17. A Wedding of Importance
This is a Chapter of Importance about a Wedding of Importance. This is why it took two months to correct. Yeah. :)
A Wedding of Importance
She was waiting for him on a low seat, staring through the window with an unreadable look. Her black hair was firmly braided over her head, yet there were some rebellious strands bristling behind her ears. She had darker skin than anyone of the line of Elros that he had ever met, marinaded and hardened through long years by the sun and the sea winds.
When his footsteps alerted her of his presence, she seemed to come back from her musings with a blink, and promptly stood up to greet him. Inziladûn thought at first that she was frowning, then realised that her forehead had a conspicuous wrinkle in the space between the eyes. From staring into the horizon for prolonged amounts of time, he guessed, remembering all the rumours.
"My lord Inziladûn." she bowed. Her voice was deep, and also somewhat hoarse. Inziladûn answered her greeting with perfect politeness, and studied her closer.
As he had feared, though a stubborn part of himself had still dared to hope, there was not a single thing in common between this woman and his cherished memories of Artanis, with her soft white skin and quiet grace. This woman was plain, uncomfortable in her green and golden velvet dress. She had a harsh face with marked lines, and grey eyes that stared at him without love.
"I am pleased to meet you at last." he said, forcing his voice to sound sincere. "Sit down, if you wish."
The woman sat down, asessing him sharply at the same time. Inziladûn followed her example, choosing a chair that was next to her own seat. He felt a brief current of hostility coming from her, and blinked.
As if his dismay had not escaped her attention, her lips curved into an exaggeratedly pleasant smile.
"This is not the first time that we meet." she corrected, and a nervous chuckle escaped her throat. "On the day of your public consecration, I held you in my arms. You yanked at my hair very hard, and I told my mother that it was as well that I did not have children, since they did not seem to like me very much. "A frown of thoughtfulness creased her forehead even further for a moment. "I am not very likeable."
Inziladûn swallowed, appalled. Either her hostility towards him was too strong to bother with dissimulations, or she was the least diplomatic person that he had ever met.
As he looked at her hair, he realised that there was already a tinge of silver on one of the sides of her head. Unbidden thoughts haunted his mind, and he was forced to remember that this woman was older than his mother.
"You are uncomfortable." she suddenly threw at him, without bothering to make it a question.
He shook his head in silence. What had his father been thinking about?
"The lady Zarhil is the daughter of Zarhâd of Forostar, descendant of King Anárion, and a lady of many merits." Gimilzôr said, guessing the displeasure under his son´s briefly shaken mask. Inziladûn barely had time to swallow before the words came to his mouth in a rush.
"Unlike what you might think, this is a gift." Gimilzôr interrupted him. "I hold this lady in the greatest esteem since even before you were born, and I deem her the only woman in Númenor who might have enough resilience to manage your family." Giving his son a pointed look, he frowned in advertence. "Fail to make her happy, and I swear to you that I will not be as lenient as that spineless king Meneldur."
For a second, Inziladûn was tempted to ask him if he was supposed to treat her like Gimilzôr had treated Inzilbêth. Fortunately, he managed to swallow the dangerous words in time, and silently bowed to leave.
"I..." he began, searching for one of those uncompromising sentences that could be recited flawlessly in awkward moments. But while he had never been at loss for words in interviews with princes of the realm, priests, courtiers and even Merchant Princes, he felt incapable to recall them now in this woman´s presence.
His future Queen.
"Nice weather, isn´t it?" she said, with a pointed look.
Inzuladûn felt clearly that he was being ridiculed. Repressing a growing exasperation, he forgot all ceremonies, and stared at her hard. She seemed a bit surprised at his sudden action, yet withstood his glance like she would have withstood the sunrays upon the prow of her ship.
As he had partly guessed, there was a great irritation boiling inside her. She had been taken away from ship and seas, and travels to distant lands. Without telling her beforehand, her family had betrothed her to a much younger man with a reputation for all sorts of unnatural behaviour, who would probably despise her.
Then, the obvious dawned upon him, and his anger would have dissolved in an impulse to laugh at the situation if it had not been so serious for both of them. Because, in fact, their irritation was of an exactly identical nature.
He coughed several times, in order to clear his throat.
"If you would be so kind as to listen to me for a moment." he began. Her eyes narrowed, and he realised that he had her attention. "We have been both forced to renounce to our pursuits. We have never seen each other in our lives. And this ignorance of ours has been seasoned with quite... interesting stories about our respective selves, I will dare to presume." Her stare turned to sheer incredulity, and he felt encouraged." Because of this, we are feeling angry at each other, and naturally so. And yet, I may propose another way to deal with this."
"Another... way to deal with this?"
"Indeed. None of us decided this marriage, and therefore none of us is to blame. We could be friends and allies to each other, and direct our discontent towards our noble families, who decided to put us through this situation."
Zarhil´s eyes had widened in shock, and for a moment she studied him as if he had gone mad. Inziladûn felt incommodated, wondering if he might have simply confirmed her fears about his sanity.
As he was about to open his mouth again, though, the tension contracted her features, and exploded in a powerful laugh. The man stared in fascination as she almost doubled over from unleashed mirth, until she finally sobered up and raised a reddened face to meet his.
"That was... well, an unusual betrothal speech." she gasped, letting her glance trail over him in a newfound admiration. "So... it is true that you see into the hearts of people!"
"So they say." he muttered, uncomfortable as whenever this topic was breached in his presence.
Still, in another recess of his brain, her sudden change of mind about him heartened him a little. She accepted his logic. Maybe things could be... manouevred into some sort of comfortable arrangement, after all.
"You are right, they told me you were strange. "The son of the Prince, who has the eyes of an Elf and the beard of a barbarian." "she quoted, with a more comfortable smile. He smiled, too, darkly amused at the comparison.
"And I heard of an Elf-woman who wanes and dies if she spends a month ashore." he retaliated. Just as the words left his mouth, however, he caught a pair of eyes suddenly clouded by a veil of melancholy. He cursed.
"I am sorry." he offered. "We... could travel to the seaside, from time to time, if duty allows."
She shook her head, and made a sharp gesture of denial with her hand.
"You should not mind me." she grumbled, closing her eyes only to open them again with a sigh. "I am past eighty already. My years of freedom have been fulfilling, and I have enjoyed them for a longer time than you did. If someone has to apologise, it should be me."
For a while, both of them just sat there, in a decidedly bleak silence. Then, Inziladûn shook out from his reverie, and made an attempt to lighten up the mood.
"But we are talking as if this we are facing was a death sentence! Our married life will surely not be as terrible as Eternal Darkness, though it might be close enough at times. And I am not going to shave." he added jokingly.
Zarhil smiled a little.
"And I am not going to dye my grey hairs, though my mother already suggested it. Each of them was well-earned, indeed." she replied in the same vein. "As for the beard, to shave on a ship is unheard-of for most sailors, and yours at least is better kept."
"I see." he nodded, slightly amused. So she had a sense of humour, too. "Things can always be worse."
"Like they say when you get caught up in a storm and then someone finds a leak."
Inziladûn stared at her, remembering the things he had heard about this woman since he was a child.
"You must have many tales to tell." he assumed, in a tone that, for the first time in the whole exchange, contained a vague admiration. She creased her features in a gesture of dubious meaning.
"I suppose. I have done some... odd things."
"And my father said that you would supply our marriage with common sense!"
"Did he?" She looked genuinely surprised, and maybe a little flattered. "The Prince is too kind."
"He likes you."
Zarhil mulled this over for a moment. Standing up, she paced towards the window, and became absorbed in the view of the Blue gardens.
"I would have needed to guess as much." she said, after a long pause. Her voice was strangely regretful. "You know that I may... well, that old saying about my family."
Surprised, Inziladûn looked up.
The woman seemed to notice his shock, and tensed. The ease that they had been building for the past minutes dissolved in a rush, and she turned back with a blush.
"You have never heard?"
Inziladûn shook his head in denial, his alarm growing by moments.
"The women of the Northern line do not bear sons. "She seemed pained at her own words, as if she was going to be shamed for them. "People like to say that those things are nothing but superstitions... and still..."
The man stared at the ivory table in front of him, refusing to look at her as he forced himself to put his thoughts in order. The first idea that came to his mind was that Gimilzôr had to be aware of that saying. The second was that his plan was probably to have Gimilkhâd succeed him by depriving him of heirs, and thus make sure from an early date that his elder son´s dangerous influence would not last.
The third was that he did not believe in superstitions.
"Nobody can know that about a woman." he said, meanwhile, in an attempt to ease her discomfort. How could she have imagined that his father would forget to tell him about such a thing?
"Many people believe they do." she muttered. He shook his head in dismissal.
How much could a mere superstition be worth, anyway? His father was one to believe in all those things with unquestionable faith –superstitions, prophecies, visions. Inziladûn had been visited by those powers from a very young age, and could make more sense of them than most. He knew when they were real, and when they were nothing but the effects of an imagination run wild. And would Eru suffer Inziladûn´s heartfelt attempts to have Númenor regain its purity to be foiled in such a crude fashion?
He bit his lip, full of a warm, renewed defiance. For a moment, he remembered Gimilkhâd´s expression as he handed the incriminating note to him, and refused, against all the expectations that his father had held since the day of his birth, to bring ruin upon their kin of the West.
He would not be defeated that way.
"I do not." he said to her. Invitingly, he stretched his right hand, and she stared at it for a while before advancing several steps. "And my father, who is a wiser man than most, did not even think twice about such a superstition."
Zarhil´s hand finally touched his. It shocked him at first how hard it felt from its calluses, a little like tanned leather.
"I do not know." she sighed. Her eyes met his, and brightened up somewhat. "But thanks for encouraging me."
He arched an eyebrow, softly pressing her fingers to explore the new feeling.
"I was also encouraging myself." he added flippantly, before quickly changing subject. "Now, would you care to take a walk through the gardens? I think it will be - expected of our first meeting."
Without further ado, she gave a step backwards, and helped him to get up with a pull. He saw the lean yet strong muscles of her arms, and, once again, blinked.
"Let us go, then." she nodded.
For the next years, Inziladûn set his mind to discover and list all of Zarhil´s good traits. She was a strong woman, an adventurous sailor in a family of warriors. The magnificence of the Palace of Armenelos and the flattery of the courtiers meant little to her, and she felt uncomfortable with the ostentatious displays of Gimilzôr´s court- in which she was of like mind to Inziladûn himself.
Another thing that he discovered was that all her forwardness enveloped a rather shy core, and that she did not like interacting with people. Both at home and in Armenelos, she had no friends other than the men she took in her ship. Once that he earned her trust from assiduity, however, it struck him that she was an a friendly companion, and an excellent storyteller. Many of their afternoons together were spent with Inziladûn listening in quiet awe to fantastical tales about floating islands of ice, strange animals that ran over the water or followed ships with open, hungry jaws, and fire mountains that spat frozen lava.
In those ocassions he would look at her, and she would suddenly appear different to him; a creature of legend, a hero of tales like the king Aldarion son of Meneldur. And then, even the pronounced wrinkles in her forehead, the hardness of her skin, the dark colour of her face and the shadow of silver in her hair would gain a new meaning, and seem beautiful.
There were other, less pleasant things to take in account as well. In spite of her efforts, Zarhil could not hide her dislike for the gilded prison of Armenelos where she would have to spend her life, and some part of Inziladûn could not help wondering how long would it take for her to resent him for it. Her difficulties to adapt to court life were much greater than those of Inziladûn himself. Seeing how she reacted to her new duties, he realised for the first time that his own shortcomings in that field had stemmed mainly from his own wilfulness, and not from any real incapacity. And the courtiers did not forgive breaches of protocol, so soon the whole Palace was swarming with witticisms, jokes and rhymes about their shocking new Princess.
All this, however, was not as worrying to Inziladûn´s mind as other things that escaped public notice. For example, there was Zarhil´s deep devotion to the Queen of the Seas, who had saved her from so many dangers. His indifference on this matter hurt her, and he foresaw greater complications when he became King –or when they had children.
He tried not to think of Artanis, though she was often in his thoughts. In spite of the fact that he had grown to like Zarhil, there were times when he could not prevent himself from comparing her natural grace to Zarhil´s clumsiness, the soft ripple of laughter that came from her throat to the other woman´s raspy chuckles. He remembered the warmth of her embrace, that morning when his mind had been tangled in cold conflict, and how she had always read in his mind, with the mysterious power of an Elf, what she needed to say or do to give him comfort.
He remembered the first night when she had seen her, the billows of her white dress flying with the breeze as she walked under the trees of malinornë, like Lúthien in the forests of Doriath. And then, her last tears as she left him alone, under the same trees, her heart broken in exquisite silence.
She knew that we could not have possibly married, he said to himself, trying to banish her from his mind and focus on the woman that his father had chosen. And yet, in his most unguarded moments she still haunted him, when he lay on his bed awake or deep in the world of dreams.
Two years after they had met, sitting on the dishevelled grass of his own garden with a mountain of fig peelings between them, Inziladûn asked Zarhil to marry him. She stared at her incredulously and laughed –the right answer to his involvement in this long farce of their betrothal.
Gimilzôr took the news very favourably. It puzzled Inziladûn to see how Zarhil affected even the usual coldness of his father towards him. Back when he had told him that he held the lady in great esteem, he had thought it nothing but another element of his father´s elaborate revenge against his wayward son, but in time he had come to have the distinct feeling that Gimilzôr had spoken the truth at least in this. With a slightly warmer glint in his dark eyes, he ruled that the wedding would take place in early summer, in the Palace of Armenelos, and that the celebration would reach all Númenor and the Middle-Earth colonies.
As the day of the wedding drew near, the streets of Armenelos were set with the most colourful hangings. People crowded the streets from the North Residence to the Palace hill, eager to catch a glimpse of the bridal entourage and fighting for an advantageous place before the royal gates, where they could see the entrance of the new Princess and get themselves a good helping at the various food and wine distributions.
Covered by her red veil, Zarhil´s face could not be seen, but Inziladûn was able to perceive the tension in her erect back and high chin. As was custom, the priests of Melkor took her away from the priests of Ashtarte-Uinen that came in her entourage and dragged her across the threshold. Then, both drank from the same goblet of consecrated wine under the eyes of the gods and the King, and the feast began in the main hall.
Preparations for the banquet had lasted more than a month, with the clear purpose of turning this event into a milestone for royal magnificence. The dishes were served on silverware from the factories of Gadir, and seasoned with Umbar spices. Meat of eight different kinds had been brought from the plains of Hyarnustar, while the fruit belonged to the King´s own gardens south of the Forbidden Bay. There were also great quantities of wine with honey, and the best musicians, singers and dancers of the capital entertained the guests with various performances.
Inziladûn watched all this from his father´s side, away from the raised voices, the laughter and the merriment. He was not fond of feasting; he had few friends among the guests and none he could freely speak to. Artanis had not come: someone had needed to stay in Andúnië while the rest of her family was here, and she had offered to do so herself.
From the corner of his eye, he realised that Gimilzôr had finished his little conversation with the King, and was now walking towards him. At once, he discarded his musings and prepared himself to be addressed, but instead of doing so, his father stopped in his tracks and stared at some point of the hall with a pensive frown.
Following his glance in some curiosity, Inziladûn saw his bride sitting on a chair. She was still tense, and busy at yanking the long ends of her red veil away from the two little daughters of her brother Zakarbal, who ran in laughing circles around her.
"You should summon her." Gimilzôr said. Inziladûn suppressed his surprise carefully, and nodded.
"I will." he replied.
Before his father could begin organising the chain of messengers that would reach her, he bowed quickly, and downstairs he went. The courtiers who waited there bowed to him, with the good reflexes that they had acquired from fifty years of his oddities.
In the first table, Gimilkhâd was drinking with a few friends, and raised the jar to him when he saw him approach.
"Ha, Inziladûn!" he called "Here, have a glass for yourself before you retire for the night! You will certainly need it- won´t he?"
The other men smiled a bit sheepishly, then laughed a little louder as his boldness encouraged them. Inziladûn passed them by, not deigning to pay them any heed.
Since that fatidical night, two years ago, his younger brother had known several phases. At first he had avoided him as much as he could, but after a while his exuberance had returned, louder and wittier than ever. Inziladûn was always the target of his jokes, and his older brother was quite sure that he could claim autorship of a good half of the rhymes about his wife.
And yet, he never saw him alone anymore. Friends and courtiers surrounded him, like a warrior´s trained escort.
Númendil and his betrothed, Emeldir, were watching the starlit gardens from a terrace. Inziladûn shook his head and left them to their privacy, wondering if those two would ever marry. The strong Elven blood of Númendil seemed to have frozen his maturity to a mysterious halt, and the lady was something between his friend and the object of his quiet adoration.
Not that he could say anything different from the women of his own life,Inziladûn reminded himself then, but his thoughts stopped abruptly when he found himself face to face with Valandil.
"Allow me to offer my most sincere congratulations on the auspicious event of your wedding day, my lord." the older man recited with a deep bow. Inziladûn nodded, incommodated.
"I am sorry. I would... apologise to her if I could." he whispered, almost between clenched teeth. Valandil rose, and stared at him lengthly with undecipherable eyes.
"You do not have to, my lord. "he finally said. For a moment, it seemed as if he was going to say something else, but then he shook his head and offered him a smile of encouragement. "One day, everything will change."
Inziladûn nodded again, and continued his walk through the hall. Nearby, he spotted Eärendur with his daughter-in-law, talking among themselves. He gave them a mere nod, not wishing his father to grow suspicious.
Everything would change. Alas, for her it would be too late then.
Zarhil´s family gave him a warm welcome. The lords of Soronthil had not married into the royal family for centuries, since the alliances with the Eastern and Western governors had been favoured by the lineage of Ar-Adunakhôr. This lord of Soronthil, moreover, had despaired long ago of finding a husband for his strange daughter, so this marriage had been, for him, the crowning bliss of a long life of service and few favours. No matter what people whispered about his oddities, Inziladûn had promptly become the object of his most sincere devotion and gratitude –gratitude that, the Prince´s heir could not help but think one more time as he was pulled into a world of bows, compliments, congratulations and offers, would properly belong to Gimilzôr. But his father, working and planning in the shadows and standing at a great, elevated distance even as he drank wine in his son´s wedding feast, did not encourage many feelings of thankfulness.
When he finally reached her, Zarhil was hissing at the smallest of her two nieces, a plump-faced girl of about four who had somehow managed to get the veil tangled all over her legs.
"Of all the little pests in the world, you are the very worst! Now, go to your mother at this very instant and be good and quiet or I swear...!"
Her scolding was brusquely interrupted as she became aware of Inziladûn´s presence in front of her. The girls also stopped wiggling and stared at him in wide-eyed awe.
"Who are you?" the elder of them inquired. Zarhil shook her head with a snort, and began to arrange the dishevelled veil over her lap again.
Inziladûn stared back at her, mystified. It was the first time he was confronted by someone who was young enough not to care for manners.
"I am the husband of the lady Zarhil." he replied carefully, after a moment of thought. The face of the younger of the girls was immediately scrunched up in an expression of horror.
"Aunt, did you marry a man with hair on his face?"
Inziladûn froze. The older of the two girls elbowed her sister and hissed that she was not being nice.
Zarhil´s bad mood dissolved in a fit of hilarity.
"Go back to your mother now." she told the girls. She was still shaking from suppressed mirth even as she shooed them away. "If you behave yourselves, I will not tell her what has been said here."
The daughters of Zakarbal nodded, and reluctantly took away, whispering amongst themselves. Even after they had reached their mother´s side, Inziladûn could see them turn back now and then to steal curious looks at him.
"That was very funny." Zarhil said. Inziladûn nodded in silence.
"Are we going to... retire already?" she asked after a while. There was a brief hesitation in her voice as she said those words, but under the thick red folds, Inziladûn could not detect if it was nervousness or a simply inquiring tone.
"I do not like partying very much." he confessed, with a soft sigh. Under the King´s throne, six dancers were moving their jewelled arms to the sound of a flute. People around them had begun talking louder, so the music would not overshadow their voices. "And you must be choking under that veil."
"I am. But out there, I do not know what I would have done without it." she confessed. "I was really nervous, Inziladûn. The whole of Númenor was there... staring at me."
"And you will grow used to their stares until you even forget that they are there." he predicted.
"I can still flee this place at night and make it to my ship before the guard finds me." she threatened, standing up. With a gesture, she signalled him to wait while she bade farewell to her family and listened to their well-meaning advice –a long process, even though they had no plans of leaving overnight-, and readied herself to follow him.
Though Inziladûn took care to avoid the center of the hall, many of the guests, merry from the high-quality wine, still toasted to them and shot their congratulations as they walked towards the stairs of the throne. Predictably, when they could finally bow in front of him, Gimilzôr was furious.
"Did you have to shame yourself and your wife in such a manner on the very evening of your wedding day?" he hissed. Inziladûn lowerd his eyes in respect.
"I am sorry. I wanted to talk to her family before we retired."
"This veil is choking me, my lord prince." Zarhil intervened. Gimilzôr´s wrath turned into an almost comical look of surprise, and he turned his attention towards her.
Inziladûn blinked. He had never heard his father ask a redundant question before.
"It... has become worse after so many hours." Zarhil nodded, now in a somewhat lower voice. "If we could retire to the privacy of our chambers..."
Gimilzôr made a hurried gesture to cut her talk. His features softened.
"I understand your plight, daughter. You may go, if you wish." Then, he turned back to Inziladûn. "Present your respects to the King."
Inziladûn bowed, taking Zarhil by the hand. She promptly mirrored her gesture, and together, they approached the throne of Ar-Sakalthôr.
The last decades had not been kind to the old man´s appearance. His body had always been thin, but now the bony fingers that held the Sceptre reminded Inziladûn of a skeleton. His face was pale and sunk, and in the middle of it, two huge, alert eyes gleamed with a light that became fell whenever he set them on his elder grandson.
Inziladûn remembered a time when, as a child, he had been brought to his grandfather´s chambers and forced to kneel in front of him. Ar-Sakalthôr had been silent, until the confused child lifted his head and tried to investigate the identity of the dark figure. Then, his grandfather´s face became livid, and he began to move his hands, hissing at him to leave his presence at once. Little Inziladûn, terrified, ran to hide behind his father, who laid a hand on his shoulder and told him to leave while levelling the cause of the child´s fears with a harsh, unintimidated glance.
Back then, Inziladûn had been admired at his father´s bravery. Only later, much later, he had come to understand that, though there was and would always be a current of dark suspicion and visions between the King and his two heirs, Ar-Sakalthôr was in fact the weakest and more frightened of the three.
And more than what he had ever feared Gimilzôr, his grandfather feared him.
"My wife and I ask for your leave to retire, my lord king, favourite of Melkor, protector of Númenor and guardian of the colonies." he recited, kneeling and bowing in front of the throne. Zarhil knelt too, again as tense as she had been during the ceremony and a good part of the feast. She had only seen Ar-Sakalthôr in a few official or religious circumstances before, but the tales she had heard about the recluse sovereign were obviously weighing on her mind.
This time, however, the King seemed oddly subdued, maybe under the effects of the wine. Mumbling something, he leaned back and took a large sip of his cup.
"Leave." he ordered more than acquiesced, in a cutting tone. Inziladûn bowed again, and stood up together with Zarhil. As they reached the door, a brief silence fell upon the hall, and the guests bowed to them.
Finally alone in the deserted corridor, where the sounds of the accursed feast only arrived in distant, distorted waves, Inziladûn yanked his wife´s cover away from her head. Drops of sweat glistened over her forehead, but her lips curved in a tired smile as, finally, they were allowed to look at each other.
"Thank you." she beamed, combing her dishevelled hair with one hand.
He nodded in silence, and felt a brief flash of childish satisfaction as they walked past the red veil that had been abandoned on the floor.
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.