Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 45. Passages
Something creaked behind her.
Ariashal froze. Had Ferion found some secret way into her room? Knife at the ready, Ariashal whirled around. Her paring knife might not kill, but it would do well against her brother's smirking face.
But it was not Ferion who stood there.
Standing in front of an open doorway in the room's paneling was a tall figure, robed in black. "Herumor!" She flung the knife aside. "I thought--"
He held one hand up, to silence her. Obediently she stood still. A pale yellow light flashed around the room.
"Now," said the familiar voice, "we may speak."
"My lord!" Her heart seemed almost to explode as she flew to him. "I--I thought you were dead!"
"Nay, my lady quee--"
She did not let him speak. Before he had finished the words she had seized him in a fierce kiss. For several long seconds she clung to him, willing that they might join fully and never again be apart. Finally he broke free.
"And after you called for Herumor! I thought I was unwanted."
"No!" she cried, clutching him. "Oh, my lord, I thought I had lost you forever!"
"Nay, Ariashal. Even if it meant that I must claw my way from the very pits of the Void, I would not leave you here to face these fiends alone."
"You mean--" her heart skipped-- "you mean you really are dead? You were killed?"
He gave a soft laugh. "Nay, my queen. I am not yet ghost, but merely wraith!"
"What happened? They had taken your ring!"
"Aye, madame, that they did." He settled onto the stool. "The Elves that shot me dragged me ashore, hunting for the ring. They saved me from drowning, though that was not their intent.
"Herumor found me, and brought me back to the Keep. And I fear I must tell you that Herumor was beginning to despair of me when Adzuphel returned with my ring. For though I hate what it has done, I confess that I am bound to it, and cannot let it go."
"Then it was you whom Ferion saw when he put on your ring!"
"He put on my ring? Fool!" The King's contempt was all too clear. "Nay, twas not I he saw, nor Herumor. Your father, it may have been; or else other, less pleasant phantoms from his past."
"He said that he had seen you, and knew you were dead!"
"As I said, Ariashal, he did not see me. I was here, wavering between worlds. And, to say the sooth, he would not know my countenance, for no mortal has seen me in many a year."
"I--I confess I had not thought on that."
"No matter. But the weapons used by the Elves have given me much to ponder. The men found as many shards of the elves' arrows as they could, and when we are back in Carn Dum I will examine them properly to see how they were made. Whoever fashioned them must be found and stopped, else the lives of us all will be forfeit."
"My lord," she murmured, gathering his head to her breasts. "I despaired of ever seeing you or our children again! I was--I was going to--"
"Do not worry, madame," he soothed. "Your father brought me word of your grief, and what he feared you would do. And so I came a quickly as I could, to stop you before you did something foolish."
"My father? He told you?"
"Aye, madame, he has been watching over you all this time. He it was who brought word of your imprisonment, and who guarded you so zealously while I was ill."
"My father? He never seemed to care much for me before." She sniffed back a tear. "I thought all he cared for was land!"
"He has had time to think about his treatment of you," said the King. "And he has come to realize his shortcomings. At least he has been able to rectify some of them."
"I did not know."
"He did not want you to know. As I said, he only came to me when I was well enough to act, and able to prevent you from foolishly harming yourself."
"It would not have been foolish! I would rather be dead than without you."
"There is no longer any need to fear that." He kissed her. "We are together, and all will again be well."
A sudden vision of Ferion came to her. "No, my lord! I fear all is not well."
"Why?" Gently he held both her hands in one of his. "What is amiss?"
As swiftly as she could, she told him of Ferion's plans for her marriage, of his friendship with the Cardolani, of his threats to their children, and how he would use his destruction of the Elves to provoke a war between Imladris and Angmar. She finished with the details of her ruse, and what she feared tomorrow would bring.
"Ill news indeed," said the King quietly. "Your father and some of the others will be able to prevent the sending of letters for a few days, but eventually word will reach Imladris. And I know that master Elrond will not hesitate to act against me. No. You are correct. Ferion must be stopped, and soon."
"What will you do?"
"I had hoped for a few more days, to reach my full strength. But it seems that cannot be achieved."
She laid her head against his. "What can I do to help you?"
"You will have to do what you must to convince Ferion that you agree with him." He drew a long breath. "You must tell Ferion that you have changed your mind. You will be ready to marry the Prince of Cardolan tomorrow evening."
"What? Marry that puppet of his? Never!"
"Stay, my queen, and listen. You must tell him that you will marry the prince. That will give us some time. Then, tomorrow night, I will be able to act. I will have had enough time to do the great spells needed, and by then should have the strength to keep the effects in hand."
"What do you have in mind?"
"Something which Ferion will find unpleasant." He sighed. "Under different circumstances, I would request Herumor's aid in this. But he is tending the children, and I do not want him removed from that post."
"The children! How are they?"
"I had to take Imrahil into my confidence, to let him know that, though I was ill, I was still King. That gave him the strength, I think, to carry out his part. The others know nothing. Although," he chuckled, "I doubt that Zimraphel will long be kept from the truth. She has too many spies amongst the spirits and animals!"
She could not help laughing at the thought of Zimraphel merrily chatting with ghosts and wolves.
"I warned your father about telling her anything, and while I know he will obey my wishes, there are others who are not so circumspect. Herumor should be able to keep them away, provided he does not have to deal with too many other distractions."
"And where will you be? How will you stay safe?"
"So you wish to know my secrets. Very well, my queen. Let me show you my lair."
She followed him to the panel in the wall. "I did not know this was here!"
"Nor does Ferion, else he would have imprisoned you elsewhere. Nay, twas your father who showed Herumor these passages. Many are the secrets the dead learn, for tis difficult indeed to hide things from them. These passages were built and forgotten long ago."
They descended into the darkness, Ariashal leaning against the King for guidance. The stairway curved down, finally opening into a small, square room, lit only by a single candle. No windows pierced the walls, only a second door, shrouded in gloom. A simple bed and table were here, along with the King's traveling box. On the table was a basket filled with foodstuffs, some bowls, and a large urn.
"Your father told Herumor of this place," explained the King. "When they brought me back here, they decided it would be safer if I stayed hidden. And so this room was made ready for me."
"Who knows of this?"
"Save me, the dead and Herumor? None. Imrahil was brought here secretly. While he was much pleased at the idea of the Keep having such passages, he was not permitted to explore them. And in truth, I do not know where they all lead. This doorway descends to the tombs."
She eyed it, uneasy. There was something unnerving about the proximity of the tombs that she could not shake.
"Do not be alarmed." He guessed her thoughts. "They are out patrolling the Keep. If anything is amiss, your father will speak to me."
"It is just that I--"
"That you find it disturbing. Twas disturbing to me, my queen, to awaken surrounded by your father and the others. I admit I was not quite certain if I had joined them permanently, or was still of two worlds." He undid the clasp of his cloak and draped it over the end of the bed. "I must rest, madame, if I am to be strong enough for tomorrow."
She took his hand. "Then let me stay with you."
"Very well." He settled onto the bed. Before he could draw the blankets over himself, Ariashal took them. He caught her hand. "What are you doing?"
"Taking care of you," she said, firmly stuffing the blankets around him. "You will permit me to tend you."
He sighed, and she thought she detected a slight touch of amusement in his tone. She did not care. She had almost lost him, and she would do all in her meager power to protect him. Lifting his heavy cloak from the end of the bed, she draped it over her shoulders and settled in to watch over him while he slept.
His breathing gradually settled into a regular rhythm. Every now and then he moved, and when he was again still she would rearrange the blankets covering him.
Ariashal tried to sort though the events of the last hour. She had come close, dangerously close, to killing herself needlessly. Why did she have so little faith in him? Adzuphel had asked her that, at the Hillmen's fort, and she had never been able to find an answer. And here, tonight, she had once again shown her inability to believe in his strength. Granted, she had much more cause this time, but still, she had doubted.
And what if she had slain herself? What then? Would she have awaited him, in the Halls of Mandos, until the day he finally fell? And what would happen then? Would she even be allowed to wait for him? Or would she be cast out, forced to wander the world, forever following him as a broken spirit?
And then there was the matter of his own fate. Eru promised that he would never cast aside his children, but she was not so sure that he would extend that promise to one such as the King. He might be forever banished to the Void, to lie in blackness and despair with the likes of Morgoth and his minions. Or she herself would be sent there, for the disobedience of her suicide, while he was set free. And there they would remain, and be forever parted.
She must not think of it now; it was too much for her. She gathered his hand into hers, buried her face on it, and cried.
Someone was speaking.
Ariashal, startled, sat up. She must have fallen asleep; she was on the bed, wrapped up in his cloak. Over on the table the candle sputtered and flared, sending weird shadows across the wall, illuminating the inky bulk of the King as he sat by the table.
"No," he said, his voice barely audible. "She sleeps still. Twas well that you warned me, for if I had tarried she might well have done the unthinkable. All is well now."
There was a soft whisper, a garbled whoosh of murmured sounds.
"She is? Very well. Ariashal, you may join me."
Uneasy, she made her way to his side. A feathery breeze stroked her face.
"Your father," explained the King. "He has come to tell me of movements within the Keep."
Ariashal dug her fingers into his shoulder. She fought down the urge to flee, screaming, from the unseen phantom.
"Yes, tis indeed a shame that her worth was never clear to you when you were ruling, King Turabar." The King shifted in his chair. "But mayhaps, if she had been more valued by you, she would never have come to me. And the loss of her company is one I would regret deeply. For she is a wise Queen and a fine mother, and her counsel is of great benefit to me."
She clung as fiercely as she could. Knowing that her King needed her gave her the strength to stay, ghosts or no.
. "Your men hid the papers? Excellent. That will help us greatly. How many are ready to join tomorrow?"
"How many what?" Ariashal's voice barely rose above a whisper.
"Your father is not the only one who has beseeched me, my Queen. For while I have been convalescing, I have received many supplicants who view me as their last, best hope for justice. And so there will be many dwellers of the world of shadow who will stand at my side."
"I see," she murmured, clinging tightly to him for support.
"Go, Turabar King," he continued. "Ready the army for tomorrow. And remind all that their day of justice is at hand."
The candle flared again. Ariashal felt a slight, cold breeze slip past her face. There was a soft rippling in the air, a slight familiar scent, and then the room fell still.
Softly, she started to speak. "Are we--"
"Alone?" finished the King. He lit a second candle, filling the room with its steady glow. "Yes, my queen. We are alone."
Crying, Ariashal slumped against him. "I--I cannot get accustomed to this! I expect to see him or hear him or--or something. I cannot abide these whispers and yet know he is gone!"
He gathered her into his arms. "But he is not gone, Ariashal. No one is every truly gone. The land remembers, and we carry them with us wherever we may go."
"That is not what I mean! You can see him! You can hear him!"
"Aye, that I can. And there are times, Ariashal, when being able to see them is no blessing. For when they come to me they are desperate and lost. They cannot go on, they cannot find peace. They can only long for someone to help them and set them free. They are just as tormented by their inability to reach you, as you are by your inability to speak with them. Their lot is not an enviable one."
"Do you think--do you think that I will--I will be able to at least see him before he goes?"
"I do not know, my lady queen. He may not wish to be seen in his current state. But I promise you this. I will at least ask him for you. Will that suffice?"
She caught her breath. "I--I suppose so."
"Then I will try. And you must promise me never to try anything as foolish as you did this night."
"I would rather be--"
"Do not say that! Do you not understand who else might hear you? Not all the phantoms who are nearby are to be trusted."
"You do not understand! When I have passed, what becomes of you? When will I ever again see you?"
For a long moment he was silent. "I--I do not know."
"Then you must understand that I would rather stay at your side as ghost than be lost away from you!"
"No!" he pulled her close. "Oh, no, Ariashal, that--that you do not want. I will not have you waiting, a shadow I can see but cannot touch. No, that is far, far crueler than you know. You will go, as you should, and be safe. I will not have you do otherwise."
"But I love you so! I do not want to be parted!"
"Ariashal." His voice was strange, unsteady. "Do you not think that I, too, have strong feelings? If I did not care for you, I would have gladly let slip from my bond to the earth, and gone to my fate. But I could not bear to leave you, any more than you wish to leave me."
Something warm splashed onto her face.
"My lord," she whispered, "you--"
"Say nothing!" he hissed, crushing her against his chest. She heard him fight to keep his sobs under control, his body shook from the effort. She could feel him weakening; he rocked and swayed in exhaustion. Alarmed, she realized now how much she was taking from him. What if he was too hurt to continue? She would have to calm him, before he was too spent to contain Ferion and his men.
"My lord, you must hear me," she said, gently stroking his face. "This is too much for you. I should go, lest I overtax your strength."
"No," he said, hoarse, "no. You will not harm me."
"But there is much you must yet do."
"That will come in good time." He seemed to have regained some mastery over himself. "My lord, I do not understand how an army of ghosts and phantoms will help you," she began. "What can they do against Ferion and his men? He is not alone. He has many Dunedain and even some Lesser Men with him. And he did manage to find Elves, too. How can you fight them all?"
He chuckled softly. "My queen, there is much you must learn about the spirit world. You must believe me when I tell you that there is no one better to secrete things than an inspired ghost. I assure you, those papers will never be found!"
She could not laugh with him. "But I do not speak of papers! I speak of you! What if they succeed in harming you again? What if they have more of those arrows? I nearly lost you once. I cannot bear the thought of having you taken from me!"
"Nor can I abide the thought of losing you. From the hand of another--or by your own."
She caught her breath. Why was she doubting him? He was here, he was alive; she had seen him cast great spells. All that remained was for her to be a source of strength for him. She managed to kiss him through the tears. "My lord, forgive me. I will never try anything so stupid again."
"Nay, my queen. Twas not stupidity that drove you." He gently returned her kiss. "But now I must needs rest, for tomorrow will come soon enough, and I must have my strength."
"Very well." She followed him back to the bed. "If--if I lay still, may I stay with you? I do not wish to be alone."
"Neither do I." He pulled the blankets aside. "You may join me, my lady queen."
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