14. Turning Points
First, he turned his gaze to the West. He stood firmly, in silence, feeling the aching brilliance of a sundering sea pass him by and disappear in a vertiginous blur. He saw a white shore, and there was a radiance that emanated from the sand the instant before a wave covered it with its foamy embrace.
A pair of naked feet, carved with a mysterious perfection, trod upon the shore to meet the Sea. He followed them in mindless fascination, then felt the danger and forced himself to look aside. For a brief moment, his soul shook with the agony of bereavement, but soon his shivers surrendered to the warmth of triumph. He had defeated temptation.
Surer of himself now, and confident with this power, he looked towards the East. Armenelos was there; an altar of beauty veiled by the fumes of iniquity and the chants of ignorance. He saw a mighty king who held a sceptre of rubies and commanded more ships and soldiers than there were grains of sand upon his shores, and who hid in the darkness of his chambers in fear of his gaze. His back was guarded by the terrible arms of the greatest harbour ever wrought, outstretched in the sea like jaws that tried to engulf the land of Middle-Earth.
Then, there was more water. Stormy and dangerous, this one, whirling in dark pools and exploding in jets of white in a capricious sucession. And then another coast, lone and barren except for two jewelled standards driven into its heart by the hands of foreigners. One of them a mighty city, terror of the enemies of the Númenoréans, full of soldiers and merchants and dark practices. The other, a city without land, floating on the waters with its thousand white towers, in quiet disdain of the barbarian land that it faced and faithful only to the island that had once been its mother, whose lines were lost behind the horizon.
But he did not stop here, either. His glance sought further, for blurred silhouettes that escaped even the comprehension of his own people. He saw tribes who lived in caves and rough cottages, of dark-skinned people with painted bodies and fair-skinned people wrapped in furs. He saw proud chieftains who sagged under the weight of the gold, gems and jewels of the bright-eyed foreigners, while they allowed their own people to be enslaved in their mines. Some resisted and fled, and became ferocious tribes that lived on the peaks of the mountains and survived through rapine. Others undertook a long journey without return, and after escaping the far-reaching shadow of Melkor they became tied in a worse darkness, behind the mountains of Mordor.
Yes, he would go even there, in spite of the whispers that he heard behind his back, asking for caution. Past the iron bulk of the Black Gate, an army of mutilated beings was growing in the darkness of caves like a swarm of murderous insects. Sitting on his black tower, the Enemy waited.
And far beyond, untouched by the stain of this marred land, a kingdom of light stood still, draining its last days in the slow harmony of forgotten memories. Its beauty was dim and vivid at the same time, like a dream of Men, and he felt the need to weep. Once again, he sought for control.
His gaze focused on a palace that stood above the rest. It highest tower shone under the sun, delicate like crystal but hard like diamond. And inside this tower was a creature of light and wisdom, fair and noble, a hero of legend.
Grey eyes, old as mountains, sought his with an unvoiced question that shook his soul. His hands increased their grip, their knuckles white as he was forced to lower his head as if he had been blinded by an intense radiance.
Slowly, however, he became able to master this emotion, and forced himself to stare back into the eyes of the king of the tower. He swallowed the knot in his throat.
"I am Inziladûn, son of Gimilzôr" he said, in a voice that came out firm and proud, without a hint of a stammer "heir to the throne of Númenor."
As soon as he was finished, the dark hall echoed with an almost imperceptible sigh. Inziladûn stared at the pale faces of Eärendur and Valandil, and saw a great tension dissolve into looks of newfound admiration and relief.
Eärendur moved towards him, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"You were magnificent. We were not wrong to hope."
Inziladûn nodded in mute thanks. He felt shaken by the feeling of euphoria that had run through his veins like a river of molten lava, and this subterranean place felt cold and humid in comparison. Shivering, he tried to force his body and soul back to normal, until he reached a semblance of stability.
"... Must leave now." he mumbled. Then, in a steadier voice, "We... may be discovered."
Eärendur shook his head.
"Sit down. You are tired. Númendil is with him."
A part of Inziladûn, the part that felt bereaved and cold, wished to surrender to those calming words. They knew what to do, they were wise and experienced. But the fear and the urgence tore once again at his insides, the risk was too great. Gimilzôr had not sent his favourite son to the lair of his enemies so he would quietly enjoy his time next to his brother.
He took a sharp breath, filling his lungs with the humid earth and the salt of the sea. Then, he stood up, and gave a tentative step. A faint dizziness was still over him, but as he walked his second circle around the room, it began to disappear.
"I am leaving." he announced, in a tone that allowed for no discussions. Valandil´s eyes widened for a second, but Eärendur´s lips curved in a slight smile, and he shook his head in defeat.
"As you wish, then. No one can accuse you of carelessness, that much is certain. Besides" he added, turning to his son, "we have been informed of enough worrying tidings by our royal kinsman here."
Valandil seemed to reflect on this for a moment, then gave way and nodded somberly.
"This establishment of close ties between the Royal House and the Merchant Princes of Middle-Earth is a matter for worry, indeed." he said, with a grim look. "Alas! Such an alliance would have been unheard-of even in the times of the blasphemous king! I hope it will not bring danger to our family again."
"I always bade you have in mind that our return home was a temporary measure." he scolded lightly. "Have a good night, my lord Inziladûn."
Inziladûn nodded in acknowledgement, and left father and son to speak of their worries together. As he took the stairs to return to the surface of the gardens, he felt the cool breeze wash the last remains of his befuddlement away.
Again, he could not help but muse, again the gardens at night.
He had never forgotten that other time, twenty years ago, when a new knowledge tore him open as he wandered aimlessly around the Elven trees. Never again had he felt so lost –so uprooted as that young man who had not yet found his place, and chased after elusive ghosts created by fancy.
On his way, he passed through the clearing of the malinornë trees, whose silver leaves were being cradled by the wind. He stopped for a moment to admire them, and realised, in surprise, that he was not alone.
"I have seen you like this before." a soft voice whispered behind his back.
Inziladûn turned towards Artanis with a silent greeting gesture.The woman, however, passed him by, heading instead for the centre of the clearing. As she reached her favourite place, she sat down on the grass and beckoned to him.
He shook his head, suddenly feeling bothered.
"I must leave." he told her. "Gimilkhâd..."
"Númendil and Emeldir are both with him." she replied before he could end his sentence. "They are playing chess. Númendil has defeated him seven times and he is quite determined to get the better of the crafty Elf-friend at least once."
The chuckle was brief and tense, and it didn´t even reach his eyes. For a moment he stood there, thinking of what he could say, until it dawned upon him that he had no real excuse to leave, now. So he sat next to her.
"I wish him luck, in spite of the odds." he joked. Intellect was not among his younger brother´s main strengths - they both knew that.
Artanis considered him with half-closed eyes. A small, sad smile spread through her graceful features, reflecting the silvery light of the starlit leaves.
"Do you remember?" she asked, after a thoughtful pause. "It was here where we first met."
"Not quite." Inziladûn answered, in a rigurous and –so he thought almost at the same time as the words escaped his lips- vain concern for exactitude. "It was upon the threshold of your house, when you came to greet me and your father."
He saw her bit her lip, in a brief flash of anxiousness. But there was no anger, or even annoyance at his correction.
Still, her next words were strangely muffled, and came only after a long while.
"So you are going to marry upon your return."
It was not a question. Inziladûn shook his head, feeling again the need to clarify.
"Not yet. I am going to- find a wife. Or, which is the same, my father will."
Her eyes sought his in curiosity, though her features remained veiled.
"Do you know who she will be?"
"I have no idea."
"Many women must be already planning to poison their rivals."
Inziladûn snorted at the ridiculous idea.
"Not many. Only those of the line of Elros. And among them, only those who can stomach an overdose of hair."
"I find your overdose of hair quite- attractive."
"Really?" He arched his eyebrow. "And where is your poison?"
Artanis did not answer. Instead of this, her eyes became lost in the distance, in a renewed silence that first Inziladûn interpreted as thoughtful.
Then, however, he caught the reflection of a tear, glistening over the surface of her cheek. His surprise became shock, and then realisation, and cowardice, and a brief, strong need to flee that he managed to master.
Finally, what he did was to lay a hand on her shaking shoulder, searching her eyes with an honest expression of regret.
"I am sorry." he said. She shook her head, and wiped her face with the points of her fingers.
"So you knew."
A long sigh, turning to a tremulous smile.
"And still you said nothing." he realised, with increasing bewilderment. "Why?"
A raspy laugh escaped her throat convulsively.
"So penetrating for most things, yet so blind for others!" she exclaimed, rolling her eyes in a poor semblance of humour. Inziladûn nodded slowly, accepting the rebuke.
Indeed, he should have known. It was something that he had been well aware of since so many years ago, since before he had even seen her for the first time, or admired the unreal, quiet grace of her movements.
"My father would rather marry me to a Middle-Earth woman." he finally voiced it, shifting slightly in his sitting position. She let go of a forced smile, wiping her eyes again.
"I hope it will not have to come to that! I heard that they barely outlive their wedding feasts."
"Less chances to beget another inconvenient heir, then."
Artanis nodded, falling in a silent mood. The sea breeze blew through her hair, dishevelling it, and she embraced her knees for protection against the chill.
For a brief second, Inziladûn felt the full, anguishing weight of the impossibility of his situation. There was nothing that he could say either to make her happy, or to apologise for something that was not his fault. He could not give her hope, and yet an ominous voice whispered in his ear that this would be the last time that they would see each other alone.
A rustle of silk at his side alerted him to the fact that she was back on her feet.
"Wait." he said, before she could flee to the safety of her chambers. Artanis paused, but did not turn back. "You have always been very dear to me, Artanis. "He swallowed, for once in his life feeling clumsy in his choice of words. "You... have my mother´s eyes."
Slowly, the woman gathered enough courage to face him again. There were no tears on her face anymore, but the wet radiance on her cheeks still remained.
She was smiling.
"It is quite a honour," she mouthed, with a deep bow, "to be compared to what you most loved."
Then, she swallowed deeply, forcing her eyes to look into his.
"I do not blame you, Inziladûn."
With this, she bowed and left, tiptoeing across the garden clearing. Like a ghost of another age among billows of white, the unbidden thought came to his mind, and he felt a strange melancholy seize him.
When he finally reached his chambers in the guest wing of the house, Inziladûn was not in the mood for conversation. His dismay was therefore great as he realised that there was someone else in his antechamber, a hunched figure leaning on the windowsill to look at the gardens below. Dark, unbraided curls fell down his back, striking a contrast with the blue of his cloak.
The first course of action that offered itself for this situation was to ignore him. His brother had never sought him for any good purpose –in fact, he had rarely sought him for anything at all.
But, as he was about to pass him by and retire to the privacy of his bedroom, it was Gimilkhâd himself who turned away from the window, wrinkling his nose in faint distaste.
"That strange light that glows among the trees... it cannot be natural!" he mumbled, touching his Hand amulet as if to ward off something unseen. Inziladûn shook his head in irritation; the superstitious streak was among the things that his brother had inherited from their father.
"They call it starlight." he mumbled, deliberately cutting in his demeanour. Before he could reach the doorstep, however, his brother´s voice called to him again.
Inziladûn took a sharp breath. The Seeing Stone had left him exhausted -Eärendur had been right back then, though he had downplayed his words with the help of the energies that the feeling of duty had lent to his body- and the tears of Artanis haunted his conscience. It was not his fault, as much as it had not been his choice, and still an insidious voice in his mind wondered if this resigned, accepting coldness had been all that she had deserved.
"What is it?" asked, forcing himself to keep a steady tone. His brother pointed him towards a seat, and when he did not follow his invitation, his mouth thinned in an ominous line.
"I know where you have been just now." he announced. Inziladûn felt his heart sink for a moment, then caught himself before a sign of weakness could betray him. He quickly thought back – when they were finished with the Seeing Stone, he had been told that Gimilkhâd was in the company of Númendil and his fiancée. So there was only one valid option: he had somehow managed to get wind of his escapade with Artanis.
He cleared his throat.
"You must be glad to learn that I am human too when it comes to women."The brief, forced lightheartedness turned to a frown. "But it is none of your concern."
Gimilkhâd´s eyes widened in some surprise. For a while, he stared at him, as if searching for some kind of untold secret embedded in his countenance.
Had it been a bluff?
Finally, his brother´s features hardened again in a determined expression.
"Do not play me in circles." he hissed. With somewhat theatrical movements, he took a paper note from under his cloak and put it in front of his eyes. This time, Inziladûn really froze – it was the Sindarin note that he had been slipped that very afternoon.
Once again, his exhaustion was forcefully expelled by sharp alert, his well-honed instinct of survival.
"I know nothing about this."
"It was in your room."
So he had been searching his things. On their father´s orders, no doubt
"This room is not my room. I am no more accountable for the books and papers that you may find in it than you are for the unnatural light that filters through your window."he snorted derisively. "And in any case, you are certainly not welcome to it."
With this he turned back, intending to finish the discussion. As he gave his first step in the direction of his bedroom, however, he felt a hand pulling his cloak, and was forced to turn back again to face Gimilkhâd´s furious expression.
"Do you know what it says?"
"I do not."
"How did it go? Let me remember... whatever the King cannot understand is treason, were those the words?"
Inziladûn curved his mouth in a show of disdain.
"Do not try to quote Ar-Adunakhôr at me! You never bothered to even learn his history!"
His brother snorted, a raspy, irate sound. Then, he let him go, and began to pace in nervous circles.
"Oh, of course not." he spat. "Because you are so clever and I am such a fool, isn´t it so? Or this is what you seem to believe, at least, treating me with contempt and engaging in treasonous activities under my very nose! You think I am such an idiot as to ignore what you do while you send your accomplice to keep me distracted with a stupid chess match?"
"You are a bad loser."
Though he endeavoured to smile, by now Inziladûn was beginning to feel worse about the situation. Gimilkhâd knew something else. He had discovered some sort of indice, powerful enough as to give him such an unflinching confidence in face to his brother´s derision.
And he resented him, too. His very eyes were glowering with a vindictive light as he set them on him. For most of his life, Inziladûn had been vaguely aware of his brother´s mistrust and envy, but until today he had not been able to measure their scope.
"I do not know what this note says, Gimilkhâd." he assured him, with a serious tone devoided of any flippancy. The younger man smiled, but it was a dangerous smile of confirmation and triumph.
"Well, then... maybe I might enlighten you myself."
Inziladûn blinked, taken by surprise.
"Do not be absurd! Of course you cannot. This is some form of Elvish!"
"You think you are the only one who knows things that normal people do not know? It certainly would suit your arrogance." Gimilkhâd replied. "But I will let you know that Father knows Elvish well enough, as well as this Ar-Adunakhôr, with whose history you are apparently much better acquainted than I am. The Kings are less stupid than what you and they think, Inziladûn. You may forbid everything that you cannot understand, but your power will be greater if you do understand it. And even greater if they do not know that you know, I might add."
The shock that Inziladûn felt was briefly mingled with a stubborn rest of hurt, that he still hadn´t managed to discard through years of private schemes. To tell this secret to Gimilkhâd while he was left in ignorance –yet another evidence of his father´s cold mistrust of him.
Mistrust that he had not always deserved.
"My lord Inziladûn, we will be waiting for you this evening in the hall of Seeing. Make sure you are not followed." Gimilkhâd took the paper and read, flawlessly. As the final realisation slowly sunk into Inziladûn´s mind, he was filled with horror.
His brother knew Elvish. His brother, their father´s less brilliant shadow, was learned in the Ancient Tongues.
His mind raced quickly. If Gimilzôr learned of this, and read this note with his sharp suspicion, he would find grounds to exile Eärendur and his family again, if not worse. He too, would not escape unscathed. And if the Sceptre got wind of the existence of the Seeing Stones of the Elves...
His pallor did not pass unnoticed to Gimilkhâd´s eyes. Inziladûn could feel the gloating behind a thin mask, as he, too, had ceased to care about the fragile laws of propriety that had always ruled their exchanges. For the sake of something so important, he thought, he would be ready to sacrifice his pride and beg, but as things stood he doubted that he would find any mercy from his triumphant brother.
And what if he resorted to threats? Gimilkhâd knew that he was alone among enemies, and very far from the protection of Armenelos and Gimilzôr...
Almost as soon as he had conceived this thought, he discarded it, appalled. Eärendur had undergone all sorts of humiliations to convince the King that he was not the enemy. Would he shatter his efforts in a single second of folly?
Of course, soon there mightn´t be much left to convince the King of anymore...
Never had Inziladûn felt so trapped before. The feeling was one of suffocation, of an excruciating impotence. And that it was Gimilkhâd of all people who had put him in this situation, his vain and airheaded younger brother who never cared for anything besides women, fashion trends and superstitions!
Could he have been deceived for all those years, when, blinded by pride, he refused to acknowledge the abilities of his brother?
Could the Elf-Friends, Númenor be doomed because he, the Far Sighted, had never cared to see?
At the brink of losing his dignity, he forced himself to regain a grip. He regrouped his thoughts. Everything was not lost yet, he tried desperately to remember. Gimilzôr knew nothing of this yet. There was still time.
Time to act. To protect.
Well aware that the lives of his friends could very well depend on his cold blood now, he looked into Gimilkhâd´s eyes, searching for a weakness where he could prey. An onslaught of conflicted feelings assaulted his mind at once, similar to what he had felt the day that he dared to read his father in a second of open defiance, but raw and unrestrained.
Hate. Revenge. Fear...? Envy because Inziladûn had been loved by their mother, because he had known her. A refuge in his father´s jealous pride... and deep inside the hidden roots of a quenched wish, the wish to be like him instead, the wish to rebel and be feared instead of used by a father who had claimed posession over him since the day of his birth.
Inziladûn was shaken. So many things, that could now bring ruin to their cause. There was a thin memory, magnified and aggravated by years of mulling over its details, of a young boy who had been rejected by the brother he secretly admired. Then, he saw rage and vindictiveness explode in a blinding haze, and red flowers... but before he could see anything else, Gimilkhâd pulled away from him.
"Stop using your Elvish witchcraft on me!" he yelled, his self-confidence momentarily gone in a rush of panic. "It will avail you nothing!"
And yet we must use our weapons, Inziladûn thought, suddenly even more sad than frightened. Because this is war, dear brother. Haven´t you noticed it yet?
"What is it that you want, Gimilkhâd?" he asked, in a calmer tone. Gimilkhâd´s anger did not diminish at his conciliatory attempt, yet it slowly adopted a different shape: from fearful, visceral rejection it took a controlled edge, a mask of petulance.
"So you will even try to buy me, the Prince´s loyal son? Your treason knows no boundaries,"
"Maybe." Inziladûn did not move, intent on checking the effect of his words. A dangerous plan began to quickly unfold in his mind, and he cringed. "But you did not do this out of loyalty, either. If you had been the Prince´s loyal son, you would have reported this note to him instead of telling me about it now. Wouldn´t you?"
His brother opened his mouth to protest, but Inziladûn did not allow for the interruption.
"No. You did it because you want something from me. You always have."
Gimilkhâd stopped for a moment, then snorted to cover his surprise. Inziladûn took good note and continued, feeling his confidence grow.
"I must confess that I have always held you in small worth. Tonight, however, I have discovered that you have a will of your own." he said, with calculated contempt. His brother jumped at once, but he did not let himself be interrupted. "And you want to hold power over me. To defeat me. To humiliate me."
"I am loyal to the King!"
But not even a thousand protestations of outrage would be able to hide Gimilkhâd´s growing interest in his words. In spite of the striking ressemblances between him and their father, Inziladûn saw that there was still a rest of innocence in him, a small streak of involuntary sincerity of feelings that the Prince had already managed to kill in himself before his sons were born.
An immature foe.
Muttering a final prayer to the Allfather, whose final mercy towards Númenor was blindly trusted by the Elf-friends, Inziladûn took a gold ring away from his finger, set with two rubies and an encircling serpent. Then, he lay it in Gimilkhâd´s hand with solemnity, his movements followed by two curious and bewildered eyes.
"If you should come one day and give this back to me" he pronounced, slowly and carefully, "anything you may ask from me shall be yours. So I swear by all gods, Númenorean or foreign, evil or good, true or false."
Gimilkhâd retired his hand in disgust. Still, Inziladûn noticed that he kept the ring in his grip, and was heartened.
"Why should I let myself be ensnared in your schemes, and become your accomplice?"he asked. "Why should I look aside while you... conspire with traitors?"
"Because one day I will be King, whatever you or Father feel about it." Inziladûn replied without skipping a beat. The morbid, ominous thought that Gimilzôr could find a way to disinherit him if he managed to craft an accusation of treason crossed his mind, but he discarded it. The strength that allowed a man to impose his beliefs on others came from believing them himself, or so he had learned after his first, youthful attempts at politics. "And if then you are brought to trial for causing the ruin of innocent kinsmen out of a mere whim, at least you will have this ring to protect you."
Even at the same time in which he said those words, Inziladûn cursed himself. He should not become aggressive. Swallowing again, he moderated his tone before Gimilkhâd could find an excuse to explode.
"Let´s not be enemies, if we cannot be friends." he sighed, gravely. "You have the knowledge that I am bound to you and your desire, and the assurance that I will not underestimate you again. But do not fall to the error of underestimating me."
Gimilkhâd stared at him, with a mixture of fascination and aversion, and then back at the ring with raw longing. Inziladûn himself was appalled at how the fallacy he had crafted had managed to escalate to the point where his brother was the one being cornered, instead of him. Briefly, he wondered if Gimilkhâd would have the courage and skill to shatter it.
His brother, however, balled his fist around the ring until his knuckles were white, as if unable to let it go in spite of his better judgement. With a last, angry huff, he turned back and strode out of the room.
"I will think about it!"
Inziladûn saw him disappear into the shadows of the corridor, and winced. Dazed, he sought for the first sitting place within his reach and collapsed over it, feeling the fire leave his body and mind and bring him to a state of stupour.
He shivered. He had done what he could to save his friends and their cause. For this, he had forced his skills to the utmost, thrown every other consideration aside, and Gimilkhâd´s final, lost look gave him good reason to hope. And yet, somehow, he did not feel proud of himself.
A little, dark-eyed boy approached him, staring at him in quiet awe.
"Can you really... see what I´m thinking?"
Slithering in the darkness that had engulfed his brother´s trembling, irate form, two serpents watched each other with the wary eyes that preceded the strike.
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.