The water is dark and murky. In the harbor, a thousand lights twinkle, but none pierce through the waves. It is at this sea that Erendis stares, in the dark watches of the night, waiting for what, she does not know.
She is alone, here; no-one would willingly risk the docks without a lamp at this hour, and no light except that of her lamp (which is placed on the dock) is visible.
There are ships on the docks, and waves rock against their hulls. She remembers when, long ago, she had come in the dark of a night very like this one bearing a bough of oiolairë—something she should not have done, she knows now, and yearns to reach into the past and make her younger self realize this.
Footsteps patter on the docks. Erendis squints, but there is still no lamp-light, and even her eyes, dim as they are, should be able to see that. Merely ghosts of the past, then.
She spins, and nearly topples into the water, her balance lost with age, but a wet hand catches her. Slowly, she looks up at its owner.
The woman is tall. Her hair is deep black, her skin hazel-colored, her eyes a stormy blue-grey shade. Strangely, despite her nearsightedness and the night, the stranger’s features are clear. And she carries herself as Ancalimë does—as a queen.
“Erendis,” the woman says again, and her voice melds with the waves crashing on the dock.
How do you know my name? Erendis wants to ask. What she says, instead, is “Who are you?”
The woman laughs. “Do you not know? I am Uinen.”
Lady Uinen. Fear fills Erendis’ throat even as she drops to her knees slowly, her joints creaking and water soaking her dress. “My lady, I—”
“Get up, Erendis,” Lady Uinen says gently, offering her a hand. “I am not here for recriminations.”
“But my lady I—”
“Called me thief, and cursed and hated me? Many have done so. I do not care.” Lady Uinen smiles at her. “Come, take my hand.”
Erendis does, rising to her feet, wincing as her bones move, no longer an agile girl. “My lady—”
“Hush, as humans are wont to say,” Lady Uinen whispers. And there are warm lips on hers, and suddenly, Erendis is being kissed.
It has been too long since she has been touched in love, but she responds with an ease which startles herself, lips seeking out the salty taste of Lady Uinen’s mouth, drinking her in until suddenly, she is gone.
“Erendis,” Lady Uinen says, “I offer you a choice. You may come with me. Your life will be short, but you will enjoy it more fully than you have done for many years. Or—you may stay here, and then—then I do not know what will happen.”
Two choices. Once, she took a leap into the unknown and fell hard, and bitterly. Now, both leaps are unknown. But—
Aldarion, she thinks, but she does not know him anymore, not truly. And Lady Uinen—
“I will come with you.”
Two week later, in Andúnië, the body of Lady Erendis—Queen Erendis—washes up on the shore.
“Nessanië.” Ancalimë smiles at her, a slow smile, gentle yet infused with wickedness. A smile Nessanië knows no-one else sees.
“Ancalimë,” Nessanië murmurs. She removes the scepter from her lover’s hand and places it gently next to the bed. “You are late.” As always, she thinks, but does not say. Ancalimë has enough to worry about.
“I am sorry.” To no-one else does she say these words. To no-one else can she say these words. A woman in a man’s place—in the most important of places of men—can little afford them.
“I know.” Nessanië moves closer to Ancalimë, wraps her arms about her.
After a long moment, Ancalimë sighs and relaxes, pressing her face against Nessanië’s neck. Nessanië brings her hands up to Ancalimë’s back and begins running her fingers through beautiful black hair. “How was your day?”
“Well enough. There were only two accusations that I am unfit to rule.”
“Which, of course, you know are false,” Nessanië says.
Ancalimë lifts her head to smile a weary smile at her. “I suppose I do.”
“You know you do.” Nessanië stills her hand and guides Ancalimë to one of the upholstered chairs. “Come, sit down. Let me tend your back.”
Ancalimë settles at Nessanië’s feet, her deep blue gown coming to rest around her so she looks as if she is rising out of the sea, and lets her lover unclasp the bright diamond necklace at her throat. “How was your day?”
“Just fine.” Nessanië begins kneading Ancalimë’s shoulders in circles, loosening the knots. “A little on the boring side.”
“Never a problem for me,” Ancalimë sparkles, her voice bright again. Nessanië leans down to give her a kiss; she can never resist Ancalimë’s sudden changes of mood.
When Ancalimë tilts her head back to deepen the kiss, Nessanië pushes herself away regretfully. “You need the massage more, love.”
Ancalimë pouts. Nessanië only laughs and resumes her ministrations. They subside into a silence occasionally interspersed with Ancalimë’s moans as the knots are worked out her back.
At length, Nessanië stops. “May I kiss you now, my lady?” Ancalimë asks.
Nessanië grins at her lover, sliding down onto the folds of Ancalimë’s dress so her eyes are level with Ancalimë’s. “Of course, my queen.”
Hands immediately guide their mouths together, and Ancalimë falls into Nessanië.
Later, Nessanië lies on Ancalimë’s stomach, feeling the smooth skin rise and fall as she breather, reveling in the hand on her forehead. “You are beautiful,” she murmurs.
“So are you.”
Nessanië smiles at the reply, raising her head and placing a gentle elbow on Ancalimë’s stomach to look at her lover’s grey eyes. “Ancalimë.”
“Ancalimë, will you come away with me, somewhere far from this place?”
It is a question Nessanië asks every day, and she knows the reply already. Every day, Nessanië’s heart breaks as she watches Ancalimë’s beautiful lips form two words, two words filled with both love and sorrow.
And Nessanië knows that, if her reply was different, if she loved less, Ancalimë would not be Ancalimë, Tar-Ancalimë of the Line of Tar-Minyatur and Tar-Meldatári.