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Akallabeth in August
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Now came the hour that Sauron had prepared and long had awaited. And Sauron spoke to the King, saying that his strength was now so great that he might think to have his will in all things, and be subject to no command or ban.

Into This Wild Abyss: This Mortal Coil by Pandemonium_213

Had it been any other two men who walked along the surf’s edge where the waves caressed their sandaled feet and where the sea-spray soaked the edges of their chitons, each carrying a long fishing pole and wicker basket slung over his shoulder, no one would have looked twice. For what nobleman of the Adûnâim, as these men surely must be, did not enjoy fishing from the surf’s edge? But the guards hanging back among the dunes and rocks along the beach belied the informality of the scene.

The shorter of the two men glanced out of the corners of his eyes at his tall companion who whistled a playful tune that rose and fell with the swell of the waves. Pharazôn never failed to be surprised by the glimpses of the Zigûr’s humanity yet it was the same that had solidified their unlikely alliance and even friendship.

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Some hours earlier, Pharazôn had been immersed in the onerous minutiae of a fiendishly complex trade agreement with Umbar, questioning one of the dock captains about a suspicious fire in the shipyards of Rómenna, and reaching a decision in the disposition of the the captured leaders who had led an insurrection in Hyarnustar. The latter was the easiest decision although it weighed on him heaviest of all: “Send them to the priests,” he had ordered the temple acolyte before he moved on to wrestle with the trade agreement and ferreting out information from the shipyard captain.

The loss of six ships in the shipyard fire was a grievous one. That would significantly set back his campaign against the rogue king of the coastal realm of Bellakar. The impending trade agreement with Umbar, no doubt concocted by one of those witches who ruled the city-state, was even worse. While the Chancellor of the Exchequer droned on and on, the dull throb behind his eyes became stabbing pain, and his lower back ached.

It was then that his chief councillor had entered Pharazôn’s chambers of state. As silent as one of the palace mousers, the Zigûr had stepped through the door and approached him. Before he bowed with the deference accorded to the King of Yôzâyan, he caught Pharazôn with the nets of silver-flecked eyes, silently asking permission. Pleased with the Zigûr's unfailing courtesy, Pharazôn waved him forward. The Zigûr leaned over and murmured:

“The bluefish are running, my lord.”

That was all it took for Pharazôn the Golden, the mightiest king in the history of Yôzâyan, to dismiss the rest of his advisors and council.

“I will meet you in the smithy,” he had told the Zigûr.

Pharazôn had swept into his private chambers, tearing off his robes of state and flinging them to the tiled floor for the trailing servants to retrieve. His obsequious chief valet trotted alongside him.

“Your magnificence, might I suggest the indigo...”

Pharazôn rounded on the man before he reached the royal dressing room. “Blast it, Îbal! I will dress myself! Back off, the lot of you!” he thundered. The rest of the servants scattered although Îbal, accustomed to his outbursts, hovered nearby.

Grumbling under his breath, Pharazôn yanked a folded linen chiton from a cedar shelf. Not as simple as he would have liked with the gold, scarlet and black symbols of his office embroidered about the neck, hem and armholes, but it would do. At least it would be comfortable in the unseasonable heat. It occurred to him that the evening would be cool along the shore so he pulled out his favorite wool cloak, faded from many years at sea, and stuffed it into a pack. After strapping on ancient leather sandals, worn smooth from use, he was ready to go to the palace smithy and inspect his fishing tackle and see to the preparations for this trip. But before that, there was another he must see.

He knocked on the door to the queen’s chambers and opened it when he heard the cherished voice call, “Come.” One of her ladies let him in, but before she could tell him where his queen was, he saw his beloved reclined on a settee out on the balcony of her apartments. He made straight for her before she could rise and sat down beside her. One look from him was enough to make her attendants withdraw out of sight and hearing.

Zimraphel's smile made his heart leap just as it had all those years ago when they had fallen in love and defied convention. He drank in the sight of her cool beauty.

“The bluefish are running, I take it?” she said, laying aside the book she had been reading.

“How did you know?”

She raised her hand to his cheek. “My dear, you have gone fishing for the blues since you were a boy. The Zigûr will go with you?”

“Of course.”

“And there will be guards?”

“As always, my love.” He knew she worried for his safety with the increased unrest in the land. He turned her hand and kissed the palm and then searched her dark grey eyes, “Do you mind if I go? I will stay here if you wish...”

“Do not be silly, my lord! Go. It would do me good to know that you are enjoying yourself. In any case, I must bathe in the waters of purification tomorrow so I will be absent.”

The reminder of why she would bathe in the consecrated waters made his heart sink. “Zimraphel, I am so sorry.”

“There is nothing to be sorry for, Pharazôn. I may be too old to...”

“Hush!” He cut her off. “You are not too old. We will just try again. If you are willing, that is.”

“If I am willing?” She smiled wickedly and leaned toward him, kissing him with such passion that he felt himself stir behind his loincloth. She released his lips reluctantly. “Now go. You well know that I must take the baths before we can be together. But I promise you that we will try again -- and again -- when you return.”

“I will hold you to that promise,” he whispered to her, running his fingers through her silky hair, its deep gold color enchanting him almost as much as the keen mind that lay beneath it. He placed a final lingering kiss on her lips and rose from the settee. He raised his brows when she glanced down at him, her eyes triumphant when she saw what she had started. He moved his pack in front of his lower body.

“Wouldn’t do for your ladies to see the kingly sword,” he said, chuckling.

“No, it would not,” she replied regally but dissolved into a girlish giggle. She recovered her dignity. “Now go, my king! Go before I do something untoward.” She blew him a kiss, and he left her.

He had found the Zigûr, who had also opted for a simple chiton and sandals, their straps criss-crossed over his calves, engrossed in his tackle: inspecting the lures and then checking the heavy reels of both fishing poles, made of a light but strong and flexible Eastern wood called bambû. Pharazôn had joined him, and soon they, along with the royal guards and servants piled into wagons and carriages or on horseback, were off to the coast.

They had reached the shore around mid-afternoon. The king ordered the guards and servants to give them privacy, and so they complied, setting up the campsites and securing the area so that their regent and his chief advisor could fish and converse in peace. Then Pharazôn and the Zigûr had made their way through the dunes and sea-grasses to the shoreline.

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Pharazôn glanced again at his whistling companion. Who would have thought that Sauron the Terrible liked to fish? Or that he had a ridiculous soft spot for cats? Certainly, there were always reminders that the man who walked beside him harbored something powerful and frightening within his human form which was that of a nimir. That in itself set him apart in this land where the Nimîr no longer visited, at least not openly, yet the Zigûr's black hair and grey eyes also allowed him to move easily among them because he resembled so many nobles of Pharazôn’s court. However, the Zigûr’s appearance was also a sharp reminder of what had been denied Pharazôn and others who carried the high-blood of the line of Elros: immortality. Who knew how old the Zigûr was? For all appearances, he was a robust man in the prime of his life, but the signs of the Fays in his countenance spoke of ancient memory beyond mortal comprehension.

Pharazôn recalled when he had first laid eyes on the Zigûr, how he had sued for parley after Pharazôn had landed in the Haven of Umbar and had marched toward Mordor, surprised to find no resistance. The Zigûr had mistaken Aphanuzîr for the king, making the assumption that the taller man was the regent. Pharazôn had set him straight, bringing the Deceiver to his knees, and as many kings will do to a captured ruler, had chained him and paraded him through the streets of Arminalêth when Pharazôn had returned in triumph.

A pang of regret welled up in his heart as it always did when he thought of Aphanuzîr. He missed his friend from childhood, but there was nothing to be done about that. Aphanuzîr had tethered himself to the insidious Faithful. He had been vehemently opposed to Pharazôn and Zimraphel's marriage, citing that they were too close akin, when in fact, the Faithful were maneuvering to arrange the union between Aphanuzîr's brother -- Elentir -- and Zimraphel. That was the beginning of the a rift that widened long before Pharazôn had sailed to Middle-earth and brought back his hostage. Over the years, the Zigûr had pointed out the pattern of inconsistencies in Aphanuzîr’s policies that smacked of conspiracy. No, it would not do to reconcile with Aphanuzîr. Pharazôn knew he had made the right decision whe he had dismissed him from his seat on the council, exiling him to Rómenna. Likewise, the Zigûr’s network of informants who keep the Lord of Andunië and his family in their sights had proven their utility again and again.

The Zigûr ceased whistling, slowed his pace, and stopped. Pharazôn halted along with him.

“Look!” his counselor said, pointing his long forefinger, the simple gold ring on it shining in the late afternoon sun. “Out on the water, over there.”

Pharazôn followed the direction that the Zigûr indicated. Yes! There it was: the gilded sea boiled from the school of bluefish that fed at the surface.

“Well, then what are we waiting for?” Pharazôn pushed his heels into the sand and stepped briskly, striding along the strand, and ignoring the persistent aches in his knees and hips. They soon reached the part of the strand parallel to the churning sea where fry leapt like popping seeds in hot oil to escape the feeding bluefish.

“What do you think?” he said to the Zigûr, who was rummaging around in his tackle basket.

“Your choice, but I’m using a dragon-spoon. They are in a frenzy so they will take a lure from the surface.” The Zigûr fixed the silver lure to his line. Pharazôn likewise selected a shiny dragon-spoon from his tackle.

Each man set himself well apart from the other and with practiced motion, they swung their arms and bodies almost in unison, arcing the rods and launching the lures far out into the surf. The high thin whine of the reel and the silk line always sent a little thrill through Pharazôn. He squinted at the water, boiling with frantic baitfish trying to escape the predatory blues. He did not have to wait long before his line tightened: a grey-blue streak shot out of the water, taking the lure. Pharazôn pulled back sharply to set the hook. The fish jettisoned out of the sea again. Like all its kind, the strength of the bluefish was formidable, but Pharazôn patiently reeled it in, spinning the reel and then pulling back the rod with a measured, steady rhythm until the fish thrashed on the wet sand. He brought the line up and grasped the struggling fish with one hand. He backed away from the surf’s edge and gently laid down the pole. Then with pliers retrieved from his basket, Pharazôn yanked out the hooked lure lodged past the fish’s rows of razor-sharp teeth.

At once, the Zigûr was at Pharazôn’s side, his left hand extended, and his fishing knife unsheathed in his right.

“If you’ll allow me, my lord,” he said, his eyes darting from Pharazôn to the fish.

“By all means! I can’t say I am overly fond of gutting fish. Silly, really, given everything I have seen and done in my campaigns.”

“I know, my lord,” said the Zigûr, gasping the struggling fish through its gills. In one swift motion, the Zigûr sliced open the white belly of the fish with his ivory-handled knife. Pharazôn’s stomach lurched when the unbidden memories exploded between his temples – the image of the Zigûr’s hands wielding another larger knife upon those sacrificed to the Giver of Freedom in the temple, its sharp blade plunging into the flesh of men rather than fish. Reconciling the fact that his affable fishing companion was also the high priest of the Giver of Freedom made Pharazôn’s head spin.

“A fine fish, my lord,” said the Zigûr. “Not too big, not too small. It will make for good eating.” Pharazôn watched his companion trudge through the sugary sand to the campsite that had been set up, partially concealed behind the dunes, where the Zigûr opened a wooden chest filled with ice and tossed the fish into it. The white gulls wheeled and screeched around Pharazôn while they dove to the beach, snatching the fish entrails from the sand, the bloody guts trailing from their hooked beaks as they flew away with their prize.

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Mairon had made sure that Pharazôn was watching when he laid his bare hand against the kindling. It never hurt to remind the king of the power that lay roiling below the surface of his human form. He had concentrated, sending his will into the materials of the twigs and dry grass, until they began to smoke. He had withdrawn his hand quickly to avoid a painful burn and fed the small flame until the wood was alight.

Now the flames had settled; the logs glowed, soon to be ready for preparation of the day’s catch. While Pharazôn sliced a bulb of fennel on a thick wooden board he had set upon a flat rock, Mairon resisted the urge to tell him that the slices were too thick and uneven. He managed to suppress his annoyance at the king’s cutting technique by focusing on the cool blush wine he sipped from a earthenware cup, noting the refreshing simplicity of its fruity flavor.

At least he had the consolation of decent wine. Although Pharazôn insisted on “roughing it” – as the king called it -- during these fishing trips, the king’s servants had set up a campsite filled with luxuries like the steel and iron cooking implements, the wool rug and cushions that Mairon reclined upon, and the chests of precious ice, cut from the winter ponds in Forostar and stored in the king’s ice house.

Mairon supported himself with one elbow while he watched Pharazôn toss the sliced fennel and mashed cloves of garlic into an iron pan at the edge of the fire, the vegetables sizzling when they hit the hot olive oil. Mairon drained his cup, sat up and poured more wine for himself. He focused his gaze on the glowing coals but surreptitiously glanced now and then at the king’s hands, which -- although deft while he stirred the frying vegetables – had a slight tremor and were spotted with the faint signs of age. Pharazôn also moved with a deliberate vigor, suggesting that arthritis had flared again in his knees and hips.

“How fares the queen?” Mairon asked idly. He had to admit that over the past few years, he had come to admire the king's wife more than he ought, and that of late, he had caught looks from her which suggested his admiration might be returned. Thus he considered what her role might be once he rid himself of her husband. His heart was choked with widower’s weeds, but given that Zimraphel, if taken as his queen, would largely serve as a figurehead to secure his power, he believed he could set aside his private agony, at least for a time. After all, she was mortal and would not burden him for many more years.

The king took overlong to answer his polite inquiry, but at last Pharazôn flinched. Mairon knew he had hit a sore spot, and he was fairly certain what it was.

“She is well," sighed the king. "But...”

“She takes the bath of purification again," said Mairon, finishing the king's sentence. He was well aware that the king and queen were trying to produce an heir. "I am sorry, my lord. Perhaps the chemist has another formulation she might try.”

"I do not think it is her," the king said, scooping the softened vegetables from the pan and into a shallow bowl. "It is me." Pharazôn placed the pan on a stone to cool. He stood slowly, wincing for a brief moment before he set his jaw, picked up the steel grate, and set it over the coals. He straightened, rubbing his lower back while he looked toward the night-sea where the waves flickered with phosphorescence when they crashed upon the sand. "I can see the end of my days, Zigûr. I am too old to beget a child."

Mairon allowed himself to gloat for a moment, knowing that he had achieved what Pharazôn could not, but just as quickly he stifled his virile pride, for contemplation of such memories reminded him starkly of his failure to control what was his. Instead he mustered what seeds of empathy he could, and let them swell into something that might seem genuine.

"I do not believe you are too old, my lord." Mairon took a long drink of wine. "There is a way.”

Pharazôn fixed him with his steely eyes. "That way is madness, Zigûr." They stared at each other, the air almost crackling between them, but the king turned his attention back to the fish, which he stuffed with the fennel and garlic.

"Is it madness for the great to seek a path that does not lead to death?" Mairon asked.

"It is the land of the gods. It is death itself to seek it."

'Gods', he calls them, thought Mairon. Gods and monsters. But he answered. "The Valar are less than you think they are.” He sipped his wine again. “Tell me this, my king. How many insurrections have you quelled in the last month? Eight? Nine?"

"Five!" snapped Pharazôn who set each fish on the grate over the smoldering coals. The wet fish sizzled as soon as they hit the hot metal.

"Men vie over property and goods here in the Land of the Gift," Mairon replied, keeping his tone calm and collected. "There are reports of hunger and an outbreak of pox in Mittalmar. There are too many people on this island now."

"And even of fewer of high-blood," Pharazôn said, staring into the fire. "We have so few children. Yet Yôzâyan that once seemed so large is now narrow."

Mairon dearly wished he could remark aloud that with the inbred nobility of this island, it was a blessing that women's wombs were barren and men's seed weak. But he replied evenly, ever the voice of reason:

"Yet you require all these people of the lesser classes for your labors so that you may keep your hold on the outer lands. You must feed them and keep them healthy. You are failing in this, my king." Pharazôn's blue eyes shot fierce arrows at him at that, but it did not give Mairon pause. "So I ask you again, my lord: have you given thought to my proposal? Amatthâni is a rich land. Yours for the taking. With my assistance, of course." He eyed the fish, their oil dripping from cooking flesh to sputter and flare on the coals. He resisted his urge to snatch the tongs from Pharazôn's hand so he could flip the grilling fish and thus avoid Pharazôn's predilection for overcooking seafood.

After an agonizing stretch of time, Pharazôn flipped the fish over. Mairon was relieved to see they were seared but not blackened.

"So you say that you have the knowledge to build ships with metal hulls that do not need the wind or oarsmen to move them," said Pharazôn, poking at the fish to align them over the heat.

"I have that knowledge and more," replied Mairon. "I can give you darts that will thunder across the leagues unerring, and weapons that will set the very slopes of Tanquietil aflame."

"A rich land..." Pharazôn's voice trailed away.

The king removed the fish from the grate with a flat frying scoop and slid them onto the waiting platters. He plucked green and black olives out of an glazed clay jar and laid these around each fish and then placed a slice of lemon beside them. He stood and handed Mairon one of the platters. Mairon settled himself cross-legged on the rug, squeezed the lemon over all and tucked into the fish.

It was not as overcooked as he expected, and the fennel and garlic cut through the strong taste of the bluefish's flesh. He was hungrier than he realized; he devoured the grilled fish down to its skeleton and skin. Setting the plate aside, he reached for the flask of brandy that, along with two crystal glasses, had been placed on a silver tray on a small table that a servant had balanced on the sand. He poured the amber liquid into each glass and handed one to Pharazôn who took it, sipping the smooth liquor. The king smacked his lips in appreciation.

“What guarantee is there that if I set foot on the shores of the Far West, even make my abode there, that I shall have life everlasting? Can the Giver of Freedom guarantee this?"

"There are no guarantees in any life, my lord, whether that of Men or immortals. Doubtless, the gift of life unending is not for all, but only for such as are worthy, being men of might and pride and great you." Mairon saw fire spring to life in Pharazôn's eyes. His prey had seen the lure.

"There is more, my king. Even if Amatthâni extends your life but does not make it unending, you might reclaim your vigor so that you might yet father an heir. For is not a man’s true immortality in his children?" Mairon let that sink in before he added: "There are also rare herbs in Amatthâni: potent herbs that may aid the begetting of a child.” The lie slipped through Mairon's teeth as easily as breath, but he knew what Pharazôn wanted to hear. He added the veneer of truth: “You must remember that the begetting of children is not so easy for many of the Firstborn and that Amatthâni is not entirely the paradise the Elves would have mortals believe it is."

"You say there are potent herbs there? Medicines that might let my seed take root in my wife?"

"Yes. The Nimîr withheld these from the high-born of Yôzâyan. They do not wish to see your numbers multiply. Nor do the Avalôi."

Pharazôn gazed out toward the sea again, and when the king turned back to Mairon, the fire in his eyes had dimmed. Frustration surged through Mairon, vexed that he had not yet convinced the king of this strategy, but he knew that the his quarry still chased the lure. Pharazôn yawned and stretched, wrapping the old cloak around himself, and took another swig of brandy before he lay back on a cushion.

"I believe I will sleep on this thought out here under the stars tonight."

"As you wish, my lord."

Mairon rose and took the platters and glasses to a flat stone beyond the rim of firelight, placing them where a servant, camped beyond the rise of the dunes, would come to fetch them.

He was so close to setting the hook. So close. He thought of the little man who stretched out on the beach beneath the stars, and hate choked him. He remembered the chains on his wrists, the humiliation of being dragged through Armenelos like a captured beast. He could not bear the thought of Pharazôn's living on this earth, but more than anything else, Mairon desired rule of Númenor, for he who ruled here ruled the world. He must dispose of those who stood in his way: Pharazôn and his mighty fleet. He counted on the Valar turning their horrific weapons upon the king and his men when they set foot on the forbidden Undying Lands. Ironically, by obliterating Ar-Pharazôn and his fleet, the Valar might inadvertantly aid him in accomplishing his goal.

Mairon did not return to the camp immediately, but walked toward the shore where the waves crashed, shimmering with cold light in the darkness. He contrasted the Númenóreans to the people of Eregion. Playing Tyelperinquar and the wily Noldor had been like fishing for trout – requiring flexibility and great cunning. Here, Men of Westernesse were like bluefish, voracious and ready to snap at anything dangled before them. They required a different kind of skill.

Pharazôn was still awake when he returned. Mairon lay down opposite on the rug and arranged a cushion beneath his head. He pulled a woolen blanket around his body, and stared at the stars, willing his racing thoughts to rest. Then Pharazôn spoke, his deep voice soft – almost a whisper -- but rich and melodious with rolling articulation:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time...

Pharazôn’s words, which drifted like a song into the night, sent ice down Mairon's spine. They were uncanny, like the strange dreams that came to him from the Elsewhere, inspiring new words and inventions like his rod and reel or the engines that rumbled beneath Lugbûrz. He heard Pharazôn yawn again, but before the king sought sleep he said:

"We will invade Amatthâni."

The hook was set.

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Adunaic (among others) words and translations follow. Please see History of Middle-earth, vol IX, Sauron Defeated, part 3, "The Drowning of Anadûnê" but for a handy on-line reference, here is the Ardalambion site's Adûnaic corpus.

Adûnâim – Númenóreans

Arminalêth -- Armenelos

Bellakar: a non-canonical region in Far Harad lifted from MERP. I don't participate in any RPs. I just like the talented Sampsa Rydman's maps which may be found on his site: Lindefirion

Zigûr -- wizard

Yôzâyan –- Land of Gift

Aphanuzîr –- Amandil's Adûnaic name (HoMe vol IX).

Nimir (s); Nimîr (p) -- Elf, Elves.

Amatthâni –- Land of Aman

Avalôi –- the Powers, the Valar.

Lugbûrz –- the Dark Tower

References are made herein to Surgical Steel's Hostage as well as her other stories on the SWG. Her vision of Umbar with its rule by a duumvirate and oligarchs (recalling ancient Carthage) is one that I embrace. In this and in other areas, our respective 'verses overlap. Among these common elements is the casting of the magnificent Ian McShane as well as the elegant Susanna Thompson, who both starred in the short-lived television series "Kings," as Pharazôn and Zimraphel in "Akallabêth: The Movie!"

The loving relationship between Pharazôn and Miriel/Zimraphel derives from Tolkien's earlier version of these two in The History of Middle-earth, vol. XII, The Peoples of Middle-earth. Please see Surgical Steel's Alliance which serves as a backdrop for "This Mortal Coil."

I have quoted directly from "The Akallabêth" in The Silmarillion, "The Lost Road" from History of Middle-earth v. V, The Lost Road and Other Writings, and from a well-known English playwright of our primary world.

Although all my fan fiction is written consistent with fundamental concepts of the Pandë!verse in mind, this one, by virtue of a couple of ruminations on the part of one of the protagonists, is obviously set in this alternate history. Those familiar with my 'verse in which these concepts have been alluded to -- although not yet elaborated upon -- will likely not be surprised; I will just say that I will eventually get to that part of the history.

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