Politics of Arda
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 7. Coronation Day
Next morning they awoke her early. The King had arrived late last night, and had ordered that her coronation take place that afternoon.
For hours her new women readied her. They washed and brushed her hair, rubbed her with perfumes and oils, filed her nails. They were unsure of how to do her hair. Finally they braided the front of it, plaiting golden ribbon and delicate chains of gold among her dark locks.
Several of her gowns were brought out, which they all examined closely. She finally settled on a deep blue one, its hanging sleeves trimmed with gold and fur. Beneath it she wore a black silk chemise, decorated with delicate gold embroidery she had done herself. Over the gown they fastened a gold belt, rich with jewels. They picked one of the magnificent golden pendants that the King had sent her as a gift, and slipped it over her head. She put on a pair of golden bracelets; they checked to be sure that her earrings were suitably rich; one of them gave her a final pat of powder; and she was led out to meet her future.
For a moment she stopped at a mirror to admire their handiwork. The dark blue of the gown flattered her slightly too-full figure; the gold jewelry set off her dark eyes and hair. Sparkling earrings glowed against her face. She had always thought of herself as plain, but here, in this gown and jewelry, she was magnificent.
She followed the women through the hallways and stairways, until they came to a set of double doors, carved and inlaid with the same red tower motif of the banners. Adzuphel, richly garbed in black and gold, stood by them. He bowed to her. Her women retreated.
"You will be a lovely queen," he said, gallantly taking her hand. "Come. They are ready."
The room they entered was a long rectangle, ending in a gilded, coffered half-dome. Here the walls were even more richly decorated than those of the bedroom. Captured flags and banners hung from the ceiling; the treasures of many a foreign lord graced the walls. The nobles and notable of Angmar waited here, too, dressed in their finest garb, jewels sparkling in the light.
At the far end, beneath the golden dome, was a carpeted dais, and on the dais was a throne. It was not gold, but black, inlaid with fantastic geometric patterns of gold. On either side of it were the strange black-robed people from yesterday, although she saw that many of them now sported jewelry.
And in front of the throne stood the King.
He was tall, far taller than anyone else in the room, an impression that his high crown only exaggerated; she guessed that he must stand seven feet tall. His robes were black and red, enriched with gold. A grand, sweeping chain of office, golden squares set with huge red jewels, hung almost to his waist. At his side was a sword, its gold hilt gleaming with jewels. And he wore a black velvet mask.
Adzuphel escorted her to the dais. "You Majesty," he began, "may I present Ariashal, princess of Rhudaur."
She bowed her head. A strange feeling, not quite fear, not quite terror, swept over her. It was his sheer size, she told herself; she had never seen anyone so tall before. She kept her head bowed, fighting back the urge to run away.
"Stand with me."
Startled, she looked up. The King extended his gloved hand. Nervously she took it, stepping up next to him. Even here, on the dais next to him, she felt dwarfed by the imposing figure.
Adzuphel came forward, carrying a golden crown. The King picked it up and held it over her head.
"Ariashal, I accept you as my wife. With this I crown you Queen of Angmar." As gently as he could he placed it on her head.
The room erupted in cheers.
A celebration and feast followed in the main hall. Ariashal sat alongside her new husband while the prominent citizens of Carn Dum came forward to offer their blessings. She noted that the eight black ones never came forward, preferring, it seemed, to stay by themselves. One of them seemed to be staring at her, and she sensed malevolence behind the hidden eyes. Khamul, that must be Khamul; Adzuphel said that the King disliked him. Natural, then, that Khamul should hate the new Queen.
Many of the feast's dishes were exotic to Ariashal; there were some odd meats, strange vegetables, hot spices. She noted that her husband ate and drank little, no doubt because of the mask. Uncertain of what was expected she too ate lightly. The entertainment that followed was colorful, if relatively simple: some dancers, a few singers, a handful of musicians. She got the distinct impression that such entertainment was a rarity at Carn Dum; perhaps the King did not seek out such amusements.
He seemed to guess her thoughts. "I am sorry that the entertainers are not to your liking," he said quietly. "Unfortunately, most of my men are more used to an armed camp than a regular court. Perhaps now that will change."
"No," she said, a little startled that he had spoken. "It will be fine."
"It will change. This land has not known civilization in a long time," he continued. "There is much I must do."
"I saw the mines."
"That is only the beginning. I will bring order to these lands."
Something in his tone told her that he would do so, would bend the very rocks to his will if needed.
He held up one hand and the room fell silent. "It is time for the Queen and I to retire. You may continue with the revels, if you wish."
Someone shouted "Long live the King!" The cry was picked up, and the room soon vibrated with wild cheers and raucous toasts. The King stood, and helped her up. She took his hand and they left the feast together, the revelers cheering.
At the door to her room they stopped. "Go," he said. "I will be with you shortly."
Ariashal entered her rooms, unsure of what to expect. At all of her other weddings there had been wild drinking until late, followed by boisterous partying in the bedroom. She had never had to fight off any of her husbands; they were usually too drunk to do much, and what little they did do was quick. It was always several days before she had any satisfaction at all from them. She doubted that this would be any different.
Her women quickly undressed her, unbraided her hair, put away her jewels, refreshed her perfume. One of them helped her into a sheer blue chemise. She had no sooner put it on than the door opened.
"Leave us," said the King. The women swiftly departed, closing the door behind them.
He was wearing a plain, hooded black robe, gloves and mask; he still had the sword, although he had shed the jewelry. "Sit down," he said, finding a seat. "There are things which we must discuss."
Obediently she settled on a chair.
"I know that you have been married before, and I am well aware of the fate of your former husbands. I doubt that I will succumb quite so easily."
She did not know whether to laugh or be silent. She chose silence.
"There are things about me which you wish to know." It was not a question.
"What--what is your name?"
"That I cannot tell you. If I gave you my true name, you would be vulnerable to those who wished to learn it. You must understand. I am a sorcerer, and there are those who could use my name to control me. I have enough difficulties with that as it is. There is no reason to make it worse."
"Then what do I call you?"
"I have been called many things in my life. Here I am called Witch-King, which is hardly a term of endearment."
She managed a smile.
"I will think of something. There are other things on your mind."
"Who are the black robes?"
He was silent for a long moment. "They are my--brethren, though we are bound by ties stronger than blood."
"Adzuphel thought that you were all in an order of wizards."
"In a way." The manner in which he said it told her he considered the matter closed.
An awkward silence fell. She shifted nervously in her chair.
Taking it as a signal, he rose. "I will be going, then. There are things which I must do."
"What? Why leave now? I have not even seen your face And we-- well--"
He stopped. It seemed as though a huge burden had suddenly landed on his shoulders. Slowly he turned to her. "Listen to me. Once you have seen, you cannot unsee. I will give you a choice. I will leave, and you will not question me again. Or I will stay, and you will see. Which do you choose?"
"Stay," she said. She wondered if he could hear her heart pounding.
"Very well." He turned away from her.
Ariashal watched as he pulled off his gloves and unfastened the mask, dropping both on the chair. The sword was laid across them. He unbelted the robe, bent over, and shrugged the garment off.
"What?" She half-shrieked, half-called. "Where are you?"
"Here. I have not moved."
"You cannot see me, any more than I can see you. I can see your gown, but not your flesh."
"Long ago I did something that can never be undone. It is a burden I shall carry forever. I do not expect you to understand."
She watched as the robe lifted off the floor, then swirled around to form the shape of a man. Unseen hands gathered up sword, gloves, mask.
Ariashal managed to find her voice. "I--I do not know what to say. I--I am sorry."
"I did not ask for your pity!" he snapped.
It was too much. The journey, the mines, orcs, black robes, wolves--and now this. She could no longer contain herself. She buried her face in her hands and began to cry.
Something brushed her face. Strong hands settled on her shoulders.
"Ariashal, please. Please listen."
She could not look up.
"I did not mean to snarl at you. I fear I have been too long in the company of orcs and soldiers. I did not mean to frighten you."
She sniffled a little, wiped her eyes on her sleeve. He was behind her still, holding her. She took a deep breath and leaned back against him, taking one of his hands in both of hers. Instinctively she laid her face against his palm.
Silently they held on to each other, while the tension gradually melted away. Slowly, tentatively, he began to caress her.
Ariashal had never known such touching; her other husbands never seemed to have much time for this. They were much more concerned with their own gratification to pay attention to her. She might as well have been a sack of sand, for all they had cared.
But this--this was different. Sighing contentedly at his touch, she pushed against him, arching her body in pleasure as he continued to fondle her. Through his robes she could feel his arousal, hard against her body.
It no longer mattered that she could not see him, that he ruled a harsh land of orcs and wolves. All she wanted, all she cared about, was the desire she had for him. She kissed his hand and pulled him to her. "Come, my lord," she whispered. "I am yours."
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