Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 35. Survivors
For a long time Ariashal sat alone, her embroidery dangling listlessly from her hand. Herumor's recollections of those horrific days were almost too awful to bear; and she was only hearing them recounted, not facing Sauron herself.
The strange nightmares she had had, the visions of her beloved husband being tortured in the most extreme manner possible, had not, after all, been fantasies and delusions. No, they had been real, all too real, and far more ghastly than she had imagined. The King had told her, many times, that he had endured more than anyone was capable of meting out. She had assumed it was something he had said as a way for him to soothe and allay her fears. Now, she knew, it was not. There was, indeed, little that he had not survived.
If only there was a way, some small way, for her to erase some of the pain and horror of his enslavement! She would gladly trade kisses for lashings, if it meant he felt some measure of relief. She would take his place, and let the fury of Sauron rain upon her body. The dark one could fling her to the dragons and the balrogs, if it secured the King's freedom.
"Are you well?"
Startled, she dropped the unfinished embroidery. "My lord! I did not hear you enter."
He crossed to her, gently laid his hands on her shoulders. "You seem preoccupied, and anxious. Is there something amiss?"
There was no use trying to hide from him; he could read her all too well. She burst into tears, seizing his hands in hers.
"Ariashal, what is the matter? Are you unwell?"
"No," she managed to sob. "But Herumor said--"
"Herumor! He was barely able to mount his beast. What were the two of you doing?"
"What? We did nothing! We simply shared some brandy."
"Judging from his condition, Herumor had considerably more than some brandy. He has been gone less than an hour, and already you miss his company?"
"No! No, my lord. That is not what I meant."
"Then what is it?"
She swallowed, hard. "Sauron. He told me--he told me what Sauron did to you."
He took a long breath. "What, exactly, did Herumor say?"
"He told me--he told me about the way you were treated."
"That is not all you were told."
"He told me about the time Sauron nearly killed you."
"I see." The King seated himself next to her. "Ofttimes, I wish he had slain me."
"What? Why? Do you--do you not wish to be with me?"
He laughed. "Nay, my lady queen. You are by far the finest thing to ever grace my presence! I am glad to have you at my side."
"He said Sauron loved--"
"Love?" The King cut her off, his eyes shimmering red. "Sauron knows nothing of love. He knows hate, and pain; but he knows not the difference between lust, love, or even hunger. All he understands is the craving of power. But of real love, he is ignorant."
She dabbed at her tears. "Why did he try to kill you?"
"I assure you, that was not his intent. Nay, he wished to force me to lead his army against Ar-Pharazon, and that I would not do. It infuriated him that I would deny him his dream of becoming the true master of Middle-Earth. And he knew it was my fault, my queen, for he had men enough to make a fight of it. Ar-Pharazon lacked the full might of Numenor. Sauron could have made a good war, and he would have drawn much blood."
"But he would not."
"No, he would not, and that was because he needed me. When I refused, he thought he could not win. For he had bragged that he would sweep all Numenoreans into the sea, and when he had cleansed Middle-Earth he would attack Numenor itself. I refused to wage war against my heir. For Ar-Pharazon was, still, a descendant of my son.
"It was one thing to destroy the small colonial kingdoms. But once they had joined with Ar-Pharazon's fleet they would not be so easily defeated. Sauron would be facing the greatest host assembled in Middle-earth since the First Age.
"Sauron is a coward. Without us at his side, he believed he could not win. And once he thought he had slain me, he knew the others would not follow him. So he chose to surrender rather than risk any harm to himself. What happened to us, or indeed to any of his followers, mattered not. His only concern was, and still is, his own survival."
"Yet still," she mused, "he destroyed Numenor."
"Yes, and when Westernesse drowned and the world was made round, we rejoiced. For we believed that Sauron had drowned, too; and while we might never again gaze upon Valinor, nor ever return to our homeland, we believed we were free of his wrath."
"But he returned."
"Yes." The red glow had yet to fade. "He returned, and some sea-creature found his ring for him. So he could again call us to him, and again demand of us what he would."
"Surely things must have been different!"
"Aye, indeed, madame, they were. For he did not expect to see me alive. The sight of me standing before him, strong and well, frightened him. He believed that he could not slay me, and so now he was forced to treat me almost as an equal. So he granted me more freedom, although I could not be truly free while he held the ring."
"He must have left you alone."
"Ahh, my dear queen! Ever are you a font of hope. He still had the ring, so I could still be compelled to do his bidding. And he could still punish me, if he would. It plagued him to no end that he could not break me. As far as can be judged, it plagues him still."
"But he does not have his ring."
"Nay, and until he can make a new one, his control is much reduced. I will not help him in such an endeavor, and I doubt anyone else will, either."
"So he will stay in Dol Guldur forever."
"If all goes well, yes. Should some fool make him a new ring, or should his old ring manage to reappear, then things will not bode well for anyone."
She curled up next to him. "I wish I could have been there, to take some of the punishment he gave you! I would rather he tore me apart than harm you!"
"Ariashal!" he hissed, his voice like iced steel. "Never, never wish for that! Never! For if he could, he would take you! And that is one thing which you could not survive."
"But my lord--"
"I know why you say this," he gently stopped her. "I know what it is that you mean. But I also know what he will do with such knowledge.
"You must understand," he continued, "what has happened in the past is over. We cannot change it now, much as we might wish. All we can do is to take what has happened to us both, and go on. I would have you no other way than how you are now."
She looked up at him, tears blinding her eyes. "Oh, my lord," she whispered, burying her head against his chest, "I would not trade you for the world."
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