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Akallabeth in August
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They desired to end all friendship between their people and the Eldar of Eressëa, whom they named the Spies of the Valar, hoping to keep their deeds and their counsels hidden from the Lords of the West. But all that they did was known to Manwë, and the Valar were wroth with the Kings of Númenor, and gave them counsel and protection no more; and the ships of Eressëa came never again out of the sunset, and the havens of Andúnië were forlorn.

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“And don’t come back!”

I ducked as a bottle thudded and broke against the side of the ship. The sailors hurriedly detached the ship from the dock and headed out onto open water, leaving Eldalondë for the last time. I refused to look back, thinking about everything I would have to inform the Valar of, for they questioned everyone who traveled to Númenor these days. I could only hope my friends would be safe.

I woke up gasping, and tossed the blanket off myself. I struggled to my feet, stumbled over to the window, and cracked open the shutter, letting in the cooler, fragrant night air into my room. I could not open it wider, as it overlooked the street, but it was enough of a breeze to center myself.

The door creaked open behind me and a soft feminine voice said, “Alagos?”

I turned and smiled at my hostess. “I had another dream of when I left here two years ago.”

In her slippers, she padded over the wooden floor and stood next to me, lifting her face into the slight breeze. “None of us were hurt, though. I do not know why you continue to dream of it.”

I sighed and gazed out of the small slice of open air, onto the empty streets. “It’s a warning that we must be careful. I know not the punishments that would come on you and your family if the King’s Men discover I am here--”

“I do not wish to discuss it.”

“But we must, in the morning. For I cannot stay here otherwise.”

Mestië sighed. “As you wish.” She turned to leave the room, slippers brushing against the wood. I turned to look at her and gently grasped an arm.

“I know this is hard for you, but we do need answers.”

She smiled slightly. “I know. And we will do what we can to supply them.”

The next morning, though, I didn’t have the chance to talk to Mestië without her children present before she had to open her shop. Her daughter Aira was only six years old and her son Táranar was eight. They both helped in the shop as much as they could, though if they weren’t doing that, they studied in the back room. And I had little to do but read, given the small apartment was above the shop. Even Elven footsteps caused the floorboards to creak.

I thought nothing of it when two people entered the shop, but when one of them-- a man-- spoke with the accent of Armenelos, I closed my book and eavesdropped. People from there rarely stopped here since there were grander shops.

“Mestië Ciryacánoiel, the King has ordered all Faithful to move to Rómenna. You and your family have two weeks to vacate this premise.”

“But what about my stock? How can I find a place to live when I have never traveled there?”

The King’s Man said, “That is not our concern.”

Both of them then left the shop, letting the door slam behind them. I heard a soft sob and then quiet. I stood carefully up, stepping as lightly as I could, and reached the door to the stairs without making the floor creak. I cracked it open, saw no one in the back room and crept down the stairs. Just as I reached the bottom, I heard Mestië lock the front door and herd her children into the back room, closing that door as well.

“We’re going to have an early lunch today,” she said as she turned toward the stairs. When she saw me, she jumped a little. “Alagos! Don’t do that.”

“Sorry, my lady.” I moved back up the stairs and picked up Aira when she raced toward me. “I overheard the King’s Men…”

Her shoulders tensed as she cut up the bread. “They didn’t hurt me, but I don’t know what we will do. You’re here until the end of the week, and I can’t risk strangers coming up here.”

“What about your sister?”

“Olostë has her own brood to worry about. Alagos, if it’s two weeks for all the Faithful in the town, there will be no boats, no ships, no wagons, nothing left for those who can barely afford to live on their own as it is.” The knife thudded down, ripping apart the bread. “Táranar, get the cheese.” The boy nodded and raced downstairs to go to the cellar. “Aira, put this on the table please.”

I let the little girl down and she did as ordered. I moved over to the counter and met my friend’s eyes. “Everything will work out. I will help as much as I am able. You need to prioritize what you want to keep, for if you wish to keep your livelihood, you’ll have to take as much fabric as possible.”

Mestië nodded and wiped her hands on her dress. “The bedstead Táratecil carved for us. The books. Clothing. The portraits. Everything else can be replaced.”

We glanced over at stairs when we heard thudding. Táranar burst into the room carrying a small roll of cheese in one hand and a bottle of something in the other. “I thought you’d like cool water!”

Mestië kissed her son on the cheek and took both from him. “Thank you. That was thoughtful. Now go sit down.”

He joined his sister at the table and the two waited quietly, reminding me more of Elven children than mortal. I grabbed several mugs from the cupboard and poured the water into them, carrying them carefully to the table. Once the cheese was cut, Mestië sat down as well. It was a quiet meal, with her explaining what they would have to do to the children. Neither one of them was happy, the boy understanding more than his younger sister. Once he was assured his best friend would be moving as well-- children of the Faithful rarely played with anyone but other Faithful-- he became more accepting. Still, none of them were happy, though Mestië tried her best to frame it as an adventure. Given that this shop had been in her family for generations, and that her husband Táratecil had only lived there for three years before the sailing accident killed him, she was grieving the loss of everything that she had worked for.

Three days later, after dinner, she approached me and said, “I’ve arranged for you to leave the town tonight. There’s a small cave in the cove where your ship will come. You won’t be the only Elf there-- I know of two others who are already there. You must be at the southern gate by midnight. I’ll come with--”

“No, my lady,” I said, shaking my head. “Your children are too young to stay alone, and you needn’t scare them if one wakes up to find you missing. Furthermore, I won’t let a woman walk alone at night here, especially one who is Faithful.”

She nodded, conceding my points. “I’ll draw you a map of the guard stations. And you should be able to hear them as well.” She left me alone to pack, not that I had anything apart from clothes. Once I was ready, having said farewell to the children before they went to bed, I put on my gray cloak and shouldered my pack. I hugged Mestië.

“I’m afraid this is our final farewell. I do not think we will see each other again. It would be too dangerous for a ship to travel near Rómenna.”

“I was afraid you’d say that, Alagos.” She stepped forward and kissed me. I blinked in surprise and then pulled her deeper into my embrace. When I released her, she stepped back, blushing. “I’d always wondered what it would be like to kiss you.”

I laughed softly. “Curiosity is natural.” I reached over and brushed her cheek lightly with a hand. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I just wish you had spoken your desire earlier.”

She looked down at the floor. “It could never have happened. You’re an Elf, and I’m not.”

“Mutual attraction has happened before, and some would say it is better to remain chaste. I disagree.” I lifted her chin, kissed her again, gently, and then went down the stairs. She followed me and I froze when I heard a group of men head down the street in front of the shop. If they didn’t move along… But the glass window on the shop door shattering killed any hope they were just returning home from the tavern down the street. I looked at Mestië. “Upstairs, now. Thank the Valar you’re already dressed in your nightclothes. I’ll take the back exit.” I heard the front lock click open. “Now!”

I turned around and made it halfway across the room before the door slammed open behind me.

“Halt! Halt in the name of the King!”

I ignored the mortal and fumbled with the lock. I had to escape, for I knew not what horrors would befell an Elf in these lands that we were forbidden to be in. I turned around in time to see three men in chain mail head up the stairs. Mestië… And that split-second distraction meant I didn’t see the club headed toward my head until it was too late to dodge.

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I woke up, groaned, and tried to lift my hands to rub my aching head. But they didn’t move and the cold iron wrapped around my wrists finally penetrated my muddled thoughts. I glanced down to find the iron manacles bolted to the wall. I leaned my head back against the cool stone, for it was the only thing I could do. It helped somewhat, but the more I woke up, the worse the pounding became.

Light flooded my dim cell when the door was opened. One of the guards thrust a torch in front of my face and he studied my eyes. “He’ll live,” he shouted over his shoulder and stepped back to let two other guards unlock my restraints.

I didn’t bother to fight, for my vision was still hazy and I did not know where I was in the courthouse and prison complex, though I knew where that was in the city. But when I stepped forward, I retched and the two guards holding me dropped me. I managed to land on the stone and not in the small puddle of bile, but a vicious kick in the small of my back caused me to curl into a ball. I was roughly picked up and dragged out of the cell. Once in the corridor, I managed to find my feet and but barely kept up with my captors. We went up two flights of stairs, onto the sunlit ground floor. Unlike my previous times in the courthouse in better years, I paid no attention to who was around me. If I was placed in public view…

I was led into the largest courtroom and manacled to a chair to one side of a platform. Mestië was in the one next to me. She smiled at me, even though I saw one of her eyes had been blackened.

“I suppose there is no escape?”

“None that I can see, my lady. But my eyes are not working too well at the present time. How have you fared?”

“The same as any women in captivity. I do not think we will get out of this alive.”

My jaw dropped, stunned at her acceptance. “My lady--”

“Alagos, you and I both know you are considered a Spy of the Valar. And what is the punishment for spies in the outer lands? Death. Harboring of spies? Death. I only hope my children will escape punishment.”

I closed my mouth, not knowing what to say. Her logic was inescapable. Maybe, just maybe… “If we pretend I had only stopped by on my way to the gate?”

She shook her head. “No use. Someone across the street saw you through an open window two days ago. The guards made sure I knew that. Alagos, my one regret is that we didn’t do more.”

Before I could respond to that, the main doors opened and a flood of people entered the courtroom. I studied the room, my vision better than it had been earlier. People jostled for the best seats, but a small group of guards led a somewhat overweight woman holding the hands of two children to the front row. Táranar had tears on his face, and he stared at the two of us. Aira cried out, “Mama! Alagos!” and tried to pull away from the woman whom I recognized as Mestië’s younger sister, but she had too firm of a grip, and Aira started crying.

“Hush, Aira. Let’s sit down and be quiet.” Olostë watched the two of us, fighting tears herself.

Once everyone was seated, three men wearing formal robes entered the room and stood on the platform. I studied them, not liking what I saw. No one of them would meet my eyes, and one of the wore a satisfied smirk when he glanced at Mestië. The trial was swift, for there was no denying the evidence and testimony. The neighbor spoke what she saw, and the guards who had arrested us did as well. After a short period where the three judges left the room to deliberate, and Mestië and I were left with nothing to do but trying to ignore the catcalls and murmuring from the crowd, they returned.

The tallest one stepped forward and addressed Mestië first. “For the charge of harboring a Spy of the Valar, we find you guilty. The penalty is death, to be carried out at dusk.” An outburst was swiftly contained and he continued, turning slightly to face me. “For the charge of being a Spy of the Valar, we find you guilty. The penalty is torture for extraction of information followed by death.”

I stared at him, ignoring the cries of the crowd. They truly thought they could execute one of the Firstborn without invoking the wrath of the Valar? Only two sets of quick footsteps broke into my thoughts and I stared at the children I had just orphaned. They hugged their mother as best as they could, and I looked away from the small family. The sister came up behind them as fast as possible.

“Take care of them, Olostë.”

“I will,” she said, and I looked back at them.

“I’m sorry.”

The adults glanced at each other, and Mestië finally spoke. “We run the risk of death with being Faithful. Mobs, poison, accidents that aren’t.”

“It is on my account.”

Before anything further could be said, guards removed the children from Mestië and herded her family out of the room. Only then did they unlock our manacles. I was led from the room first, catching my last glimpse of Mestië as she stared in my direction. A swift smile and she was gone.

I was thrown back into the cell, but this time I fought the guards trying to restrain me. Still slightly hindered by my head injury, I was placed back in the manacles and the door slammed shut after the guards left. I welcomed the darkness after the brilliant light in the courtroom, and for the death of my joy.

In the darkness, I did not know how much time passed, but it seemed only minutes before several guards came into the cell, unlocked me, and dragged me out. I saw no point in fighting, given I would never escape with the amount of guards. Still, I fought as much as possible not to be strapped to a wooden frame. The door shut behind me, leaving me in the room with two men, one of whom had a pad of paper and the other was turning a metal rod in the brazier. He pulled it out, walked toward me, and paused. I didn’t take my eyes off the red-hot poker.

The other man said, “This is your only opportunity. Tell us what you know, Elf, and we will kill you instantly.” I glanced at him, raised an eyebrow, and looked back at the metal. The man sighed and said, “You may begin.”

I felt the heat and then the burn on my leg before I let myself fall into blackness. The next thing I heard was my name being spoken by a deep, sonorous voice.

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Manwë glanced over at Námo. “I have forbidden any ships from sailing to Númenor. One death was too many.”

“They knew the risks when Ar-Gimilzôr passed a law against fraternizing with the Eldar.”

“We did not anticipate their dying, else we would have forbidden this sooner.”

Námo gave him nothing but silence.

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I opened the three-hundred-year-old scroll and saw three short notes in a handwriting I barely recognized. The first was in shaky Tengwar, by a young hand.

Aunt Olostë said I should write and let you know my sister and I are fine. We’re traveling to Rómenna. She said I should thank you for the two books of lore.

The second, with much sturdier handwriting, read,

I know what happened that night. I know you tried to protect her-- you and Mother weren’t as quiet that night as you thought. I wish you could have been my father. You should know my sister and I have sailed to Lond Daer to live with our mother’s parents. Aunt said I could give this to one of the Elves, and it would eventually reach you. I hope so, because I miss you. You should know I don’t blame you. Only the King and his Men committed any wrongdoing. Mother raised us as Faithful, and we continue to be, in both of your memories. Life in Rómenna was difficult, but Ar-Gimilzôr didn’t prevent us from sailing East. Mother wouldn’t have been happy, there or here, even with her family. She was too attached to Eldalondë-- and to you.

The final one, crabbed to fit on the sheet, simply read,

After the Renewal, we shall see you again. I follow my family now. May the stars shine upon you.

I let the scroll roll itself up, buried my head in my arms, and wept for the woman who could have been my wife and for her children.

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