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Akallabeth in August
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Thereafter the fire and smoke went up without ceasing; for the power of Sauron daily increased, and in that temple, with spilling of blood and torment and great wickedness, men made sacrifice to Melkor that he should release them from Death.

Sacrifice by SurgicalSteel

I left Armenelos behind many years ago, and few in Middle-earth would recognize me or would remember my small part in what happened there. In Belfalas, I am the surgeon and the sometime seller of rare herbs – in Umbar, a member of a merchant captain’s crew. In Armenelos? In Armenelos, in the Temple, I was something more, and yet something worse.

I went to Númenor as a young man, wishing to learn. I began my studies in my home in Belfalas with a cousin who was a lithotomist. He saw that I had some skill with the knife, and paid for more advanced schooling in Umbar. I had heard, though, that there was even more learning to be had in Armenelos, and I was eager to study everything I possibly could about my craft. It was more difficult than I imagined at first. My Adûnaic was not as good as my Sindarin – and to the ears of my fellow students, was heavily accented. My Sindarin name – Nemir – bore an unfortunate resemblance to the Adûnaic word for ‘Elf,’ and so I was teased mercilessly for being one of the Faithful, and they called me ‘Nimruzîr,’ which actually made me laugh. I’d never met an Elf, so why would I befriend one?

I digress. It took only a year or so to learn to speak Adûnaic more fluently and with less of an accent – less than that to train myself to not even think in any other language. The consequences were too severe. As part of my study, I dissected. I am a surgeon, how can one know how to fix what is wrong with the body if one doesn’t know how it’s normally assembled? All of us dissected, all of us paid large sums to the Guild for the privilege of dissecting. And we debated.

It is difficult to know exactly what purpose certain structures have if you’ve only seen them in the dead, and this is perhaps what led me to my experiments, and ultimately to what I cannot forgive myself for in Armenelos.

It was known that the heart had four chambers, it was believed by many that only tiny amounts of blood passed through the right side of the heart, and that the pulmonary vein carried air back to the heart where it mixed with arterial blood. A few believed that the entire pulmonary circulation simply carried air and that tiny invisible channels between the ventricles led to blood and air mixing and… I know the detail is difficult to follow. What is perhaps most important to understand is that many were not certain of these functions, and that led to study and to experimentation. The notion that air moved through the pulmonary vessels seemed ludicrous to me, for when these vessels were opened in the dead, all they contained was blood. The most logical explanation for that seemed to me that they carried blood in life. Others argued that when the natural suction mechanism of the heart’s filling ceased with death, blood must spill backwards into those vessels.

I was determined to prove my theory the right one, and so I paid additional large fees to the Guild for permission to experiment on the bodies of living animals. Frogs were most useful for the initial experiments – they are small, and do not struggle much, and their hearts beat more slowly than larger warm-blooded animals. It was clear from observing their hearts that the heart did not suck blood in from the periphery and have it sucked back out – that it acted as a muscular sort of pump. It was easy to measure the amount of blood pumped out with a single beat and to then calculate how much blood entered and left the heart in a set period of time. Working with frogs led to working with pigs, and again to the observation that the heart acted as a muscular pump, and that there was no air in the pulmonary vessels, only blood.

“Frogs and pigs are not Men,” they told me. I was forced to concede that particular point.

Why he chose to take an interest in the petty squabbling of surgeons possessed of more arrogance than sense , I am not certain – but not long after that dispute, I found myself summoned to the newly built Temple in Armenelos. It would have taken a far braver man than I to ignore his request, and so I went.

I had heard – well, I am from Belfalas. There were always rumors about Mordor circulating in Belfalas, and so I’d rather expected my host to be ten feet tall and shoot flames from his eyes, and perhaps to offer me a warm cup of blood as a beverage. Instead, he was perhaps a bit taller than I am, dark-haired, pale-skinned, and with a hint of something other about his eyes. From descriptions I’d heard, I’d have guessed him to be an Elf, perhaps, and a courteous one at that – he politely discussed my experiments with me, and when I concluded with my colleagues’ observation that frogs and pigs are not Men, he cocked one eyebrow and asked the question that changed everything.

“Why not repeat the experiment in Men?”

“I believe some might frown on that, my lord,” I answered.

He snorted at that.

“What I have done with frogs and pigs – they invariably end up dead. No one minds this, and the bodies are generally used by our cooks. With Men – I believe they would call that murder, my lord,” I said.

“You are doubtless aware of what happens in the Temple,” he said in tones of strained patience.

“I am not certain…” I began, and I stopped for a moment as his eyebrow rose again. “Forgive me if this is disrespectful,” I continued. “I have witnessed Ossё’s wrath and Uinen’s peace once his wrath passes. I have met you. But my lord, a prominent family in Umbar tells the story of sailors who landed on the western shores of Aman after sailing east. We have been told this is impossible, we have been told the Valar would punish us with their wrath if we dared set foot upon their holy ground…”

Rather than looking offended, his look seemed to mix curiosity and amusement.

“If they are so powerful, then where was their wrath? Did they simply consider those sailors to be beneath their notice? And if they lied to us about the shape of the world, what else might they have lied about? I am not certain that I believe anything I have been told about the Valar, or anything that they have supposedly taught us. Perhaps there was no ‘Great Enemy’ at all and Beleriand sank beneath the waves for reason other than the Valar conquering him,” I said. “I am not certain that I believe in a Lord of Darkness.”

“Oh, Melkor exists,” he said calmly.

I held my peace. Arguing that point with Melkor’s High Priest would likely not be wise.

“There are Men you might use in the Temple,” he said.

My heart seemed to stop in my chest for a moment.

“Are the Men in the Temple not given to the flames?” I said carefully.

He nodded. “You can, I assume, sustain their life for a short period after your experiments?” he asked.

“I can,” I said.

“Come to the Temple, then,” he said, and I found myself following him.

It was strange, that first time. I had cut into chests for empyema, but never so widely and deeply into the chest of a still-living man, had never actually observed a human heart beat. I was mesmerized by that sight for just a moment, and wondered what I was doing for another moment.

I remembered that this man was destined for the altar in any case, and repeated my first experiment – the volume the heart pumps with each beat. From his rapid pulse, his shallow labored breath, I knew that he would not last long enough for other experiments and make it to the altar alive, and so I summoned his guards to take the poor wretch away.

I would like to say that I swore I would never do this again, but the truth is that I was eager to learn more, and returned as often as my duties would permit, often enough to demonstrate that it truly is blood and not air in the pulmonary vessels, and that blood circulates throughout the body in continuous loops, to note that the valves in veins always direct blood back toward the heart, to study the lacteals which carry chyle from the small bowel and their drainage into the portal vein of the liver…

Often enough to be renamed ‘Zigûrzîr’ by my colleagues.

What prompted me to leave, I cannot clearly say. Perhaps it was my colleagues looking on me with fear and horror, although they rapidly made use of the knowledge I obtained – or perhaps it was the mounting sense of dread and my nightmares – dreams of fire exploding from the Minul-Târik that woke me and left me shuddering in the dark.

Perhaps it was my wife begging to go someplace where no one cared if you could speak Sindarin – or perhaps it was the vague longing for home.

In any case, we fled Armenelos by night, not wanting to risk an accusation of treason for even wanting to leave. The ‘Faithful’ ship captain who carried us back to Belfalas robbed us of every damn coin I’d earned in all my years in Númenor and couldn’t be bothered to have his ship’s surgeon examine my wife when she miscarried our first child at sea. He snarled if I was truly a healer, I could look after her myself - and that most of the healers from the capital were in league with him anyway, and damned if he help one of his servants.

My family in Belfalas welcomed us both with open arms, and I slipped back into life as a healer and an herb-seller, and put the experimenter and the scientist aside. Those studies are long enough ago now that few would likely recognize me or remember what I did. And now it is my young son who looks to study in Armenelos someday, and I must raise the funds for him to do it. I worry for him. I worry for what he might be asked to do in Armenelos; I worry for what the Faithful might do to him if they realize that he is my son. Nonetheless, I cannot deny him the opportunity to study.

And so, I will take ship with a merchant captain from Umbar as her surgeon, and I will hope we go nowhere near Númenor.

In Middle-earth, I am a surgeon and I help save men’s lives.

In Armenelos, in the Temple of Melkor, I was a vivisectionist, and I helped take them away.

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Author's Notes: Many thanks to Pandemonium213 for the beta!

Nemir’s experiments hearken back to William Harvey, who is widely credited with discovering the nature of blood circulation – although Harvey’s vivisection was limited to animals.

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