33. The Unforgivable Sin
Here´s the next chapter. Thanks to the folks of the Lizard Council for picking my nits!
Zimraphel stared at the singing whirls of water, her lips moving to form words. Her breath was soft, very soft, almost as if she did not wish for anything to disturb their secret language.
Behind her, rough hands were pulling her hair, turning her head left and right like that of a rag doll. Her limbs and bones were melting under their touch, like a fog, or better still like a viscous substance such as the fins of living fish when touched by human fingers.
"Am I allowed to love a man?" she asked. The hands stopped abruptly, and her hair fell again down her shoulders, tickling the back of her neck. For a moment, she was happy.
"Where... did you get such an idea?" a shocked voice inquired. "Did you read it in a book?"
She frowned again. Her hands tightened into knuckles.
"Am I, or not?"
Recognising the ominous note in her tone, Zarhil walked to her front, and stared at her in mute bewilderment. The water was invisible for her now, but she still heard its song in the distance.
"My child..." the woman began. Her features softened. "It is yet too soon to think of such things." One of her hands caressed her cheek, and a feeling of repugnance took hold of Zimraphel as she imagined the rough touch marring the perfection of her ivory cheeks. "You are little older than twenty. Do you know how old I was when I married your father?"
The young woman shook her head, pulling back to flee the hand. She heard her mother swallow.
"I do not care." she hissed. "I want to know if I can love a man."
"You are too young for this conversation."
Nervous, Zarhil turned away, and began to pace in circles in front of the fountain. After a while, she became self-conscious, and stopped to watch the flow of the water with her tense back to her daughter.
This reminded Zimraphel of a dream, where an old woman stood on a boat and she felt the burning anguish of loneliness. She shivered. She hated her mother´s back.
She hated her mother.
"Look at me!" she shouted, with a voice that erupted from her throat like a terrified plea. Zarhil obeyed mutely, and knelt in front of her with a look of pity and worry.
"I am not allowed."
The woman shook her head, touching her forehead with her fingers. Zimraphel perceived her clumsy discomfort, and knew that she was right.
"One day, your father will be King." she said, in an almost crooning tone. "You will be the Princess of Númenor, and you will marry..."
"... Father´s chosen heir." she completed. "Who will be marrying a madwoman because the King made him to."
The hand that touched her forehead froze. Zarhil went very pale, and Zimraphel smiled, feeling the capricious wish to gloat.
"You are not mad!"
"Yes, I am."
For a moment, it seemed as if her mother would choke with the words that fought to come out of her mouth. Suddenly, she extended her arms, and gathered her daughter in a fierce embrace.
Her chest heaved up and down noisily, as if she was having difficulties to breathe.
"My child..." she mumbled into her ear. Zimraphel closed her eyes and stood still. It would not hurt her if she did not move.
Nothing would hurt her if she did not move, except water. Water would drown her.
"I love you." Zarhil repeated several times, making no sense. "I love you, my child. I... I want you to lead a happy life. Only..." She let her go, and stared at her with a frown and a new determination. "And you will have it. You will have it, I swear, whatever I have to do to ensure it."
Zimraphel twisted her mouth in disdain.
"You do not own my soul." she stated. Zarhil frowned, momentarily uncomprehending, and then shook her head.
"Oh, my child! This is not what I...."
The young princess did not want to hear. She looked away, humming the song of the waters.
One day, they would not own her body, either.
* * * * *
In the beginning, there was naught but dark and lime
Floating in emptiness
In the midst of it He stood
Alone; He, the great, the only
The Fatherless god.
None could boast of having sired Him
And none were his children
For He was perfection
And perfection is an end unto itself.
One day, from the region of the deep currents She came
She, the impetuous, the ever-shifting
stirring, lusting, fulfilling
Queen of Desire
She fell in love with His perfection
And took His light into the shadows of her belly
From this union, a child was born
He, the first, the only
The most beloved son
The Father laid a crown of light upon his head
The Mother spun stars in his mantle
He shaped the trees, the mountains, the endless plains
He called forth the animals, those that run, those that fly
And those that crawl upon the ground
He made the Sea, fish-kingdom, swift road for vessels
And gave it to the Mother, to honour the fruitful belly
Where he had grown.
She laughed in delight
And made his world her sacred home.
He then created a mighty race of creatures
Fair but soulless, crafty but cruel
They turned against him, raised swords against their maker
And tried to steal his crown.
In revenge, he created a second race
They were not fair or crafty
They were a swarm of bloodthirsty monsters
The terrible fruit of his wrath
They fell upon the soulless folk
And feasted on their flesh.
For days and nights, he wandered
Through forests, through mountains and through endless plains
None could abate the fire in his heart
Nothing could take his mind away from their treason.
But one night, he arrived to the pearl-sprinkled shore
The silver light of the Moon fell upon her face
The Mother smiled
And his heart was at peace.
Then, he created a third race of beings
Who were, of all, the most similar to himself
They were strong, proud and brave
The great, the most beloved children
They lived away from pain and disease
And the secret of eternal life was theirs.
Amandil leaned back, holding his hands in front of him as he repeated the last verse in a low voice. The dusty scroll ended there; he could not help but feel relieved at this.
Yehimelkor had extensively commented on that poem in the past, the oldest heirloom of the temple of Sor. He had written things, too, some of which had brought him to clash with old and revered priests from the East. There had been much controversy about the creation of the Orcs, but the greatest matter of contention was the crude phrase: "And took His light into the shadows of her belly".
This was an abomination, according to Yehimelkor. Would eternal Perfection be subjected to such a barely concealed sexual act? Would the everlasting gods feel human desires? It was absurd, nothing but the misled imaginings of an ancient priest. Eru had thought a beautiful thought, and the power of the Lady had made Him wish, for the first time, to admire and love His work from outside. That was the origin of the Great God Melkor, and to think otherwise one would have to be a sinner with a muddled mind. His enemies had argued that none of them had the right to question such an ancient text, and Yehimelkor had elaborated relentlessly on the differences and contradictions in the traditions of the different temples.
Amandil, himself, was somewhat worried about Yehimelkor, for he knew the delicate position he was in and did not seem to care much about it. As for the rest, he did not see much difference between one theory and the other. Or rather, he did in a purely rational sense –in spite of what the priest would say, he was not that much of a fool-, but there was a certain something in their disputes that tended to make him want to dissociate his mind from them.
Maybe it was the fact that no one really seemed to care about the truth, just about what concepts would fit better. Once, he had dared to ask Yehimelkor if he was taking his theories from some kind of source, and had been answered by a look of disdain and one of those long lectures full of names and concepts that the priest usually bestowed upon his enemies. And then, he had been ordered to study all the lore of the Beginning as it was kept in the Four Great Temples, and other six or seven that were not so great.
He was aware that he was somewhat of a fool as well – he disliked to think about those things that he could not grasp, those things that, he knew in a corner of his mind, could get to make a terrible difference. At nights, when everything was dark and he shut his eyes, he could summon the face and loving glance of his mother, telling him marvellous tales with a soft voice. A child, he had listened in awe to all those things that had really happened, so scary and so beautiful and so strange that nobody could have invented them if they were not true.
Would there also be such disputes, such theories among the Faithful? Would he have needed to learn them, had he stayed in Sor with his family, and would they maybe be less convincing than Yehimelkor´s devastating logic? He hated to think about this. No... he refused to think about this.
That was why, he knew, Yehimelkor made him learn those things at all.
The sound of footsteps and low voices interrupted the chain of his musings. Instantly, Amandil straightened up, and pretended to be muttering something.
Yehimelkor entered the room accompanied by another priest, a middle-aged man with pale skin and a bald head. They passed him by with barely a nod, though Yehimelkor turned back to address him in his way to his chambers.
"I will have dinner now. Alone." he added, before he could open his mouth to ask.
Recognising the order as an unmistakeable cue to leave them, Amandil bowed to each of them and left the room.
* * * * *
Yehimelkor´s dinner was composed of soup, vegetables, and a black tea whose smell was enough to give Amandil nausea. As he entered the rooms with the tray, the elder priest had already left, so he merely left it at the table where Yehimelkor was reading.
A pair of penetrating eyes were slowly lifted from the pages.
"Hannimelkor." he greeted, as if truly seeing him for the first time. Amandil stopped in mid-retreat, and met his glance.
He looked tired.
"Have you been studying the books I gave you?"
"Yes, Revered Father"
"Have you said your prayers?"
"Yes, Revered Father."
"Good." Yehimelkor´s forehead creased in a slight frown. "You... should be allowed to take your second oath soon, I believe."
Amandil took a breath. So this was what.... He was aware that his tardiness bothered the man, and yet for a while he had believed him to be wholly absorbed by his doctrinal feuds.
He forced back the temptation to shrug. As if it were his fault. The High Priest and his council did not trust a priest with the blood of the Elf-friends – but if most of the times this gave him a feeling of relief, it was never without a small twinge of guilt.
How he wished that Yehimelkor just did not care! After all, he was nothing but the child of a disgraced lineage – who, as if his position was not precarious enough, was having an affair with the daughter of a captain of the guard.
To think about that now only contributed to make things worse.
"I hope so." he said, trying to sound as sincere as possible. Yehimelkor did not answer, and for a moment he was about to turn back and leave.
Then, however, the priest gestured him closer. Amandil obeyed, puzzled, though as he saw the familiar annoyed look, a spark found its way back to his eyes.
"Your hair is dishevelled." Yehimelkor frowned in censure. Amandil knelt, allowing him to tie the knot back in place. He had the bad habitude of pulling his hair while he studied, and he always gave way to it when unsupervised.
Looking slightly more respectable, and with the first feeling of warmth towards the elder man that he had harboured that day, Amandil rose minutes later to go back to his books.
He had not even found yet the text he was searching for when a sound of knocking came from the door.
"You may come in." Yehimelkor´s sharp voice invited. It was Elinoam.
"With all due reverence" he greeted the priest courteously, giving him a deep bow. For a moment, he seemed to hesitate, but when he opened his mouth again his voice was calm. "Hannimelkor´s presence is requested to guard the Fire tonight."
"It is not his turn."he said. Amandil regarded his friend with curiosity, and swallowed when he noticed that his left hand was fidgeting.
"The Second Rank Novice Abibal has been rendered incapable of his duties after swallowing by error the cooked flesh of an animal." he replied with admirable aplomb. Yehimelkor sized him up intensely, and Amandil could not help but wince in sympathy. Not even he, who by all rights should be used, could always withstand that glance.
But this time Yehimelkor relented, and nodded in silence. Amandil stood up, ordering his books and folding the manuscripts with care. Elinoam bowed and crossed the threshold, but as soon as he was in the corridor, his easy-going demeanour crumbled to give way to a tense bravado.
"You owe me. Owe me indeed." he muttered. Amandil stared at him.
"What´s the matter?"
Elinoam laughed, but it was not a companionable laughter.
"You will soon have enough problems to worry about this escapade. Come with me." Nodding, still with a lot of unanswered question sizzling in his brain, Amandil followed him through the corridors, and swallowed a protest when he was taken past the altar and across the Great Hall to the gates of the temple. He saw Abibal staring left and right, looking obviously worried.
"Here. Come forth."
From behind the shadows of the threshold, a hooded woman advanced with small steps towards them. When he was at a short distance from him, she raised both hands to take her hood away, and the dark, anguished features of Amalket´s maid-in-waiting stared back at him.
"Something... terrible has happened." she mumbled, falling to her knees. "You must help us!"
Amandil´s heart sank.
* * * * *
"Greetings, my dear son."
Pharazôn nodded in silence, feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the familiar soft voice. Melkyelid was sitting in the darkness of her room, her hair pulled in a multitude of small braids that mingled with the heavy folds of her blue dress. Kneeling at her side, two ladies painted silver flowers on the fingernails of her outstretched hands.
"Mother. You wanted to see me."
The Princess whispered something to one of the women, who nodded. Then, her eyes trailed slowly over his countenance, as if taking notice of every slight evidence of his uneasiness.
"I have been hearing rumours about you of late." she said, blandly. "They say that you have taken to drinking and reveling in taverns with people of low status."
His chin shot up in indignation.
"I understand that you need, now and then, to have fun, and experience freedom from pressure." she continued, interrupting him. "Your father, for example... but he does not belong to this discussion. This behaviour has been escalading over the past months, and I fear the King will hear about it."
Pharazôn shifted uncomfortably, mortified that his mother would say those things in front of the ladies-in-waiting. The women kept to their work, blowing over fresh paint without seeming to realize that they were at the end of his glare.
"I am not neglecting any of my duties." he protested. Melkyelid nodded.
"And I hope you never will." she agreed. Then, to his relief, she made a vague gesture with her still drying fingers, and the women left the room.
This relief, however, was short-lived. His mother´s piercing stare met his.
"I wonder if a secret love affair could be the reason behind your frequent disappearances."
In the time that he needed to blink, Pharazôn forced himself to reason that it was impossible that his mother knew about Zimraphel. He schooled his features to look calm, and his lips curved in a disarming smile.
"And what if it was so? We all have our little adventures."
"Indeed." Thoughtfully, Melkyelid gazed past the gold-painted lattice of the window. Her distracted look belied the intent in her voice in a way that Pharazôn had learned to be wary of since he was a child. It usually meant that she knew something else. "But.... you have been seen stealing into the West wing of the Palace."
Pharazôn´s eyes widened.
"That..." He sought for an adequate response. "A lady... we were involved for some time."
The Princess of the South frowned in concern.
"What is this? My dearest son, are you afraid of something? "She shook her head. "For all those years, I have prided myself on bearing a child who does not know what fear is."
"I am not afraid!" Piqued, Pharazôn strode towards a chair and pulled it forwards, sitting noisily upon it. That woman could even play the King´s strings sucessfully, damn it. "And I have had enough of your summoning me like an errant child!"
Melkyelid did not rise to the bait. She studied her fingernails, which she still held spread to dry.
"Is it because you have been meeting with the young Princess of the West?"
The young man stared at her, thunderstruck.
"How do you know that?" he demanded, even before a warning voice could yell in the back of his brain that this had not been the best reaction he could have shown. His mother took it as a cue.
"So you have."
"I..." Caught, a fiery blush began to spread through his cheeks. Like the Middle-Earth panther, he defended himself through attacking. "You had me followed!"
"I did not." Melkyelid replied, a little more forcefully than usual. "Sometimes, your cousin can be quite careless. She gave notes to my women, telling them to deliver them to you."
Pharazôn´s anger gave way to alarm, as his mind began to review the implications. Did she know about...?
"This is none of your business!"
"No, it is not." she replied. "And so I did not interfere. Of late, however...."
Melkyelid shook her head with a sigh.
"Are you in love with your cousin, Pharazôn?"
The young man´s face blanched.
It was not mere alarm or embarrassment now, but a feeling of dread that sunk to his gut like frozen lead. To hear the words that he had never dared to confront in his most private thoughts, there, in his mother´s lips, managed to drive the acute pang of shame home with deadly effectivity. It rendered him incapable of any other reaction than stuttering lamely.
Filth. Abhorred by the gods. Impure.
"I swear that I have never performed any dirty acts! I have avoided her for months! " he cried at last, pulling the sign of the Hand on himself. His mother stared at him for a while with an unreadable look in her eyes, then her expression softened.
"Such words!" she snorted. "And I who thought that her... favours were slowly driving you over the edge."
Pharazôn stared back at her in disbelief.
"How can you be so calm about it? And so crude?"
The Princess blinked.
"Nothing of what you said is anything that should make me nervous."she replied. "And you have to be more than fearless to call me crude."
"The Goddess is against it. She can´t accept such a..."
"How can you presume to know the will of the gods?"
Pharazôn looked at his mother with a newfound unease.
"This is... this would be incest. Surely you must know that!"
"Oh, it is you who does not know many things." she snorted again. "You were not yet born when your crude mother lay on the stone floors of the Lady´s cave at night, waiting for any stranger to throw a silver coin on her lap." Seeing the horror in his eyes, she repressed a smile. "It was there where I met a man called Xaris. He was a powerful king of Middle-Earth, the ally of the merchants of Gadir."
"Yes, a barbarian." Melkyelid nodded. "A barbarian, who had more refinement, more wisdom, more power and certainly more books than many a Númenorean."
Pharazôn´s shock increased, if this was possible. He stared at his mother´s wistful smile.
"Did you... "Obviously uncomfortable with the notion, he tripped over his words, "...talk?"
"Oh, many times!" she laughed. Finally judging her fingernails dry enough, she passed her fingertips over them. "Many men used to feel that we could give them the Lady´s blessing, yet withdraw their darkest secrets from her. The point is... "Serious again, she met her son´s eyes, "that he was married to his cousin, and had four children by her. One of them –a magnificent boy- now holds the sceptre of the barbarians in his place."
Pharazôn shook his head, with so much vehemence that he seemed to be chasing away an insidious temptation to listen.
"Those are barbarians."
"So they may be. Their kings think that no one else but their own kin can be high born enough to marry them." Melkyelid gathered back her braids. "But then, who are we? Our law states that no heir to the throne may marry outside his own bloodline."
"Starting with cousins once removed!"
She shrugged in dismissal.
"A restriction unknown to barbarian men – but not to Elves, it seems. King Xaris thought that even after we broke away from their dominion, we still kept believing in some of their unearthly customs. Like that one about bastard children having twisted souls from the violence done to the marriage bond. Ar-Adunakhôr the Great proved this to be wrong."
"There is nothing a barbarian can teach us about our own customs." the young man sneered. Still, it was obvious that the possibility disturbed him, and the mention to Ar-Adunakhôr had made him think. Melkyelid kept pressing the soft spot with her skilled fingers.
"The Kings marry their own bloodline, both among us and among barbarians. And yet we have a restriction that, according to old lore, only exists among Elves. Did it come from our gods? Ashtarte-Uinen, the powerful queen, smiled on Xaris for all his life, and now smiles on his descendants."
"What are you trying to do?" Pharazôn stood up from his seat, and began pacing along the room in furious strides. "Push me into my cousin´s bed? You, my own mother, who bore me in your womb? Doesn´t the... very idea fill you with shame?"
Melkyelid shrugged imperiously.
"And yet I care more for your sanity, my dearest son. I do not wish you to waste your life in despair, drinking in a vain attempt to forget the eyes of a sorceress. "She shook her head. "No! If there is any shame, then I will bear it. Tell me that you will forget her, and I will help you to. I will find the greatest beauty for you, make her love you and deliver her hand in yours. But if you cannot, then I will make you come forth, seize the object of your desire and win, like Ar-Adunakhôr did!"
Pharazôn stopped in his tracks, speechless. His eyes held something strange, as if he was considering her in a new light than before.
He shook his head.
She did not speak or move. Words trailed away in his mouth, and he rubbed a hand across his face.
"I do not need your help." he finally declared, whirling back and heading towards the corridor.
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.