25. Three-way Destiny
The hall was silent. In the midst of its empty greatness she sat embracing her knees, a child surrounded by raging battles of stone. With grey, empty eyes she followed the sculpted movements, the joy and the grief of faces that had been frozen forever while they died, while they killed, while they celebrated their greatest victory.
Her forehead creased in a frown, as if she was listening for their ghostly cries in the deep darkness. The old nurse suppressed an involuntary shiver, and stepped forwards until she was at the little girl´s side.
"What are you doing, my lady?" she asked. The Princess did not move. Her features were pale, like another of those statues whose brightly-painted eyes were like unsettling beacons against the white marble of their faces.
For a moment of crazy hallucination, the woman felt as if the hall of Ar-Adunakhôr´s battle reliefs was the only true home of this silent girl. The lack of contrast was seamless, as she sat quietly, calmly, cradled by the silence of the statues.
Then, however, the thought passed, and the furtive shiver came back once again. That girl... that princess... no, there was no way to know how those things could affect her unfortunate soul.
Resolutely, she stepped in front of her.
"My lady." she said. Zimraphel´s eyes seemed to pass through her, and this unsettled her even further. She laid a hand over the tiny shoulder.
"My lady Zimraphel, you know that you are not allowed outside your chambers! You- may hurt yourself." she added in a whispered tone, swallowing deeply.
The Princess blinked. Then, as if they had just been sitting together for a while, she wrinkled her nose and gave her an inquiring look.
"Who is she?" she asked. Somewhat relieved, and used to her charge´s changes of mood, the old lady studied the relief in front of her.
It depicted a beautiful, raven-haired woman, raising her eyes to the sky while she was dragged across the floor by two soldiers. Her robes were painted in vivid tones of violet, striking a contrast with the subdued golden and ochre of the rest of the figures.
The nurse gave a slow nod.
"This is Alissha the Traitor."
She did not plan to add more, but Zimraphel began to pull at her sleeve with a methodical insistence.
"And what did she do?"
After a while, she was forced to surrender with a sigh.
"She tried to claim the Sceptre, though she was a woman and an Elf-friend. Ar-Adunakhôr and the Great God Melkor defeated her, and she was punished for her impudence." She took a sharp breath. "But you are too young yet to hear such stories."
"Did she die?" the girl asked still, with that kind of consuming absortion that seemed unable to see or hear anything else. The old nurse stared at her in shock.
"Yes. She died." she muttered, in a voice that was almost too low for herself to hear. Then, with a renewed feeling of urgence, she stood up and beckoned to her. "Come. We must leave now."
The Princess looked away, back to her original indifference.
"If the Second Royal Nurse learns that you have been here, you will be punished."
The threat was ignored. Which was not really surprising, because that girl was never punished. Everybody was overwhelmed by pity as they gazed upon those eyes, huge and stirring yet cursed with the shadow of an invisible illness.
"The Princess Zarhil will come to visit soon." she tried again. In spite of her mother´s deep devotion towards her, Zimraphel did not even blink.
Exasperated, the old woman grabbed at the girl´s hand, and forced her to stand up. Her fingers felt cold, and humid from the stone floor.
"Let us go." she ordered. The Princess followed her with small steps, but as they crossed the Western gates of the hall, the nurse saw her turn back to gaze at the distant violet spot one more time.
The lines of his hands were starting to dim, blurred by the waning light. Above his head, flocks of seagulls filled the skies with their piercing cries, and he knew that in the West the sun was already sinking under the waves. He remembered the times he had seen it under the guise of a ball of burning fire, magnificent and red before the final plunge.
In this city, the sun was different, a white explosion of light that blinded the eyes as it rose triumphantly from behind the towers. The reflection of its rays gave a strange, metallic quality to the sea of the merchants, that somehow felt harsh, vivifying; unwelcome.
Back in Andúnië, his family had said that with the passing of years he was growing closer to the Elf than to the Man that they all had in their blood. Númendil, the Half-Elf, they called him in jest, smiling in indulgence as he grew absorbed by the slightest details of the shifting world around him. Life had always had a different quality for them than for him. Everything that happened was slower, blunter, less immediate - and sometimes he had felt like the paths he was treading were different from theirs altogether.
When they were exiled without trial, and imprisoned in this harbour of merchants, his wife had thought that their activity and turmoils would affect him most of all. But then, she had been the one who broke down first, sobbing with longing for their quiet twilight world, their gardens on the nest of the mountain and the love of their kin. Eärendur had preferred to lay down his old life rather than being exiled twice; as for the whereabouts of his parents and his sister, the Sorian merchants would not tell. He had comforted her the best that he could, telling her that they had been allowed to keep each other, but in truth he felt the pulls of reality with a strange, distant quality that he could not himself explain.
It was as if he had fallen into a long sleep, like some animals did when winter robbed them of food and warmth. From his terrace, he silently watched the comings and goings of loud-voiced men with colourful robes, the shipping of soldiers in warships headed for Middle-Earth and the evolutions of the crying gulls, and yet nothing of this affected him, like the mad dance of visions in his night dreams. The echoes of loving voices did not fade from his mind; he knew that they would meet again.
Far in the distance, he heard the noise of birds, but not gulls this time. The sound made him glad, for he loved those small, dark sterlings that curled under the cornice of the towers at this time of the year. They were like him; dwellers of the aerial realm, banished from the hostile comings and goings of the streets that lay under their feet.
In a month, those birds would be gone in search of a kinder climate. And he would remain, quietly waiting for signs of their return.
Númendil froze at the voice, momentarily taken by the unpleasantness of awakening. Out of a strange instinct, he closed his eyes, like a boy who wanted to sleep only five minutes more before he was awakened for his lessons, but he was not allowed to do so. A small yet strong hand pulled at his robe.
Resigned, he opened his eyes again, and was electrified by the shock of two bright grey eyes, brimming with life. His musings became blurred, unreal again. Then, his son grabbed at his hand, and the fire finally flew from the sparks.
Amandil. Sometimes, Númendil wondered if he had grasped the notion that this bright and quick spirit, this boy who protested in outrage when he did not receive an immediate answer and ran like a whirlwind around the house had been born from Emeldir and him. Back when she held him as a newborn baby in her arms, he had just marvelled at her happiness, and wondered how such a small and squirming thing could bring such comfort to a person.
It was only when he started to grow, and felt pulled into his vivid world of shouts, laughs and cries, when he had realised that this child offered him the harsh yet precious gift of a Man´s life. And for this he had loved him, more than he did his wife or kin.
"Amandil." he said, looking down at him. "What is it, child?"
The boy was frowning deeply. His clouded expression brought a small feeling of alarm to the slowly awakening conscience of his father.
"I want to go out." he announced. Númendil stared at him, briefly uncomprehending.
"Out of here!" the boy clarified, as if he was a dimwit. "Leave this place and see the city! And then the other cities, too. Mother says that the West is very beautiful."
"Amandil..." his father began, then felt the words trail away from his mouth as they did from his mind. What could he say to such a thing? He felt belatedly aware that he should have expected such a question at some point, from so curious a child, but whenever the boy was with him he was robbed of the ability to think."We cannot go out, my son."
The boy´s frown became a scowl.
"Because of those fat, vile, Morgoth-worshipping merchants? What can they do to stop us?"
Númendil swallowed. What had Emeldir told him?
"This is not a polite thing to say about our hosts."
Amandil crossed his arms over his chest, defiant.
"But it´s true! Mother said it!"
"Those people... "
Númendil sighed, then sought for a way to rephrase it. Before Amandil´s birth, nobody had shot questions at him that quickly. He had never grown used to it –questions about birds, about plants, about battles, about the Valar, about the seasons, and the inevitable bout of exasperation at his delay.
"Listen to me, my son." he said, picking him up and sitting him on his knees. The boy squirmed a little until at last he found a comfortable position. "West of here lies a city, the greatest and most powerful in the whole of Númenor. There, upon the tallest hill, is the Palace, home of our King, who holds the Sceptre of Elros Tar-Minyatur."
"I know about the Sceptre!" Amandil protested. Númendil´s lips curved in a faint smile.
"Then, you know also that we of the Line of Elros are bound to it, no matter what happens." The boy nodded reluctantly. "We must obey the King who holds the Sceptre in Armenelos, even if he orders us to remain here."
"Is he a Morgoth-worshipper, too?"
The heir to the former Lord of Andúnië sighed.
"One day, a King who honours the Valar will call us back, and give us our freedom, lands and honours." he said instead, allowing his eyes to wander in the twilight shadows. "You will see all those cities then, and you will be a great lord."
"And I will ride to war!" the boy nodded enthusiastically. Númendil stared at him in shock, wondering how such an idea could have got into his head. No member of the Western line had seen a battle since the days of the civil strife, and there was none who had wished to seek such violence.
As he was thinking this, he fell the pull of a vision start to grip him with cold fingers. He saw a sword, driven into a curled shape that lay on a bed. An altar of fire, and a boy who stared at the flames, terrified. The howling of a wolf.
Worried, he cradled his son´s face with his hand.
"There is no need to be so impatient. A man must learn to wait, and observe the world that lies in front of his eyes. Look." he whispered in his ear, directing his little chin towards the neighbouring tower where most of the sterlings had already fallen asleep. "Do you see those birds, who hide under the cornice?"
Do you see how they become confounded with the shadows as night falls, do you care for the skill of patiently tracing the flapping of their wings in the dark?
But Amandil shook his head.
"I do not care for birds. I want to go out now."
Númendil´s premonition became stronger, with a sense of urgence that tore at his insides. Danger, fear, bereavement. Loneliness.
"No, my child." he pleaded, holding him so close that Amandil squirmed and protested. "Please, stay here with me. Stay here, and be safe."
Once, when he had been very, very little, he had been afraid of the darkness of the corridors. After all, any kind of creature could be lurking in the corners where his eyes did not reach, watching his footsteps. He did not fear being attacked, but not knowing what lay in the shadows made him nervous and uneasy.
Later, as he grew older, he had liked to imagine shapes for those creatures. They had become Orcs with ugly animal faces, holding bloody axes in their claw-like hands, and ghostly Elves who tried to ensnare him with their fell sorcery. He had believed himself a great captain, fought them bravely until he stood alone with a smile, and the corridor was empty.
In silent trepidation, he watched now the imposing gates of the Lord of the Western Wing. The green jasper columns were so big that three men wouldn´t be able to embrace one of them with outstretched arms, and their palm-shaped capitals sustained a huge structure of gold architraves and black ebony statues. He imagined that those were the gates of Mordor, crowded with dark-skinned Orcs who guarded the realm of their master. Or maybe the doors of the Elven palace of Lindon, where men wandered lost, taken by a spell of oblivion as soon as they laid eyes upon them.
But not him. The armies of Númenor were waiting for his signal, and he would bring them to a great victory. Feeling his heart brim with renewed courage, he walked inside, refusing to feel intimidated by the imposing proportions of the façade.
Slowly, he forced his breathing to still. He found himself in a great hall, almost as huge as the throne room where his grandfather sat among hundreds of kneeling courtiers. An endless sucession of painted figures in relief covered the walls, and for a while, he could do nothing but stand gaping at them. A fleet of swift warships sailed the Great Sea, an army stood assembled upon the Eastern shores. Orcs, Elves and barbarians fled in terror or knelt to pay tributes to the Sea King who had set foot on Middle-Earth. And in the middle of the scene stood he, Ar-Adunakhôr the Great, tall and radiant with his golden armour.
Little Pharazôn swallowed deeply, fascinated. Lost in warlike imaginations, where he was the one who stood in the middle of the stronghold of his vanquished enemies, he almost failed to hear the sound of soft footsteps upon the stone floor.
"What are you doing here?"
Angry at his carelessness, he stood firmly in place, raising his eyes to meet the enemy who had discovered him. It was a tall lady, whose deep blue robes billowed with the breeze that came through the gardens that lay behind them. Pharazôn watched the swirls, and fancied that they were the deadly undulations of a dragon´s scaly tail.
"I am Pharazôn, the King´s grandson." he announced proudly. "And I go where I wish!"
The lady frowned at him, then gave him a curt bow and continued her way. The boy watched her retreating steps, astounded at his easy victory. And to think that he had never dared to step inside this place before!
Feeling his confidence grow, he resumed his conquering march, and headed towards the Western gate that connected the hall with the rest of the wing. The inner gardens were covered by a varnished lattice, behind which he could distinguish softly-running fountains, trees covered in purple flowers and floors of glazed tiles. Disappointed, he thought that those were similar to his mother´s gardens, and decided to leave such a boring place.
Before he could take his eyes away, however, the boy heard a female voice, and froze in place. Pressing his face against the lattice, he saw an old woman in a dark green robe, leading a girl by the hand. As they passed in front of him, the girl turned back briefly, and he saw her face, pale and beautiful like a flower. She looked sad.
Taken by an impulse, Pharazôn tried to push the lattice, but it had been firmly set in place by the best craftmen of the Island many years before he was born. Muttering a curse that he had once heard from an Adult, he watched her disappear, and bit his lip hard.
So the palace of the Lord of the Western Wing also had a princess! Turmoil brewed in his young heart as he turned away, wondering at those chiseled features and mournful grey eyes that he had seen for but a moment.
Who was she?
With a last glance to the reliefs of Ar-Adunakhôr, the boy crossed the hall, and then the Gates of the Western Wing. His conquest had been a great one, but it suddenly felt small and meaningless. He had to come back, and find a way to talk to her. He wanted to know her name.
Pressing his knuckles against an invisible sword, he swore to himself that he would, soon.
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.