After escaping the destruction of Numenor, the Faithful would have hoped to start a new life in Middle-earth, free from the darkness and fear that had defined life on Numenor in those last years. But the Akallabeth did not just destroy their homeland. Tolkien writes, “And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands, and shores foundered.” Just what kind of world would they have found?
As an attempt to answer that question, and to show my Numenor muse is not a cheery fellow, here is a moment between Anarion and his young son Meneldil just after the Exiles land on Middle-earth. No explicit violence or gore, but the themes are fairly disturbing. This is the Akallabeth in all its messy horror, with a small child thrown into the mix. Do read with discretion.
Whatever else it was, it had been a child.
A single child, that was all. After the destruction Anárion had witnessed from Rómenna’s harbors, of the dark crowds and the lightning storms and the fire bursting forth from Meneltarma, and above all the Wave that covered all, how could such a small thing strike so near to the heart of him? Whole families of children not much older than his son had been swept away by the merciless waters. Women of Rómenna who had married King’s Men, who they hadn’t been sure they could trust. Every one of his childhood friends save his brother Isildur, now reduced to fish-food. An entire world.
Yet there she was: a small child, no older than his Meneldil, and with the same overgrown hair falling over her eyes. And there Meneldil was, sitting cross-legged at the foot of the tree. Blissfully carrying on a conversation of sorts with his new friend, this girl who was now beyond understanding. Her head hung at an odd angle, her cheeks sunken and her skin pale. Anárion had little doubt she was dead, but his young son did not seem to realize anything was wrong. Yet.
Meneldil turned around at the sound of sloshing mud and, seeing his father, beamed. “Look! I found a friend.”
Anárion swallowed hard. “Aye, that you have. But you shouldn’t go wandering off. We don’t know what’s in these woods.” Meneldil gave the woods a skeptical glance but nodded his acceptance. “Mummy has some stew ready,” Anárion continued. “You should go eat while it’s hot.”
“Can Nilmë come?” Meneldil asked.
“She is shy,” Meneldil explained. “She wouldn’t say her name. So I gave her one.” Frowning, he looked up at the tree. “Or is she asleep? She must be tired. Can you wake her?”
Anárion’s heart sunk in his chest at that. Of course his son would have named his new companion. He doubted Meneldil would simply forget about this girl, since children close to his age had been so rare on Númenor, but the fact that his son had chosen a name for him. How exactly was he supposed to manage that conversation? Meneldil had never so much as seen a Númenórean die in the peace of old age, and he’d carefully guarded his son’s ears, keeping all talk of the great flood away from him. He thought to ask his father for advice until he remembered – the vice gripping his chest tightened a bit at the thought – how Elendil’s ships had been driven from his and Isildur’s. Those ships had been well-made and the Valar had spared their people when all Númenor had foundered, and Anárion still held hope they’d find Elendil’s folk in the months to come. But what a moment to be exiled from each other! Now of all times, he needed his father’s strong shoulders and keen mind.
But that could hardly be helped, and in any event he might put off that conversation for a while yet. Perhaps Isildur would have some wisdom on how to handle that discussion. Trying to keep his voice steady, Anárion forced a smile and nudged his son back toward the camp. “Go. I will see to her. And take off those breeches so your sister can wash them out. This mud will stain if it sets in.”
Meneldil nodded once more and ran off, leaving Anárion alone. Steeling his courage, he climbed up a neighboring tree so he could get a better look at her. At the branch below her he found some ropes half torn away, a small burlap sack of chestnuts and a water flask tucked away inside some rodent’s nest. Had an older brother, perhaps, tried to shelter there only to be washed away by the raging waters? Had the wave even reached her? Had she died with thirst burning in her throat, or made weak by hunger? Surely the waters would have fallen back before that. Had her brother’s knot been her undoing? The fresh horror of that thought swept over him, and he grasped at his tree’s trunk, resting his head in a branch’s nook until the grief and nausea passed over him.
Inching out a bit on the branch, he reached over and ran his thumb along her cheek, tucking the errant lock of hair behind her ear. He’d never seen a child quite like her, with dark skin and a flat nose and the gently pointed ears. Was she an orc-child, perhaps, or one of the Easterlings? Certainly she was not Dúnedain, or even one of the daughters of Middle-earth he’d seen on the slavers’ block in Armenelos during his youth.
He was unlikely to get any answers to that question, and all of a sudden he realized he did not care. He would get men from the camp and they would build a ladder to get her down. Bury her as well as they could, according to their customs but under her tree. And somehow, somehow, he’d find a way to tell her story to Meneldil. His son deserved the truth, and this nameless girl, to be remembered.
After all, whatever else she was, she had been a child.