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Akallabeth in August
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There was a lady Inzilbêth, renowned for her beauty, and her mother was Lindórië, sister of Eärendur, the Lord of Andúnië in the days of Ar-Sakalthôr father of Ar-Gimilzôr. Gimilzôr took her to wife, though this was little to her liking, for she was in heart one of the Faithful, being taught by her mother; but the kings and their sons were grown proud and not to be gainsaid in their wishes. No love was there between Ar-Gimilzôr and his queen, or between their sons.

Even Roses Have Thorns, Part 3 by Lady Roisin

Inziladûn’s hand guided the quill across the page, stopping momentarily before continuing to form the Elvish script. Inzilbêth studied each letter to ensure they were formed exactly like the ones she had written a week before. The corners of her lips raised in a smile of approval.

“Very good, now try to see if you can remember the second page.” The Queen reached out to take the page from the table and tossed it into the flames burning within the hearth. Each day Inziladûn committed more of the book to memory. Not a single page could be spared once the words were written upon it. If anyone besides Inzilbêth and Inziladûn happened to see them, all would be lost.

The Queen looked up to see her son put his quill back onto the tray that held the inkwell and other supplies. Concern made her edge closer to his side when his hands went to his brow.

“We can stop for the day if you wish.”

Inziladûn shook his head before pulling his hands back to reveal a tired expression. “I want to keep going. There is simply so much that must be done; especially now that Father has fallen ill.”

Inzilbêth turned her eyes down towards the page her son wrote upon. She did not wish for him to see the conflicting emotions upon her face regarding her husband’s health. Ar-Gimilzôr’s misdeeds had caught up to him in the past months. He no longer left his private chambers without gloves covering his hands, lest anyone catch sight of the rash covering the back of his palms. The King’s physician whispered his suspicions to Inzilbêth in private, but she had suspected the diagnosis long ago. It was every bit as blatant as the hooded or masked women that came and went from Ar-Gimilzôr’s private quarters. Already five of these women who had lain in the King’s bed had gone to early graves, struck down by the same silent killer. Despite the murmured voices, the questions, Ar-Gimilzôr had been unable to bring an end to his philandering ways, and Inzilbêth no longer cared. There might have a time long ago when the sound of a new mistress’s laughter brought tears to her eyes, but now she simply kept her distance and shielded her heart and body behind protective walls.

“You have done a fine job serving in your father’s place,” Inzilbêth spoke as she stood from her seat to retrieve the sheet of parchment from the writing tablet. “I’m certain he is proud of you even if he finds difficulty in saying so. You shall be a great King, Inziladûn.”

A warm smile upturned the corners of Inziladûn’s lips, but it dropped a moment later. “That depends if I am to be King in the first place.”

The parchment slipped from Inzilbêth’s fingers and she did not make any motion to retrieve it. “What do you mean? The law of succession deems the firstborn to be the rightful heir.”

“That is true,” Inziladûn spoke grimly. “At least it is true for now. Father wishes to change the law so that he may choose his heir.”

“He cannot do that!” Inzilbêth clapped a hand over her mouth a split second after the words left her mouth, realizing the volume of her voice had come out louder than she had meant it to. She kept her outrage in check and strived to maintain control of her voice. “That is preposterous,” she said to her elder son. “Especially after all you have done for Númenor and for him.” Inziladûn shook his head wordlessly, yet Inzilbêth saw the pain written all over his face. For years her eldest son had tried to earn the favor of both of his parents, but Ar-Gimilzôr never seemed to forgive the natural bond Inziladûn shared with his mother. Inzilbêth opened her mouth to speak some sort of comfort to her eldest son, but snapped it shut when the door opened, revealing Gimilkhâd’s form standing on the other side. At the sight of her younger son, her hands hastily reached for the sheet of parchment resting near her feet and tossed it into the flames.

“What are you doing?”

The stern tone in Gimilkhâd’s voice forced Inzilbêth to think quickly. She turned to face her youngest son with as much calm as she could muster.

“Your brother was simply enquiring about your father’s condition.”

Gimilkhâd’s head turned towards the hearth and swung back to face his mother while he took a few slow strides into the room. “You are burning documents?”

“It is common protocol to burn correspondence that is no longer needed.”

Gimilkhâd put one foot in front of the other at an agonizingly slow pace. Even though his face remained stoic, Inzilbêth saw the smoldering fury in his eyes. The sound of his feet moved in a half-circle around her. She could feel her son’s breath heat the side of her face while he whispered in a tone every bit as menacing as the look in his eyes.

“That will be one of the first things I shall change when I am king.”

Inzilbêth’s eyes remained fixed upon the wall across from her. She would not give her youngest son the benefit of intimidation. “You might do such a thing if you were meant to be king. But you are not the heir. Are you?”

“No,” Gimilkhâd murmured. “But I shall be, once the law is changed.”

“No!” she said under her breath, but Inzilbêth realized too late how little of her emotions her hushed whisper had concealed. She turned around to see a smug look cover Gimilkhâd’s features. “Why are you doing this to your brother? He needs your support.”

“Why am I doing this to him?” A low laugh escaped from Gimilkhâd’s throat. He shook his head and before Inzilbêth had a chance to move out of his reach he grasped her forearms, jerking her body closer. “Because you have done everything you can to tear this family apart, Mother, to make us appear weak. The only reason you favor Inziladûn is because his mind is weak, because he will accept whatever you tell him. Don’t think I don’t know why the two of you speak behind closed doors!”

Inzilbêth winced at the tone of her son’s voice. Her feet stumbled over one another after he pushed her away; his vice-like grip pulling away from her arms as if they had suddenly grown hot and burned his palms.

“You’ve pulled the blinders over my father’s eyes, but I have not remained idle. You cannot win, neither of you can.”

Inzilbêth watched her youngest son stalk towards the door, his footfalls heavy upon the stone floor. She was about to release a sigh of relief when Gimilkhâd’s hand grasped the door handle. Instead, he turned to face her one last time. The loathing in his eyes sent chills down her spine, but the words he spoke caused her stomach to lurch in shock and discomfort.

“It is treason to teach one to write the forbidden tongues, Mother. It would not bode well for you, or Inziladûn, to continue these lessons of yours.”

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The rasp of shallow breathing was painful in Inzilbêth’s ears. With each moment that passed she hoped that it would be the last, ending the agony that tormented both her and her husband. A pair of lamps cast an eerie illumination within the room. Heavy curtains barred the midday sun from entering the King’s personal chambers. Despite the dim lighting, Inzilbêth could see the pain upon Ar-Gimilzôr’s pale face. The odor of perspiration and vomit permeated the air, repulsing the Queen even further.

Inzilbêth’s fingers brushed along the page sitting in her lap. Upon the table sat a stack of letters bearing the same fluid script. It had been so long since she saw Lindórië’s handwriting, too long. Even now anger still swelled and roiled within Inzilbêth’s gut despite the fact a few weeks had passed since she found the stack of letters inside one of her husband’s cabinets.

The dates went back as far as a month after Inzilbêth had married Ar-Gimilzôr. The tears could not be restrained while Inzilbêth read her mother’s words of love and pride, words Inzilbêth had longed for so many times. By now she had memorized the flow of emotions that painted themselves across the pages. At first Lindórië voiced her pride, her desire to see her grandsons, regret that she had not been by her daughter’s side when they entered the world. In time the tone of the letters shifted to fear, desperation, and even hopelessness, as Lindórië begged for some sign that Inzilbêth had not forsaken her. Even now Inzilbêth wiped away a stray tear to see the tormented words in her mother’s final letter.

A sputtered gasp pulled Inzilbêth’s attention away from the letter. Her husband looked at her with bloodshot eyes. A trail of saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth. The once mighty King who ruled with a steel grip was now reduced to a pile of bloody vomit and stinking flesh. For a moment Inzilbêth thought she glimpsed a shadow of regret in his tormented gaze. However, pity for his current state became something she found hard to give to him. After all, she had found the wax seal broken upon every single one of her mother’s letters. For years she wondered if the man she married possessed a heart, but now she no longer wasted her time with such angst.

“Yes, I’m reading them again,” Inzilbêth cooed almost lovingly when she stood from her seat. She reached out to soak one of the folded towels in the shallow water that sat upon the bedside table. The gentle ring of droplets breaking the surface of the liquid harmonized with the timbre of Inzilbêth’s voice while she spoke.

“I know you have read them already. But would you like to read them again?” Inzilbêth gently dabbed at Ar-Gimilzôr’s face with the damp cloth she held. He turned his head to the side, shying away from his wife’s hands. Even so, Inzilbêth caught sight of the hurt in his eyes before he turned them away completely. Somehow the passive remark underscored with her bitterness did not seem to bring the satisfaction that Inzilbêth hoped it would.

Ar-Gimilzôr sputtered and his body shook with the effort to try and breathe. Reality slapped its icy palm across Inzilbêth’s face, forcing her to reel from the blow. Her husband clung to his pride even in the throes of a slow and agonizing death. There would be no tender words of adoration, or tearful apologies for all the wounds they had dealt one another over the years. He would die while she remained here to live in the shadow of what might have been.

Not even the heavy wooden desk offered Inzilbêth the support she needed once she had stumbled towards it. She felt her husband’s gaze bore into her back while she leaned against the desk. With each deep breath she took and released Inzilbêth willed that love she sought to be in his eyes when she found the strength to face him again. She was about to make her move when she noticed an official document sitting upon the polished surface of the desk.

The tilted loops of Ar-Gimilzôr’s familiar script grabbed Inzilbêth’s attention and held it fast. The large official seal of the King mocked her along with the decree written upon the document. So it would seem that there had been some truth to what Gimilkhâd said to her some weeks before. No one could deny the legal and bonding edict that would surely destroy this entire land. Inzilbêth could no longer hold the tears at bay. Not even the fact that her husband’s signature remained missing from the document brought Inzilbêth the relief she so desperately needed. Instead she turned with the parchment in her hands.

“So this is what you want? To destroy everything we have built together?” she said, her voice trembling.

Inzilbêth shook her head and swallowed down the lump that pushed its way into her throat. Her hands seemed to move of their own accord as they reached for the writing tablet and filled the split tip of the quill with ink. Each step seemed more purposed than the last while Inzilbêth made her way back to her husband’s bedside. The rustle of paper interrupted the silence within the room. Once the sheet rested upon the tablet Inzilbêth reached out for the King’s hand. Her fingers carefully manipulated his own until they held the quill with the proper grip.

“Come now, sign your proclamation.”

At last the familiar pride and satisfaction in conquering his adversary returned to Ar-Gimilzôr’s expression, completing Inzilbêth’s grief. All along this had been his only goal. Finally he had broken the one person who never yielded to his will.

“I am sorry, my husband, that I could not be more like you, like Gimilkhâd. Maybe that would have been enough for you to love me.”

Inzilbêth could hear the wavering in her voice. The tears rolled freely down her face, but she no longer cared. Ar-Gimilzôr would die soon and he might as well take the burden of some of her pain with him, at least lessen the load she would bear for the rest of her days.

“For years I wondered why you chose me, why you brought me here. But in time I accepted that it was not me you wanted after all. You wanted revenge, and I afforded you that. I tried so very hard not to hate you, because I foolishly hoped you would come to your senses and love me, not revenge, or your whores. I didn’t know how alike love and hate were until you came into my life. I hated you for many things, so many things.”

The skin underneath Inzilbêth’s palms felt cold and clammy. Her hands cupped the sides of her husband’s face, holding it fast while her own lingered a few inches away.

“In the end, I hate you most because you showed me mercy. So many times I laid my treason at your feet, and yet you never gave me the kind of death I yearned for. Instead you let me linger here, like a bird in a gilded cage, perishing from the inside out. Tell me, your Majesty, are you satisfied now to see you have won?”

She had expected her King to gloat, to revel in his long-awaited victory. But alas a single tear rolled down the face of the dying monarch. A single shred of hope broke forth, like the survivor buried underneath the rubble of a disaster trying to claw his way to freedom and life. At long last, Inzilbêth caught sight of the one thing she pleaded with the One through tearful prayers to place in her husband’s heart, and suddenly she realized she had seen it before in passing. Unfortunately both of them had been too proud and lost to see it.

“I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” Gimilzôr rasped before sucking in more needy breaths. Whether his body shook from physical pain or the weight of emotions Inzilbêth did not know. Her hands clasped his head tighter.

“Please tell me you love me,” Inzilbêth choked forth amidst her quiet sobbing. “I have to know. I need it.”

Gimilzôr’s chapped lips quivered in an attempt to form words. Blood pooled at the edges of his mouth, his eyes wide with fear. Desperation took over Inzilbêth’s being, her arms moved to cradle her husband’s head and shoulders.

“No, please don’t do this, not now. I didn’t know. Forgive me for what I have done!”

“Inzilbêth…” Gimilzôr murmured as emotion spilled from his eyes. Never before had he spoken her name with such tenderness. Everything she ever needed to know was conveyed in that single word and it broke Inzilbêth’s heart. She watched as her husband struggled one last time to say the words she had always longed for until he finally gave up and relinquished his hold on his final breath.

Inzilbêth’s body shook as she looked into the blank stare that clouded Gimilzôr’s eyes. Fate was far crueler than her husband ever could have been. Neither of them was free of guilt or bloodstains upon their hands. For years she had endured his constant unfaithfulness, his total disregard for her humanity. Each selfish act had spurned her to defy him to an even greater extent. It wasn’t until after Inzilbêth found her mother’s opened letters that she began to administer increasing amounts of the medicine the physician had provided to try and cure the King’s shameful disease, slowly poisoning the man that imprisoned her for so many years. In the end, it was Inzilbêth who had sealed her fate and threw away the keys to her freedom.

With a choked sob, Inzilbêth released Gimilzôr’s lifeless form, allowing it to drop into a limp heap upon the dirty sheets. The signed piece of parchment caught her eye from the place where it must have fallen. She required no thought when she snatched up the document from the floor and stalked over to hearth where a few coals still glowed red. They popped and sprung to life once the sheet of paper made contact. Flames leapt to consume it; their teeth gnawed at the page, blackening the edges before swallowing it whole. The embers crackled as they splintered off into small orange specks, fizzling out once they touched the blackened stone below.

Inzilbêth fixed her eyes upon the flames while she twisted the gold wedding band from her hand. She dared not watch to see if the fire was hot enough to liquefy the ring. Somehow it felt better not to know. Instead she walked towards the cask containing the winged crown. She opened the cask and ran her fingers over the great symbol of Númenor and then lifted it, cradling the crown in her hands. Inzilbêth did not even dare to look back as she bore the revered heirloom to its new rightful owner.

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