Indilzar anxiously watched the oarsmen board the ship, his ship. Of course, they were the best trained slaves, brought in especially from Khand and upper Harad and cultivated for their strength, and had pulled the oars of many a vessel before this, but such brutes were not always careful. They toiled in the holds, moving to the time of beat drummed out by the oarmaster, their backs straining and pulling with the rise and dip of the thole that was the fulcrum of the oar. They had no respect for the waves, for the artistry of the shipwright, the one they called the balkumagân.
Ships he had made before, shaping keels and laying timbers since the time he could walk, but this work was his best, he thought. Rothzimra, he called her, for the graceful swath of foam she made as she cut through the waves, though that was not the name by which she was to be known. From the very beginning, before he ever went to Forostar to supervise the cutting of the lightweight fir from which he would build her keel, she had had a name. Aglarrâma, Castle of the Sea, and by the drawings the King's minister gave him, Indilzar could see she was intended as much for Ar-Pharazôn's luxury as for war, for his majesty as much as for its strength.
The design was not his, but the traditional triple-oared hull of most Númenórean warships. Nor were the colors of his choosing, sable and gold according to the King's preference, but all else, from the shaping of the timbers to the way the rivets were laid into the hull, that belonged to Indilzar. And, unlike the lords and captains who stinted on materials and labor and then wondered why their vessels foundered, the King was generous with his purse because Ar-Pharazôn at least understood the need for good craftsmanship. Under the supervision of the royal minister assigned to the shipyards of Anadûni, Indilzar had free rein to purchase whatever materials and men were needed to build Aglarrâma.
Not since the old line of Lords had been driven from Anadûni had he had a customer who trusted the quality of his work enough not to complain about the price. The new Lord, though utterly loyal to the King, was as niggardly as he was ignorant of the sea and could not seem to grasp why a cheaply made vessel would not hold water.
But here was his chance to craft a queen of ships, the like of which had not graced the shipyard since he was a boy and his father had set him to sanding planks for one of the Lord Gimilkhâd's ships, a trireme to be given as a gift to Tar-Palantír the King.
"The work will be wasted," Îbal had sniffed. "The King can't tell the difference between a yardarm and gunwale." Still, given the prince's largesse, Indilzar's father had crafted a ship that was the talk of the shipyards for two seasons after that and brought new customers and much-needed work to the family.
Ah, attû would be well pleased with this ship, I know, thought Indilzar. He rubbed a thoughtful hand over the railing of the forecastle, feeling the smoothness of the wood under his callused fingers. Below deck, his men were fitting the leather sleeves that would keep the sea from entering the lowermost oarports.
"Hmmph! If you paid as much attention to your poor wife as you did to your ships, you silly old rab, I would look forty years younger." Zamin gave her husband a familiar swat and sent him off to work each morning with the same complaint, but she was more than happy to boast of her husband's fine work to the neighbors.
On the day his work was done, an izindu-bêth was called out to toss a handful of salt over the deck and read the patterns made by the windblown grains. The old man stooped and muttered, grumpily pushing Indilzar's crew back with the complaint that their breath was stirring the divine design. Indilzar merely smiled; the prophet had been casting predictions over ships since he was a boy and made a show of his work no matter how well the onlookers behaved.
Once, twice the izindu-bêth rapped on the deck planks, then rose with a creak of old joints and pronounced Aglarrâma a dolphin among ships, that would glide over the waves with an ease and grace possessed by few.
"He says that every time," grumbled Narû, "even when the ship sinks."
A distant thunderclap rolled ominously over the bay and was lost in the mewling of the gulls. Of late, there had been much rumbling, though it was not the season for storms, and at times the ground shook, but as the izindu-bêth dismissed all talk of portents as nonsense spouted by the heretic Nimruzîrim, Indilzar gave it little thought.
And then, on a crisp autumn day, the King himself came in pomp from Armenelos. The bay was filled with ships, cogs and galleys and triple-tiered warships bearing soldiers. Slaves scurried about their business, loading provisions and weapons, and other slaves came aboard to pull the oars. All of Anadûni was rife with talk of Ar-Pharazôn's new venture, to sail West and conquer forbidden lands. There would be great and glorious battle, and, more importantly to the mercenaries who frequented the dockside taverns, there were rich spoils to be had.
"They say there are pearls on the very beaches," said the tavern owner. Indilzar offered no comment over his day's end tankard of ale, but watched the greed take the various mercenaries. They would skewer any Elda or Vala who came between them and their share, they boasted, and some wanted land. Middle Earth was good if you wanted steady work, they said, but if you wanted to settle down with your plunder you needed land and there was precious little of that left in either Númenor or on the mainland. But Aman, they said, the western shores had land and plunder to spare, and now the Lords of the West were going to have to share the wealth.
Indilzar listened with the ear of one who had heard such talk many times before; in the morning, they would stagger blearily to the docks to hire themselves out. The problem with mercenaries, the tavern owner quietly confided, was they wanted too much and spent most of what they had on drink and women.
Give me my shipyard and good materials and I'll be happy, Indilzar thought. His idea of contentment was an unfinished keel, a pile of good-quality timbers and his tools. Music to him was the knock of hammers and rasp of hand saws, and if he spent a bit more time in the shipyards than was usual it was only because Zamin was driving him to distraction with her fluttering and preening over the coming parade. She would be the envy of all the other balkumagân wives, she said, and she was so looking forward to seeing for herself if the Queen was really as beautiful as everyone said.
"That ought to stop that silly daughter of Azrubêth's from going about and telling everybody she's the fairest thing in the land," sniffed Zamin.
Indilzar thought it best not to tell his wife that she and the other women would probably not be close enough to get an eyeful of the King or his wife, whom, it was said, very few people ever saw. As for the King himself, he neglected to mention that Ar-Pharazôn had already visited the shipyard to inspect the ship and compliment Indilzar and his crew on their craftsmanship.
"So worthy a vessel I have not seen since the gift my father made to Ar-Inziladûn the King well-nigh seventy years ago," he said, his eyes still on the sweeping curves of Aglarrâma.
"My father crafted that ship, sire."
Ar-Pharazôn's eyes dropped to him as if surprised Indilzar had a voice; the royal minister had instructed the builders not to speak unless asked a direct question. But the King did not seem displeased with the soft-spoken declaration and smiled a little. "Did he now?"
Indilzar nodded and bowed.
"Azrunitîr saw many conquests ere she was retired. If Aglarrâma serves me half so honorably, you will have done your work well, balkumagân."
Afterward, the royal minister was instructed to pay him and his crew a handsome sum, far above the amount they expected. Zamin twittered at the purse Indilzar brought home and took a silver mirian to buy herself a hair ornament for the parade. If the coin would buy her husband a few precious hours of peace, she could buy herself two ornaments.
At least he did not have to endure her fluttering during the parade, as he and his crew were given a place of honor by the dock where Aglarrâma was anchored. Zamin balked, but another mirian and several copper canaths pressed into her hand with his express instructions to treat herself in the marketplace quieted her considerably.
"It is a wonder you have not run out of coins yet, friend," Narû commented dryly.
They stood close enough to see the fine golden links of the King's mail and the shimmer of his turquoise surcoat, even the jewels on the sword girt at his side, though this time he did not acknowledge them when he passed. Behind him, pale and slender, Ar-Pharazôn's queen walked on the arm of one of his ministers. She was a small woman, but the dockside breeze stirred her veil into her face and Indilzar could not see her clearly.
Then came a double row of men robed in black and crimson carrying strange banners; these were black, with images of an iron crown upon them, and stirred much comment. Indilzar had seen the device before, for the Lord of Anadûni bore it with him upon a medallion wherever he went in the city.
In the market where he purchased nails and other supplies, Indilzar heard talk of a new god brought to Armenelos from Middle Earth, one who promised his worshippers the gift of eternal life. Narû, who had visited the capital two years past, said a great temple had been built near the King's house, and the smoke of offerings rose from it day and night.
"A strange worship they have there," he reported, shaking his head. "The god wants the blood of men. The King lets him have slaves, criminals and some of the Nimruzîrim that are guilty of treason. I didn't go to see, it all seems so foreign and…well, not what I'm used to seeing."
"He's promised the King eternal life if he makes war on the West," said Ulbar, who had also been to Armenelos. Unlike Narû, he had ventured into the temple and told what he saw. "It's a lot of blood at first, but the izindu-bêth sometimes sacrifices animals and it's not much different. The priests say they're not people that they bleed, just slaves and traitors, and it's so the god can live."
Indilzar had heard talk of the King's zigûr, who had brought the new god and was His chief priest. He was a great lord from the East, they said, a war-captive who had risen to become the King's first councilor. They loved Lord Sauron in Armenelos, said Ulbar, because he rid the city of traitors and criminals and gave alms to the poor. Indilzar already knew the one they called the Lord of Gifts would walk in the procession; he and his crew were instructed to be most respectful when the King passed with his wife and chief councilor.
But Indilzar was not prepared for the tall, golden creature who beamed at the crowd as he passed in Ar-Pharazôn's wake; he had expected an Easterling, or one of the Haradrim with their kohl-rimmed eyes. Lord Sauron walked before the priests of Morgoth, bearing an evergreen Bough of Return in his arms, and he was smiling, at once abashed and proud at the honor he was given.
Oiolair was such an old-fashioned custom, one that reminded Indilzar of the old Lords of Anadûni and the simple rituals they observed when setting out. Most captains scoffed at the expense of obtaining a cutting from Nísimaldar and said they needed nothing to do with the ways of the Nimruzîrim to assure themselves a fair wind. Behind him, Indilzar heard several of his men murmur at sight of the Bough, but then, mariners did all manner of strange things when going to sea, sometimes resurrecting long-dead customs if they thought it would help them. Indilzar saw nothing amiss in the Bough; he merely thought it odd that Ar-Pharazôn did not take it from the councilor's hands and place it in his wife's, for no matter what the ritual it was always the captain's wife or mother who blessed the ship.
This so-called Lord of Gifts must be very high in the King's favor, indeed, he thought, and was surprised again after the ceremony when Ar-Pharazôn took his wife's tiny hand and placed it in Sauron's, entrusting the councilor with the safety of both his realm and his queen. Ar-Zimraphel appeared to flinch when Sauron covered her hands with both of his and bowed to the King, though perhaps that was just Indilzar's imagination. So small she was that the slightest gale might have tipped her over; she seemed like a child, trapped between the two men.
Had custom allowed, once the King boarded Aglarrâma and the plank was drawn up, Indilzar would have left. This was ever the most difficult part for him, watching his creation leave its berth. They usually did not return to him, or if they did, they were worn and rent, ill-used children who needed his care. Always when building a warship, he told himself that this time he would not grow too attached, for always they would be damaged, inevitable casualties of one sort or another.
Narû tugged at his arm as the crowd began to disperse. "Come along, balak," he urged gently, "we've still got that contract from Lord Gimilthon to fill. Go on, change into your work clothes and I'll meet you back here. The lads have the day off, but we two old salts can still get in a bit of sanding and sawing, eh?"
Indilzar cast a glance at the ribs of the vessel he had been working on and nearly forgot in the shadow of Aglarrâma. Gimilthon had agreed to be patient, seeing as how the other client was the King and the work was for a good cause, but, as he warned, his patience had limits and he wanted his ship by winter.
"Ah, friend, you are right," Indilzar murmured, "as always."
A little thunderclap rolled through the bay of Anadûni, and was lost in the noise of the holiday crowd.
Although nowhere is it said that Númenor enslaved the peoples they conquered, it is a reasonable assumption that by this period in their history they were probably doing so.
Rothzimra: (Adûnaic) "Foam-jewel"
Anadûni: (Adûnaic): Andúnië.
Aglarrâma: (Adûnaic) Alcarondas
rab: (Adûnaic) dog
izindu-bêth: (Adûnaic) a "true-sayer" or prophet.
Nimruzîrim: (Adûnaic) Elendili, the Faithful.
balak: (Adûnaic) shipbuilder.
Ar-Inziladûn: the Adûnaic name of Tar-Palantír. It seemed more probable that Pharazôn, who has already changed his wife's Quenya name to Adûnaic, would choose to do the same for his predecessor.
Azrunitîr: (Adûnaic) "Sea-kindler."