1. Voices of the Forgotten
He has built her a kingdom out of the ashes of war, he tells her. Bright gems and a mithril crown in exchange for the betrayal of their kin. For that it what it is, although none dare remind her husband of that, of the child in the North, the boy who by rights should rule over him.
The world is both brighter and darker by turns; there are ill winds yet blowing out of the East, foulness abroad in the land. If it was not for her son, she thinks- but it is for her son, in the end.
His mother thinks her too frivolous – she knows this. But so few of the elder generation can understand, still tied as they are to the war, the things of the past. This is the Third Age – as far as half of Osgiliath are concerned, though, it might as well still be the First. What do they fear, pray tell, in this time of peace? The rabble of Orcs that are still left in Mordor? The barbarian tribes of South and East, perhaps?
No, Gondor, fairest of all realms, is eternal and invincible. There remains nothing that could tear them down.
She is married to a boring man with a legendary name, and as for him – he is married to this Kingdom of his. “In Dol Amroth,” she tries to tell him, “we-”, but whatever it is, it is invariably met with the same response.
“Things are different here.” is ever his answer.
And yes, she has noticed that. In the same way that he is different here; when he took up the crown he was no longer the youth she had known – and loved – in the city of her childhood. The world changes as she watches, and is left behind.
When they were young, he would chase her around the columns of the Dome of Stars, until his father and her mother came to separate them, for princes of Gondor and young ladies of Osgiliath were not meant to make so much noise.
Now, there is no-one to say that the King and Queen of Gondor may not, when the fancy takes them, revert to childhood once more. The guards know well enough to turn a blind eye to her passing; and they will not pay attention when the two of them return, her skirts wrinkled, and his crown askew.
“Minas Anor,” he says, and there is a gleam in his eyes just thinking of it. “It is almost done. The greatest citadel of Gondor.”
“I like Osgiliath” she replies, laughing. Which is true – especially when he is not here and she rules instead. Tarostar clings to her skirts; Ostoher has spent so little time here lately that he is a stranger to his son.
“You’ll like this better.” he promises, wrapping both wife and son up into a hug. “It is almost as beautiful as you.” Whether he is complimenting her, the city, or both, is open to interpretation.
Ten years of war, and eight years she has been a Queen here while her King barely comes home to greet her. But that is over now, he promises, that little scar on his cheek stretching with his smile, the marks that change him from Tarostar to Rómendacil, from the husband she knows to the conqueror of the East they sing songs of in the Great Hall.
The celebrations are incessant, but at the end of yet another victory feast, he slips his hand into hers with a smile, and she knows that really, he has not changed at all.
He lives for vengeance; she is not part of that. But she knew that when she married him, a whirlwind wedding between battles where he still wore his armour and a sword at his hip. His duty is on the battlefield; hers lies here, with her son and daughters and her husband’s mother who floats through Osgiliath like a ghost in winter and languishes in Minas Anor in summer.
She watches her son play with his toy sword and wonders; if she could ride with him, fight by his side and for his vengeance, if he would love her then.
The Summer House of the Kings in Minas Anor has long tapestries shrouding the walls, sewn by Queens past, perhaps, or at least, by their handmaidens. She hopes they do not expect her to add to the tally, for she has no skill with a needle.
Her fingers simply cannot remain still – there is far too much to be examined, and adored. There is a polite cough behind her, and he holds out a bouquet of eglantine, smiling.
“You approve, I take it?”
She buries her nose in the roses, perches on the edge of his (their) bed, smiling. “Yes.”
She finds them by the river again, father and son. Tarannon is building boats out of twigs and leaves, and the King of Gondor is for now happily playing the role of ship-builders-assistant, helping him locate the best pieces of driftwood and the finest leaf-sails any ship could hope for.
It as if they speak some secret language that she could never understand. She is used to men who speak of nothing but swords and battle – but the sea is a mystery to her. She watches them for a few more moments, then departs.
Neither of them see her go.
She is not fool enough to think that he would suffer her any longer than he had to; she keeps the most treacherous of her thoughts to herself, and battles him with words, not blades. Not that he is not a worthy opponent – she sees those around them flee when they start slinging their arrow-words at another, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire.
The people who insisted that participants in a purely political marriage might come to share mutual affection in time, had forgotten that these things work both ways. Indifference to hate? It is not that far.
Pelagir has grown up out of nothing, twice and beautiful as it was at her last visit; it has been a full year since then, her time consumed with matters of state and family, but now she is here again, and even the mere smell of salt makes her smile.
Her son comes to greet her at the docks, sun-browned and for all the world looking more like a common sailor than a prince of Men. She has not the heart to scold him – she is looking forward, herself, to exchanging her silken tapestries for white sails and gentle waves.
There is no body for her to bury; he has been consigned to the silent waves. Her son is silent, tight-lipped – she will lose him too, soon, to battle, and to vengeance.
All she has left are memories of the way he smiled; the feel of his hair under her fingers; moments snatched when they could, before the sea took him away from her again. Now that the sea has taken him from her forever, the same thoughts of them that kept her patient while she waited for his return echo as they haunt her beneath the Dome of Stars.
He is strangely gentle with her; the same voice that will inspire men to battle and blood, the same hands that have held the blade that has killed so many – he has turned these same weapons against her, and she is lost.
She has tried not to love him. It would be unwise, she knows; he sees her as a necessity, nothing more. A necessity to whom he shows some affection, on occasion; more for the fact that she is the mother of his children, than for her herself.
She has tried not to love him, and she has failed.
He is glorious indeed, her husband. He has no need of grand speeches; his smile alone can convince men to follow him, and he has no need of war, besides. His ancestors have subdued the East and South, at least for now; he fought for his father, but bears no marks to show it, no scars to mar his fairness.
He is glorious, and she is unmoved, perhaps the only one to not love him, for she has seen through his façade – he is weak, and has given her weak sons. There shall be no more glory, once he fades.
He is no King, she thinks, but then again, she is not much of a Queen. Her nephew smiles and nods if he sees her in the halls as he goes about the business of actually running Gondor; perhaps he pities her.
Perhaps he knows. The herbs she has paid the healers well to not speak of are bitter, but they do their duty. She will bear no heir to this weakling King, to usurp the place of Minalcar. She is barely older than her nephew as it is; but he is far too honourable to accept her unspoken invitations.
Her son is her pride and joy; her husband brings her neither. She doesn’t suppose it matters, this long loveless marriage, drawn out long past its time. She has no idea if he has taken other lovers; she certainly has, once her heir was born and there was no more need to share her bed with Calmacil.
Her sister-in-law, Queen before her, is more interested in Minalcar; but she is young-widowed, and the fire in her blood will not suffer her to remain enshrouded in black forever. She tastes of almonds, and oranges, and honeyed, bitter-sweet regret on the tongue.
She imagined that when Minalcar became King, that things would be a little different somehow. They are not, for he has ruled here in Osgiliath far longer than he has worn the crown. She does not know what she expected – the same Men sign the same papers, and she dines with the same wives of the same nobles, discussing the same things over the same tables that they have for years.
He has the same smile, and the touch of skin upon skin is still the same, and their kisses are still as sweet, and that is all that matters.
His dark hair is not even slightly grey yet: how can that be? She knew that the Kings of the South were touched by elf-blood, but she had not realised, not until it was far too late, exactly what that meant.
She is dying, and he, he will take his son back to his childhood home, and rename him, and remake him into a Prince of Gondor instead of a child of Rhovanion. She had always feared that day would come; that he would leave her for his duties in the South.
Instead, she is the one leaving him behind.
She winds her way through Osgiliath, talking with the wife of a noble, the young mistress of another, the daughter of a third, who knows all there is to know about her father’s lands – and his loyalties.
“We can do this,” she whispers to him, hand on the round of her belly. “There are many like us, who do not want to see the blood of Numenor tainted and diluted on the throne.”
For the blood of her children is pure, far more worthy of a throne than that halfbreed son of Valacar. And a mother’s love knows no bounds.
In exile they only grew stronger. He raised his army, planned and plotted and spoke of battles and vengeance and she – she learnt the ways of his mother’s people, a simpler life, one marked by waiting, and patience.
She has buried one son, and watched anger worm its way into the heart of another. She has sewn, by candlelight, faded tunics and surcoats and banners of war. She has learnt to handle sword and shield, just in case, and ride at a gallop across a sea of grass.
She thinks that, perhaps, she has forgotten how to be a Queen
He is not the mildest-tempered of men, but that temper is seldom turned towards her. In fact, he rarely shows any emotion towards her – she was chosen, after all, because she is of the blood of Numenor, pure on both sides without dispute, and even after the Kin-strife that still matters. It means there will be no doubt as to the right of her children to rule.
“You will be a Queen,” her father had told her, “and you will have all that you desire.”
He lied - all she has now is a crown, and a cold and empty bed.
She picks out the curves of the tapestry in silver thread, while she listens to her handmaidens speak of the gossip in the city. She likes to keep the edges neat; the threads obedient.
Most of the time, the Steward does his job, and there is nothing for her to do but listen. But sometimes, a thread of gossip comes her way, something out of place, something that does not belong in the tapestry of Gondor.
And then she acts.
For her husband is at war, and in his absence she must make sure that everything is… in its place.
It is tradition, to follow him to the gates to see him off, to coax poets into writing odes to him and quietly weave your tapestries until he returns.
It is tradition, to be waiting by the gates to welcome him back, to crown him victor with wreaths of flowers and sing songs to call him home.
She was raised in these traditions, born to them – could tell you the difference between the celebrations for a summer victory, and for winter’s battle won – and she follows them all, but one.
It is tradition, for the Queen to love her King.
The healers have more things to worry about than trying to keep them apart. There is no point – the fever has taken them both. And in the absence of their servants – dead, or fled – there is no-one to notice or care if she sneaks into her husband’s sick-bed.
His skin is cold. That is strange, for he should be burning with fever – they both are, she has heard the healers say as much – yet he is cold. She will ask the healers of it when they return – for now she rests her head on his shoulder, and drifts into sleep.
She was born in Minas Anor, and does not understand his reluctance. Yes, Osgiliath was his childhood home – but it is a graveyard now, a crumbling shell of what it was. It has taken little to convert the Summer House into something more suitable for year-round residence – the children, used to their mother delaying leaving for Osgiliath as long as possible, have thought nothing of it.
Yet he, too, has delayed – delayed returning to him while he oversees… what? Some business in his crumbling home of old, some excuse to mourn still more.
He has wept for far too long.
He wishes to make everything a battle, her husband – and she is happy to oblige. She thinks - knows - he finds more joy in war than peace – why should she not take into account the wishes of her husband?
Yet she is no Berúthiel – he has no reason to send her away. She has given him a son, a daughter, and a Queen to dangle on his arm upon the occasions he has need of such a thing.
Together, they give each other the battles they need, sharp words and edges upon their retorts, and refusal on both sides to surrender.
She knew the day he left – the line of Dol Amroth has a little foresight, sometimes, and she knew the day he left that he would not be returning to her. If any thought her mad, that she was sewing her widow’s weeds and weeping for a husband only just rode off to war, they dared not say it.
She knew the day he left – but she spoke not. She knew he would not return – and that not even for her could he remain.
She knew the day he left – she knew, and she has killed him with her silence.
It has been a long time, since they have lain like this, cheek to cheek, with nothing to tear them apart, no war – either at the borders or between the city nobles – nothing.
She is not quite sure what to say; his skin is warm against hers, his fingers wound about her own, his scent familiar, but it has been so long since they have spent a night this way.
Dawn is barely breaking over the horizon, and she has still not spoken, but neither has he, and suddenly she understands, and there is no need for words at all.
All is lost – husband, and sons, and all she loved. Only Firiel – sharp eyed Firiel, throwing in her lot with Arthedain’s King, never willing to be merely Princess, always seeking to become more – only she remains.
She has heard the rumours, of her son-in-law’s claim to the throne. He would claim, if he could, to have more right to rule Gondor than Ondoher himself – and she will not allow that, nor forgive a daughter’s betrayal.
It will be easy enough, to turn them against him. Easy enough, to let them make another choice.
While she lives, he shall not rule.
This is nothing she aspired to, to be Queen. When she married him he was still young – they both were – and he was not yet even Captain, let alone anything else. It was not that she was not born to this – her father was a noble of Dol Amroth, she knows her way about the politics of Minas Tirith – only that it was unexpected, and somehow, unwanted.
She wonders how it would have been, should Firiel have taken her place, should she have remained just the Captain’s wife.
She thinks that would have brought her more joy, and less grief.
“I will not allow the prophecies of Elves to hinder me.”
“Not even those that you were there to hear spoken?” She knows her words, too, will not hold him back from his vengeance. They have not even been married but a year, and she has known him for barely twice as long as that, but she has always known this day would come, this challenge.
She had told herself that she would be ready for it. She was wrong.
There is nothing more that she can say. He is deaf to her pleading; he is lost to her now.
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.