5. A Slip
A bit more on Dual Theology. :)
"Your son is here, my lord prince."
The man made a nod, and finished the fig that he had been peeling prior to the interruption. For a second, his glance fell upon the woman who sat next to the small garden fountain, working on an embroidery of silver and purple thread. She did not look up from her endeavours, but her lips curved into a smile.
The boy crossed the porch of the Princess´s gardens, followed by a small retinue of nurses and tutors who stayed at the threshold at a gesture of Gimilzôr´s hand. The exuberance that any six-year old would feel upon stepping out of the gloom of his chambers and meeting his mother was admirably restrained by his father´s presence, and he offered them a formal bow.
"Good morning, son." the Prince said, forcing his usually stiff tone to adapt to the circumstances. Inzilbêth gave her embroidery to her lady-in-waiting and beckoned to the boy, whose resolutions to keep his dignity disolved in a whirl as he rushed towards her open arms.
"Good morning, Inziladûn!"she exclaimed warmly. "Oh, but you look so pale! You should not stay so long indoors..."
Gimilzôr coughed, somewhat irritated. He was used to her behaviour –as it seemed, an upbringing in the wilds could not be erased no matter the years-, but questioning his own dispositions in front of their son was an extremely unwise thing. The boy had been born with a potential that no heir to the sceptre could afford to waste in idleness, not as Númenor´s frail peace grew stale and brittle.
And still, as both mother and son sobered and let go of each other, he could not help but feel as if there was something not quite right about his anger. Like whenever those two were together, he had the annoying sensation that he was intruding upon something.
"Father?" the boy asked, realising his transgression with a thoughtful frown. "I am sorry for... running, and for hugging Mother so undignifiedly."
The long and difficult words were spoken calmly and with no hint of a stammer, almost with the inflection that an adult would have given to them. The Prince stared at his son, whose sea-grey eyes were fixed on him, and nodded.
The little prodigy. His tutors swore often that there was no child so gifted in the whole of Númenor, and even looking past their flattery, Gimilzôr had to admit that there was something unusual, maybe even unsettling about the child. There had been times when he had found himself trying to guess the true intentions behind his boyish frowns, as if he was facing a courtier or a member of the Council. This always made him feel extremely foolish.
Behind their backs, Inzilbêth nodded proudly at her son´s words, and took her embroidery back to begin disentangling the threads.
"Come here." he commanded.
Inziladûn gave a few steps, until he was close to his father´s chair at the opposite side of the small table. The glance he shot him this time was clearly inquiring.
Gimilzôr sought for for the most adequate way to start this conversation. Most of the verbal exchanges that he could recall having held in the last month had always started and finished with some matter of governance - excepting a few ones about roots and vegetables, thanks to the King. He had rarely talked to his son, as he detested not knowing what to say.
"Have you studied something of import this week?" he finally chose to ask. Inziladûn´s lips curved a little, and his eyes were suddenly wide and eager. The subject interested him, strange as it would seem for a boy his age.
"I have been learning about the gods of Númenor." he announced. Gimilzôr saw him struggling to keep a further torrent of words on a leash, and for a moment, a ghost of a smile crossed his face. Amused, he signalled him to continue.
"This week I learned about Ashtarte-Uinen, the Queen of the Seas. She is a goddess, fairer than the fairest woman in the world, like the statue at the Temple of the Sea Cave, and crowned in gleaming silver and pearls. At day she sails the Seas, and at night she sails the skies and we see her as the Moon. She protects sailors, and children, and the... love between a man and a woman."
Gimilzôr nodded, slightly impressed. The boy walked a few steps backwards and stared at both his parents now, as if searching for approval. Inzilbêth, however, continued embroidering with a small smile, until Inziladûn finally turned his attention away from her to focus back on his exposition.
"And today I have been learning about Melkor son of Eru, the King of Armenelos. Of how he leads our armies in war upon the lands of Middle-Earth, and takes the people who die with him so they won´t be lost in darkness. And how the Elves and the evil spirits stole his radiant crown by treachery, because they wanted the world to be covered in darkness, but it slipped out of their reach and hung over the skies as the Sun to light our paths by day!"
They are Moon and Sun, Sea and Land, Woman and Man... the child´s song he had been taught when he was his son´s age came back in loose fragments to Gimilzôr´s mind as he heard him speak. Not that Inziladûn would have needed such clumsy rhymes.
Inzilbêth, however, was not smiling anymore. Could she be feeling jealous?
"Why did the..?" Inziladûn´s question wavered in his mouth and died, as he came back from his excitement to realise that he wasn´t in class with his old tutor or playing with his mother. Feeling unusually lighthearted, Gimilzôr encouraged him to continue. The ruler of Númenor was still enough to answer a child´s question - even if the child was as gifted as this one.
"Why did the Elves want the world to be covered in darkness? Is it because they can see in the dark?"
"The Elves live in another world, under the light of glowing trees." he explained. "On several ocassions, jealous of the beauty and prosperity of the world of Men, they tried to conquer it. The third and last of those times, they headed for Middle-Earth with an army whose extent of power and malice no human or divine eye had ever witnessed. But even then, Melkor did not forsake those faithful to Him. He knew what he had to do, and so, after building a great fire, He threw himself on it. His enemies laughed, but suddenly, in honour of His sacrifice His father, Ruler of All and Creator, spread the flames and created terrible monsters of blood and fire, until the Elves were defeated and their host had to abandon Middle-Earth."
"And what happened to Him?" Inziladûn had been won by curiosity.
"By his triumphant death he conquered the Other World, and thus became the King of the Dead. Now, he sits there waiting for His faithful souls to arrive, and guides them through the right path so they will not be lost to darkness." The Prince paused for a moment. ". Those are the great feats that we celebrate in the February festival, which you will soon attend."
Inziladûn nodded in grave silence, endeavouring to absorb such an important and shocking load of information. Inzilbêth´s lady-in-waiting gave a little sharp cry, upon noticing that her mistress had prickled her finger with the needle.
The boy immediately turned there in anxiousness, but his mother smiled, sucking her injured finger, and signalled that it was nothing important.
"Was this all you were told about Melkor?" Gimilzôr continued, to cover this incommodating moment. Inziladûn mulled over the question, his eyes still darting towards his mother, until he finally shook his head.
"No. I also learned about his favourite animal, the wolf, and the one he hates the most, the dog. There was also a story about that, but my tutor says that it will come in time." The impression of the old man´s voice had come so naturally and unexpectedly that Gimilzôr couldn´t even scold him for it. "And his favourite tree is the dragon tree... but I don´t know what that is."
"Nobody does." The Prince smiled briefly. "It is a tree of legend, with leaves sharp as swords that stand tall and proudly against the sky. Its roots ooze blood when they are cut, because according to a famous story, it grew from the blood of the mightiest of Elvenkings after he, in his folly, dared King Melkor to fight him one on one. He was so strong and canny that it is said that he wounded our Lord´s feet seven times with his sword, but in the end he was shattered by his mace."
"Grond." the boy added mechanically. Then, he smiled. "I would wish to see that tree at least once! Maybe there´s still one in Valinor? All the gods come from that land, don´t they?"
Gimilzôr froze. All the words that he was going to say, and the tenuous ease that had been developing during the conversation fled in a rush as he pressed his lips and sent a piercing glance in Inziladûn´s direction.
"Who told you this?"
The boy had immediately realised that he had said something wrong. His face went pale, but his confusion was soon smothered behind a mask of forced self-aplomb. The expression in his sea-grey eyes became closed, guarded, and Gimilzôr suddenly saw Eärendur standing in front of him with a false smile and a calculating expression upon his features. His stomach clenched.
"I read it on a priest´s old book." he replied with the briefest hesitation. Some of the dusty scrolls that were kept for religious purposes contained dangerous things that he had been forbidden from reading. "I am sorry."
A good attempt, Gimilzôr thought. But behind his back, blood had fled from Inzilbêth´s face, and he knew who was the real culprit.
"Be excused." he told the child curtly. Inziladûn turned towards his mother.
"Come with me, Mother." he whispered, unable to keep his anxiety at bay for any longer. "Please."
"Leave." Gimilzôr repeated, so coldly that he would have flinched at his own voice. The lady-in-waiting and two servants who were waiting nearby followed him, with steps that seemed a little too eager for Court protocol.
Somehow, as the boy left, his frozen rage, mingled with rising fear became hot instead, and burned in his chest. Belatedly he realised why: what he had felt while Inziladûn lied to him had nothing to do with the feelings of a father for a son, even a son who had done something that he did not approve of. For a second, he had seen the enemy.
The greatest fool is the man who is fooled twice over while thinking himself clever.
He was the greatest fool.
Inzilbêth sat on her chair, clutching her embroidery as if she was waiting for some stroke of doom. When he turned to give her his full attention, she winced.
"It was not his fault." she mumbled, with a small and rushed voice that he could barely manage to discern. "It was me. I was the one who..."
"I know." he said, in a cold, low tone. Usually, he never raised his voice, thinking it unelegant and demeaning, but this time he needed a great amount of self-control to prevent himself from yelling. There was some thread he needed to hold on to, when everything else seemed to be escaping his grasp.
Fool. So much care spent in keeping the child away from distant relatives and old books, while Inzilbêth, young, harmless Inzilbêth, was free to indoctrinate him night and day, whispering on his ear while they played! Now he understood why the child had always kept such an infuriating distance from him –whenever he wasn´t feigning, of course. Had she taught him to feign, too?
This had to end. Now.
"You will not see my son again." he told her, taking a breath. Before he could turn away, and unsurprisingly, he was held back by a hand pulling his robe. With great reluctance, he turned back to face Inzilbêth´s distressed glance.
"No! Please... not this!" she stammered, choking with her own voice as she knelt on the floor in front of him. Gimilzôr had never seen such desperation cross the features of anyone before, and he had to stop in spite of himself. "Kill me if I... if I have displeased you, but please, not this!"
"You have poisoned his ears with the.. tales of the traitors!" he spat. Saying it aloud helped to increase his fury and his outrage. He remembered Inziladûn´s smile, his eagerness, that had seemed so sincere to him before it all disappeared in a rush.
"It was a mistake! I..." She sought frantically for the right words to say, holding to him at the same time to make sure that he wouldn´t leave. So beautiful, she was, in spite of her features distorted by grief. Beautiful like an Elf... like a siren...
"It was an old wives´s tale... that I remembered from my nurse. It was about a man of Middle-Earth, Tuor, who crossed the Great Sea in a ship. He... he found Valinor, where the Valar lived, and achieved immortality, but it was just a silly child´s tale and I meant no wrong with it. Please, believe me!" Unable to help herself for any longer, her voice shook with a sob. "I swear that I will never tell him a tale again!"
"And what will come now? Songs?" he asked, sarcastically. "Prayers?"
In spite of his bitterness, however. the flaring heat of his ire was already giving way to rationality, and he gave himself pause to think again. She looked sincere. Oh, yes - she looked sincere, naive, and he had the shameful urge to comfort her and dry her tears and forget that also she, by birth, had been his enemy.
He was so weak. He would lose his bloodline to such an insignifiant woman, and the whole of Númenor to her kin.
All because he had thought there would be a way to escape his duty. Love, cursed love, an inconvenient attachment in a man of state... a mortal danger in a prince.
Her sobs subsided after a while, and she wiped her eyes with a tenuous semblance of serenity. He expected her to continue insisting, but instead she sought his glance with an intent look upon her eyes. Almost fierce, he thought, wondering what else would a mother do to fight for her child.
The answer came immediately.
"Then I swear... I swear that I will never teach my son any song, tale of prayer that do not sing the praises of the greatest of gods, Melkor son of Eru and king of Armenelos." she said, without a single pause. Gimilzôr, who had never heard her speak the god´s name before, blinked in surprise.
Did her kind care for oaths?
She is my wife!
Aye, she was indeed. As Inziladûn was his son by name, and Eärendur´s kin by blood. If he had been aware back then of the power that a young and ignorant girl could hold over her lineage, he would never have had her, not as a hostage, nor as a pretext or an alliance, but it was too late for that now.
It was also too late to do what he should have done back then. Inziladûn was a prince of Númenor in the eyes of the people, his declared heir – his beloved heir, yes, even now, to his greater shame.
Was there anything he could do, in the slippery terrain of misalliances, affections, lies and oaths where his miscalculation, and then his weakness, had thrown him? How could human eyes see through the souls, and reveal her real heart, his son´s real heart to him?
You chose not to heed the warnings.
The image of the holy man´s unsettled face flashed through his mind. Before Gimilzôr had had the time to recover from the surprise, another vision took its place, of two twin serpents fighting one another over Inzilbêth´s slight, trembling frame. He stood in place, shaken.
He knew what this was.
There was still a way.
It was the only thing he could do, he realised, in the backslash of that immediate and terrible flash of divine insight. One single thing that could save Númenor and the royal house from this approaching storm – and also, if things went wrong, hasten its doom.
Blood curdled in his veins at the decision that he had to make. For a moment, he wished that he could be nothing but a common man, who knew and cared nothing for the complicated paths that he was forced to tread. But alas- that fate had been denied to him, since the day of his birth in a bed of purple.
"Listen to me, Inzilbêth. I will allow you to see him, but there will be a third person present in all of your encounters until I decide otherwise." he muttered, feeling tired and drained. Without waiting to see the relief in her face, he pulled the piece of fabric away from her grip, and left.
That same afternoon, when Inziladûn bowed in front of him and formally asked for forgiveness for mentioning the Unspeakable Name of the island of the evil spirits of the West, Gimilzôr gave his son a pleasant look, and told him that there was no reason to worry. After the child´s footsteps had waned behind his back, however, the Prince lowered his head, and covered his face with both hands.
(to be continued)
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.