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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

“Dreams are the answers to questions that we haven't yet figured out how to ask.”
-Fox Mulder

Lavender's blue, dilly, dilly,
Lavender's green;
When I am King, dilly, dilly,
You will be Queen.

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For a few moments--he never knew how long--he could only see himself and Elenwë playing in the meadows, twirling in the circle of children, singing the familiar refrain, laughing, running, falling...

Anárion found it hard to believe that any Valar or Valier could grant wishes as readily and neatly as what the King proposed to do for him--all he had to do was say the word, and Elenwë would be his for one whole night. One night--surely he could afford to enjoy one night before a lifetime of nights of loneliness? She would have to sit by him, dance with him, look at him, talk to him; no matter that he would impose himself upon her without knowing what she truly wished, surely she would comply for the King's sake? She would finally know what he felt, how he felt, if he chose her among any other woman in the kingdom, and others would too. Mayhap they would leave her alone for his sake! He had higher standing than Menelvagil and would surely be favored if they both pressed their suit. The King would know of his intentions. And so would Sauron.

One look at that intriguing visage and he was quickly, and gratefully, returned to his proper place and duty. The way he looked at him, so curious and almost amused, made Anárion's stomach burn anew with fright and revulsion. Could Sauron possibly know what he was thinking? Did he expect Anárion to blunder... but into what? He would never expose Elenwë to the King's, or Sauron's, clutches for any reason, certainly not out of selfishness.

No. She would ever remain his treasure, even if he had to give her up to a worthier man. Stepping forward, he knelt before the dais and, fixing a saucy smile onto his face, steeled himself for a bargain that could turn him either way: into a favorite, or into the dungeon .

"I would be honored if the lady Zimraphel would be Queen for tonight."

Murmurs instantly arose all around the hall. He heard ruffled women, indignant fathers, disappointed mothers, relieved suitors, for if the King's edict had done something, it had been sending every young lover from Rómenna to the Hyarrostar in search of betrothal rings. The Queen herself seemed vastly amused, Sauron intrigued and disappointed, and the King torn between delighted or irate. His good humor won, in the end, to Anárion's relief, and the Queen's name was hailed from every corner with double the emotion by some, double the animosity by others. Anárion himself would not sit next to her, for protocol did not permit it, but sat alone, by Sauron, to the other side of the King, and could not quite cease being astonished at the unexpected turn of events.

The honors the King offered were expertly calculated to go to a fellow's head and he wondered, more than once and with great admiration, at how Isildur bore it all in stride and could say with a straight face, when his turn was over, that he had not liked it. With blatant appeals to one's vanity, greed, and sense of self-importance, Anárion would have felt some worry about his own state if he had cultivated a shallow, indulgent lifestyle, or if he had objectives of the less-lofty variety. But the ache of Elenwë's loss was still too sharp, and the signet ring in his left hand reminded him of what he owed to his family and to himself, and the sacrifices he was willing to make for what he believed. But, he was grateful for the chance to watch Sauron so closely, and this he did at his leisure. Every once in a while, his hand would stray to his shirt pocket, where Arandar had placed the hair pin he had found while making the paper the other day. He remembered Elenwë saying that she thought of him while Sauron spoke to her, and wondered whether her assessment had been correct and if he would need such a talisman against the guiles of a crafty, world-wise flatterer. If so, the hair pin would prove to be just the right thing, and he was glad to have it nearby.

For his part, now that he found him close at hand, Sauron seemed to pay him no mind at all, and he wondered if that was part of the trick--withholding praise so that it would mean more once it came. They ate and drank in relative silence, and Anárion was beginning to despair of losing his chance as his dance with the Queen approached, when Sauron bridged the distance at last.

"You do not like wine, lord Anárion?" he asked, which surprised him, for he had done his best to keep up with the wine consumption going on around him.

"I like it well enough," he said, deciding that honesty in some things would help him conceal the important ones, though quite disliking revealing anything in front of this stranger, "but I do not drink often."

"Why ever not? I hope not health concerns?"

"No, not at all. It is simply a luxury I cannot afford."

Sauron would have seemed surprised, except for the slight curling of the lips that betrayed an undercurrent of amusement.

"Yes," he said, turning to study him more closely. "I hear from the King that you have decided to make your fortune designing and building ships."

Anárion smiled, though it quite irked him that the King should be discussing anything with this exile, let alone his personal affairs, yet he had to seem charmed tonight. "Not a fortune, perhaps, but at least a living."

"Because your brother inherits?"

"Among other things. A part of the inheritance goes to me."

"But not enough?"

Again, he smiled. "Sometimes, fortune and position are not all, are they? Someone with talents, like yourself, would know that best."

Sauron laughed then, the first outburst he had seen from him all week, and Anárion knew that he had blundered. "What talents do you think I have?"

"Well, obviously the talent to rule," he said, as innocently as he could, "but we hear from the King's friends that you also know much lore and craft."

Sauron bowed. "A little. Are you a scholar?"

"No, by any means. My only true talents lie in stubbornness and persistence."

"I would not say that; however, I see your point."

"Really?" Anárion asked, truly puzzled.

"I have observed you pursue a certain course of action this week..."

He could not possibly mean Elenwë, could he? Fearing that his alarm showed on his face, Anárion buried his head in his glass but, thankfully, the beginnings of a lively melody filled the hall, and he readied himself for his dance with his Queen.

"Until later," were Sauron's parting words when he left the table and, heartily, Anárion said to himself, You can count on it.

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Tar-Míriel, for that was how they knew her in his grandfather's house, could still be called a beautiful woman, if she were not always so hard. Everyone knew the reasons why, though nobody remarked upon them, but Anárion knew something else about her: she was braver than any Captain in the realm, and more shrewd than all of them put together. He liked and respected her very much, and tonight there was such an air of loveliness about her that even Pharazôn himself could not help staring at her from time to time. When she stepped close to him for the dance, he finally realized what it was: Tar-Míriel, the Queen, was smiling. Pleased--in truth, delighted at the change--he smiled back, and that made her laugh.

"You are quite charming, my dear boy," she said, sounding exactly like his grandmother.

"It is hard to help it when my lady Queen seems so pleased."

I am pleased, it is solely your doing," she said, with a wink. "For a moment, I thought that Pharazôn would have you banished, but he seems to have found some humor in the whole thing, see?" and she nodded to the table where the King smiled as he looked at her. "Whoever taught you to be so sly?"

"If I have placed you in trouble, you must say so at once, and I shall speak to the King directly. If I beg to take your punishment, he could not deny me."

But she shook her head. "You might have done me a favor; but, tell me, why none of the pretty, eligible girls?"

All along, he knew that she would ask, yet how could he tell her? The pattern of the dance parted them, then reunited them, and after a double turn, he decided to be as honest as he could. "I am only interested in one girl. But, please, do not mention it to anybody."

"Could a word from me help?"

"Nothing can help now, and nobody knows, which is just how I like it."

"Do you mean that you will pine your life away?" she asked, mouth hardening slightly. "No matter what you hear, women do not respect nor admire men who do. I know one such man... Do not waste your life in this way."

Astonished, but aware that he would not learn more, he only said, "I have many things to occupy my days."

A sly look from her, then, "Have a care, then, for things are likely to get even busier." The Queen only shrugged at his raised brow, but added, "The King may find that his hands are fuller than his grip. See that the same does not happen to you. And tell that to your grandfather; you two are much alike, and both likely to misjudge in the same way."

After that cryptic speech, the song died and, to his utter surprise, it was the King himself who waited to claim the Queen's hand for a dance. Even stern-faced Míriel seemed taken aback and stunned; it took her a few moments to realize what had happened, after which she quickly allowed her husband to take her hand. Anárion withdrew with a bow, and made for the high table, but Sauron was nowhere to be seen. A sudden panic seized him. If, by his pride and folly he had allowed this opportunity to slip by him...

He ran outside to the terrace, thinking that Sauron may have walked out to get some air, but he was not there. He made the circuit of terraces with the same results, and began to be seized by a powerful anxiety that he had wasted his one chance to catch him at anything. How could he have been so careless? He was just about to turn back in and start asking people whether they had seen him--a last, desperate measure--when he caught the hint of a shadow at the entrance to the gardens, and made for it.

"Ah," the familiarly pleasant voice said. "It is impossible to have a conversation in that room--too much noise--and I perceive that you are a man who takes himself seriously."

"Do not we all?" he said, walking to him, aware that Sauron must have known he would search for him--then, why hide?

"Perhaps. But you are different. Different, even, than your brother."

"What makes me different?"

"You have great dreams, Anárion."

"Do I?"

And Sauron smiled, beckoned him to sit beside him.

"I know," he said, so confidentially that Anárion could not help but believe him. "I have dreams, too, and I recognize the signs. A man who dreams does not drift away, does not waste time. Dreams give one purpose."

Anárion nodded.

"What are your dreams, Anárion?" Sauron asked, tilting his head to look up at him.

He felt the smile curl his lips as he saw himself in that perfect, cozy spot where his grandfather's cottage was built by the bay, in Andúnië. Saw his own little white house close to it, with meadows of bright green grass not far off, and children playing on the surf while he sanded beams and Elenwë sewed sails for their new ship. She smiled and sang to him, then gathered the children for a lunch of bread, cheese, fresh milk, apples. They were simple dreams. Hard dreams. He looked at Sauron, and was frightened by the intensity of the eyes that stared back at him, willing him to speak. Not trusting himself with his own words, he gave a shrug and looked down at the stone floor, where moss had grown and made little zigzagging pathways amid the rocks.

"Do not fool yourself into thinking that your dreams are simple, for no dreams are," Sauron said in an almost paternal tone. "And, by and by, you will realize that, to achieve the loftier ones, smaller dreams need come true first. Tell me, why do you build ships?"

"I like it. It gives me a good outlet for a lot of energy."


"I like to think that my ships will go far."

"But not you?"

Anárion did not like the sound of that, but could not say why. He shook his head, and waited.

"Well," Sauron continued, "If you do not mind staying behind while other people are making the travels you should have made yourself, then you must enjoy the good name your craft will bring you."

"Good name?"

"Well, yes. Prestige can get you very far--is that not why you do it?"

At Anárion's uncertain shake of the head, Sauron seemed to grow all widened eyes and gaping mouth.

"My lord Anárion! Surely you do not intend to forever live under your brother's shadow?"

That felt like a cold bucket of water poured down his back, leaving him with no words to counteract it but the horrible memory of his uglier self asking himself the same question.

"You are not like your brother," Sauron said, which was true enough; he had heard that many times. "Maybe you should have been born first; Isildur does not have the head for people that you have."

"Isildur has charisma," he said, feeling like he had to say something and hardly knowing what.

"Is that what they have told you?" A slow shake of the head, full of pity. "Yes, Isildur is full of charisma, but he lacks the basic understanding of what people want of those they serve, and it is not wealth, nor even promises of a good future. Do you know what that is, Anárion?"

"A cause. A purpose."

"Yes," Sauron said, a greedy hiss that made his skin crawl. "You know this, and have the capacity to get very far, my young friend, with proper guidance. I almost feel sorry that you were born in such times as these; there are those who could have taught you much. My masters."

"What are these teachings?"

"Lore. Governance. Have you thought of leaving your shipbuilding to commit to politics?" he asked, then paused, plucked a leaf from a bush at their feet, smelled it. "You could be a magnificent politician--you have what it takes to persuade people to your way of thinking. With such high standing, few things would be denied you. Think about it, Anárion."

Yes, he could see it very clearly. The companionship of minds like his own--clever, well-informed men and women who enjoyed listening to what he had to say. No more secrets. No more hiding. No more loneliness. Elenwë could not object to anything he did, nor could Isildur, nor his father. He would give them all a matter of pride, rather than the perceived oddities they always found ways to excuse.

"Do you see it, friend?" Sauron asked, daring to put his arm round Anárion's shoulders. "Think of your real dreams; there is a difference, you know. A nice little woman, an expensive house--any fool can manage his way to those, but you are no fool. What do you really want, son of Elendil?"

Son of Elendil. Nobody ever called him that. Yes, he liked it, and he wanted it, wanted the whole world to know that he was no fool but a genius. Why would Elenwë worry so much about him if she believed him, like she said? Why did Isildur want to meddle in things beyond his capacity to manage? Why did his father insist in controlling him, even after five years of independence? Why did his grandfather treat him with such condescension? Why did Arandar always think he knew better? By the island of Elros, he would never stoop again, never let himself eat from other men's crumbs! What had kept him so blind all these years?

"Yes," Sauron said again, hungrily. "I know you see it. See it!"

He did... Himself a leader of Men--House of Anárion sounded rather good--surrounded by the best the world had to offer brought to him through his cunning and craft. He would be a benevolent, magnanimous master, but he would be a master--rule belonged to those who could make the difficult decisions, and he had years of practice of doing that. He would redress the hurts done to the Faithful, avenge the orphaned children and widowed women and men; would give food to the starving; clothes to those who had only rags to cover themselves; and the more repulsive horrors... He would redress them all. The King would tremble at his ire! His father would know he was no coward! Elenwë would be proud to call herself his wife, but would be meek as a lamb with him... Sauron would return the way he had come--

That sounded wrong.

"Do not let anybody tell you that you cannot have it all, for it is a lie. You can have your proper place. You can have your woman all for yourself."

That sounded wrong; he was not aware that he had spoken his thoughts for Sauron to hear. "Woman?"

"She is a pretty thing, if spirited. You may have to teach her a few things, but I dare say you will enjoy seeing her meeker side."

What? Think, fool! "I do not know whom you mean," he said, striving as hard a he could so he could break from the fog and think of what to do. "The girl... she is back in Andúnië--how could you know how stubborn she is?"

Sauron seemed genuinely angry this time, and that snake-like expression was enough to recall Anárion to the present, where it was not the winds and the unconquerable sea that beckoned, but the murmurs of music and people. He longed to be gone and away from this wizard, but how? He had walked into the trap all by himself.

"So the lady Elenwë..."

"Elenwë?" he forced a laugh, knew it sounded fake. "Elenwë is a nuisance, but she is wealthy, and of a prestigious family. I confess I have thought about a match--they have several pretty properties around, but still no compensation for having to endure her sharp tongue. My other girl, however..." and he let himself trail off, desperately trying to see what he had done, what he had said to expose himself and those he loved; trying to seem wistful, lustful.

Sauron did not laugh, but looked at him as if he had never seen him before, slightly curious, but still lofty. "You are an interesting man, lord Anárion," he said, "and I should like to get to know you better. It would brighten my sojourn here, immensely. Maybe your grandfather, also?"

"Surely," Anárion said, vowing that he would keep his grandfather away at all costs. "I wonder why the King has not arranged an introduction?"

"The King is a very busy man, as is your grandfather. Neither can bother with a poor man like me."

"Poor, but clever," Anárion said, trying to sound conspiratorial. "The best kind there is."

Sauron did laugh, then. "Well, my lord. I am pleased to say that this island is filled with interesting people, and I think I shall enjoy making myself useful. If you feel like joining in the society of like-minded men, come and see me. Soon. I have much I should like to share with you," and, with that, he rose and made his way back to the hall, leaving Anárion cold and his mind in a whirlwind, unsure of what he had said and under the torment of what he had seen of himself.

He sat on the bench for a very long time as he waited for the shaking that had overcome him to stop. He was in a cold sweat, dizzy, nauseated, and utterly afraid. What had he done? Why had he been so weak, so proud and foolish?

When he was finally able to stand, he realized that he had been clutching the hair pin all along, so tightly that it had cut his palm, and he found his trousers stained with his own blood.

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Heartburn made a wretched night even more unbearable. No tea of any herb he had available could wash away the disgusted feeling that was eating him up. He was a rotten being. He did not deserve to live, yet here he was, alive and conscious enough to know that his dark dreams could come true if he let himself be convinced and shown how. He had seen all his dreams, had seen them so closely that, for a moment, he was sure that he rose and turned about, expecting to see his wife come to meet him, children in tow; had heard the whisper of the sea and the tinkling of chimes as the breeze stirred his weathervane. So little work, so little struggle... Dreams that he had given up because he thought they could never be, had suddenly become as attainable as his finding scraps to make paper.

But the worst torture were the dreams he did not even know he had--Sauron had shown them to him with greater clarity than the others: respect, nay, adoration--how could he crave for that sort of meaningless recognition and worldly approval? All of his work to try to master himself had been useless, and he was worse than those people who drifted away because he knew he was doing it, and had allowed it! Wretched man... He did not deserve to have his dreams come true. But how it irked him that there were other men who were probably getting theirs without any work, without any suffering!

How could he be so dark and twisted? A worm. A snake!

And yet Sauron had known. Had seen. Had understood. Had offered to help. Who were these like-minded fools that he had offered to introduce to him? Fixing on that thought was the only thing that got him through the day and through to the last night of feasting, made him stand fast on the face of endless inquiries into his conversation with Sauron and his own taste of royalty. That there were other men as rotten as he made him feel a little less like mud, while with his own heart he knew that he should find them and warn them to run as far away as they could.

He was alone when the celebrations began that night, and deservedly so--who would want to be with him? When the moment came, and Sauron was announced as the honored guest of the evening, murmurs of approval were heard all through the hall. That brought the first smile to his face since the previous evening, for Sauron truly did know how to garner good sentiment. Had he bewitched all of these people at once, or separately?

But, when he announced that his queen for the night would be Lassilenwë, daughter of Galador, an utter silence fell over all present.

The King's vassal... and a self-proclaimed Elendili?

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Watching Lassilenwë's pleased, yet determined, expression as she stepped up to meet Sauron did more for dispelling the fog in his mind than any other tormenting thought he had forced in it since that fateful conversation. By all the light, she truly did seem content! Elenwë would be scared to stiffness if the same had happened to her; what made Lassilenwë so proud about this unlikely turn of events?

At the forefront of the crowd were her father and grandfather, both stern-faced, but Anárion thought that he could detect that air of smugness and contentment that he had felt from them that night at the terrace. Clearly, they were pleased that their daughter had been so singled out, and Anárion had to wonder why. Were these some of the like-minded men that Sauron had mentioned? That Sauron was aware that these men opposed the King bore no question. What kind of game were they all playing, then?

From amid the crowd, he saw Elenwë's face, searching intently for his own. Pouring all the earnestness he could into his glance, he shook his head at her, hoping she would understand his plea to stay away, but he could not let Galador be lost without reaching him.

He was detained, however, by his grandfather's grip on his arm.

"Where are you going?" Amandil asked, a hard edge to his voice.

"I have to follow those two," Anárion said, nodding to where Galador and Golasgil were leaving the hall.


Anárion thought about his answer for a moment, decided that maybe his grandfather could help him to help them avoid disaster.

"They are the two sailors," was all he said, but it was enough for Amandil to grasp the importance of settling on the right course of action. Together, they followed out of the hall and into one of the terraces where the two men had found seats.

Anárion had hoped to have a chance to discuss matters with Amandil before they approached Galador, but it was not to be. His grandfather went straight to to Galador and said, with a smile, "I congratulate you for the honor."

Galador looked them up and down, and sneered. "I do not consider that an honor, but an opportunity."

"In truth?" Amandil said, and Anárion could not understand how he could remain so calm and composed. "For what, pray?"

Father and son looked at each other and smiled that smile that shows men are keeping secrets. "An opportunity to redress some wrongs."

"Will you be careful, Galador?" Amandil asked, kneeling beside the man who would not show him respect. "Do not involve your daughter in a game of men."

"Do not dare tell me what to do with my own child. Lassilenwë is brave and strong, and an asset to my house."

"Then keep her so."

"I will never listen to anything you say, Amandil," Galador said, through clenched teeth. "Where were you when they took my house? When they took my job? Where were you when they moved us out to this waste?"

"I was trying to undo your mistakes when you defied the King and declared that you would burn and see your daughter burn before you left your own soil."

"And I meant it!" Galador screamed, rising. "I would burn Lassilenwë myself before bowing to Pharazôn's whims."

"I doubt the wisdom in that," Amandil said, slowly coming to his feet. "Your daughter would probably be grateful if you did not speak for her in such matters."

"Lassilenwë knows her duty, and will see it through," Golasgil said, calmly keeping his place, as if he were at a park, feeding pigeons.

"Why do you want people to know you are looking for trouble?" Anárion asked, finally deciding that it was not a time for caution if he wished to have any answers from these men.

As if finally noticing him, Golasgil's gaze bent on him with interest. "What do you mean, lad?" he asked, amused.

"This outburst, in public, as well as all of Lassilenwë's... Why so intent on proclaiming yourselves? Are you not afraid of the King's wrath?"

Both men burst out into laughter, but it was Galador who laughed outright on his face.

"Is that why you came to see me yesterday?" he asked, his breath on Anárion's face.

Anárion looked a quelling glance at his grandfather before saying, "No. I had questions to ask you, about seafaring and ancient techniques."

"A pity that is not my specialty, yet Sauron said we might have more occasion to converse together?"

Amandil's hand tightened on his shoulder at that, but Anárion softly shook his head.

"Men may learn much from each other," he said, as casually a he could, "yet they must not forget to be themselves."

"Ha! Already cowering from the good things. A pity!"

"I have to think of my certification first. After that, who knows?" He said, with a smile. "I bid you good night. I shall try to catch a dance with your daughter; she proved a great conversationalist on my visit yesterday," and, with that, he withdrew, taking his grandfather with him.

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"Are you out of your mind, Anárion?" Amandil cried when they were safely out of earshot of the mad pair they had just left. "Throwing yourself into the hornet's nest like that? Agreeing to commune with Sauron and his crazy crew? What were you thinking?"

"I agreed to nothing! You asked me to find out who the sailors were, and it was you who approached them."

"You would have approached them on your own, if I had not been there."

"With a little more subtlety, perhaps."

"Those two are past subtlety," Amandil said, raking hands through his hair and pacing away from him. "They are old dogs that do not even care about duty any more; all they are after is vengeance."

"Vengeance for what?"

"I wonder if they know. Coward... Would use his own child to do his dirty work."

"Believe me, Lassilenwë is more than up to it. Sometimes, she seems as fey as they."

"Why did you go to them, Anárion?"

"To find out if it had really been them speaking of Annatar."

"How did you know?"

He then explained about his first encounter with Lassilenwë, how the sailors' defiant, haughty manner had reminded him of her, how Elenwë had tried to give her hints that she would not take in her quest to defy the King.

"It is almost as if they did it on purpose," Anárion said, "to see who will side with them."

Amandil turned to him, thoughtful, made to scratch his chin just like he always did.

"I have been wondering the same thing," Amandil said, "since you told me about it. Clearly, it was a bait for whoever knew the code, or was foolish enough to ask about it. Did you mention this to any of them?"

Anárion shook his head.

"Good. Do not, on any account, tell anybody what you heard, nor what your suspicions are. I think it best that, for a while, we stop asking about Eregion. Until we see how it all plays out. And, one more thing--what will you do about this... invitation of Sauron's?"

(*Nursery Rhyme Treasury)

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