Note: Queen Beruthiel is known only in fleeting scraps of Tolkien's work; most of my information was cross-verified here. In this piece, I have taken the end of a fragmentary word-of-mouth legend and tried to backtrack to a more logical, "historical" plotline, and added what I think is an intriguing "what if" that actually does not directly conflict with canon...
Explanation: It helps if you've read "Skadi In Shadow," but it's not really necessary. In short, this tale is set way back in the history of Gondor, in the days of a king who once ruled the throne later reclaimed by everybody's favorite ranger.
Dedication: This is, again, for Jewelweed and her kitties. I hope my new spin amuses her. And thank you to my kind betareaders CocoaJava and Lora.
"Then perhaps you should never have married me in the first place!"
The moment the words left her mouth, she knew it was over. She should have immediately let her fingers flutter to her lips in a ladylike fit of contriteness, but her hands were clenched too tightly on the edge of the dining table to allow for such niceties. She was on her feet -- she wasn't sure when she'd flown out of her chair, but as her husband was only now casting aside his silverware and rising to match her it could only have been a moment before. She'd been so angry that she hadn't been aware that she'd risen at all.
Too late did she notice that her outburst had not been a private affair. The cook's assistant was frozen at the kitchen door, clutching a tureen to his chest; a red-faced guardsman was striving to remain unseen by the cold fireplace. Cold...the room was cold, or was that just her? Was it merely the chill sea breeze through the unshuttered windows, or was there ice in her heart?
"Berúthiel..." her husband said warningly, but it was too late for warnings, too late for anything. This argument had been but the last of many, and now it would be the last argument they would ever have. She shoved back her chair, gathered her robes around her suddenly clammy shoulders, and stormed out of the hall.
Ten years. Ten years she'd lived in Osgiliath. Ten years of trying to be a "proper" queen, and failing. Ten years of trying to provide an heir to the throne, and failing at that too. Ten years. After ten years you'd think that it would be hard to pack, hard to choose what to take and what to leave. However, she was finding it surprisingly easy. Dresses, embroidery, carved trinkets from high-born supplicants...it was all merely cloth and wood and stone. Replaceable. Unnecessary. She needed none of it. Best to leave it all behind.
As Berúthiel dashed an unwelcome tear from her cheek, Kali jumped up on the bed and pushed under her hand, mewing curiously. The queen paused to swoop her favorite cat up into her arms for a desperately tight cuddle. Understanding her mistress' mood better than the average animal, Kali did not struggle. In the shadows and corners of the spartan chamber, other feline forms took shape with whiskers a'bristle in concern. Ten in all. Ten cats -- nine dark, one light. They were neither cloth nor wood nor stone -- they were flesh, and in all of Gondor they were the only creatures Berúthiel now cared for. They would not be left behind. She'd have to purchase wicker baskets for the journey--
"You cannot be serious."
She whirled, Kali still in her arms, to find Tarannon standing in the doorway, his eyes shifting up from her half-packed bag to bore into her. Reflecting her mood, her cats hissed and faded back into their shadowy lairs; Kali merely glared, her glittering gaze a perfect match for that of her mistress. Her mistress' expression, however, was a mask over shock. Her husband had never entered her tower chambers unbidden before...
Although a moment before she'd already been regarding the place as something foreign, something she'd already left behind in spirit, suddenly she felt as territorial as a tiger. And as determined to do as she pleased.
"Am I ever aught but serious?" she snarled. "If you will not say it, then I shall! You have not loved me for many years now. Those years may not have seemed long to a man of your ever-so-exalted ancestry, but I say that I have been patient enough for ten women. As it now seems clear that you will never love me again, I see no need to stay where I am not wanted."
She turned away, freeing Kali (who tucked her tail around her paws, watching intently) so she could finish packing. She felt Tarannon move up behind her, but ignored him until his hand closed around her wrist. His rope-callused grip was firm, unbreakable. Despite herself, despite everything, she still loved the touch of that hand, and so she suffered him to turn her towards him. She found herself close enough to kiss him if she had ever desired to do so again, her breasts barely brushing his chest with each breath. He was a good-looking man, tall and hale, still dark-haired at his respectable age as was the bloodright of a descendent of the kings of Numenor.
However handsome he might have been, however, his gray eyes were closed and his expression was hard. This was not a storybook moment to rekindle whatever they might once have had. That moment had, in all likelihood, never existed. The rumormongers in the streets below had been right all along. The king of Gondor and the lady of Umbar were a poor match.
"You are overreacting," he said, and his tenor voice was a deceptively calm counterpoint to the angry blood pounding in her ears. "These rumors have been afoot for a long time now. I merely thought perhaps you would wish to be aware--"
"Of course I was aware," she snapped. "I am always aware of every nasty, petty little tale your beloved people see fit to whisper about me. I am aware of much even you do not know, Tarannon."
Her husband's eyes darkened and his hand tightened on her wrist. "Oh, of course, the cats. Your sneaking, thieving, witch-ridden cats. I have been kind to you, Berúthiel. I have explained away your southern strangeness; I have laughed away wild accusations and told my advisors that their secrets are safe from your pets. How dare you say that I do not love you? I have lied for you, woman! Lied! For the sake of what, your feelings? I should have drowned those little beasts years ago and put an end to your insufferable arrogance!"
Unable to free her arm, Berúthiel blazed her own dark gaze up at her husband. The tapestry-draped room seemed closer; the air itself was stifling. She needed to leave. She needed to leave now, before she said something she'd regret. "Let go of me."
"For now or for ever?" he retorted. "What are you asking? I dare say the former. You are merely overtired. If perhaps a visit to your kin would place you in a fairer mood--"
Berúthiel fairly sparked with anger. "I will not be patronized any longer, Tarannon. This has nothing to do with my 'mood' -- but you would rather have a diplomatic lie than the story the kitchen staff is already feeding into the gossip mill, eh? Do not attempt to explain this away to your peers -- again -- as the passing fancy of a broody foreign queen!"
For a moment they stood frozen thus. Then Tarannon sighed and released his wife's wrist. His expression was rueful, and his grip (though firm) had been careful to leave no marks, yet she felt bruised right down to the soul. Perhaps if his next words were contrite, or even merely diplomatic, something might yet be salvaged--
"Berúthiel. I have turned a deaf ear to the worst of these rumors for far too long, but now there are witnesses I cannot discount. I am your husband -- I am your king. I need the truth. I need it from you. I need it now. Tell me that it is not true, and Varda help you if it is."
Berúthiel's blood roared. How...dare...they?! When she spoke, her words were as flat and cold as stone. "If the day has finally come that you believe the wives' tales in the marketplace over the word of your own wife, I am done with you. And with Gondor."
She tried to turn her back on Tarannon but he sidestepped, his thigh striking the edge of the bed and his palm slamming down hard on her half-packed bag. Kali spat and fled behind the intricate headboard. "I do not wish to believe these tales, but still you refuse to discredit them! Do you think me a simple man, content to pretend that I am unwise in the ways of women while every man in my council laughs behind my back? Answer me! Now!"
The red rising in Berúthiel's sight suddenly snapped into a cold clear focus. She knocked his hand away from her belongings -- actually struck it hard, the resounding slap a sharp unfamiliar sound -- and tore open a carefully packed leather satchel. Shocked, Tarannon actually staggered back a step as his wife, her fair face transformed into a snarling mask of rage, fished out a handful of dried leaves and flung them into his face.
"Was I in the marketplace? Yes. Was I in disguise? Yes, though I see now that it was too a poor disguise to fool the eyes of your loyal subjects. Was I purchasing herbs that only a woman would need? Yes. There! Are you pleased to find your suspicions confirmed?"
Tarannon's own face shifted, becoming harder and more distant than she'd ever seen. Part of her knew he was shielding the deep vicious wound her words had inflicted upon him. The rest of her did not care, for the term "women's herbs" had more than one interpretation. If he had not doubted her -- if he had not given creedance to the tale that her infertility was no accident -- he would have seen her words in a brighter light. His faithless distrust now left a far deeper scar on her own heart.
"So it's true."
"If this confirms whatever poisonous whispers you have accepted as truth, rest content that you were right. As ever." Berúthiel bitterly turned from him to shove the satchel back into her pack, and this time he did not move to obstruct her. "I shall be glad to take my leave now, to spare you any further...embarrassment."
He did not answer, and she thought perhaps he'd left to storm alone. Then his breath brushed the back of her neck. His voice was dead with controlled hate, chilling her with the thought that he might yet do her harm. "You are so certain that I will let you go? Just like that? You are the queen of Gondor, whether you love it or nay. The blood of Elendil has flowed for hundreds of years, and I will not see his line broken on the whim of a spoilt wild-woman. You may not simply walk away."
"I can and I will," she replied, not turning. "Do you intend to lock me away in this tower like a princess in a fairytale? I'll claw your eyes if you attempt to bend me to your will. And if you force yourself upon me, my family will know what you have done. Would you risk war simply to prove your manhood, to assert your dominion over--" her lip curled "--a spoilt wild-woman?
"Be rid of me, Tarannon. All I ask is a swift horse and a packmule, and I will leave you to tell your people whatever tale you wish. Confirm what they already say: that I poisoned your mind and refused you an heir and stole your kingdom's deepest secrets with my evil, evil cats. Then marry some vapid fertile beauty and get on with the siring of as many little princelings as your heart desires.
"Your scribes write the histories. Let them write whatever you wish. I no longer care."
There was silence at that -- despite her haughty words, Berúthiel's heart was hammering. He was taller than she, and far stronger. If he were to simply shove her from a tower window, no one would question...
"I will arrange your passage by ship." He had moved back away from her, away from the danger that fairly crackled between them. She felt her shoulders unknot, her heart dropping back into her chest.
And so she found the courage to protest, "I would rather--"
"I know you would rather ride. But there are brigands between here and your homeland, and I would rather not have your kin place your throat-cut death on my head."
Berúthiel fought the urge to clasp a hand to her stomach, and lost. She felt sick at the mere thought of setting foot on the deck of a ship. "There are also brigands on the seas!"
"And you know as well as I that most of them are in the pay of your kin. I would not be so concerned, o lady of Umbar."
And with that he was gone -- no parting words, no courtly niceties. There was a hard finality to the way he slammed the door behind him. She would pack, and she would go down to the quay, and a ship would be ready, and she would be gone.
Now that she was alone, she rested her forehead against a cool slate wall and choked back a sob. How dare he? How dare he believe such lies, how dare he think that she'd do such a thing?! Especially now. She'd been planning to tell him, perhaps that very evening...
Emotions warred for her attention and she could not sort out which to attend to first. In the end rage was the easiest -- rage at his lack of faith in her, rage that had been brewing over years of veiled insults aimed at her inability to conceive. Rage which had now reached a boiling point, merging seamlessly with her pride so it could no longer be choked down. She would let that rage bear her from this accursed riverside stronghold and back to the warm coastal haven of her childhood.
This time, when she pressed her hand to her stomach, it had as little to do with her loathing for the sea voyage as her "herbs" had to do with preventing conception. Hateful, hateful rumors...it would only have taken a moment for anyone to confirm that the ingredients she'd bought could only be brewed into a harmless sachet to ease morning sickness...
The historical archives of the White City record that Tarannon Falastur, twelfth King of Gondor (Third Age 830-913), died alone and childless. For the first time, the line of Anarion son of Elendil was broken. The kingship of the southern realms passed instead to Tarannon's brother-son Earnil...and was broken yet again 400 years later by a second heirless king. When this diluted lineage finally failed, the stewards' line governed Gondor until Aragorn son of Arathorn -- descendent of Anarion's younger brother Isildur -- appeared to reclaim the throne.
Of Tarannon's wife Berúthiel, the histories say only that she was a Black Numenorean who hated the sea and her husband alike. That she was, in turn, hated by his people who saw evil in her strange ways: her dark rainment, her twisted gardens, and the cats who served as her eyes and ears. And that at last Tarannon was driven to exile his queen (and her cats) on a ship sent adrift before a north wind, never again to be seen by mortal eyes. Her name was erased from the Book of the Kings, and lives on only in folk legend.
The histories thus say nothing of the son she bore in exile.
Somewhere in the southern lands walks the direct descendent of Anarion elder son of Elendil, a man who is thus the true heir to the throne of Gondor. Whether he knows of his ancestry, and whether he shall ever return to challenge Isildur's heir, is a story for another day.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.