43. The Jewel of Númenor
(Nine Years Later.)
The Jewel of Númenor
The courtyard, the corridors were full of eyes. They stared at her with that look that ran over her skin like a distantly unpleasant caress, without the will or the ability of piercing it to get inside. She withstood them with a bland expression, perceiving the morbid curiosity, the unspoken questions, and also the admiration for her beauty like a cacophony of voices.
It was the first time she was seen in public, standing side by side with her parents and the royal family. Her mother, whose love was like a warm net whose grip on her limbs grew tighter the more she struggled against it, had opposed the idea since the beginning. The experience would disturb her too much, it was better if she stayed in the cool shade of her gardens instead of being subjected to the pitiless light and thousands of different noises and different colours swarming around her frail body.
But Zimraphel was not frail: she had decided that she wanted this more than anything, and so she got it. Her father had been delighted at her sudden cooperation, and gave her magnificent robes and jewels to wear. Zimraphel, in exchange, had put them on her body, and her mouth had smiled, and her head had bowed. The King had welcomed her with words of compliment that did not come from his mouth, but from him, and invited her to a place of honour in the procession. Zimraphel accepted even though she did not like him, because he smelled like an embalmed corpse under his purple and gold. A King should not die.
They made their way through courtyards, galleries and stairs, the eyes still chasing her wherever she went. At last they reached the balcony, and an onslaught of blinding light and roaring noise spilled on her face like red-hot melted iron. She covered her face, wishing for a moment that she could be back in her gardens. But she was no coward, and she would not prove her mother right.
"What is the matter?" his father whispered next to her. It was an urgent whisper, an expression of fear that the rest of the Court could see her like this. What the Court thought was very important for him, though they were but men and women who couldn´t even open a thought to see what was inside. This paradox of lofty strength and abject weakness disgusted her, as much as the grandness of royalty when it felt tracked and harassed by the shadow of death.
Slowly, she pried her hands away, and blinked. The radiance broke into colourful blurs, and the blurs broke into a million smaller pieces. To her astonishment, she realized that many of those pieces were people, dressed in vivid fabrics and pressed against each other. There were so many that it was impossible to determine where each of them finished and the next began. Confusion threatened to undo her again, as the throng of bodies, of voices, of wishes and destinies grew and multiplied around her, and she would have been lost if it hadn´t been for her father´s grip in her hand.
"Make them leave", she pleaded like a terrified child. He shook his head.
"Maybe she should wait inside..." someone whispered.
"No!" she hissed, shaking away the hands that grabbed at her shoulders. He was there, somewhere, and she could not give up until she had seen him. The others did not matter. She had to silence them.
"They are insects", she whispered, holding her hand before her face. "They are smaller than my finger."
"That they are", her mother cooed in a coaxing way, as if she was stupid and did not know the laws of perspective. "You do not have to worry about them, Zimraphel."
"I do not." Her voice became strained, as she kept trying to extricate herself from the turmoil. " I am higher than the Meneltarma, and taller than the tallest wave." Like a litany, she repeated those words several times. "Higher than the Meneltarma and taller than the tallest wave. Higher than the Meneltarma, and taller than the tallest wave."
And then it was over. The buzz became distant under her feet, and was swallowed by the waters.
Zimraphel looked down, and her mouth curved into a smile.
* * * * *
The procession was unlike anything she had seen with her eyes before that day. It ressembled the greatness of the visions that she saw with the other eyes, the ones that had no eyelids, but while those were dominated by abrupt movement and confusion, this was orderly and posed no danger. Enraptured, she leaned over the porphyry railing as line after line of soldiers with wreaths upon their brows marched below her, and dancers in robes of gauze, and men and beasts that carried all sorts of fascinating things, like skins of animals never seen before, casks of gold, gems and fragrant balms and weapons fashioned in strange and capricious shapes. There were living animals, too, large green birds, lions and tigers that gnawed at the bars of their cages and made people recoil in fear. In the place of honour, a large múmak, dressed in finery like a king, walked among eight men who yanked at the ropes that bound it in a painful effort to keep it on track. Zimraphel could see that it was a baby, and was briefly shaken by its fright and confusion. The polished and gilded skull of an adult followed, with its tusks intact, to show the animal´s full size. It had been laid on a large chariot, pulled by ten stout horses. People stared at it and exclaimed in wonder, imagining what kind of body could have owned such a head, and produced such monstruous children.
Behind the animals came the prisoners, small and dark men who stumbled forwards while staring stupidly at their surroundings. Zimraphel looked at them, and suddenly felt the warm, viscous trickle of blood in her palms and the stench of decay in her nostrils. Shadows flashed before her eyes, and she reeled back with a cry.
"Do not be scared, my dear granddaughter", the King said to her. "They are only barbarians."
She nodded, furious with herself for showing weakness once again. The prisoners, however, were like a black, gaping hole in the middle of the pleasing spectacle. She could not look at them. They were dead.
"Maybe she should leave..." her mother´s threat returned, pawing at her arm. Just then, somebody shouted.
"There he is!"
Zimraphel wrenched herself free from her mother´s grip, and leaned over the railing again. And lo! it was him, riding his white horse. Gold gleamed upon his head, and purple billowed in his wake as he smiled at the crowd that pushed and pressed around him, basking in their adoration. The shadows fled before him, leaving nothing but warmth and a heady feeling of giddiness.
He was back. She wanted to laugh. Everything shone around her.
"Let us go down and give our young hero the welcome he deserves", Ar-Gimilzôr said. Zimraphel sent a last, long look over the railing, and gathered the folds of her green and silver robe to follow him downstairs.
Beside her, her father smiled with his mouth. He did not welcome the light, for he preferred the shadows and the dusty scrolls written by ghosts with no blood on their veins. Those scrolls spoke of a world where the sun did not shine, and of dead, forgotten people to whom he had given his love. Zimraphel could not read them, or understand their spidery writing, but she knew.
They made their way towards the First Courtyard, followed by the thousand courtiers of the Palace by order of rank. Everybody wanted to be there, from the highest priest to the meanest cup bearer, and take a look at the hero who had achieved a crushing victory over the Southern barbarians and dined on their capital. As he came in with his generals, everybody shouted and cheered, raising such noise as had never echoed in those quiet gardens before.
Since the time of Ar-Adunakhôr, this had been the first time in which a scion of the royal family had fought in Middle-Earth. Pharazôn, too, had been the youngest to take arms, and he had by far proved the most brilliant commander. Nine years ago, he had taken ship in Sor under no clear official capacity, regarded as little more than an unwelcome burden, and in that time he had become an undisputed warrior leader. His fearless tactics had brought great glory and riches to Númenor, and it was rumoured that the soldiers loved him and would follow him to their deaths.
Zimraphel could understand why. Since she was a girl, and she first laid eyes upon him in that garden, he had been able to take her fears away. And terrible fears they had been, of blood and heights and drowning, and a twin who held her hand in his frozen grip and tried to drag her away to the darkness because he felt so alone. All this had been real to her, but not to him. They are just visions, he said, and whenever she was with him, they were.
"...trust the sacrifices at the Temple have proved favourable", the King was saying at the moment. Pharazôn had dismounted and bowed before him. At Ar-Gimilzôr´s other side, his parents were gazing at him in undissimulated pride, and the Princess of the South smiled like a queen.
"They have. The Lord of Armenelos is very pleased", Pharazôn replied, raising his face. For the first time, Zimraphel´s glance could meet his, and she saw many things flashing in the glint of his eye. There was pride, greater pride and confidence than ever before. For the gods protect me, and they will never let me down. And then, under that shining surface a darker, deeper thought full of defiance. What was right beyond the seas, why shouldn´t it be right here?
Zimraphel lowered her eyes with a thrill.
* * * * *
She was not allowed to watch the rest of the celebrations, which became bloodier in the afternoon as the prisoners were killed. Once more, she was sequestered in her quarters by cooing old women, but what would have angered and humiliated her before now felt too weak to even touch her. She sat quietly by the fountain, reading empty words and planning her escape. It would be easier than ever, as everybody in the Palace would be drunk or celebrating.
That night, as she lay on her bed pretending to be asleep and the women had already left the room, a sharp noise roused her. She stood on her feet at once, searching for the window with trembling hands. Pressing her eyes against the lattice, she peered outside.
The gardens were shrouded in the darkness of the new moon. Next to the place where the fountain gurgled peacefully, she heard someone move. Her breath caught in her throat.
As quickly as she could, she fumbled for a cloak and crossed her nurse´s room, tiptoeing over her sleeping body. Her eyes soon grew used to the faint glow of the stars, and the lines it drew in the dark around her. Back when she was a child, she had wandered here and there, touching all those lines to make sure that nothing lurked underneath, though once that she was back in bed they would always spring up on her again. Sometimes they had hidden in that fountain, deep, deep down, and her hand had grazed their drowned bodies before she was pulled up, wet and trembling.
But he did not hide.
"I... I missed you." she said, blabbering like a girl in her excitement. It was the first time in so many years that he would look for her. "You were so far... I couldn´t see you. I couldn´t see you at all."
His eyes gleamed in the night as he smiled.
"You were not at the evening feast."
"They would not let me see the blood." Fools. She had seen more blood than any of them, blood and water, which was clearer and deeper and more terrible. "But I only wanted to see you."
Her quiet voice was almost drowned by the sound of the running fountain. He drew even closer, as if to hear her better. His chest came to her nose, for she was shorter than other women and he had grown tall. Lowering his chin, he gazed into her eyes.
"Your jewel helped me. It saved my life in Middle-earth."
"So it did!" She beamed. "Back then, I knew that one day you would be in danger, and that it would help you."
He nodded to this, suddenly thoughtful.
"Do your... visions tell you what is going to happen? Everything?"
Her smile fell.
"No." she mumbled, evasively. She did not like those questions.
"But can you have them at will?" he insisted. Zimraphel shook her head in determined silence.
"I am sorry", he said, in a placating tone. "I saw the King´s leaf growing in Umbar, and had to defend it against people who wanted to have visions. They think that you can see the future just by burning it. I wondered what you would say about that."
"I am not like them", she said, in a proud voice. "I see things because they are my birthright."
He tensed. And not mine, he thought, but then the wall that was growing between them crumbled to smoke, and he smiled at her.
"Will you help me, then? Tell me to step to the left before a thunderbolt falls on my head?" He laid his arm over her shoulder, and her heart jumped in her chest. "A commander can´t go around having visions in the middle of a battlefield, but he still needs them. Back when I lived in the Palace they made me uneasy, but in the world outside, many unexpected things happen. Together, we would be invincible, wouldn´t we? My mother could be right, and this would be what the gods intended from the beginning. That´s why they made us fall in love with each other, not because they hated us... but because we are fated to be together."
Zimraphel had barely been listening, as she was too busy withstanding the onslaught of different emotions triggered by his touch, and his vibrant body against hers. But suddenly, a drop of hesitation had penetrated the flow of his brash talk, betraying him. She froze, watching wide-eyed as the ripples filled the air, then vanished.
Pharazôn could not pretend he had not noticed the effect of his last words on her. Muttering something, he retreated in the shadows to hide the red in his face.
"Pharazôn..." she whispered. Please, do not leave again. Do not regret...
Then, suddenly, he was back, kissing her. It was a long kiss that tasted of wine, and fire, and earth. Zimraphel responded hungrily, the longing of all those years rushing back to her.
The walls had crumbled. All the walls in the world had crumbled.
That night, lying on the wet ground, she could see nothing but him.
* * * * *
"Try holding it like this."
The boy nodded, rearranging his fingers as instructed over the pommel of the wooden sword. His opponent, meanwhile, was taking advantage of the momentary distraction to let his own weapon hang at his side, his glance drawn irresistibly towards the shadows under the corner beam. Halideyid followed it, and for a moment the man who sat there seemed to shift under his hood. Frowning, he looked away.
He had come in the middle of the lesson, and took a seat among them without waiting to be invited. He had not even revealed his face, but seemed to be greatly interested by the way Halideyid taught the boys. Involuntary remembrances had stolen into his mind, of night lessons in a backyard long ago, disrupting his concentration and putting him on edge.
He berated himself for it. If that man was his father, he would have known. His father, too, would have come as soon as he arrived to Armenelos, instead of revelling drunkenly for three days and nights with the other soldiers before he remembered about them. After the first day since the Prince Pharazôn´s return, he and his mother had given up hope.
No, this was just some intruder who probably wanted to cause trouble in some way. He had been confronted with those before, people sent by the Guard for the most part. They had never forgiven him for leaving them and setting up his own school.
"We are done for today", he declared. Other days, the boys would have bolted off, pushing each other and throwing their wooden swords in a disordered pile, but today they seemed fascinated by the stranger. Forming groups that whispered furiously as they queued up to leave their weapons and take back their cloaks, they left in a slow trickle, contriving ways to pass as close to the stranger as possible and take a good look at him.
Halideyid felt an urge to push them out forcefully. He walked towards the pile of swords to rearrange them, and fingered one while he made sure that each and every one of the students were getting past the door in safety. Only after the last of them had jumped down the step, he turned towards the man.
"May I ask who are you, and what is your business here?" he asked. Though he was on the corner at the other side of the door, he could hear the stranger´s laugh ring clear.
"Some welcome that was! I am a soldier, not a thug."
Most soldiers are but better trained thugs, Halideyid thought, but said nothing. Instead, he approached the man, fixing him with a searching glance.
"What am I expected to think, when you will not even show your face?" he asked. The man shrugged, ignoring the challenge; the hood stayed where it was.
"I just sailed from Umbar, and I know your father. Is that business enough for you?"
Halideyid froze. He was about to lower his guard, but in the last moment prudence won over his racing heart.
"You have come by mistake, then. My father is not in Umbar."
"Your father Hannishtart is in Umbar. Or, to be more accurate, somewhere in Haradric territory." the man replied. "Some troops were still deployed when the Prince came back from the capital and was summoned to Armenelos, and he was with them."
Halideyid contemplated this in tense silence. He remembered his last, and only, conversation with his father, the reasons he had alleged for his secrecy, and what he had revealed about himself. Then, and only then, he let the worry, the unanswered question flood to the surface.
"Was that the last news you had of him?" Somewhere in Haradric territory... "Are you sure he is alive?"
"I am sure he would not allow himself to be killed. "the man shrugged. "He may be back in Umbar by now. It was a shame that we could not wait for him, but the King wanted the feast to be in Midsummer, and Midsummer it had to be."
"So they would celebrate their victory before the war is over?" Halideyid asked, frustration taking hold of him. "Is leaving business unfinished the custom in Umbar?"
The man straightened up, and Halideyid thought he had made him angry. He looked at the stranger´s standing form, trying to gauge him. Though not nearly as tall as Halideyid, his shoulders were broader, and there was something intimidating about him. It might have been the way he acted, that brash disdain for normal rules that Halideyid had seen in soldiers before, and which more often than not ended in bloody incidents. But there was also something else.
"I am sorry", he apologized, without lowering his glance. "That has nothing to do with you."
The stranger turned away, and began pacing around the room.
"This is a nice school you have here. Prosperous, by the looks of it." He stopped in front of the swords, leaned forwards to pick one, and considered it for a moment before throwing it away. The pile collapsed with a loud clatter. "You have never fought anyone to the death, have you?"
"If I had, I would be dead or in prison, and I´m neither." Halideyid replied evenly. He would not allow himself to be distracted. "If you have any message, any letter from my father..."
"He has." The man did not even seem to have heard him, or registered his interruption. "And he has killed many. He does not like it, though. I think that he would come back and teach children with you if he could. On the other hand, there he is safe from other kinds of shit. Nobody cares for who he is, or whether he has a family hidden somewhere."
"He told you of his conversation with me?"
This time, the stranger laughed.
"Many times! I´ve lost count. He´s a really annoying drunk." The laughter died, and there was a short silence. "He has changed much in these years, and will change more yet. But his wish to see you and your mother again remains the same. Back when he was new in Umbar and his balls were on a knot about doing certain things, that was what allowed him to build a resolve."
Halideyid did not answer. He felt shaken by realization, so much that words would only have betrayed him, or proved meaningless.
"I have been watching you. In spite of your size, you are skilled. You would make a good soldier." the man continued. The hood had almost fallen back by now, and for a moment he could see brown eyes staring at him appraisingly. "Have you ever felt the wish to join him in the mainland?"
It would be a lie to say that he hadn´t thought of it, especially when students were scarce or the Guard scared them into leaving his class. But considering impossible things was but an idle pastime.
"I have a responsibility towards my mother. I cannot leave her alone."
"You sent your father´s providers away, but they could be back", the man argued, apparently aware of things nobody was supposed to know about. Not even his father. "Does this school even make enough money?"
"I have everything I need." Halideyid replied, his tone a little too cutting. "But it´s not of material goods I was thinking of. If I left, both my mother´s husband and son would be risking their lives in distant lands. I will not do that to her."
"Well, then." He shrugged in resignation. "He would have been furious anyway. He doesn´t think that Umbar is a place for his precious son."
Halideyid considered this, turning away to hide the emotions that may have showed through his face. He was not at ease with that Umbarian soldier, though his words were honest. Or almost honest.
"If that is true, I would not do something he may disapprove of."
"Such a good boy." The stranger laughed again. "Are you waiting for him to choose a wife for you, too?"
Halideyid ignored the condescending tone, though ignoring the question was harder. Women were a subject he did not like to broach at all. Too many had laughed at him or called him a freak because of his size, more than enough to make him wary of approaching one.
"I am still young", he replied simply. That was all his father and his father´s friends needed to know.
"Well." The man pulled his cloak up on his shoulders, and looked at him. His face was perfectly visible now, dark brown curls tied on the back of his head, and handsome features touched by a glint of metal. "Thank you for this conversation. I will be able to give him plenty of information when I´m back next month, and then he may forgive me for having to stay behind."
Halideyid blinked. So that was what he wanted?
He was feeling guilty, after all.
"Would you be so kind as to bring him letters from my mother and me?" he asked. The man thought for a moment, then nodded.
"Of course. Why not? Running errands for a captain in Umbar would be a way to make an useless trip worthwhile. Asides from the Númenorean women, of course." he joked. He strode through the room, stopping at the threshold to point at Halideyid warningly. "You must be waiting for me at this hour with the letters, two nights before the departure. Otherwise, I won´t take them."
"I am very grateful." Halideyid´s throat ran dry as he bowed low. "My lord prince."
The Prince of the South looked as if a battalion of Orcs had just appeared before him. He stared at Halideyid, speechless.
"You..." he spoke, with much effort. "How did you know....?"
The younger man looked down. He wondered why his heart was racing now, when he had known it for most of the conversation. But such was the power of words, that not until they were spoken did the things they named feel real.
"My father spoke of you, too. 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", he quoted. "I can put two and two together. My lord." he added quickly. The prince looked even more shocked, if that was possible. Only after a while, he managed to shrug it away, but the way in which he looked at Halideyid had changed.
"You have some cheek, then."
"I am sorry. I am really sorry. I did not... mean to offend you."
What had he done? He should have known better enough than to fool around with someone important, much more important even than the commander of the Gate Guards. But he had wanted to know about his father, and the Prince had also wanted to tell him, and, as it seemed, both had felt that only the soldier could do that.
Suddenly, the Prince laughed.
"Now I really have plenty of information to give Hannishtart!" He turned away and headed outside; the wooden planks creaked under his strides as he pulled his hood over his face again. "Two days before the departure. Don´t forget!"
Halideyid´s glance followed him as he shrunk to a small, black dot and disappeared in the night. A feeling of unreality washed over him, and suddenly he noticed that his hand was red from grasping the wooden sword.
* * * * *
The change had not gone unremarked in the Western Wing. Women gathered in every corner to whisper and discuss the abrupt improvement in the Princess´s mood. She smiled and addressed pleasant words to everyone, did not have difficult nights, and a gardener even claimed she had heard her hum a song while she read a book under the shade of the vines. Her nurse maintained that it had been a good idea to "take the poor child out", with such an air of authority that no one dared remind her of her original opposition to the idea, and even wondered whether they had dreamed it.
One night, as she checked on her before the lights were put away, the old woman saw her lying on her bed, the raven strands of her hair spreading over the silver thread of the cover. Her eyes were wide open, and they followed the movements of her finger as it played with a gold and red trinket. The nurse could identify it as a ruby ring, too large for the Princess to wear in her small hand, before it quickly disappeared inside her fist.
"Oh, that is a beautiful ring!" The old woman hid her surprise carefully; putting her on the defensive had never yielded any good results. "I had never seen it before."
Could it be? Her thoughts raced ahead of her, though she tried to remain focused. The Princess was never alone. She was rarely out of the Western Wing, where many women surrounded her day and night. Even at the victory celebration of the Prince Pharazôn, she had been with her parents all the time. She may be a beautiful and noble princess, but she was so frail, so unstable... almost like a small child...
Zimraphel´s eyes narrowed, as if she could guess her thoughts.
"The King gave it to me."
"Oh! I see." The nurse averted her glance, ashamed. Turning towards one of the curtains, she fidgeted, pretending to fuss with the way it fell. "That is very good. Very good indeed."
"Leave." the Princess ordered, her good mood gone for the first time in days. The old woman bowed.
"Have sweet dreams, my dear", she mumbled before she left.
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.