3. Chapter Three
Miriel’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the voice, unctuously insinuating like honey laced with venom. Her flesh crawled as she contemplated the figure of Pharazon’s chief counselor standing before her. Few shared her revulsion, for Sauron was fair to look upon, more fair indeed than most beings in Middle-earth. His golden hair, tawny skin, and tall figure gave the Maia the aura of a flawless statue crafted by the hand of Iluvatar himself. But Miriel, both blessed and cursed with Palantir’s far sight, never saw his physical beauty, only the black and bitter ugliness of his heart that made her recoil whenever he set foot near her.
“I am well, Lord Annatar,” she replied, her expression a blank and tightly controlled mask. “Forgive me for the delay, but I had other duties to attend to, I fear.”
“I understand, my lady. Far be it for me to be churlish with someone both so beautiful and so wise.” The mockery in his eyes gave the lie to his seemingly deferential words.
“What did you wish to speak to me about? After all, it is not common for you to seek my counsel,” she said with asperity.
Sauron paused, his eyes narrowing, but he chose to ignore her barb. “Why, my lady, I must discuss the plans for the celebration we shall hold when our king returns victorious from Valinor. Naturally I believed I should defer to you, since he is your beloved husband.” His smile was pure poison as he uttered the hollow words.
Miriel in her turn waited before replying. “That is kind of you, Lord Annatar, and shows an admirable consideration for a wife’s feelings. But why are you so confident that His Majesty’s efforts will be crowned with success? I think the matter is far more uncertain than you presume.”
Sauron raised an eyebrow. “You surprise me, my lady. I thought that you of all people would see the inevitability of His Majesty’s triumph. You gazed upon the Great Armament as it set sail, with Aglarrama, most splendid of the sea’s castles, in the vanguard. Think you that even the Valar could defeat such a vast power?”
“I think, my lord, that the Valar are not to be trifled with, and I fear what may happen now that Pharazon has chosen to pursue such a dangerous course. Their vengeance may fall upon all of us, not merely those who have dared to violate the Ban.” Miriel wondered fleetingly if she had said too much, but then decided she had very little left to lose. She might as well speak her mind regardless of the consequences.
“Ah, yes, you still persist in believing in the Ban, do you not?” Sauron gave an elaborate shrug. “I suppose it is possible that you are correct, and that His Majesty might pay a heavy price for his boldness.” His eyebrow shot up again as a thought suddenly seemed to occur to him. “Of course, it is equally possible you would welcome such a fate for him, is it not?” he purred. “With His Majesty dead, you could reassume the sceptre and be sole ruler of Numenor once more. How pleased you would be then!”
Miriel’s jaw clenched. “I can promise you, Lord Annatar, that I hardly have been contemplating such a wild notion.”
“Oh, but I rather suspect that you have, my lady, in the depths of the night.” His words were weighted with veiled menace. “And I suspect you have also pondered who might become your new consort, a man to aid you in governing the kingdom—not to mention the other comforts he would be in a position to offer you.”
“You question my faithfulness as a loyal wife, my lord? Or do you persist in your foolish suspicions that I am in league with the Lords of Andunie?”
“Neither, my lady. I merely suggest that a woman of your keen perception has reflected on the future, and cast her gaze about for suitable replacements should the worst actually happen.” He stepped towards the throne, stopping only an arm’s length away. “And there are indeed a few suitable replacements, would you not agree?” Sauron looked her full in the face then, and the blazing lust in his eyes made her blood freeze. May Varda protect me!
She had always thought he wanted her as a sacrifice for his temple, but she knew now that she had underestimated his ambition. She realized in utter horror that the Maia plotted to emulate Pharazon and claim the throne through possession of her body. He was sure Pharazon would never return, despite his protestations to the contrary, and that everything would be his for the taking, including her.
Nausea surged up as she recalled the gossip that had reached her about his tastes in the orgies Pharazon had staged privately since bringing Sauron to Numenor. Rumor had it that Lord Annatar was a master of highly refined cruelty, pairing pleasure and pain skillfully and indulging himself with both men and women. There were even dark whispers that the King had become his preferred partner in such exercises, and that their decadent encounters took place in full view of the other participants. She had secretly hoped the tales were true, for it meant it was far less likely that Pharazon would disturb her nights.
But the look Sauron was bestowing upon her made her desperately hope that Pharazon would survive and come back to her, even if it meant being forced to share his bed again. The brutality she had already endured would be child’s play compared to what Sauron would inflict on her.
The color mounted in her face as Sauron continued his insolent appraisal. She remembered the last occasion he had treated her in the same fashion. It had been the night of the great feast in honour of the fleets’ departure. When the revelry grew increasingly wine-soaked, she excused herself and locked her chamber door, only to have Pharazon knock loudly an hour later.
“Come, Miriel,” he called, “come back to the hall. I wish for all to gaze on your matchless beauty once more.”
She opened the door and admitted him. “Must I?” she asked, sighing wearily.
“Let me attire myself again,” she said as she turned away. She was startled when Pharazon seized her wrist in a bruising grip.
“Oh now,” he said, smirking horribly, “I want you to display your naked splendour before my men. You need only your crown and a robe, and that will be gone soon enough!”
“No! Why do you insist on humiliating me?” Tears sprang to her eyes.
"Because I wish it,” he snapped, “and you will do it, or I swear you will entertain more than one man in your bed tonight whether you will or not!”
She submitted again, just as she always did, for that was the one threat that never failed to bring her to heel. But she felt deep shame at her lack of courage, her unwillingness to challenge Pharazon to do his worst if he truly dared.
When she stood in the hall later, her robe hanging off her arms and the weight of the crown weighing on her forehead like lead, the tiny part of her mind that remained free of the appalled embarrassment paralyzing her noted that almost all of the King’s men averted their eyes after obeying Pharazon’s order to look upon her. Sauron alone stared at her openly, his fascinated gaze exploring her every detail, filling her with the need to scream in rage and tear at his face. She believed then he merely desired to put her in her place, but she had misread him thoroughly. Well, she thought bitterly, I may not have dealt with him then as he deserved, but I shall now, and let him complain until he has no breath left in his worthless body. She stood up abruptly; the raised dais gave her the illusion of height and reinforced her imposing bearing.
“I shall take the planning in hand, my Lord Annatar. You need not concern yourself with anything. How soon do I have?” She awarded him an icy look that clearly said, I am still queen of this realm, so do not presume to exceed your place yet.
Sauron stepped away from her, chagrin and respect flitting across his features as he realized he had overplayed his hand. He bowed as he spoke. “We must prepare as soon as possible, Your Majesty. My mind’s eye tells me that His Majesty Ar-Pharazon made landfall today, and that he shall camp on the slopes of Taniquetil this very evening.”
“Then I shall devote my evening to the future celebration. You may go now, so I have sufficient time to think of all that must be done.” Her tone made it plain she would brook no disagreement with her dismissal.
Sauron nodded. “Very well, Your Majesty. I shall speak to you tomorrow morning.”
She kept standing as he walked backward and bowed his way out of the throne room. Only after he had vanished completely did Miriel sit down, her legs trembling uncontrollably.
Tomorrow, then. Tomorrow is when all will be decided for good or ill, and Iluvatar shall measure out Numenor’s sins. She climbed to her feet and began drifting to the west side of the palace. When she arrived at her terrace again, she stripped her mind and focused it. The faint images of men wandering the shores of Valinor came to her, and she knew Sauron for once had not lied. She stared into the West and prayed as she had never prayed before in her life.
O great Iluvatar, creator of the world, take pity upon the innocent and spare Numenor your wrath. Take my life in sacrifice for Pharazon’s evil deeds, but do not punish all the Edain by condemning them to endless suffering or death. Look into my heart and see my abiding faith, I beg of you.
She continued to gaze at the setting sun as she prayed. Word had come to her secretly that Amandil had sailed West on a hopeless mission of mercy, convinced the Valar would grant his petition to spare Numenor. She wondered if he had foundered at sea, or if had arrived in the Undying Lands only to be refused.
The thought of Amandil summoned up thoughts of his grandson again, and she recrossed the palace corridors, ignoring everyone. She stood upon an eastward-facing balcony then, her eyes piercing the gathering dusk as she looked towards Romenna and the hot tears flowed silently down her cheeks.
Isildur, Isildur, are you caressing my pearls and thinking of me even as I think of you? I thought I was prepared to offer myself up as the ultimate sacrifice, but now that I turn my mind to you, I realize I am more attached to life than I supposed. How I long for you! I would give anything to have you at my side in this moment, to feel your lips on mine as we join our bodies in ecstasy. Then could I die truly happy, as I have never been in my whole life.
She dipped her head as the sobs welled up, her grief mounting higher and higher as she recognized it was far too late for her. Her fate had been decided long ago by her weakness. She stayed there as night’s shadows fell about her, veiling her in darkness. When her women came in search of her, she would not tell them why she wept, but said, “I wish to remain here this evening. Fetch me food and prepare a bed here, for it is warm and I shall sleep outside.”
They did so with much puzzlement, and then left her alone as she ordered. After eating a little, she laid down and stared into the sky, hoping that Isildur was gazing upwards as well. It was a long time before sleep finally claimed her, the moon and the stars glittering above her as she drifted into oblivion.
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.