34. The Child Who Was Sent
Here goes the next episode! Many and heartfelt thanks to Pandemonium for her beta reading.
The Child Who Was Sent
"So, let me hear it again." Pharazôn´s wild pacing in circles was beginning to make Amandil dizzy. "Your woman is pregnant?"
He nodded tiredly. His friend stopped in his tracks, and shook his head in disbelief.
"There are things for this, you know. Things to prevent a woman from conceiving. And they usually work."
"Usually." Amandil pointed out, mechanically. Their figures projected long shadows in the dimly-lit room of the royal villa of the temple, where they had snuck early at his urgent request. He almost regretted it now: Pharazôn was not being very helpful.
"Kill it before it is born", he was rambling. "After only two months, nobody will be the wiser. There are people who do this sort of thing very..."
"No." Amandil interrupted him, shaking his head. He felt his innards freeze. "I cannot do that."
Pharazôn walked forward until they were but inches apart. He looked enraged now, as if the frustration he had been feeling had finally found a suitable target.
"And you think you have a choice?" he spat. "You are a priest of Melkor. You cannot marry at least until..."
"...I am sixty. And that with special permission, "Amandil recited. "I know that, thank you."
"Well, then you should have remembered it while you were entering women without the proper precautions!"
Now, it was Amandil´s turn to feel rage.
"I did not enter "women"!" he hissed. "I entered only her, and there was nothing wrong with the precautions we took! Do not make me repeat it again!"
Pharazôn barely blinked at this correction.
"Who cares why it happened?" he grumbled with a dismissing gesture of his hand. "It happened."
"Where is she?" he asked, ignoring him again. Amandil looked down at his feet.
"At home. Pretending she is ill because she does not dare meet her family for fear they will notice."
"So you have not seen her?"
"No. Too dangerous."
"Then don´t." Pharazôn threw himself upon the chair next to his. "Don´t go back to her. This should take care of the problem."
Amandil was not able to prevent himself any longer from raising his voice.
"I told you, no! And she knows where to find me, anyway! She could raise a scandal."
"Suit yourself, then!" Pharazôn shouted back. He leaned forward, livid. "As your bastard, the whelp will have a short and miserable span of life until the King hears of its existence, and you would only be expelled if you were a normal priest! And have you spared a thought for what her family might do?"
Amandil swallowed deeply, forcing his raging nerves to cool. He tried to picture himself following his friend´s advice, getting rid of his unborn child and going back to a life of prisons and prayers. Abandoning Amalket.
Something within him rebelled at the very notion. He felt an all-consuming, almost physical repugnance threatening to erupt in his stomach.
"You still do not understand. I love her. I want her to be my wife and bear my child." All the unsaid words, all the suppresed fury, the anguish he had felt since the fears of an old man had first affected his life came to his mouth now, swift and easily. "They took my family away. They forced me to become a priest. They imprisoned me here, under surveillance and in perpetual fear for my life. They made me pray. They made me sacrifice. They made me renounce my ancestors, but they will not take this from me!"
Pharazôn´s anger had given way to shock. He stared at him wide-eyed, as if he was some kind of monster that had suddenly slithered through a hole in the ground.
In the light of those eyes, Amandil began to realise what he had said. Paling a little, he shook his head.
"That was... out of place."
"When you say "they"...?"
"No! It was stupid. I did not know what I was saying." Frightened, Amandil realised that he was blabbering. "Please, forget it. I am not myself right now."
The younger man nodded in silence.
"And yet you mean it," he mumbled. "No" he cut him off, when he realised that Amandil was going to protest, "not that. But you are not going to leave her and the child."
Amandil shook his head.
"I think... I feel it must be some kind of signal. It shouldn´t have been conceived. It was not supposed to happen, we knew what we were doing. She had taken the herbs!" With a sigh, he covered his face with both hands. "What if this was the will of the gods?"
Pharazôn seemed to mull this over for a while. Fortunately, he seemed more puzzled than worried.
"One would think the gods would have given it to you later, once you were allowed to marry. As things are, its very existence is a crime in their eyes!"
Amandil grimaced. Deep inside, he could not help but wonder if the gods who had sent him such a dangerous present were really the same whose laws threatened him now. But he could not say those things to his friend.
Could this... signal be telling him to run away, and leave the litanies and the smoking altars behind?
But, where would he go? It would be madness. He would be tracked and killed, and his child with him. The more he thought about it, the less sense it made.
"If I did away with the child, it would be just as bad. It is a crime in religious law, just as abandoning your wife", he elaborated meanwhile, trying to impress some part of his dilemma upon his friend in terms that he could relate with. "I am –supposed- to be a priest, Pharazôn! Even if I was willing to do that, which I am not, it would make no difference in the eyes of the gods."
"So... whatever you do, they won´t be happy with you." Pharazôn deduced with a look of real bewilderment. It was probably a whole new idea for him, Amandil thought, that the gods could be angry at a man no matter what he did.
After all, Melkor had never refused his blessings to the royal family.
"Isn´t it such a coincidence that, of all the young men of Númenor, this strange thing would happen to me, who am forbidden to marry?" he continued.
Pharazôn stood up brusquely, and grabbed his amulet of the Hand.
"Maybe the gods hate you. They say your blood is impure, after all."
Amandil was not offended. He knew that, too, only too well.
"I only know one person we could ask about this."
Taken out of his sombre musings, Amandil stared at the prince´s back.
"She loves to be asked for help. But meanwhile, you must lay low and wait."
"She... what are you saying?" Puzzled, Amandil stood up and sought Pharazôn´s face. His friend pulled away from him.
"I am not going to sit here while you die on me!" Pharazôn shouted. "If there are gods involved, they will have to be asked."
"But..." Puzzlement became shock, and Amandil stared at his friend. What on Earth...?
"And preferably not by you." Pharazôn added, turning away to stride out of the room.
* * * * *
His eyes were fixed upon the flames, blindly mesmerized. The low rumble coming from his lips sounded like a prayer, but in truth it was long ago since he had lost the intricate threads of the litany.
His knees hurt.
Yehimelkor knelt before him, so close to the fire that his hands, pressed against the floor, had turned scarlet. The words fell fluidly from his lips, one after the other in perfect, flawless repetition.
After he finished the Third Litany, there was a brief silence. Stray sparks cracked in the fireplace.
"You may leave and rest." the priest said. Amandil bowed to his back in mute gratitude and stood up, repressing a groan at the renewed ache in his legs. As he left the overheated room, he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
For a while, he stood watching the bowed figure through the door. Yehimelkor had not even moved, and he knew that he would probably stay there for hours. For the priest there was no pain or heat now, only devotion. When he prayed, he lost all notion of time and the outside world, even though he had been able to lift his glance for a moment and spare his younger pupil´s discomfort.
Amandil swallowed, and turned away. Cursing between his teeth, he wondered why it was now that every single show of goodwill from that man sprang to his mind in minute detail. For years he had complained, resented his words and his actions, his unreasonableness, his harshness, but now he was not able to recall even a reason why this should be easier for him.
He sat down, and proceeded once more to unfold the missive he had received that very morning. It was written in Pharazôn´s abysmal calligraphy.
Mother did not only agree to consult the Goddess about you; she also decided, after the rites, to help you. I can find no words to convey to you how important her goodwill is. The Princess Melkyelid always gets what she wants.
As it turns out, the priests of the Goddess can marry under any circumstances. So she spoke to the High Priest of the Forbidden Bay. She claimed that the Goddess wants you, and that this was shown to her in a vision at the main altar, so there was little else he could do but agree. Apparently there is a list of precedents and she knows them by heart, not to mention she is a princess. She also persuaded him to appoint her as messenger to the High Priest of Melkor, so she will be meeting with him shortly. According to her, he will be very glad of the excuse to have you off his hands, because of your family.
Don´t worry about the King; he will raise no objections, though don´t ask me how she did it. It is rumoured in the Palace that he is becoming more religious as years go by, and she does know how to play that card. The greatest remaining obstacle, according to her, will be persuading Yehimelkor, but this is something that you must do on your own - and soon. She bids you to elaborate on visions of the Goddess when you are interrogated. Do not tell anyone that you will be getting married: this must remain a secret, lest the King hears about it.
If everything goes well, you will be departing for the Forbidden Bay in a month, and nobody in Armenelos will know what happened. Make your arrangements with Amalket´s family, but do it in secret and, for the King of Armenelos´s sake, don´t tell them the truth. Tell them you are the son of a rich merchant or some courtier´s bastard and that you will send them money.
I am deeply loath to see you go, but she insists that it is for the best, and that you should be made aware of that also. In years to come, we will meet again in the army.
Amandil repressed a shiver, just as he had done that morning when he had skimmed through those lines for the first time. For all his life, he had felt bitterness at his forced imprisonment in Armenelos, and yet now that an unknown woman had taken it upon herself to change his life, he was not sure of how he felt about it.
It scared him that a royal princess had decided to interfere in his affairs, and that she was in possession of his secrets. He had always tried to pass unnoticed, since, as a child, he had discovered that there were people who considered him dangerous just because of his blood. It scared him, too, that she had brought this issue to the King and the High Priest´s attention. That had happened already once -when he was a child and another member of the royal family contrived to put him under Melkor´s protection. He felt like a toy, bounced back and forth by the hands of strangers, until one of them slipped and dropped him.
But even worse than this was the unexpected turn of his life. He would have to leave Amalket and his child -and under such terms!- and relocate to an unknown place to become part of a different cult. Logic, cold and implacable logic, agreed with Pharazôn´s mother, of course: he and Amalket could never have married if he stayed in Armenelos. He was no mere priest.
And yet, what if the King ever heard about this? Would Amalket be in danger while he loitered in the West?
Could this be a trap?
Almost immediately, he berated himself for being childish. As if the King needed to get him out of the way to do what he wanted! He was nothing but one foolish young man, even if he had the blood of the Andúnië branch. He would never be able to stand between his wife an the King´s men.
And still... to leave her now, even if it was for the best, was a hard decision to make. Had he been demanded to fight for her, even if it was hopeless, he would not have flinched, but abandoning her! Would they, after all those years, be taking a family away from him again?
It will not be like that, he had tried, many times, to reason. It would still be a temporary measure. Unlike Pharazôn –who nonetheless seemed to have been persuaded in this case, which said much about the danger Amandil really was in- , he had always known how to wait. If he became a soldier, he would come back to Armenelos, and then he would see her again. She was free to visit him, too, and even bring him their child once that he was older. Maybe, even, one day they would live together, after the death of the King.
And he would be going to the Forbidden Bay. From his studies with Yehimelkor, he knew that this was the most beautiful place in Númenor, the old Bay of Eldanna, where the ships from Valinor used to arrive in the past. It had been part of the ancient lands of his family. Maybe he would find some signal, some trace of their presence there...
He shook his head with a start. He should not be worrying about such things; not, at least, before the most pressing danger was over. If he wanted his loved ones to be safe, he should be thinking of what he was going to say when he was interrogated. He should be planning his strategy to approach Amalket´s parents, and tell them that he would marrying their daughter only to abandon her before her child was even born.
He should be speaking to Yehimelkor.
Amandil shuddered, suddenly hot again. In the adjoining room, the litanies had faded to a soft, persistent whisper. He tried to imagine what the priest would say... what he would do when the boy he had raised asked him, in the name of a princess and a high priest of another cult, to let him go.
How would he take his betrayal?
The paper was crushed to a small ball in his fist, and he stood up. Trying to still his raging emotions, he poured a glass of water, and carefully tiptoed inside the room to leave it at the older man´s side. Yehimelkor did not even seem to have noticed.
Tomorrow. Yes, he would tell him tomorrow. He closed his eyes, and forced himself to concentrate in the blurry image of a dishevelled young woman, lying under her covers while she desperately waited for news of him.
Would she think he had abandoned her?
Quietly, he sat back on the table, and covered his face with both hands. He had never felt so exhausted.
* * * * *
Next day, as he had promised himself, he held back after finishing his lessons.
"I need to speak to you." he told Yehimelkor, who surveyed him with a grave look.
"I thought so. You have been most inattentive." He motioned towards the chair. "Sit."
Amandil obeyed. He stared back at the man, trying to steel himself to deliver his carefully constructed lie, but his stomach sunk with the realisation that this was impossible.
The grey eyes were deep and solemn, just as they had been that fatidical day near the fire altar. That day, Yehimelkor had revealed terrible truths to a scared child.
That day, he had saved his life.
Forcing himself to withstand that glance, Amandil began to speak. He told him everything, even about the baby he had vowed to protect by his silence. The words came quietly, steady and without a stammer.
"And this is why I request your permission to leave this temple."
Only after he was finished, and silence fell upon them like a heavy mantle, he realised that his heart was pounding. He briefly fought the temptation to look elsewhere but at the priest´s paling face.
"I...." he began. Yehimelkor cut him with an airy gesture.
"Have you thought of doing away with the child?"
Amandil froze in shock. Of all the things he had been expecting, this matter-of-fact suggestion had been the very last.
"That would be a crime in the eyes of the gods," he spoke resolutely. Yehimelkor shook his head.
"Of a minor degree than abandoning your priesthood for a dishonourable reason."
Amandil needed a while to gather his thoughts, until he grasped the piece of information he had researched somewhere in the last, anguished days.
"From the third vow onwards. I have not yet made the second." he reminded him with aplomb.
"They are of equal degree, then," Yehimelkor insisted. Amandil blinked. He was not used to this man discussing religious things so directly, without longwinded arguments or quotes. "So you have a choice between betraying me, dishonouring your priesthood, abandoning the God, placing yourself in mortal peril, or that... woman and her child."
The young man stood his ground, feeling a familiar anger gather its warm coils over his chest at the contempt in the priest´s voice.
"I choose that woman and her child." he replied, more forcefully than he had intended to. Yehimelkor paled even more. He looked almost like a corpse now.
"Go, "he muttered. "Leave my rooms."
Only then, Amandil realised what he had said. He knew it was too late, but he still attempted to explain.
"I mean...that I...."
The eerie calm that had been present in Yehimelkor´s voice up to that moment dissolved in a rush, as the priest´s features creased in rage. Amandil had never seen him with so little control, never so angry.
"Leave my rooms!" he yelled.
Miserably, and without looking back, the young man obeyed.
* * * * *
It was Elinoam who took him in for the night: the priest he served had vigil duty, and his rooms were empty. Lying on a blanket and feeling miserable, Amandil told him what had just happened.
"I understand his reaction," the young man muttered, staring at the courtyard through a small window. Amandil frowned.
"Oh, I do not say that you shouldn´t follow the commands of the Goddess, if she calls for you, or protect... you know." Elinoam elaborated vaguely as he noticed his expression. "But for him, this is a dishonour. A very great dishonour."
"It´s not his fault," Amandil grumbled, feeling his resolve teetering over the edge again. His friend shook his head.
"You are under his responsibility. As far as anyone here will be concerned, it is."
"Thank you." Amandil forced himself to curve his lips in a sardonic smile. "You made me feel much better."
"Just so you know," Elinoam replied, walking away from the room.
His disapproval at how he had handled the conversation was obvious, and Amandil wondered, crossly, if he had expected him to fall on his knees and beg for forgiveness instead. He had not been allowed to explain, he had been told to leave the room, and therefore, he had left.
What else could have he done?
He wondered if a furious Yehimelkor could turn into a danger for him. Would he tell? Somehow, he could not imagine him doing so, and yet there was something else, something just as terrible -what if he did not give his permission?
Pharazôn´s mother had been right in thinking that Yehimelkor would be the greatest obstacle. Even with two High Priests and a royal princess against him, Amandil could not imagine him cowered or intimidated. He had not even been afraid of the King, back when he took him under his wing.
Or perhaps he would be too proud to keep someone who didn´t want to be with him anymore?
He buried his face on his pillow. Why? That man had been like his father. Would they have to be enemies, after all? Would they end by hating each other? He could not imagine such a thing, after so many years.
So you have a choice between betraying me...
I choose that woman and her child.
He cringed. Maybe Elinoam had been partly right: his wording had been anything but adequate. And yet, he had never been very good at hypocrisies. Yes, this was a betrayal, pure and simple -he did not know how to disguise the fact, and even had he known it, he was not sure he could have managed.
After all, he had been told to lie to him and he had not been able to do that, either.
"King of Armenelos," he muttered. He had rarely addressed Melkor in his personal prayers, partly because Yehimelkor had taught him that it was a great disrespect to burden the gods with personal issues, and partly because the instinctive revulsion from his childhood had never died completely. Still, in this case, he knew that if there was a divine entity who could sway that priest´s inflexible mind, it had to be him. "Lord of the Island, make his anger at me abate. Let me talk to him one last time."
Only belatedly, he realised he was begging a favour of the god whose service he was about to leave forever. For all those years he had been able to scoff at the ideas of divine punishment, but in his present situation he found that he was afraid to risk it.
He closed his eyes, and tried in vain to find sleep.
* * * * *
The two following days passed by in a slow whirl of incertitude. Even while dreading the summons, Amandil was worried that they would not come, and Yehimelkor had not made any attempts to meet him after their conversation. At nights, he was visited by the old childhood nightmares, filled with fuming altars and flames and waves, but this time it was not him who drowned or fell to their devouring heat, but a mysteriously silent baby.
The evening of the second day, he guarded the Fire in silence, wondering where he was going to sleep that night. When his time was over, he bowed thrice, greeted his successor, and stood up to walk down the dark and empty hall.
Startled out of his bleak thoughts, he turned back in the direction of the familiar whisper. Yehimelkor was standing at the side of a column, arms crossed under his white robes and watching him with an unreadable expression.
Amandil approached him cautiously, trying to restrain his excitement. He did not know what the man wanted. Maybe it had been an error...
Maybe, even now, he was not there to give him an opportunity to explain.
"Follow me." the priest ordered, walking past him in the direction of the corridors. Amandil obeyed, his heart beating in his chest.
After a while, he realised that they were heading in the direction of Yehimelkor´s quarters, where he had been living for the past fifteen years. A good sign, he thought, searching his mind frantically for the most appropriate way to profit of this second chance.
Once they were back in the old sitting-room, however, face to face over the small wooden table, Yehimelkor did not seem to want him to talk. He silenced him with a curt gesture, even before his lips had managed to form the first word.
"You may wish to know that I was summoned this morning by the High Priest to discuss you case." he said, flatly. Then, in a slightly lower voice, "I gave my permission."
Amandil looked up, disbelief and pleasure dawning on his face. Of all the things he had been expecting...
"Thank you very much! I..."
"Do not thank me." Yehimelkor cut him off again. His back, his neck and even his hands looked as rigid as wood, and he shook his head. "I did not do it for you. Look!" Amandil followed his glance, and found himself staring at the fire. Confused, he tried to read its capricious movements in search of an answer, but he had never been any good at those things.
Yehimelkor ignored him.
"Have you ever heard anything about my lineage?"
Amandil nodded cautiously.
"Yes. You belong to the long-lived line of the Kings of Númenor."
"I am a descendant of the lady Alashiya. Do you know who she was?"
Amandil frowned, doing his best to summon his recollections. Alashiya... no matter where he sought, the name meant nothing to him.
"I... am sorry," he muttered, feeling as if he was an errant student again. Yehimelkor merely waved it away.
"She is not known by many. For all her life, she was an obscure character, who hid in the shadows and betrayed her most sacred obligations in order to survive." Surprised, the younger man could do little but stare. He wondered if this could be the start of some kind of unflattering comparison. "She was the sister of the Lady Alissha - that name is less unfamiliar to you, I see."
Indeed, Amandil had heard about Alissha. Even though her memory was cursed, there were few in Númenor who did not know about the ambitious cousin of Ar-Adunakhôr, who tried to usurp his throne with the help of many landholding nobles of the provinces and the Elf-friends. She had even gone as far as to pronounce herself Queen in the Palace of Armenelos, only to die in a faraway prison some years later.
Amandil knew, also, that Ar-Adunakhôr and his descendants had accused his own family of being in league with the usurper.
"When she realised that her sister was going to lose, Alashiya left her side. She married a lesser man, a man who had been unfit to even glance at her beforehand, and had his children. Because of these actions, Ar-Adunakhôr did not see any threat in her, and she was left in peace."
The young man glanced at the priest, his troubles momentarily forgotten by this revelation. Only after a while, he realised that Yehimelkor was holding back, as if expecting him to say something.
"I had no idea." he offered, not very cleverly. Yehimelkor´s eyes devoured his face.
"What do you think of her, Hannimelkor?"
Amandil shifted in his chair, uneasy and annoyed at the same time. He had a vague idea of how the links could be tied.
"What do you think of her?" The question was repeated, almost in anger.
This time, Amandil rose to the bait.
"She was a coward. I am not."
Yehimelkor did not flinch.
"No. And yet you both betrayed your obligations."
"Our obligations?" Amandil fumed, standing up from the chair and throwing caution to the winds. "I did not ask for that child! And yet it came, and now I have an obligation towards him, too! It´s mine!"
"And that is the question."
It was a low whisper, and yet it gave Amandil pause.
"Alashiya was a traitor," Yehimelkor continued, but there was a little more feeling in his voice now. "And yet she had children, and her children had children, and now, I am here and alive. Her lineage is alive."
"Your lineage, just as mine, has been judged by men, and condemned by them. However, the gods hold their own counsel, of which we can only perceive an imperfect echo with all our prayers and visions."
He had fallen back to his old, didactical tone, the same with which he had explained to a bored child everything about omens and divine volition. Any belief Amandil might have held that he was understanding the point of the conversation died in renewed confusion.
"What does that mean?" What do you mean by that? was what he truly would have asked, but for once he had the wits to choose the less confrontational answer.
"The gods do not want your lineage to die. For what reason ever, they are challenging the King´s decision, and so must I. However," he interjected swiftly as he saw Amandil´s mouth open to say something, "you are still a betrayer. Our ties are broken, and I advise you to respect this notion. A great disaster is in store for you if our paths ever meet again."
Amandil´s dismay should have been deep enough to show, etched in every line of his face. He stared at Yehimelkor as if it was the first time he saw this thin, heavily-robed figure evaluating him with a harsh and regal look. As if it was the first time that he felt the sense of perfect righteousness, the sense of clear finality that emanated from the priest´s voice and gestures whenever he felt backed by the mighty wisdom of the King of Armenelos.
Then, Yehimelkor´s right sleeve fell back a little, and he saw the dark shadow of blood. Before he could even blink, or swallow a sudden anguish that gathered in his throat, it had disappeared under the white folds.
It was over. Of all the words he could say, of everything he would have wanted this man to know, Amandil knew that none would be heard. He was being told to leave the rooms where he had studied heavy books, knelt day after day in front of the fire to pray, and woken up at nights to see a familiar light burning in the adjoining rooms, as the austere priest kept his watches.
He could not ask him to understand. He could not tell him that he was sorry, for it had been his decision to make. He could not ask for forgiveness, for the God, as it appeared, had spoken.
And still, he realised with a jolt, there was something that he could say. Swallowing deeply, he sank to his knees on the floor, and bowed thrice.
"I, Hannimelkor, thank you with all my heart for everything you have done for me." he recited, in a strong, ringing voice that he fought to keep steady. All of a sudden, he found that his awkwardness was gone, and everything he wanted to say fell from his lips easily. "You saved me, took me, taught me, named me, and let me go. For all those things, my gratitude is as deep and boundless as the ocean."
An unreadable emotion crossed Yehimelkor´s eyes, briefly warming their steely coldness. He gave him a tight nod.
"I will pray for you." he said. And with this he turned back, and walked inside his rooms with the silent irrevocability of a High Priest after a sacrifice.
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.