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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

"The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason."
-T. S. Eliot

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Anárion had not known the meaning of haste, nor that his body could respond to the demands he placed upon it so readily and efficiently; for, his life depended on it, and he ran like it.

He darted down streets and squares, but it was not far to Elenwë's house and it was his good fortune that one of her younger cousins was still outside when he got there.

"Where is she?" he cried, stopping to catch his breath.


"Elenwë! And tell me fast."

"She left," the girl said, with a smile, clearly amused at what she took to be a love conquest, but at her words Anárion's world threatened to fall apart.

"Where? When?" he asked, seizing her by the shoulders.

"To a friend's--I know not--a while ago!"

That was enough. He should not have wasted any time asking--he knew very well where Elenwë had gone, and getting there was harder than he had anticipated. Lassilenwë lived a fair distance away and, though his mind quickly gave him shortcuts to get there, he was afraid to take one and miss Elenwë if he strayed far off the usual path. That meant, however, that he ran a long distance in the throes of a panic, and the prospect of arrival at his destination produced only more anxiety.

If she is not there once I arrive... what will I do? Where am I going to find her? An instinct he could not isolate told him that Galador was planning rebellion. What was hard to believe was that he had allied himself to Sauron, if he knew that Sauron had the potential to become Annatar. How could he fall prey to the same mistake about which he warned people? And yet--

And yet, Anárion had felt the power of Sauron's will, had almost succumbed to it himself. It was not difficult to think of a weak and injured mind letting itself be deluded by a strong man who promised more than one should give. Or let himself receive, without effort.

That thought spurred him on. His thighs throbbed with the effort and he felt himself begin to shake, begin to succumb to spasms as he gasped for air without halting to inhale it. Elenwë needed him. Innocently, she would try to help the family and would stumble thick into their plot. He had to get there before she did.

He had to.

And he did! But only just. He saw the slender, cloaked figure tapping at one of the side windows, and dashed over the fence, causing a racket as he tore through timbers and upset a bird bath, but he managed to seize Elenwë's wrist and drag her away as the back door to the house opened.

"Quiet," he cried, but it came out as a hoarse croak. To emphasize his meaning, his hand tightened on her wrist and he pulled her forward despite her gasps. He could hear people running after them now, calling each other, and one growling voice above the din that said, "I want them alive!"

He had thought that he would die from exhaustion. He worked daily at the shipyards, and rowed during season, but he had never pushed himself like this. He did not think that Elenwë would make it, and the thought of lifting her limp body from the ground brought an involuntary cry that he would have much rather held in. It startled her, and she stumbled and fell, while their pursuers hooted exultingly.

"Go away," she cried.

"Never." He pulled her up, was sure that had dragged her at least a block, but still she did not moan, nor slackened the pace.

They were now approaching a food market and he had to figure out a way to lose themselves. Vaguely, he recalled that there were only two food markets in the city that opened after dusk, and the other was to the north.

"Can you keep it up a little more?" he asked, but the only answer he received was a convulsing of the fingers that were laced with his. He took it in the affirmative and, swerving violently to the left, went under the rib roaster's stall, looking for the steps that led to the fish fryers... Only he did not take the steps, but jumped into the lower level street, their fall cushioned by an awning from whence they rolled onto the floor.

The commotion would give them away. They had to run, but now he knew where he was and, one quick glance behind him at Elenwë told him that, if the only way to keep her safe was to expose himself, he would do it.

They ran over low rooftops and streets, jumped over a canal once, crawled through a tunnel and were almost bitten by a dog when he shoved her through a low door and down a winding tunnel, and crouched next to her until all the noise subsided and he was convinced that they had truly lost their pursuers.

For a very long time he could not move. Relief mingled with exhaustion in the aftermath of a life-or-death pursuit had been more than he could withstand, and he crouched there, wondering if his cramped muscles would ever relax enough to change into a more comfortable position.

Elenwë crouched beside him. He could hear her panting and the raspy muffled coughs that she tried to suppress, could feel the heat that radiated from her like a slow-burning coal there on his left rib, where she was touching him.

At some point afterward, he realized that she was running his hand in circles on his upper back while trying with the other to turn his face upward so she could look at it.

"You need water," she said, stopping a few times to take in big gasps of air.


"Let me try to find some."

"No water... Unless--Arandar--"

"Arandar lives here?"


She made to move away despite his protests, but his body seemed to have decided to listen to him again and he managed to curl his hand around her wrist to keep her from going. The sudden movement made her lurch forward and fall, kneeling on all fours, beside him.

It was getting dark and he could not see very well, did not know whether she was angry or in pain, knew that he had to check on her legs to see how bad the scraping was, but his mouth was so parched that he could not form a word. He did need water. But could not bear to have her go to get it.

"I will help these muscles uncurl before you are left in this position permanently," she said, after which she settled more comfortably beside him to begin with his left arm. It was fortunate that he could not speak; it was painful, and he would have disgraced himself. Elenwë was patient, however, and knew just how to massage the stiffness away. Anárion had seen her do it many times for her brothers, and even for Isildur; but they were past the awkward years when she learned how, and he never could summon the nerve to ask her to do it, nor did she ever offer, though he had noticed her look at him with a curious mixture of anger and wistfulness when others performed the service for him.

It was the memory of that look that made him sigh, his sigh made her stop, and they both became suddenly very aware of what they had been doing. He could tell by the way her fingers hovered over his calf as if both unsure and eager to touch him, by the low, shy, almost fearful way in which she asked, "Did I hurt you?"

He managed to shake his head, but she probably could not see it; worked hard and the word, "No," came out. She resumed her ministrations then, but very tentatively, and he found that he could think of nothing to say that would ease the awkward mood. It filled him with regret, always, that their companionship had been reduced to this ebb-and-flow of closeness, and for the first time in years wondered if it had been his fault, but his body felt so sore and her hands made it feel so much better. His eyes closed all too easily.

"Do not fall asleep without drinking any water." It was her voice that found its way through the dreamless haze that had fallen upon him, urgent and anxious, and inexplicably tender.

"There is no water here," he heard himself say, and that woke him completely, for he had not thought that he could speak.

"How do you know?" she asked, rising. "This looks like a house of some sort; there must be water somewhere."

"This is not a house."

"How do you know?" she asked again, the tiniest hint of impatience seeping through the end of her question. "There must be candles somewhere, or a lamp."

"Candles on the second drawer to the right."

That made her pause. If he could see her well, he knew that the dainty frown he liked would be right between her eyes, her lips curled in a slight smile that meant she was expecting the worst while trying to seem like she expected the best, arms crossed in front of her, right foot slightly forward, right hip out.

When he tried to rise, he was surprised to find that he could do so with no great discomfort. Whoever had taught her the technique had done an amazing job of it. Reaching for her arm, he linked it with his and moved slowly to the wall, then carefully over the table with the older editions and bits of news, the parcels of pamphlets ready to be distributed, the shelf with his inks... There, the chest of drawers.

"One. Two." There were the candles, but what he really needed was a lamp. The oil he kept with the inks and would be easily fetched. He fumbled through the contents of the drawer, making some noise as he went, until he found what he looked for. Moving a little to the right was the ink cabinet, the oil was on the lower shelf.

"There. Eä!" The light was welcome after so long sitting in darkness but, and perhaps not so surprisingly, he found that Elenwë was not glancing in astonishment about her but was frowning at him.

"I am sorry if it is not adequate enough for you," he said, irritated.

"When were you thinking of telling me you knew where we were?"

"I was not thinking of ever telling you of this place, but your foolishness left me no choice."

"My foolishness? What call had you to go running in the night like that, risking yourself, going to places where suspicious people lurk about--"

"Well," he said, setting the lamp on the table with a thud, "there would have been no need of that if you had not done it first."

"Do you mean to tell me that you went to that house for me?"

"Is that not why I do everything I do?" he asked back, a bark, completely devoid of tenderness, but she seemed not to hear. She looked at him for a moment before sinking back onto the floor, her hands in her mouth, eyes wide.

"How could you have known?" she asked to herself. "How could anyone have known, if I did not say?"

She looked so forlorn and childish, a princess who suddenly realizes she can prick her fingers just like the commoners, that he could not help feel guilty at his gruff manner.

Sitting beside her, he leaned to look into her face. "Do you think I would not have known where you were? But, I must chide you, for you did not even protest when I dragged you away. It could have been anybody; it could have been danger."

"I knew it was you the moment you touched me."

It made him start, gasp for air, be recalled to more practical and urgent concerns.

"Your legs," he said, "did I--" And they both looked down at the tatters in her skirt through which bleeding skin was exposed.

"Valar," he muttered, as he set his hair on end. There were some crude healing supplies about, he knew, but the water? Water first! He thanked all the Valar whose names he managed to remember when he saw that Arandar had left a good supply. He poured some in a glass for her to drink.

When she was done, she said, "Your turn. I want to see you drink it," which put an end to his plan of saving it all for her. Then he put some water in a basin, found a couple of clean cloths, and set to the task of cleaning her wounds--the wounds he had caused.

She hitched up her skirts, the one left leg first, and, though it was entirely improper, he could not help swallow hard before he began. But the scrapes were large and the flesh torn around them and he quickly forgot the fantasy in the actual work. He felt every wince--small, sudden tremors--as he bathed the wound and tried to scrape the dirt out of it, but she did not cry out once, for which he was grateful. He felt close to tears himself, and could not have contained them if she had shown her pain.

Once he was done, and a soothing ointment rubbed on the area, he hitched up her skirts to begin on the other side--she was panting and he doubted that she knew much of what went on. It was both easier and harder this time; easier, because the first leg had let him know what to expect of the contact; harder, because he now knew that she did not cry because she could not. The herbed water he was using stung so badly on the raw flesh that all her effort was spent in breathing through the pain.

Once he was done and she had drank more water, he sat across from her, ready to rub her feet, when she gave a little moan.

"You do not have to."

"Propriety cannot interfere in my rubbing your feet; I have now seen much more than that."

"Please, do not."

But, when he removed her left slipper, the strangled cry came from him: the foot was bloody, just like the leg. The fabric of her slippers had torn, exposing the skin to the hard ground.

He knew that he cried as he washed her feet, but hoped that she was too distracted with her own cries to notice his more restrained weeping. Bristles, fragments of rocks, dirt, a small piece of glass, a fishbone, had all been embedded on the soles of her feet, and these he carefully removed, all the while cursing himself for letting it happen.

"I am sorry," she finally said, when he was done.

"You will be if there are any more wounds you are not telling me about."

She shook her head.

"I am sorry. I am a lousy protector."

"You saved my life." It was said simply, but he heard the gratitude, the awe, the relief in it, with his sharper awareness of her moods.

And it was then that he knew he had to ask, even if it angered her, even if the answer undid him. "Tell me, Elenwë, did you get involved because of me?"

It was a proud, conceited notion, to think that she would change her ways for anything he did, but something in the tilt of her head, in the way her eyes darted away from his face when he asked, told him the truth.

Elenwë, however, did not own it in words. "I have felt horrible guilt on Lassilenwë's account ever since that day we saved her from the mob at the seamstress'." Her hands were searching for something to do, and she began to clean the inside of her fingernails while talking. "I cannot help but think that, maybe, if I had warned her more clearly, invited her more, gone out with her, not wasted so much time covering myself from the King's Men, maybe I would have gotten through to her." She paused, long enough to bite her lip and search for his eyes. "Where, do you suppose, could she be?"

The honest answer was horrendous, but Elenwë deserved it. Looking back into her eyes with the same purpose, he said, "Dead. I think she is dead. People do not simply vanish like that. Galador knows it, or else he would have come forward with a request for help much sooner and after the fact."

She had sought his fingers and he was clutching back, as much to offer support as to receive it.

"How can these things happen in Númenor, among civilized people?"

"I have seen so much that has utterly astounded and horrified me, that I am convinced we are living through a decline. We may get out of it, but maybe this is it--who knows but The One, alone?" He gave her a small smile, tightened his hold on her hands, "You were right--about everything--how people were out of control and blinded by their own selfishness, how repentance might not be as easy as I supposed it to be. You were right about it all."

She shook her head. "It is too early to tell; it may be too late for Lassilenwë, but who knows if this will make her father repent from his shameful ways?"

"I doubt that, Elenwë. People are so painfully proud and stubborn. Even I am like that--I, who thought to make myself a judge. I know better now; I am just as vulnerable, just as rotten and twisted as the next man," he confessed, head down, shoulders downcast. The agony of the past months came all rushing back to him and it was impossible to keep himself straight under the weight of it, but he was totally unprepared for what came next.

Elenwë gave a tug at his fourth finger and asked, while her finger circled round it, "Is that why you stopped wearing your ring?"

Involuntarily, he pulled his hand away, regretting it the moment it was done. Staring at the backs of his hands was something he had done so much over the past few months that he had memorized every freckle and scar, but it was bitter looking at them now. What had he become? How could he wear the ring of his honorable fathers?

"You said that men wear their jewelry to send signals about themselves."

"As do women. But, I know you are fond of your ring."

"Maybe I lost it on the chase?" he suggested, trying to sound sheepish, but she raised her brow at him.

"You have not worn it in many months, Anárion."

"When did you see me?"

She returned to the cleaning of her fingernails. "I have seen you many times when you are about. I have seen you at the square, at the market, at the poorhouse a mere couple of weeks ago..."

"Do you go to the poorhouse?"

"They need help just as everyone else," she said, defensively.

"Why did I never see you?" he asked, but was already recalling the pricking behind his neck he had felt so many times when he had been out in the past few months, even remembered turning to see who was watching him, telling himself how it could not possibly be her. "Were you hiding from me?"

"I can have my secrets as much as you do."

"Oh, Elenwë," he whispered, taking her hands in his, carried away by the sudden impulse of tenderness and gratitude that filled him before such a noble soul. "What else do you do to help? Do you, by any chance, stop by the refuge near Mariner's Canal?"

A tiny smile curled her lips before she could stop it.

"And knit clothes for the distribution center on the Orolandë?"

"You were everywhere, too! That means you cannot be angry with me for trying my hand at any of it."

"Angry? I cannot help be angry at you, and your brothers, for letting you wander into such parts of the city on your own; but, in truth, I am in awe of you."

"As am I. Is this," she said, looking around herself, "another of your projects?"

He had known the explanation had to come sooner or later but, now that it was unavoidable, he found that he was not ready for it. Turning round, he reached for one of the wrapped parcels, undid the knot and pulled a few sheets, which he handed, silently, to her.

She began reading with a little gasp which turned into a small cry when she examined the next leaf, then the next, then the next, all exact copies of each other. Her wild eyes turned on him as the sheets pooled onto her lap.

"Is this what you could not tell me all those months ago?"

"Do you see why I could not?"

She shook her head. "Do you think I would not have willingly shared this with you--the burden, the peril--"

"And do you think I could allow it, knowing what the price would be? This is high treason, Elenwë, high treason against the King and his government. If I am ever found out, I will have to be put to death. If none of you know about it, you might be spared."

"But do you think we would not die willingly for you, for such a cause?"

"It is precisely because I know you would that I had to keep it a secret," he said. "I never intended you would find out."

"You said Arandar knows," she claimed, between a pout and a plea.

"Entirely by accident, though it has been a blessing I could not have lived without. Especially the last few months."

"I could tell," she said, looking down so she would not have to look at him. "You seemed so worn and weighed down; I thought you wanted to die. Oh, how I longed to come to you, but I did not know what to say! I did not think you would want to see me. What happened? Was it because of this?" and she held the sheets in her hands.

If he had found out something about himself, it was that he could not lie to her--a very unfortunate situation, for she read him remarkably well. He looked down, settled his gaze on his ringless finger.

"Sauron?" she prodded, and he had to agree. "I knew he was behind it! Such despair and hopelessness only appeared after he arrived, and I only saw this shadow on you after you were chosen at the Erulaitalë. What did he say to you, Anárion?"

He bit his lip so hard that it bled. How could he tell her? She would despise and hate him, but perhaps that was for the best. He was so weary of lying!

Taking a deep breath, he began as best he could, "It was not so much what he said as what he showed me of myself. I was so full of my self-importance and wish to be gratified that I even forgot to pay attention to what I wished to see in him. The ring... I failed to notice it! He thought that I was a man with dreams and ambitions, but that I should not settle for the petty dreams common men have. He showed me what my dreams were--dreams I never even knew I had!-- and they were dark, Elenwë, dark and evil. Dreams of power and glory, of earning the respect and love I was not getting, of command and power over others. I wanted to use the power to help, but even so they are corrupt dreams." His voice was getting louder and his gestures wider. He found that, now that he had begun, he could not stop himself. "I was afraid, of Sauron, but mostly of myself, and wondered what I would do to earn what he offered, by the Valar, I started a few times with the intent of seeking him out--what was the point of resisting, if I was flawed and dark? Do you know what stopped me?"

She shook her head, and he retrieved the pin from his shirt pocket. She gasped when she recognized it, and he clutched it tightly within his fist.

"After we quarreled that night," he began anew, "I went back and managed to recover seven of them, to return to you, but then I could not bear myself; could not bear to look at you."

"Is that why you stopped wearing your ring?" she asked again, eyes gentle and bright.

"I could not look at the reminder of all the expectations I had disappointed. I was not worthy to carry my fathers' ring. It was hypocrisy, dishonesty; I had to take it off."

Silence followed. He had nothing else to say, no excuse to offer for his wicked heart. He was gathering the courage to apologize for burdening her with such horrible confessions, when he felt her hands cradling either side of his face.

"Anárion, have you suffered all these months alone like this, hinking yourself twisted like you have described to me just now? What do you call this place, this paper that holds the hearts of the Elendili together? What do you call all the people you help, the money and time you sacrifice to charity? What do you call that?"

"All useless if I do it for gain and recognition, for praise!"

"Do you?"

"I thought I did not, but how can I ever be sure now?" he said, removing her hands and placing them back on her lap. "Do you know what he said? He said that I was jealous of Isildur and all the praise he garnered, and that I should do something about it."

"Are you?"

"Isildur needs attention I do not. Having to live to Father's image is difficult for him, and he does not yet know how to assert himself. I do not begrudge what he needs to thrive. I do not need attention, but that does not mean I do not want it."

"That is human, and normal. You do not let that stop you."

"Because I have--had--other things that filled me, but what if it was all a lie? Do you know what he said? That I wanted a meek wife to lord over her so I could feel better about myself."

That made her laugh, and ask, "Would you be content with such a mute wife?"

"How could I, after--"

"See? See what you are doing?" she said, taking his hand, opening the fist where he had cut himself again with the hair pin in his eagerness and distress. "I do not, for a moment, believe that Sauron showed you these things from inside of you. Twisted your good wishes, likely, as he did with so many of the Faithful who believed in him."

"Did I not believe?"

"Your struggle proves that you did not, though hopelessness almost took you because of your principles and your perfectionism."

"You want to believe in me and think me good, Elenwë; but, what if I brought you here so you would not hate me?"

She smiled, a ray of sunshine on his dark existence. "I could never hate you, even if you tried hard. But, you are right, and I do think you good and wonderful. You have to discover, for yourself, who you are. I am not afraid to ask you to try; I know your image will match mine once you do."

He tried to smile, a tentative thing, but could he try any less for a woman--a piece of his heart--who had such faith in him? Surely he could not be all bad if such a spirit of goodness could not believe it.

For her sake, if not his own, he had to try.

After a while, he took her hand, placed the hair pin inside her palm, closing her fingers over it.

"Please, no," she said. "I would like you to keep it."

But he shook his head, closed his own hand over hers. "You deserve," he said, with a surer, more determined smile this time, "that I try to stand without it."

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