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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

"“Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”
-William Butler Yeats

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Anárion knew his first dreamless, restful sleep in months that night. Guilt stabbed at him after waking up and realizing how vulnerable he had left Elenwë by his carelessness, but she seemed so glad to hear that he had rested that he could not, afterwards, reproach himself in her hearing.

They prepared to leave, hoping that the festival that day would keep people busy and away from their part of town. His greatest concern, however, were Elenwë's feet, for they were sore and raw; and yet, if she should not appear at the festival later that day, she would be suspected by whomever had chased them from Galador's house. Anárion bound them as thickly as he could with scraps he cut from a spare shirt he kept at the shop, and was prepared to carry her if he had to, but she put on a brave face and assured him that she would be all right.

"Elenwë," he said, stopping her at the low door as they were about to emerge into the open street. "Now that you know of this place--"

"I would rather die than divulge this location."

"That is part of the problem, for I had much rather you did not die. Promise me that you will never come back here on your own. Promise me you will not do anything dangerous unless you tell me first."

She looked ready to glare but smiled, much too sweetly, instead, and said, "I promise I will always ask you first."

"If you wish to keep me away from needless risk, the best way is to keep yourself safe."

"Are you bribing me?"

"Yes," he said, feeling his face break out in a grin, "and I will do whatever it takes to keep you from trouble. But now we need to get ourselves back. I am certain that Arandar has told my father how I left and they are probably going mad with worry. Your cousin knows I was after you."

"Likely, then, our families are together."

"I would take you home, but I think my grandfather's is closer."

They determined to make for Nuriandil's as fast as caution and their sore bodies would allow, but they found it a more difficult undertaking than they had anticipated, for the streets thronged with people, all jabbering away hysterically or excitedly, and it was difficult to understand why. He wished to buy Elenwë shoes somewhere, but was afraid to stop and give themselves away, so he pushed on, oblivious to the crowd, hoping that the scraps of conversations he could catch here and there would be enough to give him an idea of what had happened, and whether they needed to take more care.

It took them all morning to make it halfway to Nuriandil's home, without a clear understanding of what had the city abuzz. But, once at the square, they heard whispers of rebellion, and traitors, and he knew that Galador had made his move that night.

He pushed Elenwë on, faster. The thought of their having come so close to be counted with Galador's number, merely by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, filled him with anxiety, and the urge became overwhelming to get Elenwë to safety as soon as possible.

But then he heard something that made his heart skip a beat. Thanks to Sauron. Forgetting all care, he grabbed hold of a passing man and asked, "What did Sauron do?"

"Where'av' ya been? Sauron's a-caught th'traitors!"

Elenwë drew closer to him at that, and he wrapped his arm around her.

"The sooner we are home," he said, "the better."

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A conquering King would not have been received as excitedly as they were. The two worried families had, naturally, gathered at Nuriandil's under the pretext of discussing the latest developments, but, in truth, they were waiting for the return of the missing. Or news.

Arandar had advised to keep the disappearance as quiet as they could, certain that Anárion would be back with Elenwë as soon as he had the chance; but had returned a few hours later with news that a company of the King's Royal Guard had stormed the homes of several prominent citizens in Rómenna, Armenelos, and the surrounding areas, in an attempt to stop a rebellion that was to take place that very day, during the festival.

This alarmed everyone. The women entered into a panic, supposing that the couple had been caught with the prisoners by mistake; the men secretly wondered whether they had not been caught on purpose; while Arandar tried to assure everyone that Anárion more than knew what he was doing and would be back in no time.

No time turned out to be a night and almost an entire day. It was only a few hours before dusk when they finally arrived and got to hear the whole story of what the family had suffered on their account at least nine times.

When they could finally sit to a meal, after Elenwë's injuries had been bathed anew and dressed, Anárion felt so weary, both physically and mentally, that he wished for nothing more than that they would be left alone to sit in silence, but it was not to be. Emeldil clung to one of his sister's arms and Eranion to the other, and his mother would not stop kissing his brow and asking whether he wished more wine.

The festival was, of course, cancelled, while more investigations were conducted, and it was quite late when everyone who did not belong to the household finally left. Anárion found himself detained in his grandfather's study while the men clustered about him, asking him questions, well into the night.

"Atarinya Amandil always suspected Sauron of double-games," said Isildur, "but I never quite thought it would be revealed through something so spectacular."

"I had much rather it was not," said Amandil.

"Pretending to befriend the Faithful while secretly planning to betray them to the King. Certainly brilliant, but so simple that one has to wonder how they were deceived at all!"

"It is going to be a nightmare to keep the Faithful together after this," Amandil said, with a sigh. "No one knows whom to trust now."

"That is why nobody should put their trust on any one man," Anárion said at length, breaking the silence that had fallen upon them all. As a people, their situation was precarious, amongst themselves and before others. The brand 'traitor' would flow freely now, the Faithful themselves would be confused. Galador could not have done the cause a greater disservice. "All of us will need to learn, for ourselves, what Faithful really means, and it is not loyalty to one man, or even to one Elf. One's heart. That should always be one's own guide--one's heart, and one's conscience, given to us by Ilúvatar himself."

"Have you learned that lesson, Anarinya?" Amandil asked, with a little hesitation, but Anárion did not have to think to reply.

"It may be a lesson that will prove difficult to learn all at once, but I am trying." Then, a little ashamed, but aware that this was something that he had to do to be free from all holds on his mind, he said, "At times, I wondered whether I should join them, whether I should take the easy way and enjoy the fellowship of those whose minds seemed like mine. It pains me to confess that Sauron's way seemed the best."

"Only when the nights were darkest and you could not see the stars," said Elendil, rising to meet him in an embrace. "I am proud of you, son."

"The only thing I did that is worth being glad about was to get Elenwë out in time. Believe me, Father, I am very ashamed of myself."

But Elendil smiled and kissed his brow. "You did much more than that, and it will become clear to you as time teaches you different lessons. Let this shame work for you, not against, and you will be better for it."

"I never doubted you, my dear boy," said Nuriandil. "You are high quality, and I have always known it."

Amandil's turn came next, and he also wrapped Anárion in a warm, comforting embrace. From them all, Amandil probably knew best what Anárion had suffered, and what had been at stake had he succumbed.

"I am proud of you too, my Anarinya, for being a man. It is not easy, and now you know the price. It makes me proud that, even knowing this, you wish to pay it."

"I thought I knew about causes before," he said, alluding to their earlier conversation, "yet I did not know the first about it! I have much to learn."

"And a good heart to aid you in the quest. Sleep well, son," Amandil said, and departed with a pat on his shoulder.

At the end, it was only Isildur and himself. It was now or never.

"Brother," he said, "I must ask your forgiveness. I did not follow my own advice to you, and for my pride and carelessness I am abashed. You were right, all this time; there were secrets, there was danger, and I almost fell. Please, know that I kept them from you because I love you, because I wanted you safe. Please, know that I admire and respect you, and sincerely think you the finest brother one could have. I am fortunate to have you."

Isildur laughed, raised a brow at him. "You have changed," he said, amused, but also a little puzzled.

"Stay," Anárion cried, seizing him by the arms like he had when they were younger. "Stay, for a while, at least, and find out what it is for yourself. I am not ready to tell you all, yet, and some secrets are not mine alone to tell, but I will tell you all I can, and even show you a thing or two."

"I am tempted to accept your offer, so glad am I to have my brother back. I took you for granted, Anárion. I will never do so again."

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The excitement in the city did not abate for a good while, but he felt more at peace than ever. Elenwë had been right: his acceptance of himself, of who he really was, could not come from anywhere, or anyone, but himself. It was a long, slow process, but he was learning to separate who he truly was from other people's image of who he should be, and was learning a great deal about himself and his own strength that he did not know before.

He had begun to wear his ring again.

And wanted to show Elenwë.

He was ushered into her small parlor where he found her sitting on a low chair, feet propped up on a stool.

They had returned so friendly to each other that everyone in the family had been expecting an announcement of some sort to come at any time. Anárion wondered whether he should not try, whether he would not be able to keep her safer were she closer to him, whether realizing how much he needed his friends around him would not excuse his keeping her, too; but knew that it was wrong to think it, and that he could not bear to put her in danger again. The forces with which he meddled were too strong and terrible, and the sight of her peaceful face as she sat amid her plants and her needlework was an island of safety in the sea of uncertainty that he sailed through every day. He would not see her disturbed by anything.

He dropped a small cluster of aster and lissuin on her lap, and said, while picking up her yarn to sit on the chair across from her, "I hear you have forsaken all other manual labor for knitting."

The delight on her face when she smelled the flowers would have been a good memory to fix on for dark times, but then that lovely smile beamed on him, and became even wider and lovelier when she noticed his ring.

"Are you seeing what I see when you look at yourself?"

He smiled. "I do not think I will ever be the man you deserve I become, but I am enjoying the process of trying. I look at myself now, and want to meet the person looking back. I feel like a boy again."

"That might be because you are a boy. You are so young, yet have taken so much upon yourself. Other men your age are still enjoying the races just to prove their mettle to barely mature girls; yet you are trying to save the island."

"I wish I could! Galador has done more to thwart me, single-handedly, than all the King's Men put together."

"How do you feel about it? What will be your role now?"

He had been pondering that question ever since they got back from the shop to a new world where roles were reversed and the good people were not quite as good as they seemed.

"I promised someone who helped me that I would not stop fighting for Númenor," he said. "I believe in Númenor still, and will not see her die."

"And I will support you," she began, ardently, but a sassy smile came to her when she amended, "In my own way."

"I came to see how you were, yet it is you who offers comfort. How are you feeling?"

"I have not been this happy in years!" she cried, as she stretched in her seat. "I feel like I could jump for joy."

"Except, your feet."

"Are much better, thanks to your prompt care. People have, surprisingly, believed the story I put out of my stepping on a broken mirror... By the way, thank you for the shoes, though you should not have."

"I was happy to do it. I have not given you anything in many years; please, accept them without a fuss."

"Then I will," she said, with a blush, "for I was happy to receive them."

It had been this sort of little awkwardnesses that had made him realize that they had both changed. Even now, it was difficult to handle them.

At length, she said, "Galador. I hear that he was transferred to a prison in the city, to await sentence."

"Aye. And I am going to see him after I bid farewell to you."

"You are?" she cried, dropping her needle. "Are you sure?"

"I could not let him be sentenced without seeing him one more time, if only for Lassilenwë's sake. Do not worry about me; if I cannot handle a little rough wind, I am not worthy of this ring and must give it up."

"Then, in that case," she began, after a thoughtful silence, "maybe you should bring this with you." She opened a basket to her right and retrieved what looked to have been meant to, someday, be a shawl. "It was Lassilenwë's," she said, while looking mournfully at it. "She began it during our knitting meetings, but she stopped coming and never finished it, nor came back for it. It might comfort him. At the last."

Anárion took it, though he seriously thought that Galador was past receiving comfort, especially from himself.

"Go in peace, Anárion," she said, as she clutched the bouquet to her breast, "and hurry back afterward so you can tell me all about it."

They looked at each other for a long moment, searching for he knew not what in the other's gaze, perhaps within themselves. When he was next aware of himself, he was ducking his head in the old way, and smiling, before he nodded, and said, "If it makes you happy."

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Anárion could not help but be glad that Elenwë was unable to come with him. She would have insisted to come along to offer some words of comfort to Galador, and any of his fellow partners who would hear her; but, this place was not a place where he wished her to be. From the moment he stepped within the prison's precincts, a sense of anger and hopelessness so strongly filled him, that he had to wonder whether coming here had been the right choice for him at all. The prison was designed to provide all the horror and humiliation possible, with men and women--for there were women seized--clustered together like rocks on the riverbed, dirty, hungry, and despairing. Some gave vent to their dread with screams, or beating the walls, or even each other.

Not Galador. He stood aloof from everyone, haughty, defiant, regardless of being the ruin of all those others imprisoned with him. When he saw Anárion, however, he gave a feral growl and rammed himself against the cell to spit at him.

"Curse you!" he cried, as he looked for something to throw at him. "Curse you, and all the undecided cowards! It is because of scum like you that we are here."

"Or, rather, because of your own misjudgment."

Galador began to beat against the cell, then, and a guard came in to escort Anárion away, but Anárion asked for one moment longer, which the guardsman reluctantly granted.

"I came to say that I was sorry for your losses, and for your misfortunes, even those brought upon you by your own hand. It may be too late for royal pardon, but a man need not die with a soiled conscience."

Galador spat at him again. "Do not speak to me of conscience, traitor. You do not even know whether you are Faithful or King's Man. I despise you, and all of yours."

That filled him with sadness and pity. For a man to be so far lifted in his own heart, what had killed his conscience? Anárion was humbled at his own ignorance, and profoundly troubled over his people: if losing a daughter, and a father, to one's mistakes was not reason enough to repent, what could be? They all had reason to be afraid if this was the way their hearts were going, and yet, as long as he drew breath, he knew that he could not give up.

"I wonder whether you know yourself which side you are on. For my part, I am a Númenórean, and will never cease to be." Handing the guard the shawl to give to Galador, he said, "This belonged to your daughter. My friend hopes it will give you comfort. May you be at peace," Anárion said and, with a small, quick bow, walked away.

He had almost reached the gates when he heard a step falling briskly behind him and, upon turning, realized that Sauron was trying to reach him. His heart began to beat wildly, but he forced himself to smile and to see the test through like a man.

"Good day, lord Sauron."

"Mairon," Sauron corrected. "They call me Mairon now. The King may wish me to stay permanently. At the moment, I help guard the prisoners, but there might be other assignments in the future; so, the King suggested that the proper name should help me get used to things."

"In Quenya?" Anárion asked, unable to contain his curiosity.

"I would not dare take a name in Adûnaic," was all Sauron said, humbly enough, but Anárion heard the yet that he left out.

"It suits you," Anárion replied, trying to appear good-natured, though frantically trying to guess who would have given him such a name, and why.

"A pity about Galador, is it not?"

Anárion nodded. "It is always a pity when men fall short of high ideals and principles."

"Is that why you keep your brother close to you now? I hear he stays in your house."

"Yes," Anárion said, with a smile. "Isildur is helping with some projects the guild has undertaken."

"Schools, and such," Sauron supplied, and Anárion only nodded by way of response. He was quite desperate to follow his own advice and get away from temptation, and began to walk a little faster. Sauron noticed it, and said, "A pity you do not have the courage to see your dreams through to the end. Your brother, with his natural charm and just a hint of persistence, might steal them from you."

"I think there should be enough dreams in the world for each person who works hard to get one."

"Will this be your strategy, then? Work like the mere mortals?"

"Since that is what I am, it seems I have no choice," said Anárion, completely intrigued by that last piece of news, but unwilling to let Sauron know it had affected him.

"What about those grand plans of yours? You would be great, were you to carry them out."

"I hope I still will," he said, "and help, for the glory of Númenor."

"A shame that you prefer to grovel than to lead," Sauron said, now at the gate. "Are you certain this is what you wish?" And, leaning in much too close, whispered, in his ear, "One day you may live to regret it."

For a moment, Anárion could not breathe. There it was again, that urge to follow, to surrender. Sauron's words echoed in his mind like drums, they froze his blood. You may live to regret it.

He might. Would he not curse himself, then?

You may live to regret it.

And, as an arrow that cuts through air, the thought, Or die for my choice.

He shook his head, tried to smile, but his jaw muscles had hardened.

"Just as well," Sauron said, waving his hand as if he had just swatted a fly. I fancy that you might change your mind; men always do when things do not go as they wished. If so, come and see me."

Anárion gave him a bow, thanked him for his interest, and left as fast as he could. Sauron had tried to bait him again, and he suspected that that would always be the case whenever they met, so he better make himself strong enough to resist it. Strangely, and marvelously, he felt like he could manage, if he managed to keep all his feelings and his goals in their proper places and never again muffled the heart and conscience that tried to lead him true. No vision--whether his own or Sauron's--had felt as good as being worthy of the regard of those he loved the most, and being able to look at himself every morning and be content with what he saw.

It was still difficult, but he had stopped wondering whether the ugly things that he had seen had been inside of him or not: what was important was that no power could make them come true if he did not let it. Right there, at Rómenna's prison gates, he promised himself that he would make a good man. After that... well, he had a long time to figure it out.

It began to rain on his way back. As dark as some of his days had been, today, he felt like he walked under the summer sun, and he liked it.

~the end

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