2. Chapter Two
Miriel wandered about the market square bundled up in her warmest wool cloak, her ladies trailing after her as they began shopping themselves. She approached a jeweler’s booth, intent on inspecting his handiwork. Crouched nearby was a crippled sailor, a patch on one eye, a crutch tucked under an arm, and silver streaks in his hair. Such men were a common sight in Armenelos, the discarded and mangled flotsam of their king’s quest for empire. He peered up and thrust a leather pouch at her.
“Pearls for sale, my lady! The very finest in the market today, fished from the coast of Andunie.” She heard the jeweler’s snort of skepticism, but took the pouch and opened it.
“You are right, these are very beautiful,” she said politely. “How much are you asking for them?” As she spoke, she looked full into his face for the first time, and her breath caught in her throat. Despite the eye patch, the grime, and the passage of years, she recognized the man before her in disbelief.
Isildur. She stared at him incredulously. What was Elendil’s eldest son doing disguised in the very heart of Armenelos? It had been long since any of his family had so much as set foot in the city, for Pharazon had finally forbidden any of the Faithful to venture into his courts and palaces. Her mind raced; there was surely some plot afoot, though she could not imagine what it could be. She forced herself to remain calm, since excitement would betray everything. She shook out several pearls and studied them closely while she considered what to do.
Isildur spoke, his voice coarsened and rough. “I would sell these for a dear price to most, but you are a fair lady, so I will take only a few coins.” His one visible eye gleamed as he waited for Miriel to respond. She realized he knew she had identified him.
“That is very kind of you, but I have no desire to cheat one who has given his all to our kingdom. Do you have any other pearls like this? If you do, I wish to see them, and perhaps to purchase them as well.”
“I do possess some larger ones, my lady, but they are hidden in my humble abode. Is there a time I could call upon you to display them?”
She silently blessed her distant cousin’s quick wit. “Certainly there is—come to the palace at sunset and you shall show me your best quality gems.” One of her ladies, young Melwa, came up behind her and gasped in shock. “Your Majesty, is it wise to invite this man to have audience with you?”
Miriel fixed her with a withering look, for while Melwa was one of the secretly Faithful she kept by her side, she frequently spoke without thinking. “Of course it is! He has already served his king well in battle, and I shall never turn away one of my worthy subjects. I am not entirely proud yet.”
“The Queen, eh?” Isildur was exhibiting a surprising skill at acting. “Well then, luck is with this old sailor today. Much honour you grant me, majesty. I will be at the palace at sunset.” He climbed to his feet and hobbled off in a half-crouch. She watched him go, praying he would not be recognized by anyone else. Anxiety edged her tone as she pulled her cloak tightly around her and called to her ladies.
“Come, let us return to the palace, for the wind grows sharp! Hurry!”
The pace she kept while walking back left most panting for breath, but she did not care. Her heart was pounding, her fears bubbling up as she thought of Isildur captured, tortured, killed . . . Not if I can prevent it! Now at last I have the opportunity to be brave and help my true kin, the way I should have years ago.
The next hours crawled by at a tormenting rate. It took a supreme effort of will for her to carry on with her usual duties. Finally, she saw the sun sinking below the western horizon. The table in her chamber had just been set for her evening supper when Melwa entered with a bow.
“That sailor whom you asked to call on you has arrived. Shall I escort him into the throne room?”
“No, bring him here to my chamber. He shall sup with me, for I am sure he is famished.” Melwa opened her mouth to protest, but Miriel did not allow her to utter a word. “I have given you an order! Fetch the man here immediately! And keep everyone else away—I wish to speak to him privately.” Realizing she needed to quell any gossip, she added weakly, “I seek a present for the King, and these pearls shall suit admirably once they are placed in a suitable setting by the royal jeweler. Now go, please.”
Melwa nodded and hurried away. A few minutes later, she returned with the disguised Isildur in tow. His crutch echoed loudly on the marble floors as he slowly made his way towards her in crab-like fashion.
“Here is the man, Your Majesty. I have informed the others you wish to be alone with him, and why. Is there any other service you require?”
“No. I thank you for your pains.”
Melwa bowed again and departed. Miriel looked at the floor and waited in silence until she heard the door click shut. Only then did she lift her head and stare at her guest.
“Isildur,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.
“Yes, Isildur,” he repeated as he straightened up to his full height and tossed aside the crutch. He reached up, tore off the eye patch, and then gazed at her with mingled amusement and concern as he wiped the grime off his face with a cloth. “So are you happy to see me, my fair cousin, and are you not inclined to summon the guards? Or is my father right that you have become one of the King’s party, and no longer keep the old faith?”
“Never will I be one of Pharazon’s minions!” She was shocked at how vehement she sounded. “How dare Elendil think that of me!”
“You married him,” said Isildur in open challenge.
“Not willingly, I assure you.” To her shame, she felt her throat constrict with unshed tears. She steeled herself as she had so often, grabbing the back of a chair before she spoke again. “But that is a long tale, and one we need not belabour this night. Why are you here? Surely you know that you are in deadly peril every moment you linger within Armenelos—you must leave as soon as possible.”
“Not until I have accomplished my errand, my lady.”
He studied her intently before speaking. “I come to steal one of the fruits of Nimloth, so that it will not perish forever at the hands of the King and his counselor. Or are the rumors that Lord Sauron’s evil tongue begs that the White Tree be cut down untrue?”
“They are true, I fear. But why did your father send you to perform this task? Surely it would have been safer to send someone whose face is not known to Pharazon.”
“Elendil did not send me; he does not know what I am about. I decided to do this deed after Amandil came to us all and told us what Sauron desired. Neither does Anarion possess any knowledge, for I refuse to risk my family’s lives, only my own.” He sighed heavily. “But now I fear I have imperiled you, my lady, by accepting your invitation and sheltering under your roof. I should hide elsewhere, so you are not implicated.”
Miriel shook her head vigorously. “No, I shall see this out with you to the bitter end, no matter what the price may prove to be. Long have I despaired over Nimloth’s fate and wondered what I could do to prevent it. Now you give me the chance to redeem my father’s memory by preserving it in some form, and perhaps some hope for Numenor shall spring from its seedling as well.” She gestured at the chair opposite her. “Now sit and eat, and I shall tell you all you need to know while you refresh yourself.”
Isildur did so, eating and drinking little as she spoke in a low, urgent whisper next to him. She told him of the guard placed upon the Tree day and night at Sauron’s command, their numbers, location, and the hours of each watch, so that he might plan when best to slip into the courtyard. She also told him of the various places within the palace where he could conceal himself both before and after his escapade. He asked no questions, but listened carefully to her. It was not until she fell silent that he spoke again.
“You have helped me more than I imagined you would when I ventured upon this deed and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You were the only one I dared approached, and you have vindicated my faith in you.”
“You are very welcome, my cousin, and it pleases me that not all the lords of Andunie think ill of their anointed queen.” She could not keep the bitterness out of her voice.
Isildur leaned towards her and laid his large hand over her small one. “You said you did not marry him willingly. Will you not tell me what happened? Amandil and Elendil have never understood why you did so, and I would set their minds at ease about your loyalties, if you allow me.”
“I cannot speak of it—it is too horrible for words, and I will not pollute your ears with the sorry tale.” She was appalled to feel the hot tears begin to trickle down her cheeks. He lifted his hand and caught a tear on a finger as he stroked her face.
“Oh, my darling Miriel, has it been so hard for you?”
His tone was caressingly gentle, as was his touch; she never imagined that such a strong man could be so tender. Her long-cherished defenses came tumbling down with a crash, and she found herself weeping openly. Isildur made an inarticulate sound of pity, and then he scooped her up like she was a child. She slumped against his broad chest as he cradled her, his massive strength making her feel safe for the first time since her father had died. She wrapped her slim arms around his neck and kept crying, and as she did, the words came babbling out of her, broken sentences that gradually conveyed something of the pain and suffering and fear Pharazon had inflicted on her from the very beginning. As her recitation continued, she could feel Isildur’s arms tightening around her. When her sobbing ceased, he spat out, “The ill-birthed scum! The beasts of the field have more consideration for their mates than he has mustered for his wife and queen! I should go find him and run him through on the spot!”
She looked at him in alarm. “No! Do not be a fool! I have endured so far, and will keep enduring! My life is not worth the sacrifice of yours, I promise you, and you have other things to do tonight.”
He cupped her head in his hands. “You think so little of yourself, Miriel, but I see now the nature of your sacrifice. You have given up your life and your happiness to protect we Faithful, and I shall always remember what you have done.” He bent his head and kissed her lightly.
She was taken aback at the feel of his lips on hers; they were unexpectedly soft and warm. A tiny moan erupted from the back of her throat as desire stirred in her, the first taste of it in all her many years. Isildur heard her and continued to kiss her, his mouth exploring hers until her lips parted underneath his. Suddenly she was on fire, her core growing hot as she pressed against him with a wanton disregard for the difference in their ages, their blood relationship, and the desperate urgency of the night. He finally broke off and looked at her, his eyes smoky with longing as his hands traced the outlines of her curves, making her tremble.
“Shall I linger still, Miriel, and teach you the true ways of desire? For now I know that you have never been pleasured, never felt the ecstasy that your body can give you. Would you let me show you what the flesh is capable of, my beautiful queen?”
“You cannot,” she said huskily. “Time flits by even as we tarry here. I must take you to your other hiding place.” She kissed him again. “But you have given me a great gift, just with this. This shall be a memory I cling to in the dark when the pain becomes too great.” She slid off his lap and extended her hand to him. “Come, Isildur.”
She led him down one of the secret stairways concealed behind the walls of her chamber to an anteroom near the place of the White Tree, where he could wait until the proper hour came. As she turned to go, he drew her close and kissed her passionately once more. He buried his face in her raven tresses, his voice muffled as he spoke.
“Leave with me tonight, my queen, and come to Romenna. There you shall rule over the Faithful and sail with us to the East when disaster strikes, as it surely will. We shall raise a new kingdom of the Edain in Middle-earth and all shall hail your beauty and wisdom—me not least of all.”
“I cannot, Isildur. Were I to join the Faithful, Pharazon would unleash his long-delayed vengeance and kill all of you. Do not tempt me with such a vision, for it is too late for me.” She stared up at him through her tears. “And you have a wife already.”
“So I do, and my love for her is great,” he murmured. “But not as great as my love for you in this moment.” He touched her mouth with the tip of his finger. “Very well, my queen. Go, and may the Valar guard and protect you always, Miriel.”
“And you, my beloved cousin,” she whispered. Illogically, she wanted to give him some token of remembrance, something that would keep his memory of this night evergreen. Her fingers strayed to the strand of pearls around her neck; they were an extraordinary shade of violet, the rarest by far of all the ancestral jewels she owned. She took them off and pressed them into Isildur’s hand.
“Take these, and think of me when you look upon them. Long have I cherished them, and it would bring me great joy to place them in your keeping.”
He lifted them to his lips as though they were sacred. “I shall protect them always, as long as I live, and they shall preserve the memory of the most beautiful jewel in Arda—Miriel, most queenly of women under the sky.” He kissed her once more, a bruising, fiery kiss that left her trembling with lust. “Now go,” he whispered against her mouth.
She pivoted and rushed away, determined he would see no more tears from her. She hastened back to her chamber, grateful none of her ladies had yet reentered, and flung herself onto her bed. When her maidens came to her and asked what was wrong, she claimed to be ill with a headache even as she kept weeping inside for the man who had just awakened her to real feeling, and for the lost chance to discover all she now hungered after.
She learned the next morning that Isildur had succeeded in stealing the fruit, but not before he had battled the guards and taken many wounds during his escape. His disguise had been good enough that no one knew who had committed the crime. Her part somehow remained secret as well, despite Pharazon’s cross-questioning and Sauron’s suspicions. She kept her face blank as her husband demanded answers, answers that were not forthcoming. Pharazon finally gave up, but not before he had dismissed all her ladies and replaced them with ones of his own choosing.
But the punishment did not hurt her as it once would have. The thought of both the successful theft and Isildur’s tenderness seemed to arm her against all of Pharazon’s petty viciousness, and as the years slipped by, it became a kind of charm for her, one she often evoked when grief threatened to overwhelm her.
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.