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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

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor.”
-Ernest Hemingway

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He went home that night. Home to his grandfather's house where his family were staying for the week, intent on submitting to all they could say while he was weak enough to keep silent. His father began to scold, to ask questions that turned more intent when it became clear he did not presently have the power to defend himself.

"What happened, son?" Elendil finally asked, kneeling beside him, desperate. "Has someone hurt you?"

Anárion shook his head. "I hurt myself, but no matter. Things should be better tomorrow."

He heard Isildur say something or other to their father, whereupon Elendil left.

"Thank you," Anárion whispered, a dry croak that hurt his throat. "It seems that, after all, I could not have dealt with that tonight."

"Do you want to talk?"

Anárion shook his head. He had driven Elenwë away already; it would be easier to do so to Isildur while he was still in the mood for it.

"You cannot get rid of me so easily, even if you tried," Isildur said, arms crossed and legs apart as he glared down on him. "One day I will find out what is doing this to you, and I will fight it."

"You do not want to do that, brother."

"And why is that?"

"Because to fight it is to fight me."

"We will see," said Isildur before he set a cup of tea in front of him and walked away.

For a moment, Anárion stared at it, the steam rising and making patterns in the air. The next moment the cup lay shattered on the floor, tea spilling all over, mingling with the tears he was finally free to shed. How could he ever go on without Elenwë and Isildur? How much longer did he have to live--one, two hundred years, if he was unlucky? Maybe he would be discovered and killed. And his family ruined. And his part in the resistance remain unfulfilled and all those people he could have helped remain helpless.

The overwhelming reality of his situation crashed upon him like tossed waves crash upon a ship, to break it, and he felt himself sink onto his knees, almost toppling the table over along with him in his wake. The last thing he remembered before collapsing was that he had not had the chance to return the hairpins, and that he would have to face them every time he went back to the shop.

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It was impossible for him to tell how much he slept. He hoped it had been a month, the festivities over, his family gone... But it was not to be: His pants were still wet from the tea. It had been a cramp that woke him, and a sharp something that poked him right under the ribs, which turned out to be a piece of the saucer. Seeing what a mess he had made, he set himself to gather the shattered pieces, his grandmother's favorite tea set that had been gifted to her own grandmother by the same Elves who had given the birds to the lady Erendis upon her wedding.

That brought a bitter laugh; he would never marry now, who would he marry if Elenwë did not want him, and how could he marry her if that meant her peril and risk? To his surprise, he found that the loss of that innocent, unconscious dream ached in his body; the loss of a companionship of two minds that knew they were not equal, but complementary, and did not begrudge it but rejoiced in it; the loss of his youthful self that had been, blissfully, unaware of needs that she alone could fill, and that had unraveled into holes as he reached adulthood and found himself estranged from her soothing presence.

She had been right, about everything: their friendship did not--could not--work, anymore, and it was solely his doing. Elenwë, hurt, innocent, angered, still demanded his friendship, unaware that he could not offer it in return for he longed, yearned, craved for a right he did not have, and neither of them had known what it was. So much became clear to him now that it was too late; he had wasted so much time trying to understand why, when it had been so easy before to lay beside her on the sand, to lead her in the measures of a jig, to fling arguments and quotes back and forth until neither of them cared that he was too young to be accepted at a scholarly discussion and that she was a girl and would never be accepted--why, of a sudden, so much as looking at her made him feel like burning, saying a simple sentence like walking on splintered glass, at once challenging and dangerous and exciting? When had he begun to notice that her skin was velvet and her hair like silk and to hold her in his arms a bliss the likes he could not aspire to?

Such revelations do not come without their share of physical toil. For the certainties of a lifetime to be shattered in such an abrupt way, a powerful emotion must cause the change and must carry it to one's consciousness. What was it for him? It felt like a strange bereavement that seeped through to his bones like winter. Why? Anárion felt weak, drained, crushed, beaten every bit as the pulp for his paper. Rattled to the core.

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--

It tormented him. That she would consider herself less because he had failed to show her more was unbearable to him; and, all this time, she had been hurt by his mistreatment of her, thinking that he did not regard her worthy of his friendship, when he had been beside himself with worry over her needless risks, her defiance of everything he proposed, precisely because he placed her welfare above his own. How could he have failed to see what he was doing?

Feeling beneath the pain of the loss of innocent, easy companionship, he searched for more, but found only confusion--anger, fear, anxiety, apprehension, all vying for dominance while he felt a wreck without a steering wheel. What would he do now? What could he do now? That a relationship so basic to the pattern of his life was undone was inconceivable, but there it was. What could he do now?

Anárion raked hands through his hair and tugged at the ends, finally letting his head be buried between his hands. Oh, Elenwë... If he could find that look, that gesture, that word that began it all for him, would he take it back and change their tale together?

Terror coursed through him, primal and vicious, telling him that he would not, could not be other than he was, for that would make her other than she was, and he loved everything about her.


For him, it ended as swiftly as it had begun. It ended before it had begun, for that day when he decided that staying mute before injustice was a betrayal to himself--the worst kind there is--that day, he sealed his fate. And for the better. Even if all happiness goes away for me, at least I can find comfort in the knowledge that my silent kept her safe, and that was the end of it for him. He would die a thousand times before he saw any harm come to her, and he could not lay idle if the King's foolishness was leading them all to death.

Holding on to that thought as a castaway holds on to bits of wreckage to stay afloat, he understood what the new purpose of his life would be: he would live to make sure that she had life to enjoy, and a place to do so safely. When he remembered the agony of being uncertain whether he could stop himself from falling if she ever got hurt, the lengths to which he would go to see her safe, he finally understood that he could never have her--he could never deserve her, if such thoughts lived in his heart--but that was the only way to protect her in the times they were appointed to live, and that he would do, even if it cost him his life.

Fueled by this new resolve, he gathered the last of the shattered pieces and began to draw a plan.

"Eregion. How can I find out more?"

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For two days he poured himself into the task. It felt good to get his mind off complex things for a while to focus on a concrete task that could be managed or, at least, put into a plan. Libraries were closed for the holiday, but he was too impatient to wait for their re-opening, felt the familiar pricking behind his neck--like an itch--one gets when something is about to happen, and knew that he had to find out as quickly as possible, even before it was too late. So, he began with the books they had on hand at the house under the excuse that he was looking for examples of ancient seafaring models for his project. His family would look at one another, roll their eyes, and smile in the knowing way. This was Anárion, after all, and this a new fancy, and let him continue undisturbed. Isildur saw more in it, he felt, but, kindly, said nothing.

What surprised him the most was the little information he was able to gather.

Eregion. An Elven kingdom off the Hithaeglir, famed for the unusual friendship that developed between Elves and Dwarves, in view of their mutual love of craft and discovery. Destroyed during the War of the Elves and Sauron, SA 1697.

Anárion put the quill down and flexed his knuckles. "No mention of Annatar anywhere, or causes of the kingdom's downfall. How could a Númenórean scholar's view ever be so skewed?" He could draw his own conclusions from that--guesses, at any rate--but the only thing that seemed truly clear was that the Elves had wanted that information to remain a mystery. Now, why would that be?

That evening, and the one after that, he committed himself to an attempt to find out more information. It was hard to veil his hints, and it would be harder still to fit some sort of ancient seafaring device or technique to Vinyelotë to cover for his inquiry but, in this fashion, he could discover little. The older Captains could have told him much, but how does one burst into a party and accuse the main guest of treason in an inconspicuous way?

At the end of the fifth night of festivities, he discovered a few things. Sauron was interested in him, or his family. He followed them with his eyes, bowed his head to them occasionally, and went so far as to take up a glass and toast, including Isildur in the act. His unease about Sauron increased, at the same time that his gratification at this generated interest in his family did as well, and he found himself twirling his signet ring more than once throughout the evening. That would always put him in mind of Elenwë and her last warning to him, and the fancy would instantly disappear.

Two things then became clear: Even in parting, Elenwë had done him the greatest service of putting his pride in the proper place, like she always so artlessly did. The second was disturbing, but none the less true: he had to find a way to speak to Sauron himself. And he could not do that if he did not have a clearer idea of who, or what, he would be facing.

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After much thought and much indecision, he determined to speak to his grandfather. Amandil would surely know what Anárion needed, but would also withhold judgment on him and not ask questions that Anárion could not answer. He hoped it would not prove a costly mistake for his grandfather, whom he loved dearly, and decided that he would leave the ultimate choice with him from the start.

He found Amandil sitting under the shade of a small lemon grove that his grandmother liked to keep for fragrance, cooling off in the pleasant breeze that had finally begun to blow after an unusually warm couple of days. His grandfather smiled when he saw him approach, beckoned him closer, but he could not bring himself to be quite as cheerful at the prospect of what he was about to do to his grandfather, and the older man saw it at once.

"Is aught the matter, senya?"

The attempt at lightness made Anárion smile, for his grandfather well knew that something was wrong with him; but it was this restraint, this unassuming attitude that had always won Anárion's heart.

Plucking a lemon from a low-hanging branch, he sat on the grass beside the older man, and began to peel it.

"I love this scent," he said.

"Hmm. It was Erassuil's wife's favorite fragrance. They gave your grandmother the seeds from which this grove sprang, and to Issilomë and I the ones we keep in Andúnië."

Yes, he knew that. Elenwë also loved lemon and lemongrass.

"I need to ask you a question," he said, recalled to his purpose by the bitter reflections, "but I am not sure where the answers will lead--whether it is a place where we can, or want to go."

"Ask, and I will tell you if I can answer."

"If you find that you cannot, do not feel badly about it--I do not want to cause you trouble. There are always other ways to find out things, but I thought this would be faster."

Amandil raised both brows and presently put away the book he had been reading without bothering to mark his place. "Do you think," he began, leaning forward slightly, "that I would leave you alone, up to it, if it were a dangerous topic? May I ask you why you want to know?"

"You may, but I am not sure that I can answer," said Anárion, frustrated. "Have you ever had a cause, a reason so important to you, to your sense of morality and justice, to your principles, that its betrayal felt like a betrayal to yourself--unthinkable?"

Slowly, Amandil nodded. "Yes," he said in a low voice.

"Well, this is something like that."

The older man took a deep breath and put his palms flat on his thighs. "I knew that one day you would find your cause, though I hoped it would not be quite so soon. Ask away, Anarinya; I hope I shall be able to help you."

"Promise me you shall do your best to forget I asked."

"I can promise you I shall not do anything rash with the information you give me. Does that suffice?"

Anárion nodded and, seeing that there was nothing to be gained from dawdling about--Amandil liked straightforwardness as much as he did--he went straight to the point. "Who is Annatar, and what did he have to do with the fall of Eregion?"

Amandil's surprise at the question was evident in the sudden flinch, the minute shake of the head, then the long pause. "Gift-giver? Where did you hear that?"

"Have you heard it?"

"In Middle-earth, an old legend of a man who taught much to both Elves and Men; hence the name Giver of Gifts. He did live in Eregion for a time; taught them much craft. Why do you ask?"

"Why did Eregion fall?"

Amandil snorted. "Greed, I surmised, and misjudgment. That tale was ever distasteful to the Elves, so I never pressed for details."

"Why would it be?"

"What do you think? Over the years, several possibilities have occurred. Why would you want something kept secret about yourself?

"It is either sensitive, dangerous knowledge; or it reflects badly about yourself."

"Very good, Anárion," Amandil said, surveying him with interest. "There are those who would call you up for treason if they heard you."

"Traitors themselves. Elves, like Men, have natures and judgments sensitive to error. It would be unfair to think an Elf infallible, only because he is an Elf."

"I am proud of this assessment; it shows you have your head in the right place. But, tell me, why so interested in this obscure branch of history?"

"A couple of nights ago, at the festival, I happened to listen in on the conversation of two older men who, by their complexion and the way they talked, seemed to be retired sailors. One told the other that Númenor was on its way to becoming a modern Eregion and Sauron a new Annatar."

"And you happened to overhear?"

"It was not difficult with such a big crowd, you could not walk two feet without happening in on a conversation; but that was especially interesting. What do you think it means?"

"I wish I knew who the two sailors were, and how they know of this."

"Two Elendili, to be sure, though without much prudence nor good sense to be talking of such things at the King's doorstep," Anárion said, and added with a small smile, "I would not tell you who they were, even if I knew, lest you get yourself into trouble."

"There cannot be too many people on the island who can claim to know the secrets of the Elves," Amandil said, in a light tone, but the slight frown could not be quite concealed.

"Why does it trouble you, sir?"

"Obviously this Annatar must have had something to do with the fall of Eregion, and the comparison does not bode well. Tell me, Anárion, would you find out, for me, who these sailors are?"

"No. I do not want you involved in this."

"But it is all right for you to be?"

"I am not in the King's Counsel, nor am I the King's friend."

"Neither am I. That is all pretense."

"All the same, Atarinya! Many people's well-being depends on the success of your pretense."

Amandil gave a low grunt and clenched his fist over his thigh. "If you do not find out who they are, I will have to do it."

"What will you do, once I have?"

"Well, talk to them, of course! Find out how they know."

Seeing that his grandfather would involve himself, even if he tried to keep him away, Anárion thought it would be best to keep his involvement to a minimum. "All right," he said, hoping to sound earnest. "I will try to find out, but you must not interfere lest we give ourselves away. In the meantime, I will need you to do something else, a favor."

Amandil raised a brow. "And what may that be?"

"Keep an eye on Elenwë for me, since I can no longer do it."

"No longer?"

"It is a long story, and a sad one."

"Is that what has made you so... Touchy?"

Anárion tried hard not to frown, but could not help it. "She is stubborn and persistent and will get herself into trouble. And, if you can, try to sound out opinions on Sauron, as discreetly as possible."

"What are you going to do?"

"There is only one thing to do. I have to find a way to talk with Sauron myself, to see what he is really about."

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Now that he had committed himself to be his grandfather's spy, he felt--unnervingly--like a weight had been taken off his shoulders. He despised himself for his weakness, but there it was. Anárion loathed dishonesty and deception, hated himself for having to resort to it so frequently, but could not help being embroiled in it over and over again. Those who said, Be sure you have your cloak on before setting out on the journey, truly knew what they spoke of when they said so, he thought, bitterly, as he tightened his boot laces at the entrance to Nuriandil's house.

There was something that had puzzled him about the two men and, though at first he had not known what it was, the talk with his grandfather had given him a good clue. Since he had shaved, lord Âmrazil could not make his appearance for a while, but the lord Anárion could go to many a place where Âmrazil could not, hopefully with equal dignity. Bearing that in mind, he made his way along the winding, colorful streets, until he saw, at the corner of Merchant's Wares Road and Menelvagor Way, the white, two-story house he had been looking for.

He pulled at the bell and had to confess himself surprised when a maid answered and ushered him to a very tidy, though slightly cramped parlor. Everything was in its place, yet there were so many things that it was difficult to appreciate any of them properly. Anárion saw statuettes of Beren and Lúthien, a model of the night sky with the stars made of mithril (he had one just like it at home), flowers of many colors and scents and so many other curiosities that he was hard-pressed to pick one to notice; but, he was spared the decision, for the maid had not been gone a few moments when the door opened again to reveal a beautiful, regal, smiling Lassilenwë.

She laughed when she saw him, a sound that he knew should have pleased him, but somehow fell short. Lassilenwë, daughter of Galador, then looked straight at him, curtsied in a somewhat becoming way that also conveniently managed to expose her cleavage, and, with an expression that tried to be both innocent and playful--and consequently was neither--advanced to him with a sway, and took a seat beside him. He could not fail to notice that Elenwë would have sat opposite him, ready to engage him in a conversation of equals, and the comparison sprung unbidden. Lassilenwë was a beautiful woman, with a beauty as different from Elenwë's as light is from darkness, and a perilous one, for she knew what beauty often did to men, and enjoyed it.

Anárion bowed to her, but did not move away.

She noticed it. Folding her arms just below her breasts, she tilted her head to look up at him from under long lashes. "Did Elenwë send you?"

The question must have discomfited him, for she laughed again but, thankfully, seemed to drop some of her artifice.

"I was sure she would have sent you for, from the four, you were the one who looked the least, though you were closest."

"Looked at what?"

"Or perhaps you were too busy thinking of Elenwë's little sway of the hip close by, to notice mine?"

"Elenwë's hips do not sway on purpose. That is," he tried to amend when her smile turned from amused to predatory, "she walks with purpose. The sway is a consequence of the length of her legs and the amount of fabric on women's skirts."

If anything, that made it worse. Lassilenwë seemed ruffled and ready to fight him until either gave quarter out of tiredness. Leaning just a bit too closely, she looked up at him again. "She sways, all right. She's a woman! And not altogether oblivious to her charms, as she believes herself to be. Did you think," she asked, putting her hand on his forearm, just where his muscle bulged, "for a moment," she squeezed lightly, "that that delightful little laugh was done without artifice? Obviously, she knows that men like her dimples, and her style of laughing displays them to good advantage."

He allowed himself a laugh, then, which ruffled her even more. She released his arm and leaned back, with distaste.

"Actually," he said, resisting the urge to smooth the crease she had left on his sleeve, "the reason she laughs like that is because her Aunt always scolded her for having a free, unrestrained laughter that, to her taste, seemed too masculine, though it was perfectly delightful. I assure you, she did her a disservice, lovely as she looks now. Every once in a while the old laughter will surface, but it is rare."

"Have you come to discuss her with me?"

"No. You were the one who mentioned her."

A sly smile curled her lips then. "Good, for I am glad it was you who came."

Obligingly, he asked, "Why?"

"Elenwë's brothers are both very handsome, but a little too playful for me. You and your brother are also very handsome--and noble--but your brother is much too rowdy."

"Meaning that I am not."

"Meaning that you keep it in check, and I like that; it makes me curious as to why, and suggests to my mind all sorts of entertaining possibilities."

"Entertaining for you, or for me?"

"Need they be entertaining for only one of us?" she asked, suggestively. Anárion found it hard to believe that a girl could grow up to think only of manipulating other people, and the thought saddened, at the same time that irked him.

"Only if you enjoy reading and debate, for those are my favorite pastimes," he said, hoping to make it clear that he had no intentions of any kind.

He succeeded. That haughty glare, the sternness of jaw and lips, the squared shoulders, surfaced at once, and he was reminded anew of the two sailors from the festival, and why it had struck him as odd, more so than unwise, that they had been discussing such matters where they could be overheard. They had, in fact, wanted to be overheard! Just as Lassilenwë had when they dragged her away from the seamstress' earlier that week.

"What is your errand here, then?" she asked, chin up.

"I actually came to speak with your father."

"My father? Why?"

"He is a military man, is he not? A sailor?"

She shook her head. "Though he obviously has to sail to fulfill his missions, his specialty is land occupation and maneuvering."

"Really? I must have gotten my facts mixed up, somehow. I was hoping he would discuss some seafaring techniques with me, for my guildsmater project."

A delicate brow was raised at him. "I am sorry he will not be able to help. Now," she said, and her chin lifted even higher, "if you had to discuss siege strategy and military reconnaissance, or perhaps debate about the Elven notions of warfare, as opposed to Mannish ones..."

Again, he obliged, "So your father has a great friendship with the Elves?"

"We lived very close to them for many years, and helped them on many occasions."

"In truth, my lady?"

She nodded, pleased. "For a while, the land was dotted with refugees from the wars. We were in better position than many of them."

"Tell me something, lady Lassilenwë," he said, struggling to curb the eagerness and excitement he felt at what he had just discovered, "do you have a grandfather?"

"As noble and renowned as you could find. His name is Golasgil, and that is his picture."

There it was, on the wall: the oldest of his sailors from two nights ago.

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The opportunity for the conversation he had been steadily desiring came much sooner than he had expected, and in the most un-expected manner. He had been ready to lie in waiting and invite Sauron for a drink--it seemed the most natural, inconspicuous way to get himself an interview. He was prepared to act a little drunk, a little too merry, a little too tongue-lose, if he must; in short, he was prepared to make himself a fool, if that got him any closer to his target. As it turned out, the complete opposite seemed called for and, when it happened, he was so stunned that he knew not how to react.

He arrived in time, with his family, impeccably dressed and groomed, for once. He managed to listen to all the introductions respectfully and call to mind more than a few names he had forgotten; managed to watch Elenwë be introduced with her family with merely a frown and a tightening of his fist to betray his inner turmoil; managed to watch Lassilenwë and her family be introduced, despite their anti-government sympathies, and that intrigued him immensely. He did not mention his discovery to his grandfather, though the man kept looking at him for confirmation every time military families were introduced. Why had Lassilenwë's father been so bent on being overheard? He thought that he should find that out before announcing the fact to his grandfather, lest he begin investigations of his own and they be marked. He also noticed a few more people acting stiffly and very uptightly--more Elendili, in disguise? To his dismay, Sauron noticed them too. It was imperative that he found a way to talk to this man as soon as possible. Noting who the potential new Elendili were for further identification, he was just about to leave in search of a couple glasses of wine when the trumpets blared and the King's voice was heard, "Anárion, son of Elendil!"

Turning at once upon hearing himself addressed, he was met with the King beckoning to him.

"Yes," Ar-Pharazôn said, a benevolent smile making him forbidding and frightful, "I shall honor you today, for a man with vision, as well as talent, despite his lineage, is always worth-honoring. Tell me, son, who shall be your Queen?"

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