1. Prisoners of Conscience
“How does it fare?” I shouted down to a worker.
He brought a hand briskly to his chest to acknowledge me and yelled back, “Poorly, Lord Amandil! The lords of the west are no longer provident. Where once the nets would have reaped three crates there is nary a fish to be got. The winds are unfavorable for venturing further into the sea. It has been a hard year indeed.”
“The season will pass,” I commiserated reassuringly. “Tar-Palantir is a true heart. The line of Elros shall rise in the favour of the lords of the west. Andor shall be Andor again.”
“Hear, hear!” the man exclaimed in relief. “So it is true that the king has sworn off his father’s practices.”
“Indeed!” I said happily. “Before soon, my dear man, the ships shall come from Avallónë again!”
“Amandil!” The King greeted me with a warm embrace. “Welcome to Armenelos!”
I smiled and bowed in respect. It was time for me to take my father’s seat on the council of the King. I rejoiced, for Tar-Palantir was as kind and god-fearing as he was wise. The rash pride and fiery ambitions of his father did not manifest themselves in him.
“Kin we are and I would have no titles betwixt us,” he said warmly, those grey eyes twinkling in happiness. “Together you and I shall renew the administration and bring back contentment to this land.”
My heart soared in joy. Perhaps Tar-Palantir would be the one to unite the Elf-friends and the King’s men. His brother did not wield a heavy influence yet. Maybe it was time to renew our kingdom.
“Come, now!” He led me into the palace. “A long journey have you had and I torment you with my conversation while you are barely off your mount. I apologize for my lapse, Amandil. Let us sup and rest. Tomorrow shall be a new beginning!”
He brought me to the royal mansion. In the courtyard, standing beside the tree of Nimloth, awash in the cold moonlight was a woman who bore a striking likeness to the King. Her silken raiment floated gently about her slender form in the night breeze as she walked towards us.
“Míriel,” the king said, “this is Amandil, lord of Andúnië. Amandil, this is my daughter.”
“Tar-Míriel,” I bowed to her deeply. Beauty as hers had to be revered.
She inclined her head gracefully in greeting. Those sparkling, grey eyes held a depth of purity that would have brought any man to his knees.
Armenelos upheld a magnificent fusion of culture. It thrived under the rule of Tar-Palantir. But the displeasure of the lords of the west darkened what should have been a glorious reign. Though Tar-Palantir revived the ancient traditions and sought to appease Manwë, there was no messenger from the west. It was once again possible to avow oneself an Elf-friend. But the resentment for all things elven had permeated into the public consciousness too deeply during the reigns of the previous kings and there were but few amongst our people who wished to embrace the traditions of the past.
Tar-Palantir did not give up hope. He strove to win back the favour of the lords of the west. Often, he would accompany me to Andúnië. There, upon the high tower of Tar-Minastir, we would spend nights gazing west. Every gust of the wind had us hoping for a vision of white sails and elven oars. We waited in vain.
Only once during those futile trips to the hill, Oromët, did Míriel accompany her father. Between them there was a deep bond of affection. The mere sight of her was enough to bring light into his eyes. Truth be said, she evoked within me memories of tales learnt at my father’s knees…of Lúthien the fair whose blood flowed in Elros’s line. So pure was her heart and so wise her mind that everyone who met her could not gainsay the rumour that it would be under her reign that Manwë might finally forgive us.
“Have you never sought to go east, Amandil?” she asked me once as we walked along the serene shores of Andúnië far away from the busy docks.
“No,” I admitted frankly. “I love the sea. But equally do I love the land of my birth. Andúnië shall ever be my only paradise.”
“My father’s time is drawing near, I fear. That there have been no tidings from the west wreaks a terrible sorrow in his heart though he does his best to conceal it.”
I did not reply immediately for I knew the truth of her words. Tar-Palantir had been steadily growing resigned to the belief that he would not gain the pardon of Manwë. His once hope-filled spirit was but now a shadow of its former self.
“Such is the way of things. Our fathers die before we do and we die before our children. But I would wish that Gimilkhâd would not take the scepter. I little desire to be his vassal. The elf-friends shall be hunted again. He would undo all the work that Tar-Palantir has done.”
“I fear it shall be so,” Míriel sighed. “I would not wish to be in Armenelos when my uncle takes the throne.”
My hope flamed wildly within me as I jerked and turned to face her. She shone as a queen of the Eldar might have; her features resplendent in the sunlight. I loved her deeply but had never dared assume that she might reciprocate.
Lighting the beautiful face, every nuance of which I had mapped into my memory with the devotion one might accord a deity, was an emotion so pure and noble that pain twisted my heart at the sight of it.
“Amandil,” she whispered as she raised her hand uncertainly to brush my jaw.
“I would die for you, Míriel, I would die for you.” It was the truth, which she must have realized, for the fervent tone in which I spoke would brook no other reason.
“Let there be no talk of death now. Live with me,” she said softly. “We must not let our people be drawn into the darkness again if my uncle’s reign proves to be what we fear.”
Thus we began plotting. We had contacts that deeply infiltrated the councils of the King’s men. We made provisions for mutiny should it happen when Tar-Palantir gave up his life. We would succor our people. Every word I spoke and every act I did was spurred on by the love for my people, the love for my land and above all, the love I bore Míriel.
“Amandil!” Tar-Palantir received me in Armenelos as warmly as ever.
“You bid me hurry to the city,” I began worriedly. Did he purpose to give up his life? It was yet too early.
“Gimilkhâd has passed.”
“What?” I asked disbelievingly. Gimilkhâd had yet been in his prime years.
“It is true and my daughter is now heiress to the throne.”
“Then all is well!” I exclaimed devoutly.
“Ah!” he sighed and glanced out of the large window. “How little does a youth think of tomorrow! No, Amandil, I fear that this is the beginning of our end.”
“What do you mean, my king? Gimilkhâd had never been our friend. Perhaps now, our appeals to the west might be heard mercifully. With due respect, your brother had been a true impediment.”
“Gimilkhâd was all that you say and more. I admit that I do not grieve overmuch for his passing. But I fear what shall ensue. His son returns from the east as we speak.”
“Is it foresight that worries you?” I asked perplexed. Gimilkhâd’s son was as rash as his father. But his relative youth would ensure that his influence in the court be minimal.
“Yes,” he sighed again.
He turned abruptly to the window looking out to the courtyard. There, standing amidst the spring blooms was Míriel. I smiled as I anticipated our meeting. We had not seen each other awhile, pressed as I had been for leisure time owing to the concerns of administration in Andúnië.
“So it begins.” Tar-Palantir’s face held the deepest show of grief I had ever seen on a human visage.
Extremely worried, I strode to his side and cast my eyes in the direction of his sorrowful gaze. A young man, whose armour bore the insignia of the house of the Elros, had joined Míriel in the gardens. This must then be Gimilkhâd’s son, Calion. I watched in rising apprehension as he spoke with Míriel in an eloquent manner embellished by expressive gestures of his hands. He seemed to be as rash and proud as his father. How dared he speak so forcefully to the princess?
“You love my daughter and she loves you,” Tar-Palantir said quietly.
“Indeed,” I admitted easily. We had broached the subject many a time and I had always found him amenable to my courting of his daughter.
“Then, I beg you, wait no longer.” He turned to face me with such a deep expression of pleading on his noble face. “Marry her.”
“It is unforgivable to marry when her kin has just passed,” I said scandalized.
“It is of no consequence. There had been no love lost between my brother and I. My daughter need not mourn his passing.”
“But it is too soon and will win us no favour from those who followed your brother. It will split the court, my lord. I will marry her in spring, if she wills it so.”
He struggled to find words as he averted his gaze back to the cousins who stood in the courtyard. Then he laughed a queer laugh before leaving the chamber.
Spring drew near. I had started preparations for my wedding in Andúnië. The king had begun the same in the capital city. In those days, I did not go to Armenelos often. But from what I heard, there seemed to be an ever-growing rift between the King’s men and the Elf-friends. Yet, I saw no undue reason for concern and joyfully saw to the construction of a new palace that would be our home after the marriage.
It was a warm day and I was basking in the sunlight with my friends as we reveled in an impromptu stag-party of sorts.
“Yes?” I asked the out-of-breath messenger from Armenelos.
“The King has passed!”
Tar-Palantir had been in excellent spirits, I knew well. He had looked forward to the wedding in spring. He had not given up his life. I feared what I would find in Armenelos.
“Welcome, Lord Amandil!” Calion greeted me jovially as I rode into the courtyard where I had first seen Míriel.
I walked in a daze towards the steps on which he awaited me. He was not alone. A veil hid the features of the woman beside him. But I did not need to see the face to recognize the fairest of all Andor.
“Míriel!” I exclaimed as I drew nearer to her. “I came as soon as I could.”
She did not reply. But a flinch escaped her frame and pangs of fear stirred deep within me.
“My uncle’s last wish was that I take Zimraphel to wife before his passing. I could never have gone against his yearning,” Calion whispered in a heartfelt display of regret and grief.
“Zimraphel?” I whispered uncomprehendingly, wondering why his right hand rested about her waist in such an intimate manner. True, she was grieving and he was her brother. But such intimacy was something Míriel would not welcome from him for I knew she bore him no sisterly affection.
“Zimraphel, why do you remain silent?” he chided her gently. “Come now, lead our kinsman into the house and let him sup before he joins us for the funeral procession to the foot of the Meneltarma.”
With a sickening rush, I realized what had happened.
“Please, let me lead you to your chambers, Lord Amandil.” Her indifferent tone spoke volumes about what had transpired.
As soon as we had left behind Calion, I asked her frightened, “Míriel, what has happened?”
“He killed my father.” The words were cold and empty. They bore none of her warm purity and compassion. “He took me to bed. I am his queen now.”
“You are the queen!” I exclaimed. “Sign an order for his execution and it shall be done! Why do you accede to him?”
“I am not the queen. I am merely his queen.”
“He is the king now. His men have crowned him. Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, he named himself.”
“It is usurpation!” I exclaimed again furiously. “We shall not stand by and watch him destroy your father’s legacy. Yours is the right to the throne. Come away with me to Andúnië now. Let us prepare for war!”
“Amandil.” The sadness that embodied her sweet voice broke my heart. “I wish I could.”
“Come away with me!” I said wrathfully. “We shall not let him claim the throne uncontested!”
“No.” She turned to face me. The wistfulness that marred her features was exceeded only by the pain, humiliation and grief that shone in the grey eyes that I loved so. “I cannot bring war to my people, Amandil. There shall not be bloodshed in Andor over my claim to the throne. He is cruel and will go to any measure to gain the scepter. We cannot win. Perhaps, as his queen, I might be able to temper his judgments.”
“You speak folly, Míriel!” I said incredulously. “You know well that his rashness exceeds that of his father. He will not be tempered. Come with me. We must wage a war if we are to succeed.”
“I cannot.” A tear escaped her leaving my will broken. “My conscience will not let me bring bloodshed to Andor. Neither shall yours, I believe. We love our people.”
“’Tis true,” I said bitterly as I accepted the truth of her words. “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”
“You must promise me something,” she continued after a long pall of silence. “He does not suspect your allegiance. Stay in his favour at court. We will need it in the times to come.”
“Míriel,” I began.
“No,” she shook her head wearily, “call me no longer thus. Zimraphel, he has named me, and Zimraphel I shall be for the sake of the welfare of our people.”
“I can never sully your soul with such a name,” I whispered.
“You will call me thus.” She raised a hand to brush my fingers in a gesture of poignant wistfulness. “For the sake of our people, we must be what he wants us to be, catamite and vassal. Perhaps our sacrifice might avail us the pardon of the west.”
The court was resplendent. Bugles sounded herald as Ar-Pharazôn the Golden made his entrance. He made a striking appearance that might have even rivaled the splendour and majesty of the lords of the west.
Tar-Zimpraphel bowed to her king and dutifully accepted his arm as they ascending the raised dais where the thrones stood. He led her to her throne and then assumed his own.
“Hail Ar-Pharazôn the Golden!” I led the salutation in my deep voice.
Ar-Pharazôn smiled at me, the indulgent smile that a king grants a favoured courtier, and then beckoned me forth.
Obediently, I walked to the throne and knelt before him. He extended the hand that bore the signet ring and I brought it to my lips to plant a kiss that sealed my loyalty to the king.
Calion – Pharazôn’s elven name.
Amandil – Last lord of Andúnië.
Andor – The Land of Gift, Númenor.
Avallónë – The Elf-haven on Tol Eressëa.
Armenelos – The capital city of Númenor.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all – The soliloquy starting with ‘To be, or not to be’ from Hamlet: Act III, Scene I. Shakespeare never fails to inspire.
Title – ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ from the term coined by Amnesty International.