35. A Secret Wedding
He barely heard the mutterings behind his back as he took three sips from the cup of blue glass. Mutely, he handed it over the tray, and her pale hands trembled a little under the veil as she took it from him.
Amandil gazed behind the shadows, trying to read the expressions of the man and the woman who sat there, watching their daughter drink. Not to his surprise, they were frowning.
It had been Pharazôn, the last person in Númenor he would have asked for that kind of advice, who had told him to enter their house proudly and not put himself down. They had been very vocal at first, and even threatened to have him killed, but eventually they had come round. He was not sure if it had been because they had understood his situation, because Amalket had sworn to her mother that she would spread the rumours of her pregnancy herself if they refused their consent, or because of the liberal amounts of gold he had offered them. As planned, he had promised he would send further quantities, through "a friend" who was "a distinguished associate" of "his family of Gadir."
Belatedly, he had realised that he owed Pharazôn so many things now– not least his wedding, and maybe even the life of his child.
The hardest to manage had been Amalket´s father, a tall and strong man who believed himself to have influence in Armenelos, even though, as a guard, he was not even allowed to cross the inner threshold of the Palace. He also believed that his daughter could have done much better than some foreign merchant with a hawkish nose. Even after they had struck the accord –shamelessly enough- he had continued with his threats.
"I have friends among the soldiers of Sor." he had said, surveying him with a particularly scathing look. "If you are doing this only to run away – believe me, you will only reach the shores of Middle-Earth as a rotten corpse washed upon the shore. Am I making myself clear?"
"Perfectly clear", Amandil replied, putting the restraint he had learned in the temple of Melkor to use. "You seem to think I would have needed to pay you a good bride price and marry your daughter to escape."
The suspicious look in the man´s face was barely altered by this logic.
"Maybe not. However, you may yet change your mind."
"I am not letting go of a career of brilliant prospects at the Temple of Melkor just in order to change my mind", Amandil retorted, with an appropriately offended voice. This statement seemed to infuriate his father-in-law even further.
"You dare complain? My daughter has been forced to let go of brilliant marriage prospects because of you!"
Their eyes met, and Amandil´s grey held a hard glint.
"I am not such a bad prospect." he said. To his surprise, the words came to his mouth with a natural pride, not with the forced bravado that he had envisioned himself using at his friend´s advice.
It even gave the other man some pause.
"You..." he muttered, pacing in circles. For a while, he kept opening and closing his mouth as he wondered how best to put it. "You are a merchant."
"Yes, I am. And in the colonies of Middle-Earth, there are no other nobles than us merchants. Once I am discharged from the Bay, she will be held in great honour there."
All this had not stopped them from frowning even at the very night of the wedding. But soon, at least, he would not have to care about that.
Slowly, he tried to relax. The room was dark and quiet, lighted by a few, scattered perfume candles. Only a small wooden statue of the Lady, painted in light colours and dressed in finery, presided over their wedding with a vague smile upon her lips.
"Well. "A woman´s pointed cough broke through the tense silence, and they put the cup back on the table. "Now, she is your wife."
* * * * *
After all the stolen nights they had spent in that very place, breathlessly listening for the barest sound of footsteps, the faintest flutter of robes, it was strange to sit there now with all lamps alight, upon a bed that smelled of perfume.
Amandil saw Amalket discard the veil, and turn a nervous smile in his direction. Her cheeks were covered in a soft blush, but she kept gazing at the bed with the same discomfort that he felt.
"This..." she whispered after a long, incommodating silence, "does not feel natural."
He laughed, as if her words had been some kind of cue to give free rein to his own emotions.
"Right now, I would feel more comfortable if I could breathe some fresh air."
She smiled, and nodded.
"It can be done."
Her mother and the servant were waiting in the corridor, and they stared at them in shock as they passed by, hand in hand, heading for the backyard. There, they lay on the moonlit porch, next to a fountain whose running waters soothed the nerves that had been tight with worry for so long.
"The moon will be full in a week." she mused aloud, laying her head upon his shoulder. Locks of oily, scented hair had escaped the tight lines of her headdress, and tickled the skin of his neck.
He looked at her belly. The curve of the stomach under the saffron robes was as slight and graceful as ever. Only the sollicitous hand that stroked it as she watched the skies bore witness to the presence of his baby in her womb.
"Do you really have to go?"
Her hand moved until it was laid upon his, flawless skin contrasting sharply with the burns and scars of the holy fire.
"Shhh. Do not take me wrong. I know why you did it!" she whispered. "Believe me, I do! You did it for me. For us." He relaxed. "But I wonder if... if we had just.... left..."
Amandil shook his head. Since he had chosen the path he would take, he had known that this question would come sooner or later – and that he would owe her an explanation.
"My family..." he began, then cleared his throat. "My family is not happy with me. I was consecrated when I was born, and if I lost my honour now and just –fled, they would curse me. I have to honour their arrangement and enter the Sacred Cave. "
As he said this, a part of him wondered if it could be more than one of those many well-crafted lies that he needed in order to survive. What would his parents, in Sor, think of his actions?
He had been a priest of Melkor for fifteen years, he thought, a familiar heavy weight sinking in his stomach like lead. Surely, if they had wanted to curse him, they would have done it already.
"And then, there is another reason", he continued, forcing himself to return to the matter at hand. "I know I told you that it was just a pretext. Maybe this is even what I believed back then, but now I feel that the... Lady is truly claiming me."
Amalket hid her surprise behind her hands. Amandil wondered why it was so difficult to elaborate.
"Some god brought us this child. There is no other explanation, "he continued, remembering Yehimelkor´s words to him in that last conversation. "A god that did not want me to remain in the service of the Temple of Armenelos. And then, the priests of the Lady decide to help me... I think it is a signal."
If he had told her the complete truth, if he had said that sometimes he doubted that the high being who had seen fit to make their lives a mess was counted among the gods of the Númenorean people, she would not have understood. She would maybe have been afraid.
As it was, she looked at him in newfound awe.
"Do you think she is.... protecting our child?" Her hand stroked her belly with an almost covetous insistence now.
"Maybe. She could have planned something for its future. Or mine. We should obey her wishes, and see what happens."
She turned back to gaze at the water, and slowly, her enthusiasm gave way to a thoughtful expression. When she looked at him again after a while, there was a tiny frown upon her forehead.
"They say that the priestesses of Ashtarte-Uinen are the most desired women in Númenor. I hope you are not thinking about that when you speak of obeying her wishes."
Amandil´s eyes widened at her accusation, but not in offense. Since the news of the baby had first shaken their lives, fear and worry seemed to have banished any jealous thoughts far from her mind. It was as if a part of her had been lost, and now that he felt it come back again he realised how much he had loved her for it.
"Priests of the Lady are forbidden to bed fellow priests – and priestesses", he informed. "If that regulation did not exist, the Forbidden Bay would probably have become a common brothel long ago."
"I hear it is a common brothel already", she argued, sulkily.
"Then, why don´t you make sure that you keep an eye on me?" he challenged. "You can travel there. See me whenever you wish. If you pretend to be a pilgrim and we are careful enough, nobody will be the wiser."
All animosity forgotten, her eyes widened in pure glee.
"Really? I...I... of course I will go!!"
Amandil nodded, heartened.
"They say that the Forbidden Bay is the most beautiful place in Númenor. The realm of the Love-goddess. It could be nice to meet there."
"Oh, just wait. I am going to have you expelled for indecent behaviour." Suddenly, she whipped around and kissed him. He leaned forwards, kissing her back.
When the kiss broke, her wedding headdress had fallen, and a more familiar light was beginning to set her features ablaze. Amandil had to swallow deeply – was this the reason why he had chosen that path, after all?
"I... am sorry that I have to leave so soon", he muttered, not really knowing what he was saying. "I would have liked... I would have preferred...."
"I will send you money."
She laughed, pressing her body against his.
"People will think I am some nobleman´s mistress."
For a moment, a distant sense of alarm gave him pause, but it was drowned under a cascade of more immediate sensations.
"And what will you say to that?" he muttered between kisses. Her clear laugh rang in his ears again.
"I will make them terribly envious with stories about a handsome and mysterious rich man of the colonies." she said. He felt himself relax, and laughed back at the purposeful silliness in her voice. "I hope the child looks like you."
Amandil had never seen himself as handsome. Most people stared at him and decided that he had to be some kind of foreigner, if not something worse, and his friend Pharazôn´s looks could outshine much better looking men than he. And then, of course, Yehimelkor would have scolded him for thinking of his personal appearance...
A small pang of sorrow made him wince. It would take long, to get used to the priest´s absence. It would take long to get used to so many things.
The departure was scheduled for next week.
"Is something the matter?" Amalket whispered, giving him a worried look. Some of his thoughts, it seemed, had been reflected in his face.
He shook his head in dismissal, and proceeded to bury his face in her pale neck with a renewed, almost desperate hunger.
"Nothing." he groaned, as he felt his wife´s hands start to fumble with her clothes.
* * * * *
"So you are leaving."
The moon had set in a blaze of red behind the slopes of the Meneltarma, and the city of Armenelos lay in the quiet darkness that preceded dawn. In the gardens of the royal temple villa, the sound of nightbirds was already beginning to fade.
The traveler stared in disbelief at the cloaked figure that stood in front of him.
"I cannot believe that you actually came."
The figure made a gesture of impatience.
"But of course I came! My friend is leaving Armenelos for good, and you think I should have stayed in bed?"
Amandil shook his head, but did not speak. After a moment of slightly awkward silence, it was the other young man who spoke again.
"I am... going to miss practicing swordsmanship with you."
A faint smile.
"You are not going to improve at all without the challenge."
"You think so?" Pharazôn furrowed his brow, but suddenly his face lit up, and his eyes sparkled with mischief. "I will just have to travel to the Forbidden Bay myself, then. Now, that would be an idea! I have heard they have the best priestesses in Númenor and the colonies... why, they told me the High Priestess can even...!"
"Now, now, stop making me jealous." Amandil interrupted him before he was subjected to a detailed description of one of his new superiors´s sexual prowess. "I will not be able to bed any of them."
Pharazôn rolled his eyes.
"Because of your wife?" he guessed. His friend shook his head.
"Because of the rules of the sanctuary."
The mocking expression turned, after a moment, to pity.
Amandil shrugged. For a while, again, both struggled against the weight of the silence, closing their mouths when the words didn´t come to them. A breeze blew through the trees, stirring the lighter branches with a long, smothered hiss.
This time, it was Amandil who spoke first.
"I..." He swallowed. "I cannot possibly thank you enough. Everything you have done, making this marriage possible, providing all that gold..."
Pharazôn shook his head, with the slightly impatient, regal air that would come only to someone used to hearing similar words all the time. Amandil hoped that the darkness would hide the red in his face.
"Stop that already! You are my friend. "He smiled. "And I prefer it when you are being grumpy."
The blush in Amandil´s face became even more pronounced. He took a long breath.
"There are no words to convey how this is embarrassing to me... but after all you have done, I still must ask something else of you." His arms were crossed over his chest, and he glared at his companion. "Stop laughing at me!"
"What is it?" Pharazôn asked, the supressed smile still twinkling in his eyes. "Do you want me to keep your wife satisfied in your absence?"
Amandil did not even bother to make a reply. After knowing him for such a long time, he was aware that this was Pharazôn´s idea of a way to ease the tension.
"No, it is..."Their eyes finally met. "Will you protect my child? I am in no situation to do it myself, and I fear...."
"Oh, please. Do not tell me that this was what all the fuss was about." The prince shook his head in disbelief. "As if I was not going to do it already! "For a moment, he seemed to sober, and his eyes took a steely glint. "May the King of Armenelos and the Lady of the Forbidden Bay rip my soul to pieces if I ever let any harm come to your child while I live."
Amandil nodded in silent gratitude. The sounds of the first conversation had broken somewhere in the nearby streets of the Eastern Hill.
"I am now completely in your debt, then."
"Yes, yes." Pharazôn waved it away again. "I hope it is a boy. A good fighter, like his father. I need men if I am ever to conquer Middle-Earth."
Amandil thought about that for a moment.
"I would prefer that, too. I will be so far away, and a girl... somehow, seems even more vulnerable."
His friend stared into the distance, searching for the first rays of light.
"Yes, they seem so.... "His voice trailed away, just as a strange expression flickered over his face, and he shook his head as if to dislodge a nagging thought. "But dawn is here. Come on! You should be going now."
Amandil nodded, and arranged the folds of his cloak. The Morning Star was the only one who still resisted the oncoming onslaught of brightness. Beyond the tiled roof that encircled them, he could imagine the silent, majestic city of Armenelos stretching under the mountain, with its labyrinthic streets and colourful domes.
When would he see it again?
"Farewell, then." he said, forcing his voice to ring clear and steady. "Farewell, my friend."
* * * * *
It was almost summer already, and the colourful and fragrant spring gardens had been abandoned in favour of the coolness of the fountains. It was there, sitting under the shade of two pine trees, that he found his mother, and she smiled at him as if she had expected his visit all along.
He ignored her silent invitation to sit.
"I would like to thank you in Amandil´s behalf." he spoke, meeting her amused, hazel eyes with his. "Without your help..."
Her laughter was as clear as the water spilling before them.
"Stop being so formal." She shook her head. "I know how fond you are of him; I had no other choice than to do what I could for his sake."
"It must have been quite difficult to... speak to the King about this matter."
"Oh, on the contrary!" she exclaimed, making a sharp gesture of dismissal. "I told him that you both had become friends, and that I would do whatever it took to stop that Western fiend from corrupting my only son. The Lady, in her infinite graciousness, had heard my concerns and sent me a vision. We both agreed that killing him for no reason after fifteen years of public service in the Temple would be... unadvisable. Especially when he is under the protection of that phenomenon – what was his name?"
His son stared at her in disbelief.
"You told him that?"
"Why, of course! What would you have done, go to the King and ask him to please help your dear friend?" She shrugged, somewhat disappointedly. "You have the subtlety of a three year old."
A spark of indignation flickered in the young man´s eyes, though it was quickly replaced by an inquiring stare.
"I suppose I should not wonder if what you told the King was true."
"You seem to have lost all trust in me. Even though I do nothing but help you, over and over again."
Pharazôn looked a little guilty at this. He shook his head violently.
" I also have been in communication with your cousin once again." she changed the subject. "She gave me something for you."
"Stop your... your meddling!"
Melkyelid´s eyes narrowed.
"You did not mind my meddling when you needed it to help your friend."
"That was..." He looked lost for a moment, then forced himself to adopt a deliberately polite tone. "Please, do not interfere in my relationship with the young Princess of the West. This is my business."
"And what if she is careless enough as to come to me?"
Curiosity made a dent in Pharazôn´s determination.
Melkyelid´s lips curved into a smile.
"She did. And she gave me this."
In spite of himself, the young man leaned forwards as he saw something glint in his mother´s hand. His breath caught as he checked it closer. It was the most beautiful piece of jewelry he had seen in his life, if maybe not the most splendid. The gem looked like a large emerald at first sight, but it gleamed with the bluish hue of the Sea in summer, and the silvery material in which it was engraved had been wrought in the shape of small leaves, with a skill that surpassed that of the crafters of Gadir and Sor.
He swallowed, astounded.
"This is something very ancient. I guess it is a family heirloom. "Melkyelid ventured with a delicate frown. "Any idea on why would she give it to you?"
"Did she say anything?" he asked, even more mystified than she was. The jewel felt strangely warm in the palm of his hand.
"Only that you might need it one day. But when I asked her why, she said that she did not know."
Pharazôn shook his head. Zimraphel was as strange as she was unpredictable. Almost as he thought this, he experienced a shiver, and a familiar feeling of longing that he had been repressing for months now. He clenched his teeth, furious at himself for thinking of her when he had sworn to himself that he wouldn´t.
"She probably wanted to spite her family for some reason or other. She does that quite often." he said, trying to sound casual and unconcerned. But he could tell that his mother, with her uncommonly sharp eyes, had noticed his inner struggle.
"I see. I would advise you not to wear it in public, then." she said. "There might be... consequences."
Pharazôn looked at her in outrage.
"I was not planning on... wearing this thing." Its beauty was dazzling, and it felt so warm in his hand. Like her.
"I will put it in a box somewhere." he decided, pushing it inside his robes and offering her a curt bow. Melkyelid smiled pleasantly.
"That would be a good idea."
She probably had recognized his lie as easily as she always did. But still, she chose not to point this out to her son as he turned away from her, and left her gardens at a stormier pace than was strictly proper.
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.