28. Interlude IV: Doom and Choices
Interlude: Doom and Choices
"King of the City, Lord of Visions, send me an answer."
Suffocation. The familiar sweet smell, insidiously penetrating his nostrils and bringing tears to his closed eyes. A faint cracking of flames, and then, once more, the silence.
"King of the City, Lord of Visions, send me an answer."
He tried to focus in the image of the boy, though the very remembrances were laced with conflict. Those eyes, those innocent, terrible sea-grey eyes. The eyes of the boy he had regretted sparing, back in a distant past; and also of the baby he had regretted killing not long ago, if only he had been allowed to live.
But how could he have lived? Bitterness took him, and with it the will to struggle, and he pulled away from the embrace of the fumes. Immediately, he lay his palms forwards and fell on his fours upon the cold floor, his body racked by a coughing attack. His body was not what it once was, after ruling Númenor for more than ninety years.
That boy, the son of traitors, had been protected by the Great God. Poison had not harmed him, and the assassins had been met by a mysteriously empty bed and the Wolf´s howl. The Lord Melkor had even sent dreams to his highest ranking priest in the Palace, demanding to have Amandil enter his service.
If something could be said about him after so many years of experience, it was that Ar-Gimilzôr was no fool. In all those prodigies he had suspected the hand of Inziladûn, who had grown cunning indeed in his maturity. But then, what difference did it make? If the Eternal King of Númenor turned a blind eye to that apostate´s ill-use of his sacred name, if he allowed his priests to be bribed without bringing ruin upon them –if he refused to send him an answer even now, as he stood before his altar, when he had been so clear and pressing about Gimilzôr´s own grandson, what was he meant to think?
How was this fair? The protector, the guide of the King´s family wanted a heir to the throne to die, and a traitor to live. Why did he refuse his sacrifice? Why did he allow for mercy, now that it was too late for that unfortunate strangled baby?
Ar-Gimilzôr forced himself to find a grip. Gingerly, he reclined his body on one of his sides, fleeing that humiliating pose.
He could not question the God´s will, being, as he was, a short-lived mortal. Who knew the uses that the Eternal King had foreseen for that child? Maybe, in his service, he would grow one day to be a powerful ally of Gimilkhâd and his son Pharazôn, when time came for them to fight for the God´s true Faithful and the heritage of Ar-Adunakhôr. Maybe he would see the truth, and resent his own kin for walking in darkness.
"Your will be done." he whispered, defeated. His voice came out hoarse, and he could barely manage to stand up again to bow to the altar flames. Upon realising that he was finished, the High Priest approached him, as was custom, to leave a basin of water on the floor at his side.
This time, instead of meeting him with silence, Ar-Gimilzôr gestured for him to stay.
"We must talk." he said.
That would be the answer, he told himself in a flash of insight. If the boy could forget the lies of his parents, and willingly be consecrated to him whom they called Morgoth, it would be signal that the King of Kings himself had claimed him. If so, he would be allowed to live- and become a priest of Melkor.
* * * * *
Pharazôn watched the old woman leave from his hiding place behind the column. As the sweeping noise of her robes faded in the shadows, he nodded to himself, and prepared his assault.
The girl was sitting on a small ivory chair in the shade, next to the fountain. She was scribbling or drawing something in a paper, which seemed to absorb all of her attention. Long and lustrous plaits of hair fell down her shoulders, so deeply black that the boy found himself wishing to know if they would shine under the sun.
Making sure that there was no one else in sight, he approached her with determined steps. She did not intimidate him, even though she was so beautiful that her features seemed to have been fashioned by the artist who made the statues of Ashtarte-Uinen. He had heard stories about her, but they had done nothing but augment his curiosity.
How different could she be from any other girl, anyway? She was just his cousin, the daughter of his father´s brother - so his mother had told him.
"Hello." he ventured.
The girl did not answer. Somehow - if this was not impossible-, he would have believed that he had not even heard him or seen him approach, because she continued to paint without the slightest acknowledgement of his presence. He felt suddenly stupid, out of place standing there.
He found that he did not like this feeling at all.
"I am speaking to you!" he said, louder this time. When she still gave no response, he approached her, grabbed the papers and snatched them away from her.
The girl froze. Mournfully, she stared at her empty lap, and he swallowed in alarm, sure from his experience with Ithobal´s daughter that she would now start to wail. But instead of that she raised her eyes, fixing them on his. They were wide and calm, of the brilliant grey colour that he had only seen in paintings of the Sea.
"You came." she mumbled. Pharazôn blinked.
"You know me?"
The girl nodded.
"I see you often. More than anyone else." she said. "Sometimes it´s good, but sometimes it´s horrible. I have seen you die." she added thoughtfully.
The boy stared at her in shock.
"What are you... talking about?" he asked. His voice came out a little high-pitched, and he closed his mouth again, angry at himself.
He was an idiot. He knew about this! His mother had told him, and he would not fall for it. Pointing an accusing finger at her, he gathered his wits back.
"You like to scare people away, don´t you? My mother told me that you have made other girls cry with your stories." Pride inflated his chest. "But I´m not a girl. And I´m never afraid."
It was true enough. Everybody said that same thing about him, since he was a baby and he ventured alone through the dark corridors of the palace. He was not afraid of darkness, of heights or of monsters, and much less of things that were not possible at all.
Nobody could see him die.
The girl stared at him again. Her eyes became laced with an uncomfortable warmth.
"I am not afraid, either." she said, and her lips curved into a small smile. "Not anymore."
Pharazôn grumbled, fidgeting with her papers. What was that supposed to mean?
"What´s your name?" he asked, after a while of more uncomfortableness. "I am Pharazôn, son of Gimilkhâd."
The girl shrugged.
His hand swept the air in irritation.
"But I have two." she argued. "And both are mine."
"You can´t have two names." he retorted. "Nobody has two names!"
"Well, I do!" Her voice became shrill for an instant, then went back to its usual low tones. "People call me Zimraphel, but my father calls me Míriel. I do not like it."
Pharazôn thought a little about this.
"I do not like it, either. It... sounds like Elvish stuff, or like some cat´s name."
Her expression became serious.
"It´s the name of a woman who wanted to die."
The boy shrugged. Once again, he had no idea of what she was talking about.
"But then, my father does not like me." she continued, pouting in a charming way. "He keeps me imprisoned here because he does not want anybody to see me. He thinks I am a monster."
Pharazôn stared at her with a frown. He had heard horrible things about the Lord of the Western Wing: that he was a secret expert in Elvish sorcery, a traitor and an enemy of his family, and that the holy smoke of the sacrifices hurt him. Her words should not come as a surprise, and yet they shocked him.
So she was a prisoner, just as he had fancied back when he saw her first! She never went out, not even to feasts or to ceremonies. Never saw anybody but her parents and the old woman. What a terrible life, he thought, feeling pity for her for the first time.
"You are not a monster." he said generously, putting the papers back on her lap. "Just a little strange."
Zimraphel offered him a tremulous smile. Pharazôn was taken aback at her gratitude.
"What are you drawing?" he muttered, wanting to change the subject. He cocked his head to the side to have a glimpse at the topmost paper, and his eyes widened.
The pencil lines were perfect. The shades were perfect, too, like a painting done by a grown-up artist.
"You are good!"
Zimraphel did not nod at the compliment. Hurriedly, she covered the paper with both hands, but not before he was able to distinguish a boy whose features were very alike to hers, with straight black hair and huge grey eyes.
"What´s that? Your twin?" he asked, wondering why she would want to draw a boy that looked like her. She nodded.
"I also see him sometimes."
Did she have a brother, imprisoned too? Pharazôn rubbed his eyes, more and more confused.
Before he could ask her this, however, the sound of sweeping silks warned him of someone else approaching. The old woman again, he thought in fury. Briefly, he pondered staying there to face her, but basic prudence overran that option. He might get Zimraphel in trouble, too. A commander should know when to retreat.
"I have to go." he told her, turning away to leave. Behind him, he heard a whimper.
"No! Do not leave me! Do not leave me, please!"
The sound of her voice was so piteous that it made his stomach churn. It brought him instant remembrances of one of the barbarians who had been killed in front of his eyes that year, after he struggled desperately against the man with the knife. Back then, he had had nightmares with that scene –secret nightmares that he had not shared with anyone.
He turned back once again, wondering what to do. Unfortunately, that was the moment that the woman chose to appear through the other door, followed by two ladies-in-waiting. As soon as she spotted him, she raised her arms and screamed.
"An intruder! An intruder! Follow him! We must see his face!"
Pharazôn ran past the columns and the gallery, evading the slow-moving women without difficulty. Any other day, his heart would have been beating in excitement at the chase, but when he finally slowed down in the safety of the mosaic hall, he felt instead like a cowardly deserter.
His forehead creased into a frown, as he remembered her vivid eyes on his. What if they hurt her now? What if she thought that he had... abandoned her?
He had to find a way to see her again. Even if he had to brave the vigilance.
As he headed back for the South Wing, the boy had the feeling that his life had somehow become more complicated.
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.