4. The Shadow and the Child
The Shadow and the Child
Inzilbêth sighed, as she dipped the quill into the inkpot and gave a frowning glare to the much abused parchment in front of her. The letters were strange to her, large and bold, with spaces between each other and all in the same line.
Alef, bet, gimel, dalet...
The girl in front of her smiled. The Princess gave a delicate pout, feeling almost ridiculous. She knew their alphabet well enough, she should be able to do this, too.
"The second letter is not drawn like that, my lady."
Inzilbêth crossed it out, then realised that she had to start the phrase again for the fourth time. For a moment, she felt tempted to throw it aside and leave the gloom of her chambers for the sunlight of the inner gardens. The scrawl-like, primitive-looking scripture of the folk of Armenelos seemed to elude her in spite of her best efforts.
Repressing a strong pang of nostalgia, she remembered a time when her calligraphy had been beautiful, and the hand that guided hers loving and patient. Sunbeams had kissed her forehead freely back then, and birds had perched to sing in the branches of the surrounding trees, instead of echoing each other´s laments in their captivity under the twilight of the Palace.
Back when she had still been with her...
"Up... now, down... now, there is a circle, and the tehta goes here, see?"
Inzilbêth´s grey eyes widened in wonder, as she saw the mysterious beauty of what they had produced. Those lines could speak and say things, her mother had said.
"What does it mean, Mama?"
"This is Elbereth. The Queen of the West." the woman answered. "She sits upon the holy mountain of Taniquetil, with stars for jewels."
Inzilbêth´s wonder turned to rapture.
"I wish I could see her!"
Her mother shook her head at her enthusiasm, smiling a bit sadly.
"We are not welcome in the Undying Lands, my child. The greed and evil of Men took them away from us."
The child frowned, confused. She did not understand. It was the same thing that she had been told when she had wished to see the mountain of Meneltarma, and the kingdom of Gil-galad in Middle-Earth, and the King´s palace in Armenelos, and her active imagination had built strange images of evil and greedy Men stealing all those places and standing guard around them with sticks and swords. But somehow, this did not work in her mind for what she had heard about the Undying Lands. The Valar lived there, didn´t they?
"How, Mama? How did this happen?" she asked, unable to repress her inquisitiveness. Her mother let go of a deep sigh, and gathered her on her lap.
"Long ago, the King and his men grew proud, and turned to evil. They banned the Elves from Númenor, scorned the Valar and adored cruel gods. Because of them, Númenor is now an unholy place, and the Valar and the Elves do not want to have anything to do with its people."
"But we are not evil!" the girl protested, shaken. Her mother caressed her hair.
"No, we are not. We are the Faithful, my love. Our people opposed this evil, and kept the friendship of the Elves. This made the King very angry, and he banished them all to a barren place in the East, where they are watched night and day and they cannot escape." For a moment, Inzilbêth felt her mother´s welcoming body tense behind her back. She turned to look at her, and noticed her quick efforts to regain her smile. "Your grandmother, your uncle, your aunt, your cousin; all your family is there, Inzilbêth."
"And why are we here, then?" she asked, feeling as if a veil of deep mystery was starting to unravel. Her mother´s fond smile returned at its fullest.
"It was because of your father. He is kin to the King, handsome and brave. He was appointed governor of the East, and he fell in love with me. He risked his life to take me back with him. "Inzilbêth felt the warmth come back to her at this. "Your father is a great man, Inzilbêth. A great man."
In thoughtful silence, the girl leaned her head over her mother´s shoulder, and allowed her to touch her hair for a while. The things she had heard that day would need a long time to be mulled over.
"One day, you will find someone like him." she heard a soft voice mutter absently above her head. "Yes... I am sure you will lead a happy life, my love, away from darkness and uncertainty."
The Princess awoke from her daydream to a young woman´s voice turned shrill from alarm. In sudden apprehension, she jerked away from the parchment, as if her clumsy letters could jump and attack her at any moment.
A huge ink stain fell upon the text, second to the one that had caused the ruckus in the first place.
"Oh, I´m- I´m sorry for scaring you!" Nidhra muttered hurriedly. "But by Queen Ashtarte the Foam-Rider, the parchment is utterly ruined now!"
"Never mind." she said, wincing a bit. That woman swore by the cruel gods quite a lot, even though Inzilbêth herself had to admit that there was no other trace of evil to be found in her.
But then, who could have known that the things who had once seemed so easy in her mother´s tales would turn out to be so difficult, here in Armenelos? Even her husband, cold and loveless, had become confusing, the day that she had ventured to raise her face for a moment and seen her fear and disquietude mirrored in his eyes as they lay side by side.
I am not evil. I am a Child of Ilúvatar, and so are you.
We are free to follow our hearts...
"I am not making any progress." she complained, pushing her failed endeavours aside. The sun... she so wanted to see, and feel the sun. She felt dizzy.
Suddenly, she could feel it. At first it was nothing but the tiniest stir inside her, but then it evolved into a distinct, sharp yet painless blow to the walls of her womb.
"It´s... it´s kicking!" she cried joyfully, leaning back on her chair. At once, Nidhra stood up and ran to lay an admiring hand over the Princess´s round belly.
"It is, indeed! Blessed be the Queen of the Seas!" Her smile disminished a bit, and Inzilbêth saw her endeavours to regain the composure that she had lost for a moment. "Who would have guessed that you would give fruit so young, my lady..."
The young Princess and soon-to-be-mother nodded happily. Back when she had first noticed the growth, she had been scared and prayed for it to disappear, but soon all those wishes, images and hopes had burst in in a rush, and her fears gave way to impatience and delight.
She would be mother to a baby. She would cradle it in her arms and teach it everything, and tell it her mother´s stories, and then both would laugh together. She would not be alone anymore.
"... and who cares about those stuck-up old ladies and their ideas." the lady-in-waiting kept rambling in a lower tone. "Give the baby to be raised by an old hag, indeed! As if the Princess wasn´t enough to..."
"What?" Aghast, Inzilbêth interrupted her. The happiness left her at once, like a fleeting ray of warmth after a cloud covered the sun. "What do you mean, give the baby away? It´s... it´s my child!"
"Of course it is." Nidhra replied immediately, guilty for having upset her. In her distress, the Princess took her hand in hers, and she pressed it comfortingly. "Of course it is, my lady."
"But then..." Inzilbêth refused to let go. "Then, what does this... talk mean?"
"Nothing at all." the lady-in-waiting stated firmly. "Some women who have nothing better to do than nosing in the lives of others were whispering that the Princess was too young at seventeen to be fit to be a mother, and since it´ll be the child of the heir to the throne... But there is nothing to their words. If you can bear it, the point is moot – you are a mother!"
"And the Prince?"
"Probably never even heard those rumours. As most people in Armenelos." In slow, repeated motions, the young woman caressed Inzilbêth´s hand until she finally felt it go limp in somewhat uneasy relief. "It was nothing else than the idle gossip of a bunch of bored ladies, may the Doom take them. I apologise to your ladyship for having brought them to your ears imprudently."
"I am the mother. I am the child´s mother." the Princess repeated intently, as if she wished somehow to engrave the words on her own mind.
Out of an instinct, two protective hands covered her belly, where her yet-unborn child had already stopped stirring and gone back to sleep.
But the little one was tenacious, and impatient to see the light. Day and night, it moved and kicked with increasing strength, and two weeks before it was due it had already begun pushing to find its way out. Inzilbêth was immediately confined to her bed, as the whole Palace swarmed with rumours and the comings and goings of attendants and midwives.
The young girl hadn´t been prepared for the pain that giving birth would inflict on her. Her body was racked by strange convulsions, and as she had barely managed to breathe and ride them, she felt as if a searing pain had torn her body in two. Blurred images and comforting voices held her by the hands, whispering that everything would go well, but she could not see how anything would ever be well again and wished to die.
"Push harder, my lady. Push harder!"
Leave me alone! she wanted to say, but the only thing that came from her mouth was a groan. Another pang racked her body, and she pressed the hand that held hers so strongly that she heard a yelp.
"Almost... almost there!"
Almost there. As those words managed to seep inside her mind, they gave her a little heart, and she decided to make a last effort. It was almost there.
Her strength focused in the small, terrible spot between her spread legs, determined to pull it out before it killed her. A scream echoed through the busy room, and the last thing she really remembered before pain filled everything was feeling ashamed and appalled at its raw sound.
Inzilbêth tried to open her eyes, but soon gave up and closed them dizzily. People were running about, doing things and talking. Suddenly, it was as if the world had been turned to the reverse; she was the one lying limp in her bed, and the others were moving.
A shrill, mewling sound reached her ears from a great distance.
"My child..." she muttered. Even to speak was now pain. "My child..."
"Ssshhh, my lady." a comforting voice whispered in her ear. "It..."
Then, to her surprise and shock, a male voice interrupted the first from a similarly close position.
"You did very well, Inzilbêth."
Once again, Inzilbêth opened her eyes. The light hurt a little less now, and as her sight began to adjust, she saw Gimilzôr standing next to her bed, pale and erect. At his left side, one of the midwives was cradling a bundle, and realising what it contained, the young mother extended her hands towards it.
"My child..." she repeated. She wanted to hold it in her arms, but Gimilzôr shook his head and told the woman to leave the bedside. Inzilbêth saw her son disappear, and a cold terror gripped at her heart. Forgetting her exhaustion, her body began to fret and try to struggle up in weak motions. "No!"
He was her child, she thought in anguish, her terrified mind recalling and magnifying the rumours about her young age and her lack of abilities as a mother. She wouldn´t let them take him away. He was her child...
"Lay down and rest, Inzilbêth." he said, and laid an unusually gentle hand over her shoulder. "He will be back soon, and then you will hold him for as long as you like."
"But..." she mumbled, feeling exhaustion come back to her in waves. Most of the voices had already left the room, but there were two women whispering somewhere near the foot of the bed.
"I must go now." he said. "The King is waiting."
With no further word, he turned away and left. Inzilbêth shivered, scared of the new loneliness of her bed. She felt bereaved, like she hadn´t been in all those months in which a little life had been stirring inside her womb.
Out of instinct, her hand travelled towards a spot over her chest, and she clasped the gem that hung from the silver chain around her neck. A faint warmth enveloped her at once, growing steadier and steadier until her shivers stopped. She rolled to the side, all her thoughts grown confused and dizzy, and soon fell asleep.
Minutes, or hours later, she awoke with a terrible headache. There was someone in the room again, and she immediately opened her eyes, somehow expecting to see Gimilzôr. But instead it was a woman... one of her ladies-in-waiting, carrying Inzilbêth´s child in her arms.
Joy and relief lighted the Princess´s features, in spite of her state.
"Give him to me."she said. The woman nodded, and leaned forwards to lay him carefully in the space under the young mother´s left elbow. Inzilbêth changed her position to be able to look at him face to face, marveling at his warmth, and stared at him rapturously.
Valar, was the first thing that crossed her mind, how could she have imagined that it would be so tiny? He stirred a bit, and then scrunched his face in an unsucessful attempt to repress a yawn. This immediately won her over, and she felt her heart brim with love for the little creature that had grown inside her.
With the insatiable curiosity of a new mother, her eyes took his every feature, consigning them to her memory at the same time as she sought for similarities. Happily, she realised that he had inherited the look of her mother´s ancestors, with their same sharp nose and their mouth and chin. A tuft of dark hair grew over his little head, and she fantasised about the strong and beautiful black mane that he would grow in time.
As if he had noticed that he was being held by his mother, the baby opened his eyes. For a little while he squinted, trying, she imagined, to take everything in sight.
Sea-grey eyes, she thought, feeling as if her heart would burst from too much joy. Stretching her neck, she kissed him in the forehead, and the baby let go of a whimper. Afraid that he would start wailing, she quickly stretched a finger in front of his tiny nose, murmuring sweet nothings to calm him down.
The child responded soon, and started to coo and wiggle as much as the covers and the constricting robes allowed him. Inzilbêth felt a warm tear trail down her cheek, but she did not bother wiping it away for fear of hitting him with her elbow by mistake. He loved her, too. And, how wouldn´t he? He was her son. She was his mother, who would give him everything she posessed, lavish all her care on him from dawn till dusk, and protect him against the most terrible things in the world.
For the first time in her life she felt full, and brave.
Carefully picking him up, she laid him across her chest, and began humming an Elvish lullaby that her own mother had taught her as a child.
"Congratulations, my lord prince."
"Congratulations, my lord."
Gimilzôr mumbled something that wasn´t quite at the height of his usual diplomatic speeches, and passed by the group of courtiers in the direction of his own private garden. He felt so overwhelmed, and torn between contradictory emotions, that he thought it a miracle that he had managed to say anything at all.
As soon as he reached his only sanctuary of solitude, he forgot for once all his apprehenshions about what was proper, and sat upon the grass, soiling his garments. Then, he shut his eyes tightly, and let go of a deep sigh.
As of today, he was a father. His wife had given birth to a male heir, a little child with the eyes of the lords of Andúnië. The very moment that the bundle had been offered to him in that dark room full of sweat, blood and screams, the King´s son had finally seen what he had never been able to see in his wife before: the eyes of the enemy staring at him in his own house. And this while at the same time, the love of a father drew him inevitably towards the tiny child in the midwife´s arms.
Would he be ever free of the shadow that he had introduced in his life? Would he be allowed even a small measure of happiness, of unambiguous, unstained love for a single being in his world? His father, his wife, now his son... between them there would always be mistrust and guarded thoughts, and a secret, unvoiced resentment.
Gimilzôr took a deep breath, appalled at his own emotions. He had endeavoured through the years to get rid of them, only to find over and over that there was some rebellious need that refused to die. His wife he could keep at an arm´s length, young and innocent and beautiful as she was. But his child! His own son, his heir, the baby who did not know yet how to speak, how to fear and how to hate, and who would grow to learn how to take his place in time!
Before he had been consecrated to Melkor and Astarte, the new royal prince had been brought to the Seer, who inhaled the sacred herbs deeply and scrutinised the small, wiggling bundle for a while. Gimilzôr had been watching his features intently, and he had seen a shadow cross them after the trance passed away. Worried, he had pressed him for answers, but the holy man had only said that the child would be King, and refused to speak any further.
After this ominous exchange, the time had come to present the child to the King himself. Ar-Sakalthôr had been shown his grandson for inspection, because Gimilzôr had felt apprehensive about letting his unstable father hold the baby. For a while, the King had simply stared at the child in silence, in front of Gimilzôr and the chamberlain who was holding it, but all of a sudden, it had opened its little eyes wide to stare back at his grandfather. Ar-Sakalthôr´s face had gone deathly pale then. He announced that he would never allow the child near him; then turned back and left a thunderstruck Gimilzôr behind.
What had the Seer and his father seen? Was it the same unease that he felt when confronted with the sharp nose and the sea-grey glance, or was it something deeper, a dark fate that he could not fathom?
Would his own child turn against him?
Gimilzôr shivered. He was a religious man, and experienced in the ways of the divinity, and he had always believed that it was impossible to delay or undo the threads of Fate. As a good ruler, he knew that his duty would be to press the holy man to reveal the truth, threaten him if necessary, and act in consequence before it was too late.
As a father, however, he loved his child. And as much as he might try, he could not bring himself to do it any harm. No- it was unthinkable.The greatest fool is the man who is fooled twice over while thinking himself clever. You were right indeed in this, father, though you are fey! He had thought he had seen, and taken appropriate steps against Eärendur´s schemes, but now it was brought home to him that he had failed to see the true danger. His son, his heir, with his mother´s blood, his uncle´s features and a destiny buried in shadows, and nothing from his father except a claim to that Sceptre that they had coveted for so long.
No! His very being rebelled against this, and he stood up with fire in his veins. For all his life, since he could barely remember, he had been working for the good of Númenor and the lineage of Ar-Adunakhôr. He could not -would not- allow them to trample over all his efforts. If it must be, he would kill all the Elf-friends one by one, or banish them from the island so none of them would ever meet his son. He would raise him to reverence the true gods and the customs of his people, and respect the example of the father whose sceptre he would one day inherit. Not a single soul who worshipped the Valar or knew a word of that accursed Elven tongue would ever come near him.
He was the King´s son. One day, he would be the King, and ruler of the most powerful nation in the world. With that power, even Fate could be averted.
And it would.
Feeling a strong determination overcome his shaken thoughts, Gimilzôr let his eyes trail over the garden. A ghastly light was beginning to spread over grass, flowers and quietly murmuring fountains. The goddess is smiling, he had been told when he was young and stared in wonder at the magnificence of the full moon. Now, he would rather have thought that she was crying.
Shaking his head, and taking a sharp breath, he turned away from her, and walked back into his chambers.
(to be continued)
Notes: First and foremost, I still plan on updating this weekly. I didn´t update last week because I was in Greece on a trip.
Then, I must confess that I didn´t mention in my introductory note that Melkor´s name would pop up in my Númenor so long before Ar-Pharazôn. I find the whole idea of a people who forsakes its ancient beliefs without picking any new ones for centuries- well, ridiculous. Also, "Melkor" (and Uinen) are figures that seem to be yelling at the reader that they belong to the theological conceptions of a certain people in antiquity. It was a good opportunity to show those gods as they once were in real tradition, before the demonisation wrought by Tolkien´s Catholic mind after Sauron´s arrival in Númenor.
Now, as for the alphabet: It is assumed in my universe that the Númenoreans not only forsook the teachings of the Valar and Elves, (a purely passive and unbelievable view of things, in this as well as in religion, given what is known about the splendour of Númenor before its fall), but boosted their own culture. For this culture, a support other than the Fëanorian script was needed, and as the greatest proof of what Men were able to do, I chose the Phoenician alphabet. (The Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Latin and Cirillic scripts came from it, just in case that you choose to view Middle-Earth as an early stage of Earth).
And as for childbearing age: Tolkien officially stated in the UT that though the Númenoreans lived longer than normal humans, they grew at the same speed (and once that they reached their maturity, their decay was slowed down for a long time). This means that Inzilbêth as a 17 year old mother is exactly in the same condition as any of us as a 17 year old mother. Which means, that it´s biologically normal.
Still, in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, concerns about "young marriage" are raised when Gilraen is married to Arathorn. This gave me the thought that, even if biologically it could be done, Númenorean society could frown upon it. Having a longer span of life, they would have grown used to dividing their lives in larger cycles.
Thanks to my readers!
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.