45. Rebirth of the King
Okay, so out with it. I won´t try to sit on this anymore...(sigh).
Rebirth of the King
He heard the deep, rumbling sound of the gates being closed by the strength of many men. Footsteps echoed in the tunnel, with the distant quality of something that belonged to a different world, the world of the living. Then they, too, faded, and silence became absolute.
As he sat on the stone floor, he could hear the beating of his own heart against his chest, the labourings of his lungs that seemed to chafe under the oppresive darkness. The unseen weight of the Meneltarma was upon this narrow chamber, a crushing feeling that made his limbs heavy and piled upon his head until his nose almost touched his chest. A single candle flickered on the other side, but it did not bring light, only a blinding gleam in the midst of the impenetrable night.
Panic sizzled in his entrails, threatening to erupt and blow the walls of his self-restraint. Why had he allowed them to do this to him, the worshippers of an evil shadow who had been falsely crowned as a god? Why had he submitted to their barbarous ways, instead of putting an end to them here and now? If he had seized what was his, they wouldn´t have been able to oppose him. He would sit on his throne, wield the Sceptre and clean island and mainland from the filth of the Hundred Temples.
Soon, however, his sanity struggled to recover the upper hand. The Sceptre was not his. It belonged to the King, in whose cold hands it lay even now, feet away from him. Whoever seized it would be accursed, even his heir, because the heir of the King was not the King. In Heaven and Earth, there is only one King.
This had been so for his father, and the father of his father since hundreds of years ago. For three days they would remain buried, deprived from the light of sun and moon and intercourse with the living. Then, and only then, would the gates be opened, and the King, living image of Melkor, would wake and tread the ground of the Upper World again. There was no Ar-Gimilzôr and no Ar-Inziladûn: both were the King, eternal and immutable.
Inziladûn´s lips curved at the bitter irony. He may wield the Sceptre, but even then he couldn´t do what he wanted. Not even in death would his father release his grip on him, and Melkor would leave his altars to creep under his very skin, where he would prove a far deadlier foe than he had been outside. For how could the embodiment of Melkor go against his own interests? Ar-Adunakhôr, the king whose name was blasphemous in Andúnië, had laid the riddle, to trap his sucessors in its snare. Only through what he most hated would he achieve power, and in achieving it he would become part of it.
Slowly, he stretched his limbs, realizing in shame how tightly they had curled in the darkness. He sat on the floor and set his hands on his knees, where they began rubbing the painful stiffness in quick and furious motions. They had not reckoned with him, he smiled grimly. That he would allow himself to be trapped here and still honour the Valar in his heart, that he would participate in their rituals while endeavouring to destroy them, and be both the face of Melkor and his greatest enemy, they had not counted on that. No more than they had counted on a traitor King, on a Faithful standing on the steps of their fire altar, or the blood of Andúnië flowing through the veins of the main line. Only his father had seen, and known, what this would portend, and tried his utmost to prevent it.
I could have you killed for admitting your guilt.
Inziladûn stopped working on his legs, as a shiver crossed his spine. Not his utmost, the insidious voice of truth that had tormented him so many times whispered, yet again, in his ear. He had plotted, outlawed, exiled, killed, but at the end of the day the object of all his manouevres was sitting in this dark tomb, unharmed and ready to seize the Sceptre from his hands. To his last breath, Ar-Gimilzôr had refused to reveal the reason for this, and now he had taken it to the Outer Circles of the world.
Taken by a sudden inspiration, Inziladûn crawled towards the light. There, on a bed of gold and precious stones lay his father, the glow of the candle falling on his still features. Blinking the radiance away, the heir to the throne glossed over the silver thread finery, the purple, the golden diadem and even the Sceptre itself to look at his face. He swallowed.
The black eyes were open, looking at Inziladûn as if about to send him away with a harsh dismissal. It was the craft of the embalmers of Númenor to make the King look like he was alive, so the crowd who saw him as he was paraded to his last dwelling would believe in his ritual immortality. Only after the Sceptre was taken, and he left alone in his chamber for eternity, would a gold mask be set to cover them.
It took Inziladûn a much different kind of courage from what he had needed to look at the living Gimilzôr, to be able to hold the glance of those dead eyes. He knelt gazing at them, wishing and yet fearing the emergence of a truth from the dark depths that had been forever closed to him. But they would yield none, and after a while he suddenly felt nauseated. Those eyes were empty: they were open and yet they were not, a mockery of life in death. His father did not live behind them, or under the rich finery, black curls and flawless skin. Those had been taken from him and used to wrap a bag of sawdust, lending human appearance to a mere thing. Inziladûn turned aside in disgust.
Why did they refuse to acknowledge the truth? Why couldn´t they be at ease with the notion that one day their souls would part with their bodies and leave the Circles of the World? They had lost sight of the Music, of the harmony of the world, to such an extent that they could not even comprehend how others would follow its guidance and submit willingly to its order. In their ignorance, they feared what they did not know.
Other kings had spread that ignorance for their own purposes, to control the people and carry their will. In the end, it had turned against them, until they became the first among the believers of lies and their wisdom dwindled, their lifespan diminished, and fear took a powerful hold of their minds. But once upon a time it had been them who brought the change to Númenor and to their subjects.
He, Inziladûn, would be able to do it, too.
When you reach old age and your limbs wither, you will not resign your Sceptre or give your life away, but crawl to the altars of your outlandish gods to beg for more years of life.
A shiver tingled in his spine, though no breeze entered the underground tomb. He crawled back into the darkness, and curled on the floor.
* * * * *
There was no way to keep track of time in the bowels of the earth, where Sun, Moon and stars were but a dream. Inziladûn shifted restlessly between sleep and the waking world, consumed by visions. The heavy air of this closed space was like a drug, and as the candle dwindled so did the feel of the stone under him and the darkness around him and everything that kept him rooted to reality.
He saw his mother many times, looking at him with her sad grey eyes. He tried to speak to her, but then she would turn into Zimraphel, who turned away from him as the Sea took her and he could do nothing to prevent it because she was too far away. The Wave was upon Númenor, like a black mountain of dread rearing its white peaks amidst a deafening roar. It came from the West, engulfing the Bay of Eldanna, the lands of Andúnië and the vineyards of the Hyarnustar, and advancing over the King´s Plain towards Armenelos and the Meneltarma. The proud city of the Three Hills awaited his doom, powerless to escape -when suddenly, something happened.
Inziladûn watched in astonishment as the Wave stopped, and its crest hung above the palaces and the streets for a moment of heavy silence before dissolving like a stricken beast. Before it stood one white tree.
His head tossed around and bumped against a stone wall. Wide awake, he lay on his back for a while, allowing the pain to flood his senses and bring clarity. His heart was beating fast again.
It was the first time. The first time that the Wave, which had troubled his dreams for nights uncounted, had not fulfilled its promise of destruction. The tree which had stopped it grew in the Palace, in the outer courtyard where Inziladûn had discovered it as a child. A tree of the Elves, or so he had always heard, until his friends of Andúnië had told him more. Grown from a sapling brought from the Blessed Lands, it was a scion of Telperion, the silver tree that gave light to the Elves before the Moon existed. In Númenor, it was a symbol of kingship, and of the favour of the Valar.
Confused, he wondered what could this portend. Was Ilúvatar sending him a new message, telling him how the disaster could be averted?
After a long while, he could feel his head hurt, and not because of the stone he had bumped it against. Lack of food, and the heaviness of the air made hard thinking a painful endeavour. When he was back to the Palace, and his most trusted friends and counsellors were with him... when he could talk about this with Valandil and Númendil, they would know what to make of this riddle.
Now he was alone, with only his father´s corpse to give him company. Passing a hand over his forehead, he winced at the bitter irony. What wouldn´t he have given in the past to be locked in a room with his father as he was now, away from the trappings of ceremony and the eyes and ears of courtiers, and forced by need to listen to each other! Back when he was young, this would have been his chance to explain himself, and convince his father of the purity of his intentions. Later, the passing of the years had destroyed that illusion, but the need to make himself heard had only given way to the need to hear.
He and his father were enemies, as it had been decreed since before he was even born. Inziladûn had accepted it, together with the rest of his responsibilities that his position entailed, but some part of him had always obsessed over this idea of communication, of rebuilding bridges that had been burned long ago. It was an unseemly feeling that went beyond the wish to bring change to Númenor, the need of satisfaction for a crime, or even human curiosity that required answers for certain questions. It brought to his mind a child who was forced to leave a garden long ago, a child who had done something terribly wrong and upset his father, but didn´t know why. That day he had believed that theirs was a misunderstanding that words could solve, too young yet to know about differently coloured pieces that faced each other on the chess board. Somehow, this belief had survived, sometimes hidden far beneath the surface of his thoughts, sometimes coming back to increase his frustration tenfold. If only he could make him understand...
Now, of course, there was nothing left to understand, and nobody left to understand it. His father was not there, only his body. That was why he could crawl towards it, lean over its face and peer into its eyes, eyes that would have turned away in fear and hatred before a cold voice dismissed him from the room.
What had he wanted to hide? Had it just been the details of his schemes, or something larger and more important? Of the former, Inziladûn had guessed enough: he had tried to leave his key pieces in the most favourable position possible, and Inziladûn´s own pieces in the most unfavourable ones. Forced to undo everything that his predecessor had done, he would either be betrayed by his own impatience or his plans would have to be considerably slowed down. And after his death the threat to the gods of Númenor would die with him, for he had no heir. It was for that purpose that Pharazôn, the son of Gimilkhâd, had been sent to the mainland, and each and every one of his feats celebrated as magnificently as the great wars of old.
Inziladûn was wary of his heroic nephew, but even more wary of his mother. For the last years Melkyelid of Gadir had been at the King´s side, and they had taken counsel together. She was surely one of his key pieces, and on more than one front: mother of Pharazôn, she was also wife of Gimilkhâd, Inziladûn´s brother and rival, and daughter of Magon of Gadir, the lord of the Merchant Princes. She was intelligent and perceptive, and it was widely rumoured that she knew something of divination and visions as well. Inziladûn recalled how she had been the first to know that Zarhil was expecting a child, even before his wife had noticed it herself. Her gentle voice and charming manners could not fool him; she would prove a formidable enemy.
Still, all those enemies that his father had created for him, from the conception of his younger brother to the alliance with Magon, would not be able to prevail against his own determination. If patient he had to be, he would be so, though the fumes of the altars asphyxiate him and the Meneltarma crush him with its weight. He had waited many years, but the lords of Andúnië had waited centuries. If they had borne it for the good of Númenor and the survival of their line and hopes, so would he. And if one step forwards would mean three steps backwards, he would sit still in this tomb, before the altar, and in the throne, until the moment arrived.
And then you will see, my lord King! You will see the true greatness of Númenor, the Anadúnë of old, free from fear and superstition and no longer hated by the other peoples of Arda. You will see how the palaces of Armenelos shine, free from the fumes of your altars, and the mallorn trees of Eldanna sag under the weight of golden flowers to welcome the emissaries of the Blessed Lands. You will see the roads and harbours open before us to the South and North, and their people greet us as friends coming to deliver them from the Enemy, the real Enemy, who now protects them from us!
Spurred by his own vehemence, he was barely aware that he had begun speaking aloud. His voice sounded out of place in the dwelling of the dead, carrying a disturbing echo over stone walls that had not heard such a sound for centuries. Unsettled, he fell silent, and looked around him as if he expected to see something that had been stirred awake by the intrusion. Then, taking a deep breath, he looked down.
This was foolishness. His father could not hear him, nor could he see anything that happened within this world until it was broken and remade.
Ar-Gimilzôr´s lips curved into a smile, eerie under the soft candlelight.
"And yet you will never be free of me. When you take my Sceptre and leave this place, I will follow."
Inziladûn fell backwards, livid. He felt the stone colliding against his back, which proved that he was awake, and yet he had heard the dead talk, and the dry lips move to utter the words.
Shaking, he forced himself to look again at those eyes that, for the briefest of moments, he had seen stir with a living emotion. There was none in them now, except for the false life lent to them by an embalmer´s craft. Regaining courage, he leaned closer, searching for the slightest signal, the slightest evidence of what had taken place. He had not imagined it, but seen it with the same eyes with which he looked upon the corpse now. Had it been a trick played by the powers of evil, a malicious temptation sent to frighten him and throw his beliefs into turmoil on the eve of his accession?
Or maybe... He reeled, slowly gathering back the threads of his mind. Long ago, he had heard stories about his grandfather Ar-Sakalthôr the Mad, as some called him in their whispered conversations. One of those stories concerned his ritual burial, at the time of his own father´s death. Rumour had it that before he passed under the Meneltarma he had been an eccentric man, prone to strange moods and unusual pursuits, but that he came out of the cave a madman. The priests and the embalmer had found him lying on the floor, raving, and spirited away from the sight of the assembled people as soon as possible to prevent anyone from noticing their new king´s condition. Inziladûn had never been sure of what parts of those stories could be trusted and what had been invented or distorted by gossipers. He had his own ideas about what had been the matter with Ar-Sakalthôr, which were painfully evidenced whenever he set eyes upon his own daughter. Their madness was due to a seeing gift, the same that they shared with their kinsmen and ancestors, sharpened into a biting curse. Ar-Sakalthôr, like his great-granddaughter, had seen visions in the waking world, and they had disturbed him.
Had those visions been triggered by this oppressive darkness? The fear pulsed under his chest. Had there been something in this cave that brought them forth, and was that something working on Inziladûn´s mind as well? He had been sent dreams, and the gift of his family ran so true in him that people called him far-seeing.
In that case, he thought, it was more important than ever that he kept his wits. The visions of his Elven blood showed things that were true, and if he had the strength to use them for his own purposes instead of letting himself be carried away by them, he would gain precious wisdom. So far, the darkness had shown him two things: the White Tree stopping the Wave, and now this.
When you take my Sceptre and leave this place, I will follow.
There was a clear meaning to those words. No dead man could come back to life, and no power could possibly contend with the ways of the world as they were woven into the Music at the beginning of times, but before Ar-Gimilzôr died he had left others who would take his place and lead his faction after he was gone. This, however, did not offer any new insight to Inziladûn, who had been preparing against that scenario for decades.
Did it mean that he would never be free of the King´s shadow? That breaking away from him, and from the tradition of Ar-Adunakhôr, would end in ultimate failure? The very idea made him reel. It went against the ultimate cornerstone of his beliefs, the trust in Ilúvatar and the knowledge that he had been left a chance to avert the disaster. Or maybe it could be the warning of some peril that threatened to hinder his step?
His head ached again. Here, in this hole, there was nothing he could do but think, and yet the act of thinking brought him pain and dizziness. Still, he knew that if he tried to rest, visions and dreams would assault him as soon as he lowered his guard. If this was some kind of test, he longed for some insight he could grasp, something that would give it a meaning, but it eluded him like grains of sand trickling away from his grip. He pressed his palms against his mouth, smothering a groan of frustration.
It was maybe a blessing in disguise that nobody could be there to keep him company and witness this indignity. He wondered how his father had taken this, if even he had lost his prized composure as he sat in this dreadful place before the embalmed body of Ar-Sakalthôr. Probably, he thought with an edge of bitterness, he just sat there and prayed to the Great God for aid and protection in his future tasks, his eyes alight with devotion and fervour. He who had given himself to the darkness had no reason to fear it, as he had become part of it. Inziladûn, on the other hand, was an enemy here -an enemy of the Great God and of the Eternal Kings of Heaven and Earth.
Maybe they, and not his Elven blood, were sending these thoughts and these visions, to drive him insane.
"I could have killed you."
Inziladûn lowered his head, refusing to look up.
"Do you know why I let you live?"
He would not let them defeat him. He would not.
"The King of Armenelos did not accept that sacrifice. He had plans for you."
The Prince of Númenor shivered. Could it be...?
Almost at once, he forced the question to die in his mind. Only an evil power could have possibly tried to plant that insidious seed, and he would not heed it.
"Do you know why, then? What other reason could there be to spare a traitor like you?"
Inziladûn felt the sudden urge to bolt away. He wanted to be as far from that voice as possible, to leave this place and run through the secret passages towards the light. But the door was shut, and he could not open it. He knew that as soon as he tried, and banged his head against the unyielding iron, the madness growing within him would be unleashed.
"Be silent", he said. "My father is dead, and you cannot speak for him."
The firmness of his own tone reassured him, making him feel slightly better for a moment before it spoke again.
It was excruciating to hear his father´s voice, twisted into this evil mockery of a conversation. Each and every one of the words were pronounced with the same solemn ponderousness that the King had used in his dealings with his son, becoming curt and harsh when contradicted. The final vowels dragged for the exact amount of time, as well as the small pause he used to make between sentences. It sounded like him to the last detail, tempting him with the information that he had always wanted the most to have. But that was the point when they diverged, and even as he thought about it, Inziladûn´s thoughts regained their clarity.
His father had never wanted to talk about this. He had evaded his glances, forced him to swallow his questions and hide his turmoils. You are out of line, he had said the last time that they met on the world of the living. And for a moment Inziladûn had perceived a hint of an emotion, a flash of shame and fear in his countenance. Ar-Gimilzôr feared the subject. He was aware of having done wrong, and had acknowledged as much. I should have had you killed when you first admitted it.
And still, though he knew he had done wrong by his god and his ancestors, he had persisted in his mistake to the end. Inziladûn was alive, and not as a pawn in a sinister plan but as a flaw in it.
"My father couldn´t kill me", he said, and even as the words came out of his mouth, a lightness spread through his chest. "He couldn´t kill me because I was his son. And so he disobeyed."
The voice was silent, and Inziladûn knew that he would not hear it again. He had won.
Carefully, he advanced towards the body to look upon its features, this time without fear. It might have been his imagination, but he could definitely feel as if the air of the cavern had become less oppressive, the darkness less pronounced. The ache in his head and limbs dissipated as he walked, not crawling like an animal anymore but standing on his feet.
There was no sign of life in his father´s countenance. And yet he was somehow more alive than before, when Inziladûn had seen his lips move. For the first time, he had been able to discover something there, something that made him see the dead man in a different light. This change in his perception brought an illusion of life, which was not fell or evil but comforting.
Slowly, he knelt before him, and took a deep breath. For a moment he felt overwhelmed, as he realized how much this feud had been weighing on his soul. His throat hurt and his lungs burned, but still he leaned over the corpse and spoke
When you take my Sceptre and leave this place, I will follow.
"Father," he said, feeling for the first time as if addressing the dead was not madness. His voice sounded hoarse. "You always hid your thoughts from me, as I hid mine from you. You gave yourself to darkness, and I to light, so we were enemies since I was young enough to remember. "He paused for a moment, his brow furrowed thoughtfully. "And yet, for all this time I never could hate you, and this confused me. And now, I know that you could not hate me, either, and that it must have confused you as well. "This pause was even longer, and finding the words more difficult. "That is why, before I am hailed as King, I wish to make peace. Your plans will hold me back, as you intended, but not you. "
Ar-Gimilzôr´s eyes looked back at him, without seeing. Suddenly, right behind him, the candle flickered and died.
Far beyond, at another part of the mountain, Inziladûn heard the echo of a low rumble.
* * * * *
The door of the chamber opened, casting a dim glow over the darkness where Inziladûn was sitting. Three shadows stood upon the threshold, and for a while he was too blinded by the light to see their faces. Then, slowly, he raised his glance towards theirs.
They took this as a cue to enter. In the same, eerie silence that they had kept as they led him to this place they set to work, while Inziladûn felt a tiny breeze flow around him and freeze his sweat for the first time in days. The embalmer knelt before the corpse, bowing three times, and proceeded to extricate the Sceptre from the cold fingers. The High Priest received it solemnly and walked towards Inziladûn, who, as if in a dream, felt himself be helped to his knees by the Guardian of the Mountain, covered in a purple cloak, crowned with a diadem and offered the ultimate emblem of Númenórean royalty. Then, both men fell to their knees before him.
The embalmer, meanwhile, kept himself away from those comings and goings. Under the light of the torch he had brought, he hovered around Ar-Gimilzôr´s corpse like a large bird of prey. Inziladûn heard the clink of clay and metal and the splash of some liquid, but refused to look closer until the golden mask was brought. Slowly, it clicked into place, and his father´s eyes were hidden forever.
After his work was over, the man picked up his utensils, bowed low again and retrieved his torch. The High Priest of Melkor had also brought one, which he picked up again for the return journey. Its wavering gleam allowed Inziladûn a glimpse of the richly painted walls of what had been his prison, a beauty fated to remain buried in darkness. But before them the Guardian, who walked first, bore no light.
Slowly, they crossed the threshold, Inziladûn stopping to look for the last time at his father´s resting place. There his body would lay, forever preserved from decay, an unknown mockery of the Elves that he had always hated. Whispering a prayer to Eru Ilúvatar, he begged that Gimilzôr´s soul might find truth beyond the Circles of the World, and a knowledge that would put an end to all the superstitions and fears that had made him suffer while he lived. As he did so, he felt strangely detached, as if proving his father wrong was not important anymore. This was a liberating feeling, and he left the place with the light step of someone who had not been imprisoned and fasting for three days.
The Guardian of the Mountain walked ahead, leading the small group through the impenetrable maze of tunnels and chambers. His step did not hesitate, even though the glow of the torches did not reach him. He seemed at ease in this darkness, as if, for him, the bowels of the mountain were a well-known home where his ancestors had dwelt for ages uncounted. Behind him the High Priest of Melkor, Inziladûn and the embalmer struggled to follow his lead.
He was not aware of how long they had been walking though purposefully misleading paths, by whose twists and turns even the smallest of distances could have seemed like a hundred miles. The feeling of disorientation increased his weariness, which became more and more pronounced with the passing of time. Still, at a certain point, the air began to feel lighter, and the darkness less pronounced. Taking heart from this, he gathered his strength to continue.
The threshold of the Meneltarma was a huge pillared hall carved inside the rock. It was full of statues of dead kings, among whose silent rows the party made their way towards the exit. The light of the torches was no longer necessary, as the open gates allowed the radiance of sunlight to come flooding into the world of the Dead. This only happened once in a century, when a Ruling King passed away.
When the King was reborn.
As Inziladûn set foot outside the mountain, a clamour reached his ears. He blinked to accustom his eyes to the change of light once more, and a crowd emerged from the haze, stretching beyond his sight.
The High Priest flanked him, grabbing the arm that held the Sceptre and holding it up high for everyone to see.
"The King has come!" he shouted. The clamour turned into a deafening roar.
"Hail the King!"
"He came back from the Darkness in triumph!"
"Hail the King!"
"Now he treads upon the living world, where he will dwell until the end of time!"
Inziladûn forced his arm to stay firm in the elderly priest´s grip, repressing the urge to flee back into the darkness. Under my skin, he remembered, shivering under the rain of devotion. Those people were not hailing him, they hailed the King who had risen from the tomb.
They hailed Melkor.
For the last time in his life, Ar-Inziladûn King of Númenor allowed himself to feel uncertainty.
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.