Summary: A conversation that will change the fate of Númenor forever.
Note: This story deals with events that happened long before the start of FoW, and though it stands on its own, it´s part of the backstory of the larger fic. Before he reached the throne of Númenor, Ar-Adunakhôr, bastard son of the King, had to fight another pretender, his cousin Alissha, who was allied with the lord of Andúnië and other nobles. This started a chain of events that would bring great change to Númenorean society, politics and religion. The Melkor cult was not started by Sauron, but brought to Númenor by merchants and soldiers who discovered it as it was practiced in Middle-Earth millennia after Melkor was defeated, in a quite evolved/distorted form.
About The Characters: Túrion is Ar-Adunakhôr, and Tar-Elendurë is Alissha.
Last but not least, thanks to Oshun and Erulisse for picking the nits!
"Still no news from the Hyarnustar?"
The captain looked down in grim silence, though his eyes were eloquent enough. They spoke of desperation, steeled into resignation by the slow trickle of days without news. Túrion nodded and gave him leave to go, but the man did not move.
"What is it? Something else?" he asked, fearing the reply. Nothing good had been reported to him in the last month.
"The... Tar-Elendurë´s army is advancing on Armenelos. They will be here in a day or two." A pause betrayed a brief moment of hesitation. "She is Queen now."
"Preposterous!" One of the aides, who sat next to the latticed window, spat in contempt. "No Ruling King has ever been made anywhere but in Armenelos!"
"And still, they hold the Sceptre", another objected. They had stolen it, smuggled it away from the Palace as they fled from the capital on the very night of his father´s death. They had taken it from him, as they would take everything else: his kingdom, his inheritance, his very life.
"Who is with her?" he asked, keeping his voice calm. The captain bowed.
"The lord of Andúnië, the lords of the East, and their people. Some say there are also Elves, but it may be a rumour."
Or it may not, Túrion thought. It was them who had settled in the Andustar decades ago, to build ships for the traitors. It was them who had carried messages from the gods in the West, filled their minds with their own beliefs, and taught his cousin to look down on him since she was a child. He could almost see her disdainful stare, they say that you shouldn´t have been born, your father was joined to another woman by unbreakable ties. You are unnatural, and you cannot be King.
If they were no cowards, as their old legends told, they would take the field and finish what they had started. They would ride beside her, their fair Queen of the silver diadem and the frozen grey eyes.
He stood from his seat.
"It is yet too soon to lose heart. My good-for-nothing of a son might still arrive before they reach the city, and he will bring the Umbar troops with him ", he reminded them. "Even if those traitors should empty their provinces, they will not be able to face real soldiers. They are only seamen."
And very powerful seamen, the thought crept into his mind at once. The fleet of Andúnië, the largest in the realm, had established a blockade on the harbour of Rómenna and all the lands that belonged to the conspirators, to prevent the landing of Túrion´s Middle-Earth allies. Only Forrostar was left alone, but the lord of Soronthil, a proud man who had refused to take sides, had threatened to wage war on whoever trespassed on his territory, and his strength by both sea and land was not to be tested. Túrion would have been trapped in the island since the beginning of the campaign if it hadn´t been for a stroke of luck. On the night when the conspiring lords were to leave the capital, Lord Anardil of Hyarnustar had been delayed by his wife´s illness, and he had been seized by Túrion´s men to be used as a hostage. His lands and harbours were theirs now, though to reach the Southwest they still had to take a longer route to avoid the blockade. This delay was proving fatal.
"You are our rightful King. Whatever your decisions are, we will abide by them", the captain declared solemnly. Túrion wondered how many of the people in that room would betray him before the end, as so many others had done. Unnatural. Bastard.
If only his father had not died so suddenly. If only he had acknowledged him as his sucessor before Court and Council. If only he could have acknowledged him before, as was the custom of Númenor, instead of yielding to pressure...
He had been pressured, Túrion knew. His father had loved him and his mother, the lowly cup-bearer, more than he ever loved his sour queen of the Elven blood. He had been proud of his conquests, and if he hadn´t named him heir it was because of those ambitious traitors and their unnatural friends. They were the unnatural ones; nothing in the world resisted decay except them, who lived on like embalmed corpses on the slopes of the Meneltarma.
"We will meet again tomorrow", he nodded, crossing the sea of bowed heads towards the door.
Walking through the Palace corridors felt like stepping inside a grave. Most of the courtiers had fled, and nobody crossed his path as he made towards his own quarters. It was as if a curse had fallen on the place on the night that the King had died, a curse from which it would not wake. Túrion had done all he could to fight it; he had intrigued, planned, battled, but still hadn´t been able to lift it. Now, it threatened to drown him.
He needed time. Time for the Umbarian troops to arrive with his son -they were loyal, and had stood by him through thick and thin in the mainland wars-, time to convince the lord of Soronthil that he was the better ally. But his enemies were drawing close, and they would not oblige him. His only hope lay in defending the city long enough, and he did not have the means to do so. Except for the few followers who remained to him, he only commanded the Palace Guard and the Armenelos Guard, who were well-trained in combat but cold towards his cause. The conspiracy that had allowed his cousin to steal the Sceptre had been hatched with officers of the Palace Guard, and there was talk of traitorous messages sent to Andúnië by both them and the Armenelos Guard.
Betrayal. It all came to that in the end.
As he crossed one of the doors, the sound of a familiar voice chanting prayers distracted him from the gloom of his thoughts. He stopped in his tracks, and looked inside.
A fire was burning in an old fireplace, in front of which a man knelt, holding a small object against his bent forehead. He was the one who was praying, with such intensity that he didn´t even hear Túrion´s footsteps as he approached him from behind.
"You should not waste your time, Hiram", he spat, unable to help himself. "The gods are with them."
"Not this one", his younger cousin replied, pausing in his prayers to look at him. His forehead was gleaming with sweat, and as he let the object slide on the palm of his hand, Túrion could recognize a polished iron figurine of a wolf.
He blinked, surprised. That figurine had been popular among the soldiers in the mainland, who engaged in all sorts of outlandish rites with fire and blood every time that they took to the field. They had worshipped one Melkor Lord of Wolves, a god of battles from what he could recall, but his cousin had never taken arms or set foot outside Armenelos.
"Why do you worship this god? He is a god for soldiers."
"Aren´t we all soldiers now?" Hiram grimaced, which made the wrinkles in his face show even further. Long ago, he had been like Túrion´s younger brother; now he looked much older than him as his lesser lifespan drew to a close. "But the Lord of Wolves isn´t just a god for soldiers, my lord. My father used to worship him, and when he died he prayed to him to guide his soul through the Darkness."
"Is that what you are asking of him now?" It would be fitting, he supposed, to start worrying about one´s soul.
"No, I am asking him to shatter the might of the Elves and the Lords of the West as he did long ago."
"What?" He picked up the figurine, studying it in newfound respect. "He fought Elves?" Some fragments of information were finding their way back to his mind, from the things he had heard from soldiers at the Second Wall. His forehead curved in a frown. "But he died."
"He died, yes. But only to be reborn from the ashes of the sacred fire, stronger and mightier than before, and bring ruin upon his enemies."
"Easy to do, when you are a god." And still, in spite of his flippant tone, Túrion was thinking hard. For all his life, he had heard that the gods lived in the West, that they favoured the Elves, and that they were on Tar-Elendurë-´s side. Other worships, like the Melkor of the soldiers or the Uinen of the many breasts of the Umbarians, were strange deviations born in lands that were themselves strange. But if his cousin, who had been born a textile dealer in Armenelos... "How many people worship this Melkor here?"
"Oh, many! Only in Armenelos, there are about a hundred priests, and I´ve heard that in the East there are more", Hiram replied, oblivious to the turmoil in Túrion´s mind.
"Are there believers in the Palace guard?"
His cousin took the amulet back, lowering his head in reverence.
"At least half of the Palace guards pray to the Lord. They have their own priest. And he has worshippers even higher up." He paused for a moment, staring at the flames until his forehead curved in a frown. "The lord of Hyarrostar is a believer, everybody knows."
"But he is with them! With the lord of Andúnië and his Elven friends!" Túrion cried in disbelief. "What do his allies think of that?"
"I don´t know, maybe they need him." Hiram was no strategist, but he had the wisdom of the plain folk. "They need his men and his bread, and so it does not matter."
"And would it matter to him? Would he willingly help the enemies of his god?"
"Some people are weak of character. The lord of Soronthil, now, he would not associate with them. He is one tough-headed man, a priest who lived in his palace for a while told me."
"The lord of Soronthil is a worshipper of Melkor?"
Túrion had turned his back to the gods for most of his life, since they would not approve of his existence. He knew of the power that enthralled the hearts and minds of people, but viewed it as a foe that should be kept at bay. This had saved him the doubt and the suffering, but it had also blinded him to many things.
Things that could win him back his throne.
"Do you want to pray with me, my lord?" Hiram´s voice came as if from a great distance. Túrion shook his head.
"Find all the priests of Melkor who live in Armenelos, and bring them to me. Now."
"I will make it matter."
The thunderstruck Hiram tried to ask another question, but Túrion was already storming back to the corridor. His heart pounded in his chest, and his face was hot like the fire that his cousin worshipped. The fire where Melkor had died, to be reborn again and bring ruin upon his enemies.
Túrion, too, could be reborn. His mind raced ahead of his steps: from the ashes of the bastard, a champion of Melkor against the Lords of the West, no!, of Men against Elves would grow. He would take the power that Tar-Elendurë and the Lord of Andúnië had wielded, and turn it against them. And then people would see who was a man like them, and who was unnatural.
That night, the fire that he kindled would burn the entire West.