The Akallabeth has always held a very special place in my fannish heart. It’s easily one of the darkest periods in Tolkien’s legendarium, and like most people I want my stories to have at least the sliver of happily-ever-after. But in Elendil, Miriel, and (yes) Pharazon, I’ve always found a sliver of the kind of hope that can survive great tragedy, even if the tragedy isn’t avoided.
Here’s the latest offering to my apparently indefatiguable Numenor!muse. Rated teen for implied sexuality and violence.
Once upon a time, Elendil had wasted countless afternoons with his cousins. With those he called cousins, at any rate. He could claim no close kinship to Míriel and Pharazôn, but his father was the king’s counselor and some distant cousin besides, and so Elendil had grown up playing with the king’s daughter and nephew, as though they were closest kin. Elendil would kick aside the straw and bird-droppings and set his draught-board on the floor between himself and Míriel while Pharazôn leaned out the window, watching the ships come into the harbor with his spy-glass.
Later, duty would drag them all along different courses. One midsummer feast Pharazôn’s father had seen him making moon-eyes at Míriel, and the next month Pharazôn was bundled off to the sea as a cabin-boy. Not long after Míriel’s grandmother had started taking her aside (Elendil had guessed they discussed secret girl things, though he’d later discovered it was only the stories any elf-friend ought to learn), and around that same time Elendil had taken to spending his afternoons in the royal court. His father had taught him to stand quietly in the alcoves behind the main throng, not hiding precisely but not falling attention to himself either. Elendil had learned much under his father’s tutelage, but still he’d missed those quiet afternoons watching the world roll by from his perch high above the city.
Those days seemed a lifetime ago. Pharazôn had come home to Númenor at intervals, each time more like a great captain of Middle-earth. Elendil had laughed when Pharazôn returned with a gold hoop through his left ear, but when he’d brought back those great dogs, really more warg than anything, and set them to fight each other for the common-folk’s amusement, Elendil had struggled to swallow his protests. And when he’d offered a purse of gold and jewels to the man who raised the fiercest fighter, against Tar-Palantír’s direct orders, why, they probably would have come to blows if Míriel hadn’t silently pleaded with him to step down.
Míriel. Even now he smiled at the memory of the Harvest Dance where he’d first kissed her, bold as brass on the king’s dance floor. How their fingers had glanced across each other as they ran through the King’s House’s back corridors, and how her hair had smelled when he pulled her close, laughing against her neck. His father had called him aside then and reminded him how so few Númenóreans honored the old ways as Tar-Palantír did. The king was old and would sire no more children, and the scepter of Annúminas would fall to her. How would she rule if she bound herself to the Lord of Andúnië, Amandil asked him? Let her establish her rule, settle into the throne for a while, and if she wanted a consort or even a king to rule at her side, well, that was her choice. But by the stars, his father had advised him with a knowing smile, don’t let an unplanned heir force their hand here.
Elendil had blushed, and nodded, and given her more space in front of the court. Still, he had felt the breath pulled from his chest whenever she entered the room, and he found himself returning her smile with more genuine affection than he did anyone else’s. They were both of Elros’s line; they still had time, so they thought.
But then the unthinkable had happened. Gimilkhâd, the king’s brother and Pharazôn’s father, died quite suddenly, and Pharazôn returned to Númenor as a golden warlord, turned great and terrible by his adventures in Middle-earth. He’d carried on his father’s campaign opposing the king’s command as far as he dared until at last Tar-Palantír tired of it and laid down his life. Pharazôn had bowed his head in feigned grief, but no sooner had the old king been laid to rest than he took Míriel to wife against her will and seized Tar-Palantír’s scepter for his own. After that, the joy had gone out of Míriel’s eyes, and when he saw her now, it was all Elendil could do to not run from the room.
This afternoon, Elendil had made his way to the aviary alone, at least if one discounted the ale and sausages he’d brought with him, and the heavy heart. Pharazôn would soon enter the city with his captive, and Míriel stood beside his father and the other high nobles of the king’s court. If he were wise he would be standing behind his father even now. It was only politic, and besides, it was the only comfort he could offer Míriel today. Still, he couldn’t quite will himself to stand there, not even for her sake. He had tried to make sense with his childhood friend as best he could, remind himself that all men were the product of their experiences, and even the stoutest man might be swept away by the power and glory he’d won in Middle-earth. Elendil had told himself that Pharazôn was grieving his father, trying to honor his memory, and that he’d lusted after power too much and seen Míriel as the means to Númenor’s thrones. The people had offered him the crown, nearly demanded he take it, and Míriel was the only way…
He gripped at a window-sill, trying to steady himself. Míriel was not a way. He hoped, somewhere deep within himself, that by standing by his friend he might help Pharazôn recapture a bit of himself. He knew he could not save Míriel, couldn’t do anything that would not make her situation worse unless he could somehow redeem Pharazôn. Yet, today of all days, that seemed so impossible.
He had seen Pharazôn’s flagship sailing toward Númenor early that morning, her sails of gold and sable shining against the dawn sky. Even now, Elendil felt his heart sinking within his chest. He knew he should be glad, for that brazen display must mean the armies had survived nearly untouched, that they had been returned with their captive. But Elendil had remembered how Pharazôn had promised to parade Sauron through the streets of Armenelos, and he’d remembered, too, the stories he’d heard of the Elder Days. Of how Manwë had once thought to parade another villain through the streets of Valmar. That hadn’t turned out well at all; how could Pharazôn hope to do any better? And if Pharazôn was lost, what hope could Míriel cleave to?
Behind him, a door creaked on its hinge, and Elendil turned on his heel. He saw it was only a girl – Míriel’s handmaiden, Azrabêth – and breathed a sigh of relief to himself. “Shouldn’t you be down below, waiting for your mistress?”
Azrabêth shook her head, brushing her overgrown bangs away from her eyes. “Milady gave me leave to watch the festivities from up here.” Biting her lip, she added, “She told me to. She said it would do me good to see the power of Pharazôn on full display, but she did not want to risk my safety on the streets today.”
“You have a wise mistress,” Elendil replied. At least on the second point he agreed with Míriel’s precaution; hadn’t he told his own sons to stay in their family’s rooms today? And they were hardly children, though they still wore the brashness of youth and might get themselves in trouble easily enough. People like his sons and Azrabêth, those who spoke with a Rómenna accent but didn’t have the authority of office to shield them, were hardly safe on an ordinary day. He could well imagine what mischief the King’s Men, grown brave from their hero’s triumphant return and too much free ale, might get up to today.
But why did Míriel want her handmaiden to see the king’s return at all? Elendil’s gaze drifted to the line of raised flesh traveling down her wrist, a scar from where she’d been handled too roughly, and Elendil was struck anew by how fortunate he was to only see Pharazôn at feasts. Míriel was unmarked, so far as he had seen, but Elendil knew it wasn’t only a person’s flesh that could bear a scar. A young girl underfoot might feel the full brunt of his temper; she needed to see the full majesty of Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, and Sauron the Black-tongued who was now her master’s captive but would no doubt soon find a way to ease his restraints.
Walking over, Elendil laid a strong hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently, hoping she would understand what he had no words to say. That he wished her strength and would support her as well he could. Azrabêth gave him a half smile. “I thank thee.” Then, reaching into her pocket, she pulled out an oilskin pouch and handed it to him. “Milady gave me one other task,” she said. “She thought I might find you here today, and bade me give you this if I did.”
Elendil opened the pouch and saw three pieces of parchment bearing the official court seal. “What is this?” he asked.
“Passes out of Armenelos,” Azrabêth said. “The road is not yet closed, though it may be soon enough.” She stood on her tiptoes, straining to get closer to Elendil. Guessing she meant to share some secret thing, Elendil looked around to make sure guards were not near at hand and then crouched down.
“The first two are for your sons,” she whispered, “and they will not allow re-entry. The third is yours, but the queen means it as a ruse. She asks that you stay away, whatever the pass allows. Your father must stay, so long as Ar-Pharazôn will have him, but my mistress Ar-Zimraphel” – here she looked down at her wrist, and when she looked up again her eyes blazed with defiance – “nay, Tar-Míriel, she does not think it wise for you to stay in Armenelos any longer.” Pulling herself to her full height, Azrabêth added, “My lady draws strength from your survival. As do I.”
Elendil drew himself to his feet, guessing that Azrabêth would think he patronized her if he stayed in a crouch. “I will go, then, but on two conditions.” Azrabêth looked at him quizzically, but Elendil held a finger to his lips to forestall her question. “First, you must tell your mistress that she will always have a bed among my household, and that I will come back if she sends for me. And for you as well, if Armenelos grows too dangerous.”
Frowning, Azrabêth bit her lip. “She will not come,” she said after a moment. “She could not, without bringing her lord’s full wrath down upon you, and that she would never do. But I will tell her, if you like. And your other request?”
“That you remember that Tar-Palantír’s influence still lives on in the smallest things. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a tharn and handed it to Azrabêth. He turned the coin over in her palm and ran his finger over the old king’s insignia, an eagle looking westward over his shoulder. “He has not been dead so long as it may seem, and kings like him may yet come again.”
Azrabêth gave a genuine smile at that thought, and she gripped the coin tightly in her hand. “I will remember, Lord Elendil. I thank thee.”
“Then I will go to Rómenna with a lighter heart. And I’ll commission you a bed as soon as we get home. I mean what I say about Armenelos growing dangerous. If you send, I’ll find a way to get you out.”
Reaching down, he nudged her over toward the window, and started to walk back toward the ladder. “Aren’t you staying to watch?” Azrabêth called out to him. “King’s man or no, we can at least enjoy the show. Can’t we?”
Elendil felt a bitter laugh building inside him. Enjoy it, indeed! But he would not take such a simple pleasure away from this child, especially now that he could leave Armenelos while she must stay a while yet. Fortunately, Míriel’s passes had at least given him a reason to excuse himself from the march into Armenelos. The feast would come soon enough, and he would have to make his excuses for leaving the court somehow. That would take all the good grace he had to offer.
“Such revelry is meant for the young,” he said, stepping across the aviary and tussling her hair and tapping her shoulder with the oilskin pouch in his hand. “Besides, one of us at least has a journey to prepare for. I must pack.”</center>