Warning for sex of very debatable consent.
Long ago, as he was trying to make sense of his own feelings, Gimilkhâd had thought of an adequate description for the two pairs of eyes that sometimes plagued his existence. He decided that the grey ones were terrible because they only cared to take – to rip him apart and dissect his better guarded feelings, while showing a flat and emotionless surface in exchange. There had maybe been a time or two when he had touched at some of their depths, but the treacherous euphoria had made him too blind to look further.
The others, however, the black ones, were used to give and never to take, and at moments he thought that this had to be even more terrible. They trailed over him, scrutinising his every feature, but they did not see him. They bore hopes, disappointments, expectations that sometimes even he did not understand, and whose burning weight he had tried alternatively to escape and to embrace, both to no avail, since he had been a child.
Now, as he waited for Gimilzôr´s reaction in his father´s chambers, he thought that those two pairs of eyes had tightened the noose too much in the last weeks. He felt suffocated, but still forced himself to keep a blank expression.
"Nothing." The Prince drank sparsely from his wine cup and frowned, repeating the word as if he couldn´t quite understand its meaning. "Nothing."
He shook his head.
"No. They received us courteously, and with the honours that we deserved." In spite of his efforts, he had to swallow before he continued. "I did not get wind of anything suspicious."
Gimilzôr let go of a sharp breath. His displeasure was evident.
"So you did not find anything suspicious? You must have been a poor observer, then. It was your brother´s third visit in twenty years, and I doubt very much that they intended to lose their time in pleasantries!"
"Maybe they never intended to..." Gimilkhâd began, but his father did not let him continue.
"They never intended to?" he hissed. "Did I teach you to be so gullible? They intended it since before he was even born. They watched over him like carrion birds since he was a baby, and then infected them with their sacrilegious... their treacherous poison!"
The Prince´s younger son stared at him in badly dissimulated shock. It was very rarely that his father allowed his composure to fall apart, and though he had never made a secret of mistrusting his other son, it was the first time that Gimilkhâd heard such a raw confession. The insidious thought crept inside his mind that, in spite of everything, it was still Inziladûn whom he seemed to feel more strongly about.
This, somehow, had the virtue of throwing his resolutions into a new spiral of disorder. He felt the weight of the ring under his robes; his hand trailed over its cold hardness in sudden doubt. Words formed in his mind, pressed against his mouth about what he had seen and heard back then – the incriminating note that would be able to make the expression in his father´s features change.
"I..." he began, then stopped. The eyes filled his whole mind, again.
You want to hold power over me. To defeat me. To humiliate me.
And it happened. For the first time since they had made that deal, the whole extent of his shame came crashing over him. He had accepted that ring, and with it, he had become an accomplice of the betrayal. Inziladûn had known that he would fall in this trap – that he would be tied by the horrible fear of his father knowing what he had done, and afraid of breaking his word.
But this was not all. With a shudder of revulsion at himself, he realised that he already craved the feeling of the ring against his fingertips. He had wanted to hold power over him –and he still did. He wanted those eyes to be wary of him, instead of laden with contempt. He had tasted the feeling briefly that night, and had liked it too much.
If he kept his silence now, he would still keep this power in the future, while if he tried to destroy him now, he would lose it all. The war, maybe even the battle.
Because one day I will be King, whatever you or Father feel about it.
And it was true, he realised, with a clarity that he was almost tempted to attribute to that elusive far-seeing quality of his blood that he had not inherited. He recalled his father´s words of mere seconds ago, their intensity, and his suspicion. Less clearly, and coming from a more distant time of his life, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, he recalled an unvoiced question that had tormented him now and then as his father taught him to be a beacon of light and protect true religion and the lineage of Adunakhôr in times of darkness.
Gimilzôr had not killed Inziladûn back when he had been born a child with the features of a Western fiend. He had not killed him, or even disinherited him when he had grown up to despise the gods of Númenor, nor after he consorted with traitors.
Because he could not do it.
Suddenly, Gimilkhâd felt powerless, unable to grab at anything, and had to take the ring to regain a measure of relief. It was there. It was real. He had control over this, at least.
"I think he had an affair with the daughter of Valandil, however. They were out in the woods at night, and they both came back upset."
Gimilzôr´s features tightened in alarm.
"He knows that he must marry soon."
"Precisely. She is of the blood of the Kings, is she not?"
The Prince shot him a warning look, and he forced himself to sober. Still, this new kind of anger seemed inoffensive, as if he had finally managed to swim away from the deep waters.
"His bride is already chosen. I will summon him tomorrow to discuss this affair with him." The tension faded away a little, and for someone who was as experienced as Gimilkhâd at reading his father´s features, his new expression transmitted some kind of tiredness. "You may leave now. I am... sure that your friends must be glad of your return."
They will be gladder of the banquet, he thought a bit caustically, but nodded. His father was not looking at him anymore; he had already become engrossed with one of the papers over his desk.
Gimilkhâd remembered when he had been younger, and these sudden indifferences had hurt him. Back then, he had not had so many monstruous turmoils to hide, so many reasons to want those eyes to be focused on anything other than him.
Quenching this last thought, he offered a deep bow and turned back to leave. Before he had even come in sight of the servants to stood at the door, he heard a voice calling him.
He stopped in his tracks. His father was looking at him again.
"Yes, my lord prince?"
Gimilzôr seemed slightly incommodated for a moment. Then, he shook his head.
"You are still my son, even after... going to that place. I never doubted you would be, of course. And yet, it makes me glad." he said. Gimilkhâd stared at him, until he realised what he was doing and lowered his glance.
Something strange twisted a knot in his stomach. He felt the need to turn away, afraid of his conflicting emotions.
"I will always be loyal to you." he muttered, in his retreat.
"Long live the King, favourite of Melkor!" The young man who sat next to the door, whose cheeks were already flushing crimson, raised his silver cup high. "And may the incredulous believe that divine protection is also upon his family, now that the Prince of the South has come back from the demon-infested land!"
His words found a hearty echo almost at once. All those who were not discussing animatedly between themselves –such as the grandson of the Great Chamberlain and the son of the Lady of the Cellar Keys, who gestured so much with his hands that he had already caused the demise of a fine porcelain plate and a dozen of eels-, or engaged in stealing the musical instruments from the women who played and making more or less clumsy demonstrations, looked up and drank from their own cups in discordant unison.
Gimilkhâd smiled, drinking as well. The wine, even as it was heavily mixed with water and honey, was starting to spread its merry effects around the concurrence. In the brief span of an hour the level of voices and noises had grown loud and disorderly, a swift and unstoppable spiral of joy that would culminate in a wild drowning of everything. This was the moment that he liked best – the time when he felt as if an alien spirit had taken hold of his body, and his actions and thoughts flowed like water. There was no room for second thoughts anymore, for subtleties, responsibilities or skilled manouevres. Only the Goddess, guiding his steps.
Merry and splendid as this feast was, however, he had found that it was also laden with a certain unreal quality for him. The first time that someone had sung, the first time that someone had laughed, the sounds had entered him like the point of a dart. Back in Andünié, when he was deeply immersed in that phantasmagorial world, he had not been able to nail the source of his suspicions and discomfort, but now that he could touch life again with both hands, he felt as if he had come back from the dead. Dim images drew their strange shapes in his mind, of feet that did not make noise against the floor and cold eyes that no emotion could touch.
Sometimes, he wondered if he had not dreamed everything.
"Were there things that could make "warm blood run cold in your veins"?" the young Priest of the Chapel quoted, as he downed a honey pastry with so much skill that none of his words was affected by it. The grandson of the Great Chamberlain stopped his discussion for a moment to nod with vehemence.
"There are many stories about the land of rebels." The son of the Lady of the Cellar Keys interrupted him with a halfhearted "They are the King´s allies!", but Gimilkhâd shook his head. It had to be a matter of time until his father threw them back where they belonged. "They say that they can summon the spirits of Elves to their aid through magic rites."
"And drink the blood of the holy priests." the brother of the Gate General added, with a quick hand gesture to ward off evil.
"And their women rule the house, and men cook for them!" One of those who had already drunk the most –Nahastart, from a family that held a seat in the Council-, interrupted a passionate kiss with a musician to take part in the conversation. Confused, and also somewhat drunk already, the young woman fell back upon the floor.
"And they can command their souls to sever ties with their bodies!"
"The did not do any of those things while I was visiting." He drank, again, forcing the wine to dispel the remembrances of the otherness that he had touched there. Here there was light, and laughter, and he plunged into their core. "They hid their Elves in my presence!"
"Oh, they would flee in front of a true descendant of Adunakhôr the Great!" the grandson of the Great Chamberlain cried. "As in front of the King of Armenelos himself!"
"Long live the King of Armenelos!" he cried, exultant. Everybody cheered this time, and he threw the empty cup aside to stand on his feet. Gesturing towards his foster-brother Ithobal, the son of the Lady of the South, he walked towards the centre, and both began to dance while they sang an old warrior song.
"Lord of the Island
King of the Dead
Lead us to glory
With the Bright Crown
In your proud head!"
Soon enough, a ring of dancers had been built around them. They moved in circles, following the rythm of the music with their steps. Most of the front row musicians were coaxed into putting their flutes aside and joining the mêlée, and their faint protests were drowned under a chorus of laughter.
One of the last to join hands with the courtiers was a young woman of dark skin, whose light-brown, almost golden curls crowned her head like a halo. For a fraction of a second, Gimilkhâd stopped to look at her, impressed at her appearance.
She had obviously been brought from Middle-Earth, to serve the royal family with her skills. And still, in spite of her barbaric look, there was something regal about that body of ample and powerful curves. Even barbarians had queens; maybe she had been one once.
Taking advantage of a chance that he had to draw closer to her, he took his banquet crown, woven with myrtle, and laid it upon her head. She paled a little, lifting one of her hands towards it. Her mouth opened to mumble something in broken Adûnaic, but then the multitude around them erupted in daring remarks, and she was swept away again by one of the evolutions of the dance.
"Lady of Night
Bring us delight!" Nahastart sang, with malicious intent. Another voice echoed.
"Show us your might
Help in this plight!"
"Until the day´s light!" Gimilkhâd completed with a laugh, heading back to the middle of the circle.
A long while later, as he felt his feet starting to become heavier, he sought her again, and found her sitting back with the musicians. She took his proferred hand with reluctance, but he was past the fineries of courtship and simply swept her off in his arms. Her grip tightened in alarm, then tenuously relaxed.
As they abandoned the hall, wading across dancers, drinkers and impromptu couples, some shaking cups were raised to them.
Looking towards the floor did not fail to bring a slight dizzyness, and the ornaments of the bedchamber shifted a little around him, yet he was sober enough to wish to enjoy the rest of that night thoroughly. He undressed her with all care, closing his eyes and touching the soft fabric of her dress, the harsher surface of her tanned skin –so different from that of the ladies of Armenelos-, and even the curls upon her head, which had been soaked in oil in an useless attempt to tame them. He also made her undress him, and relished in the feeling of her hands roaming over his body and awakening different sensations. She smelled of perfumed ointment, with an acrid touch of sweat and wine.
As he pressed against her firm limbs upon the couch, he looked at her face, and saw her brown eyes darken in some endearing sort of calculating wariness, then widen in pain, and finally narrow in pleasure. An odd, warm feeling of triumph stirred inside his chest, spreading through his limbs like fire.
Later, as he lay over the dishevelled bedcovers in heavy sleep, he saw those eyes again wandering in and out of his dreams. But there they became grey, and black, and sometimes vaguely accusing.
Clang. Clang. Cling. Clang.
This sound, sharp and persistent, roused him from his drunken haze some time later. Groaning something, he tried to hide under the dark quiet of the pillow, but the nuisance did not stop.
"Shut the fuck up!" he yelled, in a voice that came out hoarse - and slightly ridiculous. A hurried cling grated his ears; then everything became silent once more.
In relief, Gimilkhâd curled against the covers, and tried to find his way back to the blissful depths of sleep. But somehow, he realised, he was not able anymore to reach that tenuous point of perfect unawareness that he had lost. Frustrated, he rolled back and forth, further and further awake at each passing second.
Finally, he had to surrender, and opened his eyes to the light of the day. Blinking several times, he touched the space at his left – of course, empty. The woman had left at some point during the night.
As he rolled to his other side, and braved the sunrays that burst through the lacquered window lattice, he could distinguish a human silhouette, sitting in front of a table. He blinked several times, until he became accustomed enough to the light as to meet the elegant powdered face of his foster-brother.
"What are you doing here?" he mumbled, irritated. Ithobal gave him a bow, and began to gather the small silver balls he had been playing with in a red velvet bag.
"I bribed your servants." he replied. There were no signs of the night´s excesses on his expression; his dark brown hair was neatly gathered on a single braid that fell over his back, as it was fashionable now in Armenelos. Gimilkhâd muttered a curse between his teeth – that bastard had always had that skill to avoid unpleasant side-effects.
"They will hear me later."
The last silver ball fell in the bag, and Ithobal laced the knot with a fastidious slowness. His eyes fell upon the table.
"She is married."
The news took a while to pierce through Gimilkhâd´s current daze. As they did, his eyes widened, and he sat upon the edge of the bed so brusquely that his head hurt. He cursed again.
"And what the hell was she doing in that banquet?"
"Oh, I am sure that she took the Killing Seed, just like the others. And still... do you need help, my lord?"
"I am fine!" the prince snapped back, combing his hair with his hand. If there was something that he hated, it was to look dishevelled. "It was the Lady´s doing." he added, petulantly. "She brings those sudden passions upon us, and all we can do is submit to her power."
"And yet she loves those who exerce moderation."
"If you are going to lecture me, you may as well leave my chambers at once."
All traces of openness in Ithobal´s face vanished with practiced ease, leaving the look of deference of a true courtier. He stood up, and bowed.
"I will leave if that is what you wish."
Gimilkhâd frowned. He did not want to be alone, either.
"Stay." he ordered, motioning to the edge of the bed next to him. Ithobal bowed again, and sat at his side. "After all... you are my brother, I suppose. Who better than you to talk about those things?"
"Merely a foster-brother, Noblest." the other man answered quickly. Gimilkhâd wondered if it was a note of faint alarm in his voice. On the rare times that he had felt somewhat emotional –always after drinking-, people seemed to skirt around him like around a heap of red-hot coals.
It irritated him.
"I wish you were my brother instead of that Elvish fiend." he proclaimed, to augment Ithobal´s embarrassment. "You should have seen them! They do not laugh like us. They do not sing, or party, or grow angry, or anything. They are monsters with no emotions, and he is just like them. They ignore you. Look right through you, and then smile as if they had suddenly seen the day of your death." He sighed, feeling the uncomfortableness prey on him again. "I want to ask you something."
Ithobal´s brow furrowed in an inquiring expression, which had something of veiled resignation.
"Imagine that there is a thing... a mission that you have been taught to rever above all things since you were born. No, I am lying... imagine rather that you have been born to accomplish that mission."he began. He did not even wait for Ithobal to nod back. "And then there is something that you have always wished you could have, more than anything else in the world. Suddenly, you have to choose between those two things... what would you do?"
If Ithobal had been embarrassed before, the expression that crossed his face now was rather one of puzzlement. Still, he was skilled and well-experienced –a hereditary gift of his mother, the fearsome Lady of the South who had raised Gimilkhâd since he was a baby-, and managed to keep his cool.
"I would say that duty should be above everything else at all times." he ventured. The prince frowned. "And yet, I also feel that wishes are closest to the core of one´s being."
Gimilkhâd pondered this answer in silence, staring at the bright coloured flowers behind the window. He viewed the scene in his mind again, the ring offered to him in the dark of the night, those eyes - considering him with a tantalising, grudging respect.
You are still my son.
Tonight, I have discovered that you have a will of your own.
Burned again by the remembrances, he rebelled.
"Closest to the core of my being? "he snarled. "Then why does it feel like my soul was ripped in two?"
Ithobal froze in shock. Little by little, as he felt the weight of this new silence, Gimilkhâd began to realise what he had said, and turned back towards the other man with a look of sudden wariness.
"My Prince... what has happened?"
He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it as a familiar sensation hit him on the gut. Ithobal´s eyes were prying, searching for a clue in the lines of his countenance.
"Leave." he hissed, and looked aside to hide the pallor of his face from their inquisitiveness.
Today, he did not want anyone to look at him.
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.