32. Amalket and Zimraphel
Note: And this is the beginning of the sixth arc. Any comments, suggestions, complaints... just click on the box and send them all!
A slight drizzle was falling as Amandil left the Temple, and the dark clouds that loomed over Armenelos had sped the arrival of the spring night. Grumbling something, he threw his hood over his head, and fixed his glance on the puddles that were starting to form over the stone pavement.
Even the sky seemed determined to make him behave like a good novice, he thought, with a kind of irony. It forced him to bow his head and look down.
At least Yehimelkor should be busy enough now with the April night vigils. Amandil, who had known him for all those years, was aware that the priest disliked to be taken away from his private contemplation to take part in such things, though he would never have said as much in words. It was a gift for his pupil in any case, for it enabled him to leave their retreat and seek Amalket in the busy centre of Armenelos.
Unfortunately, Pharazôn had learned of his free night through an indiscretion of his own, and had wasted no time inviting him to one of those parties where there were always many guards of the Palace and courtesans, and everybody ended either in bed or drunk. None of those two options seemed acceptable if he was to seek her afterwards, but he wondered if he would be able to escape unscathed.
The inn was not far from the Palace, and barely two streets away from the quarters of the guards. Amandil took away his drenched hood, passing a hand through his forehead, and addressed the innkeeper. There were some things about Pharazôn that he would never wholly understand, he thought as he checked the look of the place and the groups of people who drank in the corners. How, having been born in the Palace, he could enjoy cheap inns that would have even given Amandil pause was one of them.
The man bowed obsequiously to him, and asked him to follow. As soon as they set foot on the backyard – a little square with a well and no pavement that was already beginning to ressemble a mire-, the sound of loud male shouts and strident female laughter reached his ears. When the man threw the door of the private chamber open, the sight almost made him wince. Few steps away from the threshold, a man, heavily loaded with drink by the look of his face, was kissing a giggling woman upon the floor.
Now, that was quick.
"Alas, much have I missed!" he remarked sarcastically, as the door was closed behind his back. Pharazôn lifted his eyes at the sound of his voice, interrupting the animated conversation that he was having with his guests behind a low table full of empty jars. His golden brow was crowned with a makeshift circlet of branches, which, together with his mantle of royal purple, made him stand out from the crowd. The brown curls of his head had already begun to look dishevelled, and the red in his cheeks told Amandil that he had also drunk his share.
"You are late!" he scolded merrily. "Come and sit with me!"
Amandil strode towards the crowded space, just as some of the men began to push back to leave room for him among great confusion. Finally, one of them stood up and vacated his place at the old stool, and sat on the floor next to a companion. A courtesan followed suit, arranging her expensive robes over the dirty planks with a surly look.
"His robes are wet." said a young man in an elegant outfit who sat at Pharazôn´s other side, wrinkling his nose. Amandil recognised him at once: it was Pummyaton, the son of the foster brother of Pharazôn´s father. That courtier had never seemed to like him much, probably out of jealousy.
Pharazôn, of course, was always oblivious enough to make things worse. Ignoring him, he focused on his newly arrived friend, and lay an arm over his shoulders.
"Do you know what?" he told him with a grin. Amandil shook his head, slowly getting used to the heat and the smell of wine. "Ibal, of the Gate Guards, brought his brother to meet us today. His name is Setbal, and he is the man who is sitting next to you. Isn´t he impressive?" A man of about thirty or forty, with dark skin and serious eyes, bowed at this introduction of sorts. The width of his shoulders was indeed impressive, and there was a long scar in his cheek. "He is stationed in Sor right now, but until last year he was a soldier in Umbar!"
The delight in Pharazôn´s voice was evident. Amandil nodded, interested.
"He was telling us about the last campaign..."
"Oh, that was no campaign! "the man protested. "Just a few skirmishes..."
The young novice of Melkor did not miss the collision of Ibal´s elbow with his brother´s ribs. It was well known by everyone that tales and talk of battles never failed to kindle a bright fire in the prince´s eyes, and that any man who had ever wielded a sword was sure to gain access to him. One day, it was rumoured, Pharazôn would be the first member of the royal family since Ar-Adunakhôr who would not stay content with a life of leisure in the peaceful island.
"The desert tribes assaulted a post that was closest to Umbar, and killed the people who lived there." Pharazôn continued, ignoring them. Then, he tried to drink, and realised that his cup was empty. "What? This is a shame! Who has decided that I should go without wine?"
One of the courtesans, a beautiful woman with golden ribbons in her tresses, waded through the other guests with a jar in her hands. Amandil admired the skill with which she prevented it from falling to the floor in several ocassions, even when one of the merry drunkards pulled her sleeve just to make a good joke.
"A shame, indeed." she tsked, refilling the cup. Then, her glance shifted towards Amandil, and she let her eyes widen in affected surprise. "Oh, my! A man who isn´t drinking!"
"By the King of Armenelos, how could that possibly be?" Pharazôn cried. "A cup for this man, at once! He is my friend, the best swordsman in Númenor and a sacred priest of the Great God!"
"Such a ruckus." Pummyaton shook his head, proferring an empty cup to Amandil. "Here you are, Your Holiness."
The woman poured the scented wine with a steady pulse. Amandil nodded and gulped it down –sipping on it would have been unacceptable in the present company-, but when she was about to turn back and leave, Pharazôn held her by the sleeve of her dress.
"Where are you going? Stay with us, too." he invited. The courtesan covered her mouth with her free sleeve and giggled, honoured, while the ruckus of pushing others back and rearranging the sitting space started anew in both ends. This time, it was another of the guards who had to leave the stool, and the woman sat between Pharazôn and Pummyaton.
"And now for your story!" the prince reminded, drinking and caressing the woman´s neck with a daring hand. She leaned against him, and presented Amandil with a breathtaking view of her pale and graceful neck.
He swallowed, remembering who was waiting for him. All of a sudden, he felt an overpowering wish to leave, and he had to force himself to stay seated between his half-drunk friend and the Sorian soldier´s animated chatter.
The men talked about glorious –and not so glorious- wars against the fierce natives, who had been a threat to the Númenoreans of Umbar ever since the city was established in a corner of what had been their vast territory. Pharazôn listened in rapt attention, and asked questions while his bored woman´s attempts to distract him from the conversation grew more and more obvious. Pummyaton, disgusted at the amount of fussing and kissing that was taking place in his immediate vicinity, abandoned the stool and began courting a woman of his own.
Amandil also grew interested after a while, and even asked some questions, though they tended to focus on details that made Pharazôn shrug, like the exploration trips that had been made across the Southern desert, or how the settlements of the natives looked like. At some moment, a woman came in with painted ceramic bowls full of dates, and once that he checked that most of his companions did not care much for them, he hid some in his sleeve while they were busy talking. He knew of someone who would surely appreciate them much more.
When the same woman came a while later to collect the bowls, he realised that she was evaluating him with a predatory glance. His daydreaming evaporated, and he tensed.
"You do not seem to be drinking much." she observed in a singsong tone, leaning her head to the side. Her hair was arranged in a complicated knot that fell down her neck, and it had probably been dyed black, judging by the clear colour of her eyes. Her lips were full and sensual.
"This is my fourth cup." he lied. She arched an eyebrow.
"Four cups and all you can think about is martial exploits? Why, I cannot believe it!"
"Indeed!" Ibal laughed. Too late, Amandil understood her strategy, and cursed between his teeth. "Has he made a celibacy vow, the little priest of Melkor?"
"When you are in a party, you are not supposed to preach saintly ways –even if you´re a priest!" his brother snorted. Pharazôn stared at him with a curious frown.
"Women say that there is no better lover than a priest of Melkor." the courtesan continued her taunting. "Alas for empty fame!"
Amandil let go of a deep breath, more and more annoyed at each passing moment. It was not his fourth cup, true, but it was at least his second, and he was already feeling the jaws of danger close on him with sinister accuracy. And you deserve it, Yehimelkor would have told him dryly if he could have seen him now. It is a fool who surrounds himself with fools.
He stood up, muttering something, and took advantage of their surprise to leave the place with as much dignity as he could. He did not care if those louts and that whore considered him a coward. He would explain the truth to Pharazôn, once and for all – when he was sober, and certainly when they were alone.
As he reached the courtyard of the inn, he stopped in his tracks to close his eyes, and welcomed the cool breeze of the night upon his sweating face. Slowly, the dizziness and the drunken haze faded away, and his head began to clear. The rain had stopped falling at some point of the feast.
Thinking about it, he realised now that his abrupt exit had not only been a show of cowardice, but also rude to his friend who had invited him. While he sorted out and carefully put away the sweet dates on his sleeve, he sincerely hoped that he had been too drunk to care.
As if some high being up there had heard his wish and decided to have a laugh at his expense, however, just then he heard the sound of unsteady steps over the wooden planks of the porch behind his back. He swallowed, and turned around.
It was Pharazôn, who had abandoned the wine, the talk of battles and the courtesan´s embrace in order to come after him. The effects of wine were apparent in his clumsy movements, and yet there was an almost sober scowl upon his forehead as he fixed his eyes on his.
"You are hiding something from me!" he growled. So like Pharazôn, to skip over the bulk of boring proceedings.
Amandil withstood the accusing glance.
"Is there anything you would want to know?" he asked mildly, arching an eyebrow. The prince stared at him in puzzlement for some time, then shook his head with a groan.
"Did you think that you would steal all those dates without anyone noticing? And not only that, you drank almost nothing –such a good wine, it is, that´s why I like to come here at all!-, and what to say about the women? You fled them like they were those sea-monsters that crawl ashore once in a hundred years and take human shape! Those sar... ser... serpents?, oh, curse it, who cares how they are called?"
"Sirens." Amandil offered, helpfully. Pharazôn barely gave him an answering nod, plunged as he was in his irritation.
"Whatever, there is some girl who has taken your fancy!" he declared with a violent gesture of his hands. "You cannot deny it, I have seen through you!"
The priest-novice´s eyes widened in suprise. Almost sober –indeed.
"I admit it." he sighed, a bit incommodated, but unwilling to fuel his friend´s mood. With a bit of luck, he would later go back to the feast and drink ten cups more, and all he would remember the next day would be some kind of blurred haze. "Her name is Amalket."
"A courtesan?" Pharazôn´s expression changed to a vivid interest. Amandil shook his head, almost insulted at the insinuation made about his beloved. She was so innocent... so pure...
"No! She is the... "Just as he was about to say "daughter of a captain of the Palace guard", he cursed his stupidity and interrupted himself. Pharazôn, now or sometime later, might start a campaign of indiscreet enquiries, and he had many friends in the Palace guard. The last thing he wanted was for her father to learn of the affair in such a way. "She is the daughter of a well-to-do family."
"Well-to-do family?" Pharazôn laughed. "And she is so cheap that she appreciates sweets stolen from a drinking feast?"
"Well, I do not need to buy her favours, you know!" Amandil growled, offended. "She likes them, that´s all."
"Is she beautiful?"
Accepting the abrupt change of subject as the closest to an apology that he was likely to get, he nodded.
"She is... small, and slight of build, but not enough to feel bones under the skin." he muttered, losing his eyes in the distance. He had never spoken of her to anyone before. "And her skin is soft... "
"You are almost drooling! I am worried about you now!"
Amandil shook his head. His friend´s flippant attitude was beginning to annoy him seriously.
"You say it as if you had any idea of what you are talking about."
Pharazôn jumped at the insinuation.
"I have bedded dozens of women!"
"And none has asked for payment!"
Amandil sighed. Another of the things about Pharazôn that he could not wholly understand was how he could be so innocent about some things, even as he made a show of running ahead of his age in others.
It made him feel protective enough as to let go of his anger for a moment.
"You are a prince. Who would ask you for payment?" he explained patiently. Pharazôn looked puzzled again, though the outside air had cooled most of his drunkenness by now.
"If they did not want me, and wouldn´t ask for money, why would they come to me at all?"
"Fame. Status." Amandil muttered. Sighing again, he relented. "And I suppose that your good looks must help a great deal. But the issue remains the same: you do not love them. Or do you?"
For a moment, it seemed as if the prince´s face was obscured by a passing thought. Soon, however, he shook it away, and shrugged.
"Love. Why would I wish for my life to become as complicated as yours?" He gestured towards the door with his chin. "They will be laughing at you until next year, all because of that... siren."
Hopeless. But then again, Amandil, who had known him since he was a little boy, had not really expected him to be otherwise. It would be long, if ever, until a woman gave his impetuous friend pause. He did not known what the word "wait" meant, or prudence, or self-control – always rushing into things at the worst possible time. His life seemed to be led only by vital impulses, now here, tomorrow there.
A part of Amandil admired, and envied him for this. Another felt worried for him, at times.
"Now, what are you doing, planted there in the middle of the bloody yard like the bloody White Tree? Go and see her! What´s the purpose of acting stupid if you´re not even going to get any afterwards?"
Shocked, Amandil interrupted his musings to look at the prince. He was serious.
"So you won´t mind if I leave your feast?"
Pharazôn shook his head, as if his friend was some kind of idiot.
"Of course I won´t mind! In fact, "he added, allowing his lips to curve in an anticipating smile, "there is a woman waiting for me inside. While here there is only you sulking over your beloved... what´s her name, and a cold breeze."
Amandil nodded mechanically.
"I am sorry."
"Whatever." Pharazôn sized him over for the last time, then turned away with a snort. "She´s small and slight of build... her skin is so soft.... Disgusting!"
"If you wish. " Amandil muttered, wading through the mud pools in the direction of the other door.
* * * * *
At that advanced hour of the night, the streets were largely empty, except for some groups of revelers who sang bawdy songs and cheered as he passed them by. Amalket´s father lived at the other side of the hill, so the walk over wet pavements was long and impatient. Still, when he finally stood in front of her gates, his intent was mingled with a vague inquietude, and he tried not to think of what would happen if he was discovered.
With fastidious and uneasy exactitude, he counted the windows several times before throwing the pebble. He had been through this before, but it was still a relief when a small head popped over the windowsill and a hand waved to him. Answering the gesture, he headed for the door, and waited.
A minute later –which seemed more like an age for him-, the door opened with a faint creak. A woman signaled him to enter.
As he followed her through moonlit inner yards, stairs and corridors, his heart was beating quickly inside his chest. Inside the house, everything was plunged in a deep silence, and the only sound that could be heard was his soft footsteps and the dull sweeping of the maid´s dress against the floor. He remembered the laughter, the loud cheer of Pharazôn´s feast where he had been a mere while ago, and a feeling of unreality seized his soul.
"My lady is waiting for you." she whispered with a bow, turning away from him and leaving him alone in a dark corridor. Remembering his previous visit, he found his way easily through the shadows, until his hand grabbed the hard coldness of a bronze handle. He pulled it resolutely, and the door opened.
She was sitting on her couch, waiting for him. A white dress with blue flowers spilled its folds in a circle around her, as if she was one of those white roses that grew at the gardens of the Temple. Her skin reflected the glow of the moon, and as she turned a pair of joyful honey eyes in his direction, he almost felt himself go weak in the knees.
She had had that effect on him, since the first moment that they met. He still remembered that day, when he had been assigned to the Temple gates at a Festival celebration and a distraught young woman had addressed him shyly. She had lost her mother in the crowd –her mother, whose hearing was cursed so she could not hear people calling her-, and please, had he seen a lady who walked alone?
What had happened afterwards had been anything but logical. Somehow, he had found himself leaving his post against all rules, and searching among the crowd that approached the Temple from all gates for a woman that he had not even seen before. Bewitched by her alternate looks of distress and gratitude, he had not even realised the stupidity of his actions until he was confronted by the irate questioning of his superiors.
At his age, Amandil had known a woman or two –not nearly as many as Pharazôn-, but it was the first time that he felt as if he would be able to act against his own interests and against common sense, even knowing it, and do it over and over again. After so many years, he finally understood why Yehimelkor compared women to wine and said that both could be extremely dangerous to a man – but he did not even care that it was so.
"Hannimelkor!" she cried, impulsively throwing her arms over his shoulders. He relished in the softness of her embrace, and the heavy scent of perfumed oil.
The smells that she perceived, however, were not so pleasing to her taste. Suspiciously, she began sniffing at his neck, and a cloud came over her features.
"You smell of wine." she accused. "Where have you been?"
Amandil sat at her side on the mattress, which gave way under his weight with a dull, compressing sound.
"I was invited to a feast. It was my best friend.... I could not refuse."
The cloud became more ominous.
"Were there women?"
The young man was torn between an impulse to laugh at her jealousy and the fear that she would misunderstand. In the end, he settled for a harmless lie.
"Not a single one." he assured her, touching the side of her face with a placating caress. "Just a lot of drunkards. And I would not have looked at them, anyway!"
"Do not go to feasts where there are women." she admonished, relenting to his protestations. "They are all a bunch of hyenas."
You cannot even imagine how right you are, he thought, remembering the courtesan of the sweet bowls and her taunting.
And speaking of sweet bowls...
"I do not know if they are hyenas, but they are as unfair towards their lovers as the Queen Ancalimë." he replied, pretending to be offended. "I had been thinking about you all the time, so much that I had even picked something for you..."
"Really?" Her face lighted up like that of a child who was promised a treat, and she immediately became all doe eyes and sweet touches. "Oh, my dearest, I am so sorry for doubting you. What did you bring?"
Allowing himself to be easily convinced, Amandil produced the small bag of dates, and lay it upon her lap. She clapped her hands, and stared fearfully in every direction as she remembered about the noise.
When it became apparent that nobody had heard her antics, she picked a date and began munching on it with great relish. Amandil gazed at her as she ate, admiring how this contentment increased her beauty, kindled sparks on her eyes and coloured her cheeks.
For a moment, he felt a wish to cringe at his own thoughts. If Pharazôn could hear them!
"Do you want any?" she asked, dangling a bunch of golden dates in front of his nose. He extended a distracted hand to take them, but she pulled it away.
"Only one." she admonished warily.
"They will harm your stomach." he muttered. She laughed this away, her mouth full. As a result of one of her movements, a small foot appeared under the folds of her dress.
Amandil swallowed deeply, and took it with both hands. Nonplussed, she leaned back, flexing her knees, and allowed him to touch it and cover it with a rain of kisses. Now and then, she tried to pull it away, giggling.
"You are tickling me!" she protested. He did not answer, his senses absorbed by the strong scent of oil, the softness, the smallness, the perfection.
Yehimelkor could say whatever he wished, he thought, in a small rebellious impulse. He had never enjoyed this. He did not even know that it existed. Compared to a single foot, all the treasures, the gardens, the running fountains, the halls, the assembled magnificence of the Temple of Melkor was nothing but dead and ancient dust.
From her feet, he then progressed to the tender flesh of her legs, even softer and warmer to his touch. Amalket opened them several inches further, and gathered the folds of her dress up to ease his task. It had been shortly after they met that Amandil had discovered, to his wonder, that a long education in the ways of propriety would leave no trace in her when they were together. Once they began their lovemaking, she only cared for pleasure.
As he reached her knees, she leaned forwards to embrace him, and both fell upon the couch with a soft thud. He bathed in the curves of her body, stifled her imprudent moans with his kisses, and allowed each moment of pleasure to stretch in time until time itself was a forgotten notion. Trembling and shaking, she buried her face in his chest, and cried his name.
Then, after it was over, both curled together, murmuring pointless endearments to each other. The energies of release had left their bodies in a furious whirlwhind, leaving nothing but lifeless limbs behind. One of her hands traced lazy circles over his stomach.
It was from this dazed state that a discreet knock on the door roused them much later. Amandil frowned in regret, forcing himself to stand up. The moon had already set behind the terraces, in a blaze of red glory.
"Morning is near." he whispered to his lying lover, who grimaced rebelliously.
"I hate mornings!"
In regret, he pulled away from her, to step naked into the chill that preceded the dawn. Kneeling under the bed, he sought for his clothes, and began fumbling in the dark to put them on. Amalket propped her chin against her hand, and watched his every movement in pensive silence. For a moment, he wanted to drop them on the floor again; to go back to her, kiss her mood away....
Behind their backs, the door slid open, and an annoyed face peered from the crack.
"The birds are singing already. Five more minutes and you will have to jump from the window!" the woman scolded. Amandil nodded, with an apologetic look in his lover´s direction.
"I will come back soon. I promise."
She handed him his cloak.
"The next time that the Temple opens its gates, look for Adiba. She will bring you a message from me." she mumbled, flustered. "I... do not forget!"
"I will not." he assured her, indulging in a last, exploring glance that would allow her image to live in his mind until their next encounter. Her hair fell dishevelled through her back after their exertions, and its brown curls looked almost red under the faint glow of the approaching dawn.
It was so unfair.
"Be safe." she heard her voice behind his steps, as he followed the servant past the threshold in quiet resignation.
* * * * *
The pale brow was furrowed in an imperious frown. Even though the shadows were thick around her, he could easily distinguish the lines of her displeasure.
"You did not come yesterday night. Again."
"I was at a feast." he explained, not too apologetic. If he was to say the truth, he had been avoiding her for the past months, and purposefully missing many of their appointments. "With some soldiers and Palace guards, and my friend Hannimelkor. I... guess I was drunk afterwards." he admitted, with a shrug.
Zimraphel frowned, her anger turning to curiosity.
"At an inn, close to the Guards´ headquarters in the western side of the Palace hill." Pharazôn, used to his cousin´s hunger for details, was as meticulous as possible. "We were many."
"Was there wine?" she asked, leaning slightly forwards. He nodded.
"Plenty of it."
"Yes. Banquet songs, drinking songs... all that."
Her grey eyes were wide, devouring his with a strange, joyful ferocity.
"Yes." he admitted. She laughed, and clapped her hands.
"That sounds fun! Did you bed any of them?"
Incommodated, Pharazôn looked aside for a moment. Through the window, a ghastly light was filtering through the twisted branches of the White Tree. The First Courtyard lay empty at that hour of the night, with its grey pavement stretching beyond their sight.
"I did." he muttered, in a low voice that rarely escaped his brash lips.
"Was she beautiful?"
Wanting to tell her that she should not ask him about those things, that this line of conversation was not appropriate, he turned a frowning look towards her. The words became stuck in his throat at once.
Zimraphel had that expression that he had soon learned to recognise as a signal that she was not willing to understand. Whenever he saw that dark glint in her eyes, he felt vaguely uneasy, as if instead of a frail woman he was facing the irrational, blind might of the Sea that had once been about to drown him in the Forbidden Bay when he was a child.
"Was she beautiful?" she repeated. He sought his mind for an answer.
Was she? A brief image of the luxuriously dressed courtesan crossed his mind. Then, he focused back on Zimraphel, on her face sculpted in ivory and so radiant under the pale glow of the night. Strands of raven black hair fell down her shoulders like a royal mantle.
He thought that, even though those features were sometimes twisted in an unholy expression, and the lips whispered words that made him shiver to the marrow of his bones, he always came back to her, like a common criminal who hid under the cover of the night, fearing that his secret shame would be discovered.
No, he realised. To call any woman beautiful in her presence would be blasphemous. As they all lay with him in bed, murmuring endearments in his ears, her shadow was floating over them, making them dissolve like starlight under the bright rays of the full moon.
Pharazôn knew that he was not supposed to have those thoughts about his cousin. But as much as he had tried to stop courting the danger, to get drunk every night and bed all the courtesans of Southern Armenelos whenever he was supposed to be visiting her, the curse still haunted his steps.
Sometimes he had wondered if, somehow, she knew.
"No. Not beautiful." And then, before he could even think. "Just pleasant... skilled."
"Skilled?" Her lips curved into a mischievous smile. "How, skilled?"
Pharazôn coughed, red to the tip of his ears.
"Good in bed." he mumbled. "Let us change the topic."
Zimraphel ignored him.
"Did she... kiss you?"
Pharazôn was unsettled by the mix of innocence and sensuality in her voice. To his further shock, her hands began to touch and caress her own body, in distracted and almost inadvertent motions.
He took a sharp breath. Should he leave, flee to his chambers like a coward? Or stay, and be driven to a turmoil of feelings, of actions that he would later have cause to regret?
If Hannimelkor could see him now! Just the other day, he had mocked him for his love for a city girl, but the truth was that any stupidity done for her sake would be less laughable –despicable!- than Pharazôn´s current situation.
"I said I did not want to talk about this!" he said, now more forcefully. Her face fell at those words, and her joy became sadness. She stared at her twitching hands, her composure crumbling in a matter of seconds.
"You probably think me so pitiful." she mumbled, with a breaking voice. "But you do not know what it means to be alone. You do not know what it means to be imprisoned in the dark, a living corpse entombed between stone walls. Do you have an idea of what it is to be unable to know the love, the life that you so freely enjoy? That I, a princess in blood, a queen in beauty and a goddess in wisdom, am forced to beg for scraps of your tales and live through you?" she raged, her body shaking. "Ah, the indignity!"
The young prince stared at her. He had been witness to her capricious turns of mood, and sometimes she had been sad or angry, but never before had he seen raw desperation. A knot gathered in his throat, a cold grip that paralyzed his reactions.
He wanted to comfort her, to flee her presence... and he could do neither.
"Zimraphel..." he mumbled. Grey, impulsive eyes sought for his, heavy with unshed tears. He felt something akin to a punch on the gut, and before he could realise what he was doing, he held her chin with her hands and kissed her.
Her response was avid and clumsy, very different from the expertise of the courtesans. And maybe, in an inner recess of his mind, also very unlike the evil temptress that had been built from figments of his imagination whenever he felt haunted by her image.
Then, realisation dawned on him, and he pulled back in shock.
"This is a crime." he hissed. "The curse of the Goddess will fall upon us!"
She stared at him with disappointed, questioning eyes, as if she did not understand.
"We are cousins!"
Her surprise turned to livid rage.
"I do not care!"
He shook his head, and turned his eyes away from her. He had to withstand the temptation. He tried to imagine the ivory face at the altar twisting in fury, the sacred fire refusing to burn for him.
She was mad. Mad, or taken by an evil spirit. She did not know what she was saying- but he, he should know.
"Have a good night." he mumbled, turning back to leave the room at a quick pace. A strange buzz filled his ears, his lungs screamed for air, and he was barely able to hear a strangled sound of pleading in the distance.
As soon as he was sure that he had left her behind, he pressed his burning forehead against a marble column. The fire quenched in the altar...
The sun shining on the hair of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in the Palace gardens.
...the Goddess looking at him in fury...
Her lips trembling under the moonlight, and the fascinated, expectant touch of a warm hand upon his shoulder.
He shook his head, as if trying to free it from the turmoil of his own thoughts. His body felt hot, but it was not just the shame or the arousal. It was as if a spirit had posessed him.
For the following hours, Pharazôn did nothing but rush past halls, galleries, corridors and even courtyards, trying to outrun the shadows that followed in his wake. Anyone who would have met him, and seen the frenzy in his expression, would have recoiled in superstitious fear.
Never see her again. Never see her again., a voice – the voice of his mother?- whispered in his ears. Forget that she exists. Forget her beauty and her loneliness, my child.
And yet, in a dark recess of his mind, he knew that sooner or later, he would be back.
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.