Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 34. A Goblet of Brandy
Ariashal had just begun her embroidery when Herumor arrived.
He was dressed for travel, breastplate glinting in the fading light, sword at his side. As carefully as he could he settled in one of the chairs. Ariashal swiftly brought him a small goblet and filled it with brandy.
"You have come to know me well," he said, taking the silver vessel.
"It has been no hardship to do so," she said, smiling. She seated herself opposite him. "You have a long journey ahead of you. I hope that it will be successful."
"As do I." he sipped some of the liquid. "I--there is something which I must tell you, while I still can. Something more important than you know."
Her heart skipped. "What is it?"
Herumor swirled the brandy around the goblet. "The King, madame. It is about the King."
"What--is--is something wrong?"
"Nay, my lady." He swallowed a mouthful of the red liquid. "It is just that--it is that he loves you, madame."
She caught her breath. "But--he has never spoken of such things to me. How do you know this?"
"I have known him a long time, madame."
She poured him some more of the brandy.
"Thank you. Surely his treatment of you must have made his feelings clear. And I--I have seen the way he looks at you, madame. I have seen how he brightens when you are in his presence. I think--I think he has found a certain peace with you, something which has long eluded him.
"You must be very careful, madame. You must be on constant watch for any who would harm you. For if something--anything--untoward--should befall you, I fear what he would do. Both to your attackers, and to--and to the whole of the world. There would be no limit to the depths of his despair."
She managed to breathe. "I see."
"No, madame, you do not. You do not know what I have just told you. You understand the words, but not their import. Do you know why he can never speak of this to you?"
She needed more of the brandy. "Sauron?" she managed to whisper.
"Yes. But not for the reasons you think. For he has given you the one thing which Sauron desired from him, but could never have."
He fingered the goblet. Ariashal quickly refilled it.
"He loves you, madame. And Sauron wanted that for himself."
Despite the shaking of her hands she managed to set the bottle aside. "What--what--do you mean?"
Herumor took a long draught. "I have perhaps said too much, madame."
"No." She seized his hand. "If it something which I must know, then you must tell me."
He sighed. "I should have said nothing."
"But you have begun, and it is hardly fair for you to stop now! Please, my lord, if it will help the King, then I must know what it is."
For several moments Herumor was silent. He tapped the goblet, finally setting it aside. "I may never be forgiven for this."
She handed the refilled goblet back to him.
Sighing, he took it and drank. "You understand, of course, that the Ruling Ring permitted him to control us. He could compel us to do things which we did not wish, things which were not in our nature to do. Sometimes he forced his phantoms and delusions upon us. At other times he used us as puppets, as--toys-- for him to manipulate any way he wished. Sometimes we were set upon each other, as a test of strength. Sometimes we were set upon by whatever fell creatures he could call from the darkness.
"He wanted us to understand that we were dependent on him for everything. We had nothing, except what he permitted us. He had taken all, and only gave back what he thought we needed. That was why he renamed us--we must have nothing he did not wish for us to have.
"There are those who worship men stronger than themselves, who follow the mightiest sword. Khamul is such a man. He will ever follow Sauron."
"But not you."
"Nay, madame. I follow the King. He is far stronger than I. And Sauron did not know how strong he could be. He wanted the most powerful Man he could find, one who could lay claim to Numenor and be followed. He wanted one who was already a sorcerer, and warrior, and ruling king. It took far longer to snare the King than he wanted; and he did not expect what resulted.
"You know, of course, that they often fought. Sauron kept him at his side, seating him over us and always showering him with favors. Never was he punished before us. Sauron would take him off, in private, to enforce his will."
What had she seen in her vision from the previous night? "A round room," she murmured.
"He has spoken of it?" Herumor sounded incredulous.
"No. No, it was--it was in the dream I had last night. I saw him, hanging from the ceiling, while Sauron tormented him with a whip of flame."
"The round room." Herumor took a long drink. "It is not a memory which I cherish. For we all were taken there, madame, to be reminded of our place. Were we defiant, after our trials we might be left hanging in the dark, while all manner of vermin were set upon us. If we conceded quickly, then the sessions were brief. And if we had done something which pleased him mightily, we were even spared the ordeal."
"But what I saw--"
"What you saw, madame, was one of the gentler moments. As I said, Sauron wanted his love. And that he would not give.
"Sauron fears the men of Numenor. Why this should be, I do not know. And he had used the ring to catch the strongest Numenorean man. Perhaps Sauron thought that he could win the King's affections. Again, I do not know.
"What I do know is that, once it became clear that he would not gain what he wished by granting favors, he turned to threats. When that, too, did not advance his case, he became violent. But once again he had underestimated the King. For, as you already know, Sauron could use his ring to force us to do what he wished; and I suspect that you know how he used it on us."
A sickening thought came to her. "He--he took you by force."
Herumor gulped the brandy. "Yes--although force is perhaps the wrong word. We had no say in the matter, for he used his ring to make us concede. And there are always those who will accept such arrangements, even, if I may say so, revel in them."
"Khamul? No, not him. He likes women overmuch. Fuinor, though, was always willing. But he was not the Numenorean whom Sauron wanted.
"One day Sauron offered to make him King of Numenor. All he had to do was defeat Ar-Pharazon, who even then was pursuing an invasion of Middle-Earth. That offer was spurned."
"He would not take the scepter?"
"No. There was no circumstance, he said, under which he would permit Sauron to set foot upon Meneltarma. Nothing could change his mind. And if Sauron wished to pursue the matter, he would desert the dark lord in favor of Numenor, and none would stand at Sauron's side."
"But Sauron still had the ring!"
"That he did, madame. But in the heat of battle, he could not possibly control all nine of us."
She quickly refilled his goblet.
"Thank you. Sauron, as you may imagine, was furious. But we saw our lord deny him this, and we all agreed that we would not challenge the might of Numenor. So Sauron begged, then threatened, and then finally seized him and hauled him off to the round room."
Herumor downed more brandy, as if the warm liquid could ease the memory of the story. "I--I do not know exactly what happened then, madame. All I know is that we could--we could hear Sauron screaming at him, demanding his love, and being met by silence.
"And then the beating began.
"There are some sounds, madame, which are unmistakable. We knew that what was happening was beyond anything we had yet seen Sauron do, and we had seen much. Even Khamul was worried about what the outcome might be. And so we waited, fearful, while Sauron exacted his vengeance."
Ariashal buried her face in her hands.
"You wished to know, madame," said Herumor, his voice gentle. "And you must also know about what happened next."
She managed to look up at him. "What--what did happen?"
"We could hear screaming, and the sound of something breaking. There was a sudden silence. And then Sauron tore open the door.
"He was covered in blood, and other things; his eyes were wild and frantic. In his arms he carried the King, his head falling back over his shoulder. Sauron staggered into the room and sobbed, 'I have slain him! I have slain my beautiful Numenorean!'
"And to say the sooth, madame, the King did, indeed, look dead. He bled from a hundred wounds, his flesh had been torn and his bones broken. Sauron laid him on his own bed, sobbing and wailing that it was our fault that this had happened, and now he was dead. We feared getting close, for Sauron was quite capable of destroying us as well.
"After a while Sauron ordered us into the room with the King. We had failed him, he could not trust us, and now he had no choice but to go and humble himself before Ar-Pharazon. He sealed the doors, so that we could not escape, and left to meet the Numenoreans."
"But," began Ariashal, "the King was not dead, was he?"
"No." Herumor swallowed more brandy. "No. Why he survived, I do not know; but survive he did. Long indeed was the time needed for his recovery. I ministered to him, dressing the wounds and setting the bones. He spoke naught of what he had endured, but the wounds told the story that he would not.
"We soon escaped our prison. When word reached us that Sauron had indeed gone to Numenor, our hearts were heavy, for we knew that he would be the downfall of that fair land. Alas, we were correct."
Ariashal began to pour him more brandy.
"No, madame." He stood to leave. "I have had quite enough for one day. I must needs go and see to my beast, for the King wants me to leave soon."
"Very well." She set aside the vessel. "Herumor?"
He turned from the door. "Yes, madame?"
"I--thank you for telling me."
"I knew he would not do so, madame. And I should probably have not spoken of it, either."
"Oh, no! No." She went to him. "I know that you only do what is best for him. For I do believe that, in your own way, you do love him."
"Aye, madame, though not in the same manner as you!"
She could not help but smile.
"But that is why you must keep yourself safe, madame. The wounds caused by your untimely death would never heal. Never forget that." He kissed her hand and slipped through the door.
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