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A Witchy Queen

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Miríel feels the ground torn away from her feet and replaced with water. Instantly she knows that she is going to die, and left her body go limp, submitting to death, welcoming it. Is that not what the Valar want? Is that not why their county is being punished, flooded, sunk, because of her husband, Ar-Pharazôn and his followers who refused to go gently into death and went West to escape it? Mired does not cry out, for throughout her whole life, she has learned that a woman shrieking against injustices is ignored, and she is silent and letting the water take her swiftly.

But she does not die as fast as all that. She is in the raging ocean, but her head surfaces again, and she feels her body falling and rising with the swell of the waters. Either the sea will push its way into her lungs, or she will be dashed against the rocks and debris that swirl around her, as the landscape, even Meneltarma, is destroyed.

Her dress wraps around her legs like a shroud. Its sleeves filled with pockets of air, deflating, sinking. She can swim, all Númenoreans can, but no stroke she knows can help her as the land itself is totally washed over with water. It is hard enough to stay afloat in the tide, and perhaps she will just lose strength and sink underneath the water with Númenor itself. Her mind is blank. Everyone else is dead or will be soon, and she wants to join them.

The heavy ocean presses against her on all sides. Disorientated and chocking, Miríel finally, finally, blacks out.

Waking up is unpleasant. There is salt water stinging her eyes, and her stomach, and her lungs. She sits up and at once vomits up a huge quantity of sea water, not pure but filled with bits of seaweed, and other unrecognizable detritus that must be from the ruins of Númenor. Her wedding ring has been removed from her hand- she does not count this as a loss- and her clothes have been changed. She is wearing long black robes, of a fabric unknown to her. She pushes back the long sleeves to look at her body, and find it crisscrossed with cuts, but that they are not bleeding or even red. Her skin is overly pale, and she wonders if all her blood has drained out of the two deep, and seemingly deliberate cuts on each of her wrists.

Miríel touches her heart to find it still, and holds a finger under her nose to find it undisturbed by breath. She knows that she died in the waves, but she is here, and not dead, and her brain gasps under the tide of confusion.

She is crouched on a cold floor, too smooth to be the ocean’s sandy bottom. It is marble, the floor of the temple to Melkor, her husband’s domain, where she had seldom gone unless compelled, and a ring of newly drawn dark charcoal shapes surround her. There is a window opposite, and Miríel sees that the outside of the temple is completely under water, drowned. But this room seems to contain a pocket of air, which does not make sense, the building was not waterproof. Again she is uncertain and feels helpless. “Hello?” Miríel shouts, or tries to. Her voice has a distorted sound to it, from the swallowed salt water.

“You are calling for the dead, and they will not answer,” replies a voice instantly, and she whirls around, scrambling up from hands and knees, to see something emerging from the shadows cast by the statue of Melkor at the front of the altar.

It takes Miríel a moment to realize that the thing speaking to her is even a man. Much of the skin of the face has been burned away, leaving more of the teeth and the bones composing the sockets of the eyes exposed. The eyes themselves are bloodshot and seem to bulge because of the absence of surrounding skin. The limbs are not right, somehow, they seem twisted beyond use, and yet he moves toward her. Miríel finally recognizes him as Sauron, the high priest who brought this destruction about. Now he appears as a broken power, loosely robed in human flesh.

The plan that brought down Númenor was his; now it has failed, and he has been punished like the rest of them, but he is not human, and never was and cannot be throughly killed, she realizes swiftly. If this is the punishment for him, then what is being done with the souls of the ordinary men?

“Sauron!” Miríel screams at him, substituting volume for true bravery. “What have you done to me?”

“I saved your life,” he replies cooly, in the same false pleasantry that he used with her in life. This is not true; her life was lost, but she looks at the shapes drawn on the floor, and thinks: necromancy. He has pulled her soul back and reanimated her body. Not even her husband, or his followers went that far in their evils. Sauron has kept this one power to himself, or they would have had no need to seek immortality on ships.

“For what purpose?” She is rooted in place, wanting to collapse back into the ignorance of unconsciousness, but his magic will not let her.

“Miríel, everyone you ever knew has perished in those waters. Even those that escaped will never be able to recreate the life that you and your people once led.”

So some did manage to get out. Sauron is using her real name, not Ar-Zimraphel. Miríel feels terrified, but mesmerized too, like she is having a conversation with a snake coiled around her hand. “And? What do you need from me?”

“Need? Absolutely nothing,” Sauron spreads his hands wide, and Míriel sees that he has lost the jewelry he used to wear on them, and several of his fingers as well. “But what I want, I want you as champion, a warrior to lead armies in coming wars.”

“If this is your final plan it is more foolish than the first. Even if I would follow you, I am weak and hold no power that could serve you.” She tries to spit at him, but her mouth is empty of saliva, and all that it produces is a broken bit of shell.

“I took you from the drowned dead, and you do not think that I am capable of giving you power beyond imagining?”

“Why me? You had numerous devoted followers.” Miríel feels brave enough to prod him. Somewhere in the past minutes, her mind has dismissed fear. The absence of it is thrilling, and something she never experienced in life.

His raw eyes light, and Miríel again sees the spark of the familiar high priest glowing within them. “Of all the souls I could have picked from this ocean of death, you stood out, because you are so utterly inconsequential. Not bad enough that you were one of those swiftly killed and taken by the enemies, but not loved enough that you were saved. Killed by a wave. Perhaps it was utter chance, not even meant specifically for you, just a motion of the angry sea. They did not care about Miríel.”

Her hands are clenched into fists, but even with his charismatic glamour coating his speech, Sauron was right. She had never been seen as the legitimate ruling queen, or as a threat to her husband’s plots. Ar-Pharazôn had not needed her to produce a child, for it he had his way he would live forever, and he did not need her as a royal symbol, for he ruled harshly, using no defenses to cover up his brutalities.

Once she had been married, her title had been stripped of the ‘ruling’ and renamed, she had become a shadow in court, her voice not heard. Ar-Pharazôn had never tried to convert her, and no one had thought to take her west at the end, or to help her as she drowned in the water. Her prayers had meant nothing to the wrathful Valar.

“And if I refuse?”

“You will be dead, and judged along with your rebellious people. No great loss to myself, but quite detrimental to you.” Sauron’s permanently exposed teeth make him appear as a grinning skull, smiling or perhaps snarling.

Miríel’s mind clutches at her options, but unlike so many of her decisions in life, she sees the clear choice. She was not spared, despite all her secret obedience to the Valar, all her sacrifices, and cursing of her husband in secret prayers. At her end she had been going up to Meneltarma, the last holy place left, thinking that it would be safe, thinking that this show of faith would protect her. It had not. She had become just another limp corpse in the tide of bodies.

Miríel had seen good people, those not allied with Sauron die today, and for what? For not trying harder to stop their fellows from sailing? Must powerless ones take other’s blame? Now all of Númenor is gone, on account of the ambition of some, on account on not bowing before foreign gods who gave nothing, not even a hint of their presence to their faithful.

Though Sauron had asked for worship, he had given the promise of immortality to his followers in return, and now he holds power out to her, a chance to make her own justice and rule somewhere as Tar-Miríel. While she hates him for the many sorrows he wrought on her life, this is the closest offer she has ever had to freedom. Miríel may die in this new life, but at least she will die having left her mark upon this world, and if his claim of power beyond imagining is true, then even on its higher powers. Either she can choose judgment now, or glory and then judgement later.

Outside she sees what could be a body fleetingly tumbling by, propelled by the currents. Above the waves the destruction is not finished, and the turmoil rages on.

“I accept. Let it be done,” Miríel says, the first independent decision she can remember making in eons.

After they depart the temple, she imagines his magical protection receding, and the hungry water rushing into swallow the last dry piece of Númenor.

She acquires a mask in time, along with a mount, new lands, and new name Witchking, though she privately calls herself Tar-Miríel, the first queen of Agmar. Her anonymity is now a shield, and serves to inspire fear in her victims. No one knows what is behind the darkness of her sharply pointed helmet. Over the centuries, she pursues the Númenoreans who escaped, at Sauron’s bidding and her own will, wishing to spite the Valar who chose these people over her to spare.

When she deals death, she feels what the gods must have felt on that day, very far off in the mind of the living, but still fresh in hers: the weight of lives in one’s own hand, to destroy or spare. Tar-Miríel soars in the sky with her mighty beast, not weighed down by guilt of drowned by water, her power not diminished, even as Sauron locks himself away in a tower, a remnant of his former self, his might spread thin and tied to rings. She is more powerful than Ar-Pharazôn ever was, and she wishes that his soul was not held so tightly by the Valar, or she would find him and slay him again. She cannot, so she imagines his face on those she does kill instead, when their actual countenances seem too innocent to brutalize.

It is said that no man can kill her, and this proves true in the end. The figure standing before Tar-Miríel on the battlefield is slender and has long blonde hair like she herself had so long ago, and in her eyes the queen of Agmar sees the same wild desperation to achieve revenge that she felt standing in room of a drowned temple with a sorcerer. “I am no man!” shouts the other women, and Tar-Miríel almost laughs as she feels the sword plunge into her once dead body, killing it for good.

“Nor am I!” she wants to answer, pulling off her helm for the first time in centuries, revealing herface. But Tar-Miríel does not know what she looks like anymore, is she still even has a face behind this mask, and the world is passing swiftly away. Her last thought is that she hopes that the victory the Witchking’s death gives to the blonde women is great and glorious, and not ignored by men.