Roads Not Taken
When they ascended to the throne, Númenorean kings and ruling queens often adopted a new regnal name that was different from their birth name. Ciryatan's birth name is unknown, so I have chosen to call him Círamo.
Tarmanís opens the balcony doors to let the sea in. The white curtains billow and snap like torn sails beneath the winds of a sudden squall, and she hurries to tie them down. The night is a palate of greys – the dull grey of the evening sky, the darker grey of the heavy clouds, and the boiling grey of the sea, heaving and roiling before the tempest. Against nature's gloom and fury, the Crown Princess of Númenor is a black shadow, limned for a split second by a crackle of lightning that overwhelms the candles.
“I didn't think dinner was that bad,” remarks her husband Arhestion, raising his voice against the gale.
Looking over her shoulder, Tarmanís shoots him a dry look, lifting an eyebrow.
Arhestion smiles blithely; the princess shakes her head with fond amusement, and turns back to the sea.
Holding her hands out, Tarmanís closes her eyes to breathe in the salty air. The sea is in her family's blood, for better or worse, and she both respects it and finds comfort in it. The spray tossed by the wind slough off her irritation from the dinner party earlier this evening, before the spouses retired to their home on the coast. Tarmanís allows herself three breaths, and no more, drawing them out to three counts of ten, before she turns and walks back into their suite, leaving the storm behind her.
“Tell me, husband,” she says, going to her vanity to remove her jewelry. “How many impertinent fools called you my wife tonight, when they whispered in their corners?” Returning each item to its slot, Tarmanís shuts the case with a sharp snap, and stores it back in its drawer. “How many times did you overhear some drunken sot refer to you as my 'pretty little boy'?” Her disdain when she handles the words makes it clear they're not her own.
“I don't mind,” Arhestion replies easily, hands behind his head, lounging on their bed in his loose undershirt. “It's true, isn't it? I'm much younger than you. And I am very pretty, aren't I?” He grins and gives a showy toss of his blond hair. “Consider it a compliment on your taste in hot young things.”
Tarmanís clicks her tongue, beginning to remove the pins holding her dark hair in its habitual elegant updo. “I married you for your brain, not your looks.”
“And I love you for it,” Arhestion returns with a playful smile.
She chuckles. “How else was I going to get a legal expert who worked for free? I've got fifteen hundred years' worth of legal precedents to sort through before I can even think about reforming and modernizing the law codes.”
“So you lured an innocent baby barrister for your devious plans,” Arhestion teases, laying a dramatic hand over his heart, before he sobers. “Come on, tell me what's really bothering you, Tarmanís. You eat gossipy courtiers for breakfast, and you know whatever they say doesn't bother me. So why did we come all the way out here tonight, instead of staying in Armenelos?”
The princess goes still, lowering her head and exhaling slowly. “Círamo.”
Arhestion tilts his head back, contemplating the ceiling. “Ah, your estranged, jumped-up shit of a little brother.”
“I've told you before. Don't refer to a prince of Númenor that way, even if he is distasteful,” Tarmanís reprimands her husband, a hint of sharpness in her tone.
Knowing better than to argue, Arhestion says, “What his royal highness done now?”
The crown princess rubs her temple with her fingers. “He took me aside this evening. He wanted to speak with me.”
“The usual?” her husband sighs.
Her wry grin matches Arhestion's feelings perfectly. “Yes – the great destiny of Númenor and its people to return to the mainland, how remaining stagnant is wasting our potential, how it's our right and responsibility to intervene in the affairs of savage Middle-earth as we please, how the wealth we'd find there would benefit our people. Heavy on the pathos, light on the logos.” Tarmanís waves her hand in dismissal.
Her husband frowns. “Círamo is still cultivating the fleet captains and the other admirals, according to my father. There's been some unrest in those circles since the war, and Círamo has offered a sympathetic ear. We built a fleet to defend ourselves, Tarmanís, and now that victorious fleet wants something to do.”
Tarmanís clicks her tongue again, loosening the ties of her dress.“Then they can convert themselves to merchantmen. Those resources and lives are better spent improving Númenor itself, instead of acquiring and defending trading posts or land. The affairs of Middle-earth should never dictate those of Númenor - and they will, if we become entangled there.” Tarmanís favored neither her Great-aunt's extreme isolationism nor her brother's heedless rush to claim foreign shores; she preferred a more moderate course, one that preserved tradition while considering the realities of the present.
“You already know I agree with you,” Arhestion comments, turning over and propping his chin on his arms. Indeed, it was the pair's similar interests and values that had drawn the two inexorably into their shocking love match. “Was that all he said?”
She pauses. “He just....Círamo seemed a little odd. Even more passionate than usual - both desperate and aggressive, if I had to describe it. It just gave me a strange feeling. I felt unsettled enough I wanted to come here, even if it meant we arrived in the middle of the night.”
“Do you need to look into it now?”
After a moment of thought, Tarmanís says, “No, it's probably nothing. It can wait until the morning.”
Getting up and coming beside his wife, Arhestion leans down to kiss her mouth. “Then let me help you undress.”
With perfect posture and dignity, as though accepting tribute from a subject, Tarmanís nods, a smile playing around her mouth. “That will do, thank you.”
“Tarmanís, please, come back to bed,” Arhestion whines, turning away from the chilly air and burying his face deeper in the pillows.
“I'm going for a swim, Arhestion,” she replies firmly, pulling on her swimming costume.
“You go swimming every morning! It's only just past dawn. And there was a storm last night – stay here with me today,” her husband pleads.
“The storm passed while we slept. There's mist, but the waves aren't high,” Tarmanís counters, already having set her course and paying no mind to Arhestion's objections. “I know every current and shoal of the coast here. I'll be fine.”
Recognizing a lost cause, Arhestion gives up, sinking back into the blankets with a sullen air.
“Go back to sleep. I'll wake you at the usual time,” the crown princess says fondly, leaning over the bed and tucking back a lock of her husband's hair. Arhestion makes a muffled, sulky noise of agreement.
“Love you,” Tarmanís says, kissing his forehead, and goes.
They know something is wrong almost immediately.
Tarmanís is a very precise woman. Every morning for the past fifty years, she's returned from her morning swim within half an hour of the same time. Always, without exception.
The servants wait another half an hour. Then they send out a search party, and the steward goes to wake Lord Arhestion. In another half hour, when the first men combing the beach find no trace of the crown princess, pigeons are sent to Armenelos, and riders are dispatched to nearby villages, begging the fishermen to take their boats and search the bay and nearby shores. Armenelos sends more men, and more boats. The search area is widened – perhaps the crown princess merely went off course, or was carried down the coast.
Around the seventh hour, hopes of finding Crown Princess Tarmanís alive begin to fade. Away from Lord Arhestion's eyes, the searchers quietly begin sending boats to dredge the bay.
In the eighth hour, the captain Armenelos sent to head the search approaches with a grim face, and Arhestion knows all hope is lost.
“Where did you find her?” Arhestion asks hoarsely, to spare the man the burden of breaking the news.
Looking relieved, the captain sketches a bow. “She washed up on the rocks, my Lord. We're sorry for your loss.”
Clenching his chest, Arhestion closes his eyes and tries to breathe past the jagged pain.
“It was misty – perhaps the princess was pulled into an undertow and couldn't break free,” the captain continues, and something in his voice makes Arhestion pause and raise his head.
“The mist burned off as soon as the sun rose. And Tarmanís has swum in worse weather,” Arhestion counters slowly, shaking his head. “She knew that bay, Captain. I can't imagine my wife making a mistake like that – she was always cautious.” The more Arhestion thinks about it, tries to imagine the scenario, the less it makes sense. Tarmanís was inordinately careful, and after the storm last night, she would have avoided any extra risks.
Tarmanís felt troubled last night, Arhestion remembers suddenly. Something in her brother's manner made her want to return to the place she felt safest.
A terrible, horrible thought comes to him.
The widower hesitates, and checks to see if anyone's near enough to overhear. “Was there any evidence of – were there any irregularities, Captain?”
“If there were,” the captain gravely answers, “the princess' body was too damaged by the rocks to tell. I don't think you should see her, my Lord.”
Oh, Eru Ilúvatar. It is only now hitting Arhestion that he will never see Tarmanís again, that she will never set foot in their house again, that she will not eat figs this year from the orchard they planted, that she will never again walk beside him as they climb the Meneltarma. She who his heart burned for is gone.
“Very well,” Arhestion manages, in a mostly even voice. It doesn't help. The tears still come.
Click click clack - the sound of bootheels on stone.“I thought I might find you here, Father.”
The King of Númenor turns from the western window of his tower, a single enormous pane of glass from floor to ceiling that was hailed as a marvel when it was first built. Looking grey and drawn, Minastir runs a hand over his unshaven face and whispers in a trembling voice. “Círamo. Do you have a message for me?”
The new crown prince shakes his head; his eyes are shining queerly, and his mouth in caught in some paroxysm of great passion and grief, twisted together until his face hardly knows which one is ascendant. “No, Father. We need to talk.”
The king lays a hand across his eyes, and his voice chokes with tears. “Can it not wait? Your sister -”
Círamo shakes his head, the heel of one boot coming down in a snap that echos through the tower. “I didn't realize it was so bad. It's good I came when I did.”
“Círamo, what are you talking about?” the old man says cautiously, something in his son's manner giving him a feeling of foreboding.
“You're not well, Father,” the prince says with his eyes fixed intently on Minastir's face, and not a single sign of dishonesty in his mien. “You've been stricken by grief. After losing both your daughter and your wife, your mind has become unbalanced.”
“Círamo,” Minastir says very slowly, with dawning alarm, “I grieve, yes, but I am in my right mind.”
Círamo continues as though he hasn't heard. “I know you may feel well, but you're not thinking clearly right now. And with your mind clouded by anguish, who knows what harm you might unwittingly cause Númenor? It falls to me, as the new heir, to step in and ensure responsible rule is maintained.”
Círamo begins to pace. "The admirals and generals agree with me, as do some of the lords.”
Horror is beginning to overtake the elderly king's face. “Círamo – what have you done?”
“What happened to Tarmanís was a terrible accident, but perhaps” - and here the grief overcomes the prince's eerie passion - “perhaps it's for the best. She would have led Númenor in the wrong direction, Father, squandered our potential, let us rot as some distant island kingdom, when our magnificence could outshine the whole world!” the prince gestures grandly, advancing toward Minastir and taking his father by the shoulders.
“This is destiny, Father. We are a people apart, hallowed by Eru and appointed to rule. Númenor's destiny is to be the greatest nation in Arda, far greater than elvish Lindon or burned Eregion!” the light in Círamo's eyes glows brighter, like foxfire in a swamp.
Grappling with horror, Minastir shrinks back from his own son. “Círamo – did you – did you hurt your sister, Círamo?”
The prince flinches, then frowns with disapproval. “You two were always so alike. I should have guessed you wouldn't be able to see it either. Blind, both of you, always preoccupied with your elves and your servile obedience to the West. Well, not any more! Númenor will throw off their yoke, and take its rightful place!”
The king presses both hands to his mouth, eyes full of pain. “Please, Círamo, just tell me I'm wrong,” he begs his son.
“Are you going to do what's best for Númenor, Father, or are you going to selfishly stand in the way of our glorious future?” Círamo demands.
There is no purer look of despair than the one on Minastir's face. “Take the scepter, Círamo, if you desire it so greatly,” the words fall from nerveless lips. “But it gives no man or woman joy to hold it.”
Círamo immediately brightens, though the grief is not smoothed from his countenance; it weighs heavily at the corners of his mouth and eyes. “Wise as always, Father. This is the beginning of a new era! You'll see, this was the best decision for everyone.” His desire granted, the prince strides out of the room, his bootheels clicking on the stone with new strength - a touch too fast, like he's fleeing something.
Minastir watches his son leave, staggers to the other side of the room, and limply slides down the wall to the floor.
As he weeps, the King of Númenor stares West.
About the Author
Anthropologyarda is a lifelong fan of Tolkien's works with a particular interest in exploring obscure corners of the legendarium, and applying science to Middle-earth. Their Tolkien-centric writing can be found on tumblr here.