29. The Fire Altar
His eyes were fixed, stubborn, upon the veins of greyish ore that a capricious hand had drawn upon the floor. He conjured images of the Sea, of the cry of the gulls as they flew past their balcony on the cool sunset hours, but his forehead was burning from the heat of the fire.
He tried to close his eyes, and forget where he was. No matter what he did, however, the soft voice would keep crooning lies in his ears, and evil words that he did not want to hear.
"Those who serve the Lord are the highest among mortals. Only they can achieve true wisdom, be admitted to the divine secrets, and receive the respect and reverence of all the faithful."
Amandil did not answer. The old man´s forehead creased in a frown, as that of the previous old man who had been sent to him, and of several others before that.
"The Lord Melkor is merciful, and the King as well." he continued, now with a slight air of rebuke. "You should be thankful for being chosen."
The boy´s silence was starting to exasperate him. Advancing one step, he grabbed his chin with one hand, and forced his eyes to look into his. He had an unpleasant face, bald and full of wrinkles.
"Well, at least give me an answer, impudent boy!"
"I am not thankful." Amandil muttered, struggling until he was free to look down again. "And he´s not merciful. He tortured the Elves until they turned into Orcs. Leave me alone!"
He heard an outraged huff, and the sound of robes as the man turned his back on him. A quick prayer was muttered between clenched teeth.
"Alone, indeed! Well, then, be alone! I will be damned if I allow myself to be convinced to deal with one of these... of these Elvish sorcerers ever again!" he cursed. "Their minds are warped from birth. King of Armenelos, may your wrath fall upon this sacrilegious breed!"
Amandil watched him take off, and disappear through one of the two heavily ornated backgates. It was long since he had ceased caring for the people that kept trying to convince him. Horror and fear had been replaced by some kind of dark satisfaction as he saw them leave in anger.
This could not last forever, he told himself, trying to get himself to take heart. At some moment, they would realise that they could not convince him, and leave him alone. He did not care where they took him after that; nothing could be worse than this terrible place.
Amandil´s parents were being held in a city very, very far away. The King had not wanted to listen to him, and Hanni had disappeared without saying goodbye. Even the man who had promised he would protect him had not come back, in the end, but he did not even mind this loneliness anymore. All he really asked now was to be taken back to his small dark chamber in the palace. He wanted to be allowed to curl there, undisturbed, and forget what he had seen that day.
Please, Lord Manwë, Lady Varda, he thought. Have them bring me back.
"You are not being very wise."
Repressing a grimace, the boy slowly looked up. Instead of the smile of the star-bright goddess of Mother´s tales, however, he met a long, frowning forehead, and a pair of hard grey eyes on the pale and thin face of a man.
He was not nearly as wrinkled as the others. In fact, he could even have passed as young, if it wasn´t because the intensity of his glance gave him the air of authority of an elder. His robes were long and priestly white, heavily folded over his lean body. The curve of his mouth was firm, and the words he spoke were not soft.
"They were not going to send anyone else to waste their words on you. Luckily for you, I... insisted."
Amandil shook his head, surprised in spite of himself at this new approach. Unlike the previous interviews, he graced this man with an immediate reply.
"I do not want to be a... priest of Morgoth." he said, hissing the last words as if they were a curse. "So you might as well not waste words on me, and let me leave this horrible place, because that´s the only word I will heed."
"Let you leave?" The man´s features creased in a strange laugh, that looked more like a grimace in his severe face. "That is not a wish I can grant. Not even the High Priest himself could oppose the orders given by the King, and much less a simple priest like me."
At those words, Amandil could not prevent his eyes from glancing up again.
"What does that... mean?"
The laugh was over as quickly as it had begun.
"It means, innocent and ignorant little child, that you will never leave this temple alive. If you do not swear your fealty to the Great God, those soldiers who are at the threshold of the Main Gate, can you see them from here?" A gesture of his hand pointed at the shadows of the four guards who stood at the great gates, still like statues and fully armed, "will be called in by the Great Priest. They will kill you. Then, your remains will be burned, so nobody will know that there has been a death on consecrated grounds."
The boy paled. He shook his head in disbelief.
"His Holiness had already called them in when I stopped him. He says that it should be over at least some hours before the night services. The smell of cremated flesh can be lingering. You lived in Sor... surely you must have witnessed a fire-sacrifice of an animal at least once."
Amandil swallowed, horrified. Images came unbidden to his mind, of a beautiful turtle-dove writhing in agony, its body in flames, and the pestilent smell before Mother´s protective embrace whisked him away.
"You lie." he repeated, but his voice came out piteously shrill. He covered his ears with his hands and closed his eyes, trying to banish those images away." I am a boy, not an animal. Only... animals are killed." Mother had told him that, back then, when he had the nightmares.
The man shook his head with lordly impatience.
"Surely you can´t be so dim! The King is afraid of your lineage, and has vowed its destruction. This is why you were brought to Armenelos, and why you were visited by assassins that night in your bedchamber." The remembrances came back with a pang on Amandil´s stomach. Assassins... they had wanted to kill him?
Was that why Hanni had looked so frightened that night?
He looked down again, shivering in silence. It was a bad dream. All this was but a bad dream.
"The merciful Melkor sent a vision to the King, telling him that he wanted you spared for his service. This is why you are here... alive. "the priest continued, mercilessly shattering his illusions. "Now, the service of Melkor is not such a serious affair as you might believe. This temple is full of priests who worship money, wine or sinful lust with far more sincerity than they do the god. "at this, he allowed himself a brief gesture of contempt. "He is clearly not a very demanding master, but for you he holds the gift of life in his hands."
He stopped for a moment to fix his eyes on his again.
"You are but a child. You do not know what life is, you do not know what death is. If you let them kill you now, your still imperfect and unfulfilled soul will find little mercy with the Creator, who made you to live until the Doom took you in old age. And you will have eternity to regret your foolishness."
Amandil still did not answer. He wanted to yell. He wanted to cry, and he couldn´t do either thing; he was paralyzed.
The priest turned his back to him, and began to walk towards the door.
"I will do my duty, then. "he said, dryly. "I pity your parents, who will not even have bones to mourn."
Something in the boy snapped. A distant image of Mother´s tear-filled eyes, calling for him as he was carried away caught his mind.
Forget about us, and live!
If he died, Mother would be devastated. And Father too, who had told him so many times that he was the hope of their lineage when he grew up. He did not want to make Mother and Father sad... and above all, he did not want to be thrown into the fire like that turtle-dove. Just the idea chilled him to the marrow, and one of those fire-nightmares had always scared him much more than a hundred stories about Morgoth.
So when he saw the man leave, his body was electrified into motion.
It took more than one shout to stop his inexorable steps towards the gates. For a fearful second the boy thought that it was too late, and anguish gathered at his throat, but finally the priest turned back.
"I will do it!" he yelled, forcing his breath to still. "I will do it, just please don´t call them!"
The priest considered him with an inscrutable frown. Then, he nodded without any visible signal of triumph, and motioned to an attendant that stood in the background.
"A first step to a life of wisdom." he sentenced. The attendant brought him a basin, full of a liquid that looked like water, and a knife. Upon seeing the last item, Amandil retreated again, taking a defensive stance.
"Do not fear." the man told him, walking towards the altar. "I will not harm you. But you must do everything I tell you to do."
Amandil mulled this for a moment, then nodded hesitantly. Step by step, he approached the fire, which burned his cheeks with an unbearable heat. He wanted to stop, but the priest ordered him to approach even further.
How much would fire hurt? He remembered having asked Mother that question once.
Just when he was thinking that flames would start to grow from his body, however, the priest stopped him with a sharp gesture. He told him to kneel and bow three times, just as he did. Amandil obeyed in silence, as he had promised, though great drops of sweat were falling down his forehead.
He had to be brave.
The priest´s voice chanted a prayer, while he dipped the knife in the water of the basin. Then, he stood up and approached him, and the cold blade touched his cheek.
Be brave. Be brave. For Mother, for Father... for himself.
"Stop shaking, or you will get cut." he was rebuked. It was nothing. He only wanted to cut a lock of his hair, and that did not hurt. He was so stupid for being afraid.
"See." the man mumbled while he did his work, pointing at the flames with his chin. "You are looking upon the all-consuming, shape-shifting mirror of the Lord´s might. All men bow to His power, which gives life and brings death, be them Númenoreans or barbarians." The lock was finally cut, and he lay it upon Amandil´s hand. "Now, consecrate it, and yourself with it. Throw it into the fire!"
Amandil stared at the fuzzy dark hair on his wet hand. He had come this far. He would not let that funny sensation of being about to do something very bad ruin his determination.
Gathering what seemed like all his strenght, he threw it away. The fire made short work of such a small thing; it disappeared without writhing like the dove. Still, a disagreeable smell reached his nostrils after it was gone, and the flames flared a little stronger, increasing his suffocation.
The priest acquiesced, solemnly.
"See? Now, he has seen your face, too. He has accepted you, thrown the mantle of his protection over you, and made you his servant. "Amandil closed his eyes in renewed fear, wondering if the corrupt Vala would come and take him. But nothing happened, and he opened them again, somewhat relieved. He could not harm him.
The Valar would not let him.
He was safe now. No demon would carry him away, and no King would throw him into the fire. One day, he would see Mother and Father, and they would be happy to see him alive.
The priest´s hand pressed his shoulder, bony and sharp.
"By the mercy of the Great God, you have been reborn. And so from now own, your name will be Hannimelkor, the Mercy of Melkor."
He could barely nod, busy wiping tears away from his swollen eyes.
* * * * *
"Praised be the King of Armenelos! Your preaching skills will bring great glory to our Temple, if you were able to touch the soul of that fiend!"
The younger priest shook his head in barely concealed irritation, and bowed once to either of his superiors, who sat around the dining table.
"It was not rhetorical abilities what allowed me to touch his soul, as you say." he replied, with rigid modesty. "May I, Your Holiness?" he asked, pointing towards a basin of water. The High Priest nodded absently, and watched as he drew a careful trail over his forehead with dripping fingers.
"Then, what did you say to him, Yehimelkor? He refused each and every one of the priests we sent!"
"I let him know about the fate that awaited him if he refused. In terms that even a fiend would easily understand."
One of the priests, an old man with a balding, grey hair, stared at him in shock.
"You were not allowed to do such a thing!"
Yehimelkor did not blink. Lowering his head, he knelt at the feet of the High Priest.
"If I have done wrong, Your Holiness is entitled to judge my actions." he said. His look held a determined spark that belied any pretence of humility. "But I beg Your Holiness to remember that you were present when I opposed the idea of having the sacred soil of this Temple defiled by a crime. Back then, I said that I would not stand for such a thing, be it an order of the King or the plea of a beggar. If you will forgive me the insolence of the supposition – when your Holiness gave me permission to talk with the boy, you must have known that I would do whatever was in my hands to prevent it from happening."
"Are you insinuating that you disobeyed the royal orders with the connivence of the High Priest?" the old priest frowned. "Your swollen head is in dire need of some cooling, young man! Just because you belong to the line of Indilzar..."
"Enough." The High Priest raised an elegant hand from purple folds, putting an end to the discussion. "Yehimelkor is right in reminding me that I should have been more vigilant. And what is done, is done. Raise and sit on a chair, Yehimelkor."
"The Great God does not withhold his blessings once that he has bestowed them upon someone, which means that the boy is now under our care. Still..."The man´s pleasant face creased with a sudden frown, and he watched Yehimelkor intently as the latter sat down. "I cannot help but... wonder if your family associations had something to do with this, Yehimelkor."
"Indeed!" The old man was quick to jump at the idea. "Melkorbazer, the Fiend´s husband was your grand-uncle, was he not?"
The younger priest shook his head, keeping a rigid composure.
"I have no family outside this Temple. If you believe that I was not ready to become a priest when I took the last oaths, why did you vote for the exception that allowed me to take them eighteen years earlier than the others?"
"I did not..."
"Peace, both of you!" the High Priest intervened again. "We are not doubting your commitment, Yehimelkor. In fact, I doubt there is anyone around who is as committed as you." The younger man bowed in acknowledgement of the compliment. "And yet, you must know that, when it comes to you, there is much more at stake than with any other priest in this Temple. If things go as planned, your royal blood will allow you to wear this purple one day. So the King of Kings knows that I am not to be blamed for worrying."
"Of course not, Your Holiness." the old priest nodded. "The other also was to have succeeded as High Priest before that sad affair happened, if my memory does not fail me. Partiality towards that family was at the root of your kinsman´s undoing."
"If you allow me, Revered Father Mousor," Yehimelkor bowed again. "I do not share your opinion on this."
The High Priest nodded, interested.
"You do not?"
"No. For me, the only thing that ever was at the root of my kinsman´s undoing was the shameful lack of control over his impulses. He could never be brought to suppress his pride, his vain dreams of glory, his desire of bloody conquest. This passionate nature was what made him throw away his teachings, his allegiance to the Great God and to the King and his family´s reputation out of a shameful lust he conceived for a woman. "He made a praying gesture, and raised his eyes. "My Lord, the Eternal King, knows that there is nothing in common between him and me."
"I see. "The High Priest nodded again, this time thoughtfully. "As usual, there is wisdom beyond your years in your words. We will not hold you accountable for what happened today. "The other man made an attempt to protest further, but was silenced with a mild warning look. "I am sure that you must be tired, Yehimelkor. Some rest would do you well."
Understanding this as a dismissal, the priest bowed to Mousor, and knelt before the High Priest once more.
"I am grateful for your concern, Your Highness." he recited. "I request permission to take my leave."
"Granted, granted, of course." was the goodnatured reply. Yehimelkor nodded and left, watched with keen interest by the two senior priests.
"Always a step ahead in everything." the High Priest snorted. "When his time comes, he will completely overshadow me."
"And yet, he is also a... prominent individuality." Mousor grumbled, shaking his head. "I wonder what the future will bring."
"That is impossible for anyone to know except the Great God. Still... I suspect there might be more problems in there than I would be able to handle." the High Priest sentenced after a brief, thoughtful pause. "And he will be there to fight them, for which I am glad."
The other man´s glance grew unfocused, as he stared into the distance and gave his superior a grudging nod.
* * * * *
The altar flames flared, licking his flesh in a surge of burning agony. Amandil choked a scream, and tried to retreat frantically, but bony hands pushed him forwards, towards the source of the pain.
He could not breathe. His lungs were full of a foul smoke that smelled like burning flesh -his flesh. Horror filled him at the thought, and he stared in fear at the fire that would engulf him.
Suddenly, there was a great, booming noise behind his back. Amandil tried to twist his head to look, but before he was able to see anything a mighty force swept him away. Feeling himself grow towards the skies, the boy glanced down, and saw the Temple, the Palace and the city of Armenelos as small colourful dots upon a green land. And then he was free, cradled in a watery embrace that bore him far, far away....
The boy whimpered, covering his head with the warm sheets of his bed. For a while, he managed the feat of retreating to a new, dark haven of sleep, but the voice was insistent.
"Hmmmh." he complained, rubbing his eyes. The walls were full of painted symbols, that looked like crowns of flowers under the dim light of dawn.
Yehimelkor stood upon the doorway. His arms were crossed under the white folds of his robe, and he was staring at him in disapproval. Slowly, Amandil remembered where he was, and sat down with a brusque start, shaking the last traces of sleep away.
"Coming... Revered Father." he added, as he remembered further. "Sorry."
The man shook his head and left. Before he had even stepped on the floor yet, the boy could hear the sound of chanted prayers coming from the adjoining room.
Gathering courage, he headed towards the bathroom. As he had feared, and just like the previous day, the water buckets were cold. For a long moment he stood there, wrapped on his warm woollen shawl and wondering what to do. On that grey, early morning, the temptation to procrastinate grew more and more inviting.
But then, it had been the same the previous day, and it was two days since he last washed himself properly. The water would be cold every single morning; one day would have to be the first.
Repressing a grimace, Amandil washed his head first, then the arms and the legs... and finally, his chest. It was not a thorough washing-up, and he did not dare introduce any of his limbs in the water, but he was nonetheless reduced to a shivering mess by the time he was done. Muttering a curse that he had picked up from the other boys, he sought for the comfort of the heavy white robe he had been given to wear, and folded it as tightly as he could around his body. Unfortunately, his dripping black hair would take a longer time to dry.
He would never grow used to that, he told himself by the time he was hungrily picking at his breakfast. Yehimelkor had been right: the Temple was not such a terrible place in itself, and there were no Orcs or Balrogs there. The priests were not so different from the merchants of Sor, and there were lots of boys of his age living with them, just as the merchant´s children that he had sometimes played with. The rooms were nicer than those in the Palace, staying with Yehimelkor was not so terrible as he had been told it would be– though why, oh, why did the man have to wash with cold water?
On the second night that Amandil had spent in the temple, still scared out of his wits by the dreadful experience with the fire, four boys had approached him with unpleasant smiles, and asked him whom would he live with. Any boy who entered the Temple had to live with one of the priests until he pronounced the Fourth Vow- one more of those complicated things-, serve him, and hold him in the highest reverence after the High Priest. Then, they began to mention a lot of priests that Amandil had never heard of, telling him nasty stories about each one of them. To make them stop, Amandil had told them that he had chosen Yehimelkor. They stared at him, dumbfounded, then started to laugh and told him that he was mad.
Yehimelkor, they said, had never been chosen by anyone. To live with him meant spending all nights in prayer, eating once a week, performing painful rituals and –it was rumoured- participating in his dark invocations. Amandil had shaken his head, a bit intimidated but refusing to give in to their words. It was simple enough: Yehimelkor was the only one who had told him the truth, while the others would have let him die. Therefore, he was the only one he trusted, or the one he distrusted less, and it would have to be him.
Besides, it was the only name he knew.
Only to himself, he would admit that when he was taken to his new chambers, the terror he had felt on his first days was about to break to the surface again. He could not believe that he had chosen to spend his life with that Morgoth worshipper who had said horrible things to him as he stood next to the fire. On the first night he had been brought there, his stomach clenched and fell to his feet, and for a moment he thought of escaping.
Yehimelkor, however, had been quite matter-of-factly about it all. He had not tried to bewitch him or drag him to any ritual, though he did spend all his nights muttering in his chambers. Amandil had never seen him sleep, but this, oddly, brought less disquiet than a strange feeling of security. It meant that there was no silent darkness anymore, like there had been in the Palace. Nightmares still came and went, just like before, but now he always awoke to a faint light and a familiar voice in the neighbouring room.
Compared with the fear and incertitude of the previous days, Amandil saw those as an improvement. He missed his parents, but he discovered that the other boys did, too. If they were brave about it, he could not be the only coward. He was not ashamed to be the only one to have nightmares, though - none of those boys had been threatened with being burned.
After he was finished with food, he wiped his mouth carefully, and knelt next to Yehimelkor to join him in prayer. He was supposed to repeat everything that the priest said, but the words were in a devilish Adûnaic that he did not understand. So he just muttered back similar sounds, wondering if they were a spell of some sort.
This went on hour after hour –or so it felt to him anyway- until his knees began to hurt and his head was turning in dizzy circles. Then, Yehimelkor stood up, and he could barely repress a sigh of relief as he followed him to his library.
"Today, you will learn about the creation of the world." the priest said, the first real words that he had addressed to him since the start of the morning. Amandil nodded dutifully, still relishing in the wonderful softness of the chair.
Still, when Yehimelkor began to talk in his vigorous voice, it was all that the boy could do not to get ignominiously lost somewhere around the third sentence. There was something about a humid mud, and something else about darkness, and then a long story with names, and names, and names that he had not heard in his life.
Taken by a poignant longing, Amandil remembered the happy days when Mother taught him, and she smiled proudly when he told her that he had understood. Back then, he had felt so very clever, but now, face to face with that man who shot his unlimited knowledge at him, he felt like an idiot.
"You are not paying attention." Yehimelkor snapped. Amandil shook his head.
"I... do not understand." he confessed.
The priest stared at him. Amandil met his eyes, doing his best not to squirm. A surge of frustration darkened them for a moment, making him tense in alert, but then it was gone, replaced by a resigned look.
With a sigh, Yehimelkor stood up, picked another book from the library, and gave it to him. It was a basic Adûnaic reading method.
Amandil blinked, wondering if he had read the cover right. His mouth opened to ask a question, but Yehimelkor had already picked a dusty scroll that had completely absorbed his attention. Something told him that it would be better if he kept quiet and pretended to be reading.
And yet... it was so boring! Aleph, bet, gimel, dalet, he, waw, zayin, het...he had learned all those ages ago. A humiliating thought crossed his mind: maybe Yehimelkor had decided that he was truly an idiot, just because he had not understood the complicated names?
He decided to count the pages of the book, just to see if he was still clever enough to reach the higher numbers quickly. One, two, three... thirteen, fourteen, sixteen... twenty, thirty....
"What are you doing now?" an irritated voice stopped the count. "I gave you that book to read, not to play."
Amandil pursed his lips firmly. It was not his fault that he had been given that baby book!
"I already know how to read." he declared. Yehimelkor did not look impressed, but at least he studied him with some interest.
"Then, why did you not say so?"
Amandil could not think of a reason, so he stayed silent. Yehimelkor sighed again.
"Tell me what you know, then."
"I know how to read and write." The boy began to tick off his fingers. "I have also learned almost all the Elvish letters, though there are more and they are complicated. I can count, and do all kinds of sums. I speak a bit of Quenya. And I know lots of things of the First Age, and the name of all the Valar!"
Just realising that he had probably put his foot in his mouth with the last thing, his enthusiasm was quenched, and he looked down. Those people did not like the Valar.
But Yehimelkor merely continued his interrogation.
"You speak Quenya? Say something in that language to me."
Amandil thought for a moment, then recited the first phrase of the Valaquenta. And probably put his foot in his mouth yet again, he thought in dismay just as he was done.
For some reason, though, instead of angry, Yehimelkor seemed to grow more and more interested.
"You may be of use, then." he said, in a thoughtful tone. "What I know on the pronunciation of Quenya does not allow me to make much sense of some texts. Especially hymns."
Amandil nodded, feeling a bit less idiot again. That man knew lots of things, everybody said so. If he could be of use to him, then clearly he was not that much of an idiot.
"Then... what do I read?" he asked, hopefully. Yehimelkor considered him for a moment, in which he looked a bit less severe than he usually did.
"We will see how much Quenya you know." he finally stated, standing up to search for a new book.
* * * * *
Every day -and this one was no exception-, Amandil and Yehimelkor parted at lunchtime. Amandil headed for the parlour where all boys ate together, and gossips and whispers were exchanged under the frowning vigilance of a priest. Many of them sneered or stared in disgust as he passed them by, but he ignored them and sat next to the small group next to the pillar. Those had been the first to speak to him after he was admitted into the Temple, and thanks to them, he had learned that their lives were similar to that of the other children, only quieter and with more annoying chores. Back in the state in which he had been back then, fearing for Orcs and creatures of the darkness to appear at each turn of a corner, he had appreciated this information very much. It had been the first day in which he could sleep.
Afterwards, he had the duty to tend to the fire for the afternoon. Bracing himself, he entered the altar that he hated so much, and sat as far from the flames as he could. Two other boys were already there, but Amandil did not know them, so he did not say a word.
Not even five minutes later, one of them was sitting next to him, indiscreetly peering at his face.
"Urgh! Did you see those eyes? And the nose! The boys were right, he really looks like an Elf."
"Go away." he said. For them, the word "Elf" was not a compliment.
Before the boy could answer, his companion approached too, a bit more shyly. Their stares were highly incommodating to Amandil, who stood up and strode away.
"Not an Elf, Abibal. A noble!" this last boy said. Amandil stopped in his tracks, curious in spite of himself. "Nobles have grey eyes."
Abibal turned to him, challenging.
"And how do you know that?"
"I know it because my father was part of the retinue of the house of Forostar in Armenelos." the boy said. "Once, he brought me with him, and I saw the lord of Forostar himself. And he had his same eyes!"
"Did he?" Amandil returned to his place to follow the discussion in silence, but Abibal was not finished with him. "Are you a noble?"
He shrugged nervously, searching for a quick answer. Both boys were looking at him in renewed interest.
"Eh? No, I´m not." he muttered. All of a sudden, he had an idea. "I´m a foreigner, though. I am the son of a rich merchant from Gadir."
"Gadir?" Abibal opened eyes like saucers, as if the mention of such a distant place was more interesting than nobility. His companion, who was cleverer, frowned in confusion.
"Then, what are you doing here? Gadir has the oldest temple of Melkor ever. You could have stayed there."
Amandil bit his lip. He was caught – he really should have started learning how all those things worked by now!
And yet... there was something he had been told the other day....
"I don´t know." he replied. "I think I was brought here because my ancestors were from Armenelos, and my father had conse-crated me when I was born."
To his relief, both boys seemed to take this as an acceptable answer.
"I was consecrated when I was a baby, too." Abibal said with a grumble. "They could have consecrated my brother!"
"Abibal wants to be a soldier." the other added, conversationally. "To serve the Great God is a bit tedious for some things – you have to be ancient and take all six vows before they let you marry or get in the army, and only with permission."
"Really?" Amandil looked up at this, very interested. Would he be able to get into the army, too? "I also want to be a soldier."
The last remains of Abibal´s hostile attitude dissolved with this.
"Do you? There is arms practice in the backyard every afternoon. Ask your Revered Father to let you attend!"
Amandil´s enthusiasm dampened a bit.
"I... well, I do not know if he would allow..."
"Who is he?" the boy asked. The other boy whispered something in his ear that sounded suspiciously like "Yehimelkor", and both stared at him in shocked compassion.
"He is not that bad." Amandil rushed to inform them, before they could launch into a set of unconfortable questions. "I... eat, sleep at nights, and I am not hurt, or bewitched, or... anything, really. Though he bathes with cold water." he conceded with a grimace. "And I will ask him later, anyway."
"Good luck. "Abibal conceded with a groan, then frowned as he realised something "What´s your name?"
This gave Amandil some pause. The name "Amandil" was already hanging from his lips, and when reason told him that he could not give it to those boys, it made him sad.
"Hannimelkor." he muttered, covering his disgust as best as he could. He would never grow used to that, either. Never, ever.
"Elinoam." the remaining boy introduced himself with a bow.
"Glad to meet you, er, Elinoam, Abibal." Amandil bowed back, encouraged to have two less disgusted stares meeting him in the parlour everyday. "So... you were also consecrated?"
Elinoam shook his head.
"Not me. I was just introduced in the Temple on my eighth birthday."
Amandil looked at him, shocked. That custom of vowing the yet unborn or young babies to the temple whenever someone in the family was very ill or in deep trouble was strange enough. But, doing it of one´s own, free will? He grimaced.
"And why? Why did your father do such a... thing?"
"Why?" Elinoam shrugged, then let go of a loud laugh. "Because there is no better job in all of Númenor, of course! To think you would know, of all people, how much of a privilege this is!" His eyes narrowed. "There was a time when merchants like you or nobodies like me were not accepted. Priests of Melkor can get to command armies and even enter the Court!"
"Ah." Still shocked, Amandil had the good sense not to show it.
Command armies... He found that there was something in the idea that thrilled him, but also something that he disliked. Maybe it was the idea that he would have to stay in the temple until he was ancient, and take all those vows before he could do it at all.
And he did not want to be a priest of Melkor. When he was old enough to see for himself, he would leave. Until then, he would make good of his word and survive as best as he could.
"I cannot wait to take my first vow next year." Elinoam mused, dreamily. "My priesthood will truly begin then, and people will bow at me."
"They will not bow at you until your fourth vow, you idiot!" Abibal sneered.
"But I will not be addressed as a mere servant of the temple!"
Amandil looked at them, and slowly nodded. So that was how it worked, then... time was the only thing that could grant each of them their wishes now.
He only hoped that it would not take too long.
"You are right." he muttered. "I cannot wait for it, either."
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.