33. Interlude of Innocence
They spent the following morning with their children. Imrahil was praised for his courage during his convalescence, Adrahil for his patience, and the two littlest for behaving. Ariashal gave each a kiss before sending them down to the gardens with their guards. Zimraphel, however, was taken aside by her parents for a long talk.
The King sat on the edge of the bed. Zimraphel quickly claimed his lap. "Tell me of your new ghost-friend," began the King.
Zimraphel stared up at him, huge blue eyes wide. "How did you know?"
"I know many things. Tell me about him."
She looked at her mother. Ariashal smiled encouragingly. "He said--he said I was not supposed to tell."
"I see," said the King. "What else did he tell you?"
"He said you and mamma would make him go away."
"And why did he say that?"
"I--I-- think he said you make everyone go away."
"Well. Did I make your brothers go away?"
She shook her head.
"So why would I make your friend go away?"
He carefully lifted her up. "Is every one in the whole world nice?"
Zimraphel shook her head.
"Do you think all the ghosts are nice?"
Zimraphel had clearly not thought of that. She bit her lip.
"What we are trying to say," began Ariashal, "is that this ghost was not a nice ghost."
Zimraphel looked up at her, blue eyes filling with tears. "But he said--he said he was my friend!"
"I know," continued the King. "But anyone who wants you to lie to your mother and me is not your friend."
"He said I was his friend!"
"I know he did," soothed the King. "But he lied. Just remember, there are as many bad ghosts as there are bad people. Not all the ones who come to see you will be nice."
"But how do I know?"
"Well," the King relaxed slightly, "if they tell you not to tell me, or your mother, then you know they are not a friend."
"Because anyone who wants you to hide something from your parents is bad, and not your friend."
Zimraphel fell silent, digesting this new information. Finally she looked up at him. "Play with me?"
"What do you want to play?"
"Very well." The king picked her up before standing. "I will throw you."
Ariashal watched as he tossed their little girl high into the air. He caught her just before she hit the floor, only to swing her back over his head.
"More!" shrieked Zimraphel.
"As you wish." He swung her about, dropping her frighteningly close to the floor. With one hand he caught her, then flung her far above the ground. Again and again he threw her, catching her at the last possible moment before sending her skywards once again.
Ariashal watched them, her heart a mix of complex emotions. On one hand she was serenely happy, content to watch her husband and daughter lost in innocent play; while, on the other, she could not help but feel a slight touch of jealousy. Never had she known such affection from her own father. He had always been too involved with the kingdom to play with her, and when he did bother to pay attention to his children it was primarily to instruct her brothers in the fine art of warfare. Her role, such as it was, had been that of ornament, a bauble to be traded away for whatever advantage could be had.
If only her father had loved her this much! Perhaps he would have thought about her instead of appraising her. Not once could she recall him lavishing such affection upon her. He never even bothered to visit her when she was ill.
But there had been one who had treated her well. Her uncle, Thabadan, the namesake of her tiny grand-nephew. He had taken the time to play with the children. To her he had seemed a giant, like all adults; although she knew, now, that he had not been much older than the children himself.
He had taken them to a secret grotto, a pool hidden amongst the rocks where a small waterfall tumbled over the stones. Here they had all swum and played, listening to his stories about the elves and other fey creatures. That spring had been spent racing in the water, collecting quartz pebbles and listening for Elven songs in the breeze.
Going to the grotto became, for her, the highlight of the trip to the keep. The family wintered in a fortified manor closer to Amon Sul; but here, at their summer home, waited the secret pool. Every year she counted the days until they could return, and she could plunge over the little fall into the secret realm of the pool.
And then, one year, he had ridden off with the others to war.
She waited, with the other children, for their playmate to return. The guards took them to the grotto once, but without Thabadan it was not nearly as much fun. Finally the army returned, Thabadan lying in a box trimmed with silver. Her father mentioned something, once, about a skirmish that left many dead. His name was never spoken again.
After that the little grotto lost most of its charm. The waterfall still splashed, the rocks still glittered with quartz, but the magic that she had felt there was forever gone. She went a few more times, before outgrowing the need to listen for the Elven songs.
But had she? Had the magic really gone, or was it still lurking there, dormant, awaiting another who could bring it forward?
"More!" giggled Zimraphel.
The King held her at arm's length. "As you wish."
With one fluid move he twirled her, swinging her as effortlessly as he handled his sword. Zimraphel's hair was a blur, her dress a swirl of greens. For several minutes he swung her, until she was giggling so hard that her face glowed red. Finally he spun her around, dropping her onto the bed.
"More!" she shrieked, bouncing up towards her father. "Do more!"
"Nay, little one," he began, "I fear I must now rest. You may go and play with your brothers, if you have the strength."
She slid from the bed and scampered to the door. Outside the waiting guards escorted her away.
Ariashal waited until she was out of earshot. "I do not believe you are tired."
"No. But I wanted her to leave while she was still happy, and able to play with the others."
"Do you think Khamul will try to come back?"
"No. Not Khamul. But there are many others, and as long as she knows she must tell us we have a chance of preventing another intrusion."
"I rather suspect that, should he encounter Khamul, he would assume that he had met another of my envoys. I doubt that he would believe Khamul's intentions to be pure."
"There is another matter I would speak of," she began. "A much pleasanter one."
"I must meet with my men soon," he said, gently taking her hand. "But I suppose they can be delayed a while."
"No, I was not thinking of that!" she laughed. "No, I was thinking of a place I knew as a child. Perhaps it would be good to take our children there."
"You are a cold, cruel woman," he mocked. "You led me on. Very well. What is this place?"
As swiftly as she could she described the grotto and waterfall, and the happy hours she had known there. Once she was finished, she waited for his verdict.
"There could be much merit in such a place," he said. "The guards will first examine it, and make certain that Ferion has not made a trap there. Once they are certain that all is safe, then Herumor can accompany you and the children to this haunt of yours."
"But what of you?" She could not hide her disappointment.
"There is so much I must do here," he soothed. "You know this. And well you know that Herumor is an effective decoy."
"He is not my husband."
He chuckled. "Then I swear this to you. When Herumor has returned, and you have been to this grotto a few times, I will go with you. Alone. For I would see this lair of magic, without the distractions of others." He gently kissed her hand. "Adzuphel awaits me. I will escort you to our chambers, and will see you there anon."
Happily she followed him from the room. Soon they would go to her secret waterfall, and there she would again see magic.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.