Ariashal idly pulled the brush through her hair. She had much to think about.
Ferion was being unusually slow in responding to Ariashal's missive that she must see him, and swiftly. The guard who took the message was grim, silent, and unused to dealing with a woman who outranked him; but he did eventually take her letter. Now he had been gone at least an hour, probably closer to two.
Earlier that morning, she had been roused by the King and brought back here lest anyone should decide to check on her well-being. She had wanted to stay with him in the hidden room, but he had insisted; and in her heart she knew he was right. It would not do to have them searching the Keep for her. And so the King had led her back up the narrow stairs, inspected her room, and rekindled the fire, which had long since grown cold.
"Take heart, my queen," he told her, once the flames were leaping brightly. "The hour will be late before we will again meet. Fear not, for you are well-guarded, and I am but a short distance away."
"I will be well," she answered. "My lord, please--do not overtax yourself. I know you are ill yet. Do not do anything too strenuous."
"I am well enough, my queen. All I must do now is prepare." He gave her a swift kiss, and returned to his secret chamber.
She quickly wrote her note to Ferion, begging him to come and see her. Once that was sealed, she spent the rest of the morning curled up in the bed, waiting for someone to bring her breakfast. When a guard finally did bring her a basket with some hard rolls and fruit, she was relieved. She insisted that he take her message, and then waited for him to leave before digging in. She had not touched last night's food, and she was sorely in need of sustenance.
Once she had handed the note off to the unwilling guard, she was left with little to do but eat, ready herself, and think. The eating and preparing were simple enough. It was the thinking that proved disturbing.
Her life had been blessed, she realized now. Ever since she had gone to live in Angmar, there had been relatively little of a serious nature for her to do. There were the children and their education, of course, and she was in charge of that. There were gardens to be planted and clothes to embroider, parties to plan and guests to entertain. Someone had to approve of plays and music for the entertainment of the King and his court; someone had to ensure that the grand red castle was always as comfortable and inviting as possible. The King had entrusted all these things to her, and more. She had not been completely useless and idle.
But she had been sheltered.
She saw, now, how much her husband had kept from her. Not out of malice, but out of his intense desire to keep her safe. She was not permitted to interfere in the affairs of state, and in truth she had not really wanted to. She had wanted to stay sheltered, free of the vicious buffets of political winds. Ariashal had always been taught that such things were for the men to handle, and after her dealings with her other husbands, she had been only too happy to let the King take care of ruling Angmar.
Now that would have to change. She knew, now, about his true nature. She supposed that a more astute woman would have noticed earlier; would have contemplated the ragged little bits of the puzzle--Herumor, the others, the ring itself--until she had made sense of it all. Ferion had often called her stupid; sitting here, brush in hand, she was half-convinced that he was right.
But, to be honest, she had never really had any reason to pursue the matter. She had accepted, at face value, his early comments about the ring and its powers. There had been nothing to suggest the tumult and torment of his past, nor of the part the ring had played in it. Herumor had proved himself quietly loyal, especially in Angmar where his presence had been more felt than seen. The King had given her no reason to doubt his word about the ring.
Now, though, that she knew he had hidden much from her, what was she to do? She had no intention of leaving him; quite the opposite. There was nothing which could force her from his side--not war, not secrecy, not Sauron himself. She would stand with her King until her own mortality finally parted them.
He would need her even more now. For, if anything, knowing the horrific truth about him only made her more anxious to protect him. Realistically, there was very little she could do against the forces that might strike at him. But she could encourage him, could try to provide some sort of armor for whatever pieces of his soul remained unbound to the damned ring.
And now that she knew the truth, she wondered-- what else she had blindly accepted? How close had they come to other disasters, how many tragedies and fiascos had been averted by the King? He often told her little things about his day, trifling things that were meant to amuse her. Not once had he discussed any possible dangers, either to himself or to the kingdom. No, he had let her believe that his world was one of endless, boring mounds of paperwork; foolish entreaties from visitors; mind-numbing discussions of budgets and money.
And she had willingly accepted it all, innocently believing that there were no threats abroad against her sanctuary in Angmar. She had ignored Adzuphel's comments about the King's enemies, preferring to believe him invincible. And, in truth, to her he was.
Until the night at the Hillmen's fort.
Her whole perception of him had changed that night, and it had never returned to its former state. She saw now that he was vulnerable, that he could be hurt, that he could be taken from her. And that had unnerved her, had stripped away the foundation of her security. From that point on she could no longer take for granted that he would be there to protect her and their children. Even now, seeing him alive, she could not be sure. For, if the magic of the ring failed, if the spell that bound him to it was finally broken, what then? Would he be disembodied, a spirit looking for a new body to call home? Or would he pass, irretrievably, into the Void?
In a way, it was worse than being married to a regular man. If a man was shot, and the arrow pierced his heart, he died. If a sword separated his head from his body, he died. If he stepped from the walls of a keep, he died.
But not the King. As long as his ring held power, he would not die, not in the usual sense of the word. No, he would suffer viciously, hovering between worlds, while his broken body repaired itself. Herumor might be able to help him, but the pain and agony of healing were his alone to bear. Nothing that she, or Herumor, or anyone else could do would ease his torment.
Sauron could not have found a worse manner of punishment for the King if he had tried.
When they got home, she swore, she would do everything in her power to help him. She would learn what she could, to make his burdens easier. And she would love him, freely giving him all of herself, that he could draw strength from her.
Last night he had been too weak for even the gentlest of lovemaking. Ariashal yearned for his touch, longed to surrender herself to him, to feel the ecstasy of his love. But he had fallen asleep almost as soon as he lay down, which greatly worried her. She knew how little rest he normally needed; to see him so weak and vulnerable frightened her. And so she had gently drawn the blankets over him, and kept watch over him until she, too, finally drifted off.
Someone rapped at the door.
Gathering her dressing robe about her, Ariashal called out, "Enter."
Ferion, disheveled, stalked into the room, slamming the door behind him. "I got your message. What do you want?"
She gently set aside the brush. "I have reconsidered my position. I think it would be best if the wedding were held tonight."
"Really." Ferion studied her carefully. "And what made you decide this?"
"I think that it is foolish for me to try to postpone that which is inevitable. Since I have no choice in the matter, I would rather have it over and done with."
"And what of your--condition?"
She drew a long breath. "I feel I am sufficiently well to be married. If the marriage is not consummated tonight, it will not matter."
He snickered. "I suspect Armendil will overcome his distaste. You are all he has talked about. He cannot wait to be married to you."
She said nothing.
"Very well. Tonight it is. I will tell Armendil, and the servants, and have everything made ready. Only two of his brothers are here, but that will have to suffice." He stopped at the door. "I am glad you finally came to your senses, Ariashal. It will be much pleasanter for you this way."
A harried-looking messenger awaited him outside the door. "Sire," he began, "we have looked everywhere for the papers. They cannot be found anywhere."
"Then you will look again! Must I do everything for you?"
"What is the matter?" she asked, innocently.
"Misplaced papers of mine are no concern of yours!" He turned to her, his body filling the doorway. "You will be ready by nightfall. Good day." He slammed the door as he went.
She waited until he was gone before giggling.
The ghosts, the ghosts had done what the King had asked--they had hidden Ferion's papers. Where? Who knew? In a drawer, perhaps; or beneath a mattress; or--the thought cheered her--maybe they had been hidden in a fire. A fireplace would be an effective hiding spot; for once the flame was kindled, whoosh! --the papers would be gone.
How much had changed, even in the space of a few hours! Never before had she thought of ghosts as allies and friends. Now, though, she knew better.
But would they--could they--do what the King needed?
Suddenly sober, she considered what might happen. If the King needed them to, they could be counted upon to move some small things about; the papers proved that. They might also be able to appear, and startle a few of the guards, just as they had frightened Ferion in his cave. But they would not frighten all of them. Ferion's men were hardened warriors, used to battling Cardolan's armies. Death was no stranger to them. Would ghosts really be able to keep such men at bay? Or would they, too, be like the Elves, and find a way to pierce the King's armor?
What if--what if they, too, were armed with weapons magicked like the arrows used by the Elves? Ferion had hinted that he had many more things like those arrows. What would happen to the King, surrounded by a dozen or more of Ferion's men, all carrying swords whose sole purpose was to cut him down?
Nervous, fearful, she picked up the brush and began once again to run it through her hair.
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.