9. Last Preparations
Year 3063 –31st year of the reign of Ar-Sakalthôr
The roar of water was deafening, exploding inside his ears like the rumble of thunder. Under his feet, the constricting pull became stronger and stronger by the moment. He tried to fight it, tried with all his might, but as much as he ran he was always claimed back by the Sea´s giant, gaping mouth.
Anguish filled his very being, and hair-rising terror. He knew it was drawing close at a fulminant speed, but he could not escape. He could not escape.
Ahead of him, a woman was also trying to fight the pull of the current. Her hands were white, and a mane of dark hair fell long and free over slight shoulders. He saw her stumble and fall, and rushed to her side, frantically trying to grab her up, to save her at all costs.
She pulled away from him, and was engulfed by the black waters.
Inziladûn awoke with a start. The first light of dawn was already filtering inside his rooms, yet for a while he couldn´t even distinguish the lines of the dishevelled sheets of his own bed. He was covered in sweat and shivering at the same time; his heart was beating fast.
The old nightmare again, he thoughtAnd yet not... no, it had not been exactly the same. That woman- he had seen her before, but never with the same intensity as he had now. She was always running ahead of him, silently refusing to let him see her face. And she had always felt distant and strangely dim, with the unreal quality of dreams, not vivid and almost... physical, like when she pulled away from him this time.
Inziladûn shook his head, and left the bed. The chill of the morning air over the warm humidity of sweat made him feel momentarily cold, but he forced himself to pay no attention. He walked towards the empty terrace, barefoot over the cold engraved figures of the mosaics. The sight of the garden, wild yet luxurious, slowly calmed his mind and helped his throat to unclench.
Long ago, Inziladûn had understood that this nightmare was a part of himself. Nobody else shared it, and nobody knew how to help him with it, but some had told him that it would pass over time, and he knew that it wouldn´t. In further attempts to understand its meaning, he had read books and reflected upon its slightest details and how they changed –until he was told by the only person whose advice he really respected that if he allowed this fruitless search to continue, the dark visions would wreck his day as they wrecked his night. Then, he had decided not to think about them anymore, and banish their horror from his mind as soon as he woke up.
Now and then, he was assaulted by the distant remembrance of a time when two soft arms would encircle him warmly and calm his fears. This always brought pain, more even than the visions themselves.
Inziladûn took a long breath, and returned inside. There was no time for remembrances today. Today was too important, and if things went well, he might even regain a part of what he had lost. But he had to be in full posession of his wits for this.
Soon afterwards, a bleary-eyed man, used to his early habits, came in with a washbasin. He laid it upon the table and left with a bow, used too, it seemed, to his further eccentricities.
Such a noble servant, Inziladûn mused idly as he began washing his face with cold water. His father was a powerful man known as the Provider of Washbasins for the West Wing, or something that sounded just as ridiculous. Both of them would poison him gladly if they could, knowing that the first thing he planned to do as soon as he held the Sceptre was to end this nonsense that had kept growing out of control for the last twenty years. He had certainly been quite vocal about it in the past- and now, the establishment of an uneasy truce did not mean that a lasting peace would ensue.
His father, of course, had been wroth with him, when word reached his ears that his elder son, upon reaching his majority, had refused to admit the twenty-something people that were sent to dress him up in the morning. He had given him a long lecture about how a prince couldn´t insult his subjects this way, about how a prince should be convenably dressed –he could take care of his own body, thank you very much!-, and then finally gave up and resorted to threats. Inziladûn, usually respectful, had shown that he could hold his own in this department, announcing that if he was forced to accept as much as one of them in his chambers, he would appear naked at the next Council session.
They probably think I go naked already, he snorted, already feeling his nightmare dissolve in mist as he threw a plain –but silk- shirt over his shoulders. The contrast between his garb and that of his father and brother was so great that sometimes even he thought he had to be. Maybe it had something to do with the absence of twenty dressing servants trying to make themselves useful around him.
Not long after he was fully dressed, another bleary-eyed Palace minister, a woman this time, came in to leave the breakfast tray. He ate it quickly on the porch, regretting that today he could not do so in the garden itself for fear of soiling his clothes. It would be advisable not to push Prince Gimilzôr´s patience too far, and today of all days he needed his father to be well-disposed towards him.
Once he was finished, he fingered through a book -ship building through the ages- to help pass his remaining time. The idea of the many battles that awaited him, however, had already begun to send hectic impulses to his brain, and he felt unable to concentrate on the dreary technical prose.
Eventually, the hour came. Carefully laying the volume on its place, Inziladûn took out the unavoidable purple cloak, and smoothed out its wrinkles. Then, he left his rooms, to undertake a long journey through the Palace´s thousand corridors towards the Council chamber.
As he was about to leave the Western wing through the Red Flower Gallery, he made sure that none of the ladies who perused the place daily was there to see him, and looked through the varnished lattice in the direction of the sky. There lay the tall North Wing, with its densely curtained windows and walled gardens. The palm tree garden, the only one that could be seen from his vantage point, was still empty, and its inner doors closed. A smile spread through his features.
Quickening his pace even further –to the fright of some Court ladies that he encountered on the way-, Inziladûn entered the Audience Chamber barely fifteen minutes later. There was much animation in the place already, full of gossiping groups, talks and muffled laughs. He saw none of the Council members among this moderate ruckus, however, so he assumed that they had already been given leave to enter the Council Chamber.
Just as he had imagined, some of the most important men in the realm were already taking their seats around the imposing ebony table at the second hall, while others bid their time in conversation next to the chair of some friend or ally. Only a man among them sat alone, serious and silent, at the end of the table that stood farther from the entrance. It was Valandil, son of Eärendur, and the Council representative of the lords of Andúnië this year.
Inziladûn waded through the chief courtiers, governors, priests and landholders of Númenor, answering politely to their greetings though the inner, wilder part of him soon became tired of the slow formality and repetition. When he finally reached his rightful seat, he could not prevent himself from letting go of a brief sigh of relief, and Valandil, who sat close to him, allowed a smile to curve his grim features for a moment.
Inziladûn mumbled a greeting, so shocked at his own carelessness that he even forgot about the condolences that he was supposed to offer for his kinswoman´s death. A bit red on the cheeks, he began arranging the sheets of paper and writing material in front of him, to make sure that they would be handy as soon as he needed them.
Being his father´s secretary was harder than what it seemed at first sight. The Council rarely went past one or two decisions per session, and many words were repeated over and over under slightly different disguises. If he had been allowed to, Inziladûn would have resumed everything in one brief, neat paragraph, but unfortunately this was not the Prince´s preferred method. Gimilzôr expected him to note down every word exactly as it had been said, and to record even the name of the person who had said it. Sometimes, Inziladûn wondered if his father spent his afternoons staring at the papers with a frown, trying to decide if each choice of a word meant treason or not.
Just as he was trying to banish this irreverent image from his mind, he heard a sound of footsteps coming from the Northern door, and immediately stood and bowed. The conversations at the other side of the hall froze to a halt, as the Council members followed his example to honour the arrival of Gimilzôr.
The Prince sat at the head of the table, next to his son, and offered them a carefully studied wave of his hand.
"Sit down." he commanded. Inziladûn obeyed, sending a passing glance in his father´s direction.
As every other day, whether he was going to make a public appearance or not, the Prince was dressed quite elaborately. His purple cloak fell down his back in careful folds, and his dress was made of a dark velvet that made a perfect contrast of hues with the dark golden trimming. Long, black curls fell down his back in seeming freedom, but at a close distance Inziladûn was aware that they had been treated with an oily product that would keep them in place under the fiercest wind. And dyed in brilliant black so the first signs of silver do not shine through, Inziladûn thought, as always marvelling at such vanity.
For a second, his gaze crossed his father´s stony, regular yet fleshy features, the dark eyes and the frown in his pale forehead, but he tore it away before Gimilzôr could notice. The Prince was tense in the midst of his artful majesty, worried about something.
Inziladûn did not need to think too hard to guess why his father was worried. The thought that he might go back on his word and forbide him from travelling crossed his mind for a moment, bringing a pang to his stomach.
That was unthinkable.
A few minutes passed by in tenuous silence, with some sounds of talking in low tones coming from the other side of the table. As Gimilzôr did not move, and his frown increased and turned into a sign of a less deep kind of irritation, Inziladûn became aware of the empty seat at his father´s other side.
Finally, the creaking sound of a huge door being opened and then closed brought everybody´s attention towards the entrance. Gimilzôr glared at his newly arrived younger son, who apologised without looking much embarrassed.
"You are late."
Gimilkhâd walked towards his seat, among the mostly amused looks of the Council members. Inziladûn, who would have felt very ashamed had this happened to him, could not help but shake his head, but his brother did not even look in his direction. Careful, so the fabric of his clothes would not get a wrinkle, he sat down with a high chin, a perfect copy of their father in all except the youth on his face and his braided hair.
It had been a new idea of Gimilzôr to allow– force would have been a better word- his twenty-year-old son to assist to Council sessions, so he could start learning the skill of conducting government affairs. Inziladûn, so far, had not noticed any progress, as his brother spent the whole time learning how to stare convincingly at the speaker while his thoughts wandered away. And then, there had been those rumours of a new woman of late...
How could any woman love a man who spent more time on his hair than she did?
Inziladûn bit his lip, wondering why he always had to be so harsh towards Gimilkhâd in his thoughts. They had been born from the same womb, and yet they had not grown up together –while he had been taken to the Western wing, as the heir, his brother had been entrusted to the care of a lady who had rooms on the South wing of the Palace.
The first time that they had actually spoken to each other, he remembered, they had been at their father´s gardens. Gimilkhâd had approached the bench where he sat reading a book, and began staring at him in awe. Inziladûn was nonplussed at the dark-eyed little boy´s lack of manners, and closed his book to look back at him.
Gimilkhâd was frozen in place, though soon his curiosity managed to overpower his wariness. Bravely, he hid his trepidation behind a cheeky mask, and decided to stand his ground.
"Can you really... see what I´m thinking?" he asked.
Inziladûn flinched. He hated it when people said that. He couldn´t see anybody´s thoughts, like some sort of Elf sorcerer... anyone could guess at the faces of people who did not bother to hide their emotions.
"Your eyes are obvious enough." he replied. Years after, as he thought about it, he wondered if it had been the nicest thing that he could have said.
In any case, as they had both grown and they had further ocassions to talk, he had always felt remarkably unable to show any affection, and Gimilkhâd had not tried again. As a boy he had fled him, and he still did, if under a less conspicuous guise –instead of keeping a distance whenever they met in public, now he preferred to cloak his uneasiness under a display of arrogant exuberance. This attitude had endeared him to their father, the ladies and the courtiers, but Inziladûn found it overdone, a too magnificent wrapping to hide a petty fear.
Years ago, he had learned that a Númenorean father had to feel seriously disappointed to have a second son, and that in the King´s family this was unheard of since centuries ago. Not much else had been needed to realise where he stood in the family, but he had never been able to nail the real reason why he was such a disappointment. All that he knew was that he displeased the Prince and the King, and Gimilkhâd did not.
"... session we will discuss our policies towards our Middle-Earth colonies."
Gimilzôr´s voice took Inziladûn out of his musings, and he automatically started scribbling. And for the next hours this was all that he did, quietly grumbling at the need of so many words to say so little. The King would send inspectors to oversee the works of Umbar, but maybe it would be best to wait until it was time for the desert tribes to pay their tributes. Or not, because then there would be too much to do to lose time in overseeing petty repairs. The Merchant Princes would certainly not object to a delay. And, by the way, what of the latest rumours of barbarian incursions...?
When Gimilzôr decided to put an end to the session, Inziladûn´s fingers felt entirely numb. Relieved, he walked towards the door of the Audience Chamber, where Valandil approached him with a bow.
"Looking forward to tomorrow morning, my lord?"
Inziladûn blinked, taken by surprise.
"I should have told you before." he apologised, as soon as he could gather his wits. Looking at the older man, however, he was unsettled by a glance of pure, amused serenity, and he almost felt foolish saying the formal words. "My deepest condolences for your noble grandmother´s sake. It was a tragedy."
"It was sad, but hardly a tragedy, my lord. She was of very advanced age, and in the right state of mind. Now she has left for a better place." he added, though there his voice became so low that even Inziladûn had problems hearing it.
Still, his lack of despair was quite genuine, the Prince´s heir realised in shock. No trace of tears, of a sleepless night, no hidden anguish showing in his countenance when the name of the one he had lost to Darkness was mentioned in front of him.Was his father right after all, in thinking that the Lords of Andunië were soft-spoken and unfeeling?
"I have already prepared everything that we will need for our journey, my lord." the sea-grey eyed enigma changed subject with perfect composure. Inziladûn saw his father and his brother walking in their direction, and suspected this to be the reason. Tomorrow´s shared trip was a safe, impersonal subject to breach in front of Gimilzôr.
"I fear I will not be allowed to do as much as taste your bread, Lord Valandil." he took the cue in a conversational tone. The Prince, who had already reached their side, arched an eyebrow.
"And why, pray, would there be such a ban on our friend´s food?" His undertone was clear, do not leave me in evidence. Inziladûn smiled pleasantly as the other man bowed low.
"Because the King and the Prince would not allow the magnificence of the Royal House to be outstripped by anyone." he said. Gimilzôr´s features relaxed a little.
"I plan on sending a sizeable entourage with you, indeed." he admitted. "In your return way, you will visit the Sacred Cave and present your respects in our stead."
Inziladûn nodded. To have him take over the Royal family´s responsibility of the annual visit to the Sea Queen´s sanctuary had been his father´s way to make sure that his formal condolence visit to Andustar would not last for a day longer than necessary. This, on the other hand, was no heavy burden for him- he had been wishing to visit that place since his childhood.
"And how will he do this, Father? Not even the sacred prostitutes will let him in until he shaves and does his hair properly!"
Gimilzôr frowned at his younger son´s occurrence, though Valandil smiled out of courtesy. Inziladûn briefly pondered the childishness of telling Gimilkhâd that braids had been an Elvish invention.
"I would wish that you did do your hair properly, Inziladûn." Gimilzôr said, "but if you act with the required dignity, I shall be content enough. Now, follow me; the hour of prayer is near at hand."
All three bowed and fell behind Gimilzôr, and they were followed in turn by the Council members who still exchanged the last impressions nearby.
The subterranean chapel of Ashtarte-Uinen was dark, except for the faint light of torches than hung from the irregular, humid walls. Centuries ago, delvers had found a water well under the very courtyard of the royal palace, and the place, small and damp like a woman´s womb, had become the rightful home of the goddess soon afterwards.
Inziladûn stumbled in the shadows, blinded for a moment, and set his eyes on the small statue at the front. The Queen was holding a child, whose little hands played with her naked breast. Quietly, he sat down next to Her, and began his prayers while the movements of the people behind him, and of his own father as he burned inciense at the altar became nothing but a meaningless buzz in the distance.
"Queen of the Seas, silver foam, radiant moon..."
The goddess´s serene, loving smile gleamed under the torchlight. Since he had been a child, Inziladûn had liked to believe that She was smiling for him, a mother whose love was too large and powerful to be imprisoned between cold walls.
"...Mother of all, hold me in your arms, protect me..."
Lost in his whispered communion with the Lady, he almost jumped with a start when he felt a hand touching his shoulder. Managing to regain his composure in time, he smothered an irrational feeling of cold and disappointment as Gimilzôr´s dark eyes looked down on him.
"Follow me." he said. Inziladûn nodded, and with a last, longing glance at the sanctuary, he stood up and left the cave at his father´s heels.
The long and laborious ascension through steps carved in stone helped him to return to the reality at hand. Blinded again at the end of the journey, this time by sunlight, he blinked, and saw his father waiting for him with his entourage.
Once that he had taken his rightful place, the whole retinue crossed the centre of the courtyard, cloaks billowing with the soft action of the breeze. At their right stood the White Tree, once the main ornament of the oldest square in Armenelos, before the enlargement of the Palace in Ar-Adunakhôr´s time had reduced it to a mere obstacle in the First Courtyard of the Main Compound. Inziladûn had read that the extraordinary tree was of Elvish origin, and that the kings of the past who were friendly with the Elves had planted it as a symbol of their alliance. He had immediately believed that story: that tree had to be Elvish, if only because it roused strange and unknown emotions on him whenever he gazed at it. It made him feel sad.
Others, however, he had soon discovered, were greatly afraid of it. None of the two thousand people who lived in the Palace ever walked its immediate vicinity, and though Inziladûn´s tutor and friend Maharbal had told him that those were old woman´s legends, not even the Umbarian philosopher had allowed the curious child to step too close.
Turning away from the dangerous thing, he followed his father back into the Main Compound and into the Prince´s own chambers, where everyone else was dismissed. There, he found that a table set for two was already waiting for them in the parlour.
"Sit down." Gimilzôr invited. Inziladûn obeyed, and, knowing his father well enough, he was not surprised at the long silence that followed. Feeling his hunger awaken, he fell upon the excellent meal, and put each dish away with quiet shows of appreciation. Gimilzôr detested any kind of talk at the dining table.
Only after he had wiped his mouth with a scented napkin for the last time, the Prince leaned back, and cleaned his throat.
"Inziladûn." he began. His son nodded, immediately taking his eyes away from the man who was picking up his father´s dishes. "You must know that neither the King nor I feel at ease about sending you to the Western lands for this condolence trip. We would have sent anyone else if it had been possible –but unfortunately, it was not. It would be a sad insult for our majesty to go ourselves, and you are our heir and kin to them."
Inziladûn cleaned his throat in turn. This meant that there would be no further risk of a last-minute counter decision.
"I understand. And I will do my best to be at the height of your expectations."
Gimilzôr shook his head, and let go of the softest of sighs.
"You know what I have told you so many times. Those people are cunning and deceitful. They will try to entice you with their charming manners, to lure you with fantastical tales about this island´s legendary past. You are intelligent, my son." Inziladûn bowed slightly at the unexpected compliment." But you are also impetuous, and entirely too impressionable." A shadow came upon Gimilzôr´s features, and for a moment, his son surprised a look that was entirely too vulnerable in his eyes. Posessive... or frightened?
Before he could guess which, however, Inziladûn had to lower his head, and force himself to follow the colourful patterns of the mantelpiece. He knew better than to stare at his father in this manner. Since he grew enough of a brain as to remember, Gimilzôr had taken his son´s piercing stares very ill.
For a while, a heavy silence fell upon them. Then, the Prince broke it with the most agitated tone of voice that Inziladûn could remember.
"You are my son, Inziladûn. My son and my heir. I must trust you."
Inziladûn´s eyes widened in shock.
"I have never given you a reason to believe otherwise!"
But then, even as he pronounced those words, he knew that this was not wholly true. Ever loyal, mostly obliging, Inziladûn´s thoughts were his own, and even now he was planning something that his father would not like.
And still, he thought, there were no charming manners that could make him forget his obligations towards the Royal house of Armenelos.
"I will serve the King and you to the best of my abilities." he swore, for once openly locking his father´s eyes into his. Gimilzôr stood the sea-grey glint for a moment, then frowned and shook his head as if to free it from an unwelcome thought.
"You may leave and finish your preparations." he dismissed him.
The rest of the afternoon passed away comparatively quickly. Inziladûn had to devote it to the last preparations for his journey, and in spite of the fact that he was not carrying much for himself, long and tedious lists of presents for the Sacred Cave and for the grieving family kept him busy for a long time. His escort, moreover, had a new leader as from the previous day, his old chief tutor Hannon, priest of Melkor. He had been picked by his father, no doubt with strict instructions to report on all his sayings and doings, and as if this wasn´t hardship enough for Inziladûn, the wretched man had immediately insisted on bringing four carts of "provisions" and a train of twenty-five personal servants with him.
Once that he could say that everything was packed and in its rightful place, the Prince´s heir retired to his chambers, early, he said "so he could be fully rested for tomorrow´s journey", but in truth because the time was near to carry the plan that he had been carefully mulling for the last days. As he closed the door behind his back, a familiar restlessness began to prey on his mind and body at the vicinity of both risk and reward, yet he forced himself to pick a book and wait until the hour was late enough.
Finally, the hour came. Leaving the book aside –from which he could not even recall the title-, Inziladûn slipped away from his chambers, and walked through the shadows of the already deserted corridors. The Red Flower Gallery was empty, with the exception of a lingering couple who fled through a side arch, more worried about being detected than they were of tracking his movements. In silence, he crossed it, and passed by a fountain of golden fishes to enter the garden of palm trees.
The first step in forbidden territory, he thought, and the idea caused an unknown emotion to twist around his stomach. He had rarely felt afraid of anything, but what was at stake now was not a mere trifle. For a moment, the full awareness of the risk even caused him to consider abandoning the enterprise.
But he couldn´t. It was too important. For twenty years he had waited, crafting impossible plans and learning to calculate directions, angles and distances, and now, at the eve of a journey where many questions could find their answers, it had finally become possible. This had to be a sign of the goddess, Inziladûn was sure.
Remembering to utter a prayer demanding Her succour, he eyed the house that stood at the far end of the garden with a critical glance. It was the back wall, of course, as the front belonged to an inner courtyard of the North Wing, but it had a window that allowed the lady who lived there to look at the palm trees without having to show herself to the eyes of lesser courtiers. It was the home of the Lady of the Northern Keys, who, after a lifetime of faithful service, had left the Palace this month to look after her mother.
Inziladûn grabbed the bars, testing them at the same time, and pulled until his right foot could reach the windowsill. Then, he hoisted himself up, and stood tenuously upon the narrow space.
In that position, his outstretched hands could find support on the lower part of the roof, and he tiptoed and stretched all that he could to be able to grab a safer portion of it. As he balanced over, trying to land one of his legs on the heights, he knocked the wall a couple of times. In spite of knowing that the house was empty, he felt himself cringe at the noise.
Once that he managed to roll his body over the cold tiles, he lay there for a while, recovering from his exertions and the dull ache in his hands. After a few minutes, however, he forced himself to stand up again, and began climbing the bent surface of the roof to the highest place. From that vantage point, he could already steal a first peek at the inner courtyard, at its fountains and terraces, and yet what absorbed his attention was the building that hung above his head.
For that would be the scenario of the most dangerous stage of his plan. Since years ago, Inziladûn had been digging up childhood remembrances, arranging and rearranging them with his own calculations, and decided that the terrace at the back of her rooms had to be exactly there. But a shadow of a doubt still ate at some corner of his mind, and he wondered if he could have been betrayed by a child´s overactive imagination. One less turn, one less stretch of the dark corridors that looked so frightening after a nightmare...
Discarding those dangerous thoughts at once, and muttering a new prayer, Inziladûn tested the solidness of the lush plant that climbed over the stone wall, under its fragrant flowers that showed their full beauty only at night. Most of the stalks were still too young, and unable to support the weight of a grown man, but in his increasingly desperate search, he found their mother: a very ancient stalk that had almost become one with the stone that supported it, wider than his arm and running in zigzag until the balcony was at reaching distance. It was dangerous, but he could do it.
The climbing, in spite of his fears, did not present too many problems. Inziladûn was careful never to look down, and he followed the same stalk patiently instead of being lured towards a more treacherous support that promised a shorter path. Now and then he felt a minor debris of twigs, leaves and flowers fall over the roof of the absent Lady of the Northern Keys, at each minute farther away from his feet.
When at last he could touch the marble railing of the balcony, he almost let go of a cry of triumph. Hurriedly, he hoisted himself up again, and sought the new surroundings with an avid glance.
He saw a porch covered in boughs, filled with blooming, sweet-scented white flowers. One small fountain reflected the silvery gleam of the moon over running waters. A feeling of peace, that Inziladûn only recalled from his dreams, pervaded the place, filling him with a strange urge to weep.
His conscious mind remembered that fountain among all others, the one where he had fallen as a child as he tried to catch a slippery fish with his hands. And deeper inside, his heart recognised this calm quiet, ever unchanging and ever mysterious, that he had sought and never found in the shifty, complicated and noisy world outside. A strong feeling of loss gripped at his heart with a numbing intensity.
He was home.
Filled with a renewed sense of purpose, he walked the garden paths towards the porch, and knocked softly at the locked door. She was there, lying on her bed like the last time that her small son had sought her in this place. He knew. Nothing he had done or experienced in the last twenty years had truly happened.
After a while, the sound of soft footsteps approaching in some hesitation reached his ears. He swallowed; his heart was beating quicker than ever.
Once again, he repeated the knock. He heard a sharp intake of breath at the other side of the door.
"Princess" he whispered, barely loud enough for her to catch his words. "I am your son."
For a moment, even the soft sound of her breathing was quenched. Then, there was a quick fumbling for something and a sharp click, and the door slid open revealing a pair of huge, incredulous grey eyes.
"Inziladûn?" she asked, with a little sharp cry. He laid an instinctive hand upon her mouth.
"Ssssh. There must be people in the front. They must not hear me."
Inzilbêth nodded. As if she was dancing in a trance, she stumbled backwards, until she fell upon an ivory chair. Inziladûn´s eyes distinguished the shape of a lamp on the small table at her side, and with trembling hands he sought for the lighter. The soft flicker of the flame revealed to him a pale oval face, whose features were contorted in an expression that he found hard to decipher, a turmoil of disbelief, fear and longing.
Sure that his own face mirrored her feelings, he took a step forwards, and swallowed the knot in his throat. Her hand darted up and touched his cheek tentatively, as if she wasn´t sure that he could be real.
A smile creased her lips, and a tear flowed down her cheek.
"Inziladûn... You-you have grown so much! But... to come all the way here..."
"I had planned it carefully. The Lady of the Northern Keys was on leave, and tomorrow I will be leaving, so I thought there would be no better opportunity." he babbled, appalled at his own tone. The smile disappeared, cloaked by sadness and guilt, and she stared at her feet.
"I am sorry. I am so sorry... I tried to... but would you believe me if I tried to... tell you why I did it? Would you understand...?"
Inziladûn forced himself to look into her eyes. Prey to her real emotions, to her grief and love for him, she was much fairer than the Princess who stood away from him in formal ceremonies, her body covered in silks and jewels and a vacant expression upon her eyes. And yet, she was so small... had she been so small, before?
"I would." he said, grimacing as a painful memory fought its way into his mind. "It was Father, was he not? Back then, he said that it had been a good idea. I always knew it had been him."
Inzilbêth shook her head, moved.
"No, Inziladûn! It was me... I... I feared that he would grow to despise you. Then, I was pregnant with Gimilkhâd, and I knew... I knew that you would never be in his favour as long as you were my son. I was so afraid that he would harm you!"
Inziladûn knelt on the floor and laid his hands upon her shoulders, trying to calm her down. This movement caused him to be caught in a feeling of unreality –their roles were reversed, and he had found the mother who comforted him only to realise that she had become the child, small and trembling.
Avidly, she grabbed one of his hands with both of hers. Her eyes trailed over its lines, its creases, its new size, and then over his arms and shoulders, his sharp nose, his beard and his sea-grey eyes. Inziladûn suspected that she still believed herself in a dream.
After a while, a laugh broke in her features, soft and full of joy.
"My child!" she cried, sliding down the chair and pulling him into an embrace. She felt warm and smelled good, like the white flower boughs that grew in her garden. Inziladûn felt her hands caress his face over and over, marvelling over each little detail with the hungriness of a lover. Then, she laid her head over his shoulder, and lay there for a while in contentment.
Feeling a strong emotion that prevented him from uttering a word, he pulled her body closer. How many times had he dreamed of her embrace, even as he prayed to the Goddess to hold him in her arms?
At last, however, he had to remember his mission, and with great reluctance he forced his body to tear apart from hers. Slowly, she also pulled herself up.
"Tomorrow morning, I will leave the Palace." he whispered. "I am travelling to Andunië with Valandil on a condolence visit for the death of his grandmother. Father did not want to send me, but there was no other option... and I need to know before I go, Mother." He took a sharp intake of breath, then looked at her in the eye. "Why did Father take Gimilkhâd and me away from you, and what does your kin have to do with it?"
Inzilbêth wiped away the wet traces from her cheek, trying to regain her composure. She crossed her arms over her chest, as if protecting herself from the cold, and smiled weakly.
"My mother´s kin are Gimilzôr´s enemies. They adore other gods, hold a great influence in the West, and he thinks that they want to usurp the Sceptre. You know that. "she said. "Two years before you were born, he allowed them to return from their exile in the East... and married me."
Inziladûn shook his head, baffled.
"I never understood why. Why call them back, why marry you if he detested them so much?"
"Because your father, Inziladûn, fears whatever he cannot control. "she replied with a grimace. "I was a naive girl, almost a child when I married him, and I did not understand, either. But I do now. With Lord Eärendur in the Council, his family in the capital, his most faithful followers in the East and I in his palace, he felt that they would not be able to do anything behind his back."
"A hostage." he guessed, slightly nauseated. She sighed.
"And then you were born... Since the first moment, you looked like my mother´s kin. You loved me, and listened to my tales. Your father ... believed that I was an agent of Lord Eärendur and that I would poison your ears and turn you against him. He decided to have another son, and I was told that this would mean danger for you. So I had to let you go... to protect you..."
Tears gathered again in her eyes, and he tried to comfort her while letting the shocking new piece of information sink inside his brain. So his father had thought that he... even as a child, he had viewed him as one of them?
An agent of Lord Eärendur...
"Inziladûn..." she began. Her hand sought for something on the surface of the table, but in an involuntary movement she pushed the silver lighter to the floor. A sharp, metallical noise broke the stillness of the night, magnified by her fear and horror.
Inziladûn was the one who reacted first, while she was still paralysed by the extent of her mishap. With trembling hands, he sought for the doorknob, and ran out to hide in the garden. For a while, he crouched behind a tall flowerbed, keeping still and muttering a prayer.
When the door opened again with a creaking sound, he almost betrayed a start, but then realised that it was nothing but Inzilbêth in a white, flowing nightgown. She stared right and left, in growing desperation.
Sighing in relief, Inziladûn crawled out of his hiding place and waved to her. She ran towards him, in such haste that she nearly tripped over the hem of her robes.
"I thought you were already gone." she whispered. He shook his head, though this very movement was wrought with a heavy realisation.
"I must go, nevertheless. "he sighed. "If anyone finds me here..."
Sadness creased her features, slowly turned into resignation and acceptance.
"I... know. I know you must." Nodding several times, as if trying to convince herself, she took him by the hand and walked towards the balcony. "You came by this way? But... it´s so dangerous!"
"And yet, it was the only way. It is the only way." he rectified, looking down and making sure that there was still no one in sight. Even as he was doing this, she threw her arms over him and pulled him into a tight embrace.
"Back then, I kept living because I knew that one day I would be able to see you again. "she whispered into his ear. "And now you have grown so much! I am so proud of you..."
Inziladûn swallowed hard. His voice came out hoarse.
"We will meet again. When I come back from this trip..."
"I will wait for you."
Smiling back, with a gesture meant to reassure her, he climbed the railing and sought for the stalk among the thick foliage. As he let his body slide down, he felt immediately bereaved, as if darkness had engulfed him once again.
The last thing that he could hear was her anxious whispers, as she leaned over the balcony to follow his trajectory.
"They are good people, Inziladûn. Be careful! Listen to what they have to say, give them a chance... do not be like your father..."
I will not, he promised, to himself and to her, while he carefully found his way back through plant, roof and window. When he finally felt the ground under his feet, he resumed his walk down the path of the palm trees, his mind lost in a confused turmoil of musings.
For a moment, he thought he had heard something in the distance, like a faint sound of whispering and rustling of robes. But when he sought the arches of the Red Flower Gallery in alarm, everything was dark and silent, and he told himself that he had imagined it.
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.