"When I return, it shall be as king of Arda," he told her, "and I shall live forever as Sauron promised, and I shall have no need of the sons you have thus far failed to give me, bânath."  Pharazôn drawled out the word, delighting in how it made her cringe in disgust.

"If I were you," he continued, "I would abandon such weary old beliefs, for what have the Valar ever done for you, my dear?  I will tell you: they have done nothing.  It is Sauron who has opened our eyes, and through his god we shall be free."

Míriel would not argue with him now, for if he did not see the truth, that it was not freedom but death Sauron brought, then he was too much a fool to heed anything she might say.  Years ago, she had pleaded for him to spare Nimloth, reminding him of her father's prophecy, that when the Tree died the line of Kings would fail, but, besotted by Sauron's fair words, Pharazôn dismissed Tar-Palantír's warning as the ramblings of an old dotard.

How strange it was that men did not pay heed when Palantír's other prophecies came true.  And how like the race of Men, to see only what they wished and to ignore all else.  Like them, Míriel had noted the warnings from the West, the blood-red dawns, the inexplicable cries in the night, the shadows spreading over the Meneltarma in the guise of Eagles, the messengers of Manwë Súlimo.  From the heights of Armenelos she heard men cry out, "Narîka 'nBâri 'nAdûn!"  And like her people, Míriel was afraid, but the heart that quailed in terror at the wrath of the Lord of the West did not harden again once the shadows departed. 

Doom was coming from the West.  The warnings had gone unheeded, and the Great Armament had set out.  At least this time her husband did not require her to lay the traditional bough of oiolair upon the prow of his ship Alcarondas; Pharazôn sought the blessing of the Lord Sauron instead, giving to him the honor reserved for the Queen.  Disgust mingled with relief; she had dreaded the trip to Andúnië ever since Pharazôn commanded her presence, for it was a rare thing when he brought his queen out into public.  Though the Sceptre was hers by right, she had long since resigned herself to her husband's rule, and was grateful to be left in the women's quarters where she would not have to play the part of loving and devoted wife.  Nor would she have to smile and be gracious to the First Councilor.  For a prisoner of war, Sauron took too many privileges upon himself, and Míriel knew he scorned the ways of Númenor even as he paid lip service to its King, but at least in this she would not have to act the hypocrite, enacting the blessing with words and gestures while she cursed the venture within her heart.

There is yet hope, she thought.  A fruit of Nimloth yet survived.  In her hand she weighed a letter sent to her in secret from Rómenna.  Nine ships were anchored in the harbor, nine ships filled with the Faithful and their treasures and the fruit of the White Tree that Isildur Elendil's son had stolen at great cost from the courts of Armenelos.  But he had recovered, she learned, and the sapling thrived.  And a place had been made for her aboard Elendil's own ship, if she would come.

Elendil had been cautious, wording his invitation in vague terms in the event the message should be intercepted by Sauron's agents, but his pleading tone transcended the code in which he wrote.  The signs are clear, my Queen.  Doom is coming from the West.  If you will come, as we pray you do, we will await your coming.  He had always loved her, even from afar, even though he had been happily wed for many years.  Pharazôn knew, of course, and chided her.  "To think of you, such a tiny thing, in the arms of that ridiculously tall man," he snorted.  "Were it not so amusing I might be wroth."

I would go to him in a moment, but I cannotI dare not.  For however much her heart leapt at the thought of escape, reason prevailed.  She was watched too carefully.  Questions would be asked if she tried to go to Rómenna.  Sauron was not a fool; he knew she was of the Faithful, and only her status as the King's wife kept her from being bled on the altar in the Temple of Morgoth.  He had long suspected she was giving aid to Elendil and the other Faithful, casting a sidelong look in her direction when word came to Ar-Pharazôn that a thief had stolen into the court of Armenelos and taken a fruit of Nimloth.  And then again, when the palantír of the King's House went missing, eyes turned to her.  Pharazôn looked strangely on her, who had been so silent and docile these many years, and questioned her, but neither he nor Sauron could ever prove any ill deed against her, so careful had she been.  To yield to her fear and her heart's desire and go to Elendil would be all Sauron would need to gather what remained of the King's Men in Arandor and seize the former Lord of Andúnië and his followers.

Giving them a cold look, she rose and walked over to the window.  Beyond the walls of the city, her eyes swept from the Noirinan, the Valley of the Tombs, along the pastures and up the slopes of the Meneltarma.  How long had it been since, clad in white and wearing a garland of nessamelda and pale yellow laurinqu, she had climbed to the summit?  Sixty-four years, since the death of her father, since Pharazôn seized the Sceptre from her and took her to wife against her will.

She squeezed her eyes shut as if to shut out the memory of her wedding night.   She had wanted to die, had reached for the knife Pharazôn used to cut her lacings, but he seized it from her. You will live, he said, and so buy the life of that heretic and his followers that you so adore.  He had come to her since then, seeking to sire sons upon her, never knowing what she knew, the herbs that would cast forth an unwanted fetus.  No sons would he have by her, nor daughters.  Let him grow old and die, cursing Eru Ilúvatar's gift to Men.

Her gaze lingered on the Meneltarma.  She would have liked to ascend to the Hallow of Eru and look out upon the green pastures of the Mittalmar and beyond, to the sea.  Once, it was said, on a clear day a man could look out from the summit and catch a glimpse of Tol Eressëa.  Her father spent much time there, trying to pierce the haze that hid all sight of the Lonely Isle, watching and waiting and praying for the sight of some ship from the West.  And no ship ever came.

Perhaps her husband would not return.  Through Elendil she learned of Amandil's well-intentioned but foolish errand; the old Lord of Andúnië had not returned nor had any tidings come of him from the West.   Yes, Eärendil had landed in Aman, but he had had a holy Silmaril to guide his way.  Pharazôn bore no such talisman (Would it burn his hand, for all his pride and ill deeds? Míriel wondered.) and perhaps his Armament would lose itself in the great fog that veiled the Blessed Realm and founder. 

Perhaps, she thought, for once the Valar would answer her prayer and Pharazôn would never see Númenor again.

"Ar-Zimraphel," said Sauron, drawing out the Adûnaic name she so disliked, "soon your husband will return triumphant from the West.  Now would be a moment for wisdom, for the Nimruzîrim to turn from their ill-advised and rebellious ways and embrace the promise of freedom and eternal life offered by Morgoth."

Sauron was fair-spoken and comely to look upon, and Ar-Pharazôn had long since become besotted by the music of the Maia's voice.  Míriel knew better, though she held her tongue.  The only freedom and eternal life the Elendili would earn from Sauron was a bloody death in the black temple that crowned the heights of Armenelos.  So many had already died, men and women she had known, for whom she privately mourned. 

"Lord Annatar," she replied, using the name Sauron sometimes used, the one he insisted upon with her, as if a mere name (Lord of Gifts, indeed) would allay her distrust of him, "I do not know that the erstwhile Lord of Andúnië would heed any summons I made.  For I do not hold the Sceptre and cannot command the Lord Elendil's obedience in this matter."

"I do not ask so gentle a Queen to command," said Sauron.  "Nay, only to persuade, for it is known what love the Nimruzîrim bear Ar-Zimraphel their Queen."

Innocent enough his words seemed, but Míriel read the threat within them.  "My lord, I have sent messages before, under the command of the King my husband.  All have gone unanswered."

"Perhaps an appeal from your very own sweet lips would sway Elendil's pride and persuade him to the way of peace."

Her heart leapt a beat in her breast.  She kept her face calm, betraying no emotion.  Even so, Sauron had guessed her desire and thus would lay his trap for the Elendili.  "My lord," she said slowly, "do you suggest I go myself to Rómenna?"  Before he could answer, she added, "Surely you know this is not possible.  Thirty-four days has it been since my husband the King sailed from Andúnië.  Soon he will return and all must be made ready.  It is not meet that I should leave at such a time."

Slowly, with narrowed eyes, he studied her.  "Is it not, my lady?  Is it not in your heart to do so?  For I am no fool, lady.  You are of a mind with the Nimruzîrim, this is known.  Does your heart not quail at the thought of the defeat of the Valar?  Do you not fret with waiting, not knowing how goes the battle?"  Now, disregarding all propriety, he leaned in close, so near she felt his breath upon her cheek.   "When Pharazôn lives forever, what need will he have of a Queen who gives him cold comfort in bed, who gives him no sons?  What need will the king of Arda have of the Nimruzîrim then?"

She willed herself to remain calm, that he might not hear how wildly her heart thundered.  He had never been so forward with her, but Pharazôn had always been present on those rare occasions when she spoke with Sauron.  She stared straight ahead, beyond his gaze, and let her voice fall into a monotone. "My lord, I have no fear of death, if that is what Eru wills."

He laughed softly.  "Eru, my lady?  It is not Eru Ilúvatar who will drink your blood when the time comes.  Tell me, sweet Queen, where was your beloved Eru when his Nimruzîrim died screaming upon the altar of Morgoth?  Where was he when your beloved Nimloth was hewn down and burned?  What sweet wind blew out of the West to drive away the smoke and reek?  Eru is dead, the Valar are dead and as the days of your life flow like blood from your body, you will also die."

"It is not upon your altar that I will die," she said.  Drawing upon the foresight that had been her father's legacy to her, she was certain of this.  She would die, that she knew.  With every day that passed since the Great Armament had left, she felt the walls of her life close in upon her.  Death was coming, but it would not be by Sauron's hand or that of any mortal.

"You think not, lady?" Sauron hissed in her ear.  A hand came down on her shoulder and she flinched at the way his long fingers dug into silk and flesh.  The ring upon his finger, the only ornament he ever wore, gleamed with a cold light.

She forced herself to meet his eyes.  "Do what you will.  Perhaps my husband, should he return, will change my name again, to Tar-Fíriel, the Queen-Who-Died."  A bitter laugh escaped her lips at the pun.  "But I do not know that he will return.  You speak fair to me, yet I read in you some treachery.  I should think it would please you greatly, if Ar-Pharazôn did not return."

Sauron only laughed and, excusing himself with a little bow, left her.

"My Queen," said a soft voice at her elbow, "are you well?"

"Yes, Zaira," she replied.  But her handmaiden, the youngest of the six who waited upon her, stayed beside her long after Inzil, Zamîn and the others returned to their needlework.   She knew Zaira, who rarely left her side, had overheard much of what Sauron said to her; the girl's eyes were dark with terror in a pale face.  Her parents, loyal to Elendil, had perished on Sauron's altar; her brothers and an older sister followed not long after.  She had reason to be afraid.

Míriel stroked the girl's cheek, smoothing her dark hair away from her face.  "Nay, child, do not be afraid.  He has threatened me thus before.  Nothing will come of it."

And then, as she rearranged the girl's braids as a mother would do for a daughter, a thought came to her, as sudden and unbidden as one of her father's visions, and she wondered that it had not occurred to her before.  "You heard what he said, child?"

Chewing her lip, Zaira nodded.  "Yes, my Queen."

"You know that I cannot leave the city, but a messenger I may send in my place.  Would you bear a message to Elendil, if I sent you?"

"You will do what he wants?"

"It is always best to be prudent.  I care not for the Lord Sauron, but he is powerful and should the King not return—"  Should Pharazôn not return, it would be the Valar that prevented his homecoming; the portents indicated as much, though Men seemed unwilling to read them.   And should he not return, who then will rule in Armenelos?  I cherish no illusion that I would be permitted to take up the Sceptre.  Sauron is too powerful.  He would not step aside for me, nor would I suffer him to take me to wife against my will.  I will not endure that bargain a second time.

Or was that what Sauron intended at all?  Malice she sensed in him, pleasure at the way the ground trembled and shook, at the way the heavens struck men down with lightning and wind as they went abroad.  Fire was sometimes seen upon the heights of the Meneltarma.  Joy he seemed to take in these reports, as though he anticipated them, as though they were part of some great design. 

"My Queen, I do not wish to leave you—"

Zaira was protesting again.  The earth tremors frightened her, the sight of the dark smoke that wreathed the Temple of Morgoth frightened her and the wild rumors that came in from all corners of the island more yet.  "Hush, child.  This is not a time for you to cower and quail.  Now do not cry any longer," whispered Míriel.  "This is a very great responsibility I am giving you, but to no other would I entrust it.  Now put on a brave face and tell me you will do as I bid."

Zaira looked at the man assigned to guard her on the journey to Rómenna, then quickly glanced away as he caught her curious eyes and returned her gaze with a leer of his own.  Karbû, they called him, the Stallion, and though she did not quite understand what that meant the name was always spoken with much laughter.  She knew him only as one of the King's Men, who took perverse delight in tormenting the Faithful.

"B kitabdahe!" she exclaimed when he drew near to lift her into her saddle.

He gave a harsh laugh.  "Oh, not to worry, little lady, I'll not have any sport with you, not yet anyway.  The Queen says I'm to take you to Rómenna and bring you back, safe and sound.  After that, maybe—"  Licking his lips, he ran his eyes up and down her slight frame in a way that made her tremble.  "Now then, you want a hand into the saddle or not, eh?"

"Bring me a saddle block," she said.  She would not suffer him to touch her, not even to help her mount, and Tar-Míriel commanded as much, warning him of Ar-Pharazôn's wrath should one of her maids be molested when she ordered otherwise.  Karbû merely grumbled under his breath, muttering it would have been far better to go with the Great Armament than to be left behind among the women.

"Thirty-six days and no excitement," he complained.  "The Queen is as cold as her bed."

Tar-Míriel, overhearing him, narrowed her eyes and grew angry.  "You may seek what perverse entertainment you wish when you return," she said sharply.  "For now you will do as I command and woe to you if you do not." 

Karbû, who was a tall, rough-looking man, suddenly seemed diminished before the tiny Queen and was at once abashed.  With a final, withering glare, the Queen drew Zaira aside and pressed a packet into her hands.  It was an envelope, sealed with the Queen's own seal impressed in gold wax.  "This," she said, "is to be delivered into the hands of the Lord Elendil and no other, do you understand?"

Zaira nodded.  She bit her lip and tried to appear brave for the Queen's sake, though she was only fourteen and had never gone anywhere alone before, certainly not across Arandor in the company of a man who looked at her as if he wanted to tear off all her clothes and make her cry.  But the Queen was so brave and so kind, and she must not disappoint her.

At the last, Tar-Míriel kissed Zaira on the cheek and pressed something else into her hand.  A pendant hung upon a slender mithril chain, a soft pale pearl as big as her thumbnail.  She began to protest, but the Queen laid a finger to her lips.  "Hush, now.  It was mine once, a gift from my grandmother, Inzilbêth the Queen, before she died, but now I would see you wear it, as I have no daughter to give it to."

With shaking fingers, Zaira undid the tiny clasp and fastened the pendant around her throat.  She closed her collar around it, that Karbû might not see it, and felt its weight above her heart.  Warmed by her skin, it felt soft yet sad, like the Queen herself.  It was not uncommon for the Queen to give gifts to her ladies-in-waiting, but these were token gifts of jewelry or clothing, of good quality yet impersonal.  She should not give me such a pretty thing, thought Zaira, for she might have a daughter one day.  The King was growing old, but it was said that when he returned he would be young again and would live forever.  Perhaps then the Queen would have children and would not be so sad.   

"We'll live forever," said Karbû, "those of us that follow him and worship Morgoth.  You Nimruzîrim will eat dust then, and bleed for Him."  He leaned to the side in his saddle, toward her but not quite touching her, and gave her a cruel smile.  "I'm very good at making Nimruzîrim suffer.  Always going on about the Lords of the West, Eru this and Eru that, but they always scream in the end when they burn.  Have you ever been to the temple, sweetling?"

Her eyes filling with tears, Zaira turned away from him.  "You're very cruel."

He laughed.  "It's a day and a half to Rómenna, sweetling.  If I can't have my fun one way, I'll have it another."

The sound and sweet air of the sea brought memories of Andúnië.  Zaira remembered her father, tall and gray-eyed, a great captain of the Guild of Venturers, and her mother, soft-spoken, tending the yavannamír trees in the garden of their house.   Her brothers, all much older than she, spent their days with their father, while her sister Isilmë plied her needle.  Sometimes the Lord Elendil would come to the house and, laughing in delight, lift Zaira up onto his shoulders and ask her would she like to come and be his daughter, for the Valar had only given him sons.

And she remembered, too, the dark days when the garden was silent and her father and brothers went no more to the Guild, but whispered amongst themselves when they thought the women were not listening.  They were afraid, though Zaira knew not why and her mother would not say.  She knew only that in the middle of the night her parents had woken her, that her mother had dressed her for traveling and kissed her while Isilmë wept and refused to go. 

"Where am I going?" Zaira protested sleepily.  Her mother shushed her with another kiss and told her to be good and do as she was told.  Then her father kissed her and handed her to a man she did not know.  She vaguely remembered a journey through woods of birch and beech, but no more, not even the name of the man who bore her before him on his horse.  She must have slept, for she had no memory of the green pastures of the Mittalmar or of the Meneltarma towering over the kingly city of Armenelos.  Her next memory was of a soft bed big enough for all three of her brothers, and a kind woman, beautiful with bright eyes, soothing her and giving her warm milk to drink when she cried for her mother.  She was the Queen, she said, and Zaira must be good and stay with her for a time.

Tar-Míriel, who was called Ar-Zimraphel by all others, never spoke of Zaira's family, never revealed their fate, but once she was old enough to understand Zaira read the truth in the Queen's sad eyes.  Míriel held her while she wept and stroked her hair, while the other ladies, who were not of the Faithful, looked on in scorn.

The mewling of gulls in the air above the bay were a sharp, sorrowful music, and the salt-and-tar fragrance of the docks brought tears to her eyes even as they recalled the image of her father.  Out in the bay she could see Tol Uinen, and upon it Calmindon the great light-tower, but before that, anchored where the waters were yet calm and shallow were nine tall ships. 

She was weary from two days of riding and little rest.  On the road outside Armenelos, when they stopped to eat and stretch their legs, Karbû unexpectedly seized her by the arm and pulled her into a rough kiss.  She clawed and kicked at him until, laughing, he released her. 

"Oh, don't worry, sweetling.  Your little flower is safe from me…for now.  That's just a taste of things to come."

"Th-the Queen won't let you!"  The taste of him was in her mouth; she wanted to vomit.  And everywhere he had touched her, she wanted to scrub with hot water until the skin was raw.

"Oh?  And what is dear little Ar-Zimraphel going to do?  Threaten me with the wrath of the Valar and Manwë himself coming to chop off my manhood and all that nonsense?"

"Sh-she'll tell the King.  She said so."

At this, Karbû merely snorted with laughter.  "The King couldn't care less what his man does with some silly maid, and even less if his Queen complains about it.  But you're toothsome enough, for one of the Nimruzîrim.  Perhaps he'd be willing to forgive that, eh, if I shared you with him?"

They slept that night in an inn on the border of Arandor.  The room had a single bed, which Karbû promptly claimed for himself.  "If you want to sleep there," he chuckled at her, "you'll just have to share, won't you, sweetling?"

Instead, she spread her blanket on the creaky floor and lay awake most of the night, fearing he would come to her if she did not remain watchful.

In the morning, he noted her sleepy pallor and chuckled before seizing her again.  He was very tall and broad in the shoulder, lifting her off her feet and crushing her against his chest as he plundered her mouth a second time.   As he set her down, his hand, which had somehow slipped into her kirtle, found the mithril chain and snapped it from her neck.

"Give that back!" she cried.  "The Queen gave it to me!"

He only wrapped the chain around the pearl and dangled it tantalizingly out of reach.  "Well, you know what you have to do to get it back, don't you, sweetling?"

At the city gate, she gave her name and errand and was directed to the house of Elendil.  Almost upon the waterfront itself, surrounded by high walls, it was guarded by tall men who looked at her, then at Karbû and told them to wait.

Moments later, the gate opened and they were directed to a narrow courtyard where they could dismount.  A man met them at the head of the steps leading into the house. 

"Girl, you claim to have a letter from the Queen?" he asked impatiently.

"Are you the Lord Elendil?"  For indeed she could not remember what Elendil looked like, or if he would remember her.

"I am his steward.  Where is this letter you claim to have?"

"I have it here," she replied, "but the Queen says I am not to give it to any but the Lord Elendil himself."

The man's gaze flicked from her to Karbû.  "And who is this mercenary you bring with you?"

She started to answer, but Karbû, insulted by the steward's haughty tone, announced himself as one of the King's Men.  "You'd better show some respect," he said.

"Indeed," answered a voice from the steps behind them.  Zaira turned, saw the steward step aside as a tall, bearded man approached.  His voice was firm, though his eyes were not unkind.  "Child, what is this message you bring from Tar-Míriel the Queen?"

Only one of the Faithful would have used the Queen's true name, the Quenya name none were allowed to speak.  "Are you…are you the Lord Elendil?" Zaira asked.  He was very tall, she noted, and she tried not to appear disrespectful as she stared up his torso into his face.

"Yes, child.  I am Elendil son of Amandil, Lord of Andúnië.  Will you give me your message?"

Zaira went to the saddlebag and, standing on tiptoe, drew forth the Queen's message.  Pressing it to her heart as if a wind would come and blow it away, she delivered it into the hands of Elendil and watched as he carefully broke the seal and began to read.  She saw his face tighten, his brow furrow.  Once, he looked at her with sad, troubled eyes, then gave the letter to the nearest of the two young men who had come out with him. 

Elendil waited a moment, allowing the man to finish reading.  "Isildur," he said calmly, "do now what the Queen bids."

Nodding, Isildur gave the letter back to his father and came down the steps.  At a gesture, men appeared from within, converging upon Karbû.

"What are you doing?" Karbû demanded.  "I'm with the girl."

"You're coming with us," said Isildur.  Though his voice was low, the threat of violence hung in his words, and Karbû balked.

"I have guest-right," he protested.  "You can't do anything to me."

Isildur seized him by the arm and half-hauled him away.  Zaira heard him protest, then the gate to the inner courtyard was shut and she heard no more.

"You only have guest-right when I invite you into my house," murmured Elendil, watching them go, "which I most assuredly did not."

"Child."  The Lord of Andúnië was standing beside her now, his hand upon her shoulder.  "You are weary from your journey, and yet Armenelos is but a short trip.  Have you not rested at all?"

As she turned and looked up at him, a gentle finger touched the bruise swelling on one cheek.  The third time Karbû kissed her, she bit him and in his anger he struck her with the back of his hand.  "No, you need not tell me, child.  Nor should you fear him any longer.  You are to come with me now."

"But I-I do not understand.  The Queen said you were to return with me to—"

"Is that what she told you?  How prudent our Queen is, taking care to allay the suspicions of prying ears.  Nay, that is not the message she sent.  Here, child, read for yourself."

Zaira took the parchment between her trembling hands and began to read: "Tar-Míriel the Queen to Elendil son of Amandil, greetings.  Long I have pondered your invitation and though my heart desires above all things to walk freely again among the Faithful and to gaze upon you again with mine own eyes, I cannot come to you, knowing that through me Sauron the Deceiver would at last find a reason to strike at you, openly and without fear.  Even for a few stolen moments of joy, I would not pay such a price.  In my place I send instead my handmaiden.  She is Almiel, daughter of Eglarúth, who was once beloved among your captains in Andúnië.  Take her aboard your ships in my place, with my--"

"No, oh Eru, no—"

She could read no more through the mist of her tears and buried her face in Elendil's tunic as he held her close; the letter fell unheeded to the ground.  "Child," she heard Elendil murmur into her hair.   She was not certain, but she thought she heard his voice tremble with emotion.   "I had often wondered what became of Eglarúth's youngest child, for no word ever came to us and long we sought for you.  I should have known I might find you hidden in the Queen's house.  Zaira, she called you?  That is longing in Adûnaic."

"But she—she—"

"Is not coming with us, as we had hoped.  You did not read all of what she wrote, nay?  A Queen does not desert her people, she writes, however far fallen they may be.  She knows what doom awaits her, for she has some of her father's long sight, though she says not what doom that may be.  But you will come with us, aboard our ships.  Anárion, son, go within and bring your mother and your wife and tell them we have one more for the ships."

Two women presently came out and took Zaira from Elendil, leading her into the house.  Elendil followed, giving orders to his men.  They were all going to the ships, for the lord sensed some unease in the air and word had been brought that a storm was coming out of the West. 

Isildur met them by the quay.  A hard look was in his eyes.  When Elendil whispered a question to him, he answered only with the briefest of nods.

"Child," Elendil said afterward, when they were in the boat, "the Queen also wrote concerning this man, Karbû.  Do you know aught of him?"

Zaira nodded.  The sea in the bay had grown rough, tossing the little boat upon gray waves flecked with white, under a glowering sky.  One of the women, Elendil's wife, laid a blanket over her shoulders and bade her be calm, for they would soon be aboard ship.  "He is a cruel man."

"Was, child.  He was a cruel man, who delighted in the suffering of our people.  He is dead, executed by the Queen's order.  Before I read her words, I had wondered why she would send so foul a creature with you.  He has not touched you, has he?"

Embarrassed, Zaira bit her lip and stared at the planks as she shook her head.

"I nearly forgot," said Isildur.  He reached into his pocket and drew out a slender, glittering object.  Zaira recognized the Queen's mithril necklace, but when he held it out to her she saw blood along the chain and hesitated.

"Give that here, boy."  Elendil swiftly took the chain and dipped it over the side where the sea could wash the blood away.  Dabbing it dry with a fold of his cloak he placed it in Zaira's hand.  "Forgive my son his rough manners, child.  He means well by it, but sometimes forgets himself.  Did the Queen give this to you?"

She only nodded and let the women soothe her, for she had never been in a boat before and rocking motion made her nauseous.  It was much more comfortable aboard the ships, they assured her.  Elendil's wife replaced the necklace about her throat and patted her hair, while Anárion's wife tried to shush the crying infant in her arms.  The rowers plied their oars, urged by Elendil to greater speed, until they came within the shadow of the nearest ship.  Already droplets of rain speckled the sides of the little boat, vanishing in the foaming water.

A ladder dropped to the boat from the railing above and voices called down.  "Climb now," said the women, and Zaira obeyed, moving unsteadily in the rocking boat.  "Go quickly, for the storm is upon us."

As she gripped the rough hemp of the ladder, she heard Elendil murmur, "Thirty-nine days out to sea and they are sailing West.  The storm has already found them."

In Armenelos the sky was dark, the clouds blacker still and roiling with a fury Míriel had never seen before.  The ground was already trembling, as it had done so many times in the past few years when the Valar showed their wrath, yet now it did not stop.  She heard her women scream as the floor tilted, sending a heavy table crashing into the wall.  Glass fell and shattered; she saw Inzil lift her hands to shield her face; blood streamed between the woman's fingers.  The other handmaids were running even as the floor buckled under them.  One fell on her face, screaming at the others to wait as she tried to rise and could not.

Míriel watched them scatter and yet could not move.  Her heart was frozen in her breast, her breath coming in little gasps as she looked out the window and saw the buildings in the city swaying back and forth under the stormy sky.  One tower appeared to lurch, then collapsed upon the roof of the building beside it; she thought she saw people falling from the balconies into the wreckage even as the tower followed them down.

A pair of hands seized her and dragged her away from the window even as it shattered.  She felt shards of glass strike her back and shoulders as she turned, but did not see who had pulled her to safety.  One of the guards, perhaps, who even now was running for his own life. 

On the floor she saw the body of the woman who had fallen; a heavy piece of furniture had crushed her to the carpet before she could get up again.  The chamber was in ruins and yet the shaking continued.  Míriel heard crashing and screaming outside her door and, she thought, from farther beyond.  She would have taken cover under the doorway, as the city engineers had instructed her and her women to do when the earth began shaking, but in horror she saw the stonework above the lintel begin to crack and give way.

This was not, she knew now, a warning from the West.  This is the wrath of Eru, she thought.  This is the punishment, this is--  Then the floor by the window where she had been standing gave way and plummeted into the floor below it.  The wind howled into the chamber, muting the screams of the people trapped below her and carrying the cries of others far away.

"Pharazôn!" she shrieked.  "What have you done?"  She was sobbing now, her heart hammering in terror.  Above her, filling the open sky through the torn wall, she saw the Meneltarma wreathed in rivers of flame.  

Why did I not go, why did I not--?  Oh, Elendil!  Now it is too late, too late!  She wanted to run, to hide.  Her first instinct was to run for the Hallow of Eru, but the way was barred and her heart told her there was no more sanctuary on the Meneltarma.  There was nowhere else where she would be safe.  

A fierce tremor threw her to the floor.  As she struggled to get up, something heavy struck her in the back of the head.  A moment of pain, of panic, and she knew nothing more.

As my spirit rose out of the Abyss to pass beyond the circles of Arda, I saw Sauron's spirit rise also and flee laughing into the East.  I knew what he had wrought, had seen it in dreams before it ever happened, and felt his malice bearing down upon me when he visited the eve before, smiling and secure in his knowledge that Pharazôn was doomed from the beginning and all of us with him.  But in my human weakness I could not comprehend the immensity of his design, the breadth of his evil until it was too late.

Upon the tossing sea I glimpsed nine ships driven East by the wind.  Sadness as a moment of regret found me.  Elendil and his people yet lived, yet I did not mark whether Zaira was among them.  If she had not made it to Rómenna, if I in my foolishness had been too late in sending her, I did not want to know.

Yes, you who are reading this and wondering at the manner of my death have no doubt also read another text.  It does not speak much of me, save in the beginning when I was taken to wife against my will and in the end, when I died.  Had I lived, perhaps you would have heard more of my story, or perhaps not.  No great deeds or words were mine, nothing to inspire more than a sad footnote in the history of Arda.

Elendil has always surprised and touched me.  I imagine he was overcome with remorse when he wrote of the Downfall, that there was one he could not save.  My death as he described it was so very poetic, the device of one who would he was there.  It was almost as if he wished Ulmo to take me up in his arms plumed with foam and bear me away, to turn me into a sea bird like Elwing instead of crushing me against the flanks of the Meneltarma and sweeping me back into the Abyss. 

But Elendil was not there when I died.  And such wonders, such mercy from the Valar belonged to another Age.


bânath: Adûnaic word for "wife."

Narîka 'nBâri 'nAdûn: the Eagles of the Lords of the West are upon us!

Nimruzîrim: Adûnaic equivalent of Elendili, the Faithful.

B kitabdahe!: "Do not touch me!"

Míriel was born in SA 3117, Elendil in SA 3119.  As both the royal house and the Lords of Andúnië belong to the Line of Elros and have a prior history of intermarriage, it is not inconceivable that Míriel might have married Elendil had she not been forced by Pharazôn.