Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 48. The Silver Phantom
"What are you doing here?" Ferion leapt from his chair, knocking it to the floor. "You should be dead!"
"Nay, Ferion. Neither Man, nor Elf, nor Maia, may slay me. And now you shall pay for your treachery." Slowly, flaming sword raised, the King entered the room, his eyes blazing red. Behind him a seething mass of armor awaited his command. "GO!" he ordered, pointing with the sword. "But harm not the Queen nor Ferion. I will have him alive!"
With a rush and clash of metal, the army of the dead swarmed past the towering figure of the King and on into the hall. Men too drunk to stand were slaughtered where they sat, their blood mingling on the floor with the wine and ale. Others stood to fight, only to be overwhelmed by an enemy that needed no rest and felt no pain. Some cut down a few members of the undead horde, only to fall themselves a moment later.
Ariashal had known what her husband had planned; but it was a very different thing to know about it than it was to actually see the army of undead. The Dunedain had kept the Numenorean tradition of preserving the dead, though in Rhudaur it was a practice that was not always faithfully observed. Now the products of these beliefs raged about, slaughtering all in their path. Some were little more than skeletons, white bones surrounded by rusted bits of armor. Others were more or less decayed, held together, it seemed, by the presence of armor pieces that forced shoulders to stay attached to arms, and feet to support legs.
Most disturbing of all were the more recent dead--or, rather, the better-preserved. They could almost be mistaken for living men, save for the fact that an unearthly green light flickered in their eyes. Were her father and brothers among them? Other men she knew? Ariashal buried her face in her hands, afraid to look.
Savagely Ferion seized Ariashal's shoulder, roughly hauling her to her feet. Spinning her around, he grabbed her, pinning her arms behind her.
Pressing a knife to her back, pushing the tip of the blade through the fabric of her dress, Ferion dragged her toward the back wall.
"Fight me and die!" he hissed into her ear.
"Let me go!" Ariashal knew it was hopeless, but she had to make the attempt. She knew Ferion would not hesitate to stab her, not when his own life was at stake.
"And lose my only chance for escape? No, sweet sister, you are coming with me!"
She heard Ferion kick the stone wall, followed by a deep grinding noise. A rush of cold air blew past. A secret door--there must be a secret door in here, too. The King had said that they were all through the castle, and this must be one he had neither found nor explored.
"Call them off, Witch-king!" shouted Ferion. "Call them off, or she dies!"
"Do not be a fool," said the King, his voice clear above the din. "Do not make things worse for yourself. Release her, else your suffering will be far worse than you can know!"
"No, Witch-King. You will know suffering!"
With a hard pull, he yanked Ariashal around to face him. Before she could move, before she could react, he buried his knife in her stomach. For a moment he held it there, then drove it up, forcing it deep beneath her ribs. He flung her at the advancing undead, and vanished through the secret door.
Ariashal landed, hard, at the feet of a skeleton clad in ragged green cloth. She could not quite believe what had just happened. Her stomach--her stomach was on fire; her dress and the ground beneath her were red with blood. Her blood? She could not tell. She only knew that she could not breathe; she could only gasp, and with each gasp more blood splattered out.
There was a huge gash in her dress, blood streaming through it. Instinctively she clasped her hands over it, trying to keep more of the precious fluid from running out.
"Do not move." The King's familiar voice sounded at her side. "I am here."
Chanting, he laid one hand on her stomach. The blood slowed, then stopped. She felt her body floating up off of the floor, felt the hard surface of a table as she was gently deposited upon its top. Suddenly she was extremely tired; she wanted nothing more than to sleep. Her eyes kept slipping shut. Yet she knew she should stay awake, should try and speak with the King.
She forced her eyes open.
To her surprise there was a man in black bending over her, his hood only partially covering his face. His hair was long, silky, silvery-gray, stark against the blackness of his clothes. His face seemed to be part of a world that had no color, only shades of gray; his very flesh seemed colorless. There was something otherworldly about him; he seemed almost translucent.
She could not stop staring at him. His features were proud, noble, handsome. Who was this? Why was he here? Where was her King? She wanted her King.
"Where--" she began.
"Lie still, my queen," said the strange man. "You are badly hurt."
This was her husband? This silver-gray being? Why could she see him? Was she--she must be--she must be slipping into the shadow world--and she must be falling into death. No! She did not want to die; she was not ready yet to die. She had children to raise. They needed her. And her King needed her. She had too much to do yet. She would not go.
"My lord." She reached for him, touching the face of the man she had loved for so long.
He turned to look at her. For a moment their eyes met.
For years she had given him many faces in her dreams, given him endless combinations of features to suit her desires. Now, confronted by the reality of him, she could only stare. Handsome, refined, with features that more than hinted at the Elven blood that ran so strong in Numenorean royalty.
But it was his eyes that captured her attention. Large and bright, silver as the new moon--she tried to read what emotions she could; but all she seemed to find was fear. What was he afraid of? Her death? He did not want her to die, either. Or was there something even worse that he feared?
"Sleep, my queen," he said, and began to sing.
Obediently she closed her eyes, the image of her husband burned forever into her heart.
"She stirs? That is good."
Ariashal recognized the voice of the King. Whisperings in the air told her that a ghost must be here, too. She managed to force her eyes open, though she longed to sleep.
"Ariashal?" the King's voice was soft, gentle, and compassionate.
She tried to sit up. Her dress had been torn open, revealing the ugly gash on her stomach. Blood had stiffened the fabric, poured on the tablecloths. The King's cloak was wadded into a pillow for her. Someone else's cloak had been drawn over her shoulders and legs for warmth.
"Do not try to move. The wound is deep. I have done what I could to restore you, but you must rest for it to hold."
She nodded. With all the energy she could muster, she looked up at him. She wanted to see him, to gaze once more upon her husband's face.
He was not there. Or, rather, he was no longer visible to her. Without the hood, all she could see was the crown, floating, it seemed, in mid-air. The gorgeous silver being was gone. "I cannot see you," she said, stifling a sob.
"That is good." The King gently adjusted her pillow. "It means that you will stay among the living. For a time I feared that you would not."
"I did not want to leave you."
"Nor am I anxious to see you go. Had I been delayed but a little, though, we would not be having this conversation."
"Where is Ferion? Did he get away?"
The King laughed. "No, my queen. As I told you, it is impossible to keep secrets from the dead. They caught him long before he had time to escape."
"But where is he?"
"They are holding him for me. He is not going anywhere, though, for I fear that they have been none too gentle with him. Tis a good thing that I ordered them to leave him alive, else there would be little of him left."
"I want to see him."
"You are terribly wounded, my queen. I do not want you to harm yourself."
"I will not be harmed." She managed to push herself up.
The King caught her arm, steadying her on the table. "Very well. Since I cannot convince you to rest, I will at least make you comfortable."
Something solid and heavy pressed against her back. She guessed it was a chair, laid on its side to better support her. The King adjusted it, bracing it so that she would not fall. When he was done he rearranged the cloak, covering her up to her throat.
"Thank you," she murmured. "After all he has done to my family, I will see him brought to justice."
"As you wish, my queen." The King tenderly kissed her hand, and turned back to the room. "Bring the prisoner before me!"
Once he moved away, Ariashal could see the rest of the hall. The room was a mass of bodies, soaked in blood and gore. Limbs, both from Ferion's men and the undead, lay scattered across the floor. Pieces of armor, torn clothing, weapons--all were strewn over the stone. Armendil's corpse lay near the remains of his brothers; his head had rolled off to one side, lodging beneath a chair. All this carnage, all this devastation, all this waste, was because of her brother. So many men dead--good men, too, some of them--dead and gone because of the greed of Ferion. And now he would pay the price.
The great doors swung open. Ariashal could see several of the undead warriors, carrying an old wooden armchair. High on the chair, shaking, bloody, sat Ferion. From the look of his clothes, and the odd angle of his limbs, Ariashal guessed that his arms and legs had been broken, and that he had been severely slashed.
His bearers carted him into the room, depositing the chair none too gently on the floor. Ferion groaned as the legs of the chair hit the ground, and his legs jerked spastically. His undead guards slowly shuffled away, arms at the ready.
The King studied him for a moment. "Ferion, prince of Rhudaur," he began, "prepare now to hear your doom."
Ariashal regarded her brother. The arrogant smirk was gone. Instead a mix of pain and fear showed on his puffy, bloodied face. Dried blood matted his hair, stained and stiffened his clothes and tunic. He tried to move, but his fractured limbs were useless to him.
"You attempted to assassinate me," began the King, "as well as my children, my men and even my wife. You murdered your father, your wives, many of your brothers, and even more of your uncles and cousins. You have proven yourself a treacherous, treasonous coward. For you there can be only one fate."
"Kill me," spat Ferion, "and more will rise. I swear this to you, Witch-king! My men will avenge me!"
"Your men are dead. And soon the men of Cardolan will follow. All who joined you are fated now to die. Such is the ruin that you have brought upon this land."
The King drew a dagger, of a kind Ariashal had never before seen. Its blade was long and dull black; smoke curled away from the edge.
"Do you know what this is, Ferion?" The King slowly advanced. "This is a Morgul blade. Death is too kind a fate for you. You do not deserve to know such peace.
"And so, I will strike you with this. Once the blade reaches your heart, you will become a wraith, a creature of neither life nor death. You will have no choice but to do my bidding. You will know neither peace nor rest, for with this I bind you to me. You will know no other master but me. You will be my slave, and my servant, from now until the unmaking of the world."
He held the blade above Ferion's chest. Slowly, silently, he drove it into the yielding fabric.
"Naaaa!" Ferion screamed and thrashed as the blade bit into his flesh. More of the black smoke swirled about.
"Tis cold, Ferion? Colder still will be your home." For a moment he held the blade steady. With a swift thrust, he buried the dagger in Ferion's heart.
Ferion screamed, howling and writhing in agony. The black blade crumbled into ash, leaving only a touch of smoke in its place. Calmly the King stepped back, dropping the hilt to the floor.
For a few minutes Ferion seemed to stay the same. Slowly, at first almost imperceptibly, the color began to fade from him, draining away until he was nothing but a man made of shades of gray. Then that, too, began to dissolve, dissipating, it seemed, into the very air that surrounded him. Ariashal watched as he slowly disappeared from view, leaving only his torn and bloodied clothes to mark his presence.
"Men of Rhudaur," said the King, "Hear now your doom. You will go with Ferion, to the caves that you called home. There you will stay, until I call upon you to do my bidding. Go, now, and trouble me no more!"
All around Ariashal the dead men slowly rose to their feet, gathering their weapons as they stood. Severed limbs twitched and thrashed on the ground, rolling and twisting across the floor as they struggled to rejoin their masters. One by one the undead army filed out the door, marching off into the night. At last Ferion joined them, following his men towards the caves.
The King retrieved Armendil's head from its berth beneath the chair. Hoisting it by the hair, he replaced it on the bloody stump of neck, speaking a strange tongue as he did so. A moment later the Prince's eyes flew open.
"Armendil of Cardolan," intoned the King, "hear now your doom. You and your brothers will return to the house of your father. You will stay in your houses of the dead, until the day I call you to serve. Go, now, and trouble me no more!"
Obediently Armendil and his brothers joined the exodus from the hall, their blood soaked green tunics stark against the duller, rust-stained garb of Ferion's men. When the last of the lurching horde had finally passed the door, the King came to Ariashal's side.
"Now, my queen," he took her hand, "tis time I released my allies. I know not if your father will choose to appear for you, nor if he will speak. The choice will be his. Do you wish to stay, or shall I carry you from here, and then return?"
For a few moments she hesitated. Should she stay, and risk the disappointment, or go? The King needed an answer.
"They have waited long enough," she said, finally. "I will stay."
"As you wish." He turned to the waiting army. "Men of Rhudaur, warriors of King Turabar, hear now your doom. You are released from bondage, for justice has been served. Your revenge has been granted, and you bear the burdens of injustice no more. You are hereby freed from this earth, to make your way to the Halls of Mandos and the peace that you have long sought."
Ariashal expected there to be some sort of cheer, perhaps, or some salute. There was nothing of the kind. Instead the undead began to drift off. A few lay down on the floor where they were, as though they could not wait to quit their bodies. Others slowly shuffled out the door, to return to the tombs, or to other rooms in the great Keep. She found herself searching their faces, looking for something, anything, from her father.
Sudden movement caught her eye. For the briefest of seconds she saw her father. Not the stern, grizzled warrior who had sent her off to Angmar, but a young, strong man, proud and tall, pleased with the abundance life had brought him. The image lasted but a moment before dissolving away.
Before Ariashal had a chance to fully digest what she had seen, she was overwhelmed with a crush of what seemed to be speech; yet she heard it only within her head. All will be well, said the voice so long stilled. There is much yet which you must do. You and your children are loved and well-protected, and I at last am at peace.
The strange sensation vanished as quickly as it had appeared, leaving Ariashal awash in a cauldron of emotions. Her father was--what? Dead, yes; and yet somehow, somewhere, alive. He had finally given her a message--one of hope, of love and strength.
Her father, the massacre, her stabbing--it was too much. She buried her face in the King's cloak and cried.
She felt the King, strong and safe, gather her into his arms. "Come, my queen," he said. "The day has been long, and we both must rest. I will bear you away to safety, and we will leave the Keep for the dead."
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