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?"