Actions

Work Header

Not Alone, Not Ever

Chapter Text

Noirinan, Mittalmar, 985 SA

Ancalimë fixed her eyes on the stones over yonder. Very slowly, she breathed in. Not even those standing by her side realized that she has sighed. She will not cry at her mother’s funeral. She will be called cold for that, as she has been called cold, and worse, for many other things, but she will not embarrass the woman who brought her up and made her the ruler that she will be, that she already is. The Perfect Princess, some of her people call her.

The hierophant raised his voice over the growing wind. Rain clouds gathered. ‘Mother would have hated all this,’ she thinks. Erendis would rather have been buried in Emerië, on the summit of some hill, facing the west of the gods, or the north of the winds, or the south of the warm spring rains. Anything but the east of the elves, on a hill full of dead kings and queens, she who never wore her crown.

Ancalimë’s eyes suddenly stung. Bloody wind, too cold and dry. She widened her lids, then slowly closed them, trying to keep the stray tear in. It worked, for a moment. The damned hierophant went on trying to talk them all to death by the ceremony’s end.

She looked around, tried to focus on the stones. The closest pair marked the entrance to the tombs of her grandparents. One was weathered, with patches of lichen and moss, the other was still bare. There lied Grandfather Meneldur, gone too soon, so long ago, and by his side sweet Grandmother Almarian, gone just the year before. Zamîn is long gone, but this is not the place for her. Grandmother Núneth too, many years ago, as well as Beregar, the gruff man she learned to love too. Îbal, lost in the woods, far away, on the continent. She liked to think that he married some simple Enedwaith woman and has had a brood of children.

Contemplating these losses, Ancalimë felt utterly alone. These fools by her side, the stupid aunts and the ladies of the court are no friends of hers. Why did they come? This is no place for them. Erendis supremely disliked Ailinel and her puppet of a son, Soronto. Ancalimë suppressed a chuckle, remembering her mother’s warnings the first time she left Emerië for court.

She had been angry at Erendis at the time. She had shouted that her mother wanted to keep her all to herself. That her mother should take on her role as wife of the Heir to the Sceptre. Other things too. She had ridden all the way to Armenelos in seething rage, and after less than a week she had been writing sorrowful letters back home, apologizing. Ancalimë smiled, remembering how at that age her pride was a smaller thing.

An inflection in the hierophant’s voice brought her to the present. She saw, from the corner of her eye, Aunt Almiel, the spinster, watching her. Almiel was always kind to her, but sadly, she has never risen above being another puppet in Ailinel’s hands. Before the end of the day, all of the courtiers will know that the Heir to the Sceptre smiled at her mother’s funeral.

Ancalimë scolded herself for a second before her face turned to perfect impassibility. Her mother had taught her well, the ways of the court. Erendis was no fool. Overbearing, insecure, radical, but no fool. And loving. At that moment, Ancalimë could not think of another soul who would ever love her as much as her mother had. No one would so fiercely try to shield her and hold her and to guide her. And she regretted that her independence (her pride, her stubbornness, as they would say) had kept her away from Erendis so much, in the latter years.

On the other side of the casket, her father stood, his face impassable too. Fortunately, he stood alone. Ancalimë squinted. Behind him, far down the hill, was a familiar form, a head full of blond hair, tall frame, broad shoulders, the unmistakable tilt of the head. Ancalimë’s heart raced. No, not Hallacar, the Liar. Hallacar, the weaver of beautiful fantasies and breaker of hearts. Not him, not now. Her lips twitched. She had not realized before how much she had missed him. How sad, to miss someone who could not be trusted. How alone could one get?

The nasal, insincere voice of the hierophant stopped, finally. Ancalimë was not quite sure what he had said. Her father placed a single white lily on the casket. She stepped forward, knowing what she had to do. It took all her strength not to fall down on her knees, bawling like a child. She could not stop her hand from trembling, though. She stood by the casket, holding her lily, as all the sycophants marched by, covering Erendis’s casket with flowers. They formed a procession, heading down, but still Ancalimë stood, wishing them away with all her strength.

“Daughter,” her father said at last, when the last ones were far enough away.

From the corner of her eye Ancalimë saw the hierophant and his acolytes fidgeting. It was time to take the casket inside the tomb and close it with the stone. She wondered how the three gaunt men would manage it or if somewhere more men awaited.

“Daughter,” her father insisted. Ancalimë shook her head and breathed deeply, this time, unabashed. “I will be up at the summit.”

“Daughter, that is…” Whatever Aldarion meant to say was cut by the shrill cry of an eagle, soaring above them. Aldarion looked up and pressed his lips. “Manwë’s homage. Your mother…” he sighed, looking for words. “I loved her.”

Ancalimë lowered her head. She wanted to scream at him. He had not loved Erendis, not at all. But she would not make a scene, not even now. She held her skirts up and started the long climb from Noirinan to the top of Meneltarma. There was a small path from the Valley of the Tombs that lead up. It was steeper and harder than the road on the East side of the mountain, leading directly to the place of worship. Ancalimë cared not. In fact, she liked the ruggedness. It reminded her of happier days. Of Emerië. Of sheep and wind playing with the sun on the grass, creating seas of silver. And reed flutes. Îbal made the best ones, always. And of Zamîn’s dark bread, hot from the oven, lathered with melting butter, made from the milk Todaphel took every day from the only cow in miles.

As she walked upwards, Ancalimë let the memories of the White House of Emerië fill her head. Erendis had not always been there. There were days she would spend locked in her room, only to come out at night with red, swollen eyes. Ancalimë remembered asking Zamîn why mommy always cried. But then the sun would part the clouds and Erendis would be there, all there. Those were the best times.

When Ancalimë reached the summit, she looked all around her. The view was breath-taking, as surprising as the first time. Armenelos looked like a toy city, a mass of tiny white houses, speckled with many white palaces. She could see the ships in Rómenna, to the east and in Eldalondë, to the west.

And down the slope, standing at the invisible line that marked the holier ground, where only those of royal blood could come outside the festivals, stood Mámandil. Or Hallacar. Waiting. He could cross that line. He had as much blood of Elros and Vardamir as herself. But he waited. And for that, she loved him. The weariness of the long wake and the ceremony fell upon her, and Ancalimë fell to her knees, hoping that he would not see her from that angle, and she wept, silently at first, then louder and louder, as the absence of all those whom she had loved finally crushed her.

She did not hear footfalls, only felt warm hands placing a cloak on her shoulders, and strong arms pulling her up, towards his chest.

“Shh, my Emerwen Aranel. Shhh.”

She almost pushed him back at the endearment, but she held on. He had known her mother and loved her. Or so he said. Nothing that man said could be trusted. But he was here, he had been brave enough to come and risk her wrath. And he was here, the only link to her past. And he was here, holding her, telling again and again that he loved her and that he missed her. And she missed him too. She held onto him all the way down, to Armenelos.

numenor-map.jpg

Chapter Text

numenor-map.jpg

Armenelos, Mittalmar, 883 SA

After a good cry, Ancalimë sulked all afternoon. At home, that nearly always worked. Erendis tried to play tough but she never lasted long. But not here at court. No one cares if she would rather be at home with her mother, who everyone, save for grandmamma, seems to dislike. She hated Armenelos, she thought as she buried her face in her pillow. She got into a row with a red-headed woman who gave her unsolicited advice on how “to look less as if she has come from the countryside”. The nerve! She may not like it here, but she is fluent in three languages, knows her math and history and is the granddaughter of the king! And if she wants lessons on anything, from anyone, it will surely not be on dresses, from a powdered-faced woman with an annoyingly shrill voice. If not for Zamîn’s not very subtle reminder that a princess does not argue with an upstarted of a commoner, Ancalimë would have let her know more of her mind.

But Ancalimë was wrong. Somebody did care. Father had been to her room, for a goodnight kiss when she was almost asleep. She pretended to be asleep, but when he was leaving, she heard Grandmamma’s voice, and she sounded angry, or was angry as someone as sweet as her could be. Ancalimë could not hear everything, just loose words. She didn’t know what trollop was, but she figured Grandmamma did not mean it as a compliment for the red-headed woman. She was surprised at father, though.

“She did what?” Ancalimë heard him say quite loudly.

Grandmamma Almarian replied with something about respect. She never raised her voice, ever, even in the beginning, when Ancalimë did the worst things she could think of, such as putting dirt on her father’s sheets and breaking the glasses on purpose and pinching the maids.

Whatever it was that Grandmamma said, Father only replied, “You need not worry, Mamma – that episode is over. No one will dare speak down to my child or insult her mother.”

Grandmamma said something else, and Ancalimë distinctly heard ‘Erendis’, and ‘please’, but Father just said, “We’re been through this.”

Ancalimë was about to sneak out of bed, because adults always had these very interesting conversations but she never seemed to fully understand them, but Grandmamma Almarian and Father walked away.


There were other things Ancalimë disliked at court. Her aunt, Ailinel, had been cold to her from the first day, and had made a point of introducing her to her son, Soronto, while talking a lot about succession laws and how cousins could be wedded – gross! – until Grandfather Meneldur asked her to be quiet.

Ancalimë was not stupid – she knew her father and her mother would never be together again and have babies, although sometimes she hoped. Her mother had bitterly said, once, that since she would die sooner rather than later, that Aldarion could marry again and have many boys. Ancalimë hated when Erendis talked about dying. And why did it have to be a boy? She could be her father’s heir – girls could do anything boys could – she could even run faster than Îbal, although he could make stones skip over water better than she.

Her other aunt was nice. Aunt Almiel liked taking her to the library and finding her children’s books, and she would often take her to the garden and show her plants that came from all over the world brought by her father. But she thought Ancalimë was still little and wanted to sit her on her lap as if she were five! She was ten years old, practically a grown woman. Aunt Almiel sometimes told her things from the time she was little and lived in Armenelos with her mother and father. Ancalimë knew those stories were true, but she barely remembered any of it. Then Almiel would be sad and talk about a boy that she liked who had died at sea. Ancalimë never knew what to say, then, but fortunately, Zamîn was always near, ready to rescue her.

By the time everything was ready for the big event, Ancalimë did not miss home as badly as before. She did wish that her mother was here, by her father’s side, when he would be crowned king. She deserved to be queen. She was so pretty and so much smarter than all those giggling ladies at the court. But Ancalimë knew nothing could be done. She had written a dozen letters but her mother had always let her know that she would not come.

Her father came to see her two days before the crowning. He told her that the crowning was for the people, a chance for them to see their rulers, and to have a big party, but that the real ceremony, a there would be a secret one ceremony that was the real one would be tomorrow, and that he wanted her to come.

Ancalimë said yes. Sometimes, when she forgot to be mad at her father, she really liked him. So, the next dawn, her father woke her, and then Zamîn quickly dressed her in a hemp shift and boots. The sun was yet to rise and she was so sleepy, but she followed her father through the quiet halls until the met Grandfather Meneldur and a hierophant. She was dying to ask questions, but everyone was so silent. They went to the base of Meneltarma by coach and then climbed all the way up.

Then Grandfather took his sceptre and placed it in Father’s hands. Father knelt and Grandfather asked him many questions, to all of which Father answered, ‘I swear, by Eru Ilúvatar’. Then Grandfather finally let go of the Sceptre and Father rose, holding it. The hierophant opened a book and read a short prayer from it. Ancalimë felt a chill down her spine and a tingling in her eyes. Climbing the mountain path to the summit had taken almost three hours. Ancalimë realized that Grandfather Meneldur had felt tired, but she was shocked to see Father holding his arm all the way down.

When they reached the coach, Grandfather broke the silence. “I am glad your father brought you today, dearest.” Meneldur looked at his son. “I hope that one day you and she will walk up this mountain…”

“Father, it will be so,” Aldarion replied, almost eagerly.

Meneldur stroked her cheek, and for the first time Ancalimë really saw how old and weary her grandfather was. Something tied a knot in her throat. Father kissed her hair.

“We should return,” he said.


The day after, the festivities came. Ancalimë found the noise and the colour overwhelming and fascinating in equal measures. The streets were full of people in their finest clothes, there were fanfares everywhere, flowers, tables with meats and sweets and wine and ale… Armenelos was a feast, from the humblest alley to the King’s Road. Her father was crowned and she was made to stand by his side. She was so proud of him, she could not stop beaming.

By the end of the day, she was too tired to think, almost too tired to sleep. Her father carried her on his shoulder up the last flight of steps. She liked his smell and how strong he was. He deposited her in her bed and left Zamîn to undress her.

When Ancalimë finally woke, the sun was high. Grandmamma sweetly stroked her hair. Ancalimë yawned and sat up, while Zamîn brought her food in a tray.

“Sweet child,” Grandmamma said. “You remind me so much of your father, at that age.”

Ancalimë took a bite from her bread with honey.

Almarian smiled. “Your Grandfather and I are no longer needed here,” she began. “Well, that is the wrong way of putting it. I am sorry, dear. I meant, it is time for your father to rule and for us to step into the shadows and enjoy our well-deserved rest. We are setting off for one last voyage through this beloved land, until we reach Sorontil. Your grandfather loves it there so very much, and over the years I, too, became very fond of his tower and of the cliffs and moors of Forostar.”

Ancalimë nibbled on her bread, unsure of what her grandmother was trying to say.

“We would like you to come with us, on this journey. Then you will be taken back to Emerië, to your mother, until your father thinks it well to call you to court again. What do you think?”

“Really?” Ancalimë asked so enthusiastically that her milk spilled. “I would love to! Shall I ask Father?”

“We talked with him before and he is happy with the idea. He will even come with us on the first stretch, to Rómenna. He wants to show you his ships.”

“Ooh, Grandmamma!” Ancalimë reached over the tray and hugged Almarian. “I am so happy! I will see the geography books come true and we will be together – can Zamîn come? – it will be so exciting!”

Almarian let out a soft chuckle. “I am glad you are so happy, dear. Of course Zamîn will come – we would not dream it otherwise. And she will love it too, because we will visit her home in Andustar, and your grandparents Beregar and Núneth, whom I have not seen in many years. I like your grandmother Núneth so very much, my dear. It will be a lovely adventure that we will share.”


Aldarion did accompany them on the first stretch of the trip, and took Ancalimë through the streets of Rómenna until the harbour. The people cheered at his passage. Ancalimë was bursting with pride for her father. The women gave her candy and sweet bread and the children followed in their wake, chirping loudly about the deeds of the Guild of Adventurers and its beloved leader.

The harbour was a confusion of smells and colours and voices. Bright light reflected on the water and burned Ancalimë’s face. Two gulls fought over a fish and in turn a woman chased them, making her laugh. Aldarion lead her through the stands and the crates and the smaller boats, until they reached the largest quay.

“Are you ready for an adventure, daughter?” Aldarion asked.

Before Ancalimë could say ‘yes’, he lifted her on his shoulder and hoped into a boat. The two men inside cheered. They rowed the short distance to where three large ships loomed.

“Eämbar, Palarran and Hirilondë,” Aldarion said proudly, pointing at each one.

Ancalimë felt a rush of expectation as they approached Palarran and were lifted aboard.

“To Tol Uinen,” Aldarion ordered.

The mass of sailors moved like ants and in just a few moments set the ship to sail. The wind was generous enough for Ancalimë to feel its power but not so much as to make the ride rough. They circled the island and then docked in the deep water harbour. Several sailors tossed roses into the water, until a mass of white and pink surrounded them.

Aldarion ordered the rope stairs to be lowered. A sailor tried to help Ancalimë, but she tied her skirt in a knot and went down by herself.

“By the end of this journey, you will see the great tower your grandfather has built on Sorontil. But your father has also built a great tower. Come see Calmindon, daughter, and be proud of your father.”

ancalime.jpg

Aldarion took Ancalimë’s hand and lead her through the rocks until they reached the slope of the cliff. Hidden by the tamarisks was the narrowest path. Ancalimë followed up, enjoying the shade and the scent of the gnarled trees. After a while, Aldarion stopped and made way for her. Ancalimë passed through the last curtain of delicate leaves, only to find a mass of white. She looked up, to the lighthouse that threatened to touch the clouds, and stood in awe.

“Do you want to come inside? We can go all the way up, if you would like.”

Ancalimë beamed and ran for the red door. She ran up the circled stairs, not stopping at the first three stages. Aldarion laughed and shouted ‘wait’, but she went on for another stage, then she had to stop too. Aldarion caught up with her and laughed, although he was panting.

“One more turn of the steps and we will be at the very top.”

Ancalimë rose to her feet and flew all the way up. She opened the door with such force, it hit the wall and bounced back, but she was already at the railing.

“It is beautiful, Father,” she said, when Aldarion finally reached her. Rómenna was a bright spot of white on the green of the island, nested between the deep blue of the sea and the lighter cover of the sky.

“Look, all the roses are still in the water,” she said, after a moment, pointing down. “Why do they do that?”

“Those are for the Lady Uinen, our protector,” Aldarion answered. “We are on her sanctuary.”

Ancalimë stood very quiet. Her mother had seldom mentioned Uinen, and when she had, it had never been in a nice way. Erendis said that men should worship only Eru Ilúvatar, and from afar, at the appropriate times. Ancalimë wanted to say this to her father, but she was afraid to ruin the beautiful day.

“Shall we head down, my princess?” Aldarion asked. He passed his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.

Back on Palarran, the sailors served them a fine luncheon. They sailed back to the bay with no hurry, reaching the harbour as the sun set behind the city. Meneldur and Almarian waited for Ancalimë at the harbour with a coach, for which she was thankful. She fell asleep leaning against her grandmother’s arm on the way back to the palace.


They travelled slowly thorough Hyarrostar. There was not much to be seen, but it was Almarian’s homeland and she loved some places. Others, made her sad.

“These forests used to be older,” she said one day, as they crossed a patch covered in pine saplings.

Ancalimë did not understand why her grandmother was sad, but she held her tongue when she saw grandfather gently squeezing her hand. Later, they saw wonderful beaches of the whitest sand. They travelled along the coast until they reached Nindamos, at the mouth of the River Siril.

“My, how this town has grown,” grandfather said. “One thing is reading reports, another is…”

“Seeing,” Almarian said firmly. “I am glad that they prosper, but I do not recognize my homeland.”

They stayed only one night, to honour Almarian’s relatives, then headed to Hyarnustar. Ancalimë loved the way the shores rose from white beaches to black fields of vine and golden grain over yonder.

“It is a pity we will miss the harvest for a week or two,” Meneldur said, at one moment.

Almarian sighed and fanned herself. Summer had been growing higher as they had travelled. “It is beautiful country, my dear, but I fear we must hasten, for your sister’s sake.”

Meneldur nodded.

“We are close to Emerië, are we not?” Ancalimë asked.

“We are, dearest,” Almarian said, petting her hair. “Do you miss your mother?”

“I do. Do you suppose we could visit?”

“Dear child… if you miss your home, we can send you there. But we shall not visit. As much as we love your mother and miss her, she has made clear that she needs to be alone,” Almarian said.

“We would be intruding in the crudest manner,” Meneldur added.

Ancalimë bit her lip and thought for a moment. “I do miss Mother and home, but I want to finish our adventure.”


Three days later, they reached Nísimaldar. At first, Ancalimë thought it was just another forest but soon she changed her mind. The scents and the murmuring of the leaves insinuated stories of wonder. Everything seemed different and magical. Almarian, for the first time in the journey, seemed truly happy, and started telling Ancalimë tales of fairies and elves and lost princes and princesses. Meneldur, in turn, told her about the different species and the medicinal properties and uses for the wood. Both Ancalimë’s grandparents seemed younger and lighter as they rubbed leaves of lairelossë and nessamelda between their fingers for her to smell, and made garlands of soft leaves of vardarianna, and taniquelassë ate red berries straight from the branches of yavannamírë trees.

“These woods heal, I tell you, my darling,” her grandmother repeated often. They stopped many times to rest under the canopy, but one day they finally reached the mouth of the Nunduinë. They ferried over to Eldalondë, a city different from Armenelos and Rómenna in everything that could be thought of. Everything was built in white stone that shone under the sun. Even when the clouds gathered, a light seemed to emanate from the walls and the cobbling of the streets. The coach seemed to rush through the streets, as if in a hurry. They stopped abruptly at the harbour.

Meneldur helped Almarian and Ancalimë down from the coach.

“We have made it on time, my good man,” he said to the driver. “Thank you.”

Ancalimë watched as everyone paused for a moment and turned west, as the sun touched the water. Many put a hand to their chest. Others stood quietly. She dared not speak a word, as even her grandfather and grandmother were quiet, watching the sky and the water turn orange and gold. When it was over, they walked silently along a large road that lead away from the harbour, until they reached a palace.

The gates opened before them. A tall man with piercing grey eyes came to them with welcoming, open arms, while his servants bustled along with their entourage.

“Uncle,” the man said as he knelt before Meneldur.

“No need for that, dear Valandil,” Meneldur said. “I am king no longer. He opened his arms and held Valandil for a long time. When they parted, Valandil bowed deeply before Almarian, then turned to Ancalimë. “So you are my little cousin, eh?”

Suddenly, the solemn man had a glint of mischief in his eyes and a smile on his lips. “Come, I have a daughter just your age. I expect the two of you will get into a lot of trouble while the adults talk.”


The next morning, Zamîn came to wake Ancalimë very early. She had indeed liked her cousin, but she had been so tired, she had fallen asleep while Isilmë told her a funny story about the two Isilmës and how she had gotten her old great-aunt into trouble with the cook. Ancalimë wanted to know the ending of the story, but Isilmë was not around and Zamîn was urging her to eat and dress quickly.

“Your great-aunt Silmariën wants to see you, child,” she said. “She is very old and she will tire quickly. Be polite and do not chatter too much.”

Ancalimë entered the darkened room silently as a shadow. Her grandfather sat by the bed, and in it lay the oldest person Ancalimë had ever seen.

“She is pretty,” Silmariën said.

“And very intelligent,” Meneldur said, taking Ancalimë’s hand in his.

Silmariën smiled. “A good choice, then.”

“Yes, sister.”

“I am honoured to meet you, great-aunt,” Ancalimë said in a thin voice.

Silmariën patted the bed. Gingerly, Ancalimë stepped forward and sat. “Are you scared, child? You have never seen anybody dying, have you?”

Ancalimë shook her head. Her eyes stung, even though she had never met Silmariën before.

“It is a part of life. I have had a long and happy life. Now I am ready for another journey… Speaking of journeys, tell me what you liked better so far, in this journey of yours.”

“The forest! The trees smell so good and they are so wonderful and magical! And the sunset! But I also liked the lighthouse my father made in Tol-Uinen and the beaches in the south.”

Silmariën chuckled softly. “Ah, you have good taste.” She turned her head for Meneldur and slightly nodded. “I think I like this granddaughter of yours very much, my brother.”

Ancalimë stayed for a little longer. Silmariën posed many questions and often chuckled at the answers, but Ancalimë knew it was a kind laughter, not a mean one, as she had often heard in court. After a while, her grandfather told her to seek Isilmë and play. She had the feeling that something more had happened, other than meeting a delightful old lady, but she could not really grasp it.


They spent a few weeks with Silmariën. Ancalimë loved Eldalondë and loved playing with Isilmë. She had never had a friend who was a girl her age, and Isilmë seemed to know all sorts of interesting things and was never scared of doing some mischief.

She had also met her grandfather Beregar, who took her fishing at the harbour and showed her his warehouses, full of grain, branches hung up to dry, and interesting machines that he did not let Ancalimë touch. Her grandmother Núneth, she vaguely remembered from a few visits to Emerië, when she was smaller. She was sweet, but often teared up, especially when she spoke quietly with Zamîn in the corners. Then, she would wipe the tears and show Ancalimë her embroidery and her looms. Ancalimë’s fingers would not cooperate with the needle, but she did love how big the looms were and how fast she could make something in them. And grandmother Núneth made the best honey cakes she had ever had.

But after some time, they set to the road again, finally, heading for her grandfather’s beloved Forostar. Ancalimë watched out the window as the terrain grew steeper and starker. Houses and fields gave way to larches, then tall firs. The forest air was pungent and the breeze continuously rushed through the trees, making them whisper. She had grown up in the pastures, but she found that she loved playing in the forest. She could hide amidst the trees and have Almarian search for her, and she would collect pine cones and sometimes lie on the bed of fallen pine needles and stare at the blue sky piercing through the canopy, waiting for an eagle to cross it.

Almarian took her a few times as far out as the high cliffs. They rose high from the sea, black and rugged. Ancalimë liked to play a game with herself, inching towards the ledge, trying to get as close to it as she dared, until all she heard was the roaring of the sea below. Almarian would call for her, worry growing in her voice until she would run and catch Ancalimë, her chest heaving.

The servants had prepared the tower for them and had left, save for a few. They had summoned a woman from the North Cape to help with the cooking, as Meneldur wanted to taste again a few regional dishes. When she was tired from hiking, Ancalimë amused herself by sitting by the hearth in the kitchen, watching this woman and the cook who had come with them from Armenelos squabble while she ate bread and honey.

At night, her grandfather often called her. They would climb to the top of the tower and watch the stars for hours, until Ancalimë fell asleep and Meneldur had to carry her back down. She loved hearing the names of the stars… Borgil, Alcarinquë, Carnil, Elemmírë, Helluin… And of course the Star of Eärendil, their ancestor. Meneldur taught her the constellations too, and the stories that came with them. Her favourite was Menelmacar, but her grandfather loved Telumendil, because he said it would always help one in finding their way home. He often told her stories about her father and how Meneldur had taught him the stars too, when he was little.

One morning, he and Almarian called her before she left for the forest.

“My dear,” her grandmother said. “Our journey has come to an end.”

“We love having you here,” Meneldur continued, “but we fear you must miss your mother and your home in Emerië.”

Ancalimë did miss them, but she only thought of it at night. She was surprised how quickly her eyes welled up at the mention of it.

“We do love you so very much, dear,” Almarian continued, “but it is not right that a child should spend so much time away from her mother.”

Ancalimë nodded, swallowing the knot in her throat.

“Can I come and visit, one day?” she asked.

Almarian and Meneldur smiled. “Of course, dear,” her grandmother answered, pulling her into her arms.


Nothing was ever the same, after. When she had arrived at her white house in Emerië, Erendis had held her so tightly, her bones felt almost crushed. For days, her mother could not seem to let go of her, but she was happy to be cuddled like a smaller child. She had missed her mother. Zamîn looked happy too.

But then, as she settled back, her mother showered her with questions. When would Aldarion send for her again? Had she liked court? Did she like it better than Emerië? Had she kept up with her lessons? Had she been to the sea?

There were things that Ancalimë could not tell her, such as the climb to Meneltarma with her father and grandfather. Others, made her feel bad. She was still angry at her father for leaving them but she also liked him, maybe even loved him a little bit. Sometimes her mother was careful with her words, others less, but the feeling of distrust of her was always there. It was unfair. It was not Ancalimë’s fault that they had taken her to court. And she could not help it if she liked her father just a little. He was not that bad.

Ancalimë started talking less and less about her time at court and her travels. She learned to avoid the questionings and Erendis learned how to probe more carefully. Then she learned to dodge the probing. Erendis was jealous, she could see that, but she was her mother. How could Erendis think that Ancalimë would so easily forsake her and replace her in her heart? It hurt Ancalimë’s feelings that it was so. Zamîn only told her to be patient and to shower Erendis with the love she much needed, so the only person she could talk to was Îbal.

Chapter Text

Armenelos, Mittalmar, 892 SA

A messenger came to Emerië with a letter from her father. She was to prepare for another trip to court, but this time, she would be staying longer. The letter ended with a fearful, ‘The time has come.’ Ancalimë felt a rock at the pit of her stomach. She went out to the hills in search of Îbal.

“Can you keep a secret?” she asked, when she finally found him.

“Haven’t I always?” Îbal replied, sitting back, a lone grass stalk moving at the corner of his mouth as he spoke.

“Of course. Father asked me to Armenelos.”

“So? He asks you every summer.”

“Yes… but I think he means to make me Heir to the Sceptre.”

Îbal sat up. “But that is good news for you.”

Ancalimë shook her head. “I don’t know. I am just nineteen years old. I don’t know what they expect of me. I don’t know if I can be a worthy Heir to the Sceptre. And there are many people who would rather have my cousin Soronto made king, married or not to me.”

“True. But not the Guild of Adventurers. They will support your father in anything he’d like to do.”

“Even a woman ruler?”

“Even so. They adore you, or so my father tells me.”

Ancalimë sighed. “I would like to rule as queen but I am terrified of it, all the same.”

Îbal snorted. “This doesn’t sound like you at all. Just pretend those fancy courtiers are rebel sheep, find a few good dogs, and gather them in.”

Ancalimë laughed. “You make it sound easy… What will you be doing, come summer?”

“Ah!” Îbal positively glowed. “My father found me a commission of service on Palarran! It will be a short mission, just to get me started, but who knows, if they like me…”

Ancalimë sighed. “Your mother probably isn’t so happy.”

Îbal chortled. “Father has been sleeping by the hearth.”

Ancalimë laughed too, but then grew serious. “Promise you will find a way to come to Armenelos, if it happens?”

“I promise.”


Armenelos felt busy in a subtle way. Ancalimë kept meeting people she had not seen in ages, notably members of all the high families. Something was definitely happening. Her father called her to his chambers.

“Tomorrow the Council of the Sceptre gathers, as you know. And I think you know what we will be discussing.”

Ancalimë bit her lip and nodded. “Yes, the succession. I saw Aunt Ailinel and Lord Orchaldor…”

“Yes. All the major houses are here. This is no ordinary Council…” Aldarion walked slowly to the balcony. Ancalimë followed him quietly. Both gazed at Nimloth. Its branches were almost at hand’s reach, the pure, white flowers challenging them to stretch out to touch them.

“I have tried not to burden you with this matter,” Aldarion said, “although your grandfather has often advised me to include you in the negotiations. I wanted to preserve your innocence for a little while longer. We have reached a tough compromise, but up until the moment the council votes, anyone can change his heart.”

“You are the king. The council does not have binding power.”

Aldarion snorted. “All well in theory. In practice, the hardest lesson I had to learn is that you cannot force people to do what you want. They will always find a way of thwarting you, unless you make them feel that you’ve compromised something. I could name you Heir to the Sceptre against their will, but who would ensure you would be queen once I was dead? They need to bind themselves formally and publicly to this decision.”

Ancalimë placed her hand on her father’s arm. “Do not talk of death, Father. You have still many years.”

Aldarion kissed her hair. “The second lesson, child, is, do not be sentimental. I appreciate the feeling, but one day we all die. As queen, you will face many decisions that cannot be made with the heart.”

Ancalimë nodded.

“Now, let us prepare you for tomorrow.”


Ancalimë waited by Aldarion’s side behind the doors to the council hall. Her father did not show any signs of nerves, unlike her, who was still trying to keep herself composed, but his lips and knuckles were white. A page came and discretely let them know that all the attendants were gathered. Aldarion nodded and the boy opened the doors before them.

The room was busting, but Ancalimë knew most of those present were minor lords with no right to vote. They had been allowed in merely as advisors to the six great lords of Westernesse.

Aldarion walked to his chair and started the proceedings. Later, Ancalimë would not be able to remember a single word, only the dead silence of the attendants.

“We are here today to ponder the succession to the Sceptre of Númenor. It is my intent to name my only child, Ancalimë, Heir to the Sceptre. Make your voices be known.”

For a minute, every one held their breath. Then Ailinel rose to speak.

“My brother, you are still young in your years and your estranged wife will surely die much sooner than yourself. Will you not ponder postponing this decision?”

Aldarion smiled. “Dear sister, I appreciate your concern, but my lawful wife gave me a perfectly good child, intelligent and strong-willed. I do not need other children, nor do I wait anxiously for her death. My heir should be the blood of my blood.”

Orchaldor rose. “My wife spoke wisely, and not with unkind feelings. But may I remind you that my son, Soronto, is also blood of your blood, and more, he is a son of Hador, older and more experienced than my niece and the son of the Lord of Orrostar? Not many would object to his naming as Heir to the Sceptre.”

Aldarion pressed his lips, his eye darting to his right.

A tall man rose. “I would object. By blood, I am closer to Elros Tar-Minyatur than your son,” Valandil said.

Ancalimë felt like cheering. It was akin to watching a play, carefully rehearsed, all actors falling into place, saying the right lines.

Lord Hallatan, a distant cousin from Mittalmar, rose. “That may be so, but the Heir to the Sceptre is the closest male relative to the king, and Soronto is a nephew, not a cousin, with all due respect.”

Ancalimë was surprised. Her father had told her at length about Hallatan’s loyalty and how he had been the first to accept Tar-Meneldur’s decision to make him King.

“Laws can be changed,” Valandil said. “My mother should have been the ruling queen, as Tar-Meneldur has often said in the presence of many, if not all of you. But it was not so. Two wrongs do not make a right. We are faithful to the crown and we support a change in the law that allows for an eldest daughter to be ruling queen.”

A discreet cheer was heard from behind Valandil. Ancalimë caught her cousin Isilmë’s mischievous eyes.

But another man rose. Ancalimë recognized in him Gimlân, the lord of Forostar, an old ally of her grandfather.

“The princess could marry Lord Soronto. No one could object to such a union and we would not be having this discussion.”

“Oh, but we would,” Ailinel said, rising angrily. “Who would receive the Sceptre, were they married? Her or my son? My son is the lawful heir, and he shall not be voided of his rights.”

“Her?” Valandil asked. “I think you meant ‘my niece’ or ‘Ancalimë’. I refuse the notion that a girl should be wedded if not for love. We do not use such customs in Andustar.”

Abrazimir, the Lord of Hyarnustar rose slowly. Ancalimë had not seen anyone so old, not since Silmariën, but she had heard much about his legendary ability to draft law and make it come to term. “The House of Hador bears much weight on this island, by number and by riches, but we are not here to discuss how to make it rise even higher,” he said, nodding at Orchaldor.

Ailinel’s eyes sparkled with anger but even she was not so rude as to interrupt the elder man.

“The blood of Elros Tar-Minyatur is the issue,” he continued. “It is true that a ruling queen is something unheard of.” Many assented. “But women in Hyarnustar have been ruling houses, even assumed lordships when the need has come. My own mother held our house for many years, after my father’s death, until I came of age, and she did so quite well. We stand with Andustar on the succession, but we would see a few precautions put into place.”

“And what might be those precautions?” Aldarion asked.

Ancalimë heard nothing new as the elder lord replied. “The eldest daughter can inherit the throne, but she can refuse the reign. My dear,” he said, turning to Ancalimë, “do you think that is fair? No one has asked you if you are willing to take this weight upon your shoulders.”

“I am, my lord,” Ancalimë replied, her voice firmer than her hands.

“I am glad,” Abrazimir said. “Still, we are making law for times to come. If a woman refuses the Sceptre or dies childless, the heir should be the nearest kinsman by male or female descent. I should think that would please you, my Lord Orchaldor.”

Orchaldor and Ailinel looked straight ahead, as they had not been addressed.

“Lord Valandil, son, do you agree?”

Valandil assented with a nod.

Lord Hallatan and Lord Gimlân both rose, waiting to speak.

“Lord Gimlân, speak,” Aldarion ordered.

“The succession is a serious matter and should not be left to the hands of fate or the whims of a girl. If we pass this law, I should like to see a specific provision made. If you will not force the girl to wed a consort chosen by this council, at least force her to choose from within the line of Elros, to avoid some tragic mistake.”

The lines around Aldarion’s eyes tensed ever so-slightly. “I find that suggestion acceptable, Lord Gimlân, although I would advise you to be careful of your words.”

Arnubalkân, Lord of Hyarrostar, rose. “I owe my allegiance to my king, who has brought so many riches to our land, previously the poorest of Elenna. I also speak for the Guild, which has men from all corners of the island. I would vote for this law to be written now, save for one precaution: I think it is prudent that if a ruling queen remains unmarried for a long time, she has to abdicate. I say this to avoid that we come to this day again.”

“Surely abdication is too strong an imposition. Would you say the same to a wedded king who produced no heirs?” Isilmë asked.

All heads turned.

“I apologise for my daughter, who had no right to speak in this council,” said Valandil, glaring at her, “but she made a fine point.”

“I agree with Hyarrostar and will only vote this motion if this provision is included,” Lord Gimlân said.

“Valandil?” Aldarion asked.

“Aye.”

“Lord Abrazimir?”

“Aye.”

“Orchaldor, law-brother?”

“Nay.”

A few gasps were heard in the room. Ancalimë clenched her clammy fists.

Aldarion wrote something in a sheet of paper and had the page take it to Orchaldor.

Orchaldor read it and passed it to Ailinel. They looked around, at all the faces in the room, then exchanged a glance. Ailinel nodded so very slightly.

“Aye,” Orchaldor said.

A booming cheer echoed through the room. From the halls, another wave of cheer rose, in reply. Ancalimë felt as if she was still dreaming. Zamîn should be outside waiting for this. Îbal too, for he had come, as promised. But by her side was her father, gazing at her and smiling, his eyes shining too bright.

As the cheer died, Aldarion cleared his throat. “Let the records be published and affixed in all the town halls of Númenor.”

He rose, took Ancalimë’s hand and led her out of the room.

“What was in that paper?” she asked, when they closed the doors of the antechamber.

“A decade tax-free. A little bribe to help them accept the inevitable. It was important that they voted for you.”

Ancalimë winced. “Father! You should not have!”

“It had to be done. Do not worry, my darling, I will bring more gold from overseas. We will talk about these things tomorrow. Now, the palace awaits us.”

Ancalimë followed him, pleased but not completely. Her first big battle in life had been won without a word or action from her.


Within a few days, her father called her to him and they talked about what was to be her role as Heir to the Sceptre. Ancalimë was not sure she liked her father’s idea, but she had to agree that she had to start proving herself somewhere.

Many men of the Guild of Adventurers came from the poorest parts of Númenor. Not everyone had a home and a farm like Ulbar, her father’s friend. Her father had cited them as well-off, by comparison, and Ancalimë was aware they did not starve. But Îbal had never learned to read, and only knew rudimentary mathematics. When the men went overseas, in search of riches, the women and children and elderly parents were left behind. Ancalimë was to keep track of them and give succour to the most desperate cases, lest poverty gave the Guild a bad name.

She had hoped she would be regent during her father’s next sea voyage, but Aldarion had said it was too soon. He had given her an allowance of ten thousand crowns for this pursuit. Ancalimë had no idea if this was much, enough, or too little.

She went to the Lord Treasurer and asked for numbers. His answer was what she expected.

“The record system has not changed since the Lady Vardilmë created it, your Highness. It was very fine indeed at the time, but alas, we have other needs now.”

Ancalimë tried to persuade her father to let her work with the Lord Treasurer in reforming the information collection system, but Aldarion shrugged. His eyes were set already on his next voyage. The Lord Treasurer also shrugged. As much as he would like to change a few things, reforms always met resistance and the lords would not give new information for the censuses for fear of increased taxation. If anything should ever be done, it would be with the king’s personal commitment behind it.

So when Aldarion set out to the sea, barely six months later, Ancalimë had ten thousand crowns and no idea where to start. She headed for Rómenna, thinking that she might find many of the sailors’ families there. She did find some. They did not live in the absolute squalor Aldarion had mentioned, but their lives were far from easy.

Zamîn went with her, as always, and had no qualms about the way Ancalimë was spending money on them. “I don’t think you have seen the full of it. Save the money, lest you regret it later.”

They moved on, going to the centre of Hyarrostar’s forests, where most villages were. The families were poorer. Many mentioned hunger.

“But you sell wood for the ships,” Ancalimë said to one town mayor.

“Yes, your Highness, in the beginning of the Guild and for many years we did sell wood, until Tar-Meneldur forbade it. It kept many families afloat and the men home. When your father lifted the ban, the business of wood-selling thrived again, but wood needs time to grow, and now our king has started felling trees in Enedwaith and Minhiriath, over yonder.” The man pointed with his chin to the horizon. “The fellows go over there to fell the trees and work the wood, but who stays here with the women and children? If I had a gold coin for every hungry child I see in the street, I’d be a rich man. Sure, they come back rich, when they do come back. It’s risky work.”

The man lowered his head. “Apologies, your Highness, if I have been too frank with my words. We do love the King and are loyal to him. Hyarrostar has seen many riches by his hand and further south the people are not doing so poorly. Some fishermen also joined the Guild, but their wives and children can fish, whereas here, we rely on hunting and collecting from the woods, only that the woods are getting thinner and the trees too immature to supply for all of us. I hope you will forgive me.”

Ancalimë put the man at rest.

By the time Ancalimë reached Nindamos, she completely understood Zamîn’s urging for parsimonious spending of her allowance, because half was gone. The city, once rich and thriving, felt neglected. Quickly she found that the price of gold had fallen substantially in the latest years, owing to the gold that was brought from overseas. Nindamos’ main source of riches was the gold that people gathered from the Siril upstream, and was purified and crafted into jewellery in the many shops of the city.

Despondent, she followed her course, along the shores of Hyarnustar. The province did look less affected than Hyarrostar and that lifted her heart. They still produced enough grain to merit the title of Elenna’s Silos, as she had learned in the books. The people looked merry and the children well-fed. She was happy to accept the invitation of Lord Abrazimir to visit his house.

“The West side is less affected, my dear, true,” Abrazimir said one evening, once Ancalimë had felt comfortable enough to discuss her task with him. She desperately needed counsel from someone other than Zamîn, who kept telling her to tie the knots to her purse. “But,” Abrazimir continued, “Do not think that we do not feel the shock waves coming from the East. We sell less, because of the rising prices of food there, but still our silos are slowly emptying as we give succour to immigrants, to those who cannot find work in their own lands or embark out to the seas. Ask your cousin Valandil if it is not similar in Andustar. Elenna is only seeing the beginning of some very dark days, my dear. I shall not be here to witness the worst of it, but I fear for you.”

Ancalimë’s optimism floundered as she reached Andustar and Valandil confirmed Abrazimir’s words. The western side was still far from seeing the hunger and squalor that could be felt in the east, but commerce had slowed, and many families came from afar seeking employment.

Her grandfather Beregar’s perfume business had taken a deep blow, as the Guild’s voyages grew in number, bringing back sandal, incense, patchouli, amber, and other exotic scents from the Harad. The buyers of the important houses of Armenelos once would wear nothing but the finest essences from Nísilmaldar, but now laid their coin down for the stronger fragrances.

“Save your money for those who need it, child,” Beregar had said, “But put some sense in your father’s head. We cannot go on like this. All will suffer.”

Valandil had just nodded, but later he had called Ancalimë to the side. “I voted for you, not for loyalty to your father or for a bribe.”

Ancalimë shook her head and tried to hide the tears that threatened to spill. “Why did you vote for me? I know nothing! This ordeal of a mission that Father sent me on – I have been living in a different world. How can I rule if I have not the slightest idea of what goes on in this realm?”

“Calm down, cousin,” Valandil said, waiting for her to breathe. “This is why I voted for you. You care. You have a heart of gold. Soronto does what his mother tells him and drinks and gambles his days away. He would not lose a minute of sleep over this.”

Ancalimë filled her chest and straightened her back. “But what can I do? I cannot make my father stop going abroad. My mother tried… Now I am starting to understand some things better.”

“Your father is a visionary and you should not dismiss his work, which is of the utmost importance, I believe,” Valandil said, holding her hand. “But you need to start carving out your own place now, not later.”

“I do not know where to begin. I do not even have the numbers of the land. How many tradesmen went under? How many farmers abandoned the fields? And the children – how many starve? Do you know how dirty some houses are? And few can read or go beyond the most basic mathematics. And even if I try to do something, who will support me? I have two thousand crowns left. I wrote the Lord Treasurer, asking for an advancement on next year’s provision. Did you know what he said, cousin? That the ten thousand were for the whole three years my father will be gone. I am not even regent. Tell me, what can I do?”

Valandil squeezed Ancalimë’s hand. “You can go home. Or go to your grandparents. Cousin Meneldur is not growing younger. You have clashed with reality, now you must digest it.”

“But should I abandon my mission? What would that make of me?”

“You are not abandoning – you are taking time to reflect. Besides, Forostar is doing well enough. The Guild is struggling with mining on the continent and Forostar sells their ore without great difficulty. Orrostar just received a great bonus and they would criticize you as much for going as for not going.”

Ancalimë shook her head. “It does not seem right.”

“Chose your own path. Take your time, is all I can say.”

Ancalimë rose and started pacing the room. She wanted ideas, she wanted Valandil’s vast experience to bubble into solutions that she could take and implement, not abstract advice. Still, she had no alternatives. Two thousand crowns was less than her dress allowance at court. She had been foolish in injecting eight thousand crowns in a makeshift approach. Zamîn had warned her. She could not go home. Erendis would tell her some harsh truths about her father that she was not ready to listen, not yet, even seeing all the muddle his actions had caused.

“I have been living in an ivory tower,” she said.

The next morning, she left for Sorontil with Isilmë. If she had to be miserable, at least she would have a friend with her.

Chapter Text

Rómenna, Arandor, 896 SA

Ancalimë endured. She could taste the word on her mouth. Endure. After her first journey through Elenna as Heir of the Sceptre in her failed mission, she had returned to court, hoping to garner aid for her cause. To her surprise, many doors had opened. Most nobility, high and low, invited her to their city houses for lavish dinners that only reminded her more poignantly of the poverty and disarray she had seen. She had eagerly accepted those invitations and had sat at the table ready to discuss what could be done in the absence of the king, how much money would be needed to raise the ailing families, or to create shelters for women, but even the lords of the east and the south, only smiled politely. Quickly, Ancalimë understood the game. They had sons. She would have a sceptre, one day. She tried stalling, insinuating, hinting without compromising, but she was playing a game for which she had not been trained, whereas they had a lifetime of experience.

She then tried the guilds. The masters were polite but reserved. She remembered something Meneldur had once told her: no one touches the guilds. She tried to be gentle, playing the lady game Almarian had tried to teach her, but she was not good at it. They were not impressed and told her only that they could not receive more apprentices, that women were barred from most trades because of ancient rules, but also because they could not read or count, and that the elderly should have saved more in their youth.

She was determined, and she had tried the hierophants next. They did not help either. They were few and were used to lives of austerity. What little they earned from giving blessings, they used for their own survival.

Now and then her cousin Valandil would take in a dislodged family, but many preferred to stay in Rómenna by the harbour, waiting for the never-returning ships than to move to a distant land. Erendis, grudgingly, had agreed to receive a few girls, even boys, and help establish them as shepherds but the families would have none of it. The fathers would one day return and should not see their children so lowered. And thus they preferred to continue to live on scraps, to Ancalimë’s great frustration.

She tried the nobles again and the Lord Treasurer, and the guilds. They told her she exaggerated. True, times had been better, but a few families, who would be drowning in riches when the ships came in, did not make a poor country.

Her hands were tied. She was very careful in using the remaining allowance, and she even struck a bargain with the Lord Treasurer to convert as much of her dress money as he would allow to this cause. But the number of poor families grew.

She used her time to learn from the Lord Treasurer. The old man would not budge in money matters, but he was glad to show her the records and teach her the accounting. They would spend much time discussing how the taxation system had been built and how it was behaving under the current pressures. Ancalimë had been shocked to learn how much gold had left the Treasury for ship building and provisioning. Tar-Aldarion’s ever-growing fleet might be a thing of beauty, dotting the bay of Rómenna, but it was not paying for itself, unlike what her father liked to retort to those opposing him.

Finally, after four long years, a messenger came. Sails had been seen on the horizon. She rode to Rómenna and there was the fleet, coming in, the sails piercing white under the sun. She quickly counted the ships, and then a second time. Three were missing. Three in fifteen. Her first thoughts were to how much money would their loss cost the Treasury, but as they grew closer, she realized one was the Palarran. Îbal was on that ship. All thoughts about finance left her mind as she fervently prayed that it had not been lost at sea, that instead her father had ordered them to remain on the continent.

The ships dropped anchor in the middle of the bay. Ancalimë knew they would first pay homage at Tol-Uinen and the prospect of having to wait for news threatened to kill her. She had to breathe deeply as they waited for nearly three hours.

Finally, the cockleboats were launched and the men started descending from the ships. Her father was the first man to set foot on the dock, and foregoing the formalities, he hugged her tightly for a long while.

“My princess,” he said, at last, letting her go. “I have missed you.”

Aldarion shooed away the court dignitaries and led Ancalimë through the crowd. He climbed the steps to the port master’s house and turned to face the crowd. Cheers erupted as families welcomed their men. It was not a time for speeches or official business, as much as the courtiers would have liked. The port master welcomed them into his office, and then left them alone.

“Father, three ships are missing,” Ancalimë said anxiously.

“Yes, yes,” Aldarion replied, sitting down at the port master’s desk. “One was lost to a storm, on the way back. It was an old vessel, with much to be desired in its construction. The other two had to remain at Vinyalondë. It is time we establish a permanent position there. As soon as we sort out a few things I will be sending more ships, and in a year or two, maybe even families. It is hard to keep the men there. But let us talk of these things on another day.”

Ancalimë nodded. “My friend, Îbal?”

“Ulbar’s son?” Aldarion shook his head. “There was a skirmish further up the river.”

Ancalimë gasped. “He’s… is he dead?”

Aldarion shook his head. “We do not know. Some of the men were kidnapped. Ulbar stayed back, searching for him.”

“Kidnapped? Why?”

“Sometimes they use them to bargain for land or things they need.”

Ancalimë looked out the window. The port was still bustling with emotional reunions and the unloading of personal belongings. Îbal was in peril or even dead and her father talked about sending more men to settle.

“Father, things have not been well here,” Ancalimë started.

Aldarion sighed. He put his legs up on the desk, crossed at the ankle. “I imagine there were some difficulties.”

“The mission you tasked me with… it did not go well.” Ancalimë quickly recounted all the obstacles and difficulties she had found and how much of what she had seen was a consequence of the guild’s voyages.

Aldarion listened quietly, his eyes fixed on his hands. “You sound like the Lord Treasurer,” he said tersely, when Ancalimë was done. “Or like your grandfather. Or your mother.” Aldarion dropped his feet to the floor and rose. “Must I never have someone supporting me? Is it so hard to see that if we do not shore up against the rising evil it will soon come to our door? And, yes, there are some difficulties, but are we a people of shepherds and farmers? We are of the blood of Elros! And our people come from those who had the nerve to venture to a lonely island. Have you read the records? Do you know how hard it was to fell forests to make fields and meadows? How the first generation often starved? How the kings, a mere four generations ago often worked the fields side by side with the peasants? We are settled and fat, but do you think it is sustainable?”

Ancalimë felt herself diminish as her father paced the room and continued with his diatribe.

“In all your readings and travels did you not see, Ancalimë, that the land was bursting with people? All these families that you mention – do you really think there would be enough jobs or even room for them in one or two generations? They are breeding like rabbits. Did the Lord Treasurer not show you those numbers? Your grandfather finally saw the truth and handed me the Sceptre in time. We need to send people to the continent. We have a responsibility to the elves who are ever our allies; we have a responsibility to ourselves, to fight the Shadow, and we have a responsibility to our people, to find a way for their continued sustenance. Do not suggest, daughter, that I have neglected Elenna or its people. What I do is for them!”

Aldarion paused and inhaled deeply. He shook his head, pinched his nose. Ancalimë dared not speak.

“I am sorry, child,” he said, finally looking at her. “You took the brunt of many years of frustration, with many people. But this is what I think and feel about our land. And you had better know it, if you are to rule one day. There are always two sides to a coin.”

Ancalimë lowered her eyes, but then she braved looking up. If she were to rule, one day, as her father had put it, she had to fight her battles. “Father,” she said, “I understand what you say, but I think more could, should, be done here.”

Aldarion’s face closed in an undecipherable expression. He looked at his daughter, then beyond her, to the harbour below.

“And what do you propose to do, daughter?”

“I do not know. How many years will it take for these families to join their fathers in the continent? How many years do you think will be needed to rebalance the workforce throughout the island? You are aware that the richest fiefdom is Orrostar. Do you think that is fair? Or that it ensures your power as king that your greatest opposition is wealthier and receives more benefits than your staunchest allies?”

Aldarion opened his mouth, but Ancalimë did not let him cut in. “Father, what you say is all and well, but your house needs tending. The taxes – you cannot go on taxing property – that makes the women who are left with barely any income lose their homes and then your sailors, their husbands, return to find they have no homes left. You need to tax income. Your men will not like it, but it is fairer by far. And you need to have your numbers straight. Númenor has grown in people and professions and more land is occupied than ever. And the children – you have to find a way to make them learn their letters and numbers. Ignorance serves no one, especially if you are so set in sending a whole generation abroad.”

Ancalimë realized she was breathing too fast and that her voice was positively shrill.

“I am sorry, Father, but you cannot-” she stopped. “You should not try to look to the future if what you leave behind is not well.”

Aldarion walked to the door and placed his hand on the knob. He looked back at Ancalimë. “This was not how I had envisioned our reunion. Here,” he tossed a small pouch toward Ancalimë. “A trinket for you. I will consider what you said.”

Aldarion left the room and Ancalimë followed him. The port still bustled, but in a more orderly fashion now. Their carriage awaited them. It was going to be a long ride back to Armenelos.


Aldarion’s disappointment weighed on Ancalimë. She tried to show enthusiasm for her father’s plans to create more settlements in Vinyalondë. He planned to take the settlers’ families on his next voyage, now that they had proper walls. He needed farmers, to be recruited from Hyarnustar. Ancalimë tried pointing out that many lands were already abandoned and that Númenor also needed wheat, but Aldarion only replied that there would be fewer mouths left. He also needed fishermen. In this, Ancalimë was able to convince him to recruit in the southern part of Orrostar. And he needed good masons and welders. Forostar, with its mines and quarries would be the place to search for the new Adventurers. He promised he would look into the taxes when he next returned.

Ancalimë tried to believe that her father was heeding her advice. But when he left, not a year later, with ten new ships, and many families and men, leaving her again with ten thousand crowns and no real power, she felt like climbing to the top of Meneltarma and screaming her lungs out. Aldarion would never listen to anyone. Erendis had been right. She tried, but it was painful to see Rómenna. Many of the sailors had gone for another commission. Some families had gone, while others stayed. Those who stayed, lavishly squandered their newly-found riches. The price of wheat kept rising. The rest of the island was more or less as before, slowly sliding down.

She went to Andustar. She missed Isilmë and there was not much she could do at the time. The allowance was to be spent later, closer to the date of Aldarion’s return, when it would be more needed. Later, she went to Sorontil with her cousin, seeking some peace of mind.

Tar-Meneldur and Almarian welcomed Ancalimë and Isilmë warmly, but Ancalimë was shocked to see them, especially her grandfather. The previous summer, she had seen them in Armenelos and at that time Meneldur had looked the same as ever. Now, his back was curved, and his shoulders slumped. His mind was sharp as ever, and his heart kind. He tried to assuage Ancalimë’s fears and to inspire trust for Aldarion.

While there, one autumn morning, Ancalimë and Isilmë went to the fair in Ondosto. They wandered through the stalls, stopping here for a cup of warm mead, there for a freshly-baked apple loaf. Isilmë whined a little at the scarcity of linen and silk, but both enjoyed unabashedly the stalls with wood sculptures and jewellery. Those were the works of the Drúedain and it was fortunate to see them here, as they rarely left their villages in the north of Andustar and Forostar.

They heard music and were pushed to the side by the crowd. Musicians, acrobats and clowns dressed in bright colours dazzled the children and adults alike, collecting coins here and there.

“We were truly fortunate to have come today, cousin,” Isilmë said, all but clapping.

“I know!” Ancalimë took her hand and they followed the parade. They watched them for a while at the main square, but then Isilmë noticed a small stand to the side.

“Look! A fortune teller!” Isilmë said excitedly. “I am betting it is one of those Drúedain wise women. Come, let us go!”

Ancalimë followed her reluctantly. She had too much on her mind to find much amusement in the vagaries of a charlatan, but Isilmë would soon be gone to her home and she might as well try and share her cousin’s amusement.

It was warm in the tent and a strong, pleasant scent of something burning made Ancalimë crinkle her nose. Incense. That was rare. They sat and waited for a few moments. The fortune teller came from the back of the tent. Her face was a map of lines, and her back was bent, but her eyes shone bright. She was Druédain, judging from the short stature, the darker skin and the prominent cheekbones. Ancalimë wondered if she was from the same family as the woodworkers and the acrobats. It was unusual for so many Druédain to be away from their land at one time.

“Two fine young ladies,” the fortune teller said, sitting down before them. “What is it you wish to know, my lovelies? Marriage, children?”

Isilmë smiled. “Whatever you see fit to tell us.”

“Very well, then.” The old woman took a pouch from her bosom and dropped several small stones in the hands of Isilmë. “Hold them, dear, and think of something that is precious to you.”

Isilmë smiled a small, sad smile, and closed her eyes for a moment. Then she looked at the woman and nodded.

“Drop the stones here in the mat, dear,” the woman said, unfolding an embroidered velvet mat before them. Isilmë obeyed.

The woman frowned at the scattered stones. “Your father is an important man and you have lived a charmed life,” she said after a moment. Ancalimë rolled her eyes. They were dressed simply, but it was still evident from the quality of their clothes and their demeanour that they were not poor.

“Are you sure you want to know more, my dear?” the woman asked, holding Isilmë’s hand.

Isilmë looked at Ancalimë.

“I do not know. Is it that bad?” Isilmë asked with nervous laughter.

“You will be happy until the day you die,” the woman said. “Do not ask more.”

Ancalimë rose and tried to pull Isilmë up. “Come, cousin,” she urged, but Isilmë shook her head and giggled, then openly laughed, as always.

“See what good fortune this kind woman has read me? Happy till the day I die. Now it is your turn!” She pulled down Ancalimë, making her sit.

Grudgingly, Ancalimë picked up the stones and threw them. The woman looked at them and rose to her feet as if scalded.

“Your Highness,” she said bowing. “I apologize. I did not recognize you, for I have never seen you before.”

Ancalimë’s mouth went dry. The woman could have seen her during numerous official occasions, although the Druédain seldom attended, or someone might have told her before she entered the tent. The woman seemed honestly startled, though, and so she decided to remain quiet.

The old woman sat again and took a deep breath. “Your reign will be long, the longest in history, save for the Half-elven king. You will face many trials.” She looked up at Ancalimë. “Sweet girl, you have a kind heart, still, but time will try your patience. Hold on to love, as hard as you can. Forget deceit, for it will be done in love. You will conceive twice, but only one will live to full age. Guard your heart, dear, but not from everyone.”

The woman sighed, her face scrunching as in great pain. “You are weary already, from fighting against the tide.”

Ancalimë bowed her head ever so slightly. The woman’s words made her feel uneasy.

“I am Golel, your Highness,” the old woman said. “If I ever can be of service to you, I will be at your call. My family is sailing these shores. We are collecting coin for the fare. A great evil will come, not in our lifetime, maybe not even in yours, but I have seen enough to want to flee, and so have the other seers of my tribe. My sons and daughters are taking their families, but I will stay behind, for now.”

Ancalimë rose and made a courteous nod. She gave the woman two pieces of silver, but Golel refused them.

“I’ve brought you nothing but ill omens today, dear girls. Please wait.” Golel went into the back of the tent and returned swiftly with two packets. “To ease childbirth,” she said, handing one to Isilmë. “And to give you the blessing of sleep, your Highness, for you will need it, but use sparingly and only in the times of darkest need.”


From her very first journey to Armenelos, Ancalimë had made a habit of leaving something of hers behind. The first time, she left a doll under the bed to see if her father would keep her things intact while she was back at Emerië. When she returned, the doll was sitting on her bed, surrounded by new clothes. From then on, she and Aldarion had played that game, and later, she had done the same with her grandparents.

When she reached Sorontil, she tucked away the small vial the old woman had given her, as she had always done with her treasures as a child, and gave it no more thought. The woman had said nothing that a smart person could not fathom for themselves, she told herself, to dispel the dark mood.

Chapter Text

Hyarastorni, Mittalmar, 985 SA

After her father departed, Ancalimë endured still more. As she had learned the last time, it was a matter of bidding money against time. But at the end of the promised four years there were no ships in the horizon and there was little money left for her to distribute.

A month passed, then another, then another. She could not withstand sitting in Armenelos knowing of the difficulties felt by her countrymen. Aldarion, once again, had not left her as regent, claiming she was still too young. Worse, now that Orrostar also felt the growing pressure, Orchaldor and Ailinel kept coming to court, pressuring her to marry their son and sparing no effort in pointing out to her and to others all of her inability to handle the single task her father had trusted in her.

Perhaps they were right, in that she lacked what it took to rule. Once, in a moment that Ancalimë bitterly regretted, she had exploded at dinner time, in front of more people than was advisable.

“I should be free to wed whom I will,” she had said to her aunt, her voice loud and angered, “and that would be Úner, whom I prefer above all others." (Úner = no man)

“Ah, just like your mother, then,” Ailinel immediately retorted. “We all know how dear Erendis failed her country and her king.”

Ancalimë set her glass on the table so hard it had shattered in her hand, cutting her. Immediately, the servants rushed to tend to her, but she ignored them and the blood trickling down her fist. “You shall apologize, Aunt, and then return to your home,” she coldly said as she rose.

Not a breath could be heard in the dining hall. Ailinel rose and Orchaldor followed her. Both stood facing Ancalimë with hardened faces.

“Apologise for telling the truth, niece?” Ailinel cried. “I should think not. I will retire, although you have no authority to make me leave. I should not stay where I am not wanted. But remember, a ruling queen, if there will ever be such a thing, must marry, by law.”

Ancalimë was ashamed of herself, for being so easily goaded even after all this time at court, for not controlling herself, and for suspecting that Ailinel might just be right. She needed to be away from all the eyes constantly fixed upon her, analysing her every word, her every move. It had been a long time since she had last visited her mother, and some harsh words had been said. She missed her mother and she missed Zamîn, who claimed to be too old to keep on with her ‘trotting’. She left the following morning and rode for two days, straight to Emerië, with only a short stop for changing horses.

The house, gleaming white against the backdrop of the emerald-green fields, made her heart leap. She spurred her horse on, leaving behind her servants. It was good that she did for they did not see how coldly her mother greeted her. She reached for an embrace, but her mother merely offered her cheek to be kissed and then turned her back and walked inside. Ancalimë remembered that morning, long ago, when her father had called to see her. She had been loyal to her mother, pretending not to know who he was.

She followed her mother inside. Blood had seeped through the bandage in her hand, during the long ride.

“You have hurt your hand,” Erendis said tersely, as she led her to the kitchen.

“It was nothing.” Ancalimë did not want to tell Erendis what had happened. It would feel too much like begging for approval.

“Eat,” Erendis said. She cut bread and poured milk for Ancalimë herself. It was the way her mother showed affection and care. Ancalimë drizzled honey on the bread and they sat silently, as she ate.

“Where is Zamîn?” Ancalimë asked at last.

Erendis jerked back. “Zamîn? Did you not get my letter? Or can you not be bothered to open them anymore? Zamîn was buried two months ago.”

Ancalimë choked. “I did not receive it, Mother, I swear. I would have come. How did it happen?”

“A winter cold that stretched into spring, then summer. Zamîn was very old.”

Stunned, Ancalimë lowered her eyes to her food and bit her lip. A flood of memories rushed in. Sitting on Zamîn’s lap to hear a story, on that very kitchen. Trying to help her with the chores, only to spill milk or get the fresh laundry dirty again. Zamîn would say the most tremendous things until Ancalimë felt terrified and amused in equal parts. And how thoughtful Zamîn had been the first times they had been to court and later what good advice she had given her. Ancalimë felt hot tears rolling down her face. Why wasn’t she told? Despite her efforts, her staff was composed of incompetents and upstarts. She could just imagine her maid dropping the letter as she gossiped on the halls or worse, going through her personal letters, thinking the news of an old servant not relevant or appropriate for her eyes.

“Mother, I did not know,” she sobbed. For the first time in years, Erendis put her arms around her and kissed her hair.

“I know, I know, dear.”


Ancalimë slept for many hours that day. Later, Erendis took her to Zamîn’s grave. They stood silently, but on the way back, Ancalimë told Erendis everything, even knowing what it meant. Her mother was surprisingly understanding. She listened quietly, made a few questions here and there. Then they sat in the back garden and watched the sun go down in the hills.

“I think you have done all that you could with what little you had,” Erendis said. “Now, let us dine, my child.”

“I failed again and again, Mother. And no one helped me.”

Erendis pressed her lips in a bitter line. “Often failure is the only path. You did what you could.”

Ancalimë was happy that for once, she did not have to hear a diatribe about her father’s irresponsibility. It did not take long, though. Erendis talked little, referring only to Emerië and the life in her household, and Ancalimë felt at peace.

A few days after a woman with two children knocked on the back door. Erendis herself opened the door. The woman was seeking employment. Neither she nor the children had shoes and their clothes were in tatters. Their faces were gaunt. She was a widow of the Guild, as they called them, and she had lost her home, for lack of money to pay the annual tax for the past two years.

Erendis took them in, fed them and left them with Todaphel, who had taken Zamîn’s place in the kitchen.

“See this,” she said, when Ancalimë came down. “You say your father has promised to change things but all I see is more of the same. I have taken in more servants here than are needed for three houses, and they keep coming, all because of the elves and your father’s dreams of grandeur. Now tell me you are still hoping that when he comes back things will change. Tell me he has his reasons for putting us all through this. Now what shall I do with these three? We can barely manage as it is.”

The children nested against the woman and the three of them seemed to shrivel as Erendis spoke. Ancalimë wanted to defend her father but she had nothing to say. All she wanted was for her mother to stop shouting.

“I will take them,” she said.

They had a house a little up north, something Beregar had inherited from an uncle but that was rarely used. Ancalimë liked riding there when she was younger and spending a day away from home. It was close to Îbal’s and they used to make believe it was haunted. Now, being so isolated was all that she wanted.

She left in the morning, irritated at her mother but unwilling to waste the energy saying all the things she needed to say. She took her servants and the widow. They cleaned the old house, fixed a few things and then she sent them away, with a missive for the Lord Treasurer on how to spend the last dregs of the money. She was done with it all. She made the woman promise that when she went to the village she would never say who it was that lived in the house. The boy painted the house white, as she liked it.

She bought a flock of sheep from an elderly couple for twice the market price. Her days were spent going up the hills, watching the sheep graze, petting the fine dog that had come with the flock and then going down, eating an earthy stew and fresh bread and going to sleep. Now and then, her mind turned to the world, but she resolutely turned it back to milk and wool and grass. Her legs grew strong, her skin tanned. She was happy.

Until one day. The weather had been unstable with the coming of winter. A dense fog covered the hills and Ancalimë realized she had lost a few sheep. She wandered through the hills, calling out for the dumb beasts, until she heard another voice.

“Here! Here!”

Ancalimë followed the cries until she met another shepherdess.

“Yours joined mine,” the woman called through the fog. As Ancalimë drew nearer, she realized she knew the woman. She was the daughter of Hallatan, the Sheep-lord, as they called him at court. She had been introduced to her once, but she could not recall the name. Cursing under her breath, Ancalimë moved forward.

“I think I might be lost,” she said, hoping that the woman would not recognize her.

“Understandable, given the weather,” the other woman said, her voice bursting with joy.

“I will just take mine and leave,” Ancalimë said, trying not to come too close.

“Nonsense! Come closer and we’ll share a meal before you are off on your way. I am Nessanië, by the way.”

Ancalimë thought she should refuse, but the cheerfulness in Nessanië’s voice was inviting and it would have been terribly rude just walking away with her sheep. She drew closer.

“Your Highness,” Nessanië said, startled, “I had not realized. You are a long way away from Emerië.”

Ancalimë nodded. “True. I am living in a family house over yonder.”

Nessanië shooed the sheep and stretched a small blanket out in the grass. “You are still welcome to join me, Your Highness.”

Ancalimë sank down. “Is it not a little unusual for the daughter of a lord to be out with the sheep?”

“Not as unusual as it is for the daughter of a king,” Nessanië replied with a wink.

Ancalimë smiled. She liked this new acquaintance.

“I stopped coming to the pastures when I was a girl, maybe your age,” Nessanië said, handing Ancalimë a wedge of cheese and a slice of bread. “My father sent me to court to be polished and find a husband.” She took a large bite of her cheese and munched on it with evident pleasure. “I spent a few years there and was promised to a fellow who I barely knew but he died at sea, so I returned home. My duties are mostly at home, but now and then I get to go out with my sheep. My father himself still does it, although he likes to grumble. We are humble people, despite the title.”

“You sound very content,” Ancalimë said.

“I am,” Nessanië replied. “It is good to be close to the land. You look like you know this yourself.”

Ancalimë nodded. “It has been peaceful, here. Can I ask you that you do not tell anyone that you saw me?”

“Of course. Promise.”

During that winter, Ancalimë often met Nessanië. She learned that Hallacar had found her a match and that her friend was pleased. Like Ancalimë herself, Nessanië had not particularly enjoyed being wooed by people who were more interested in an alliance with her father than in her, and they had even shared a few suitors. But now, she really liked the man her father had chosen.

“He is well-mannered and seems to have a good heart. His father has lands in Hyarnustar, cattle and wine, to the south. I want to have children. I will miss this, but I think I will be happy with this husband,” she said.

Ancalimë also learned that her friend had a brother, who had spent time at sea and had recently gone to Armenelos to stay, taking their father’s place. Her father was trying to marry him off to a niece of Orchaldor, but Nessanië was not too happy about it – the woman had a reputation for meanness and Nessanië had witnessed it a couple of times.

Ancalimë remembered how Hallatan had talked about her during the Council of the Sceptre and how he had not shown any interest in engaging with her when she was trying to woe the lords of Elenna for her cause. She had no great love for the man, but he had been a staunch supporter of her father and she did like his daughter very much. Soon they were friends and she was sad when Nessanië told her she would stop coming to the pastures, for her wedding day was approaching and she needed to make preparations.

One day, nearing summer, Ancalimë passed by their old place of meeting. She missed her friend and was not expecting to see her, but she heard the bells of the sheep in the distance. She came down the hill, hoping that by some twist of fate her friend was back, but instead she saw a tall man with a shock of blond hair leaning against a tree. His simple clothes did not hide that he was remarkably handsome and well-built. He greeted her with a heart-stopping grin.

“The Lady Nessanië told me about a fellow shepherdess,” he said.

Ancalimë rose an eyebrow. “And you might be whom?”

“Mámandil, my lady.”

Ancalimë’s heart skipped a beat. Had Nessanië betrayed her identity? She gave a curt nod and prepared to leave.

“Lady, please stay a while,” Mámandil said. “I play the flute.”

Mámandil produced the instrument from his bag and smiled, before attacking a cheerful country ditty.

Ancalimë stayed listening to the spirited tune. She applauded discretely when he was done.

“Thank you, my lady.”

“Why do you call me lady?” she asked.

“It is obvious, despite the mud on the hem of your dress. And the Lady Nessanië said that I should treat you with the utmost respect, if we ever crossed paths.”

“Do you usually treat women disrespectfully, so that you need reminding?” Ancalimë asked.

Mámandil laughed. “Not at all. But the lady seems to like you very much.”

Mámandil stuck his flute in his bag and whistled for his dog. “Tomorrow I can bring a very fine long-cure cheese my mother makes, if you are willing to share a meal with a humble shepherd.”

Ancalimë did not reply. She watched impassibly as he left with his flock. Something about the meeting had felt contrived, somehow, but nevertheless, she was eager to meet this Mámandil again. She dismissed her doubts, attributing them to her time in court, where no one could be trusted.

She returned the next day. She knew she was lying to herself when she said she was just passing by a site she liked. He was singing another cheerful little ditty and did not stop on her account. His voice was beautiful, rich, deep, but full of joy. She sat and listened. When he finished the song, he bowed his head.

“A good morning to you, Emerwen Aranel.”

Ancalimë rose an eyebrow. “That is quite a title…”

“It suits you fine. You do look like a princess and you are a shepherdess.”

“Aren’t you clever,” Ancalimë replied tersely. The more drawn she felt to this man, the more acid the words that left her mouth. Fortunately, he did not seem to mind.

“My mother always said so,” he replied, winking.

Ancalimë remained quiet, searching for something to say.

“Do you sing?” he asked.

Ancalimë shook her head. “No.” She wanted to say more, that in the house she had grown everybody sang but her and her mother, that her voice broke at all the wrong places, that she wanted desperately to be able to sing, one song, one time that was not painfully bad, but she held quiet. She had spent a lifetime trying to hold her tongue and now it held itself, at the wrong time.

“I can teach you. You look like someone who could sing… something about your eyes.”

Ancalimë did not know what to say to that. She looked up. “Looks like the sky is going to hold.”

Mámandil laughed. “You are delightfully shy.”

He took his flute and started playing again. It was a strange tune in a lower key, sad and soft.

“It sounds southern,” Ancalimë said. “Haradrim, that is.”

“It is. I once sailed with the Guild, some years ago.”

“Oh? It is said that a man who sails once is forever lost to the sea. Yet, here you are.”

“I love my land.” Mámandil crossed his legs at the ankles. “I loved sailing down to the south, then up to the coast until we reached Enedwaith. I will have memories for a lifetime, from what I saw, but my place is here.”

Ancalimë smiled. “And have you travelled in Elenna?”

“Oh yes. Sadly, I was only once in Andustar, but all the other provinces I know well.”

“That is unusual, for a shepherd,” Ancalimë said.

“I am an unusual shepherd,” Mámandil deflected.

As he pulled bread and cheese from his bag, Ancalimë watched him closely.

“Here, the cheese I told you about,” he said, cutting a wedge and handing it to her. “I will bet you have never tasted anything quite like it.”

Ancalimë doubted that – she had grown up in Emerië, after all. The cheese was formidable, though.

“Want some ale to go with that?” Mámandil asked, holding out his wineskin.

Ancalimë took it, chiding herself for feeling a giddy pleasure in touching her lips to the place where his had been. She finished her cheese and rose to her feet, straightening her skirts.

“Thank you for the meal and the songs,” she said. Mámandil was strange. Despite all his cheer and his good manners, she felt he was dangerous, somehow.

“Tomorrow, same time,” he shouted to her back, as she walked down the hill.

Of course she would not go. The purpose of running away to the fields was to be alone, away from all her troubles, from the vultures and false friends and sniggering fools of the court. The purpose of running away was to forget herself and her constant strife to better, the best, someone Erendis could finally trust and someone Aldarion would finally listen to. The purpose of running away was to forget the constant pressure to choose from distantly related cousins, most of whom she had only briefly met during her visits to court or had never met at all. She did not want to marry. Her parents were good examples of why it should not be done. Love turned to vinegar swiftly, and what could be said about a marriage without even that.

So, she would not see the shepherd again. But why had her thoughts followed that path, from marriage to a man she had just met?

She thought of Mámandil. He was strange. His simple, open way reminded her of poor Îbal. But unlike her friend, who was dark of skin and hair, this man could have been her father’s son. He was handsome. Handsome and mysterious.

The next morning, the sheep were uncontrollable. They followed the path from the previous days. Ancalimë knew she could have tried harder. Mámandil was there. As in the previous day, they talked of simple things. Ancalimë was cautious, not to reveal too much of herself, but Mámandil seemed to respect that reserve. She liked him more for that.

Somehow, she found him again, the next day. And in the next. And within a mere month, a day where she would not meet him was an empty day, a wasted day. She realized what was happening to her, and how badly she wished for Mámandil to kiss her. She had been kissed once, by force, at court and, of course, Isilmë and she had tried it, when they were girls. But this was different. Sometimes Mámandil would stand close, to show her something in the distance. She felt the warmth of his body and leant in ever so slightly, hoping that she was not making a fool of herself. If their hands should happen to brush together, she would be startled by the jolt she felt, but reluctant to recoil. She wondered if he felt the same attraction for her. She was not sure. For years men had told her she was beautiful. She knew she was. But they had not wanted her for her beauty.

It happened when she had stopped expecting it. One day, Mámandil just leaned in and kissed her. Or maybe she reached up. She ran away, thinking she was out of her mind. A shepherd. A travelled one, a smart, handsome one, but she was still the daughter of the king. She could not play games. Worse, this was no game. She wanted this man with every beat of her heart. She stayed away for days, reliving the kiss every moment.

One night she heard a soft rap on her window, then a whisper, “Emerwen Aranel.” She wrapped herself in a shawl and came to the window.

Mámandil stood outside, grinning. “I would serenade you, but I do not want to embarrass you in front of the others who dwell with you.”

Ancalimë stepped back. Her heart threatened to leave her chest. Mámandil must have taken that as an invitation of some sort because he swiftly jumped through the window. Ancalimë stepped further back, cursing her house for having only a ground level.

“Shh,” he said. “I am not here to harm you.” He stood by the window, with the moonlight on his back. “I missed you, these last few days.”

“You should go,” Ancalimë forced herself to say.

“Only if you promise you will meet me tomorrow.”

Ancalimë knew it was unwise, but she assented with a nod. Mámandil crossed the space between them and kissed her on the forehead. As he left, as swiftly as he had come, she was left standing, stunned. He was bold. Was this how the common people lived, with no boundaries? But she liked that boldness. She was disappointed that he had only kissed her forehead, as if she were a little sister, but at the same time, she was enchanted that he had sought her out and that he had been so gentle. She could not sleep until dawn.

In the morning, she sent the boy out with the sheep and tried her long-abandoned embroidery. She hated embroidery, she quickly remembered. She had few books here. She tried her favourite, the atlas that Meneldur had given her long ago. She could not concentrate. She went to the kitchen and tried to help with the cooking, but she ended up spilling a jug of milk. She left before her presence made the woman too nervous. It was sunny. She wandered outside the house. As she walked away, she kept telling herself that she should return. That she should change direction and head elsewhere. But she still walked to their hill. He was just leaving with his flock, when she arrived.

“I was starting to think you were not a woman of your word,” he said solemnly.

“Well, I am,” Ancalimë lied. She was there for many reasons – keeping her word was none of those.

“Well, I hope I will see you tomorrow, then, because today it is time to head home.”

Mámandil left with a curt nod.

The next day, she was there before him. She fidgeted with the stalk of a wild flower until it looked as it had been chewed. She was preparing to leave when he came.

“Two strays,” he said. “It took us a long time to find the stupid beasts. I am sorry I am late.”

“It is my time to go,” Ancalimë said.

“Please stay.” Mámandil took her hand and waited for an answer, looking into her eyes. Ancalimë thought he would kiss her, but he did not.

They sat on the grass and shared their fare. It was almost as if they had returned to the beginning, when Ancalimë did not trust Mámandil and did not know what to say. But this time, he was also quiet.

“I want to hear you singing,” he said, as they put the leftovers away.

Ancalimë smiled. “You may continue wanting. I do not sing.”

“Please, just once.”

“No.”

“Please?”

Ancalimë shook her head, amused at Mámandil’s pleading.

“I will never sing to you again,” he threatened.

“I shall miss your voice terribly,” she said with an impassable face. “You do sing well. Perhaps I shall hide and wait to hear you sing, now and then.”

Mámandil laughed. “You would have to be creative. There are not many hiding places here.”

“Oh? I am pretty sure it is feasible. Are you a betting man?”

“I am,” Mámandil replied. “When?”

“I cannot tell you when – it would ruin the element of surprise.”

“Fine, but within the next seven days.”

“Agreed.”

“What do I win if I find you? Can I hear you sing?”

“Not at all.” Ancalimë could not recall the last time she had had so much mischievous fun, except for childhood with Îbal or Isilmë.

“Then a kiss,” Mámandil said.

Ancalimë laughed. “As you wish. You are going to lose, all the same.”

“We shall see.” Mámandil left with a wink.

Ancalimë planned well. She liked to win. She bided her time, too. The first fogs of autumn were coming in. She had six days. For the most part, the hills of Mittalmar were mounds of perfect roundness. Mámandil was right that they had little place to hide within hearing range. But their hill in particular, had a few tall rocks on the south side, not far from the place where they usually met. A good misty day, an early arrival and a bit of luck and she would surprise Mámandil. Also, she had to miss at least one day, so that he would search for her in vain, creating more uncertainty. It felt exciting, a world away from all the cares she had come to escape.

She hid in a nook between two rocks. In order to see her,Mámandil would have to stand very close, facing the gap between the rocks in a very specific direction. She wondered for how long she would have to wait. They had not gone into the finer details of their game.

He came a little late. She heard the sheep as they went up the hill and scattered, grazing. Her own were with the boy, far away to the south of her house. He played something on the flute, then started to sing.

“Emerwen Aranel, Emerwen Aranel,
She walks-the lady of my delight-
A shepherdess of sheep.
Her flocks are thoughts. She keeps them white;
She keeps them from the steep;
She feeds them on the fragrant height,
And folds them in for sleep.

She roams maternal hills and bright,
Dark valleys safe and deep.
Into that tender breast at night
The chastest stars may peep.
She walks-the lady of my delight-
A shepherdess of sheep.

She holds her little thoughts in sight,
Though gay they run and leap.
She is so circumspect and right;
She has her soul to keep.
She walks-the lady of my delight-
A shepherdess of sheep.”

Mámandil’s voice wandered closer, then farther away. Ancalimë knew she was well-hidden but the song was so sweet that she wanted to be found. She was about to call Mámandil out when his dog found her and started violently barking.

Mámandil laughed. “Here boy, you did a good job.” He held out his hand to help Ancalimë out from the narrow space.

“You cheat!” she said. “I never said you could use your dog to find me!”

“You never said I could not!” Mámandil laughed.

Ancalimë was annoyed and pleased in equal parts. She decided to forgive Mámandil, because of the song.

“I loved that song,” she said. “I had not heard it before.”

“You could not have. I wrote it for you… Emerwen Aranel.” Mámandil stood closer to her, brushing a stray lock from her face. She almost leaned into that touch. Her eyes followed his hand as he cupped her cheek.

“My kiss,” he said. He lowered his head and gently touched his lips to hers. Ancalimë was not sure how it came to be that her hands were on his chest, then on his neck, and his arms were around her, and she felt so warm and safe and fearful of those kisses, those hands that made her feel alight. He broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against hers, closing his eyes.

After that day they met often. Ancalimë tried to stop herself and skipped the meeting for a day or two, but on those days she felt as if she was missing a part of herself. Yet, for all his good qualities, her people would never accept a humble shepherd for the daughter of the king. When she was with him, though, she quickly forgot her worries. For once in her life, she felt completely happy. With him, she did not have to assuage doubt and fear of abandonment, nor did she have to pretend to be stronger than she was. He did not know who she was, and so, she did not have to question every sentence, every action. He loved her for what she was. And she loved him. She did not notice time slipping by, as they grew closer and closer.

One day, they were at the hilltop. Ancalimë straddled Mámandil and smiled, delighted, as he ran his hands from her waist to her breasts and down again. She felt him hard beneath her, and she rubbed against it, enjoying the waves of pleasure that rose from deep within and how he winced and gasped as she moved. She leaned forward and kissed him deeply, moving a little faster and harder on him. He turned her and slipped his hand under her skirt, up her leg. She pushed herself down on his hand, moaning as his fingers slipped inside her. He undid her quickly, after that, moving his thumb on her, nipping her breasts. She reciprocated, taking hold of his hardness and jerking it until he, too, gasped and came undone.

He lay on his back, covering his eyes against the sun with an arm. She nested against him.

“We should do this as man and wife. I want to be inside you,” he said at last. “I want all of you.”

Ancalimë wanted to move, to get to her feet and go home. They had had this conversation a few times before. She could not find more reasons to hold Mámandil waiting, but she could not bear to finish it off and lose him forever. She remained nested against him, though.

“What if I said ‘yes’” she asked.

Mámandil lifted his head and gazed at her. He lifted an eyebrow.

“Is that a ‘yes’ or not?” he asked.

Ancalimë averted her eyes. “I wish it could be,” she said, depositing a kiss on his cheek.

He took her in his arms and pulled her over him. “It can be. Just say the word. I promise it will be fine. Trust me.”

Ancalimë held her breath for a moment, fighting the temptation. From afar a muffled sound came. Both sat up, quickly arranging their clothes.

“Are those hooves? Who might be that?” she asked.

“I do not know,” he said, rising up.

As they looked down the hill, they saw riders approaching, one leading and two in tow. Ancalimë bit her lip. The two were dressed in her father’s colours. They stayed back as the first rider approached them.

Aldarion jumped off his horse even before it had completely stilled.

“I left you with a job and this is what you do?” he asked her, “You run away, leave Armenelos to the wolves and come to hide under your mother’s skirts and roll in the hay like a common peasant girl?”

Before Ancalimë could answer or Aldarion continue, Mámandil stepped in front of her. “Your Majesty, the Lady Ancalimë was in much need of peace of mind. She has worked hard for Elenna.”

Aldarion faced him, standing a little taller. “You, Hallacar, I expected better from a son of Hallatan.”

Ancalimë felt as if she had been slapped in the face. She gathered her skirts in her hands and walked down the hill, picking up the pace until she was running away from them. Hallacar. Nessanië’s brother. Everything fell together. She had wondered about him more than once, in the beginning. When was he going to tell her? Had he courted her for interest or for sport? Emerwen Aranel, he had called her, the same as the scorning ladies in court. Of course no one dared scorn the king’s daughter outright, but Ancalimë had grown up feeling the slight in the words they said as an endearment. Now this. And Nessanië. She thought she had found a friend, but in the end Nessanië had betrayed her secret. She had told her she wanted a finer bride for her brother. At the time, Ancalimë had thought she meant a kinder, smarter, even prettier woman. Now she understood.

She climbed a stone wall and sat on the other side, hiding from the voices that followed her, until she caught her breath. She did not care for her father’s reproach either. He left her with a pittance and no power and asked for miracles. On the other hand, he did none of the things that she and the Lord Treasurer advised. Who was he to criticize her for hiding in the meadows, when he hid at sea? Once the horses had passed, she rose and threaded her way back to her house, through a shortcut.

When she arrived, Erendis sat at the table.

“Mother!”

Erendis rose and took her into her arms. Ancalimë could not recall the last time that had happened.

“I tried to stop him, child,” Erendis said. “I told him to let you live your own life. If you do not want to be queen, why not be a shepherdess? It is a fate as good as any other.”

Ancalimë stepped back. “Not want to be queen?”

“Yes. Is that not why you hid in the countryside?”

Ancalimë could not believe her ears. “I want to be queen. What made you think otherwise? I cannot be queen soon enough. I cannot tell you the disarray I have seen. Do you think I wanted to hide in the countryside like yourself? You could be regent when he is gone. You could help me set this mess aright. But no, you chose to be a hermit and you think I will follow your path?”

Aldarion entered the cottage unceremoniously. “Ancalimë, we need to talk. Lady, please excuse us.”

Erendis shook her head. “My daughter disowns me and despises me, through fault of yours, but I shall remain.”

“Ancalimë, what went on in your head?” Aldarion asked.

“Do not talk to me as if I am a child,” she answered. “You left me with my hands tied, a little pouch of money that could never solve the problem and with a pack of wolves who will not help me or give me a moment’s peace. And you stayed away for far too long. You promised four years and here you are, six years later.”

Erendis let out a bitter snort. Aldarion glared at her. “Stay out of this, Erendis, I warn you.”

“Do not threaten my mother in the house of her ancestors.” Ancalimë’s chin rose defiantly.

“Now you are the good daughter to your mother? The last time I received news you seldom came to Emerië to see her. In fact, it was the last place I searched, after my arrival.”

Ancalimë resisted the bait. “Are you going to stay and do your job as king this time, or are you going to flee the problems, as you always do?”

Aldarion raised a hand to strike but stopped himself. “Watch your tongue, Ancalimë, and watch yourself. You may refuse to understand what I am doing, but I am not fleeing. You and your mother, you are the ones who flee.”

Ancalimë shook her head in disgust.

“You should marry that boy, since you like to roll in the hay with him so much. Hallacar is from the line of Elros. You could do worse.”

“Hallacar? The sea will freeze over and you shall skate across it to the continent before I ever speak again to that liar. My mother was right – all men are alike.” Ancalimë spoke angrily and with feigned strength. Inside she was shattered by Mámandil’s – Hallacar’s betrayal. She just wanted to be alone, for this scene to end, so that she could hide under the covers and make sense of everything.

There was a silence. Aldarion studied her face.

From behind her, Erendis came and placed a hand on her waist. “May we talk in the morning?” she asked.

Aldarion looked at Erendis as if an insect had manifested itself. Ancalimë hated him for that, but she also hated her mother, who had placed herself in this position of weakness.

“We may. My daughter and I, that is. As for you, we are done talking. Not even for Ancalimë’s sake or for another child would I welcome you in my bed again, not after how you humiliated me in front of my men all those years ago.”

Ancalimë jerked her head in time to see Erendis hiding her face in her hands.

“Your bed is too crowded with whores, Father, do not think I do not know it?” Ancalime said. She led Erendis to her own bedroom and both sat on the bed, in silence, as they listened to Aldarion and his men ride away.

“What did Father mean?”

“He thinks that I am to blame for what you have done. I only want you to be happy, child. I thought you did not want to be queen, after all. Your servant tells me you are happy here.”

“I was. But what did Father mean with what he said?”

Erendis covered her faced with her hands for a moment, before replying. “I proposed that we have another child, for your sake, to set you free. I should not have.”

Ancalimë rose with shock. “You would do that? Do you even love him still? And Azruarî? What of her? And I do not need to be set free. I cannot believe you would even think that something like that could be possible. You have been estranged for the most of my life. I would gladly accept it if you were to demand to take your rightful place as queen – not this, Mother.”

“I was thinking of you. And what about Azruarî? What has she told you?”

Ancalimë felt the anger burn through her. “I do not need protection or saving! I will be a queen better than many kings. Do not try to interfere with my destiny! And do not think you were so good at keeping your little secret. My father has his lovers, but so do you. You deserve each other!”

Erendis rose to her feet and left the room. Ancalimë heard her putting on her cape and leaving the house. She had seen this before – the sulking. Doing things that Ancalimë had not asked for and being offended when Ancalimë failed to properly thank her. Judging it as lack of love and loyalty when Ancalimë showed interest in something other than their tight little world at Emerië. This time, she would not run after her mother to make up.

Hallacar came by dusk. He knocked on the door, then the windows, shouted her name and ‘Emerwen Aranel’. Ancalimë tried to ignore him for a while but the situation was becoming impossible. The woman and her children had been hiding in the kitchen ever since she had arrived, but it was still shameful for her to live out these things in front of them.

She opened the door and stepped outside. “Say your peace and be gone,” she said, gazing into the setting sun, over the hills.

At once he tried to hold her, but she pushed him back. He had been lying for months, he had no right to come close to her.

“I meant to tell you,” he said, kneeling before her. “Please, Emerwen. Please forgive me. I swear that I meant to tell you as soon as you would have agreed to be mine.”

“To be yours. What a prize, the King’s Heir. You were smarter than the lot of them, were you not?”

Hallacar rose to his feet. “It was not like that. I did not mean to trick you. The first time I came, I was simply curious. I had seen you once at court, when you were but a child. Now everyone talked about this cold-hearted beauty and here you were hiding. I thought you might not welcome me, thinking I was like the rest.”

“You are like the rest.” Ancalimë took a step back and placed her hand on the knob. “And so is your sister. I curse the day I met either of you!”

“I am not, and Nessanië has nothing to do with this. She loves you dearly and she has kept your secret. All Nessanië ever said was that she had a friend and that if I ever crossed paths with you, I should leave you alone. Did you really think that you could be living out here and no one would notice, comment, speculate?”

Ancalimë shook her head. “And yet you came to find me and drag me out of the peace I so needed, making me swallow your lies.” She hated how her voice had softened ever so slightly.

Hallacar noticed it too. He tried to take her hands in his but she pulled back as if she had been burned. He looked into her eyes.

“I have utterly fallen in love with you. Do not do this. I know you love me too.”

“I do not. You were nothing but a pastime for me.”

“Then why are you so irate? Nothing was lost to you, if I am but a trinket.”

“You lied to me about your name, about your family.”

“Not about my family!” Hallacar cried indignantly.

“Every time you mentioned your mother, for instance!” Ancalimë shot back. “Your mother has been dead for many years – Nessanië told me it was your aunt who raised you.”

“My aunt Írildë has been a mother to me, since I was seven. It was no lie.”

“Liar, lying to the stupid shepherdess princess, thinking you are so smart, like all the other useless ticks at court. Did you have a good laugh? I had thought better of you.” Ancalimë was dangerously close to tears. She pressed her back against the door.

Hallacar stepped forward, looking angry for the first time. “You were lying to me too,” he shouted. “Imagine that I was really only a shepherd. You would have let me fall in love with you for nothing. So what if I knew who you were? Do you not think that I would have wanted assurances too? A woman who loved me, not one who wanted me for my bloodline or the alliance between our fathers?”

Hallacar held Ancalimë with both hands at her shoulders. “This is nonsense. We love each other. You were going to say ‘yes’, you know you were.”

He tried to kiss her, but she turned her face. He kissed her hair instead and tried to hold her, but Ancalimë held her arms akimbo.

“Leave my house and never return. Never go to Armenelos when I am there. Never see me, think of me, or seek me again. To me, you are dead.”

Hallacar pulled back in shock. “Ancalimë, you cannot mean that. You are angry. We will talk tomorrow.”

Ancalimë raised her eyes to him, finally feeling the turmoil in her heart settling. “Lady Ancalimë. Address the King’s Heir with the due respect, Lord Hallacar, and please, do take your leave from me, for all eternity.”

Hallacar took a few steps back, looking stunned, as if she had slapped him in the face. She held his gaze, angrily, even if inside, she said goodbye to Mámandil in tears.

In the morning, Aldarion came. She welcomed him coldly and invited him in. Once he sat down, she started.

“Father, the time for me to whine and moan has passed. If I am Heir to the Sceptre, treat me as such. Make me Regent, with full power during your next voyage. No more handing out alms. No more begging for money to those who should give it freely for their own people. No more being hand-tied. That is not your way, why should you wish it upon your daughter? Do you wish to see me broken before I ever take the Sceptre? And do lift those rules about my marriage. I shall marry whomever I want, or not marry at all. That should not make me any less of a queen. These are my terms.”

Aldarion ran a hand through his hair, then sat back on the chair, arms crossed over his chest.

“You will not marry Hallacar?” he asked at length.

“Why is that important?”

“Of the lot, he would be the best match for you.”

“You have not proven to be much of a good evaluator of matches.”

“It will be so.”

“Everything?”

“Every single thing.”

“There will be taxes on imported goods, when your next ship comes to the harbour,” she warned

“It will be so.” Aldarion rose to his feet. “The provision for the Guild will be set by me. Everything else, including how you obtain the funds for the provision, will be left in your hand.”

“And while you are here?”

“While I am here, I am still king.”

Ancalimë nodded. “It is fair.”

Aldarion grinned. “You are a daughter after my own heart.”

Chapter Text

Armenelos, Mittalmar, 1004 SA

Ancalimë had lived long enough in Armenelos to know change would not be easy to accomplish. The Lord Treasurer had tried to warn her about the dangers of imposing her will, rather than convincing others, but she was done with talking. In less than twenty years she had brought about a complete change in the way Númenor kept records of people and property and that had allowed her to change how they were taxed. Many had spoken against the new system, even those who had the most to gain from it. Beyond normal resistance to change, ignorance was a problem.

Ancalimë built schools. Every child, even the humblest shepherd’s son or fisherman’s daughter was required to attend, for free. Those who did not send their children to school had to pay fines and became barred from all aid in a time of need. Ancalimë’s view on aids and alms had grown from never having enough money, to being tired of throwing it at problems that could not be solved in that way. Many had groused that the children had to walk for miles to reach the schools and that those hours meant labour lost to their families, but in reply, Ancalimë only threatened to increase the fines.

She tried to persuade Aldarion to impose a writing and mathematics test on the boys who wished to join the Guild, but she soon learned that her father meant it when he said he would still be king. She quickly realized that it was not a problem for her. An aptitude test would only make the brightest join, leaving the less able behind. She wanted the opposite, to keep at home those who could work, think, create better.

The Lord Treasurer and others tried to warn her that dislodging families and forcing women into roles that had not been theirs before would create great disturbances. Ancalimë did not listen. From Rómenna to Nindamos to Eldalondë, there was plenty of need for working hands and no lack of opportunities for the hungry. The Lord Treasurer covered his face with his hands whenever he heard her say “We are not going far enough or soon enough!” She did not care. Her greatest ally in reform wanted to change a nation by small increments. Ancalimë had tried that tactic for long enough that she knew it would never work.

It was hard to keep the provision for the Guild intact as she plundered what was left of the treasury to build schools and grant loans for watermills, factories, fishing ports. But she saw it as an investment. Labour was awfully expensive, with so many men gone, but in turn, her changes to taxation brought some extra revenue from those high salaries. When she taxed cinnamon, pepper, fine cotton, smoking weed, sandal and shish on board the first ship arriving at Rómenna from the south of the continent the owners had not liked it, but it had been a small tax and they had always loved her, as Aldarion’s daughter. Soon she was taxing the gold, silver, and gems brought back by the ships from the Enedwaith and gaining a better economic balance for her people.

She travelled less, and instead held open audience four times a year, as in the time of Tar-Meneldur. People had come at first with endless complaints about the reforms, but within a mere decade, Ancalimë was pleased to see that their concerns had reverted to the usual feuds about inheritances, land, and the like. It was a sign that change, however hard-forced, had sunk in.

Living permanently at the court proved to be a challenge. Her ladies, who once barely noticed her unless to remind her how her clothes and hair should be done for court, now fawned over her, stifling her every move. Ancalimë had once travelled with as little as two guards, something that Aldarion had forced her to accept, and now she was constantly surrounded by women, women who talked much and said little. She loathed them, especially when they abused their position and asked for favours for their families and their men. Ancalimë had not realized before that a queen’s household constituted a second body of government. She reduced the positions to a bare minimum and nominated only single women. Her chamber maid was Isilmë, the only one she could trust. At least she would have to deal only with requests for their birth families. Many lords, especially those whose wives had been dismissed, spoke out against this, but Ancalimë held herself firm through the storm. It was not there that she would find allies and so she felt no need to appease them.

However, even with her ladies, she had room to learn things of interest. Harad bought silk from the elves and sold it to Númenor at a tremendous increase in price. Ancalimë had barely paid attention to her ladies’s complaints about the taxing of silk, until she remembered that her grandmother Núneth still had silk worms descended from ones that the elves gifted to her parents at their wedding. Her grandmother was very old, now, but she received a group of girls, the smartest from every school in the island, and she taught them how to care for the worms, how to feed them mulberry leaves, how to boil the cocoons before the butterflies cut through them, and how to breed a new generation of worms. The first silk was coarse but within a few years there was a Guild of Silk, producing silks of the same quality as the imported ones.

Soon a Guild of Wool emerged, and suddenly the wool of the sheep of Emerië and elsewhere in the centre of the island, which had only limited use before, was being woven into the finest wools and sold to the continent. They could not grow cotton as fine as Harad’s but their linen was productive and profitable for another guild of women. Meneldur had once told her she could not touch the guilds and force them to take in the people who needed jobs – but she had made her own guilds.

She had women and children making charcoal in Hyarnustar, in the abandoned forests, and selling it to the rest of the island. After some duelling, she persuaded Aldarion to allow for the wine of Hyarrostar and the balms, medicines and perfumes of Andustar to be carried in the ships for selling abroad. Forostar continued to do well enough without great intervention from her, save for the law of schooling. In Orrostar, she did not meddle. Orchaldor and Ailinel had reluctantly and belatedly applied her changes in the census and in the taxing, and from what she gathered, the schooling was still low and confined to the larger towns. She gladly watched as the rest of the island thrived and Orrostar stagnated. One day they would feel the strength of her hand, but that day could wait.

The bottom of the treasure vault was no longer visible, and there was less poverty on the land. Families did not end up in the streets now when the men were gone But Ancalimë still felt there was more to be done. Aldarion seldom interfered or reversed one of her decisions, but in one thing he was adamant – he would not barter for knowledge or push products onto the elves. He felt it was beneath a king to do commerce. But he did not stand in the way of his men, either. Ancalimë despaired at this – so much more could be done. Despite all of her father’s concerns with the defence of Númenor, Ancalimë was still convinced that their fleet should be used more for commerce than for expansion or war.

In this way, Ancalimë worked relentlessly for many years, fighting her battles the hard way, as the Lord Treasurer insisted in telling her. Once a year she visited her mother, then Valandil, then her grandparents, while they still lived. While in Emerië, if she gazed at the northern hills for too long, it was for rain clouds, nothing more. And if a tall shepherd form was ever seen from afar, she did not go inside. The one she never thought about did not come that far south.

Her life finally seemed to be something she held in her own hands, when a messenger came. Erendis had drowned. Ancalimë stood still, not understanding. There were no lakes in Emerië and the nearby stream ran knee high. Had her mother tripped and fallen in the water unconscious? Then the man delivered the rest of the message. It had been in Rómenna. What was her mother doing in Rómenna? Ancalimë felt she was moving through a dream, a thick fog, as she ordered that everything was arranged for her mother’s funerary ceremonies.

Several days later, as she climbed the Meneltarma running from the ceremony, it finally sank in. Her mother was dead. She would never see her again. Not even for one of their arguments. Not even to say the things left unsaid. That she loved her.

And holding her while she weathered that storm was Hallacar, with his arms wrapped around her, keeping her from shattering. When she had stopped sobbing, he had all but carried her down the mountain and had taken her back to the palace, late in the night, expertly avoiding questions from the servants. In the morning, she had been so grateful, realizing how many questions and comments he had spared her. The for days, weeks, she barely spoke to him or saw him. He did not pursue her. She did not pursue him. But she grew distracted as he wandered into her thoughts. In the night, she often dreamed of their time together and of that last conversation. A weight grew in her heart, remembering his words. Had he been lying when he had said that he wanted her to love him for himself? That he had planned to tell her the truth? She had been harsh, yes, and she had no doubt that he had deserved it. But now… so much time had passed, and he had been there when she needed him the most. But he would not show himself in court, as she had ordered so long ago. His obedience irritated her.

Two years later he came to relate that his father had died and he was the new lord of Hyarastorni. Ancalimë cursed him for choosing a public audience to tell her that. When she’d known him as Mámandil, it was evident that he’d loved his father dearly and she wished she could have a kinder, more private moment with Hallacar. Later that evening, she had wondered if she should call him and offer her condolences in private. She kept remembering how he had held her at the top of Meneltarma and how she had felt safe, for once not being on her own.

She did call him. Isilmë carried her note, faithful as ever, and they met under Nimloth, by the moonlight.

“I am truly sorry for your loss,” she said, after they had been standing before each other for a moment.

Hallacar nodded, lowered his head, smiled a painful smile.

“How is Nessanië,” Ancalimë inquired.

“She suffers, but she has her children to keep her busy.”

Ancalimë could not think of anything else to say. It was foolish, too much time had passed. She was about to excuse herself, when he took her hand.

“Thank you,” he said.

“For what?”

“This – does it mean I am forgiven?”

Ancalimë gazed at their hands, hers small and white, burning inside his, large and tanned.

“I am not very forgiving,” she said at last.

He started dropping her hand, but then pulled her closer. “Make an exception. You can do anything you want. Do this.”

His lips we so close to hers. All she had to do was to tilt her head a little, look up. He did not wait for her. He dipped his head and kissed her, melting her reserve, igniting every fibre in her being with joy and love, and a little anger that he did not wait, and an urge to laugh and hold on to him with all her strength and never let go.

They kissed for a long time under the tree, until distant footsteps made her heart race. A sentinel, perhaps or a servant, but whomever it was, the spell was broken. She fled inside, her heart racing, and spent a night awake, watching from behind her curtains how he left the courtyard only by dawn.

Despite her treacherous heart, she resisted for long the sequence of events, the small talk politeness demanded upon a change meeting, a random sighting while on Emerië, another stolen kiss, the notes that Isilmë slipped under her pillow. All though it, Ancalimë heard Zamîn’s advice in her head: “As in the beginning, so in the middle, so in the end”.

Ancalimë gingerly gave in. She craved his presence and his touch. She had been alone too long. And she might not admit it, but she wanted a child. Not all marriages were unhappy, she told herself, and Hallacar, as if echoing her thoughts, repeated the words. She thought of her cousin Valandil and his wife as a good example. She might have that in her life. And she loved Hallacar as fiercely as she had ever done before.

He asked twelve times for her hand. By the thirteenth, it was almost a running joke between them, but when he had taken her hand and presented her with the familiar sapphire ring, she had said ‘yes’, on an impulse. She could no longer live away from him and their increasingly passionate trysts were bound bring dishonour to their names, sooner or later.

As soon as she said the word, though, a deluge of questions left her mouth. Would he truly accept her as queen? Could he live by her side in Armenelos and not be unhappy, wishing he was in the countryside with his sheep? Would he promise not to undermine her or interfere?

Hallacar laughed. “I of all people, my Emerwen… I would not dream of interfering. I have no love for power. I think we can be happy. I certainly will not wilt by spending a few months in the year here in Armenelos and you can come to Hyarastorni and take the crown off, when you need the rest. A good rider can deliver you any messages you need… Does that sound like too much of a compromise?”

“No,” Ancalimë said, almost as a sigh. “It sounds very fine. The Lord Treasurer can keep things in order, for those months, and Father is not always away. But what of you, in Armenelos? Will you not be bored to death?”

“I have survived, so far,” Hallacar said with a grin. “And when we have children I can take them for rides and hunting when you are busy.”

“You do not sound like your father.”

“Should I?” Hallacar said, surprised.

“He was far from happy at the thought of a woman queen, as far as I recall.”

“I am not my father, and you are already my queen. And Elenna’s.”

Hallacar kissed her, dismissing any further doubts with endearments and reassurances, until Ancalimë was fully convinced.

The wedding had been a glorious affair. People from all over the island had come, high and low. The feast, a very costly extravaganza, that sprawled from the halls of the king to the streets, had lasted for three days. Aldarion had spared no expenses, despite her protests, but in the end she had been glad, seeing all those smiling faces and how beautiful Armenelos was, arrayed in white and gold by day and with lanterns and flowers by night. After the ceremony and the first banquet, Hallacar and her left their rooms only when Isilmë’s knocks and Aldarion jesting through the door were impossible to keep ignoring.

That first night… oh, they knew each other’s bodies well but some magic made everything different. Ancalimë felt shy as he took layer after layer of gold-embroidered silk, leaving her skin naked under the light of the blue moon. His hands trembled a little, as he gently pushed her hair back and traced the line of her collarbone. That moment of vulnerability was endearing but also, kindling. She pulled him for a kiss and then pulled his shirt over his head as he swiftly rid himself of his trousers. The hot summer air made their skin glow as they saw each other completely unclothed, for the first time.

“You are so beautiful,” he said.

“So are you,” Ancalimë said, leading him to her bed, letting him fall over her and kiss her and enter her, as they had both wanted for so long.

There were days and nights of pleasure. Marriage was pure joy. Holding hands, taking long walks, travelling the land together, talking about every and anything. Their honeymoon was spent in the pastures of Hyarastorni but soon they went about Númenor. Aldarion had stayed in Elenna a little longer than usual, for her sake, and two years later, had received the news of a grandchild to be born with great cheer, promising to earn new lands for him to rule.

His departure had not phased Ancalimë’s happiness. She was used to ruling in his stead and with Hallacar by her side, there were no obstacles that could not be surmounted. Hallacar said he admired her work and understood the reasons for her actions. He never interfered with matters of state or got himself tangled in court gossip, but had subtly warned her of one or two blind spots, for which she was thankful. He was lord of his lands and seemed content with that. Ancalimë’s greatest fear was to find herself bound to a husband who wanted to be king through her, but Hallacar was none of that.

Her pregnancy was blessed, with none of the pains and discomfort related by so many women. However, as it progressed, Hallacar became more protective. Ancalimë rebelled against his suggestions, feeling still herself, strong and far from needing to be sheltered.

Once, when her belly was rounder than the moon, with a baby of eight moons, they lay on their bed, in Armenelos, after the love-making. His hand rubbed up and down the bump and now and then he deposited a soft kiss on her breasts. She was almost asleep when he spoke.

“We are happy, no?”

“Mm-hhumm,” she sleepily replied.

He nibbled on her ear. “Should we not allow others to benefit from the same happiness?”

Ancalimë lifted her head from the pillow and looked at him. “I am not sure I follow…”

“Your ladies… would you not like for them to also have their husbands and children? We are so happy, my love, that I cannot think of a life devoid of that.”

“But they are free to marry at any time,” Ancalimë said, sitting up with the help of her elbow.

“At the price of leaving your service.”

“So?”

“Some of them cannot afford it. Their families need the stipend. Others would be disowned if they dared rescind of such a position.”

Ancalimë opened her mouth to retort but Hallacar went on. “You know that what I say is true. You have told me why you wanted unattached ladies for your house, but things have changed since then.”

“That was my first ruling act.”

“Darling, what about Isilmë?”

“My cousin?”

“Yes. Suppose that Isilmë fell in love? Would you turn her away? She is your right hand.”

“She is my eyes and hears on this land. But Isilmë is not in love. She would have told me.”

Hallacar lay back on the pillow. “Are sure you are paying attention? Darling… you should be resting before the baby comes, and yet you work every day.”

Ancalimë sat up completely. “Hallacar, you promised never to interfere.”

“I am not interfering, or, well, I am, but it is for your own good. I do not know anything about babies and neither do you. Maybe if one or two of your ladies were mothers they could help with whatever may come especially when you plan to feed him and do everything yourself.”

“Are you suggesting that we will not be able to do the job?” Ancalimë was indignant. It had been a long time since their last row and she had forgotten how biting it felt when he criticized her or questioned her ability.

“I just want to help,” he said, putting his hand on her bended knee.

Ancalimë breathed in and out, closed her eyes, tried to ponder. For how long had Hallacar been thinking about this?

“Him? What tells you it is a ‘him’?” she said, trying to dispel the bad mood.

Hallacar grinned. “I know it is a ‘him’. I made him.” He poked his tongue at her.

Ancalimë lay down again by Hallacar’s side and curled under the blanket as his arm circled her expanded waist. “I am doing all the hard work, remember?”

Hallacar chuckled. “I know.”


And now here she was, with a sick baby on her arms, meditating on her old friend’s words. Hallacar. She could not believe how much she still loved him, needed him. But it was all wrong. They had been happy, yes, fiercely so. But things changed. Anárion was a winter baby. She lived for a whole year with her heart in her hands, breastfeeding, tending colic, listening to doctors and wisewomen about colds, skin rashes, constipations, diarrhoeas... She loved that baby fiercely, but all Anárion did was cry. When he finally slept, Ancalimë had piles and piles of papers to read, decide upon, sign. She barely slept and prayed every day for Aldarion to return from the sea and relieve her from ruling, for a few months or even a year.

Hallacar refused to understand. One day he would say that she should do just as all the other ladies did and find a wet nurse. The day after, he would imply that even the filthiest country girl could do a better job at mothering. Her ladies should be married women with children, people who could help her and teach her. At one point, he invited his aunt, Írildë, to Armenelos without consulting her. Now Ancalimë had two people telling her how inadequate she was. She could barely breathe. Both Hallacar and Írildë would unceremoniously take the baby from her arms, and quickly lull him to sleep, after she had spent an hour or more tending to him. At first, she thought it was her own fault. Perhaps she was as cold as people said, and lacked the instinct. But later, Nessanië had come. She was now the mother of four, all raised by her hand, and she showed Ancalimë that she was doing nothing wrong.

“Keep going, keep going,” Nessanië encouraged when Ancalimë patted Anárion’s back for a burp. “Ooh, my lazy nephew, make a ‘crock’ for your mamil,” she would say, teasing the baby. She would laugh when Anárion urinated during the changing of nappies and tell stories of her own boys, making Ancalimë smile. By her side, Ancalimë did not feel as helpless and clumsy trying to put Anárion to sleep. Nessanië encouraged her to sing lullabies, and she sang, she who had grown up in a house of singing women without knowing how to carry a tune.

One night, Ancalimë fell asleep, exhausted, with Anárion draped over her chest. He was six months old and still cried two to three times during the night. He had broken a fever and had hives on his skin and Ancalimë had not slept in two days. She did not hear them at first, so deep she was in her slumber, but she felt a presence and was roused enough to listen, although too tired to move.

“Sister, honestly, look at her,” Hallacar said.

“I see nothing wrong, little brother,” Nessanië said. “Only a peaceful babe and a drained mother, who has done her best to soothe him.”

“It was never like that with you and your children. Or with us and Aunt Írilmë.”

Nessanië snorted. “It was every bit like that and worse with my children and Aunt Írilmë got us when we were practically grown. Hallacar, do not demand of others what you cannot do yourself.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about. When I pick Anárion up, he stops crying.”

“Of course. After she has spent hours calming him down.”

Ancalimë felt Nessanië’s gentle hands taking Anárion from her. She was so tired she did not move.

“Hallacar, carry your wife to bed. She needs rest,” Nessanië said. “Tomorrow we will talk.”

They had indeed talked. For all the fondness Ancalimë felt for Nessanië, she resented her law-sister when she suggested that she should rest more and leave the baby to a competent nurse. Yet, she did not rebuke her – deep in her heart, she knew Nessanië was right and spoke out of care for her. She was sinking.

Nessanië had not been so kind with Hallacar. “Brother, I love you dearly, but you are not being a good husband. You interfere far too much with mother and child. Your role in these first few years is to support them, and not to expect so much. Every baby is different. Anárion is a sweet but difficult child. Things will improve, this I can assure you, but for now, all this complaining of yours is not helping.”

Nessanië returned to her home soon enough, taking Írilmë with her. She often wrote to Ancalimë, inquiring about her welfare and ordering her to do things – take a ride; spend an afternoon alone; read a poem; take a swim. Grudgingly, Ancalimë followed her instructions. It almost felt like having a second mother. She did feel as if she was slowly returning to herself.

Aldarion returned home two weeks before Anárion turned one. Ancalimë was eating better, slept more than two hours at a time, and found that the Lord Treasurer was a sounder help than ever and that Númenor was still whole and running perfectly. Things were improving, but sleep was still difficult, even after Anárion had stopped crying during the night. One day, she saw a deformed child on the street and was reminded of the Druedáin woman she had met so long ago. A potion for sleeping. Ancalimë shook her head and went on. She had no need for that sort of thing. She would sleep when her body demanded it.

But when Anárion was almost two, she became pregnant again. Hallacar often complained that between playing queen and playing mother, there was no time left for him. That she had done her part and now it was time to raise the next king of Númenor in the healthy countryside. That it might have seemed a fine idea to have a woman queen but that motherhood should come first.

Ancalimë listened. And she listened as Hallacar made jokes, small, subtle jokes, that could pass for simple, endearing teasing, but that became too frequent for enduring. He still seemed to think he was the better parent, and often insinuated that to Anárion. A silent anger grew inside her and when she found her bleeding was gone once more, she felt little happiness of the child that was to come.

The changes in her body made her sleep less and less, and one day, she caved in. She sent for the potion she had kept in Sorontil all that time, and instructed the man to search for an old Druedáin woman by the name Golel. She wondered at herself for still remembering the name.

Golel had died. Ancalimë was unsure the potion would still be good. She thought of asking for something akin from the court’s physician, but the man was an idiot and she did not want rumours to be spread. She tried, one night, just taking one drop. She slept until dawn and did not vomit the following morning. She started taking one drop each night, then two, when one was not enough. During the day, she felt lethargic, but it was normal – the baby was growing and it was high summer. One day, she woke to find that Hallacar had left for Hyarastorni, taking Anárion with him. He had said he wished to spend the summer there, but Ancalimë had insisted that they stayed in Armenelos for a while longer, until she received more news from a wild fire devastating the pines in Forostar and the blight the ships had brought from the continent hitting the wheat in Orrostar.

All the revolt she had harboured for so long erupted. She was five months pregnant, robbed of her child, alone, ruling a kingdom and so very tired her bones ached. The ride to Hyarastorni was too long to make in one day and so she might catch them still on the road. She threw the vial with the potion into the fireplace. It had served its purpose but only held her in a forced peace. Like Hallacar. Her ladies tried to stop her, but she rode away, followed by three guards only.

The gallop hurt her, but she did not relent. Anárion was hers, the only person who did love her, the only person she could trust not to hurt her. Her perfect child, raised with so much care. What kind of a man could steal a child from his mother?

And that was what she asked Hallacar when she finally caught up with them in the middle of the road.

“I am the kind of man who is present for his son,” he replied. Ancalimë took Anárion from his arms and nodded for her men to step back. Hallacar’s escort also lowered their heads and moved away, trying to look busy.

“Very well, be present, by the side of your wife, or is that too much to ask,” Ancalimë said.

“Wife, you are not queen yet. Let your father stay home and rule his kingdom. Do you not see, Ancalimë, that you spend more time with strangers than with your son? Than with me?”

“Anárion is always with me, even at the public audiences.”

“Yes, you are training a little king, are you not? But Anárion needs to be a child first. And while you are in audience you are not playing with him, talking with him, or doing anything that matters. How often have I rescued him?”

Ancalimë felt the bite of the words. There was truth in them, but Hallacar made everything seem worse than it was. She always spent an hour alone with Anárion every day. She had taught him his first steps. She wanted to bite back, but her words always seemed too small, too bland, when they argued.

“You are so full of complaints, Hallacar. Where is the man I married? I only see an obnoxious child. Must I become like Queen Almarian, and dote upon you?” she asked. “You are not my son, and I am not a queen consort, but a regent and a future ruling queen. You knew that when we married.”

“You do not have a son – you have a daughter, an all-consuming daughter called Elenna. I love my country and my land and you have done much for our people, Ancalimë, but now take a care for your own home, before it is too late. You are not the woman I wedded.”

“Nor are you the same man! It is too late. I should have never married you, liar, stealer of children. You cannot be trusted!”

“Your mother sought to feed you with her own bitterness towards men,” Hallacar said. “And she has succeeded. I did not steal your child. He is also mine. I took him after telling you so, many times, but I suppose you were too tired to listen or too embroiled in your court affairs.”

Anárion started to cry.

“Look what you have done,” Ancalimë hissed, before kissing Anárion’s cheek and rocking him. “Here we are, brawling at the roadside like two commoners. I have nothing more to say to you. Go steward your farm and leave me to be queen.”

She turned her back on Hallacar and moved to her men. Her lower back was aching in a familiar way. She tried not to think about it. It was far too soon for pains of labour. It was just the effects of the hard ride.

They rode away slowly, for Anárion’s sake. Hallacar shouted ‘Ancalimë’ twice, but then she heard his party leave. She did not look back.

By the time they reached Armenelos, it was dusk. Anárion rode with one of the men, and Ancalimë held on to her horse as best as she could. She felt warm liquid oozing from her, between flashes of unbearable pain. She saw red on her boots. One man carried her inside the palace while the other handed Anárion to her ladies. Isilmë held her hand and shouted orders for the physician, for warm water, for the best old midwife from the city. Ancalimë felt weak and nauseous. Her hands were ghostly white and had started to feel so very cold, as well as her feet.

“She has lost too much blood,” she heard the physician say. “The child must come out now, before we lose both.”

“The child will never live!” said Isilmë.

“The child has died already,” the midwife said.

“Master Arnuzîr, Mistress Ioreth, please save my cousin,” Isilmë begged.

Ancalimë could not recall too well all that passed after. She was unconscious, then she awakened, in terrible pain, then she would become unconscious again. By the end of the night, she heard murmuring.

“A seer of the Druedáin once gave me this,” Isilmë said, “for labour pains.”

Arnuzîr and Ioreth discussed in hushed voices for a few moments.

“The potion was meant for labour pains, and it was meant for you. The Druedáin enchantments are usually very specific,” said Arnuzîr, “and I personally dislike anything that I cannot fully comprehend.”

“But the lady has bled too much. I believe she is beyond salvation,” added Ioreth. “This cannot do her any more harm, for sure and if it does any good… the child needs to come out.”

Ancalimë felt her head lifted and something cool and bitter pass through her lips. It smelled of hay and nessamelda. She felt herself floating away, wondering if she would pass now to the Halls of Mandos, before her journey continued out of the realms of Arda. She was too tired to feel afraid or sorrowful.

When she woke up, Isilmë told her that many days had passed, more than a week. She tried to sit up, but her head swam and Isilmë gently pushed her down by the shoulders.

“The child,” she whispered.

Isilmë took her hand in hers and kissed it, in reply. Ancalimë did not know what to feel. Something was hollow inside her.

“Anárion?”

“He is well. Has been asking for his mamil.”

It took her many days of healing before she could as much as sit up and not faint. Many more days passed before she could walk small distances. She lay in bitterness, cursing herself for the loss of the child she had not wanted but now mourned. But more often, she cursed Hallacar, whom she blamed for her crazed ride. When Anárion was brought to her, she could only smile at his gentle play. He often called for his father. What should she do? If she forbade Hallacar from seeing Anárion, people would despise her, and as much as it cost her to admit, he was a devoted father. But she would not send a small child – her small child, away from her, into the countryside. His father could see him in Armenelos, if he wanted.

It was plain to see that he did not want her, not as she was, and shepherdess she would be no more. He had not even come to see her during her illness. She quickly brushed away fantasies of him kneeling by her bedside and asking for forgiveness. She knew him too well. He would only say that everything had been her own fault and that she was to blame for the loss of the child. She would be helpless to defend herself because she would agree.

Slowly, she realized that she had returned to the old days, when Aldarion had left her to patch holes in a dam and all she did was run around, feeling powerless. But if she had resolved that great issue and changed the face of Númenor, she could do the same in the private sphere. She could not, would not, continue to live in the same fashion, angry, belittled, unloved. And Hallacar would pay. She might not go as far as poisoning Anárion against his father – for the sake of her son only, as she remembered all too painfully what it was like to grow up like that – but Hallacar would no longer be welcome in her life.

But of course Hallacar had one last trick in his sleeve. At length, he returned to court. He did not seek her out but instead demanded to see his son. She ordered that rooms be set aside for him in the east wing of the palace, as far away from her as possible, but he preferred to stay in this own house, at the edge of the city. She knew he meant to humiliate her once more, but she was only glad not to see him too often. He was allowed to see Anárion in the garden, once a day. On the rare occasions they crossed paths, they would stare at each other for a moment, before going their own ways. Ancalimë thought she might see some measure of regret or wistfulness in those glances, but when Isilmë came with the rumours, she knew differently. Hallacar played the victim, distorted her words once again, telling whoever wanted to hear that she forbade him to dwell upon his own lands, refusing to have her husband a farm-steward.

Isilmë cautioned that rumours were mere leaves in the wind and that she had not heard such words come out of Hallacar’s own mouth, but for Ancalimë it was enough that Hallacar had placed them in this situation. Her anger and disappointment kept on boiling.

Three ships came in, bringing with them a disease previously unknown in Númenor. It was called the Red Plague due to the large, scarlet patches it produced on the skin. Most adults lived, after many days of fever, but children often succumbed. As new cases emerged inland and towards the west, Master Arnuzîr advised her to close all the roads on the island. Movement was absolutely vital for trade and communication, and so, she withheld the order for a few days, hoping the disease would not spread further. It was a mistake. When the first case reached Armenelos, she was fearful for Anárion and sent him with Isilmë to Andustar, which was as far away as possible from Rómenna and Armenelos. After that, all roads were closed. Save for a few pigeon messages, she was ruling the country blind.

It was during this sequestration that Hallacar came to her, furious.

“You sent him away without a word to me.”

“It was for his safety,” she replied coolly.

“He would have been safe in Hyarastorni, with me. You did this out of vengeance.”

“The last news is that there were two cases close to Hyarastorni.”

Hallacar covered his face with his hands and sighed in exasperation. “You could at least let me say goodbye,” he said. “He is mine too, Ancalimë.”

Ancalimë raised an eyebrow in reply. She did not want to fight with Hallacar at that moment, when she had to keep her focus on other things. There was nothing new to say.

“Ancalimë, reconsider. You may want to be your father, but I do not want to be your mother. I will not hide in Hyarastorni and hope that I am allowed to enjoy my son when you are too busy elsewhere.”

For a second, Ancalimë was tempted to say, ‘Then be here, with us,’ but the time for that had passed. Happiness with Hallacar was a dream.

“You did not come to see me,” she said, barely able to restrain the words.

“Was that the reason you sent him away like that?”

“No, it was for his safety.”

“I was angry, with you, with myself. Despite everything, I wanted that child too. Isilmë told me it was a girl.”

“Isilmë talks too much at times.”

“Ancalimë…” Hallacar reproached, but his voice was tender.

Ancalimë turned her back. She had to be strong. She had hated Hallacar so deeply, for everything that had happened, but at the same time, her treacherous heart told her to forgive, when forgiveness was not being asked. No, Hallacar was a dream from the past, she repeated to herself.

“Ancalimë,” he said, drawing near. “Please reconsider. I knew, when we married, that one day I would lose you to Númenor. I just hoped that we had more time before it happened. But you were already queen in everything but name when we were wedded. I suppose I was foolish to think I could change you. But you knew me. What Mámandil told you, the love for the land, for the simple life, it was all true. You knew this and you shared it. Can we not find a middle ground? Can you not wait for Tar-Aldarion to give you the Sceptre, many years from now?

Ancalimë felt a warm hand on her shoulder. Two hot tears rolled down her cheek. She did not trust her voice, so she remained silent.

“We could try for another child. We could spend time in the meadows, just watching Anárion run, listening to the larks…”

Ancalimë shook her head and took a deep breath. “Can I trust you? Are you not the man who has, time and again, questioned my ability to be a mother, even when your own sister thought you were exaggerating? Are you not the man who, for over a year, only had a kind word for me when you wanted to climb into my bed? Are you not the man who took my child away, not leaving a simple note? Are you not the man who lied about your name and your station in life in order to court me?”

Hallacar recoiled his hand. “You are so hard. I pray that Anárion will be safe in your hands. For me, I will not stay here and play the fool. There is place for me in the East.”

Hallacar left, leaving Ancalimë to her own thoughts. It was done. This was the end and rightfully so. Hallacar was right, that they were like her parents, but he was wrong if he thought that sweet words could mend the breach between them.

It was a surprise to her when, a few weeks later, she received an invitation for a farewell feast at Hyarastorni. She pondered refusing, but the Red Plague had finally subsided and they all needed some rest and merriment. If she was to be truthful to herself, she still needed to see him. She sent a message for Isilmë to bring Anárion from Eldalondë. She missed her son, and it was fair that his father should be able to say farewell also.

Images of her time in the pastures with Hallacar wove themselves in her dreams. She shook them off as silly thoughts, but still her heart beat faster when she saw the white house gleaming in the distance, just like her mother’s. Her ladies had chattered incessantly during the ride, with some mysterious business of theirs. Ancalimë spurred on her horse, galloping toward the house, finally free from their whispers.

Hallacar welcomed her at the door with a great smile, open arms, and a glint on his eye that she had not seen in a while. For a moment, she almost fell into those arms, but then she looked beyond him. The house was lit with many candles, reflecting on Hallacar’s mirrors and finest glasses. Every surface seemed to have a vase with vardarianna branches and behind Hallacar several men awaited, garlanded with the vardarianna flowers. Among them, she recognized several sons of lords.

“Come!” said Hallacar. “The weddings are prepared, and the bride-chambers ready. But since it cannot be thought that we should ask the Lady Ancalimë, King's Heir, to lie with a farm-steward, then, alas! she must sleep alone tonight.”

Ancalimë took a step back, as if slapped in the face. Behind her, a few of her ladies giggled. She cast them a sharp glance, only to be greeted with cheeky grins.

“Come all in!” Hallacar invited, taking Ancalimë’s arm. “There is only one guest missing, but she will be here soon, with our son.”

Ancalimë jerked her arm free. She had learned a long time ago, with Meneldur, that silence was golden and she had a lifetime of training in the art of holding herself regally when circumstance demanded it. It was the only thing that kept her from uttering the many words that bubbled inside her. What farce was this?

“Wife, you may not want to be married, but it seems your ladies do. How do you find this banquet here?” Hallacar taunted.

“My ladies were always free to marry,” she replied.

“At the pain of leaving your service. We have had this conversation before.”

“I will not spar words with you, Hallacar. I shall wait for my son out here, then be gone. You will live to regret your little joke, this I will tell you.”

Hallacar laughed and went inside. She heard him greeting her ladies, jesting with their intendeds, giving orders to the servants. Dusk was falling and Isilmë was nowhere to be seen. She waited until there was no light and the cold prickled her cheeks and arms. Hallacar had come out a few times to offer her spiced wine and cold meats. She had not even acknowledged him, but she was now feeling very hungry and tired from the journey.

At last, she heard the sounds of a carriage. Isilmë came to her, running with Anárion half asleep in her arms.

“Cousin, what are you doing out here?”

“Isilmë, there is no time to waste. Let us get into the carriage and leave for Armenelos,” Ancalimë urged.

“It is not safe. We arrived so late because the wheel broke just after the crossing of the Nunduinë. We found a man to repair it, but it is wobbling and I fear it will not hold the journey to Armenelos.”

“We ride, then.”

“Cousin… it is cold and unsafe for Anárion. But what has happened? Why are you out here alone? Hallacar wrote saying there was going to be a surprise. I had hoped that there would be good news…”

Instead of replying, Ancalimë took Anárion from her arms and kissed the crown of his head. She had no will to explain what was happening.

“Is it truly that bad?” she asked the carriage driver, who talked with Hallacar’s servants.

“I am surprised that we have made it so far, Your Highness,” the man said.

Hallacar opened the door and cheerfully greeted Isilmë. “Dear cousin by marriage, you have been a good friend to me, for long. I have a little surprise for you too.”

Ancalimë turned in time to watch as Abrazîr, Abrazimir’s son, now Lord Hyarnustar knelt on one knee and offered Isilmë a garland.

Her cousin blanched. Her hands trembled, but she took the garland in her hands, lowering her face to the flowers. Ancalimë had not thought there were any surprises left. Hallacar had forced her hand completely. Either she would have to overrule one of her first chief decisions, or be left without a house of ladies. Ungrateful bitches. She had trained them, in some cases given them more power than several of her ministers and this was how she was repaid. And Isilmë, the traitor. They had been friends since they were ten years old. How could she have kept that secret from her?

“Even you, Isilmë?” she asked, not able to contain herself anymore.

Isilmë held the garland to her chest. Abrazîr rose and stood behind her, with his hands on her shoulder. “Ancalimë, I did not know. You have to believe me.”

“Lady Ancalimë. There are few things you do not know Isilmë, so I find that hard to believe. And you did take the garland quite promptly. Farewell, cousin. Do not visit too soon. Or ever.”

“Please, cousin,” Isilmë said, “please hear me out. I swear by the holiest of holies that I did not know.”

“Your Highness,” Abrazîr said, “it is true. I have courted Isilmë for long but she held me at bay out of loyalty to you.”

“Will you deny your own cousin a chance at happiness?” Hallacar asked.

“Please, do not interfere, Hallacar,” Isilmë shot back. “Cousin, please. I will not leave your side. I will not stop being your eyes and ears just for being married. You know better than anyone how a wife and a mother can fulfil other roles.”

Ancalimë shook her head. “You betrayed me when you took that garland, Isilmë. You could have just asked and everything would have been given to you. You were my eyes and ears, yes, but you did not spare me this disastrous evening, not did you tell me this not so irrelevant fact,” she said, looking piercingly at Abrazîr. She straightened her back. “I thank you for your years of service. You are now dismissed.”

She walked past them and through the feast and climbed the stairs to her old room with Hallacar. No servants came with food or candles, so she laid Anárion on the bed, locked the door and prepared herself for bed. The laughter and the music subsided, eventually, but she kept awake. She would not bend and change the rules of her house. She would have to rebuild it from scratch. Hallacar had better keep his promise to sail east because otherwise he would find his life harder, much harder. She had been a fool to come again, to be at his beck and call.

Isilmë was her greatest disappointment. She was not the unreasonable monster that many liked to portray, but her cousin was obviously in love with Abrazîr. She had not hesitated in taking that garland, not for one second. For how long had Isilmë kept that secret from her? Had they not vowed never to hold secrets from one another? The one person whom Ancalimë had always trusted, had failed her at the most humiliating hour.

By dawn, she woke Anárion up and went down the stairs. The hall was a mess but the couples were gone. She would deal with her ladies later. Hallacar sat by the window, the morning sun turning his head to pure gold. She thought he was asleep but he raised his glass to her.

“Farewell, dear wife, who skulks like a thief.”

Tatanya!” Anárion cried, running to Hallacar.

“Sunshine!” Hallacar said, catching him in his arms. “I am so happy to see you.”

“Come, Anárion,” Ancalimë said, but her son did not listen.

She stood impatiently waiting while Hallacar held him and talked with him. A servant came with milk and bread for Anárion.

“Drink the milk now, son, and eat the bread on the way,” she said, when the woman was gone.

Mamil, I missed tatanya,” Anárion said. Hallacar grinned with insufferable satisfaction.

“Surely you would not deny a child a last farewell with his father,” he said.

Ancalimë seethed. “His father has carved his own path! Liar Hallacar, are you going to fill my son’s ears with lies about how his mother drove his father to the sea? Is that what you want to do, to turn a son against his mother?”

Hallacar’s lips curled in disgust. “I have never done that and will never stoop so low. You will turn Anárion against you, yourself with your hardness and your coldness.”

Anárion covered his ears with his hands. “Stop, please stop,” he sobbed. Ancalimë walked to Hallacar and tried to pick the child up, but Anárion held his little arms around his father’s neck.

“Fine,” Ancalimë said. “Have it your way, the both of you. I want him in Armenelos no later than tomorrow. Have your farewell, but do not tarry.”

Mamil,” Anárion cried as she left. She shut the door and leaned against it, heaving, her thoughts running wildly. Had she just spoken harshly to her three year old child? Was she really leaving him like that? Was she losing her mind or was she really the cold bitch Hallacar said she was?

She went back in and picked Anárion up. “I am sorry, my dearest, mamil is so sorry.” She held him tight and closed her eyes. Anárion’s sobs stopped and she felt his tiny hand stroking her hair.

“Stay with tatanya for one day, dear,” she said. “See the sheep and play, and then you will be back home with mamil.”

Anárion nodded and kissed her cheek. Hallacar took him from her arms. As she walked out the door, she thought she heard him say ‘thank you’, but when she looked back, all she saw was a hard, unreadable face. All the better. No words Hallacar could say now would ever suffice for the damage he had done.


A year later, came a letter from Hyarnustar. Isilmë’s maid had taken the liberty of writing to report that Isilmë had died of childbirth. Abrazîr’s was inconsolable but the child had lived. Ancalimë felt nauseated, thinking that Isilmë had bought her life with the potion that was meant to save hers and she in turn, had not been there for her. Why had she not forgiven that one fault of her cousin? Why had she not written once, or at least allowed herself to think kindly of her closest friend, her only friend, really, while there had still been time?

Hallacar sent her letters when he was on the island. He had tried to apologise for the weddings of Hyarastorni, but all his excuses started and ended with her own faults and his good intentions. She heard how he and Aldarion grew ever closer and how much value he showed at sea and on the continent. When her father made her queen, Hallacar visited Armenelos and made himself be seen at the ceremony, holding his flute in his hand. No smile touched his lips and the sight of him darkened her day, for the sadness of all that had been lost.

Ancalimë went on living, though. Anárion grew in height and intelligence. Her son was an anomaly, a peaceful soul, the image of Almarian and Núneth, as if all the ire and torments of his father and mother and of his grandparents could exist without leaving a mark on his life.

When Hallacar came to land, Ancalimë, albeit grudgingly, always let him meet his father in Rómenna and then spend as much time as he wanted in Hyarastorni. After Hyarastorni, Ancalimë had fed her heart for months with cold anger, but when Hallacar returned from the sea, she promised to herself not to make Anárion feel as torn as she had, growing up.

It was only when, at sixteen, Anárion told her he wanted to sail, that her torments begun and her sweet boy seemed to be replaced with a sulking, moody creature. Ancalimë could not abide with the sailing, though, not another generation. Anárion slipped into his father’s ship, unnoticed and for two days, the whole island looked for him. They were far into the deep sea when Hallacar found him and returned him to his mother, seasick and downtrodden. Anárion found other ways to defy her until he turned twenty and married, awfully young, to a girl from Andustar. Ancalimë seethed upon the news, but her law-daughter worked hard to conquer her, and soon she did so, building a bridge between her and Anárion.

Grandchildren were a delight. Hallacar missed the birth of Vardilmë, who came into the world kicking and screaming. He was there for Ariel and for Súrion. Their eyes did not meet and they did not talk, but Ancalimë could not help noticing how the sea-weathering only enhanced his beauty.

She saw him again, at Aldarion’s funerary rites. Their eyes had locked for a very long time before he bowed and quietly left. Aldarion left Hallacar Master of the Guild. Ancalimë had found it hard to swallow, but the Lord Shepherd had become a respected mariner and the men of the Guild wanted no other. She tried to rebel, but it was nigh impossible to overrule the last will of a king, and even less achievable to interfere with the inner workings of a guild. Meneldur had been right on that, she had found again and again.

Eventually, Ancalimë had been forced to admit that under Hallacar the guild had behaved well. She could not disown the guild completely, but slowly, they had reached an equilibrium and the guild became almost self-sufficient and less disruptive to the island’s prosperity.

Time flew by too swiftly. The grandchildren grew up. Ancalimë enjoyed them as she could, always with an eye out for the troubles of Elenna. More than a son, Anárion became her friend and companion. As Aldarion had delegated in her, slowly, she learned to trust her son and to delegate in her own son.

Vardilmë, in turn, inherited her father’s rebellious streak. From an early age she had loved the stars and had learned all that she could about them from her grandfather Hallacar. Later, she started sailing with him, on small missions. Ancalimë cringed at every report. Vardilmë proved to be their most skilled navigator. She climbed up the ranks, under the watchful eye of Hallacar, all on her own merit, earning the respect and admiration of the men. She was their ‘Pirate Queen’.

Upon Hallacar’s death, the men wanted that woman for a captain, and with great cheers from the men, she had taken the captainship of Eämbar. Knowing her granddaughter’s heart, Ancalimë had been angered, for she feared that the hard work of decades would be swiftly undone under her hand. Anárion and his wife fought hard for their daughter, but it was Vardilmë herself, after many tempestuous fights, who persuaded Ancalimë. Her granddaughter showed vision, convincing Ancalimë that Númenor could use a fleet for surveillance and assistance, a naval army.

Ancalimë had conceded, and then had retreated to Sorontil for a while, trying to fill the emptiness left on her chest by the news of Hallacar’s death with the scent of the forest and the sea.

For a long time she had seen Hallacar as a liar. As she had grown older, she sometimes saw the boyishness, the heart that sought only a good laugh. She had never had that joy in her heart or the ability to laugh at herself. That did not take away the fact that Hallacar had failed her as a husband, nor did his later, written apology justified the betrayal of Hyarastorni weddings. He had been a loyal subject, though, and his work at the guild had not undermined hers as queen.

For years he had signed his reports with ‘your ever-loving husband’. She had thought it was another of his jokes, sarcasm even, but there was never news of him with a mistress and that warmed her heart. At least in that he had not been like her father. In the end, she had come to believe him, because in her heart she had kept a reserve of love for him too, even at the most hateful times.

The deep regret in her heart did not stop her from refusing to entertain thoughts that it might have been different between them.

Chapter Text

Armenelos, 1280 SA

It was the last time Ancalimë walked the up to the summit. Age had settled in her bones, insidiously, until one day there was no denying. Her body had lost its vigour and her mind as not as sharp as in other days. It had taken her some six years to make the decision of passing the Sceptre to Anárion, until one day she had realized that everyone in the Council of the Sceptre was staring at her. She could not remember what had been said just before.

"I shall consider the matter privately. In a week we reconvene," she had said, solemnly leaving the room after.

It had only been a momentary lapse, something that would be entirely acceptable in anyone else. But not her. She had always been the driving force at the Council of the Sceptre, not someone whose thoughts were far away. She could not bear the notion that other such instances might take place.

That night she had called Anárion for a private supper in her chambers. Her son kissed her on the cheek and sat before her. There had been dark days in the past, but Anárion was a good son and a dutiful man. Watching the light from the fireplace flicker on his face, handsome as his father's, Ancalimë felt certain she was doing the right thing.

"Mamil," he said, after a while. Ancalimë noticed the concern tightening the fine lines around his eyes.

"My son." Ancalimë relaxed into her chair. "There are two matters only in my ruling that I have not shared with you in the latter years. Tomorrow we shall go over these two matters."

Anárion nodded. "It's the Elven-king, Gil-galad, is it not?"

Ancalimë took a sip from her wine. "Yes, foreign relations is a part of it. I would tell you to put it in the hands of your most capable and intelligent eldest daughter, but given free rein, Vardilmë would swiftly return us to my father's days, sending ships abroad as if money were water. It took me a lifetime to fill our coffers again."

Anárion sighed. "She has it in her blood."

Ancalimë shook her head. They had had this exchange many times. "The other issue is, of course, succession. I have made several provisions, for you. You will be a fit ruler, worthy of your great-grandfather Meneldur. You care for the land and the people, just like my mother did."

"Mother..." Anárion’s face was crestfallen. "Is everything well?"

"I am not dying yet, if that is what you are worried about. But after tomorrow, we will both climb the Meneltarma, and I will hand you the sceptre. The crown will come later, with due ceremony for the people."

"Mother... I do not know what to say."

"‘Thank you’ should suffice." Ancalimë bit her lip. She was always a tad too dry when she meant to be humorous. That had never changed and Anárion did not always understand. "I jest, son," she added. "I am the one to thank you, for being a loyal son, and never asking me to renounce, even when you are already fully trained in the difficulties of ruling. You will be a wise and kind king, my son. Now, I am tired."

They had not touched their food yet, but suddenly Ancalimë felt as if a great weight had lifted from her shoulders and she was exhausted. Anárion rose and bowed. He looked around, then at his hands and at his feet. Finally, he knelt and kissed her hand.

"Thank you, Mother, for teaching me well."

Ancalimë stroked his cheek, with her fingertips. "Good night, my son."


She had climbed the Meneltarma many times before in her life, as was her due. In recent years, her bones complained, but this time, she felt less the weariness of the ascent and more the fear leaving her – Númenor would not be swallowed by waves if she stopped ruling.

At the summit, before the hierophant and Eru Ilúvatar only, she passed the sceptre to Anárion. Her hands had trembled ever so slightly. Her son had lowered his head in a silent, courteous thanks. It was his turn now. Her death was close and she thought of that day, far in the past, when Hallacar had been there, holding her in her grief. They had been fools, both of them. She wondered if it could have been different, knowing that those thoughts were well-worn paths that lead nowhere.

 

Almaida, 1285 SA
Now, she lived alone in Almaida, save for one woman servant and her young daughter. She had always thought that she would finish her days in Emerië, like her mother, in a house full of women, refugees from the harshness of this world. But when she had descended the Meneltarma for the last time, she had headed for her childhood home only to find it full of ghosts and dampness. Erendis had been a young woman, when she had taken her there. Ancalimë was too old and tired to build anything anew.

She had stayed there for two excruciating days. The hills, dotted with sheep, reminded her of Hallacar and her youth. And Îbal, that dear friend, and his mother, a warm woman, always busy, always smelling of freshly baked bread. And Zamîn, Todaphel, Azruarî, laughter and tears. She had found a box of her mother's poems, from the time her mother had travelled with her father by ship around Númenor. Ancalimë had read them all. They were vibrant, joyful, not marred by the sadness that always veiled her mother. And they were about the sea. It was obvious, even then, that Erendis was looking to the land, from the sea, while Aldarion had been looking from the sea to the nether shores. Ancalimë smiled, a bitter old woman smile, and called her servants. She left the house to their care. She would gift it to her granddaughter Ariel. The girl had her head full of dreams and poems and wanted to be the second Erendis Poetess or Ancalimë Shepherdess. Ancalimë had stopped trying to show her that the reality of both lives was more and less than the romanticized version. Ariel might as well have the house and live the dream. Maybe one day, even, a handsome fake shepherd would come along and sweep her off her feet.

The poems had made a deep impression on her, however. She always felt as if she were a child peeking into something forbidden, whenever she read her mother's words. Maybe she should have just burned them, as Erendis had asked in her will. She kept thinking of the landscapes, Númenor through the sea mist, as seen by her mother, silver and gold, green and blue. Almaida. That was where she wanted to be. She had only been there once, while on a state visit to Andustar. One of the horses had lost a shoe and they had stopped for lunch and shoeing at the small fishermen town.

It was a good choice. Andúnië was close enough for Anárion not to worry about her and for his messengers to reach her easily, but far enough for the sycophants not to bother visiting her. It was small and quiet. Her life was spent, her strength had gone. It was time to wait for death, in peace.

Her eldest granddaughter came often to visit. While Ancalimë rued not that the youngest, Ariel could not be bothered with ruling, she did so with Vardilmë. Her granddaughter was formidable, a true ‘Pirate Queen’. Tall and golden, mind sharp as a blade, Vardilmë had been rightfully named after their honourable ancestor. Ancalimë saw the brightness, the iron will, but she also saw the dreamer, a woman with a heart after Aldarion’s, set on the sea.

Vardilmë should have been queen, but Ancalimë still could not let her rule, knowing that another disastrous wave of expansion would come, returning Númenor to poverty and ignorance, and in this, Anárion, agreed with her. It was a terrible waste of talent to render her granddaughter useless, but fortunately, Vardilmë seemed content with her part of the bargain – the guild in her hands.

They still argued, frequently. She loved this granddaughter very much, even when she was insufferable. She had her mother’s tender heart and many tattoos. She came to Almaida to show her the latest, a crown with a rose, on her shoulder, which was supposed to be a homage to her. Ancalimë was peeved that her granddaughter had found, yet again, a way to make her laugh, be proud and be angry at the same time.

It was Vardilmë who was by her side when the darkness fell. Ancalimë sat on the sand, enjoying the warmth of the sunny afternoon. She was heavily warded against the cold, covered in shawls like the old woman she was now, but after yet another altercation with her granddaughter, this time about interpretations of the history of the settlement on the island, she felt a sudden urge to leave the house.

Vardilmë took her down the path from her sandy lawn to the beach. A soft breeze murmured through the reeds and gulls flew overhead, letting their shrill cries echo through the skies. It was still cold for the children to go out on the water, but far away two or three played with a ball. Ancalimë’s sight had been better.

The day felt as perfect as a day can be perfect, for an old woman. Vardilmë felt strong and hale, by her side. She was proud of that unnerving woman. When they sat, they did not resume their quarrelling. Ancalimë gazed at the horizon for a long time, until sky and water melded and the rolling of the waves was all that filled her mind. Then she closed her eyes and turned her face up to the sun. The West could wait a few seconds more. She could see in the redness of her trembling lids, tiny black dots swimming up and down and to the sides. It almost felt like being young again.

The sun dimmed and Ancalimë opened her eyes. Everything was dark and pale, as if the colours had been bleached. With a start, she realized it was time. Her chest heaved, but quickly she controlled herself. Death was naught but another journey. There was no need to scare the girl. She lay back against the dune and closed her eyes again. Her breath slowed. Her body slackened. Her heart gently stopped thrumming in her ears. And then, she felt featherweight, travelling through halls of light.

“Ancalimë!” her mother laughed as she called. “Daughter,” her father said. Strong arms held her. A kiss fell on her cheek. Isilmë’s warm hand laced her fingers.

“Emerwen…” she heard Hallacar calling. “Emerwen Aranel.” His arms, strong as ever, closed around her.

Ancalimë felt young again. She opened her eyes to find those of her loved ones. She was no longer alone. She never had been.

Finis
June 2015