3. A Controversial Wedding
Note: This story profits from the fact that the archives that survived the Downfall were few and somewhat lacking in accuracy and information. ("Even such documents as were preseved in Gondor, or in Imladris (...) suffered from loss and destruction by neglect." Tolkien, Unfinished Tales. ) Maybe this could explain my particular version of the date and nature of the exile(s) of the Faithful. If not, consider it uncanonical or of doubtful canonicity.
On a second note, I am sorry for the information overdose in this chapter. It´s the first, after all, and none of you has ever been to "my" Númenor before.
A Controversial Wedding
Year 3033 of the Second Age- 2nd year of the reign of Ar-Sakalthôr
Too young. Not ready to meddle in politics and much less to do it effectively. As a spy there wasn´t much she could do, as well –not like this, cut away from her relatives and their lackeys.
Inzilbêth seemed to notice that he was watching her from the other side of the hall, because her small fingers began fidgeting nervously with the flame red veil that covered her face. Next to her, her uncle was talking to a couple of minor noblemen, who nodded in silence to everything that he said.
"Those fools would not even have looked at him two years ago."a scathing voice commented at his side. Gimilzôr gave a brief bow to the tall and lanky figure of Ar-Sakalthôr, and repressed the sudden urge to frown.
"Indeed, my King. Indeed."
Last year, as his father became King, Gimilzôr had taken the much contested decision to restore the Lords of Andunië to their old lands. Worrying news were constantly coming from the East –of plots and sedition and exchanges of treasonous messages with the king of the Elves, and he had thought that to have Eärendur and his family back in Armenelos, though humiliating, would enable a closer form of control over their actions and tear them away from their support. To this day, father and son had not wholly reconciled over that manouevre, and when he had decided to marry the niece of the man in question –a convenable façade for the unexpected change of politics, asides from a hostage for the Palace-, the King had resolved to oppose the match and even refused to attend to the wedding.
Gimilzôr shook his head, remembering how they had fought back then. His father had refused to see the logic in his actions, and told him that the greatest fool was the man who was fooled twice over while thinking himself clever. Gimilzôr had listened patiently, then said that he would do as he pleased in this matter or leave Númenor to its fate in Ar-Sakalthôr´s hands. It had been the first time that he had allowed himself to directly threaten the King in this strain, but he was sure and well aware that he was following the correct path.
The same morning of the ceremony, however, as he went to pay his customary visit to his father in his gardens, he had found him tending to his vegetables, and in quite a friendly mood. A carefully prying conversation had convinced Gimilzôr that he could take the risk of inviting him to the wedding again. So in the end he had come, and his son had been virtually unable since the beginning of the evening to leave his side or talk to anyone, watching over him lest he would say something inappropriate in front of the wrong person.
"She is too young." he was commenting now, in a thoughtful tone.
Gimilzôr nodded, distracted. His new wife had been left alone on a chair close to a heavily laden table, and she was staring in silence at the people who talked and laughed around her. Though he could not see her face, everything from the nervous movement of her fingers to her slightly hunched pose, as if she was covering from an unseen threat of a blow, helped him to picture her uneasiness in a place full of strangers, who seemed to have forgotten about her existence after one or two appraising looks. She had grown up in the forests of Andustar until recently, he remembered - she might well not be used to company and the refined civilisation of Armenelos.
Repressing an unseeming feeling of sympathy, he looked in the other direction. There, next to the window in the corner, he could spot Zarhâd, lord of Sorontil and the Northern lands of Forostar, one of the strongest allies of the Sceptre. A woman was talking to him, and Gimilzôr assumed it had to be his daughter Zarhil, subject of countless rumours throughout the Island. She owned her own ship, and it was whispered that she had sailed far North, where the ships of Númenor did not go since the times of King Aldarion. He had also heard that she could not stay away from the Sea for long, because she was tormented by strong pangs of sea-longing.
This was certainly a strange trait- if maybe not wholly unbelievable, since she could claim ancestry from Aldarion, Sea-luster, bad husband and even worse King. And yet, Gimilzôr´s curiosity was aroused in spite of himself by all the stories surrounding that kind of she-Elf. After a moment of thought, he made a gesture to one of the courtiers who was standing nearby, and sent him downstairs to summon them – and then, he turned a wary look in the direction of the King.
Ar-Sakalthôr was still sitting on his throne, drinking from a goblet of wine. A shadow had fallen over his features, and his son could perceive his morose mood from afar. His eyes stared stormily at those who were merrymaking under his feet, but he did not say a word.
This meant that soon he would want to retire, Gimilzôr thought in relief. He had always liked solitude, which had helped his son enormously in last year´s endeavours to make the people of Númenor believe that they were ruled by a capable man. Those who lived in distant lands received the decisions of the Sceptre without asking who was behind them; the people of Armenelos were kept away from the palace, and the lords´s inquisitiveness had been tightly controlled by Gimilzôr´s set of complicated protocol rules, which had also enabled him to control the Court as no crowned head had done before.
Unwilling to leave him wholly unsupervised, however, even in this state, he took the precaution of calling a chamberlain to keep the King company. That man seemed somehow to have a soothing effect on him, maybe because he shared his love for gardening. He would keep the old fool busy enough with some talk about turnips.
Immediately after thinking this, Gimilzôr shook his head, and cursed under his breath. He did not –could not- think of his father in those terms. It made everything even more difficult.
Sometimes, if he tried, he was able to summon some foggy remembrances of a time when Ar-Sakalthôr had been a capable man, a strong person that his young son could admire and rely on. The eccentricities had begun at some point, he supposed, even though he couldn´t clearly remember when, ever growing in folly and intensity until they couldn´t be rationalised anymore. And then, the fits...
Ar-Zimrathôn, Gimilzôr´s grandfather, had been the first to give it a name, even as he struggled in his bed against the Doom of Men. As soon as he had known that he would lose the battle, he had summoned him to his side, and told him that his father´s spirit was posessed by a Curse, and that he would have left the Sceptre to him if the laws had allowed and the scandal could have been averted. At the same time as the heavy responsibility of ruling in someone else´s stead had fallen upon his shoulders, Gimilzôr had thus learned that his father´s strange behaviour had a name –a Curse, the doing of the evil spirits of the West.
"The lord of Sorontil waits for leave to approach the Throne." a whisper took him out of his moping. He gave the bowing man a nod.
"He may approach." he said. His glance fell down to the feet of the stairs, where Zarhâd and his daughter were waiting for his permission, and appraised them as they came closer and bowed, she three feet farther than him.
"You may raise your head." he told them. At once, she sought his look, and his eyes widened slightly in quickly repressed surprise.
That woman seemed to feel distinctly uncomfortable with refined ceremonials, and overdid every movement that she copied from her father, but there certainly was no coyness in the glance she gave him. And, what shocked Gimilzôr even more, there was nothing in her of that famous morbid Elvish blood that wasted away pining for the sea. She was plain-looking, almost like the wives of the barbarians of Middle-Earth. Her skin, hardened by the elements, provided a strong contrast with her silk green dress, and her movements were brusque and ungainly.
"We humbly offer our best wishes in the auspicious event of your wedding day." her father recited. He was a strong and battle-hardened man, and the Prince could see that his features were quite similar to his daughter´s. But then, -unless one was talking about Elves, of course- what was unusual for a woman looked quite natural in the countenance of a man.
"Might you be the Lady Zarhil?" he inquired, addressing her. "I had heard much about you, but I had never seen you myself until today."
Zarhâd looked a bit flustered at those words –could he think that, after fulfilling his duties of alternate attendance in Armenelos for five years his daughter´s reputation had not reached the Throne?
"That is certainly true." she replied, with another nod. She seemed about to add something else, but his father looked at her and she fell silent.
Gimilzôr was more curious than ever.
"Is it true what they say, that you have inherited the sea-longing of King Aldarion?"
Now, it was the lord of Sorontil who seemed at the brink of opening his mouth. If he ever began to form a word, however, it was immediately overshadowed by his daughter´s loud laughter.
"Sea-longing!" she repeated, shaking her head. "Now, that´s a big word if I ever heard one!"
"Zarhil!" her father muttered, scandalised.
"I have been to places where no one has been since Aldarion´s time." she continued, encouraged by Gimilzôr´s silence. "I have seen islands made of ice in the North, and the sun rising in a blaze of green light. That is why I like sailing, not because there is a... strange sickness inside me. I apologise if this offends my lord the Prince, but those rumours are bullshit."
Zarhâd´s face had gone almost as white as the ice islands his daughter had mentioned.
"If I may, I would wish to apologise for my daughter´s insolence." he said in one single breath. "It is the first time that she comes to Armenelos, and she is not used to..."
"Never mind that." Gimilzôr cut him with a gesture of his hand. Far from offending him, her attitude almost wrung a smile from the usually expressionless mask of his face. He could not believe how the people who had whispered those things could be so foolish: now that he had heard her speak, it seemed to him that she posessed enough common sense to make light of seven Curses. And this was something that would certainly come in handy for the people who inhabited the Palace those days.
For a moment, he even pondered briefly the idea of persuading his father to remarry and make her his queen, in spite of the daunting age difference that would reduce the gap between Inzilbêth and him to a mere trifle.
"Is the... King faring well?" Zarhâd immediately asked, still a little out of his depths. Gimilzôr turned his head towards the throne, where Ar-Sakalthôr had already stood up to take the door to his chambers, side by side with his chamberlain –fortunately, without staggering under the influence of the wine.
"He is well." The entirety of the people downstairs hadn´t even realised yet that he had left. "But a good King cannot forget matters of governance because of a mere party."
"I see." the man nodded immediately. Gimilzôr made a gesture of dismissal.
"I am glad to have met your worthy daughter. Tomorrow we expect you at the Council."
The lord of Sorontil bowed and took his leave, obviously a little too relieved. As soon as they had left his vicinity, Gimilzôr saw a heated argument break between him and the lady Zarhil.
Glad that the coast had been cleared, he allowed himself a moment of weakness in which he took a deep breath - and then told a servant to summon the lord of Andúnië.
"I plan to retire in short, and I intend my wife to come with me, as it is natural."he explained, as soon as Eärendur had reached his side, bowed, and dared to venture the reason for the summons. Behind him, Inzilbêth advanced a careful step, and almost tripped over the folds of the veil. "So I will finally see if there is truth in the rumour that she has a star-shaped black dot over her face."
Eärendur chuckled at the joke, as comfortably as if they had been friends for all their lives. Gimilzôr had already become used to interviews with him during the past year, and reserved for them the pleasant, jolly mood that would have made an intelligent man´s blood curdle in his veins. And yet Eärendur always picked the cue and followed it easily enough –so easily, in fact, that he often surpassed him at his own game, his sea-grey eyes gleaming with sparks of nearly genuine mirth. Like all his ancestors, he was a master of deceit.
And too clever for their own good, Gimilzôr added in his mind as he recalled the full history of the Lords of the Western lands. Since the reign of Tar-Atanamir, those opportunists had been Elf-friends –a commercially if not socially advantageous course at the time-, and amassed a fabulous wealth from their monopoly of trade with the Elven realms.
And yet, soon enough it became apparent that it was political influence they really were after. By their wealth and lineage, they became leaders of the men who had been cursing the name of the Kings in secret for a time, but who hadn´t done anything of notice before they were there to direct them and offer them a safe haven in the lands of Andustar to conspire against the royal designs. It had been a very habile move; to use a minor disagreement over languages and religious policies to become a major political force. Purposefully they kept bestowing ancient, raspy sounding Elven names on themselves, and gave themselves the title of preservers of true tradition. And yet their perfidy had still recoiled from the highest treason, until Ar-Abattârik´s death had given them the chance to seize the Sceptre that they had been yearning after for so long.
Ar-Abattârik had been married to a Queen from the line of Elros, beautiful yet barren. No offspring had come from their union, and yet the King had sired a son on another woman, one of the Palace´s maids. It would seem natural that he would be the heir to the Sceptre, and yet the Doom had crept over his father unnoticed, in his sleep, and it had been custom in Númenor until that day that a King would name his sucessor before he died.
Discord raged in the Palace and the Council of Armenelos for months after the royal burial. The Lord of Westernesse stepped out of his hypocritical meek role and claimed that the existence of a bastard was abhorrent according to the Laws and Customs of the Elder Race, which Númenor had honoured since the times of their first king. The son of the King was therefore unfit to rule, and upholding Tar-Aldarion´s laws on female inheritance, the legitimate sucessor was Ar-Abattarik´s eldest niece, the Lady Alissha, an Elf-friend like them. Civil strife ensued, cleverly disguised under religious pretences. All the hidden Elf-friends came forth and rushed to the support of the would-be usurper, many others were seduced by his Elven riches, and the rightful heir, devoid of support and alone, would have perished were it not for his natural resources and bravery of spirit. Refusing to surrender to his powerful enemies, he took their cue instead, and learned from them how to fight that war with their own weapons. He proclaimed that Númenor was a kingdom of Men and should be governed by the laws of Men, who had bastards when they couldn´t produce a male heir by their wives. Through incendiary speeches, he made the people in the capital and the whole of Mittalmar understand the dangers of letting the Elf-lovers seize the throne, destroy the temples and persecute all those who prayed to the gods of the men of Númenor. Seized by a religious frenzy, the courage of those men had finally awakened, and they expelled and defeated the Elf-friends from Armenelos.
Retribution had been terrible after those disorders. The new King, who gave himself the name of Ar-Adunakhôr and proclaimed proudly that there was no other Lord of the West than the King of Númenor, had deprived his enemies of their titles, lands, wealth, and seats at the Council, and banished them to the East of the island. He had killed many of their supporters, and banished others to Middle-Earth. His rival was convicted of treason and imprisoned for life in the Northern region. And, still not happy with this, he established that whoever would speak of anything that the Elves had said, thought, touched or made in his presence or that of his servants would suffer the same fate.
Once that the cancer had been extirpated, Númenor had flourished like never before. True to his promise, Ar-Adunakhôr had passed a new law code, built magnificent temples, spent the lavish sums that he had taken from his enemies in encouraging Adûnaic letters, undertook brilliant expeditions in Middle-Earth, and died leaving a kingdom whose splendour was unparalleled even in the annals of their own people to his day.
And that was why it was so vexing, Gimilzôr could not help but think, that this brilliance hadn´t been extended to the rest of his line. As the King´s descendants had diminished, the Lords of Westernesse had kept their wits intact under adversity, and now he, the great-grandson of Ar-Adunakhôr, was forced to lower himself to keep polite discussions with that snake who had returned from exile barely a year ago.
At least, he thought, he would never lower his guard.
"I assure you that she is quite charming, my lord prince." Eärendur protested, turning back to look at his niece. Aware that they were talking about her, Inzilbêth had turned back to her fidgeting.
"Come." he said, extending his hand towards her. She stared at him from under her veil, as if trying to guess what she was supposed to do, then answered his gesture shyly. Her hand was small and pale as ivory. "You are dismissed, Lord Eärendur."
Nodding with a smile and unscrutable eyes, the Lord of Andunië bowed, and watched them retreat.
A while later, when he finally entered the bedroom alone, ornamental garments already taken away and dark curls flowing freely down his back, he found her sitting on the edge of the bed. She was giving her back to him, but the veil had been discarded, allowing him to have a glimpse of brilliant plaits of black hair tied over a light dress with silver embroiderings.
It had been custom since the times of Ar-Belzagar that a royal princess would cover her face the day of her wedding, so the assembled Palace would not look upon her until she had laid with her husband. Most of the times that he could recall this had been nothing but a mere formality, since the women had been well-known descendants of Elros who had been many times to the palace already, but now, for once, the ritual had been carried to its last consequences. None, not even Gimilzôr himself, had ever seen her face.
Noticing his presence at last, Inzilbêth gave a little gasp and quickly turned back. As he had his first glimpse of her he was not able to suppress a startle, and she, taken aback by his expression, let her eyes drop to the ground. His blood ran cold for a second.
She is an Elf! his first thought was, beginning to make the signal of the Hand- but no, what was he saying, she had to be a human. Or had Eärendur´s sister bedded one of them in secret, only to beget a child who would be his undoing?
At once, he tried to quench the flow of his insane thoughts. They could not have known back then that she would be his wife. They could not have planned it, and yet her beauty pierced and numbed him like the fiercest of weapons. He tried to search her for the abhorred features of the Western kin, their sea-grey eyes and the beaky nose of a bird of prey, but her nose was small and graceful, and her eyes huge and stirring. Her every feature seemed carefully measured and traced with a minute perfection, diabolical and Elvish.
Gimilzôr was tempted for a moment to turn away from her and leave. He now saw the extent of the trap of Eärendur, and he would not fall in it. He would never fall to the lure of that woman, and suffer his vigilant eyes to be closed.
A raspy, regular noise interrupted his agitation, and Gimilzôr realised belatedly that it was the sound of her breath against her sleeve. He forced himself to blink, to look at her rationally. Here he was, the proud heir of Númenor, facing a scared, defenceless young girl and in sheer fear of her!
The powerful temptress, meanwhile, was looking like she wished she could be anywhere else but in his chambers. They fear you more than what you fear them, his mother had told him once as a child, when he recoiled from a garden spider.
"Inzilbêth." he said, and she lifted her beautiful eyes to look at him again. He blinked over and over, as an unknown feeling stirred in his chest like an ache, like a longing for something that he had lost once and didn´t even remember.
Still seemingly unaware of her powers, she stared at him in shyness.
"Do I have to... be naked... for this?"
This innocent question brought a rush of new images to his head, unsettling him even further. A part of him burned and rebelled at his own reluctance, as if she wasn´t there for him to take! She was his wife.
He swallowed. It shouldn´t be like this. He should be in control, and not allowing the enemy to confuse his thoughts.
"Whatever makes you comfortable." he replied with a studied indifference. She contemplated the answer with a surprised blink, then nodded.
"I... will keep my dress, then." she decided. Her pale cheeks were coloured by a reddish hue. "No one has ever seen me naked before, only my mother when I was little. And she´s dead."
Gimilzôr nodded back at her nervous ramblings, trying to find a measure of lucidity. He managed to wring his eyes away from her face, and then they came to rest upon a chain that she was wearing around her neck. In the centre, just above her chest, there was a green gem of the colour of the summer seas, wrought in a silver engraving.
"This, however, will get in the way." he muttered, extending a hand to take it. Her reaction was as quick as it was unexpected; letting go of a gasp, both her hands flew to her treasure in order to fend it off from him.
When she realised what she had done, her blush increased even further.
"I am sorry." she mumbled, withdrawing her hand with reluctance. "I... never take it away."
Gimilzôr took it away nonetheless, now unhindered, and folded it neatly in his hand. This action, somehow, helped him to feel better.
The silver around the gem had been crafted in the shape of diminute leaves of great beauty and detail. It was clearly an Elven device... old yet well-kept, surely a heirloom that had escaped Ar-Adunakhôr´s vengeful wrath.
He put it aside, then turned his attention back to her. She, however, was not looking at him anymore, but at the table where he had laid her jewel. The look of mournful loss in her eyes struck him to the core.
He sighed, uncomfortable yet again. He could not even think of her as the enemy.
"Was it your mother´s?" he asked, in a gentler voice. She stared at him in silence, slightly dazed.
"Yes." she nodded, at last. "It was hers."
"It will still be here tomorrow."
And with this he pulled her close and kissed her in the ear, feeling her body first tense in his arms, and then adjust little by little. His hands roamed down her back slowly, underneath Elven silks, proving to him with every touch that it was human flesh he was feeling.
Even the following day, however, as both lay entwined under the sheets and he smelled his own scent over the dishevelled hair of his sleeping wife, he could not wholly discard his unease.
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.