Chapter One...
"The Rôthgimil"

The vast unclouded sky's black canvas had set before it a veil of twinkling stars, whose shining light caressed the sea's calm waters. The lowly waves rolled lazily atop each other, glistening in the silvery tint of the starry heavens. The endless sighing of the contented sea rose and fell in the arms of a warm easterly breeze that swept over its shimmering surface. Yet the serene maritime setting was disturbed by a hulking shadow that cut through the peaceful water, riling it to a streaming foam at the bow. Bright lanterns of yellow flame hung upon the ship's tall masts, and their radiance shone upon a still and peaceful deck. The helmsman was nodding at the wheel, and the watch was half dozing. The breeze hardly filled the sails and the creek of the rigging was muted to a gentle slap, like the quiet rocking of a cradle.

Two figures stood upon the deck, and both their faces were turned to the night sky. One had an arm raised, pointing to the stars.
"See there lady Azrûphel! That is Alcarinque "The Glorious", ever bright in the night sky. And that cluster of stars over there, is Anarrima. And glowing like a jewel of fire is red Borgil, and the other star who shines alike is red Carnil. And so we see silver Elemmire and her kin, blue Luinil and silver Nenar. Lumbar also shines dimly over there. And so we come to blue Helluin, who resides at the foot of those stars that make up Menelvagor, the swordsman of the sky. See how his magnificent belt shines! And yonder, above Menelvagor and Borgil, are the "Netted Stars" of Remmirath. And look at the star eagle that is Soronume, and our sky friend Telumendil. And can you see those seven bright stars over there? That is Valacirca, "The Sickle of the Valar". And lastly, there is Wilwarin, flying high with her starry wings."

Azrûphel's grey eyes took in Varda's ancient labour with the same innocent wonder and delight of the newly awakened elves of Cuivienen, for whom the starry gifts were made. They had always held an unearthly beauty, yet never had their names been told to her, and neither had she seen them from the vast reflective setting of the open sea, that gave their lofty beauty a sharper resonance to the yearning heart.

"Am I being foolish Balkazîr?" she asked with eyes still gazing skyward. "These are the very stars that I have known in all the days of my life. And yet they seem different to me now, as if what I had long taken to be fair milky opals, buttoned onto a dark canvas, were suddenly revealed to be sparkling iridescent diamonds, set upon a vast landscape of black velvet! Their grand beauty now pierces my heart. How can this be?"

Balkazîr laughed. "You have had but a taste of the enamouring power of the sea," he said. "The land-lovers speak ill of it, and name it the sailors vice. But we mariners call it the sea-longing. When it takes you, your heart is awakened to the real beauty of the open water; the starry nights and the fiery dawns. The salt tinged airs and the sparkling waves of a clear noon. The boundless freedom and the memorable adventure. We sailors would even view the raging storms to be our necessary adversaries within that beauty, that are not to be feared but challenged, to prove our hardihood as unequalled mariners who would conquer the sea's vast watery-scape."

Azrûphel was moved by his words, however, they saddened her. "And yet I am a woman of Yôzâyan," she said, "who can never become one of the seafaring folk. Vain is the sea-longing that has arisen in me."

"Perhaps," said Balkazîr. "Yet I am comforted that you would understand our seaward love the better. For ever in Anadûnê's history have our women been the chief foes to the sailors love of the sea, heeding not our passion and purpose. For to my endless delight, I have tread the sea's rolling pathways for over one hundred years, only to return home to the accusing sermons of my wife. But the sea is not my mistress as she claims, but a fair realm where I would dwell for a season. For the hard stony ground of Anadûnê would wound my feet, and I would scarce lay still in a bed or hold myself upon a horse, if I am parted long from the water. Would it that all the sailors wives had your newfound understanding, happier indeed would be our wedded lives."

Azrûphel looked at him for a moment and a slow smile lightened her face. "And the glory of Yôzâyan would be diminished had it not men such as yourself, to sail to distant lands and extend her power."

Balkazîr mirrored her smile. "Well said my lady. That is surely a most important point of which our wives do not see. For that is ultimately our purpose, as not a lady in all of Anadûnê could live with the niceties that are her due, without the seafaring men who would bring back home the riches from distant lands."

Azrûphel turned again to the sky, thinking now of their destination. This voyage was her first away from Númenor, and she could hardly contain her excitement. From the journey's start she had acquainted herself with the ship's crew, mingling with the sailors and listening with fascination to their many tales of adventure. And so she had befriended Balkazîr who was the ship's boatswain, and had sat with him for many days and nights, listening to his shiplore. It had been a most pleasant voyage, and it saddened her to know they were near its end.

"So, the morrow shall finally bring us to our destination?" she asked, a little wistfully.

"Indeed my lady," Balkazîr replied. "Fifty days journey it is from Rómenna. Thus tomorrow, at dawn, shall you see the hills of Middle-earth in the fiery distance, set before the prow."

They both fell silent, with the lofty stars before their eyes and the lowly swishing of breaking foam in their ears. The Númenorean ship effortlessly made its way eastward, gliding smoothly through the soft waves. Of its three sturdy masts that pierced the sea airs, only the mainsail was in use. Its golden spread beat in rhythm to the gentle thrust of the warm easterly breeze that set a widening arc of wavy disturbance in the ship's wake. Astern, and displayed upon the ship's escutcheon, was its name written in gold, "Rôthgimil" the Sea-Star. She was a cargo ship, used to transport the goods and produce of her owner, who was a lord of note among the Númenorean settlements that lay to the north of Umbar.

Azulzîr was his name, who had left Númenor some ten years before to further his wealth in the hinterlands of Middle-earth. In Númenor, he was held to be of some importance by virtue of his noble birth, being of a wealthy family that was historically aligned to the faction of the King's Men. But the grim affiliation he had inherited through birth, was not complimented by his mood. For he had a kindly streak that moved him more to pity and understanding than to ready disdain and the forcefulness of will. Therefore the deeds of his peers filled him with sorrow, and he was greatly disturbed by the unwholesome change in the land, that Sauron, the High Priest of Melkor had instigated.

For years he tried to balance his views, quietly giving his support to the king and his decrees to save face, and yet secretly showing leniency and understanding to the Faithful and those of like thought. But at the burning of Nimloth, the White Tree of the Kings, and the open worship of the Dark and of Melkor its Lord, a dread fell upon him. Yet he did not have the courage to join with the people of the Faithful, whose beliefs he adhered to in heart, for fear of the persecution he would have endured. Therefore to protect his family as well as himself, he sought to begin anew, elsewhere, and away from the spying and dark courtly intrigues of the day.

He thereafter set himself up in Middle-earth as many a lord did in those days. Yet his wife, who had always been a true supporter of the King's Men, would not give up her life in Númenor. Therefore, for the sake of his wife's livelihood, and the maintaining of their lofty position in Númenorean society, Azulzîr was forced to remain aligned with the King's Men. But life seemed far better to him in Middle-earth as he was master of all he surveyed in his estate, without the prying eyes and accusing whispers of Sauron's spies. And though he became known as a moderate King's Man by the neighbouring lords, he got on well enough with most of them, and was therefore content. Wide plantations he had and plenty of livestock, which generated much wealth for himself, his family and for Númenor.

"Balkazîr," said Azrûphel, breaking the silence between them.

"Yes my lady?" he answered.

"There is a star that you did not mention, and yet it is one that even the 'land-lovers' would know of."

"Ah yes, you speak of Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope, which is Earendil, our great forefather of old."

"Indeed, though in my youth I was taught to call it Rothinzil, the Foam-Flower of the sky."

Balkazîr looked to the starlighted heavens and sighed. "Gil-Estel is most seen at sunrise and sunset as the Morning and Evening Star. But we have long past the hour of twilight, and he is now very faint."

He pointed to a spot and Azrûphel could see a dim star that radiated a weak flickering silver light. "But that star labours to shine," she observed. "Surely it cannot be the mighty Rothinzil, as I have heard that even late at night his radiance would vie with that of the moon itself."

"And so it used to be years ago," said Balkazîr sadly. "Yet with the coming of Zigûr, the High Priest of Mulkhêr, and the slaying of Nimloth the White Tree, Gil-Estel began to fade. Few who dwell on land noticed this at first, but we mariners observed the strange change at once. And as the years pass Earendil has grown fainter still, so that even at dawn and at dusk when he was at his brightest, he shines even as you see him now, flickering cold and faint as if he sails Vingilot further away from us, shunning his descendants at last." Balkazîr bowed his head and sighed.

Azrûphel looked at him, a little perturbed. "But why would Earendil shun the people of Yôzâyan now?" she asked. "The might of Ar-Pharazôn and our people is such that the world has never seen. Are we not unmatched in power, wealth and stature? What forefather would not be proud of such glorious descendants!"

Balkazîr raised his head and looked long into her grey eyes as if attempting to read what lay in her heart. His lips formed a silent word but he thought better of it, and instead, just nodded his head. "What forefather indeed," he finally said.

But Azrûphel looked upon him with a sharp eye as she read something in his hesitation. "If there is more you would say to me boatswain, I would hear it," she said.

"And what more would you have me say on this matter my lady?" he asked.

"I would have you speak your mind," she replied.

"Ah, and yet the days have become perilous for one to speak with a loose tongue?" he countered.

"Perhaps, but only for those who would have questionable attitudes as to the purposes of our great realm," she returned.

"And do you think I am one of those of whom you speak?" asked the boatswain.

"I do not know," she replied. "Yet it is not lost upon me that you named the stars in the tongue of elves, our purported enemies. And you failed even to name the Star of Earendil by its Adûnaim title."

"Of that I am guilty," Balkazîr replied, "yet my reasons for doing so are simple. For to a true mariner our relationship with the stars is most personal and intimate. You yourself felt that strange connection. They are our shining guides and our comfort, never ceasing in their lofty duty to pave our watery pathways as eternal beacons. And so I would honour their immortal glory in addressing them by the names they were first given.
For the tides of time may change all upon the earth. Ancient lands may fall and new ones rise. Vast realms with all their numerous peoples and grand policies may thrive and yet fall to decay. The weathers of the world may cloud over, and the very airs should darken in the sweeping winds of raging storms. Yet the stars would endlessly shine above all the turmoil of the world, and remain consistent in their unequalled beauty and serene peace. What sailor, even those of the King's Men of Anadûnê, would fail to honour their original titles as a matter of grateful reverence to their creation, and unceasing service that they render to us upon the high seas."

Azrûphel stared at him with wide eyes and shook her head. "You surprise me Balkazîr, as I did not know that sailors were poets in disguise."

The boatswain laughed. "That, we are not," he replied. "For never will you find a more rowdy group of men who would speak in the most colourful of tongues that would cause a lady to blush. Yet we would find our 'poets' voice in matters that touch us near. Our innocent love and passion for the sea and all its wonders would surely reveal this."

"Then let me reveal something of myself also," said Azrûphel. "For I did not mean to accuse you of anything untoward. These are strange times for our people, and beneath our proud and noble exterior lies much confusion and doubt. Our people and beliefs are divided, yet I am neither for one or the other. I believe in understanding minds and purposes rather than in the forceful dominion over them. I love my country and am loyal to the king, yet I will not shut my mind to all that is not regarded as the legitimate policy of Yôzâyan. You have nothing to fear from me."

Balkazîr studied her for a moment, seeing that what he thought he read in her was now vindicated. A slow smile rose. "May I be so bold as to say that you remind me of your father."

"Then you are mistaken," replied Azrûphel with a raised brow. "For all who have seen my mother know that I went with her."

"In looks that is true," said Balkazîr. "Yet in all else you are truly the daughter of Azulzîr."

Azrûphel laughed beautifully, and turned again to the stars. Balkazîr gazed at her, smiling broadly. "And that is something," he said under his breath.

They heard a door close and saw an approach from the fore of the ship. As the shadowy figure drew nearer, it passed under the starlight and was revealed to them. A fair young woman she was, of long brown hair and slight frame.

"Have you come to admire the stars Adûninzil?" said Azrûphel. "They are most beautiful this night." She held out her hand. "Come, I have just learnt their names and would tell them to you."

Adûninzil curtsied before her lady and bowed to the boatswain. "You have my thanks, my lady," she said. "Yet our stargazing must wait as I was sent for you."

"Ah! My mother," said Azrûphel to the darkening of her face. "She would keep me cooped up like some captive thing, denying me the sights, pleasures and companionships of the voyage. Must I..."

"Forgive the interruption my lady," said Balkazîr. "Yet your mother is right as the hour is late and I would have us all go to our belated rest."

Azrûphel's protest died upon her lips, and she gave a long sigh and soft nod. "Very well master boatswain," she said. "I shall retire. And I thank you for your most interesting insights this fair night. It has been most pleasurable."

Balkazîr smiled. "As it has been for me, my lady," he replied. "And though you are made to retire earlier than you would like, it might be a good thing as I would have you awaken before the dawn, and meet me here upon the deck. A most welcome treat shall await you."
At that, Azrûphel's face lit up, but Balkazîr raised a halting hand as she thought to ask for more as to his words. "Sleep now and rise early, then all will be revealed."

He bowed then to the two women and turned away, hailing the helmsman as he moved to the stern. Azrûphel watched his retreating shadowed form for a moment before she turned towards the bow and made her way to her quarters with Adûninzil at her side. She opened the cabin door and was greeted by what she felt was a misplaced opulence that made her wince whenever she entered.

A spacious bed took to the centre and was flanked by an oaken dresser of ornamental design with a large shapely mirror placed on top of it, and a small stool of leather seating that was stood in front of it. A nightstand was tucked into one corner and an intricately carved walnut wardrobe of cumbrous form, was backed against the wall at the other end. All these stood upon the twisted tufts of a carpet of exquisite make. Sweetly scented candles upon the dresser lit the room, giving a warm colour to the silk-covered skins that hinted at the luxury of bedded wealth. The bedstead, carved of marvellous design, was covered by hangings of silk, draping velvet and flowing golden cloth which were lined with fur and richly embroidered.

Upon the bed sat a woman who complemented the room well. She was dark haired and very fair of face, yet her grey eyes held a sharpness that rumoured a coldness of mood, and the pout of her lips and her imperious posture spoke of a stern and proud woman. She wore rich garments that fit her well, and bore silver jewellery that glistened about her neck and slender arms. A maiden also was there, kneeling upon the bed and braiding her lady's long dark hair with gold. The woman looked up to Azrûphel and Adûninzil's entry, and her piercing eyes hardened.

"Where did you find her?" she asked.

Adûninzil made as if to answer, but Azrûphel spoke for herself. "She found me admiring the stars as I took in the night airs."

"And you were in the rowdy company of those sailors, I deem," said the lady.

"I would not stand alone with friends nearby."

"Friends!" the lady exclaimed, and her expression soured, as if something unsavoury had touched her lips. "The daughter of Narûphel shall not have the uncouth sailors for friends! How I wish this dreary voyage would end, and we could leave this taxing ship."

"When will you stop mother!" said Azrûphel with exasperation.

"When you cease to defy me!" came the curt answer. "Will you never understand your place as a lady of good breeding?"

"And what does that mean?" came the heated reply. "To seal myself in this stifling wooden cell with its sickeningly sweetened scents and sullen company!" Narûphel's eyes narrowed, but Azrûphel ignored their warning. "Or would you have me sweep regally onto the deck for an hour or two each day with the airs and graces of a pompous queen, spouting haughty comments on the filth of the ship and its crew with an upturned nose that would shoo away all who came under its flaring snout!"

Adûninzil and Urîphêr, the girl who knelt upon the bed, attempted to choke back their rising laughter.

Narûphel shot them a venomous glance. "Get out, the both of you!" she said after a poisonous pause. "I have the insolence of one churlish girl to deal with and I shan't have two more!"

Urîphêr rose swiftly and went to Adûninzil's side. They both curtsied to their lady and turned to Azrûphel who took them into her arms and kissed each of their brows. "Rest easy," she said as they exited the cabin for their own.

"Rest easy?" said Narûphel with bitterness, as she watched the door close. "I should punish them both for their impertinence." She looked up to her daughter with annoyance. "And you too!"

"Oh come mother," said Azrûphel as she came forward and knelt, laying her head upon her mother's lap. "I am sorry for the insult, but I cannot be caged like an imprisoned bird or brought to heel like an obedient hound. I am just not made that way."

Narûphel sighed, gently stroking her daughter's long dark locks. "There has always been a defiance in you that would gainsay all sense of authority. It was endearing in your youth, but you are a maiden no longer. You must do away with such childishness and behave like the lady you are!"

Azrûphel raised her head to look at her mother with a little hurt, but she received a cold stare in return. "I am truly sorry," she said remorsefully and lowered her sad eyes, but her mother put a hand to her daughter's chin and raised her face to reconnect their gaze. Azrûphel saw the chill in her mother's eyes fade to a rising warmth, and a soothing smile rose to placate her.

"Perhaps I will forgive you," said Narûphel. "After all, if any should be blamed for that confounded trait in you, it should be me."

Azrûphel smiled. "I know," she said. "Father has told me many tales of when you were my age."

Narûphel sighed, looking upwards in thought. "Yes," she said, recalling old memories. "I was a spirited girl then, being strong, proud, fearless and beholden to no-one."

"And is that not how the women of Yôzâyan should be, to complement their mighty men?" asked Azrûphel, with mischief.

Narûphel looked down at her with a brow raised. "Now you are trying to be clever."

"Another trait I no doubt received from you," said Azrûphel as she got up and knelt upon the bed. There she took to her mother's hair, continuing to braid from where Urîphêr had left it.

The mirror sat in front of them, reflecting their combined beauty with sculptured clarity. Narûphel studied her daughter's features. The oval shape of her face; the slender brows; the sharp grey eyes; the soft nose; and the delicate lips; all of which were formed into a youthful copy of herself. Her own beauty had and still turned many a lords head, and she was proud that her daughter had inherited and even bettered her sightly looks. Yet for all the talk of her daughter inheriting her mother's independent nature, Narûphel knew that Azrûphel ultimately went with her father in mood. Her strength was tempered with gentleness and her pride with genuine humility. She was indeed fearless, and sought to see the good in all she came across. And though Narûphel constantly berated Azrûphel on her boundlessly open attitude that would be frowned upon by their peers, she secretly looked upon her daughter with pride and even envy, seeing in her what she had lost in herself as she sought to hold her own and conform with the Númenorean ways of the day.

And could she be blamed for that? After being abandoned by Azulzîr, who did not have the courage and conviction to stand tall with his people in their time of glory! No, he had fled, leaving her to hold together what he had left behind; the sprawling manor in Armenelos, the vast plantations in Andustar and the rolling pastures in Emerië, all of which Azulzîr had inherited, and were the source of their great wealth. They had been left in Narûphel's care for the past ten years, yet she had managed them well, even after Azulzîr had enticed their son Abrazân away from her; a deed which still pained her heart.

Nevertheless, she had weathered all the difficulties that came her way, alone. The prejudices towards a lady in a man's world of trade; the mean-spirited whispers of gossiping ladies; the suspicious eyes and searching questions of Númenor's spies; and the lingering gaze and lecherous banter of suitors who would prey upon unaccompanied wives. She had stood her ground against all these trials with the obstinacy of an immovable rock that the towering waves would crash upon and dash their swelling waters into a thousand harmless droplets. That was how her strength, her pride and her fearlessness were put to use!

Still, she did not wish for her daughter to be altered as she had been. Azrûphel's innocent hope and welcoming nature she must keep, then at least her sacrifices would not be in vain. And she had sacrificed much, through certain deeds of which she would not willingly tell. Yet the order of the day in Númenor brought forth many strange tales of the practises of their new religion. The worship of the Dark and of Melkor its lord!

"Mother, why do you shudder?" asked Azrûphel, upon noticing her sudden trembling. "No chill enters the cabin as it is a warm breeze that sets the Rôthgimil on her course."

"It is nothing," replied Narûphel, breaking free of her troubled thoughts. She swept a warding arm to her daughter's braiding hands and swiftly stood. "It is time to sleep."

Azrûphel looked at her agitated mother with concern. "What troub..."

"Heedless child! Must you always question me?"

Her mother's vehemence startled Azrûphel, but she quietly rose and they both prepared to sleep in silence. Narûphel blew out the candles and lay down by her daughter's side. The creaking lullaby of the ship's rigging wafted into the cabin, and the gentle rocking of the boat sought to invite the warm embrace of sleep.

Azrûphel's voice sounded in the dark. "Rest easy mother."

Narûphel opened her eyes and smiled. It was a phrase that only Azulzîr had used to see his children to bed. She thought of him then, conjuring kindly memories of their union. Her voice then came softly in reply, answering in a manner she had never done before. "Rest easy my child."

Azrûphel's eyes widened in surprise. Yet they soon heavied, and her sight dimmed as she passed into the forgetfulness of starry dreams, with a contented smile upon her face.


The darkness was failing as the hour of dawn drew near. Already the sky had turned grey and the shining stars began to waver. The eastern horizon was streaked with an orange hue that heralded the rising of the sun.
The ship had already come to life, with sailors going about their duties in harnessing the brisk morning wind that had arisen. All three masts displayed great sails that billowed in their strain to draw the Rôthgimil over the sea. Gaining the knots, the ship tossed the quick foam from her bows, rising and dipping in the crested waves.
Above the mainsail and fixed to the mainmast was the masthead, a lofty perch that stood almost one hundred feet above the deck. Two now stood there. One was a tall man of greying hair and beard. The other, who clutched at his shoulder, was a young woman who stood rigidly with fear in her eyes.

"Do not pinch," said Balkazîr, "for you are safe up here. Believe me when I say you will not fall."

Azrûphel looked away from the yawning drop and tried to calm herself. However, the sudden height above the deck and the gradual swaying over the fathomless sea, was a little too much for her to endure.

"Oh Balkazîr," she moaned in her distress. "You are truly a villain! Your so called treat shall surely be the end of me."

"Nonsense!" cried the boatswain. "These masts are of the sturdiest pine in all of Anadûnê and would hold ten more of you. Yet I will admit that being up here does take some getting used to. My advice is that you should cease looking down at the far deck, and turn your gaze to the wide waters that surround us."

Azrûphel complied and slowly turned her lofty sight to the watery panorama that now greeted her in earnest. There she was, striding the deeps as if the masts were gigantic stilts, and all about her was the infinite lay of a dawn ridden sea. She forgot her discomfort as the salt-tinged breeze caressed her face and sent her long hair streaming in its wake. She felt free up there, flying over the green waves with the grace of a majestic sea-bird. And coming to her ears were their unmistakable cries!

"Listen Balkazîr!" she exclaimed. "The seagulls call. Surely we must be within lands reach!"

The boatswain nodded and pointed to the airs. Great white birds circled the ship high above them, and a flock of others flew by in the distance. A large gull swooped down to perch upon the very tip of the main-mast, five feet above their heads. He was white all over with black markings upon his head and wings, and he stood upon long legs with webbed feet. He opened his heavy yellow bill and let out a harsh wail that had the men on the deck below, look up.

"A winged herald cries out!" called one. "There he is, perched upon the mast-head. But what is his call? Perhaps he does the duty of our watchman, and tells us of his sight of land. For I doubt the vigilance of the boatswain, as he seems well occupied!"

"Mind the watch Balkazîr!" shouted another. "Or you'll miss the distant shore on the horizon!"

"Now, now lads, let him have his fun!" cried a third. "You'll have to forgive him if his eyes wander. After all, there's sights aplenty for him to indulge in up there!" A jeering laughter of all the sailors followed.

Balkazîr shook his head disapprovingly, yet Azrûphel seemed not to have heard them as she stared ahead at the brightening horizon. The sun was rising, sending forth widening rays that lay down shimmering pathways of dazzling light upon the water. The golden sails of the Rôthgimil burst into rippling flame, and the glossy leaves of the Green Bough of Return, renewed their vigour as the sun's glance touched the ship's prow. The last vestiges of night were tamed as the grey sky turned blue, and the wavering stars faded beyond recall. Wailing gulls now hovered beside the ship upon both its sides, as if they were nature's escorts that would guide the Rôthgimil to port.

A faint blue outline appeared on the horizon and Azrûphel put a hand to her brow, shading her sight from the sun's morning glare. Her eyes widened when what she saw became apparent.

"Land Balkazîr!" she cried in her excitement. "I have sighted land!"

The boatswain shaded his eyes and nodded. "Indeed it is Middle-earth that rises from the deeps before us," he said. "Now look below and call out as loudly as you can. Let the sailors of the Rôthgimil know they are finally within sight of their goal!"

Azrûphel did as she was told with an enthusiasm that rendered her former fears cured. In a voice that rang out as loud as her lungs would allow, she cried to the sailors below, "Land ahead men! The shores of Middle-earth lie upon the horizon!" A great cheer greeted her words.

Just then, the captain emerged from his cabin that was to the stern of the ship. His name was Balakân and he had captained the Rôthgimil from her maiden voyage, almost eight years ago. The sea had been his life since his youth, and he had gained a vast experience through countless voyages. He had even sailed with Pharazôn's fleet that had humbled the might of Sauron and brought him back to Númenor as a prisoner of war. A few years later he retired from the naval army, seeking a simpler life of naval trade.

And so he had come to work for Azulzîr, who had swiftly acknowledged him as the best captain on his payroll. Balakân therefore undertook all of the most important voyages for his lord, and this one was of no exception. This cargo had been the most precious of all.
But now he looked up to the mast-head, following the amused stares of his men, and he swore. He was about to give a shout when a cabin door to the fore of the ship opened, and the lady emerged. No doubt she was roused as he was, by the cheering men.

Narûphel strode onto the deck with eyes ablaze with anger. Following meekly behind her were Adûninzil and Urîphêr, whose trembling testament to the wrath of their lady on the unknown whereabouts of her daughter, were shown by their pale and frightened faces. Narûphel eyed the sailors who stood nearby.

"You there!" she cried to one. "Where is my daughter?"

The sailor and those beside him all wordlessly turned their gaze upward. The lady granted them an ill favoured look before she realised, and turned to see what they were staring at.
She gasped as her eyes widened in disbelief. "Azrûphel!" was all she could whisper.

Yet Balakân saw Narûphel's distress, and her shock was supported by his own concerns for Azrûphel's safety. "Balkazîr!" he cried.

The boatswain looked down. "Captain!" he answered.

"The young lady has had her fun, as have all the men. But now it is time for her to come down!"

Balkazîr turned to Azrûphel and motioned her to the ratlines; lengths of thin ropes that were tied between the shrouds of the ship to form a lofty ladder. Azrûphel gave a nod and carefully manoeuvred herself onto the lines and began to descend. She clutched at the swaying ropes, lowering herself rung by rung with eyes that did all to shun the dizzying heights that yawned beneath her. Balkazîr followed, supporting her with encouraging words.

Soon she could clearly hear the voices of the sailors and the sighing of the green waves came closer to her ears. She found the courage to look down and saw that the deck was now much nearer, and she hastened her descent with growing confidence. Finally Azrûphel reached the bottom, skipped the last five rungs and leapt down, landing with graceful ease upon the deck. She then turned to the smiling faces of the sailors about her, and gave them all a grandiose curtsy. The ship roared with rowdy applause and laughter.

Balkazîr stepped down beside her and she turned to him with a grateful smile. "Once again, I thank you master boatswain," she said. "The experience has indeed been most pleasurable."

Balkazîr bowed. "I am at your service, as always my lady." came his soft reply.

Azrûphel then turned to follow her mother, who had returned to their cabin in grim silence. The two maidens converged upon Azrûphel with chattering concern.

"Are you all right my lady?" asked Adûninzil, clasping Azrûphel's hand. "You were so high!"

"And it seemed so dangerous!" chimed Urîphêr, clutching her other arm.

Azrûphel assured them that she was fine as they neared the dreaded cabin door. What her mother would say however was a different matter, yet she steeled herself to the fury of the rebuke that awaited her. She paused by the threshold, took a deep breath and entered.

Balkazîr strode to the quarterdeck where the captain stood. The sailors watched him pass by with grinning faces, and plied him with jolly comments.

"You did well Balkazîr," said one. "You'll make a sailor out of her yet!"

"Aye," called another. "You've granted the lady her sea-legs alright, yet you're overlate in the teaching as we're soon for the shore!"

"Nay, you've missed the point lads!" cried a third. "He's had her attentions for most of the trip and would end it on a grand note! Hah! Now the doubts of Saptheth his wife are realised, for truly does she vie with a tempting mistress of the sea!"

Raucous laughter followed the boatswain the rest of the way. There he was met by stern eyes that spoke of a grim mood that was not to be trifled with.

"That was foolish Balkazîr," said Balakân. "The young lady is our master's daughter, whose safety comes above all else. What possessed you to neglect your duties and take her up to the mast-head?"

"It was just an old sea-hand's innocent delight in showing a young eager soul the joys of the sea, nothing more," replied the boatswain.

"A plague on your delight!" fumed the captain. "It was foolish and you know it. What if she had lost her footing and fallen from that high place? You would bring this voyage to untold grief, and endanger all our livelihoods with your nonsense!"

Balkazîr bowed his grey head and sighed. "You are right captain," he said. "It was wrong to place her in such peril. Yet see it as the misdeed of a childless sailor who would teach his beloved craft to an interested youth."

"Then teach your passion to one who should be schooled in your craft. Find a young adventurous boy from the mainland or from our isle, to whom you may bequeath your love of the sea. But the fair daughters of the noble lords of Anadûnê cannot become such pupils!"

"I understand, captain," replied Balkazîr. "Pray pardon my misconduct."

Balakân looked at the boatswain and sighed. He knew the man meant no harm, yet to needlessly disrupt their smooth voyage within sight of their destination was irksome at the very least. Still, all was well...and for the rest of the voyage it seemed. A raging voice now rose through the timbers of the fore cabin. Narûphel was sure to keep her bold daughter imprisoned for the remaining leagues of their journey.

"If you understand, then I pardon you," said Balakân. "Now I shall return to my quarters, if you can be trusted to fulfil your duties as boatswain."

"I can, captain," replied Balkazîr with a bow.

"Then see that Bawbuthôr gets to his rightful post upon the mast-head, and that the men set to their duties in bringing this ship home!"

With that, Balakân turned and made his way to his cabin, calling to the helmsman to keep a steady course and guide the Rôthgimil safely to port.

The cries went up and the deck was all astir as the sailors busied themselves. One began to sing the staves of a popular mariners song to cheer the hands, who roared forth the chorus, about the joys of landfall and the pleasures of the port, with hearty goodwill. The early sun shone fully upon the welcoming sea; the airs were clear and the sky was clean. The Rôthgimil flew with a grace that rivalled her winged escorts, as her golden sails beat the crisp morning airs like huge flapping wings that hauled the ship forward, towards the fast approaching lands of Middle-earth!

Author's Commentary:

This is my first Second Age story and is my take on Númenor and its people, told primarily through the dramatic relationship between Azrûphel of Anadûnê, and Anbor of Middle-earth. At its heart, it's a love story with the epic backdrop of a grave historic time. The story begins around 2 years before the Fall of Númenor, and the dark state of affairs shall become more apparent as the chapters go on.
There's not much else to say about this opening chapter, except that I hope you all like it.
Anyway, the next chapter shall see Azrûphel reach the shores of Middle-earth!
Dedicated to the wonderful world of Fanfic.