killed anyone. But despite the protests of her family, the stigma remained, a stubborn stain on the house of Rhudaur.
Finally, there came a hope for redemption. A lord from Cardolan was willing to take the chance and marry her, if for no other reason than to try and buy some peace between the warring lands. She accepted the offer, and waited for her groom to arrive.
He never came. His party was attacked by orcs, and everyone killed.
For some years afterwards Ariashal endured the pity of her brothers and their families. She tried to make herself valuable to them, especially to her nieces and nephews: dressing them for formal affairs, helping with their lessons, nursing them when they were ill. Her sisters-in-law were grateful for her help, and every now and then one would opine that she would make a fine mother. And Ariashal would laughingly agree, and quickly change the subject. She tried not to feel jealous of them for their children, for the connubial bliss that fate had denied her.
One by one her uncles, brothers, cousins and their sons fell in the endless battles with Cardolan, until only Ferion, the eldest of her brothers, was left. He openly demanded that Ariashal be married, curse or no, before their line was extinguished completely. But despite the best efforts of her father, no one came forward to be her groom.
Early one spring, her father summoned her to his council hall. It was late afternoon, warm and sunny. As she made her way to his chambers, she tried to guess what she was needed for. Someone was ill, someone needed her to do some embroidery, someone needed her to be useful. She knew that no one wanted her for herself.
Turabar was seated on his throne, a pile of papers spread on the table before him. His throne room was more practical than imposing; the court of Rhudaur had been migratory for so long that all the trappings of royalty were portable. The only sense of splendor came from the rich tapestries and carpets that were strategically placed to emphasize the presence of the king.
"My dear Ariashal!" said her father, smiling at her through his graying beard. "I have some wonderful news for you. You are to be married!"
"As you know," he continued briskly, "I have tried for some time to claim all of Cardolan as my own. This has proven to be impossible. But with our new alliance, we should soon be able to achieve our goal. And you will be the one who makes it possible!"
"Who--" she managed to find her voice, "who am I to marry?"
"The king of Angmar."
"I have entered into a secret alliance with Angmar. They will provide the iron and weapons I need to conquer Cardolan. Your part is more, shall we say, intimate. Given your--history, I have been at a disadvantage in dealing with them. I have had to make some sacrifices, but now all is settled. You will be married here, by proxy, and soon you will be on your way to your new home."
"Yes, Angmar," said the king, slapping the papers together. "As I said, they will give us armor, weapons, iron, men--everything we need. I must part with more than I planned, but it will be worth it. And you will be their Queen."
"Do you know what their king is?" she shrieked. "They call him Witch-King! He is evil! A sorcerer! He commands armies of orcs and trolls! You yourself said you would never parlay with him! Never! Why now?"
"My dear girl, there comes a time when some sacrifices must be made for the good of all. Now is that time."
"So I am to be a blood sacrifice? What good will come of this? And for what? Some miserable land?"
"Do not anger me, Ariashal!" he roared. "You are mine to do with what I will. It has been decided, and you will go!"
"I will not be sent to live with that evil creature!"
"You do not understand," hissed her father. "You will go. It has been decided and the treaty drawn."
"I do not care! I will not go!"
"Do not cross me, girl!" For a moment it seemed that the stone walls trembled. "I will give you a choice. You will either go as a queen, or you will go in chains. But you will go."
"In chains? So you would sell me into slavery?"
"If you will not do as I command, yes."
She stood still for a moment, mind racing. "Very well," she said. "If I am to go, it will be as queen."
"Good girl. You will sign the agreement now, and we will prepare for your departure."
Ariashal managed to fight back tears as she scrawled her name across the parchment. She noted that her future husband had not signed; instead there were two seals, one showing a tower and the word ANGMAR, the other depicting a tall crown. She slammed the pen down.
"There," said her father. "It is done. You may go now, and ready yourself."
Playlist Navigation Bar