3. Within the King's House
Haldan had to think his queen was at least eccentric, if not downright crazy. Though downright crazy didn't seem far from the truth-- she was odd, to say the least. More than odd-- more than half-baked-- he thought she was a witch. A witch of Umbar-- weirder things had happened, after all. Though why his lord would be married to a Black Numenorean witch...
Another black cat padded past him-- this one headed out the hall he was walking down. Three black cats in five minutes. Eerie, that. He knew they were not the same cat-- this one had golden eyes. The last one had been dark brown. The one before that had possessed demonically green eyes.
Haldan muttered a prayer to Ulmo for protection against evil beneath his breath. You never knew with cats. They could be innocent house pets, as most claimed-- or maybe they could be servants of a nameless and dark evil. He tried not to prefer the latter, but in such times, with a woman who had the threat of being a witch as queen... you did not take risks.
There was a dark form down the hallway. Beruthiel, clad in black, as rumor said she normally was. Haldan muttered the end of his prayer again, to make sure he did not fall under some kind of evil spell. He had never met Beruthiel before--his place was on the battlefield, after all. But Tarannon had been explicit--go and meet his wife, and then tell Tarannon if the rumors were founded that there was a witch at the King's House in Osgiliath.
Beruthiel was shadowed by a woman hooded in an elaborate gray cloak that shimmered with silver threads. She held a white cat in her arms. Haldan saw the briefest flicker of green eyes beneath the heavy cloak, and wondered with a terrified jolt if his queen had learned how to turn cats into people.
"My lady!" He said, pushing his fear beneath his stomach. "My lady, I bring word from Tarannon."
Beruthiel stopped, and fixed heavy, stony gray eyes upon him. Her voice was deep, and cold. As he had expected. "Tell it, Captain Haldan."
She knew his name. She knew his name, and they had never met. How terrifying. From where had she learned? "He inquires after your health and well-being and wishes to know how he may be of service to you." Haldan replied, trying not to feel nervous.
Beruthiel smiled thinly. "Tell him all is well at the King's House in
"He also inquires as to the nature of his queen, and what she has become."
Beruthiel laughed-- a harsh sound, equally terrifying as it was chilling. "Then tell him that she is as she was, save happier away from the sea." She paused. "I have not become a witch in these or any days." The queen's hands fidgeted with the necklace she was wearing. It was heavy, with a large, finely etched pendant hanging on the end of the silver chain. "Do you know, Haldan son of Narol, that bad luck runs with those who cross black cats?" Haldan tried not to pale at her words. "Be careful you do not be rude to one on the way out-- they can be very easily angered when upset, though I do my best to pacify my pretties."
She was enjoying frightening him-- that was clear. Haldan's eyes traveled down to the pendant, where she fingered it. Cats prowled over it, beneath a sickle moon. Strange runes were carved around it, seeming almost unwholesome to his eyes. He thoug t he saw the etchings on the silver grow in shape, so that they filled his vision with silver cats, running and leaping over the walls, as the moon above hung down and the runes scrolled through his sight, strange words filling his ears until...
"I am what I ever was." Beruthiel concluded, her fingers shutting over the silver, blocking out the visions. "If that makes me a witch by Gondor's standards, than witch I have ever been." Haldan was quite ready to run. Beruthiel nodded to him, a clear dismissal, then began to trace her free hand back and forth in the air. Her lips parted, and there were words in a language Haldan could not understand.
He ran, praying under his breath the whole time. She was a witch-- Tarannon would not be pleased. He had tried to be polite, he had tried, but she was cursing him! Black cats watched his flight, and silver robed women opened the door for him as he fled, shutting him out. Only when he could no longer see into the windows of the King's House did he feel safe.
Within, Beruthiel was laughing as she finished her blessing for speed and safety back to Tarannon to bear news pleasing to him. "Witch," she muttered, almost deliriously. "Am I a witch, Nariel?" she asked, turning to the woman with the silver cloak who held the purring white feline, an lean and muscular creature as large as some dogs,. "And what do you think, Miri?" She reached out and stroked the head of her blue-eyed favorite.
The white cat mewled, and Beruthiel had her answer.
I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none.--Macbeth
We never saw the day... so bent upon the darkness that lay before us, we never looked to the heavens and saw the light that could surround us. --Karigan Rohanna