"But I have already called them in, my love,” he beseeches. “The guild will be most offended.
Vanimeldë sighs, rubbing her temples. “After the council meeting, Herucalmo. Please.”
“Ah, the meeting—”
“And do not say I cannot go,” Vanimeldë snaps, rising from her gold-adorned chair. “It is my council, Herucalmo.”
Herucalmo turns from where he was staring out the great window, smiles at her. As if he were indulging a child. “Of course, Vanimeldë. But there are those who would not agree—”
Vanimeldë cuts across him. “Damn them to Utumno , Herucalmo.” She hears Núneth, her maid, and the old steward Hendrech gasp, but she does not care. This must be stopped. “I will preside over my council, the way I see fit.”
“But you see, Vanimeldë, they will listen to a man,” Herucalmo says, and it takes all her restraint not to slap him as if he were a child. “If I were to attend as your representative, the issue would be resolved.”
“My country.” Vanimeldë’s quiet tone is belied by the way her hand slashes through the air. “My people. My nobles. They will listen to me.”
But Hendrech adds his voice to the discussion. “I believe the lord Herucalmo is right, my queen. They are not used to being ruled by a woman, and they may revolt if you preside over the council.”
They will revolt, indeed, through Herucalmo’s machineries, Vanimeldë thinks bitterly. And maybe she should fight him in earnest, but that would mean the ruin of Númenorë if the lords who pledged allegiance to Herucalmo keep their word. That she will not risk, for she loves this land too much to do so.
She must concede. “Do as you wish,” she says.
The flurry of protocol and thanks that follows is lost on her. Her head buzzes and thunders, tears pricking sharply at the corner of her eyes. This is her own fault. If she were able to keep her head and outsmart Herucalmo, she would have walked away victorious. And she should not idled all those years while Herucalmo built his own power. Most of all, though, she should not have married him.
“Love is fickle,” she tells Núneth. “And leaves you empty when it is gone.” But Núneth is young, barely thirty and lost in the first flushes of romance. She does not understand, only smiles sympathetically.
Vanimeldë shakes her head impatiently and sinks back into her chair. “Fetch the troupers, then, Núneth. I must be occupied somehow.”
And she watches and forgets, for a little while. The next week, she calls them in again.