36. Cleaning House
A few days later Ariashal rode out to the secret pool. Surrounded by a mass of guards, their spears bristling protectively, she felt reasonably secure. The children were left at home, where they would be safe. With both the King and Adzuphel there, she knew that no harm would be able to get to them.
The little grotto and stream were sadly overgrown and neglected. The feeder stream had been partially dammed, reducing the flow to a slow trickle. Some creature had made a nest in the grotto, littering the floor with scattered bits of bone and fur. Most of the trees were either dead or severely withered; the loss of the once-gushing flow had drained much of their vitality.
Seeing her beloved grotto so badly damaged filled Ariashal with despair. That evening she tearfully told the King about its plight, uncertain of what to do.
"If it grieves you to see it so," said the King, "then you must make it right. The men will do what you wish, for I wish it too."
Accordingly she set the guards to work, having them clear away the years of growth that choked the little stream and clean up the fallen branches. Ariashal supervised the work, ordering the men to haul away the sickly masses of slime and debris. Inside the grotto, the men dug away the layers of offal and sludge until they finally reached stone.
Cleaning the place took several days. Ariashal had them plant some new trees, replacing those that had died. At the King's command, a wagonload of clean white sand was brought in to create a sheltered beach. Finally the dam itself was dismantled, flushing the last of the muck from the streambed and grotto.
Ariashal watched, thrilled, as her favorite place was reborn. When the dam fell and the stream flowed again, spraying all with mists from the falls, she felt content. Thanks to her, a tiny piece of Rhudaur had been salvaged from the neglect of Ferion.
To reward the men who had labored so long and tirelessly on the project, she gave them permission to spend this one day swimming in her pool. Seeing the young men splashing and swimming, their lithe, muscled bodies gleaming wetly in the sunlight, pleased her. None of them were the equal of the King; they were all too small, too soft, to compare to the hard, firm man she knew so well.
She would have to bring him here, where she could show him her secret grotto in private.
That evening she related the news of the finished work to her family. The children were anxious to go and see this new wonder that their mother had made for them, but the King was apprehensive. Yes, there were guards and wolves aplenty, but they were not enough. Despite their pleas and tears, the King was adamant: they would not go until Herumor returned.
"But you could take us!" begged Imrahil.
"There is still much I must do. The role of King is not one to be taken lightly, my son. Your uncle Ferion treated kingship as an irksome task, one which he avoided. That is why I must now stay here, and try to mend the damage his neglect caused."
"When I am King, I will have men to take care of such things!" declared Imrahil.
"That you will, my son, but always remember: You alone are the arbiter of the kingdom. Your decisions must be final. You must never let your men rule you. Your people expect that you will see to it that all laws and decisions are just. Anything less is a betrayal of their trust."
"But what if Herumor never comes back?" asked Adrahil. "What if he always stays away?"
The King laughed. "That he will not do. He has reports which he must bring me, and so he will be back soon."
"Maybe Adzuphel could go," suggested Imrahil.
"Perhaps, when Herumor returns, he will accompany you. But I have need of him now, and he cannot be spared."
Imrahil cocked his head. "I thought you said you must be your own man, and not have any man rule you."
"Indeed, I did, for that is true. It is also true that you must have men to serve you whose judgement can be trusted to be both fair and sound. Adzuphel is such a man. You will have to search long to find anyone as trustworthy as he."
"When I grow up, I will help you!" declared Adrahil. "I can be trusted."
"That you can, my son. But there is much you must learn before you can take a seat at my council. And if nothing else, your penmanship must improve dramatically, lest in misreading your notes I declare war on an innocent."
Imrahil snickered. Adrahil kicked his brother, sending Zimraphel into giggling fits. Ariashal quickly separated them.
"That is enough political talk for one evening," she warned. "If you do not behave, none of you will go to my pool. Am I understood?"
They quickly broke off their engagement, obediently placing their hands on the table.
"That is much better. You have much to do tomorrow," she continued. "You have lessons, and the cobbler is coming to fit you for new boots."
"Can I get blue ones?" asked Zimraphel.
"We will see," replied Ariashal. "Come, all of you. Bid your father good night, then off you go to bed."
Back in their chambers, Ariashal silently worked on her embroidery while the King finished reading reports from the east. She liked to be near him while he worked; it gave her a sense of closeness, a feeling that she helped him in some small way by being nearby. He was considerably more relaxed in her presence, willing, even, to let his guard down. Periodically she looked over at him, trying to discern from his posture if he were tired, or frustrated, or annoyed. Every nuance was telling, though she knew he did not wish it so; but she could not help studying his every move, every gesture, every sigh.
From the rapid scratching of his pen on parchment she knew that he was unhappy with the report in front of him. She guessed that it had something to do with the forest surveys that Ferion had ordered, but never, apparently, bothered to read; they were still sealed in their original cases when Adzuphel presented them at council the day before yesterday.
He finished writing and blotted the ink.
"Is everything well, my lord?"
"This fool wrote down lists of trees, but did not name where they were. And the places he does name are not on any of the maps."
"Perhaps I can help." Setting aside her embroidery, she went to his side. "I could read them and see if I recollect any of the places named."
"Perhaps you could." He pushed away from the desk. "But not tonight. I have other plans for you tonight."
She kissed him. "As you wish, my lord."
He ran his hands over her gown. "Now this--this is a land for which I need no map."
Afterwards she lay snuggled against him, her fingers interlaced with his. Idly she tapped the great opal ring. "There is something which confuses me, my lord."
"Oh? What? I thought I had made myself quite clear to you just a short time ago!"
"No," she laughed. "No, it is not that. It is--it is more serious than that."
He sat up, pulling her with him. "What is it?"
"It is--it is just that I do not understand. Why, when you had the chance, did you not flee? Why did you return to--to him?"
He sighed. "We had nowhere else to go."
"But surely there must have been someplace you could go."
"No. No, there was not. We could stay in the lands he had ruled, as long as we could keep them more or less under control. But as for leaving those lands, and seeking shelter elsewhere, that was not possible."
"I--I do not understand. Why could you not simply leave?"
"And go where? Everywhere we go, we are hunted. Once our presence is known, we find ourselves confronting those who wish us destroyed."
"But the elves--"
He cut her off with a hard, bitter laugh. "The Elves? The Elves are the worst!"
"But you are Numenorean! You are their kin!"
"Aye, my queen, that I am. And for that I am hated all the more." He took a long breath. "When Sauron was taken to Numenor, I rode to see Gil-Galad. I thought that he, as the Elven high king, would have some advice, some aid to give. I thought that, perhaps, if we joined forces, we could together trap Sauron at Numenor and destroy him forever."
"What happened? What do you think happened? I rode to Gil-Galad, under a flag of truce. I was not permitted to enter their city. Instead they met me on the open fields.
"And it was 'they', for, while I traveled alone, Gil-Galad did not. With him was Glorfindel, the balrog slayer, and his herald, Elrond half-Elven--my cousin, however distant. 'What do you want, wraith?' demanded Elrond. Never have I forgotten the contempt in his voice.
"I laid out my plans. We held rings, and I knew that Gil-Galad kept one for himself. The ones made by Celebrimbor without the aid of Sauron were the ones they had kept. The others had been given to us. I said that we could use the rings to overwhelm Sauron, now that he was weak, and we could force the One from him and destroy him--and it--forever. But it would take all of us to do it, else he would be able to seize control of enough of the ringbearers to thwart the plan.
"Gil-Galad laughed at me. He said I only wanted their aid to take Numenor for myself. No, I told him, I did not want that. My descendants ruled Westernesse, and in that I was content. But that did not satisfy him.
"The rings, he said, were not the concern of the Elves. Sauron had gone, and they were not about to entertain the idea that one of his spies had come to them with a foolish plan to free him.
"At this I grew angry. Had not Celebrimbor made these very rings? I held up mine for them to see. 'This is the work of Elves!' I said. The rings had been made for Elves. Yet they had chosen to let them go to the men and dwarves rather than destroy them. They could have flung them back into the forge that spawned them, yet this they did not do. No, they were content to let Sauron take the rings to capture men and dwarves. The Elves cared not, so long as they themselves were untouched.
"Gil-Galad was infuriated, yet he knew I spoke the truth. Finally, he said, 'Go, wraith, and trouble us no longer. Should I see you again, I will strike you dead.' I laughed at him, for I knew that was one thing he could not do. But before I left, I warned him. He had a chance, now, to defeat Sauron. If he did not do so, he would have to face Sauron again; and this time, I would not be able to give him the aide he would need.
"And so I left, and rode back to the others."
"If only they had listened to you! How much tragedy could have been averted!"
"Aye, madame, but the firstborn are arrogant, and they would heed no counsel of mine. And when Isildur cut the ring from Sauron's hand, they probably believed that we too were cut off. They did not know we had fled east, where we could find some refuge."
"Why did you come back, if you found the east safe?"
"Twas not as safe as we wanted. And, truth to tell, I wanted to be near the remnants of my people. I wanted to hear again the language of Numenor, and to see again the western seas. When I saw that much of the north was free, I resolved to make my kingdom there."
"But what of the others? Have they decided to make kingdoms, too?"
He sighed. "No, my queen. Most of the others are weak. They once ruled, tis true; but much of their strength was stolen by Sauron. Now they no longer have the will to rule."
"Herumor," she said.
"Aye, Herumor. He would no longer be fit to rule. That is why I wish him to stay in Angmar."
"And the others?"
"Khamul and Fuinor, as you know, have chosen to stay in Dol Guldur. They are best left there, I think. Most of the others still live in the south and east, awaiting my command."
"Will you bring them to Angmar?"
He drew a long breath. "I am their lord. As such I will provide them a refuge. But not all. The six I trust will come to Angmar. The others can rot in Dol Guldur."
"I would like to meet them."
"Very well. When we return to Carn Dum, I will summon them individually, that you might meet them. And if you should find any of them agreeable, they may stay."
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.