16. The Burning Tree
"Well, there hasn't really been all that much damage," Ceure reported that evening. "One man threw up in a fish pond, but that's about it."
"Some people can't hold onto their lunches," Khamul said. "It's just a bit of blood and gore. Numenor is the warrior's country. Strange how these 'warriors' don't have much in the way of a warrior's stomach."
"Yes, it is amusing," Ceure said. "Anyway, Sauron's plans are going without a hitch. No problems whatsoever. In fact, Pharazon's spies are now rooting out the Faithful in Armenelos and arresting them as we speak."
"Faithful?" Vorea asked.
"Those who still follow the old ways of the Valar and elves," Khamul explained. "Oh well, nothing gets people together like persecuting other people. And when it's people we want out of the way, what's the harm?"
"The Valar will retaliate," Vorea warned.
"No, they won't," Khamul said. "Just stop with the dire predictions, all right?"
Vorea sighed. "It is an ill day for Numenor."
"No, an ill day for Numenor would be if there was a giant tsunami," Khamul said.
"That may not be far off. Did Varda not drown Beleriand?"
"I don't know, I've never heard the tale," Khamul said.
Days passed, and Khamul prowled the palace daily for any sign of the lord of the Andunie from Umbar. He must have arrived by now, she thought. And she would recognize him. She was sure of that. Grudgingly, she began to admit that he was likely fleeing with all speed back to Andunie, the hounds of Pharazon close at his heels. How unfortunate. Khamul wanted to be the one who ended his life.
Andunie was the king's property now, the former lords now declared traitors. The king's troops were starting to move into the area, despite being hindered by well-aimed arrows, several of which had the distinctive black-and-silver fletching of Elendil and his sons.
"It's a guerrilla war now," Vorea reported one morning several weeks later. The Faithful were being sacrificed nearly every day, to the joy of Armenelos. Khamul wondered if it could have been possible for the city to fall faster than it had. She doubted it.
"Are we winning?" Khamul asked.
"It is difficult to win a guerrilla war," Vorea said with a sigh. "But we have burned their ships so they cannot escape the island. And we capture more Faithful every day."
"We're making progress," Khamul said. "Anything new on Sauron's mind?"
"I would think you should know," Vorea said. "You being the lieutenant."
Khamul shrugged. "He has his business in the temple these days. I rarely see him."
"I do not like this business," Vorea said. "It is not just the sacrifices. These people are vile. They disgust my very soul."
"They're all be dead soon," Khamul assured her. "We're going to bring Numenor down, all the way down."
"I hope you are correct," Vorea said. "By the Valar!" she gasped, running to the window.
"What is it?" Khamul asked, running over.
Vorea, too shocked for words, pointed at a white tree that was being ripped from the ground. Silver petals fell from the tree as its roots were brutally torn away.
"Can't imagine that going over too well," Khamul muttered.
"Strangely enough, it was the king's own suggestion," Sauron said, startling them.
"My lord," Vorea said, bowing. "What is the meaning of this?"
"The meaning is that Nimloth is the symbol of the Valar and elves. In order to cleanse Armenelos of the creatures, Pharazon suggested we burn it." Sauron smiled. "It was not even a thought of mine that I had implanted in his brain. Great evil can come from it without my aid, it seems."
The three watched as the Numenoreans dragged the tree across the garden towards the temple.
"They are going to burn it," Sauron said. "I should be there when they do so. It is a sacred object, after all. The protection of the Valar may be upon it, though that did not save its predecessor."
"I cannot believe this," Vorea whispered as Sauron walked away. "That tree is the very heart of Numenor. They cannot do this!"
"But they are," Khamul said. "It does not matter," she said. "It's just a tree."
The 'just a tree' left a black smoke over the city for seven days. It filled the corridors of the palace, and would not leave despite the best efforts of the servants.
"Just a tree, eh?" Vorea muttered on the fourth day.
"The cursed smoke," Khamul gasped. "It won't leave!"
"We are cursed," Vorea said solemnly. "Cursed for burning the tree of the Valar."
"We aren't cursed!" Khamul snarled. "It's just the tree. Just the damn tree. Something wrong with the wood, that's all."
On the seventh day after the burning of Nimloth, the black smoke suddenly departed on a mighty wind, heading towards the west, and Valinor.
"Well, that's that with that," Khamul muttered, walking outside for the first time in days. Despite the choking horror of the hallways, the outside had been far, far worse.
Breathing in deeply, Khamul smiled. Not so mighty, are you? she thought, sneering at the Valar.
The garden had been repaired since Nimloth's uprooting, and a small pond had replaced the tree in the center of a ring of flowers. The marble bench was still there, and it was not empty, even at the early time of day that Khamul had gone for her walk.
A young woman of the court sat on the bench, looking towards the gates of the palace, fluttering a silk fan and looking – in Khamul's opinion at least – rather silly.
"I'm glad the smoke is gone," she said. "It was very difficult to be out here then."
"You were outside?" Khamul gasped. What a fool! she thought.
"Oh yes," the woman said, nodding. "I'm waiting for my brother. I long to see my family again, and he said he would come." She frowned, unhappy. "It was probably the smoke that deterred him. He will be along soon. He promised."
Khamul shrugged. "This whole land is descending into madness," she muttered, walking away. Human sacrifice, tree burning, then insanity among the ladies of the court. Was there no end to the madness of Numenor?
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.