“In [the state of Nature] there is no place for industry… no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
― Thomas Hobbes, ‘Leviathan’
Amandil stared at his King, and stared at the Zigûr, and abandoned all his years of court intellect to wear his fury and insult openly.
“Is this, then, how Pharazôn the mighty, the golden, the great, treats his friends?” he hissed. “Decades of loyal service, of advising, of bleeding side by side, and it seems to you right that I should warrant dismissal?”
Pharazôn looked at him steadily, and the more Amandil stared back, the more the looming despair clutched at his heart. He didn’t recognise the man behind that visage at all. He’d seen this darkness before, pooling inky and impenetrable in the eyes of his long-time lord and comrade. The day rainclouds had floated over the setting sun in the west, streaked with crimson and sending dreary shafts of dying light into the billowing canvases of Ar-Pharazôn’s tent, days after they’d arrived in Middle-earth. The day he’d advanced his unit under the light of Mordor’s ugly dawn, the enemy fleeing before them as the sun rose like a great clot of blood between the southern peaks of the Ephel Duath. That horrid, fateful day, when the smirking Zigûr had humbled himself, and the king had been wise only for a few hopeless moments before Amandil had lost him. He knew, in his heart of hearts, that it was a loss eternal.
Next to the king, the Zigûr sat unmoving, eyes blank, as if today was not the first day he was sitting in that council chair - chief counsel of the realm. As if he had always owned it. He was painfully smug and secure in his stillness. Amandil turned his eyes to the other men seated around teh table - varying expressions of disdain, disinterest, discomfort, disgust. The Zigûr didn’t need to defend himself at all, he understood, and his heart sank below the floor of this inner sanctum, his words hanging in the heavy silence.
“I deem it just,” Pharazôn said at last, with such quiet control. Did Amandil detect sorrow? “You never acted rashly, Lord Amandil, but you have allied yourself with Númenoreans who do not have our people’s best interests at heart.”
“‘Best interests’?” Anger swept through him as a wave dashing itself against heavy stone. Lord Amandil. As if he’d never known him – as if he hadn’t vouched for him so many long moons ago. How could he? What power was in the Zigûr to banish what little good there was in Pharazôn and draw out all of him that was cold, and cruel, and afraid? It was more horrifying than the darkest beasts of Mordor.
“Is fear in our interests?” he went on, forcing the furious tremble from his voice. “False promises and platitudes? We cling to hope Pharazôn, all of us. Do not listen to sweet words, nor fall for coy glances.”
“You overstep your bounds,” the King said suddenly, fiercely, and Amandil knew his mistake was fatal. “You espouse the darkness of death, you glorify our end. When our towers crumble into the sea and the world turns its back on life, you will weep in the embrace of chaos and curse your own folly. We will build a better Númenor with eternal life upon us.”
He took his staff in hand, and tapped it upon the ground. “You are hereby dismissed from the High Council of Ar-Pharazôn. You may take your leave and return to your city. Make sure your people know that should they choose to sail east, they may never return.”
Amandil had no words left, so utterly consumed with shock and sadness as he was. The wide half-circle of the council regarded him with cool callousness, like a street urchin throwing a fit rather than a lord. His shoulders – broad and tough from work on ships, nobly held from status and lineage – slumped in defeat.
“So be it.” He did not dip his head, nor bid farewell, as he strode from the room.
He sought the offices where his subordinates in the capital, arranging scrolls of information, would be waiting. Only a few had ever felt sympathy to his views and allegiances; those same few were the only ones who looked downcast as he delivered his news, and the only ones to agree to follow him to Rómenna. The others seemed almost relieved as he departed.
He cast his eyes around the palace, slowing his steps. He might never see it again, with the Zigûr in the seat next to the throne, and the shadow of their times towering over the city like the shadow of a falling wave. It didn’t seem like it, to look around. Gilded tapestries of deepest colours, warm sandstone that soared into frescoed ceilings, mosaics that cut rivers and fields into the floor. windows and balconies opened up, the sky was blue; the gardens and courtyards were glowing, and the courtiers were laughing. It was on a scale of grandeur beyond the walls that contained it. Where It was all so unnerving, so fragile, so false. But this was the tragic beauty of Númenor, was it not? Mortal things built by mortal hands, enduring still, despite the truth of death and damage. The Zigûr’s words did not make sense. The whole island was a paradox disproving his message. They thrived because they accepted the Gift of Men. Their city prospered because they knew they needed to leave something behind.
Unless, of course, he was still stuck decades ago, strengthening his arms among the dockworkers before joining voyages. Stuck in a Númenor still elated on everything they could do, not yet tired of watching the sun set beyond where they could see. That place they could only fear because it was unknown, a thing they could not study, nor turn into art, nor disseminate as knowledge, nor craft. The Gift of Men.
He wandered, lost in the greater implications of his dismissal, until the light began to slant past the central pillar of noon, casting thing shadows as he made for the lower levels, to depart the palace one last time.
“My lord. I admit I’m surprise to see you still here.”
The hairs rose on the back of his neck. It was all he could not to whip around, drawing the hidden knife he – like everyone among the Faithful – always kept in his belt. He moved carefully and slowly, absolutely righteous.
The Zigûr looked like an animal. He was inhuman in essence, that was known, and yet he showed it to Amandil in a way otherwise hidden when around the others. Here, his eyes looked like those of a wolf; his mouth curved like the flexible jaws of a snake; he held himself like a cat, surveying its prey with feline grace and delicacy and cunning, smooth and sweet until it showed its teeth and claws.
"Strange, isn't it,” said Amandil, simply, sternly, “that the day you are appointed to court, neither the minister of wars nor of the treasury appear in the council."
"Terribly strange.” The Zigûr’s delicate eyebrows arched upward, and his lip twisted. “What reasons could a drunk and an old man possibly have for missing a dawn council?"
Amandil had to resist the urge to spit; the force of the insult – to his knowledge of the fiend’s intent, of the people he saw daily, of his basic intelligence. He would not let the Zigûr end the day without knowing that he saw him for what he was, and would have him admit it. "What fortuitous circumstances you find yourself in, then. The optimum cards to play your fatal hand."
His eyes narrowed, and he knew. "Careful, Amandil. Your ire draws your ship into dangerous waters."
"Your craft is as fragile as mine was - though I admit, I never threw men overboard to keep afloat."
The Zigûr smiled at last, and this one was far different from the rest. It was devilishly narrow, sharp as a sword's edge, knowing and unveiled as the gleaming amber of his eyes. All pretence dropped as he hummed happily, clasping his hands in front of himself, like a mother speaking down to a child. “I didn't have to kill anyone, Amandil. I spoke. They listened. It is upsetting for you that the people of Númenor are afraid, and you remain unable to assuage their fear. It is inconvenient to you that my truth suits them better than yours.”
“So you admit the truth in my words.”
“Truth is in the eye of the beholder. I cannot help that your people are deluded and blind.”
“We know your true nature," he said, and his heart pounded with triumph as the Zigûr's smile slipped. "You broke faith with the Valar long ago but you were once among their subjects. You know the truth of them and the laws of Illúvatar. You lie through your teeth.”
“Be careful, Amandil. I wouldn't speak with such a loose, foolish tongue when more than half the island is against you.”
The threat only made him step closer to the Zigûr, though a horrible wave of unpleasantness churned through him at the proximity, like a shadow trying to reach behind his eyes and into his lungs. The Zigûr’s visage seemed to lower, like the head of a cobra as its hood fanned out. Still – Amandil pressed his feet into the mosaic, over a silver shark swimming through gilded kelp.
“What do you desire Zigûr? Tell me clearly, and I’ll never openly challenge your rule again.”
“You insult me to think I’d believe it.”
“And you insult me by disbelieving what I say. I desire peace, not destruction. So sate my curiosity if you cannot sate my anger or anxiety.”
The Zigûr lifted a brow, and his delicate mouth turned down, and in his golden eyes was primordial fury. “You shall see your downfall soon enough, elf-friend. Very well. Though I pledge myself to the Darkness, ordered perfection is my lord, and chaos is the sword with which I wage my crusade. None shall be spared.”
“Now you sound like another lord,” Amandil scoffed, unclipping the badge of his power still pinned to his sash, and holding it out to the ancient enemy.
“Oh?” the Zigûr took it without moving his gaze. “One of your mortal gods?”
“Indeed. The chiefest among them.” Amandil turned on his heel, leaving the false towers of the citadel and descending to the true Númenor. “Death.”