30. Piercing the Darkness
Piercing the Darkness
Forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine...
Amandil held his weapon with tight hands, as drops of sweat fell down his forehead. His lips curved in a small smile: even a couple of weeks ago, he had been already exhausted before he reached those numbers. He was improving.
The back courtyard was desert at this early hour, except for some birds that sang in shrill tones from the palm tree branches. No boy was there to mock or stare at his lonely practice, no adult frowned in vague disgust at the Intruder of the Temple. For a moment, he could just let his body perform the movements that Abibal had taught him, hold this stick, and let his mind wander.
When he had been a little child in Sor, he had often asked Mother for makeshift swords for his mock battles. His chest swollen with bravery and enthusiasm, he had pretended to fight giant spiders, dragons and Balrogs, and sucessively he had been Beren, Túrin and Glorfindel, the great heroes of the First Age.
Now, those imaginations made him smile, with sufficiency but also a small measure of regret. There was no way to go back to those days, when everything was child´s play. If he closed his eyes, it was not glorious battlefields of past ages what he saw anymore, but the future, his future. One day, he would sail to Middle-Earth with the army, to fight Orcs and barbarians and see all countries of the world. There would be no prisons anymore: to be a warrior meant to be on one´s own, and inspire fear on his enemies.
And none of those priests would be able to hold him back.
Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, and sixty thrusts and parries. In a battlefield, Abibal had told him, this would have meant killing loads of enemies, but he had to be careful not to let them creep behind his back. He whirled around to give another thrust, and yelled in enthusiasm.
Something burned in his chest, and it made him so happy to let it go. Sixty-two, sixty-three – his sword was becoming heavier.
Suddenly, absorbed in his task as he was, he thought he heard the sound of footsteps behind his back. Surely one of the boys. He decided to ignore him until he left, sixty-four...
The name made him jump; all his visions faded away. Taken out of his pleasant imaginations by a feeling of alarm, he stopped the exercise, and slowly turned back.
Just as he had feared, Yehimelkor stood in the doorway, arms crossed under his robes and still like an intimidating statue. His glare was furious.
Amandil´s spirit sunk to his feet. What was he doing there? He never set a foot out of his quarters in the morning. Maybe someone malicious had wanted to get him in trouble?
If it had been one of the boys...
"I..." he began, then stopped, feeling stupid. What on Earth could he say? That man had stated clearly enough that he did not want him to do arms practice, with others or alone. Many times.
Way too many times.
"Come with me." Yehimelkor ordered. Amandil pressed his borrowed sword against his chest, refusing to leave it behind even though he knew that its very sight would make the man´s anger rise. Then, he sighed, and followed him through the corridors, his eyes fixed on the hem of his white robes.
It was difficult to follow the longer strides of the man, who seemed to be taken by an even more pressing impatience than usual. Of course, Amandil thought, swallowing, he had to be furious. He tried to use his time to make up the words he was going to say, but there was no excuse for his behaviour that he could think of.
As they entered Yehimelkor´s quarters and headed for his study room, Amandil remembered, not without some bitter humour, the previous feeling of power and freedom that he had experienced. Here he was now, the mighty warrior - a little boy cowering away!
Ashamed, he took a breath, and made the resolve to at least keep his dignity. Even if Yehimelkor´s eyes were so deep, and penetrated him so intensely.
"I am sorry." he said. Yehimelkor frowned.
"You should not apologise if you would do the same thing again."
This was so direct and obvious that Amandil could not think of a reply. Refusing to look flustered, he put the sword aside, and sat on the floor in front of the priest.
"And you have done the same thing again, over and over. In the last months, this is the third time I have caught you, or heard of you from one of the priests. No matter what measures are taken to prevent it, you still go back to this same" here, his nose was wrinkled in an expression of contempt" barbaric activities, as if they had a stronger hold in your soul than any other consideration. What should I do, then?"
An old, familiar exasperation seeped into Amandil´s heart at those derisive words, ruining his humble mood. Why did that man have to be so difficult about those things? Abibal and the others never had those problems. It was not fair!
"May I ask a... question?" Even before Yehimelkor had managed an irritated nod, Amandil continued, gesturing with his hands to drive his point home. "The Lord is a warrior god, too. Many of his priests go to arms practice. The other boys are allowed, why can´t I?"
The priest´s voice was dry and severe.
"There are also priests who bed the boys" he snapped back. "And it means what, exactly?"
Amandil tried to repress his frustration. That argument, again. Why didn´t he understand that it wasn´t the same thing?
"But arms practice is not evil!"
"No." Yehimelkor shook his head. "It throws your thoughts into disorder, takes your attention away from your studies, and forms useless passions in your heart without allowing you to focus in perfecting your character."
"When you are older, you will do what you wish. But not now." Yehimelkor stood on his feet in an imperious movement, no doubt intending this to be the end of the discussion. Amandil, however, was feeling too argumentative now to let it end so easily, though a rest of prudence yelled at him to drop it and behave with the proper deference.
"When I am older, it will be too late to get properly used to weapons. The Arms Instructor said it!"
Yehimelkor stared at the boy. Amandil needed to gather all of his self-control not to flinch, though he could not prevent himself from retreating a bit.
"You are not a warrior. You are a priest." the priest sentenced. Then, a look that betrayed some tired disgust crossed his face, and he shook his head. "Wars, wars! It seems as if nobody thinks of anything anymore. The Eternal King gave us our land in the shape of an island, protected by a sea whose secrets we are the only ones to know, but this is not enough for the sacrilegious urge for power, that bends the will of the gods for the sake of ambition. Our armies have created so many borders for us in the mainland, so many interests, so many weaknesses! "Once again, his eyes focused on Amandil, who was listening to his tirade in surprise. "The Doom of Númenor will come through one of these wars in the mainland. And you will keep to your studies!"
After a moment of search, he took a huge book from his library. With both of his arms, he carried it across the room, and let it fall on the table with a loud thump, forgetting his careful rules about book-handling for once.
"In two hours, you are demanded at the parlour, to take part in the cleaning activities for the end of summer prayer. You will stay there until night, and they told me that tomorrow you will be needed again." he said. Then, he turned away and left, leaving Amandil alone with the book.
Shaking a dazed feeling away, the boy lifted the animal-skin covers of the volume. A cloud of dust made him cough, and he saw line after line of Adûnaic words written in ancient script. As he managed, with much difficulty, to read some of it, he realised that they were hymns to Melkor, listing all his good deeds towards the Númenoreans, his ridiculous epithets, and his titles.
In renewed dismay, he recalled the lands and countries that he had imagined, back when he waved the sword in front of his eyes. He recalled the freedom he had experienced, far away from the temple, its fires, its prayers and its suffocating rules, only trusting his arm to keep himself safe from whoever would attack him.
Taken by an impulse, he closed the book again, and fled the room. He would ask for extra cleaning duties outside. Anything but stay there for a moment longer, sitting in the dark with that dusty book and dreaming of what he was not allowed to have.
* * * * *
The End of Summer Prayer was one of the most important ceremonies held in the temple of Melkor during the year. With bright-eyed enthusiasm, Elinoam proceeded in the following days to illustrate Amandil about its elements. On the first day, the King and his family would arrive in a public procession, and they would stay at their reserved quarters behind the Temple. Everybody would have to fast – but he should not worry, as the next day, after the Great Ceremony, there would be delicious things and they would be able to take as much as they wanted. Not like the children in the street, who had to stay outside watching them eat.
There would be two ceremonies, one involving only the King and the priests, and the other with all the royal family and the most important people in the kingdom. The young of the Temple were greatly excited about the last one, so much that for the three days that Amandil worked with them polishing the floors and ornating the walls and altars, he rarely heard them speak of anything else.
He was not quite as happy as they were about that whole thing. The King they made such a fuss about was still often in his nightmares, though he had never told anyone about that. Rather than seeing him again, he preferred to flee as far as he could, even if that meant getting in trouble and missing their feast. He doubted that he would be hungry anyway.
Meanwhile, his waning grudge against Yehimelkor had begun to make place for less biased and glowering thoughts. Already on the following morning, he was forced to admit to himself that his own behaviour had been completely against the rules. Nobody talked back to the priests in the Temple, period, even if they did not agree with what they said. Whenever he remembered it, his cheeks went red.
The same day of the procession, he allowed himself to be proud in front of his envious companions as Yehimelkor was designated to bear the bowl of sacred water in the festivities. And later, in their chambers, he extended him a peace offering of sorts, arranging the folds of the priest´s robes as well and solemnly as he could.
This, however, was no obstacle to his plan of taking advantage of the ruckus to flee somewhere quiet and practice with Abibal´s sword. Altars, fire and the King were a dreadful combination that made him sick in the stomach, and brought awful memories that were better buried in a corner of his mind. Yehimelkor would be too busy to catch him again, and the other boys would be on the upper galleries, fighting for a peek from the small, latticed window on top of the altar.
The ceremony had already started when Amandil tiptoed downstairs. Easily evading the few watchers who lingered on the corridors, he headed for the back courtyard again. He wanted to be as far away from those people as possible, at least today. He wanted to feel free again – to forget...
As he reached his small sanctuary, however, he froze still. He could hear strange noises, like women voices, and a ringing laugh so close to him that he stared left and right, bewildered. The courtyard was empty.
Wary, Amandil inspected the place. After some observation, he realized that the laughing women had to be behind the stone wall of the back, where there were lush treetops that grew entwined in an impenetrable net. Since he had arrived to the Temple that place had always been empty, so he had never wondered or asked who lived in it.
As he was immersed in those thoughts, he heard the noise of snapping twigs somewhere behind him. He whirled back.
Slowly, his eyes became accustomed to the sun and the distance, and he looked again. This time, he made out a small silhouette perching over the wall, almost at the place where the Temple and the courtyard wall collided. He tightened his grip on the wooden sword, and ran in the direction of the intruder.
The intruder made no effort whatsoever to flee, even when Amandil stopped to take breath right under his feet. It was a boy, who sat comfortably on the wall with his feet dangling down while he chewed on a very appetizing pomegranate. Spilled drops of red liquid stained his cheeks and hands, which seemed to give a golden glow under the sunlight.
Under the stains, the boy was dressed in the richest clothes that Amandil had seen in a long time. They were green silk, embroidered with gold, and his curly, dark-brown hair was held by a cord that looked like plaited gold as well.
After a second of mutual surprise, the boy was the one who reacted first. Swiftly, he picked another fruit from a long and heavy branch that sagged towards the floor of the Temple, and threw it in Amandil´s direction.
Still astonished, Amandil´s hands reacted to the command, and he let the wooden sword fall to the floor to pick the pomegranate. Cradling it in his hands, he looked up again.
The boy´s lips curved in a smile of self-satisfaction.
"Ha! Now you are guilty, too. You can´t tell on me."
"Tell on you?" Amandil repeated, more puzzled than ever. He also was hungry and thirsty after going without food for a day, so he tore the fruit open and began sucking on it avidly. "Why would I tell on you for? And who are you?"
The boy stared at him.
"I am supposed to be fasting. You, too. You are a priest, aren´t you?"
Amandil shook his head. With the back of his hand, he wiped the juice from his mouth.
"No. I am Hannimelkor, a servant of the temple."
"Ah." The boy nodded, then his eyes took a glint of arrogance. "I am Pharazôn, grandson of the King."
The pomegranate that Amandil was holding fell to the floor with a muted squish. A curse, the one that Yehimelkor disliked the most, almost escaped his lips in his shock, but he managed to get a grip on himself.
Grandson of the King. It figured. Of all the boys in Armenelos he had to meet with the grandson of the King, in the backyard of the Temple. And this when he was supposed to be fleeing his horrible, hateful grandfather who had wanted to kill him.
Still, if there was something that Amandil did not want in his life, it was more problems. So he sent a quick look in the direction of the other boy, who seemed to be expecting him to look suitably awed, and gave him an awkward bow.
"How do I... call you, then?" he asked, deciding to be practical before everything.
But Pharazôn´s smile was friendly, and nothing at all like Ar-Gimilzôr.
"You may call me by my name." he graciously conceded. "Is that a sword?"
Still a bit dazed, Amandil knelt to pick it up again.
"A practice sword. Like a... wooden stick, but a bit more polished."
Pharazôn looked very impressed.
"Do you practice swordsmanship?"
"I suppose. How did you manage to climb up that wall?"
But the boy seemed too interested by the sword to accept Amandil´s attempts to change the subject. As if he hadn´t even heard his question, he kept looking at the weapon with covetous eyes.
"I want to have a sword and practice arms training, too." he said, frowning. "But my mother says that I am too young for that."
Amandil calculated his height, and the childishness of his features. He was probably younger than him, but not much- a year or two at the most. And yet, he was well aware that the opinion of adults about when was old enough tended to differ.
He shrugged, deciding to speak the truth.
"To be honest, my revered father does not allow me to practice, either. Not my real father, but in the Temple we call them like that." he added, somehow not wanting the two concepts to become muddled. "I come here to do it in secret."
If it could be possible, now Pharazôn looked even more impressed. If one was to judge by his expression, Amandil thought that he had probably just given that Prince ideas that his mother would not appreciate.
"You taught yourself?"
Amandil shook his head.
"Another boy, Abibal, goes to arms training, and then teaches me what he has learned. I practice alone."
Pharazôn nodded slowly, as if the sense of those words was laboriously sinking in his brain. Then, his expression changed again, and he frowned in determination as he gave him a commanding look.
Amandil stared at him, uncomprehending.
"Teach me!" the boy repeated. "If you learned this way, I can learn as you did."
"But..." Amandil bit his lip. He could not believe that this was happening. "You have no sword."
"I broke a branch yesterday that has the same shape." Pharazôn replied. Before the other boy could say anything else, he jumped to the floor at the other side, and disappeared from his sight. Amandil heard the sounds of breaking twigs, and then the curly head emerged again from the old, gnawed stone.
"Here it is!" he announced. With great agility, he held the tree branch and let his body slide to the courtyard floor, the promised sword safely pressed against his chest. For a moment, Amandil thought that the branch would break under his weight, but it just made an alarming creaking sound. "Now, teach me!"
In silence, he inspected the weapon. Pharazôn had probably used it to play before, because the sticks and leaves had been carefully pulled off. He tried it several times, and realised that it weighed a little less than required, but who could dissuade the boy now? He was looking at him insistently, not taking well to any delay. And he was a prince and all...
Amandil also had to admit to feeling a tiny bit flattered, but that had nothing to do with anything.
"Here, take this stance." he ordered with a shrug.
Once he was set to something, he found that Pharazôn went all the way into it. He did everything he was told, listening to each of his instructions as if they were some kind of divine revelation. Soon, he was already asking for a fight, and Amandil reluctantly obliged.
Without any serious practice, of course, the boy´s skills were almost nonexistant. Basic prudence dictated that he should go easy on a prince who had probably never got hurt in his life, and whose parents could easily have a servant of the Temple killed. And yet, Amandil realised when he took his sword to fight his adversary, prudence had nothing to do with what happened afterwards.
He was prisoner of his own skills, even as he efficiently parried the unexperienced blows of his adversary. He felt powerful, and it was a wonderful sensation, more than anything he had ever experienced when he fought alone. When he had Pharazôn stumble and fall to the ground at his feet, he almost felt the need to laugh in fierce pride – the King might have wanted his head, but his grandson could not even manage to touch him once.
Then, however, Pharazôn stood up, and demanded another round. And after he lost that one, he demanded another, and then another. Amandil´s triumphal and uncharitable mood was slowly changed, in spite of himself, by his persistence. He felt a dawning respect towards his opponent.
In the end, he had to be the one to say that he was tired and that he could not fight anymore- he did not want to keep this going on any longer. There was already a bruise on the young boy´s cheek, and another on his left arm, but in spite of this, his enthusiasm was completely undimmed.
"I want you to be my teacher." he solemnly declared. Amandil shook his head, still panting.
"That´s impossible. I cannot leave the Temple."
Once again, Pharazôn´s eyes showed that he had rarely been crossed in his life.
"I will come here several times a year. There are lots of ceremonies, and now I am old enough to go to them. Whenever I am here for one, I will come to this place, and you will wait for me."
Amandil cautiously nodded.
Why not? He remembered the look in his eyes as he repressed a groan of pain and stood up after receiving a blow to his left arm – that had impressed him.
He would never set feet on the Palace again, though.
"You should convince your mother to let you have some classes in-between." he reccomended. "Otherwise, I will always beat you."
Pharazôn shook his head proudly.
"Next time, I will beat you." He took a long breath, then turned towards Amandil "One day, I will be the greatest warrior king that Númenor has ever known, and I will conquer the world. You can be in my army, if you want." he offered after a moment of thought.
Amandil frowned in renewed surprise.
"King? You are going to be King?"
Pharazôn bathed in his shock, taking it for simple admiration.
"My mother told me I would. She knows everything."
As he digested those puzzling news, a thought slipped insidiously into Amandil´s mind, and he wondered what Yehimelkor would say of Pharazôn´s plans. He chuckled, imagining the priest´s fuming ires at such a crime against the God´s will.
To him, though, the plan seemed as good as any.
"Thank you." he said. "I would like that very much."
This brief moment of understanding was broken by the sound of a woman´s voice. Amandil´s ears perked up, and then he heard it calling Pharazôn´s name.
The other boy stood up, frowning.
"Stupid women! They will not leave me alone for a minute!" he grumbled. "There, now I have to leave. I do not want them to discover my secret passage."
The secret passage in question was more like a very risky climb up a wall, with the only help of a tree branch that seemed more ready to crack at each passing moment. Amandil watched him go up in some anxiety, but relaxed when he realised that Pharazôn had no problem.
"Wait for me the next time!" the prince reminded him before the jump. Amandil nodded to the wall.
If anyone should learn of what had just happened there, they would not believe him.
"I will." he promised. Then, he blinked and turned back, feeling, all of a sudden, strangely alone in the empty courtyard.
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.