Full of Wisdom and Perfect in Beauty: 37. Heading East

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37. Heading East

Note: Elendil has an Adûnaic name in Tolkien´s canon, Nimruzîr. Obviously I couldn´t use it here, as it´s a literal translation of his Quenya name, which basically would mean "Traitor".

Many thanks to Russandol for picking the nits.

 

Heading East

 

 

They were to leave the Forbidden Bay at dawn, when the town was still asleep and the roads empty of pilgrims. Before the first light had pierced the shadows of the eastern sky, the departing host assembled at the candle-lit Cave, to sing hymns to the Goddess with wreaths of flowers upon their heads. Amandil´s voice joined the rest, and the sound coming from two hundred throats echoed powerfully within the stone walls.

The Lady stood above them, atop her pearl-incrusted moon and the mountain of green boughs of return. She did not seem to be looking at him as she usually did, maybe because the fumes of incense obscured her face. Or maybe because no ship would bear him back, the dark thought crossed his mind, but he tightened his hand on the pommel of his sword and forced himself to forget the dreams where the current always pulled him away from the shore.

After the prayer they drifted towards the paved courtyard, where they saddled and mounted their horses. Amandil had been given a stubborn grey mare, which he had been cleaning and feeding for the last days in the hope that she would grow used to him. As when he attempted to be a dutiful priest of Melkor or of Ashtarte-Uinen, however, his efforts had passed largely unnoticed, and the mare writhed and almost threw him down before she submitted with ill-grace.

The streets were largely deserted at that hour, though now and then a curious face would peer from a window. Sleepy-faced vendors were building their stands at the side of the road, and they glared at them in startled resentment as they pulled their marchandise away from the horses´s hooves. Abdashtart rode at the head of the column, yelling at them to keep their pace up.

After a while, the town was left behind and they entered the forest paths, which were paved with flattened earth instead of stone. The scarlet fruits grew there in greater profusion, as did the golden mallorn trees that, according to Amandil´s mother, grew in what used to be their home up North. One day we will go back and see them, she had always promised, but the King would rather kill them all.

Little by little, the winding road was gaining height. As they left the trees behind, Amandil looked down and saw the beach, a radiant white plain that nobody had yet defiled since it emerged from the waves, the gift that the Sea laid at the Lady´s feet twice a day. The waters of the bay were golden and rose-coloured, and he had to look away before his eyes started to water. Around him, everything seemed dark by comparison.

As Abdashtart reminded them whenever he opened his mouth, they were expected in Armenelos in the fourth day, and they needed to make haste. Pauses were therefore scarce, and at night many a grumbling young man complained that they had barely closed their eyes when they were made to open them again. The inns built by Ar-Adunakhôr to ease the muster of forces across the island lay abandoned for the most part, and more than once they were made to huddle on the floor of some chilly hall where no fire had burned for a hundred years. Amandil preferred to sleep with the horses, as there it was at least warm. His mount was still giving him the cold shoulder, but there were others that did not mind him curling next to them. Other priests followed his example, but they would come in groups and not pay him much attention.

The second night, as he fell asleep among snorts and whispers and the smells of cheap wine and warm manure, he had that dream again. He was standing on the stern of a boat, and Númenor was behind him, steadily growing smaller in the distance. A feeling of great loss washed over him, so strong that he could remember it well into the next day. But when he turned towards the prow he woke up shaking, unable to remember what had scared him so much.

After that, however, there were no more dreams. Too many things filled his mind to wonder about visions that came in the night, and soon they started to seem irrelevant in broad daylight. They were riding through the plains of Mittalmar, and the white shadow of the Meneltarma was cast against the horizon.

Armenelos was drawing close.

Amandil did not remember it being so large, or having so many buildings. In his thoughts it had shrunk, becoming a single house where two women and a boy lived, and a temple with fires and corridors that sometimes seemed more of a dream than even the boat nightmares.

"Weren´t you a priest there, Hannishtart?"

It was Eshmounazer, who pointed towards a domed building that stood on the top of the farthest hill of the city. Many young priests had never seen such a sight before, and they were pointing excitedly or either staring at the King´s capital with looks of the purest awe. Amandil looked at the white towers, no bigger than his fingers at that distance, and the golden dome between them, right where the Fire burned day and night under the watchful look of the novices. Memories came crashing into his mind, of the endless nights, the hurting knees, the furtive escapades, the sound of muttered prayers in the neighbouring room and above all, the fear, of fire and discovery and the cold eyes of the old man sitting on a throne.

"Long ago, yes. Before I was claimed by the Lady."

He knew that Eshmounazer would have asked more questions, if that hadn´t been too rude. Tongues had wagged since the day that he appeared at the Forbidden Bay, straight from the service of the King of Armenelos, but only the senior priests knew the truth about him. Or what they thought to be the truth.

None of them knew that Amalket lived in a house next to the Palace hill, raising a boy who was his.

"There are no more inns. If we don´t get to the city before nightfall, you´ll be sleeping under the stars tonight!" Abdashtart threatened from the front. Amandil gathered his reins, and reluctantly, the grey mare resumed her pace.

* * * * *

It was night when they entered the city, just as it had been thirty-five years ago. This time, however, the vendors called to them as they crossed the narrow streets, and women in coloured veils smiled from the corners. Amandil ignored them, but others paused, with looks that reminded him of his friend Pharazôn.

"Those are not even courtesans", he said to nobody in particular, though Eshmounazer heard him and turned away, looking flustered.

They were to spend the night between four inns at the flat hollow in the city centre, not too far from the Palace hill. From there they would be summoned on the following morning, and they would have wished they had slept then, as Abdashtart warned in dire tones, but most young priests had left the inn barely five minutes after he had turned his back on them. Armenelos was the capital and the jewel of Númenor, and there nights were as bright as days. Wine houses, taverns and brothels awaited, ready to welcome the visitors at each turn of the street.

Amandil was glad of the opportunity to leave the place unnoticed. He threw his cloak over his shoulders, and took a cobbled street that stretched uphill. It was a side route, and it was empty except for a group of early drunks that huddled in front of a small door, which stood open and casting an orange glow over the pavement. When Amandil hurried past them, someone pointed at him and laughed. He wondered if it could be one of the people he had met in Pharazôn´s infamous feasts. He imagined them sitting inside with their cups, as if time had stopped for them when he left, their glances still unfocused as they paused in their song to follow the cadence of a woman´s legs.

The house was also standing right where he remembered it; a small, two-storied building painted in white, with a balcony where he had used to throw pebbles to alert of his secret visits. A lamp was burning inside, casting a dim radiance over the clay lattice. Under its light, he could see that the jasmine plant had almost reached the third floor by now. As he stood in front of the door and knocked, sweet-smelling petals fell over his cloak.

A light flickered in a window to his left, then went out. Amandil was debating whether he should announce his name, feeling again like the guilty intruder who shouldn´t draw attention to himself. In a sense, it was so – walls had ears in Armenelos, and the latticed windows above the street were as many manned sentry posts.

The light flicked on again. A soft rustling sound reached his ears from behind the door, and suddenly it creaked open, and a wrinkled face peered through.

She was smiling.

"My lady was beginning to worry", she said, beckoning him in.

* * * * *

"Who told you I was coming?"

Everything had happened too quickly at first to make sense of Amalket´s servant´s welcome, or Amalket´s beautiful new dress or her carefully painted face. There had been tears, and kisses, and embraces that tore his thoughts into shreds and left them hanging while he hugged her to his chest and muttered back her own words at her. But then, she caught his hand in hers and led him to a table that seemed to be sagging under the weight of meats and fruits, and the questions grew back.

"Your providers sent word."

"My...?" The words died in his lips, and he stopped for a moment to ponder this. His providers were his father´s associates in Armenelos, who took care of his wife while he was serving the Goddess in the Forbidden Bay. His real father, of course, was not a merchant but a prisoner in Sor, and he had no associates in Armenelos or anywhere else. Pharazôn was behind it all, but Amandil couldn´t imagine how he might have known about...

"Come on!" Amalket complained, tugging at his hand. She was a fully-grown woman, a mother and the head of a household for years. A few lines had appeared in her face since the last time he had seen her, and yet she seemed to have become a girl again as soon as she laid eyes on him.

Realizing that it was useless to think about it now, and even more so to obsess over the implications of anyone in the Palace having heard of his choosing -Pharazôn could have just decided he had to be in the party, since he had a high opinion of his skills, or maybe even his mother, the Princess of the South, had had it from someone, since she had been a priestess of the Lady-, Amandil followed her towards the table. Just at that moment, her servant appeared with an old woman leaning on her arm. Her back was bent, and she walked very slowly.

"Look, Mother! See who is here!" Amalket shouted, though he was obvious enough, standing in the middle of the room with his hand in hers.

"Mother", he bowed courteously. She stared at him for a long while, and he marvelled at how age had preyed on her so soon. Amalket said in her letters that she was ill, and now that he saw her frailty for himself, he could believe it.

After a while, she nodded in a vague way, allowing herself to be led towards a chair.

"How are your vows going?" Amalket asked him. "Will you have all five of them soon?"

"Soon", he lied. He was as close to becoming a full priest as he had been the last time, and even after he had achieved all five vows the permission to leave the Cave would never be granted. It would be more useful to wait for Ar-Gimilzôr to be taken by the Darkness, but of course he could not say that to Amalket. The lies were necessary, and yet they brought a weight upon his chest.

One day, she would have to know. She was the mother of the child who was sent by some power -and deep inside, he knew that even if he was fated to spend his whole life among shadows, her son would come to the light.

"You must be really high up in the temple, if they chose you to consecrate holy sanctuaries in Middle-Earth!" she chattered as he sat down. "Your blessings must be able to kill Orcs and drive the darkness away. And they trust you to keep the King´s soldiers safe, too!" Her expression suddenly sobered, and a crease appeared on her forehead. "Still, you must promise that you will be careful. Middle-Earth is dangerous, and there are plenty of evils there. I wouldn´t want anything bad to happen to you!"

"I will be safe." Another lie. "But where is our son? I am very eager to see him."

Amalket took a wine jar and poured into his cup. The smell was spicy and sweet.

"Halideyid should be back soon. He´s been teaching swordsmanship to the sons of the Palace Guards, but he promised he would make haste."

"Teaching... swordsmanship?" Amandil was surprised at this. He held the cup at a distance from his lips, staring at the lumps of cinnamon that swirled inside the liquid. "You know that if you need more money, you only have to..."

"We don´t need more money!" she cut him fiercely. He looked up; he had not expected such a reaction. "He needs to join the Guards, that´s what he needs, and that´s what they´re making him do. So it´s his duty, and he´s getting nothing for it."

"If my lady´s father was alive, things would be different", the other woman huffed. "He would have had his arms at sixteen and he wouldn´t have to teach no snotty-nosed kids."

"I like it", a voice said from the corridor. Amandil left the cup on the table with a sharp noise, and turned towards the doorstep.

"Halideyid!" Amalket´s voice was laden with reproach. "You´re all... sweaty, and dirty, and your father is here!"

"But you told me to make haste", he argued, coming in. Then, he looked past his mother, and saw him sitting on the table. He stopped in his tracks, and his features sobered carefully. "Father."

Amandil blinked. For a while, that seemed to stretch shamefully long, he could do little else than that. The last time that he had seen him, it had been more than ten years ago. He remembered a tall boy, with a large nose and curious grey eyes. Now, however...

The man who stood in front of him, wrapped in a blue cloak, had the sharp features of the Andúnië line, or at least those of his father and the father of his father that Amandil barely remembered. Dark hair fell freely down his shoulders, like Amandil´s, but his looked more dishevelled than his father had ever been. That was because of the beard that covered the lower half of his face, still too new to be combed but too grown to pass unnoticed.

And still, what had struck Amandil the most was his height. As he stood in the middle of the room, the top of his head almost touched the ceiling, and he had needed to bow to cross the threshold of the door. He was taller than him, taller than any man he had ever seen, with long and lanky legs and arms that seemed to hang at his sides. When he stood up to greet him, Amandil was forced to look up to meet his eyes, and he felt briefly ridiculous.

"You have grown", he muttered -and this, too, felt ridiculous. Fortunately, Amalket took his uncomfortableness for sheer admiration, and beamed.

"Yes, our son has become quite the tall, powerful man! When we walk together, people take him for my husband!"

She would rather look like his daughter, at least from behind, running to keep up with his strides. Amandil´s mother had told him once that Elves were tall as trees, and also that they were descended from them thousands of years ago. But Elves had no beards or dishevelled hairs or sweaty cloaks. This was a Man... his own son.

"Welcome to Armenelos, Father", Halideyid said, feeling self-conscious under his stare. Amandil noticed and looked away, searching for his cup while the young man sat in front of him. He had a strange way of sitting, sideways, with both legs stretched to the right and his upper body bent in the opposite direction, so as to be in line with the table. If he sat normally his knees would bump against the surface, Amandil realized.

"Hello, Grandmother." The old woman smiled back at him, as he took the wine jar and started pouring on a cup. Liquid spilled to the sides, and Amalket stood up again.

"I will do that", she offered, in a tone that brooked no discussions. "Hannishtart, please, we are eager to hear about your journey."

"Is it true you are being sent to Middle-Earth?" Halideyid asked, dropping a piece of bread over the spice bowl. It wasn´t an isolated incident; during the meal he spilled a cup, dropped a pear on his lap and sent a knife flying into the bread basket. Amandil might have blamed it on embarrassment, but he noticed that Amalket and the other women seemed used to this clumsy behaviour. Watching him, he had the feeling that the young man´s arms were too long for his movements.

For a long while, he was the one who did most of the talking, while Halideyid and the women listened and ate in silence. He told them what little he had heard about the recent manouevres of Mordor, the problems in the colonies and the summons that had come to the Cave. Then, he told them of the journey East, and what lay ahead of them.

"So you are leaving tomorrow already?" Amalket asked, dismayed. "I thought..."

"We bought food for a week", the servant nodded. "Well, at least we can prepare it for the journey..."

"Adiba, if Father came back to his quarters with a bag of homemade food instead of a hangover there would be plenty of questions", Halideyid intervened. For a moment his eyes met Amandil´s, and he rushed to fill his cup again.

As they were finishing, someone knocked at the door. Amandil felt concerned for a moment, but Amalket shook her head and sent Adiba to answer it. She came back announcing the arrival of two boys for swordmanship class, and Halideyid stood up at once.

"If you would excuse me..."

"Couldn´t you have arranged it for another day?" Amalket asked, her hands on her hips.

"It was impossible. They already come everyday, and their parents..."

"I do not mind", Amandil interrupted the argument, smiling. Halideyid bowed and left, and he turned towards his frowning wife. "In fact, I think I would... like to take a peek. Just for a while."

Her frown dissolved.

"Oh." She thought about this in silence, then she looked at him again. She seemed suddenly embarrassed. "Hannishtart... I think that he... he wants to like you." A blush covered her cheeks. "But he has only seen you once, and it´s not your fault but..."

Amandil winced.

"He doesn´t know me." And it was true for both of them.

"Go and see him, then", she urged, standing up and piling one plate in top of another. "I´ll be waiting for you later."

Amandil nodded, grabbed his cloak and walked out of the room. He did not remember the way to the backyard very well, so he took some false turns through the dark corridors until the sound of voices and the clash of wooden swords finally reached his ears. The night was warm, and he found he had no need of the cloak he had brought. He walked gingerly through the wooden planks of the porch, not wanting them to creak under his feet and provoke an interruption. It was his house, and still he could not help feeling like an intruder.

He has only seen you once.

Halideyid was standing under the lamplight, holding a wooden sword. The two boys stood in front of him right where a fountain used to be years ago, under a cherry tree that looked strangely forlorn after its petals had scattered through the yard. They had to be around twelve or thirteen, the age that he and Pharazôn were when they had taken on the eighteen old son of the Palace armsmaster.

"Imagine that you fancy a girl, but she likes another boy", Amandil´s son was saying. If he had noticed him sitting there, he chose to give no sign of it. "Your opponent has heard about it, so when you are in the middle of the fight, he suddenly taunts you about it. How would you feel?"

"I would be angry. I would want to shut his fat mouth", one of the boys said. The other boy nodded in agreement.

"And embarrassed, if other people were listening", Halideyid supplied. After a long moment of hesitation, both boys nodded this time.

"Now imagine that you have skipped your archery class. Your opponent saw that you were not there, and in the middle of the fight he tells you that you are in huge trouble and that everybody was looking for you. Wouldn´t you be uneasy?"

Another nod.

"If you let anyone take you by surprise in this manner, you will lose track of what you are doing, and even if it´s just for a moment, you will forget everything you have been taught and grow careless. Then they will have an opening to defeat you."

Amandil was listening with the same interest as the two boys.

"Keeping your emotions in check is a very important part of swordfighting, and you have to be very careful about it. You mustn´t let your opponent take you at unawares about anything. "Halideyid closed his eyes. "Do like me. Close your eyes and remember all the things that worry you."

"Well... we´re going to be tested in archery tomorrow, and..."

"Not like that! You have to do it in silence, only to yourself."

The boy´s mouth snapped shut, and both of them stood still for a while. Amandil noticed, however, that their lips were moving in silence.

"Now, you are prepared. Try to fight me. Meanwhile, you can try to distract him if you know how."

One of the students, the one who had talked about the test, fell into a stance, and Halideyid did the same. Their fight was unequal since the beginning, as Halideyid did nothing but parry the attacks. Still, Amandil was admired at his sudden transformation. The clumsy young man whose arms and legs were too long and unwieldy to pour wine on a dinner table wielded the sword with astonishing ease. No movement was longer or shorter than it had to be, no step superfluous.

"I-I saw Imil kissing another boy last night!", the second boy cried.

"I know that´s a lie, you´re making it up to..."the one who fought began, but he could never finish the sentence because Halideyid got him first.

"See? You can´t afford to be distracted!"

"But I didn´t believe him!" the boy complained, rubbing his shoulder. The other laughed triumphally.

"You fell for it, you fell for it!"

"Anything that takes your full attention away from the sword you´re wielding is a distraction. It doesn´t matter if you believed him or not, you looked away and paid him more attention than the fight. Try again!"

Amandil stayed there for the whole lesson, so absorbed by everything they said and did with such that he wasn´t even aware of the hour. When Halideyid informed that it was over, he was surprised.

As the boys crossed the porch to go back inside, they saw him for the first time, and they paused to look at him curiously. They were just boys, but Amandil felt uncomfortable under their stares.

"Come on", Halideyid urged them.

One of them turned away quickly, though the other stole another glance at him.

"By the way, my father will pay you tomorrow," he heard him say before the three of them disappeared down the corridor. Halideyid began answering something, but their voices died soon after.

When the young man walked back into the porch, Amandil was stretching his legs under the tree.

"Your mother said that you weren´t being paid," he said, then winced at the accusing edge in his tone. He wanted to know his son, not argue with him.

Halideyid held his glance.

"She wasn´t lying. What I did before, it was my duty. This I do for money." He paused for a moment, as if to think, and his voice became lower. "Grandmother is not well, and medicines do not grow in Númenor. They have to be brought from the mainland, and it´s expensive."

"I can arrange..."

"I know that you are rich, but I am fully grown now, and I found no need to trouble you about things I can solve on my own." There was pride in Halideyid´s tone as he said those words, and something about it made Amandil unpleasantly aware that the money he sent to that house wasn´t his in the first place.

"I see", he muttered. Then, he remembered a different subject. "Are you going to enter the Palace guards, then?"

"That would make Mother happy. And your associates would never have to send money again." Halideyid knelt to pick the wooden swords that he and the boys had discarded on the floor after the practice session. "But Grandfather died when I was still young, and my birthright isn´t very... clear."

"Why so?" Amandil inquired. He had a suspicion.

"Well..." Though his son had already picked up everything, he kept his back turned to him. He wandered around, pretending to be looking for something else. "People can´t help but wonder..."

"About me." It wasn´t a question. "In spite of the unfortunate circumstances, my family is respectable enough. My associates can prove it for you." Pharazôn would help, if he told him about it.

"I know", Halideyid finally turned to face him. "The problem is, I don´t know if they would appreciate having any associates proving anything near their quarters. Mother says you are a good swordsman. Could we..?"

"Oh. Of course." Amandil was trying to make sense of what his son had said, and the request took him by surprise. He grabbed the sword just before it fell.

Halideyid seemed pleased at this. He fell into a stance in front of him, and Amandil did the same. His son´s height reminded him involuntarily of the times he had faced much older boys, back when he was a boy himself.

"So...who are you in truth?"

For a fraction of a second, Amandil was vaguely aware of having lowered his weapon on or two inches. Then, he felt a strong impact and saw it whirl away from him, crashing against the wall with a sharp noise. Pain exploded in his fingers and spread through his arm.

"Sorry", Halideyid said. Amandil bit back a groan, cursing to himself.

If you let anyone take you by surprise in this way, you will lose track of what you are doing.

"So you´re using your lessons against me, aren´t you? Very clever", he grumbled, walking towards the place where his sword had fallen. As he was about to kneel to pick it up, however, he thought better about it. A wince crossed his features, hidden by the shadows.

"I just wanted to know. If there was something else." Halideyid´s voice was laced with a new intent. "Twenty years ago, when I was born, the lord of Hyarnustar´s brother was living in the capital. He is well known here for his... excesses with women, and for his love for the wine that his native lands export. Among the Guards, it is whispered that he has my eyes..."

"Are you doubting that I am your father?" Amandil shouted. "You think you´re some nobleman´s bastard, and then he, what? Sent me to your mother in his place?"

"No, that would make no sense, not to us who know you, but..."Halideyid sought his glance now, eagerly. "Maybe you could be his bastard."

"Me?" Amandil was taken aback. What was the meaning of all those questions? Where did his son want to get to, interrogating him like that?

He couldn´t know. He shouldn´t ask.

The eager look disappeared, replaced by an air of grave... was it disappointment?

"I´m sorry. I shouldn´t have asked. I know there are reasons..."

"What do you know?" Amandil snapped. Then, however, he calmed himself, ashamed of his outburst.

How would he feel, if he had been in his son´s place? Growing without his father... sent money through intermediaries, gossiped about and rejected because of his strange features at the guild his own mother´s family had belonged to. He remembered Halideyid´s enigmatic words before the duel, and understood them better now. "That´s why you said that the Guards wouldn´t appreciate meeting my associates. They actually think a councilman´s family is going to meddle in their affairs, don´t they? Everybody believes that stupid story, don´t they?"

"Not everybody", his son replied at once. "It´s just a few whispers. I´ve never even told Mother about them, I wouldn´t want her to know."

And maybe she doesn´t want you to know, Amandil mused, growing more disheartened.

"Halideyid" he began, barely knowing what would come from his mouth next, "you must understand something. I didn´t leave willingly, and if it depended on me I... I would be here with you and your mother, and I wouldn´t have to hide or keep secrets from anyone."

Was he understanding a word of this? He sat on the porch, next to a withered cherry flower that had been blown that far by the wind. Distractedly, he picked it up and started turning it around his palm.

"Do not worry, Father, I know that too." Halideyid said then, and the flower fell from his hand. "Do you remember when Mother and I travelled to the Forbidden Bay ten years ago, and we saw each other for the first time? You were going to greet us, but a priest scolded you and told you to stop chattering with the pilgrims and go back to your duties. I looked at your face then, and you didn´t look like a man who wanted to hide, but like a man who was forced to hide. With that knowledge, I could never have thought badly of you."

Amandil looked down, at the flower that was now lying at his feet. For a long while, he spoke no word.

Then, he raised his head.

"I am no bastard. I am the true heir of my father and grandfather, Lord Valandil of Andúnië."

If they had been holding swords at this very moment, he could have easily gained retribution for his son´s earlier ploy. Halideyid had never looked so shaken.

"Valandil? The prisoner of Sor? The....?"

"The traitor", Amandil finished for him. "When I was a child, the King was going to have me killed. Instead, I was vowed to priesthood in Armenelos, and my line was supposed to die with me. However, I met your mother, and you were conceived. I could not bear the thought of disposing of you, and so with the help of a powerful friend, I erected this wall of lies to protect you, your mother and myself. You are the last descendant of the Western lords, Halideyid."

The young man had gone pale.

"But the Western line...everybody says that they are conspirers... that they are godless..."

"I was taken away from my parents when I was a child", Amandil replied, with a bitter grimace. "It has been more years than I can count, and still that´s not how I remember them." His son was about to open his mouth again, but he interrupted him before he could utter a word. He had not thought of it once in years, and still, all of a sudden, it seemed terribly important. "Nobody is godless, Halideyid. People worship different gods, and that´s why they hate each other." He thought of his mother, telling him stories about Melkor´s evil deeds, and the verses about the Elves in Yehimelkor´s theogony. "The King poisoned my food and sent men to cut my throat in my sleep, but his grandson befriended me in spite of who I was. The High Priest of Melkor would have killed me and burned my corpse in the fire altar of the temple, but the man who will be his sucessor saved my life and took care of me. Hating whole lineages and religions is more complicated than it seems."

Halideyid frowned. He was still shaken, but he managed to nod to his father´s words.

"Anyway" he whispered, "I can´t hate myself, can I?"

Wise beyond his years, Amandil thought, in a brief outburst of pride, wiser than I was back then.

"My position is dangerous. Even now, I feel that His Holiness sending me in the party to Middle-Earth, though it was a cherished wish of my childhood, might not be a simple coincidence. That´s why it´s better that you know who you are. And if the day comes that my family is freed from their prison, and you tell them that you are my son..."

Halideyid´s eyes started widening in alarm at those words. Amandil noticed it, and fell silent.

"Then again, maybe you would prefer to just forget what I told you. It´s not easy, and not likely to help you now." Maybe he, Amandil, would have preferred to forget what he knew, too.

But Halideyid bowed low.

"Thank you for telling me."

Amandil´s mind was in turmoil as he crossed the porch and walked aimlessly through the corridors of the house. He did not see Amalket waiting for him at the threshold, and almost crashed against her.

"Did something happen?" she asked, her eyes narrowing in worry as she perceived his agitation. Amandil held her hand.

"I..."

In his fevered state, it crossed his imagination to tell her, there and then, to expose himself to her judgement and wait for the veredict as he had done with his son. But then she tiptoed and pressed her lips against his, and that moment was gone.

"You´re with me", she moaned between kisses. "You can forget... your troubles... for a while."

"I will", he promised, encircling her waist with his hands and kissing her back.

* * * * *

The next morning, Amandil was one more of the bleary-eyed, barely awoken priests who gathered at the main gate of the Palace under Abdashtart´s frowns of disapproval. All around them, the King´s soldiers were gathering among a flurry of standards and the clang of armour. Some were on foot and some on horseback, and they seemed quite pleased to see them, though they were not seasoned warriors and many would require protection. The blessings of the gods were a force to be reckoned on its own, and nobody in Númenor was as religious as the soldiers.

That´s why it would be useless for any Elf-loving lineage to conspire against the Sceptre, Amandil thought, remembering the conversation with his son last night. But then, his own father had told him clearly enough, back when he was a child. We must obey the King who holds the Sceptre in Armenelos.

They were no conspirers.

"Look who´s here! If it´s not Hannishtart himself!"

Amandil´s musings were abruptly quenched by this shout. He looked up, not wanting to believe his ears. That voice...

Pharazôn jumped from his magnificent white horse, ignoring the protest of the man who held the reins, and tugged at Amandil´s. He was wearing an almost eye-blinding armour, all set in silver steel, and covered in a purple cape with gold embroiderings.

Feeling how everybody´s eyes were set on him, Amandil dismounted. He did not know if he wanted to hug his friend or punch him in the nose. In the end, he showed enough reflexes to kneel and bow low.

"What are you doing?" the fool cried, almost as loud as before. "Stand up and look at me, I had been waiting for this moment! Since I read the names of the priests who were coming with us..."

A vein seemed about to break in Abdashtart´s forehead. Pharazôn lifted Amandil, and something in his eyes seemed to inform him that his old friend did not appreciate everyone hearing such a familiar address. Changing track, he whispered some orders to his escort not to let anyone approach them while they talked.

"Are you mad?" Amandil hissed as the space around them emptied. Eyes, however, still followed him wherever he looked. "What if the King hears about this? He will have me killed!"

"The King is just a sour old man these days. He will be so pleased when I earn renown in Middle-Earth that he will have to grant whatever I ask of him", Pharazôn explained. "And I will ask that you are allowed to leave the Forbidden Bay and join the army."

"If you ask anything of the sort, he will pretend to agree and send assassins to finish me as I sleep that very night," Amandil growled. "I hope you earn renown, because then he might be too busy to hear about this. Please, treat me like any other priest."

"Fine, fine", Pharazôn looked barely ashamed. "My mother already told him you were a bad influence on me, back when she convinced him to send you away. Surely it won´t look suspicious for me to greet an old bad influence I haven´t seen in years."

He turned away, and called his escort back as if nothing had happened. Amandil watched him as he left, thoughtful. Back when they used to play together with wooden sticks, they had spoken of Middle-Earth plenty of times, of the monsters they would slay and the victorious wars they would lead there. Now that both of them were part of an expedition that would take them across the sea to the lands they had dreamed in their childhood, however, it felt like a strange coincidence -and, somehow, an ominous one.

Maybe he just thought too much.

"Let this be the last time you approach the son of the Prince of the South." Abdashtart warned him between clenched teeth, as he struggled to mount back his grey mare.

* * * * *

The Arms of the Giant, the great harbour of Sor, was a mere two days by horse from Armenelos, but as there was infantry it took them four. It was relatively easy to avoid Pharazôn, as he was always surrounded by people, but this did not give Amandil as much relief as it might have. The truth was that he would have wanted to speak to him, a good long conversation to tell him about the things he had revealed to his son, and his mixed feelings about this expedition. Pharazôn had a way to assuage his worries, to make him feel like nothing in the world would hurt them. Listening to his words was sometimes like wine; they gave him courage without a reason. And courage without a reason was the best thing he could hope for right now.

They reached the coast on the morning of the third day, and looked upon the ancient harbour of Rómenna, ensconced in the narrow bay between the roots of the Orrostar and the Hyarrostar. It seemed a venerable place even from the distance, a city of ancient houses and empty stone harbours. Amandil remembered Yehimelkor teaching him that this had been the greatest port of Eastern Númenor once, where the first ships departed for Middle-Earth and came back loaded with all kinds of strange animals and plants. It had been there, too, where the first sacred objects of the cult of Melkor had arrived from the temples in the colonies, but now the old docks held naught but fishing boats, floating still in that windless place.

Next, the road followed the coastline for some thirty winding miles. To their right stood the great forests of Hyarrostar, under the authority of the governor of Sor, which furnished timber for the Númenorean fleet. To the left, the Eastern sea, bluer than the sea of the Forbidden Bay, came to die in barren coasts of rock and sand.

There was a high elevation in their way, whose sandy slopes proved difficult for the horses. Few trees had taken root there, and the East wind, which was becoming stronger as they approached the first peak of the Hyarrostar, brought volleys of sand upon their faces. Amandil´s face had almost sunk to the neck of his mount when they finally climbed it, though the sight under their feet made him look up at once.

The road came down on a city of tall houses set upon the slope. Proud red towers rose at every turn, each vying with the others for the prized view of the ships coming from and to the harbour. Beyond them, the Arms of the Giant, the enormous artificial harbour built by Ar-Adunakhôr, stretched for almost a mile into the sea, holding a thousand ships in their embrace.

Each arm ended in a pronounced curve, upon which stood two red statues of the Great God. One of them was clad in full armour and holding a sword; the other wore a crown and a sceptre. Statues of Melkor were blasphemous, Yehimelkor had always told him, but these were said to have the features of Ar-Adunakhôr himself.

Amandil remembered only two things from the city of his birth: the sea of red towers and one of the statues, the one with the sword, which he had been able to see whenever he tiptoed on Azzibal´s balcony. Still, as he rode past the steep and crowded streets, he could not help feeling that the place was familiar to him somehow. He looked up at the towers and balconies, wondering which of them belonged to Azzibal the associate of Magon.

"Make way, make way!" somebody was shouting at the head of the column. The Sorians were used to soldiers riding through the streets in their way to the ships, as they were to caravans of marchandise and riots. They left their business and talking circles and stood aside to let them pass, but they did it slowly, almost defiantly, as if they wanted to show them that they were not afraid.

The accomodation process was much slower this time than it had been in Armenelos, since the two hundred priests had been joined by a thousand soldiers and a prince. Amandil had the unpleasant feeling that they meant for him to be the last to get a bed, to pay for his insolence on the first morning of the trip. Finally, he was given a tiny room in an inn by the harbour, which smelled strongly of fish from the vendors that crowded the doorstep.

"Where are you going?" Eshmounazer asked him as he saw him going downstairs.

"To buy fish", Amandil replied. Trudging past the vendors without as much as a second glance, he found himself in the street.

The harbour, despite its size, was so crowded that it was barely possible to walk through it. People sold, bought, begged, talked, shouted, laughed and pushed each other under the shadow of large merchant vessels. Amandil walked past all of them, until he reached an area full of timber barges which was less congested. His pace slowed, and he approached a man who sat behind a pile of coloured fabrics for sale.

"Do you know the house of Azzibal, a rich merchant of this city?" he asked. The man nodded, barely surprised at the question.

"Aye, over there, third street to the left. You will know it by the ship mosaics on the front."

"Thank you." Amandil bowed courteously, and turned his steps in that direction. As he did so, he ran into a beggar, who grabbed his cloak.

"A coin, good sir, just a tiny coin!" he said. Amandil had barely stopped in his tracks, however, when the man gave a cry of surprise.

"You!"

"I don´t know you." Amandil grabbed his cloak and pulled firmly, but the man jumped to his feet and ran to fall on his knees before him, barring his escape. He wore tattered robes and a beard, but no matter how closely he looked at the features behind the tangles of dirty hair, Amandil was still at a loss.

"You have his face! The same face, I remember it well! You came to deliver us, as it was promised!" The man had tears on his eyes now, which gave him a moment of pause. He wiped them with the back of his hand and laughed; half of his teeth were broken. "You are the Lord of Andúnië, our rightful lord! Praise the Baalim and Baal Shamem, the King of the skies!""

The young priest saw other beggars drawing closer to them, attracted by the commotion. His instinct yelled at him to escape, to run back into the shadows and the safety, but the man´s happy smile held him transfixed.

Those people... they were...

"Stand back, you Nimruzîrim dogs!" The man who sold cloth, and whom Amandil had spoken to before, strode towards them at the head of a small group of vendors. They seemed very angry, and one of them was wielding a stone from the pavement." You are not permitted to disturb our customers!"

The beggars retreated, but the one who had touched Amandil did not move. The priest didn´t even think; he stood before him and turned to face the men.

"He wasn´t bothering me!" he claimed, searching his pocket frantically. Feeling metal inside, he grabbed it and put it on the beggar´s hand, before even checking how much it was. The vendors stopped in their tracks.

"You shouldn´t encourage them!" the one with the stone scolded. Next to him, another spat on the ground. "Because of them, Rómenna´s gone to the dogs, and now they´re trying to do the same here too, in the city of Ar-Adunakhôr! The nerve!"

"They look like simple beggars." the cloth seller told him in a confidential tone. "But at night they crawl back into their holes, oh yes, where they perform evil rites and commit all sorts of crimes."

For a moment, Amandil felt a forgotten fire burn in his chest, and he wanted to challenge those words. But then, he remembered that he was no lord of Andúnië, just a watched man who tried to survive by not turning anybody´s attention towards himself.

There was nothing he could do.

"They lost their lands, and I am sorry for them. Just let him go", he pleaded. The man spat again, and the beggar exulted.

"Soon you will sit in your rightful seat, and all these people will be taken by doom and darkness!" he cried. Amandil winced, feeling the weight of everybody´s stares.

"Just leave now!" he hissed at the man, then turned towards the others. "I think he´s not right in the head. He kept telling me about a lord who would come."

"The traitor of Andúnië", the cloth seller supplied. Amandil nodded, and walked past their looks of suspicion. As soon as he turned his back to them, he could hear whispers.

His thoughts grew darker and darker as he wandered through the streets, the beggar´s rotten smile seared in his mind like a burning brand. The Nimruzîrim... the Elf-friends they called them, his family´s people who had once lived in the lands of Andustar. For generation after generation since Ar-Adunakhôr, they had lived in exile, and today he had seen what they had become.

You came to deliver us, as it was promised!

Amandil´s grin was bitter. He couldn´t deliver anyone, not even himself. He had no choice in the matter -did he?

Those people had been exiled, but they held to their beliefs even in the face of poverty, contempt and persecution. While he, Amandil of Andúnië, had been hiding under a cloak of lies and false names and forced devotion for gods that were not those of his fathers, just to cling to his miserable life. The thought made him cringe.

As he mulled over those discouraging comparisons, he found himself standing before a mosaic of grey and golden ships on a white wall. He stopped in front of them; night had almost fallen by now, and the street was empty.

He did not remember the walls, as he had never seen the outside of the house before. When he looked up, however, he saw the tower, and the balcony where he used to tiptoe to see the sights.

There were latticed windows on the ground floor, and a low roof, covered in red tiles. If he risked it, he could climb to the first floor at least, and find a way to his parents from there. A recklessness that he had never felt since he was a child and practiced swordsmanship in secret was taking hold of him as he stood there. He would prove that he was no craven. He would brave all dangers, forget his cowardly prudence and find them, and he would tell them...

Tell them what?

Back then, he had been a child, and his parents had been proud of him. They had told him tales of his lineage, of their friendship with the Elves and their battles with Morgoth. He, Amandil, would one day be the next of the line, and he would worship the Valar and befriend the Elves as his father and grandfather before him. But instead of that, he had worshipped the gods they hated, prayed to them every day and tended to their fires and altars. Worse, he had loved a woman who wasn´t one of them, impregnated her with the next heir of the Andúnië line, and then assumed the identity of a merchant in order to marry her in secret. And when one of their own people had recognized him, he had pretended to be someone else and walked away.

Hating whole lineages and religions is more complicated than it seems. He had told his son that, and he had felt strongly about it. But what if it was just him, who had become so tainted that his soul was torn forever between two worlds? What if they perceived this, and shunned him?

"He is my external grandfather´s associate", someone spoke. He turned, his turmoil too great to be shocked at Pharazôn´s presence next to him. The prince was wearing a cloak that covered his features, which he had probably used to give his escort the slip, but his manner and voice were unmistakeable. "I can get you in. I will be paying a visit and you will be my escort. What do you say?"

Amandil shook his head. He felt cold.

"But they are your parents!"

The birds were raising a great ruckus, as flocks of them fell upon their night refuges in the towers of the city. Amandil´s father had used to sit before the window, watching them for hours until darkness fell. The dark sterlings were his favourites, he had told his son once.

"No." he said. He grabbed Pharazôn´s shoulder, and the prince couldn´t suppress a start as the fingers clawed into his flesh. "Do you know any good places to drink?"

"What?"

"Take me there, then. I am thirsty. Please."

Their eyes met, and those of his friend were positively brimming with questions. And still, for once in his life, Pharazôn had the good sense not to say a word as they walked past the empty street towards the docks.


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.

Story Information

Author: Maeve Riannon

Status: General

Completion: Ongoing Serial

Era: Akallabêth/Last Alliance

Genre: General

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 08/02/12

Original Post: 02/23/07

Go to Full of Wisdom and Perfect in Beauty overview

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