Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
Playlist Navigation Bar
Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 52. Epilogue
The gates of Carn Dûm were open, ready to accept the entry of the King and Queen. Ariashal leaned against the seat of her carriage, the children clustered at the windows. They would be following the King on Tulkas. The palomino’s white tail shimmered against the rich black and red trappings. Golden trim glittered in the late autumn sun, outlining the horses’ bardings, Ariashal’s gown, the scales of the King’s parade armor.
The journey back from Rhudaur had been long and slow. They had stopped at every town and village, and at what often seemed to be every stream and farm. The King was so worried about her she was not permitted to leave the carriage for days, emerging only when they reached the safety of the small fort at the old border. She was relieved to be inside the fort, and even more pleased when she discovered that they could provide a bath.
And then it was back to her carriage, to the children and their little games, to the quiet strength of the King. She had depended on his strength more than ever, relying on him to tend her wounds and distract the children when they grew too rambunctious. He did not take over from Herumor until they were only a few days away from Carn Dûm.
Herumor. She guessed he must be in Mordor by now, attempting to rally Gothmog to the Angmarim cause. The King had said little about Gothmog, only that he was a valiant and great warrior. But he had also said little about Herumor, permitting her to meet him and decide for herself whether or not she liked and trusted him. She would have to do the same with Gothmog, although she doubted that the King would encourage his coming to Angmar if he were untrustworthy. Certainly he had extended no such invitation to Khamûl.
Trumpets sounded on the walls. Orcs and trolls pounded drums. With a last blast from the heralds, the army began the entry to the city. Ariashal watched as the Trolls led the way, beating drums that were bigger than she was. Behind them marched the orcs, divided by clans; their different colored banners swirling in the breeze. Wolves trotted alongside, gaily waving their tails aloft.
Another blast sounded from the walls. Men moved out, first the regular soldiers, then the members of the King’s Guard. Imrahil’s pony nervously tossed his head. She watched her son pat his neck reassuringly, talking all the while. Adrahil’s pony stood quietly, only occasionally swishing his tail. Ariashal had wanted them in the carriage with her. But the King had insisted they ride into the city with him, both to show the people that they were indeed well, and to demonstrate that they had nothing to fear. To placate the little ones, she gave them each a bag of coins to toss at the crowd as they rode by. She hoped that they did not run out, or harm someone with a badly-aimed throw.
Drums thundered into life. Tulkas reared, snorting. The King brought him under control, sending the prancing stallion toward the gates. Both princes urged their ponies on, and the chestnuts obediently fell into place. The carriage jerked suddenly into movement. Lalwen fell against her brother, spilling some coins onto the floor. Ariashal steadied the two of them, while Zimraphel quietly swept up the coins.
Blasting from trumpets echoed off the stone walls as they entered their city. Outside the roar of the crowd was deafening; Ariashal could not hear whatever it was Lalwen was saying to her. She could see people rushing towards the King, tossing flowers onto the ground before him. Smiling, waving, the Princes rode behind their father. Ariashal nudged the children. Giggling, they flung coins into the seething masses lining the route.
Slowly the carriage trundled along the road. Everyone in Carn Dûm–indeed, everyone in Angmar–seemed to have gathered for the parade, for a chance to glimpse their King and Queen. Never had Ariashal seen such a crowd; neither her arrival here so long ago, nor their leave-taking for Rhudaur, brought out so many. She wondered how much the general populace knew about the events in Rhudaur. Did they realize how close they had come to losing their King?
So thick was the crowd along the parade route that the guards had to occasionally force people back to allow her carriage to pass. The children could practically hand coins to people. Ariashal was not too worried; the people of Carn Dûm were genuinely glad to see her, and they would wish no harm on her children. But there could still be accidents, and so she kept a close eye on them as they distributed their largesse.
The crowds spread out into the many plazas. Surrounding the open space were many small shops, and still more merchant stalls had been set up, selling refreshments and trinkets. The festive atmosphere infected the city: everywhere were draped Angmarian banners, ribbons, flowers. Even the water of the plaza’s fountains splashed gold in the autumn sun.
Ahead loomed the long, winding road to the castle. Ariashal urged the children to finish passing out their coins, despite the fact they were tiring of the task. They ran out of copper just as they reached the gate at the base of the road. Ariashal took the empty bags from them, folding them neatly for Adzuphel. Exhausted, the children climbed down from the windows and settled against her. Before the carriage reached the top of the hill, they were fast asleep.
Ariashal was only too glad to send the children off with their nurses as she prepared for the evening’s feast. Her warm bath was glorious, the ministrations of her women delightful. Never had she enjoyed getting such treatment more than now; she had come so close to losing it all, to never seeing her women or her home again. She did nothing but smile as they fussed over her hair, her lips, her dress. It was good to be cared for by people who liked her, who wanted her to be at her best, instead of whatever ghastly creatures Ferion would have dredged up might prefer. She could pity such women now, when she was in no danger of being at their mercy.
She had longed to spend the afternoon with her King, but Adzuphel had far too much work awaiting the royal signature for that to happen. After long days of riding home, followed by hours parading in armor beneath a hot sun, the King was to be rewarded with crises and complainants. If only she could be there, to help him with his heavy burden! But he would not have her involved in affairs of state, so she could do nothing but wait for the feast to see him again. She knew Adzuphel would at least ensure he had time to shed the armor before dealing with supplicants.
Nurses brought her news of the children. Imrahil wanted very badly to attend the state dinner, but Ariashal thought better of it. State dinners were long affairs, and he had already ridden in a hot parade. He needed to stay with the others and eat in the cool quiet of the nursery. He could attend another state dinner, when there was no parade beforehand.
The hairdressers arrived, ready to turn her loose, thick mane into elegant braids. She willingly settled in a soft chair, thoughts drifting as they began their task. Thabadan and Lalwen were awed by their new home, with its magnificent furnishings and spectacular view of the mountains. Her own children were simply glad to be back among their own things, even if Imrahil was disappointed about the evening. They were safely home now, where no evil could befall them.
They robed her in her favorite state gown, magnificent blue velvet heavily embroidered with gold. She wore her crown, for she must play the Queen for the distinguished guests. Her most elaborate jewelry was brought out, earrings checked, perfume applied. With a smile she left her women, meeting the King at the door for the procession to the feast.
He waited amidst his guards, wearing the rich robes with the grand, dagged sleeves, their red satin lining and brilliant gold trim stunning against the unrelieved black of the robe. The tall crown held his hooded mask in place. She knew, now, why the mask was so important, why he kept his identity hidden, why she must guard against ever betraying his trust.
“Your gown is gorgeous,” he murmured, taking her hand. “Are you ready for the task at hand?”
“Yes, my Lord.” She smiled at him. “I trust you got some respite from your visitors.”
“Not nearly enough.” They paused before the great hall, waiting while the guards took their place for the procession. “After all this is through, I intend to soak in my bath.” Before he could say anything else, the musicians struck up their fanfare. Taking a deep breath, she entered the room, her hand buried in his.
It seemed to Ariashal that the feast would last forever.
The cooks had gone to great lengths preparing various Royal favorites, and of course each dish had to be paraded before the King and Queen. Ariashal smiled at the servants, gaily clad in red and gold, hauling heavy gold and silver platters of food around the room. She watched with satisfaction the looks of awe on the faces of their guests. Among them, she knew, was an ambassador from Arthedain. He would take back stories of the King of Angmar’s wealth and might, enough to dispel any thoughts of attack from the king at Fornost.
Ariashal had not seen a feast like this in some time. Speeches were made, welcoming them back to their home; songs were sung, both by trained professionals and guests in varying stages of inebriation. Some people danced, but she preferred to stay by the King. An idea had come to her. The longer the evening wore on, the more impatient she was to implement it. Would the feast never end?
At long last the King stood. For a moment the room fell silent. “I bid you all welcome to my house,” he said. “But the evening grows late, and my Queen and I must retire. End not these celebrations, for the sound of our people’s merriment is ever pleasing to us.”
Amid shouts of “Long live the King!” they made their way from the hall.
Outside her door he took his leave. “The day has been long, my Queen, and I know well that you have need of rest.”
“Very well,” she said, and obediently went in to her women.
Once inside she had them leisurely remove her jewelry, makeup, gown. They dressed her in a sheer green chemise, which she quickly covered with a belted robe. She bade them goodnight and left her rooms.
The King’s guards saluted her as she approached. “Do not announce me,” she ordered. “I wish to surprise him.”
For a moment she thought she saw a grin on one of their normally stern faces. She slipped through the grand doors, closing them silently behind her.
Adzuphel stood alone in the main chambers, carefully laying out the King’s night clothes. He glanced up at the sudden rush of air from the door. Ariashal laid a finger to her lips, silencing him before he could speak.
He understood, instantly, what she wanted. With a quick toss of his head he indicated the way to the great baths, where the King relaxed. She smiled at him before stealthily padding off. It was not too much farther, now; and anyway the dim light which the King preferred suited her purpose.
At the entrance to the baths she paused to get her bearings. She saw a wine goblet at the edge of the black tub, with the familiar odd refractions rippling the water alongside it. Good. She made her way behind the King, untying the belt and letting both chemise and heavy robe fall to the floor alongside the golden goblet.
The slight noise roused him. “Who is there? Adzuphel?”
“No, my Lord,” she breathed, kneeling beside him.
“Ariashal? What are you doing here? I thought you asleep.”
“No, my lord.” She carefully eased into the water. It was warm, pleasantly so, almost like stepping into a vat of sun-warmed liquid silk. “I could not sleep for need of you.”
“I see.” He gently pulled her to him. For a moment he held her close. “And just what is it you need?”
She kissed him. “I think you know.”
He ran one hand down her back. “Yes, I think I might have some idea.” As carefully as he could he lifted her into his lap. “Will this suffice?”
“Yes,” she whispered, slowly lowering herself onto him, her fingers dug deeply into his shoulders. “Oh, yes.”
“The water grows cold.”
Ariashal shifted against his body. “I do not mind.”
“Ahh, but I mind for you.” Pulling free of her grasp, he climbed from the tub. “Tis cold in this room, and you have been too ill lately to risk a chill. Come, my Queen. There are many towels here.”
Reluctantly Ariashal sloshed from the tub. It was cold in here. She grabbed a towel from the neat stack and quickly dried herself.
“You will stay here tonight,” said the King, drawing on his dressing robe. “It is too late for you to wander the halls.”
“And if I refuse?” she asked as she wrapped her hair in a towel.
“It is a royal command.”
“Then I suppose I have no choice but to obey.” Smiling, she pulled on the heavy robe before retrieving her chemise.
“That is correct.” He caught her hand in his. “And I fully intend to imprison you here at least until morning.”
“And I suppose it is useless to protest?” She kissed his hands.
“That is also correct.” He helped her onto the bed. “Now, do you intend to behave, or must I restrain you?”
“Hmmm.” She stretched across the black velvet covers. “I suppose I will obey you.”
“That is wise.” Drawing the bedclothes aside, he settled onto the bed. “Quickly, my Queen. Come to me before you do get a chill.”
Willingly she crawled over to him, shedding the robe as she went. There would be no need for it beneath the velvet coverings. She found some pillows and settled against them.
“And now, my fair prisoner,” he murmured, “tis time we discussed your punishment.”
“Are you well?”
“What?” Ariashal started. “Of course! Why do you ask?”
“You are being quiet.” He drew her near. “I feared that in my eagerness I had been too rough with you, and you had been injured.”
“No, my lord!” she laughed. She leaned against him, secure in his strength. “Oh, no. No, it is just that I feared I would never see this place again. I feared I would never again know such peace.”
“All is now well. You are home, and safe, and our enemies are far away.”
“I know,” she sighed. “ I wish it could be peaceful like this forever.”
“For you, my lady queen, I will make it thus. I swear to you that no harm shall ever befall you here.”
She said nothing. In the distance a wolf howled. The long, wailing cry was picked up by others, until at last the wolf in the garden below raised its head to sing.
“You hear them? Even they swear that you will be safe.”
“And I believe them.” She kissed him. “And I will do all I can to keep you safe, my lord.”
“All is settled, then. We have no choice but to remain together, that we might protect one another.”
Ariashal snuggled against him, his arm drawn protectively over her shoulders. Safe in the arms of her Witch-King, the Queen of Angmar slept.
Playlist Navigation Bar