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Akallabeth in August
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Yet such was the cunning of his mind and mouth, and the strength of his hidden will, that ere three years had passed he had become closest to the secret counsels of the King; for flattery sweet as honey was ever on his tongue, and knowledge he had of many things yet unrevealed to Men.

The Last Temptation by Fireworks

“Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
-John Kenneth Galbraith

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Dawn found the brothers sprawled upon the floor of Anárion's house, cups of tea half-drank, and a mess of leaves on the floor where Isildur had dropped the stone during their quarrel.

Anárion could not snatch a half hour's sleep together, but he did doze, minutes at a time that were cut short by nightmares and heartburn.

"We have heard much on the praise of Númenor, but naught of your own home, lord Sauron," Elenwë had asked.

The fool, headstrong woman! Why would she goad Sauron so, provoking him into disliking her so early on his sojourn here?

"Isil... Are you awake?" he probed into the twilight.

"Who could sleep with all the tossing and turning you have been doing?"

"Tell me again--"

"I have told you at least ten times!"

"Tell me again!" he insisted, partially sitting up. "Did he look at her differently after she asked? Did anyone remark upon it?"

"No. If anything, he seemed pleased by her question, and as though he tried to hide it for the King's benefit."

"And what did the King do?"

"Kept on eating."

"You see, that does not add up! A rebel exalting the praises of his land in front of a captor with whom he seeks to ingratiate himself?"

"Or at least he wanted us to think so."

"What does he want? What does he want?" Anárion asked, rising. "what is his purpose here?"

Isildur turned onto his other side, back to him. "If you act like a grown man and stay for the celebrations, you might find out more."

Anárion groaned.

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If anything, the evening displays were even more lavish than the previous night's. To the tapestries that adorned the hall were added hundreds upon hundreds of flowers of every color imaginable in clusters and arrangements dotting the hall. There were more lights, louder music, more food, and more guests, if that was possible.

Rumor that the King would give a bride to the King of Middle-earth had spread, and entire families had flocked to the palace with their hopeful daughters to try their luck at catching a King for a husband.

"He was prisoner, vassal, and all of a sudden King again," Amandil laughed, though he was unsuccessful in disguising the bitter edge to his laughter.

"I wonder what Pharazôn will make of that," Elendil said, and added before disappearing amidst the crowd, "Try not to get a headache tonight, Anárion."

He had been forgiven for missing the blessing, or so he had been told, but he knew that nobody had believed the excuse he had given as his reason, and they would not let him forget it.

Just as well, he thought. If they will not believe me when I tell the truth, at least they bear it well. Let it be so for yet a while longer.

All day he had worked with the thought of Sauron at the back of his mind. It was wrong to let thoughts simmer so without firsthand information to nurture the flame; his imagination had conjured all sorts of terrible scenarios with different people falling victims to Sauron's malice, yet he had never exchanged word with him. From the accounts he had managed to collect in his wanderings through the city, Sauron was a tyrant. Fairness and objectivity demanded that he admit to the possibility of reformation; but, without punishment, where was Sauron's motivation for change? If he could not trust in his own theory of repentance, what could be hoped for of his people, when they tried to change? Still, he could not risk trusting an asp, and letting him harm those he cared for.

The festivities began on an interesting note: Emeldil was chosen to receive the honor of dining at the high table with the King and, for his lady, he had chosen Ríanwën, daughter of Talmacil, a lady both proud and lofty who could not stop looking around herself to see who was looking at her, and who, as fate would have it, did not even glance at Emeldil after he assisted her onto her chair: she was too busy fawning upon Sauron.

Every once in a while Emeldil would catch his eye and wink at him, clearly entertained; and, though Anárion could not approve the use of a lady in such a way and with such an object in mind, she was using Emeldil in turn.

Tonight, however, he had an important task to complete, and one that was likely to prove difficult despite the obvious rewards. Unsuccessfully, he thought now, he had tried to prepare by telling himself that he could not control the actions of others and that he should not try, that he should not pay so much attention to things outside of his control, that he was used to reading too much into things and that lines had to be drawn between his work and his life; but, as he caught sight of Elenwë dancing with the son of Hirgon, his resolve crumbled to naught.

He cursed under his breath, but he walked to her nonetheless, and tapped on Halador's shoulder.

"Excuse me," he said, forcing through a good-natured smile. Then, turning to Elenwë, "May I have this dance?"

"After I am finished," Halador was saying, but by the time he had finished, Anárion had whisked Elenwë away and out of his reach.

"That was not polite," she said, as she tested her hold on his shoulder.

"I will give him a biscuit and milk later."

"Neither is this."

He bit his lip, hard. With vexation, he realized that even her glare seemed delightful to him, which could explain why he went through so many fights with her over and over again, despite his many self-reproaches over them.

"I do not feel badly enough to apologize," he finally said as he whirled her about before starting the steps on the other end of the room. He thought he saw a small twitch at the corner of her lips. It was fleeting; he could not be certain whether it had been a smile or not.

"There is that, with you," she said, when the next twirl brought her back against his chest. He had to spin her around on the next move and their eyes met.

"What?" he asked, breathless.

"The absolute certainty that you will be truthful."

That made him miss a step and fail to catch her on the next twirl. Trying to make up for his lack of coordination with an increase in speed, he stepped fast and turned her twice, sending her on a fit of giggles. Contagious, delicious giggles.

"I am sorry," he said, as he took her hand again. "Misjudged... You used to not be embarrassed by these sorts of things."

"Still am not," she said, eyes alight. "You used to enjoy them yourself."

"Still do."

"But there is no time for such diversions?"

"Things are different now," he said, regretful at the sober turn their conversation had taken so quickly.

She smiled this time, a small, bittersweet smile that touched his heart with pain and longing.

"That is why you came, is it not? To dance with me... You have something to say to me."

He hated that she was right, and reluctantly nodded his assent.

"Well, let us get on with it," she said, with an air of resignation and custom that he found galling, "so that you can put this unpleasant task behind you."

"You willfully misunderstand much of what I say," he declared, stung, and letting it show. They turned the last time and, upon the halt in the music, she would have walked away, but he held her still until the dancing began anew and she could not leave without disturbing the other couples. She saw what he had done, and glared at him, but he received it without retort.

"Sometimes just asking will be enough to get you what you want," she said.

"Will you listen?"

After a moment's thought, she nodded.

"Then listen carefully, and try not to forget," Anárion said, mentally rephrasing his request in light of her stern agreement. "I want--No. I would ask you that you keep your guard up, try not to let people provoke you, while you talk to people unfamiliar to you."

"Whence does that come? I am sure I do not understand what you mean."

"Yes, you do. Think about last night," he said, holding her gaze before she spun around, away, in the pattern. It was her turn to falter, but he held her tightly before she fell, yet they missed the next turn. "Why did you ask him questions about himself, about his home? If he had not offered any information of his own accord, perhaps he wanted not to share any, and you made him do so. Men sometimes do not like to be gainsaid; they see it as humiliation."

"Does the act itself bother you, or the fact that a woman committed it? What would be the harm in my asking?"

"Naught, except that now you have marked yourself out for him a person of intelligence, and he will be unlikely to believe any further pretense from you, should it be necessary." A pause. "Why did you do it?"

Her hand tightened on his shoulder, yet she looked away. "He provoked me, with his sweetness and flattery and his incessant questions, as if I were one of those people that only want to hear themselves speak."

"He misjudged you, at least," Anárion said, holding onto her once more as the last chords of a faster-paced shanty died in the applause. "I wish you had not done it."

"It is done. Perhaps he will not want to talk to me again."

"I doubt that," he said. Their third piece together was just beginning and he led her in the steps once more, a slower, stately dance designed to exult the glory of the dancers. "Given the influential status of your family and the fact that he now personally knows two of you, I think he will want to find out whether you will be an asset or hindrance."

"To what?"

"To whatever plan he has."

"How can you know that? Maybe you need to stop thinking that everybody has a plan. That is what gives you heartburn."

"Oh, he has one," he said, but then, "How do you know that I have heartburn?"


Anárion bit his lip in frustration. "I have things to worry about at work that cause me unwanted anxiety. Be it as it may, could you not hold your tongue for a half hour together?"

"Perhaps you should hold your tongue now," she said, with a glare and a sway of the hip, and then, under her breath, "I have a feeling that this will turn into something neither of us wants."

"I heard that."

"Good," she said, seemingly emboldened by his reticence and unwillingness to come back at her with a witty reply. "Good, indeed, for you always have much to say and to advice, and never bother to explain why, only assuming that you will be heard for the talking."

"Does it bother you that I know things, that I have opinions? Would you have me be like Halador, a cozened puppet who does nothing except when told?"

"Of course not!" she cried, stomping with her fist on his chest. "I love your strength and courage and your concern for other people, your wholeheartedness and your wrath before injustice, but you are too condescending and quickly angered when your half-explained commands are not carried out exactly how you wanted them, and--"

"I asked you! I asked you nicely to refrain from calling attention to yourself."

"I never call attention to myself."

"You do it all the time."

"I could never tell."

"Well, begin realizing it now," he said, holding her, perhaps, a little tighter than he should have, as they moved across the floor. "You always have someone watching you, wanting to be close to you, maybe even wanting to take advantage of you--"

"That is why I can think, and do it continually! I am not the dullard that you think me, Anárion."

"I never thought you a dullard, but you are obstinate and willful."

"Stop right now," she said, ceasing her dancing, struggling to break free from him and, frustrated by her lack of success, resorting to step on his foot with the heel of her shoe. He released her, bit back a gasp of pain, but she heard it, nonetheless, and her anger blurred quickly into worry and concern.

For a few minutes they stood thus, wills clashing into and against each other as she offered silent apology and concern, while he refused to take it, making himself oblivious to the hurt. He could have still have her within the circle of his arms, for all she moved. Finally, she rubbed at her frown. "You are absolutely right: It takes an obstinate woman to pursue a friendship that does not work anymore; a willful, stupid girl to think that she can be an equal with you--" and with that she turned around and walked away, towards the doors.

He followed closely behind, wending his way amid dancing couples, parents, chaperones, servants, trays of food and drink, and was able to reach her at the steps leading outside without any major incident.

"Where are you going?" he cried. "All alone? There is danger in the streets--"

"Yes, danger that I do not know nor can ever dream of--"

"That is not idle talk, Elenwë!" he said, trying to outrun her. Whatever he did, it worked, for she stopped running and turned to face him. "When I say those things, I do so because I care for you, because I want you safe!"

"And what am I supposed to do? Take it all in stride without wondering how you come by such knowledge, without worrying about how you know? Without wanting to find out more?"

"Find out more, for what? That is not what I ask of you, I never wanted you in danger."

"What you ask of me? Never mind what I want!" Something seemed different with her, akin to the olden days when they ran together in the meadows of her house in the Emerië, wild, beautiful. "Yet, I tell you, I have never been in danger, though I would not mind it if it helped--"

"Is that why you turned Sauron's questions back to him?"

"He kept on asking about you and your family, what you did and why, how old you were, your inclinations, your dreams... Why did he want to know? It was the price of his harassment, and a small one at that. He is a prisoner; he has no right to make himself a lord."

"Listen to yourself, Elenwë, I know you do not mean that! You do not believe in prisoners nor slaves."

"I do not believe in slaves, but I believe in prison if one is a danger to others."

"Is he a danger?" Anárion asked, daring to come close to her and take her by the shoulders, softened by the touch of silk he found there. That was what was different! Her hair was no longer prim like her Aunt wanted to make it these days, but it was coming lose and dangled in tendrils round her face; it took all his restraint not to reach for one to tangle around his finger. If anyone ever hurts her... Valar, I truly do not know what I would do, what I would be capable of doing! The thought made him thrum with suppressed agony. "Did he do anything to frighten you?"

She looked away. It took him a few moments to realize that she was fighting to hold back tears. Tipping her chin, he tried to make her look at him, but she closed her eyes and shrugged him away.

"Elenwë..." he insisted, aware of how vital to his well-being it was that she told him what was wrong, at the same time certain that he was going the wrong way about it. And, unsure of what the right way was, he did what his heart urged him to do: reach to dry the tears that should escape unbidden. Taking her face in his hands, battling against the sensation that the soft skin created under his hardened fingers, he leaned in to say, "If he, or anybody else, ever does anything--"

That made her turn to look at him full in the face, eyes bright but determined, and a hair-breadth away from his own. "Do you think I would tell you, knowing what you are likely to do--likely to risk--without telling me about it?"

That was a bold stroke that made him physically flinch, and she took that chance to run away. Once more, he followed her, and was able to reach her at the corridor that led to the gardens.

"If he ever does anything to hurt you, I will make sure he never has a chance to do so again," he said, managing to hold on to the ribbon in her sleeve in his attempt to hold her arm. "What did he do?"

"Nothing!" she cried, again rounding on him and shrugging his hand away. "He did nothing, but his look is such that I do not doubt he would, should he have to. I do not like him one bit, and I cannot wait for him to leave the island. The longer he stays, the more time he will have to know and to sweeten people to himself, and there is something about him that seems dangerous and foul."

"What--what do you mean?"

"Oh, I know not what I mean," she said, for once doubtful and irresolute, jaw aquiver in frustration. "If one seems to be too perfect, would you not suspect imperfection?" She looked around her, where people thronged about them in hopes of getting inside, then looked at him with that frightened, confused look he was not used to seeing. "I am sorry I did not do as you asked... No, I really am not, it would be dishonest to ask forgiveness for that, but I am sorry if I hurt your feelings; that is the last thing I have ever wanted to do, though it seems I manage it quite well."

She ducked away and ran down the stairs, her hair finally aflutter behind her in a cloud of midnight. Anárion ran after her, but people coming in made his progress slow, and he finally had to cry to call her attention.

"It is not about me!" he said, trying to make himself heard above the crowd. "It does not matter what happens to me!"

"Not to you, stubborn, selfish man that you are," she cried back, without stopping. "We shall never agree on this, so we better leave it at that."

"Selfish, stubborn! I am not--Why?"

"Because your condescension frustrates me and my stubbornness irritates you. I will not change, so I cannot expect change of you."


"Goodbye, Anárion," she said, and disappeared behind the outer wall as a carriage drove right in front of him, separating him from her. When he reached the gates, she was gone.

He walked to her house, but not once did he see her on the way, and he dared not seek a visit so late, nor try to climb up to her room like they all had done so many times when they were children. Somehow, it seemed inappropriate now, forbidden.

Back at the palace, when he first lost sight of her, he had bent low to retrieve a hair pin--one of the few she must have lost in the wake of their argument. It occurred to him now that perhaps, should he retrieve the lost pins, it would give him an excuse to see her again, to make things right. With that thought in mind, he retraced his way to the palace, all the while aware that it was all but impossible that he would find them again, lost in the crowd, taken by stragglers who recognized the value of the pearls, yet something compelled him to try. He managed to find seven.

Hair pins in hand, he returned to her house and there waited outside her window many hours, hoping for he knew not what. When it became clear that she had not come back here, and that he was a fool to wait, only to hide when she did appear, he decided to leave.

He did not go to his own home, either.

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"I am not selfish!" he cried as he soaked his hands into the paste, crushing the random bits and pieces of old, used things that would become his paper. "If I were selfish, like everybody seems so bent on telling me, I would not be here keeping company with inks and quills and nightmares that might come true." He crushed harder. "If I were really selfish, I would not care to denounce any of the injustice, any of it! Would not care to save any of them! Let them all go to darkness! Whence they are headed, anyway..."

His hands stopped, head hung over his chest as he worked on the implications of what he was wishing, even merely in anger, upon his people, and it filled him with shame.

Nigh on four years ago, he had discovered what real toil and suffering were, where was his people's foolishness leading them all. And his conscience had demanded that he found a way to fight it, to prevent it, to help preserve at least a remnant of something worth-saving against the storm--for the aftermath. He struggled against the thought for days, to the point of weakness. He knew that his family disapproved of the government but would not seek any active measures beside the attempts to sway the King's mind. He could not wait for that unlikely event, at the same time that he understood his grandfather's need for secrecy: should he be revealed an Elf-friend, and in opposition to the King, how many people would lose the chance of help that Amandil's influence provided? Anárion was but a student, his sphere of influence as limited as his means, but he was smart: he could sacrifice some of his time to inform all who would read of what the King and his government were really doing to Númenor.

That was how The Star was born--a clandestine collection of random information gathered through carefully guarded sources, and as carefully distributed once a month, among all the Elf-friends he was sure were still loyal to the Valar. Alas, it was so very hard to be sure of anything now. Elbereth, even he was a pretender, kinsman to the King by day, feeding fires to the division by night. What was he, in truth, doing, and why?

Angrily, his hands began to move, crushing at will, only barely aware that, should he crush too hard, the paste would be ruined. It angered him that, even know, he suffered bouts of doubt and despondency over his choice.

"It is wrong to betray one's country!" he cried to the early twilight. And yet, was not Pharazôn the traitor, willing to run over his people and his country for his pride and greed? No matter what people thought, a King was not his kingdom--the people were! If Pharazôn threatened his people by creating division among them, policies that created inequality and strife, diverted the channels of wealth to support war in the colonies and establish even more tyranny there, enslaved his own fellow citizens and as nearly as enslaved others, changed laws arbitrarily and without support, swayed the loyalties of the Númenóreans to the unknown, and had now brought a tyrant into their midst--

The image of Elenwë's face as she spoke of Sauron came to his mind, how the corners of her lips had curled in distaste, how she had let him hold her through the recollection. He had not been as close to her since they had faced her father's wrath for failing to secure the rafts back at the ship whence they had taken them--rafts that, for their lack, could have endangered the crew of the Swift Swan, going on twelve years ago. Even now he cursed his thoughtlessness that could have killed some of the sailors had they met with a storm at sea. But, deep within his heart he also held the memory of Elenwë's glittering eyes, the tinkling of her laughter as they raced each other off the quay; and, later, the feel of her body next to his as she recoiled from her father's wrath, the way his arm had rested protectively around her shoulder when he faced her father and took the blame before she stood between them to take the blame herself. It struck him that, even then, his efforts to shield her were thwarted by her own attempts to shield him in turn.

He heaved a grunt as he came across a large clump that resisted his efforts and set his will to crush harder. Why could she not be quiet and let him care for her?

The old door creaked, startling him into action. He seized a mace that he kept nearby when he was here, working on The Star, but his hands were wet and slippery and the mace fell on his foot.

"Fire and ashes!" he cried, in time that he leaped to the door to bar the intruder's entrance. "State your purpose!"

"Light of El--'Tis only I, Anárion!"

"Ah," he said, striving to curb his anger at this unexpected jumpiness that had cost him a bruise, likely--hopefully not a limp! "Arandar... I would not have expected you so early today."

"I could say the same of you," Arandar said, but the slant of his eyes told Anárion that he had been fully expecting to find him here.

For a while, they said nothing. Arandar quietly set about retrieving the pages they had set out to dry the last time they had been here, then to ready the red ink and quills to add the titles. When he had begun work on The Star, Anárion had not foreseen that he would ever have someone to help him, had not wished for it, thinking that it would upset the balance of secrecy that he needed to maintain to keep it afloat. But, Arandar's accidental discovery of his activities had opened a new, deeper friendship to them both, filling many voids in his life that he had not been aware were there, and creating new possibilities for the paper's distribution, at the same time that it allowed them both to maintain the face they needed to present to the world if they hoped to continue running this underground web of information.

Every once in a while, Arandar would steal a glance at him, only to look furtively away when he saw himself caught. It soon managed to irritate him quite thoroughly, enough to make him say, "Speak now, before I grind you to a pulp also."

A brow rose, more in amusement than vexation. His eyes fixed on the small heap of pearls by Anárion's water table, and Anárion knew himself discovered. Heaving a sigh, he brushed hair away from his face.

"There is something to be said for having hair long enough to be pushed back with a twine," he said, casually.

Another of Arandar's glances to the pearl pins. "Perhaps you could use one of these to secure it away from your face," he said, lifting one up, perfunctorily examining it before offering it back to him. "Pearl and sapphire, dotted with diamonds. Did Eralmir gift these to you?"

Anárion realized that he was baring his teeth like a savage, and forced himself to close his mouth.

"Eralmir and his house do not own the right to the use of those three stones together."

"Do you mean to tell me that you were out last night carousing with someone else?"

Swift as lightning, he snatched the pin from Arandar's grasp. "I do not carouse."

"Oh. So it is something serious. No wonder Elenwë left in such a frightful hurry."

"What?" he said, dropping the pin onto the paper paste in his astonishment. "Curse today!" he cried, quickly setting to find the hair pin in the rubble of pulp. Contrite, Arandar put hands to work to help him.

They were not finding it.

"Like everything of its mistress!" he cried, stumping with his fist and making a splash of the water, "Always eluding me like a fool."

"Not a fool, but a--"

"Do not dare say anything further," Anárion said, raising a warning finger.

"I would not, friend," Arandar replied, laying a hand on Anárion's shoulder, squeezing in a reassuring way, "but I can see how much this quarrel has affected you. Is there naught that can be done?"

"Did everybody see that?"

"I saw that you left running behind her and, when I went out to find you, I saw you both arguing."

"Did you hear aught?"

"Very little. There was too much noise drifting out from the hall."

Anárion felt himself sag. "If Sauron overheard, he will now have a weapon to wield against me! The only reason why--"

But Arandar's gentle shake prevented him from pursuing the thought. "Do not be eager to see spears were only reeds sway in the breeze. Sauron may be cunning, but he is still tethered."

"Did Isildur tell you what he thought of him, of what they spoke?"

"Not much, but he did say that arm's length was not distance enough to be away from him. He was worried that Pharazôn had brought him here. Of course he had read in The Star the accounts of some of the soldiers who were there in Middle-earth, how Sauron had embarked for Númenor constrained, and could not reconcile it with the obliging guest he saw at the King's high table."

"If Pharazôn himself does not see it..."

"We still do not know what may happen. Let us wait."

"I cannot wait while I have such awful misgivings. Reading and writing all these accounts of betrayal and peril has made me mistrustful and fearful. I cannot trust that things will straighten themselves of their own accord; certainly not when Elenwë could be used a bait for Sauron."

"Do you think the King would prefer to offer her to a vassal than to allow Eralmir to make a more advantageous alliance for both of them? The King himself would receive a better tax for the transfer of property, and for forfeiting his rights to the land as kinsman; besides, they have neighboring property somewhere, do they not?"

"The Emerië," Anárion said, cocking a hip against the table. "I think that the King would use whomever he thinks he can control the best. If he thinks Eralmir will play into his hand, he will doubtless pursue the match. If Elenwë tickles Sauron's fancy--"

"I admit that she would tickle any man's fancy," Arandar interrupted, pausing briefly to clear his throat, "but, so far, I have not seen Sauron display any inclination toward any particular woman. If you ask me, it is rather the men--" Anárion raised a brow at that, but Arandar only shrugged. "What I meant to say was that I doubt Sauron to be the kind of man who would allow emotions to get in the way for him. Honestly, I do not think he is pursuing any sort of match, yet."

"Then all I have to do," Anárion said, after a long silence marked only by a snort at Arandar's meaningful yet, "is make sure that no one thinks Eralmir's family important." He then gave a rueful chuckle at his own suggestion. "Easier said than done."

Arandar drew himself down onto a chair and flattened his palms over his thighs, eyes fixed on Anárion's face. Anárion did not know whether to feel uncomfortable or offended, but he found that, if he looked away, he would concede defeat in whatever game they were playing, and that he was loath to do.

"Could I speak to you, as a friend?" Arandar finally asked, clearly struggling to hold his gaze. Anárion nodded, folding arms across his chest.

Arandar sighed, raked both hands through his hair, then folded arms across his chest, mirroring him. "Even though I was always Isildur's friend to you when we were young, I have grown to esteem you as my own, and I thank the Valar for opening my eyes to your worth, for I would still look upon you as Anar, Isildur's little brother, were it not for this," he gestured around them, "that brought us together. Not only for this, but for the love I bear you and yours do I venture to say what I am about to say; I sincerely hope you will not take it amiss."

Arandar waited long enough for Anárion to give his assent before stretching his hand to take one of the hair pins. Anárion had to restrain himself not to prevent him, and Arandar saw it, for he set it back with a small, apologetic smile.

"Elenwë is a fully-grown woman, Anárion," he said, eyes once again fixed on his. "Being older than you, I remember watching you both, partners in mischief and play alike, thinking that there was not a fonder friendship, no matter that she was a girl. Hitting those awkward years was no deterrent to it, not even maturity, for which I rejoiced, for I thought that she was good for you, and you for her: she gave you the attention and consideration that your youth, and a charismatic brother always denied you, and you gave her the same, denied to her by her being born a strong woman, and the youngest in a house of strong men. Whatever happened between you to tear the companionship, whatever you do now to mend it, I need not know about it; but I tell you this: she is strong and capable and does not need to be shielded by you. From watching you both, I believe she is growing to resent it."

"But she does not know--could not possibly now--the dangers out in the world, and I cannot tell them all to her," he protested, springing on Arandar like a coiled snake. "Do you think I have not thought long on it? Warning her, pleading with her... It is the only way."

"Or leaving it alone."

"That I could never do. Do you not remember that story we received, of that guildmaster who had lost his station for selling rotten fish to the King's Men and who blamed the lords of Rómenna for his misfortune? Do you not remember how we could not print it all, lest we reveal our source, but how it was known that he sheltered near Eralmir and how a fey mood seized him when he looked the way of the house of Erassuil? I nearly undid myself with worry; I could not sleep; I confess I took to stalking Eralmir's house until the man had been seized and tried for his murder of his accuser." Anárion left the table and moved to pace the room, so small and cluttered that five strides one way, three another, were all he could manage.

"It was all unnecessary, Anárion," came Arandar's voice, small, tentative, to his right.

"I would have done it even had my Grandfather forbidden it as the head of our house," he said, leaning forward to look at Arandar while he removed pulp that had stuck to his fingers and tossed it back onto the pool. "Physically, I think it would have been impossible to restrain me."

"Which is why I wonder whether you yourself know what you are doing."

"And what may that be?"

Arandar rose, offered him a rag to wipe his hands, laid the other hand on his shoulder once more but, this time, it seemed to Anárion that he was being restrained. "It is not your right, Anárion. Fathers protect children. Brothers protect sisters." Then, haltingly, "Husbands protect wives."

Anárion understood it, or thought he did. "You mean to say that I am none of those things, but I am her friend, though we be estranged now. Will you look me in the eye and tell me that friends do not protect friends?"

"Listen to yourself. Yes, friends do protect friends in a relationship of equals." Anárion felt Arandar's other arm fall heavily on his shoulder, seizing through cloth until it found muscle, then gripping tightly. "Equals, Anárion, where both would risk for the other alike, and be grateful, grieved, but accepting of the sacrifice. Is this what you offer Elenwë?"

By now, Arandar was gripping so tightly that it had begun to bother him, or, at least, that is what Anárion told himself. He shrugged off the hold and moved back to the water table, Arandar an insistent presence behind him.

"If," he began, a little uncertainly, "If what you offer is something more, mayhap Elenwë does not know, is uncertain how to understand you."

"What I offer Elenwë is what I have always offered her."

"If so, friend, then you must cease your selfishness and allow her to grow."

"I have had enough of that word!" he cried, tossing the wet rag to the floor and advancing to meet Arandar. "I must be rather mentally deficient, for here I thought I was making a great sacrifice when everybody else sees me as the greedy, selfish character in the play. Since I decided to step forward and speak about the many injustices I saw, I have been steadily losing things that were important to me--the only thing, the only thing I have gained has been your friendship, and for it I would lose it all again. If, despite it all, I am still a selfish man--"

"Anárion. No one who knew could deny how great a sacrifice you have made, but in this matter, at least, you are selfish. Like you hoard those pins, you would hoard her light--"

"Elenwë cannot possibly be hoarded. She is too strong for that, too magnificent. I only want her safe, like I would want you safe, or Isildur."

"But you would allow us to do the same for you, yet you do not allow it of her. As you are consumed in your anxiety on her behalf, so is she consumed in her anxiety for you, anxiety that you selfishly prevent her from relieving, only because you fear she will come to harm."

"What is wrong with that?"

"You have no right. As her friend, you cannot demand such meekness from such a strong character. It is selfish to--"

"I am not selfish!" he cried, dipping both hands forcefully into the pulp.

"Well," Arandar said, dragging the word, slapping his thighs as though to say he had done his part. "Clearly, an argument against you cannot be won. Your pride in yourself is not ill-placed for, Valar knows, I have never met a keener, cleverer, yet more kind-hearted person in my whole life. But, for all your shrewdness, you do not know everything."

"I have never set myself for such an honor," he said, taking his hand out from the pulp to shake it at Arandar. "And, if you must know, I do not hoard those ridiculous pins. She dropped them last night and I merely gathered them to be returned. If I do not find the missing one..."

"Your worry is clouding your judgment. Do you not know that we will find it quickly enough once we pour the pulp through the strainer?"

A groan escaped him. "I will make sure Elenwë knows she has you to thank for that."

"So the pins really are Elenwë's? Oh, Anárion, Anárion, do not--"

"I am not selfish," he cried, desperately clinging to a futile, ridiculous, immature argument, solely because, if he did not, he felt himself close to tears of anger and frustration. "I am not! If I were really selfish, I would not be here crushing pulp while my brother and every other bachelor in Númenor are still sleeping off an entertaining night; I would not be struggling against a tight, clustered, over-proud guild of ship-builders, to let them see why they should make room for me among their ranks; would not care to carve me a future--my Father should take care of that, should he not?--would certainly not care about the futures of other people. Let every man fend for himself!"

"What would you be doing now, then?" Arandar asked.

Anárion chose to ignore the tinge of amusement that colored his friend's question to reply, after a slight pause. "I would be getting married."

"Why, marriage!"

"Before the world ends."

"Our thoughts are a little dark today," Arandar said, and added, as an afterthought, "Pray, to whom?"

"To whomever," Anárion answered, in a tone that broke no argument nor comment. The next time either of them spoke, it was to bid each other farewell before they traveled home to ready themselves for the evening feast.

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