Written for deborah_judge in the 2011 Purimgifts exchange.
Author's Chapter Notes:
I borrowed the name of Olwë's daughter Eärwen for Isildur's wife because I liked the meaning of "sea-maiden". I hope it's not too confusing.
Many thanks to my beta-readers: avanti_90 and greenlily.
Eärwen was in the house of her parents when the King's guards came to arrest them for treason. The Elvish books found in a secret cabinet were held to be evidence enough, if the guards had needed evidence. And so they were taken, all three, to the King's prison. Eärwen could only be grateful that she had not brought her son with her. By chance, or the protection of the Valar, Elendur had begged to accompany his father to the ships that day, and Isildur had agreed.
After a few hours, the guards took her from the cell. Her hand slid from her mother's grasp. Her father swiftly kissed her brow before the guards bore her away. Eärwen spoke once to them, asking where they were taking her, but they did not answer. She did not try again, deeming the effort useless, and she would know soon enough.
Eärwen expected to be brought to the judges who oversaw matters of treason or, if she was unlucky, to the false temple. Instead, they brought her to a richly appointed chamber in the palace. A man in splendid robes was standing with his back to her, his hands clasped behind him, looking out over the prospect of Númenor afforded from his window.
One of the guards cleared his throat. "My lord," he said diffidently, "the prisoner is here." The man turned to face them, and Eärwen's breath caught. It was not his height that intimidated her, although his stature was lofty even among the men of Númenor. His appearance was not unpleasing and his features could be called beautiful, even by one who had seen the Elves of Tol Eressëa. Yet a dark flame burned in his eyes, and Eärwen was caught, stripped bare by his gaze. She barely noticed the guards bow and withdraw.
The dark gaze lifted from her and Eärwen was once again able to move. She found her heart beating fast, as if she had run a footrace. The King's councilor seated himself at the table and gestured her to a seat across from him. "Please sit, Lady Eärwen," he said pleasantly. "I am sorry you should have undergone such a distressing experience. My guards were over-zealous, though it was all done in loyalty to the King."
"Lord Sauron." Eärwen gave a shaky bow and fell gratefully into the offered chair. She did not wish to meet again the flame of his eyes, so she looked down at his hands where they rested on the table. His fingers shone with gold and gems, rings of superb craftsmanship and immense value.
"I know you are not guilty of treason, daughter of Ciryatur. I must ask you a few questions, as a matter of form, and then I will have you released." His voice was rich and full. Even the King's voice would sound thin and weak as wind in the reeds beside it.
Eärwen looked up, deliberately looking past his eyes and fixing her glance on the curls of hair that hung gracefully over his ear. "Lord Sauron, my father and mother are still in prison. I cannot speak idly here while those I love remain in captivity."
"And we will release them, of course. I am not your enemy, Eärwen, though I have been much slandered by those of your husband's family."
With an effort, Eärwen kept her voice steady. "What would you have me do?"
"Only this. Urge your husband's family against any rash actions. I would be sorry to see further estrangement between the King and the Lord of Andúnië, who was dear to him in his youth." Lord Sauron leaned forward. "Hear me, Eärwen. I will have your parents released. Let them return to their house and remain there in peace, unless they wish to take ship for Middle-earth -- I will not hinder them. Let the House of Amandil live quietly and not draw the King's attention to themselves. I say this as your friend, Eärwen. The King's heart is much troubled with matters of state, and it were perilous even for a kinsman to meet him in his displeasure."
"Is it not you, lord, who has troubled the King's heart and turned his displeasure against us?"
"Who says so?" Sauron's eyes flashed fire. "Those are the words of my enemies, who speak from jealousy of my power. But the wiser sort -- and such I hold you, Eärwen -- know that I have done nothing but in service to the King, for his good and for the glory of Númenor."
A sweet warmth spread from his voice, lulling as the sun's rays in summer. Although Eärwen knew that the man before her was the deadliest enemy of her people, a part of her wished nothing more than to yield to his persuasions, to accept his words as good and true, even to fall at his feet and beg his pardon.
"I wish to be your friend, Eärwen," he continued persuasively. "Will you be mine?" Sauron drew a ring from his finger. A golden topaz, shining like sunlight and honey, was set in a gold band of exquisite workmanship. He held out the ring to her. "Take this, Eärwen. And let us be better friends hereafter." His intent gaze beat upon her like heat from a forge. When she hesitated, Sauron stretched out his hand to press his gift into her palm. At the touch of his fingers, Eärwen snatched back her hand with unthinking horror. The ring chimed on the table, rolled, lay still.
While Eärwen still shrank back from him, the door to the chamber was violently flung open. The sudden noise broke the spell of his voice, and she blinked like one awaking from a dream. Sauron rose swiftly to his feet. "My Queen," he said smoothly. "What brings you here?"
Eärwen hastily rose and dropped a curtsy. Since those of her husband's house were forbidden to enter the royal courts, she had not seen the Queen for a space of years. She was shocked by how much older the Queen seemed, how worn and weary. Míriel's face was pale and there were dark circles under her eyes. But her voice had not lost its tone of command. "What do you here with my kinswoman, Sauron?"
"Nothing of harm, my Queen. I only wished to give her a gift, as token of my friendship."
"This child does not need your gifts, Sauron. She is still young and beautiful." Eärwen did not dare to raise her head, but she heard the Queen's footsteps come to her side, and a slender hand was laid on her shoulder. "Youth and beauty themselves are the best ornaments."
"If that be so, you need no ornaments, my Queen. For you are still the most beautiful among the ladies of Númenor."
"It is the King who desires your flattery, not I." Míriel drew Eärwen closer to her side. "And now, I am taking my kinswoman away with me. I must speak to her upon certain matters." The Queen's eyes met the Royal Councilor's over Eärwen's head and it seemed to her there was a singing in the air, as when two sword-blades rang together in the court of the Guard.
It was Sauron's gaze that fell first. "Of course, my Queen," he said humbly. "I only ask that I may speak to the lady before she leaves the palace."
"We shall see." Drawing Eärwen after her, the Queen turned and left the chamber.
There was silence for a few moments as they proceeded along the passage. "How did you know of my peril?" Eärwen asked wonderingly.
"Many things come to the knowledge of the Queen. And the daughter of Tar-Palantir yet has keener sight than the King's councilor deems."
"My lady," Eärwen pleaded. "You have saved me from his power, but my parents are still in prison."
"I am sorry for it." There was a finality in the Queen's tone that chilled Eärwen to the core.
"They are your kinsmen also. Will you not help them?"
Míriel looked upward, though the stone roof hid the sky. "It does not matter now," she said, as if half speaking to herself. "Very soon, it will not matter at all." Eärwen wondered at her words and was troubled at heart, though she said nothing. "But let us not speak of it here," Míriel added. "Sauron's spies are everywhere. My own chambers are safe enough--" a wintry smile passed over her face -- "for a time, at least."
When they reached the Queen's chambers, Eärwen knelt and again pleaded for her parents. "I cannot save all the temple's victims," the Queen returned. "Are they not alike my people? Why should your parents alone be spared?"
Eärwen raised her eyes to the Queen's face. "If they cannot be freed," she said simply, "then send me back to prison with them."
"You are not minded to take the Lord Sauron's offer of friendship?" Eärwen's eyes fell. "Nay, you do well in that. Sauron's gifts are perilous, as I have learned to my cost. But you would endanger yourself, without aiding them."
"They are my father and mother, who gave me life. I will not leave them in that place."
"If I allow you to remain in the King's prisons," the Queen said meditatively, "then your husband will do something rash. Amandil himself will not be able to remain aloof. It would provoke open war, wherein Amandil has no chance of victory. Yet Sauron least of all desires a confrontation at this time, when he would win the King's heart to his own designs." A shadow passed over her face. "That, as I deem, is why he had you brought from prison, when you were arrested by accident in your father's house." She bent her head in thought for a moment. "Yes, I can save them. You may leave this matter to me."
Eärwen rose to her feet. In the lightness of her heart she spoke without thinking. "May the Valar bless you, my Queen."
"Such a blessing is perilous in these times, child." Abashed, Eärwen stammered an apology. Not heeding her, Míriel took a golden key and unlocked a carven wood coffer. There lay only a single curled brown leaf, withered and dry. Eärwen raised questioning eyes to the Queen.
"Behold the blessing of the Valar." Tar-Míriel's voice was harsh. "Here is the last leaf of the White Tree of Númenor, which I plucked while the Tree yet stood. Seems it not as if it would crumble at a touch?"
Then Eärwen's heart was filled with great pity, and it seemed to her that she should speak of what she knew -- the living White Tree that grew, yet a sapling, under Amandil's watchful eye. And yet the oath she had sworn lay like a bar over her tongue. "My lady," she said suddenly, "come to Rómenna with me!"
The Queen's eyes were hard. "Grievous as affairs are now, if I left my place they would grow still worse. I am not Erendis, to hide my head in the fields. The Queen of Númenor will not flee." Seeing Eärwen dismayed, she said more gently, "If I were to visit Rómenna, the King would be certain I was conspiring with Elf-friends to steal his throne. His wrath would assuredly follow."
Tar-Míriel turned to the chamber window and gazed out, though her eyes were fixed on some vision only she could see. "Eärwen, when you return to Rómenna, you will speak with Amandil. Tell him--" And there she broke off her words.
After a time, Eärwen ventured to speak. "What shall I tell the Lord of Andúnië, my lady?"
Tar-Míriel turned to look upon her, and her face was proud and queenly. "Tell him nothing. For what aid can I give him now, or he to me?"
Chapter End Notes:
Sauron's persuasions of Eärwen are partly based on Saruman's speeches in the chapter "The Voice of Saruman" in The Two Towers.