Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
Playlist Navigation Bar
Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 38. Blue Boots
Imrahil bravely stepped up to the edge of the waterfall.. He took a long breath, swung his arms, and launched over the brink. For a moment he seemed almost to fly, before plunging, dartlike, through the surface of the pool.
"That was marvelous!" called Ariashal to her son as he emerged from the water. "You dive like the sailors of old."
Imrahil beamed at her. "I can do more."
"I can dive, too!" shouted Adrahil. He was not yet ready to brave the little falls, but he was willing to leap from one of the rocks that enclosed the grotto. He, too, swung his arms before jumping free of the rock. Unlike his brother, his entry was not so clean. He landed, hard, on his stomach. A huge splash drove water everywhere, even sloshing onto the rocks where Ariashal sat.
Imrahil hauled his gasping brother from the water. "I told you not to jump like that!"
Adrahil managed to stand. "I wanted to splash like that!"
"You did not!"
"Did not!" Imrahil flung water over his brother.
"Hey! Stop it!" Adrahil splashed back.
"Boys," warned Ariashal. "You will stop that immediately."
For a moment they hesitated, before finally Imrahil pushed off in search of new things to try. Adrahil waited until he was certain his brother was out of range before diving beneath the surface of the pool. Seconds later he burst from the water, drenching Imrahil.
"Ha!" he shrieked, plunging back into the pool.
Smiling, Ariashal returned to her embroidery. They had been coming to the grotto for over a week now, and the children showed no sign of tiring of it. There had been diving, of course; but they had also been racing, and wading, and general splashing. They never tired of the water.
She was glad that she made the men scour the pool's bottom before letting the children swim. There was no danger of a stray bit of metal gouging their tender feet. Ariashal set up little treasure hunts for them, scattering glossy quartz stones, old buttons, and coins across the bottom for them to retrieve. She gave little prizes to the one who brought the most, or the biggest, or the whitest.
Her sons were fearless in the water, proud Numenoreans that they were. Zimraphel was also brave, although she lacked the strength to swim like her brothers. Still, she never hesitated to fling herself into the water, or to hold her breath while exploring the bottom of the pool. One day she would be more than a match for her brothers.
But Lalwen and Thabadan were afraid of the water. On the first day they had refused to venture anywhere near the pool, despite the presence of the older children. Thabadan eventually managed to gain enough courage to wade a few feet from shore, but Lalwen steadfastly refused to go. She clung to Ariashal's skirt, trembling and crying.
Finally Ariashal removed her own shoes, tucked up her long skirt, and led the child into the water.
At first Lalwen cried, more, it seemed, from habit than from any genuine fear. As she grew accustomed to the sloshing water, she began to move away from Ariashal, though she never strayed far. Soon Thabadan waded over to them, and before long the two children were cautiously exploring the shallows.
That was several days ago. Now they splashed and even swam a little, though they were careful not to go too far from shore. They dove for the shiny rocks, and floated little boats on the waves.
Zimraphel sometimes splashed them, but Imrahil was forever watching over them. It pleased Ariashal that her eldest son was becoming so responsible.
"Your Majesty really should have a chair."
"Herumor! I did not hear you."
"That is because I do not wish to be heard." He settled onto a large rock. "We really must bring some comfortable chairs here. It does not do for the queen to rest upon a rock."
She laughed. "I suppose so, but I will have no ceremony here! This is a place for refreshment and nature, not etiquette."
He sighed. "As you wish, madame. If all my complaints involved uncushioned rocks, my life would be quite different."
Ariashal could not help laughing. "Perhaps you should bring a pillow, then, so that your seat will not be so miserable."
"I have sat upon many a poor chair in my life, madame. This will not be an ordeal!"
She slipped her needle through the cloth. "I brought some refreshment today. Would you care for brandy?"
"I--no, madame, I must refuse your generosity. I am here to protect you and the children, and there must be nothing left to chance."
"Very well." As she retrieved her embroidery, a thought crossed her mind. "My lord, why do you not join the children in the water? They would love to have you with them."
"I understand that, madame, but as I said, I am here to protect you."
"That could be done just as easily in the water as out." She studied him for a moment. His shoulders trembled slightly. "My lord, do you fear the water? Can you not swim?"
He laughed, a little. "Swim? Oh, I can swim, madame. I am a son of Numenor."
Something in his demeanor caught her attention. "Then what is it, my lord? What do you fear?"
"You have learned to read my moods." He sighed. "It is not fear, not as you would call it. No, it is something else, something--deeper.
"There is much magic in running water, madame. Perhaps all living things feel it when they pass through a stream. But I--we--feel it, and the stronger the flow, the more we are aware of its presence."
"I do not understand."
"Have you never felt it? Have you never lain still in the water, until all thought has left and it seems as though you will drift away? That is what I mean. I believe that we are hearing the ancient call of the sea, not as the Elves do, but as all living things do. Only, for us, it is much stronger. We hear it call to us to let go, to become one with the water, to let ourselves loose that we might dissolve into the ocean and nothingness."
"I have never heard of such a thing."
"I am not surprised. The King rarely discusses this, even with us. It is not something that we wish to think on.
"I--we--live in two worlds, madame. We are not wholly of one or the other. We are here, yes; but we are also of the shadow world, and it is from the shadow world that the water calls us. Here, in this stream, the voice is weak; but in a great river it can be powerful indeed."
"Yet you willingly cross the water."
"Aye, that we do. When the King is present it is much easier, for he can make the voices be still. There are times when I think the water will one day seek its revenge on us, but that day, I hope, is far off."
"Hey!" shrieked Adrahil.
Ariashal turned in time to see Zimraphel merrily drenching her brother. He fought back, sending the biggest waves his flailing arms could muster at his sister.
"Do they feel it, too?" she asked.
"Perhaps. They are so young, though, they might not recognize it for what it is. Although..."
"What is it?"
"It is only that they are of the line of Elros, madame. They carry the blood of the Maiar along with that of the Firstborn."
"So do you and the King."
"Aye madame, that is true enough. And like all of the line of Elros, we are of two worlds, yet not completely in either. We are neither true Elves, nor true Men: we are something in between, and that is what makes us restless and--susceptible.
"In some of us, the blood of Men runs thick, and those are the men who most readily accepted Sauron and the changes he wrought. In others, the blood of Elf and Maia runs true, and these are the men whose lives are most complex."
"Like you and the King."
"More the King than myself, madame, though 'tis true enough that the Elven blood helps me with sorcery. But the King, madame, cannot deny his Elven heritage, for it is written on his face. Never has he grown a beard."
"I always thought that was sorcery!"
"Nay, it is not. He endured some teasing over it, though I assure you that he quickly put an end to that. As for myself, I soon noticed that the young ladies seemed to prefer his face to mine, and so I resorted to his sorcery to help me. But," he added ruefully, "I quickly learned that it was more than just my beard which kept them at bay!"
Ariashal could not help laughing. She could almost see him, crestfallen to discover that his new face did not have the desired effect. And she could well imagine the vengeance the King would have on those who dared torment him.
"The hour grows late," noted Herumor. "We must retrieve the children, lest the King send the guards searching for them."
Back at the Keep, the cobbler awaited them. Ariashal inspected the King's shoes while the nurse slipped children's feet into new footwear. The man had done a respectable job of resoling, although his finish was nowhere near as slick as that which their own cobbler managed to achieve.
Ariashal knew the King would be grateful that his own shoes had returned; he had been grumbling about wearing his heavy boots all day.
Imrahil and Adrahil were reasonably satisfied with their new, supple boots; the two littlest wore theirs without complaint; but Zimraphel was crushed.
"I wanted blue!" She burst into tears and ran to her mother.
The cobbler bowed his head. "I am sorry, but the only leather I could get was brown."
"Is there no one here who can dye such things?" Ariashal gently stroked her daughter's head.
"No, Your Majesty. We never have call for colored leather."
"I suggest that you locate someone who can provide such things in the future, or risk angering the King."
The man paled. "No, Majesty, I --I tell you what. You take the shoes for free. My gift. No reason to get the King angry!"
"No, good man, you did the work and will be paid for it. I trust that you will no longer make a promise which you cannot keep."
The man stammered his thanks, finally backing out of the room.
Ariashal waited until he had left. "We will go and see your father. I suspect that he will make your boots aright."
The King said little as he examined the children. He had the boys trot around the room, so that he could see if they were moving in comfort. When it came time for Zimraphel, though, she refused to move.
"I wanted blue," she crossed her arms over her chest and began to cry.
"Blue?" asked her father. "Very well. Blue you want, and blue you shall have."
He began to speak in a musical language Ariashal recognized as a form of Elven. She watched, fascinated, as he ran his fingers over the boots, leaving a trail of blue leather wherever he touched. He drew some simple patterns, which he quickly filled; traced words which vanished into the color; swirled wide curlicues which seemed to lace together in a solid expanse of blue. When he had finished, Zimraphel jumped into his arms to kiss him.
For a moment the children were silent, entranced by the spell. Finally Imrahil found his voice.
"Can you make mine red?"
Playlist Navigation Bar