Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 44. The Prince of Cardolan
Ariashal staggered back from the door. Instinctively she clutched at her stomach, as though she had been stabbed.
"My sweet, lovely sister!" Ferion shoved his way into the room. "This is Armendil, a prince of Cardolan. He is here to take you as his wife."
She could not breathe. This was not possible. She had to do something, say something, anything, to prevent this travesty from going any further.
"Well?" prompted Ferion. "What do you say to him?"
Ariashal grasped at the first thought which came to her. "I--I am afraid that I am not well."
Armendil and Ferion exchanged glances. Ferion pressed closer. "What do you mean, you are not well??"
Not daring to get near the bed, she managed instead to sit on the stool. "I mean--I mean that I am unwell."
Ferion bent over her. "Is this some sort of trick to discredit me? What is the matter?"
Ariashal glared up at him. "I am a woman, Ferion, and I am unwell."
For a moment he stared at her, his face a mask of stupidity before breaking into a knowing grin. "I see. Very well. We can delay the wedding for a few days."
"Why?" asked Armendil. "What is the matter with her?"
Her brother's grin sickened her. "As I told you, despite her age she is still quite fertile. In a few days all will be right."
Armendil's expression changed from puzzled to amused. "I think I understand. I can wait for a lady as pretty as her." He made an exaggerated bow. "Even if she is--, ahh, cursed." Smiling, the prince slipped from the room.
Ferion hesitated. "I will see if there is a woman here who will be able to care for you. That is what you need at this--delicate--time, is it not?"
"Yes. A woman to help me would be useful."
He stopped at the door. "I will see what I can find. Good evening, Ariashal."
She listened as he drew the door closed and the guards outside settled back into place.
She was doomed.
Any woman Ferion dredged up would almost certainly be under orders to observe her closely, and would soon report back to her master that Ariashal was perfectly fine, and quite capable of being married. She could just see the woman now. She would probably be a bedraggled, old camp follower, one who served the men in any way they wished. The idea of such a creature pawing through her laundry sickened Ariashal.
For a moment she steadied herself on the edge of the cot. She was still suffering from the blow to the head given by her abductors, and sudden movements tended to upset her equilibrium. Finally her head cleared, and she began to consider her plight.
She walked around the room, looking for something, anything that might help her. What was in her chest? Three dresses were folded inside it--two clean, and the one worn the other day. Then there was the one she currently wore. They would all need laundering soon. She had enough chemises and such to last a week before they would need to be dealt with. That would give her a few days, at least, before they discovered the ruse.
Someone knocked at the door.
Hurriedly Ariashal closed the chest. "Enter."
Ferion sauntered in, alone this time. He closed the door behind himself. "My men are looking for a woman to help you." He settled on the stool. "So. How are you feeling?"
"I have already told you."
Yes," he nodded, "that you have. Armendil is very disappointed. He wanted to get married tonight."
She seated herself on the cot. "I am sorry to have upset your plans."
"I imagine you are." He smiled. "Your curse has finally turned to my advantage. I have my kingdom back, and soon enough you will be adding Armendil's lands to mine."
"What?" Her head began to pound. "Suppose I refuse? Suppose I take refuge with the King of Cardolan?"
"Suppose your children never reach the border? Suppose Imrahil is cut down before he ever reaches manhood? And suppose that daughter of yours gets handed off to my men?"
"That would mean war!"
"Yes, it would. And I would have all of Arnor at my side. And Imladris, too."
"Imladris would not side with you after murdering those Elves!"
"My dear sister! Do you think all Elves come from Imladris? Besides, I did not murder them. It was the men of Angmar who killed them."
"Angmar?" She stared at him. "There were none of my men here!"
"Sweet, sweet Ariashal. All those years married to that--thing--and you are still as naive and stupid as ever."
"You will--you will claim that my men slew them!"
"No one in Imladris would believe otherwise, now, would they? Why would they take the word of the cursed queen of Angmar over that of a son of the house of Elros?"
"My husband was also of that line! And so are my sons! You do not have the only Numenorean blood in Middle-earth."
"Maybe not, but mine is the blood that matters most. No one knew the true identity of your late husband, for if they had, they would have been far quicker to join me in my quest. As it was I had to be certain before I had him killed. A pity that the Elves did not bring me his head. It would have brought a fine bounty from Master Elrond and Lord Glorfindel."
"Elves? They would never pay your blood money!"
"For the head of the Nazgul Lord? Come, sweet sister, you are not so naive as to think they would not want him dead."
"They did not know he was here!"
"Yes, that is true. They did not know that there was a Nazgul in their midst. But once you are re-married and silenced, they will know, and they will also know who delivered Middle-earth from this threat. And I will be rewarded."
"And if they do not believe you?"
"Believe me? Of course they will believe me!" His wolfish grin sickened her. "And I must tell you, two unarmed Elves are no match for thirty armed Angmarim. I am certain that there will be a song composed for the brave Elves who fought so gallantly against the men of the Nazgul and almost won. They slew twenty men before they finally fell." He shrugged. "I suppose that it would have been cheaper to have simply paid the Elves in silver."
She buried her face in her hands.
Ferion stood to go. "You are mine to do with as I wish. You will marry the Cardolani, and when you have killed him with your curse you will marry the next prince I find for you. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"Good." He closed the door behind him.
For a long time she sat still, trying to decide what she must now do. There was no way that she could reach Adzuphel or Herumor and warn them of the threat. Ferion would get word to Imladris, and then there would be a war. That was what he really wanted--a war between Imladris and Angmar. With Imrahil on the throne they would be hard-pressed to keep from being overwhelmed. He was a bright boy, but he was so young and inexperienced! Even Adzuphel and Herumor would not be able to help him overcome the Elves.
The news that the Lord of the Nazgul had made his home in Carn Dum would unite the Elves in a hunt for the others. That would mean that Herumor would have to fight off an army determined to kill him. He was a competent warrior, but eventually he would have to decide if it was best to take Adzuphel and the children and flee Carn Dum rather than let them fall to the enemy, or if it would be better if he alone left. Imrahil would either be deprived of one of his best advisors, at a time when he would be most in need of advice; or he would be deprived of his throne.
And then there was Sauron.
What would he do? Would he send aid with Khamul, or would he let the kingdom fall to the Elves? He had no reason to help Angmar; he might well sit back and wait while the war played itself out.
Or--would he? Would he come to Imrahil, promising power and strength if he took up the ring? Imrahil knew nothing of his father's true nature, nothing of his tragic fate. He might well fall to the ring, giving Sauron a new Nazgul to control. With Imrahil enthroned, Sauron would wreak havoc in Angmar. Neither her husband nor Herumor had ever had anything but contempt for the way Sauron managed his lands. There was no reason to believe that he would do any better in Angmar.
And then there was her own fate to consider.
She was to be given to the Cardolani prince. That would last for--what, a year or so? Then he too would succumb to the curse. And after him there would be many more, all found for her by a brother who was whoring her out for some land.
Ariashal knew what her life with the Cardolani would be like. It would be like all of her earlier marriages, except that the Prince would be contemptuous of her, never fully trusting her or her motives. He would be rough with her, either to punish her or because he liked to exert his strength. And when there were no children, he would get abusive and angry. Then he would die, and the whole sorry cycle would be repeated.
In a way the entirety of her life had gone in a circle. She had left Rhudaur, married men who did not really want her, waited for them to die, and returned. Her first husband had never thought her good enough for him, and neither had his family. In their eyes she was scarcely better than a servant, there to provide an heir and be silent. With the Hillmen, she had been little more than companion to an impotent old man, catalyst for a murder. Her third husband had treated her like a slattern, using her quickly and savagely whenever he felt the urge, and finally riding off to die.
And then there was the King.
Ariashal had hoped, fervently, desperately, that he would be waiting for her in the carriage, and avenge all that had been done to her. How she had longed to see him rise, sword in hand, and strike Ferion and his followers from the face of the earth!
But it was not to be. She had seen his ring, held it in her hand. She knew he would not simply hand it over to Ferion, knew he would not willingly give it to some Elves. No, they had to have taken it from him, and for that to have happened he must have been dead. Had the arrows slain him quickly, she wondered, or had he drowned? And what had Herumor said about running water? Even if he had been alive when he dropped into the pool, the running water would soon have swept him away. He was gone--finally, absolutely, irretrievably gone. And with him went the last of her heart.
There were her children to consider. It turned her stomach to think of what they would be facing. Imrahil would have to somehow overcome both Sauron and Ferion, and he was too young, too inexperienced, too alone to do so successfully. Adrahil, strong and brave, would grow to manhood fighting constant wars, just as her own brothers had done. And like her brothers, he too would fall in battle, leaving a grieving widow and a kingdom bereft of his strength at arms. If Zimraphel were blessed, she would die young. Otherwise she would be a pawn, sent off to Ferion to buy peace. What Ferion and his minions would do to the Witch-king's daughter was too horrible to contemplate.
And through it all she would be sent from household to household, never really wanted, never fully trusted, used by men who would soon be dead, spreading her curse across the realms of Arnor. Eventually she would be too old to send off, and then she would either be shut up in some out-of-the-way rooms, or, worse still, given as a prize to some of the men.
Never again would she see her children. She would not see Imrahil crowned, nor Adrahil reach manhood, nor see Zimraphel off to the home of her husband. There would be no grandchildren to dote upon, no weddings to oversee. They were as if they were dead to her now.
That was a thought.
She could kill Ferion, and her intended Prince. The Prince was doomed anyway, if he married her; she could simply do it quickly.
She looked over the tray of food. There was a small paring knife, nestled amongst the fruit.
She tested the tip. It was sharp. Good.
It was not big enough to kill, though. Not easily. She might be able to take out an eye, or slash a throat; but it would be impossible to do so with the force and quickness needed. Ferion would survive the attack, and then she would pay, and pay dearly. She had already seen the way he looked at her. Probably he would use her, beating her senseless and then passing her off to the Prince. And what the Prince would likely do then would be enough to make her wish for her own death.
Ariashal studied the gleaming blade. What good would it do her? None, really, except to guarantee a beating and probably a rape.
She closed her eyes, both against the pain of her headache and the horror of what was to come. She could not escape her fate, no matter what she tried. She was cursed, and damned.
But--the thought slowly took hold--she could deny them their prize.
Why not? She had nothing to live for, anyway. She would never again know anything like the exquisite pleasure brought by the King, never again ride in state, never again see the children whom she loved. All she had to look forward to was a long life of pain, torment, and grief.
Her King was dead. Of that she had no doubt. Perhaps, just perhaps, this way she could rejoin him. She would rather wander the tracts of the Void at his side than face the world without him.
The little knife trembled in her hand. It was not big enough to do any real damage against Ferion, but it would cut the veins of her wrists.
Ariashal closed her eyes. Eru, forgive me, she prayed as she placed the tip of the blade against her flesh.
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