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Nessanië comes to her to ask permission of Ancalimë Queen Regent of Númenor, not of Ancalimë Nessanië’s lover.

That is, perhaps, the only reason Ancalimë does not deny her. That, and the fact that Nessanië asks at a King’s Audience, in front of the entire court, where refusing would be seen as churlish. Where she cannot explain her reasons to Nessanië, cannot plead with her and ask her to stay.

“The throne of Númenor will place its mark of approval on your petition,” Ancalimë Regent of Tar-Aldarion says, queenly and regal and everything a ruler should be, and her heart breaks as she speaks.

 

***

 

“I will bring you back anything you want,” Nessanië says later that night, when Ancalimë steps into their chambers. “Middle-earth has things beyond imagining. Oh! Imagine if I go to Harad, I could bring you the finest silks and cloths, or wonderful spices! Or Lindon! I can find you an elf-stone, or if I venture far enough probably a Dwarf-made necklace, or some cloth spun by Elves, I know you like that. Or—oh! Maybe we can trade for incense or some kind of perfume, or that lovely herb that melts in your mouth, I forget the name.”

She speaks with her whole body. In her delight, she gestures wildly, and her smile is so radiant, so happy. Ancalimë loves the brilliance of her joy, but—

But she cannot do this again. It was terrible enough, as a child, with her father. With her lover, as an adult, she will not stand for it. She cannot stand for it, cannot lose Nessanië, cannot lose her bulwark against everything that she faces as Regent. How can she stand alone in court, fighting tooth and nail for every scrap of power (for her father’s protection does not extend to the throne, and she is yet Regent, still not Queen), without Nessanië to come back to every night?

And yet none of those words will come out her mouth. She cannot articulate a single clear reason for why she does not want Nessanië to go. Instead, she says, “Bring yourself back, Nessanië. That is all I ask of you.”

(Sometimes, Ancalimë cannot understand herself. She has hurt Nessanië with unkind words often enough when she needs not, on purpose and out of carelessness. In a place where sharpness is warranted, though, she speaks gently. Her mouth and mind are both intolerable.)

Nessanië comes over to her, takes her hand and kisses her gently on the lips. “Thank you, Ancalimë!” Then, softer, “Thank you, truly. I am loyal to the King, but if he were here, he would not let me go, no matter how far he sails himself. I knew I had a better chance with you as Regent.” Her eyes are lit with joy, a fact Ancalimë would not notice or care about in any other person. She is fairly quivering with delight.

Ancalimë does not say anything. She cannot.

***

 

Nessanië does not cease to talk about how her preparations with the Venturers are faring. She is gone for long stretches of time, days and sometimes weeks. When she comes back, exhausted and happy, she speaks of Middle-earth and the joys it has and everything she wants to see and everything she will bring back for Ancalimë—

“Stop it,” Ancalimë snaps finally, when she cannot stand it any longer. “Nessanië. I do not care. I do not care for your Middle-earth, and you know my thoughts on what a waste of time this voyaging nonsense is. I will let you go because I love you, but I do not like it.”

Nessanië’s eyes flash with abrupt anger. “I asked my permission of you as a member of court to her regent, Ancalimë. I will not ask Ancalimë my lover whether I can stay or go. I am not your dog, and you will do well to remember that.”

She slams the door, hard, on her way out of their bedchamber.

Ancalimë ignores her. She had to tell the truth. How Nessanië receives it is not her problem, and she will not bend. Not for Nessanië, and not for any other man or woman in all of Númenor.

 

***

 

She goes to see Erendis, because of all the people in the world, her mother is the only person who will understand. It is foolish, and she will hate herself later for allowing herself to come under her Erendis’ reach and for leaving Armenelos while her father is gone, but she needs her mother, now.

“So, it is not only men who are selfish and thoughtless,” Erendis murmurs. “It seems you and I are fated to have lovers who leave us, Ancalimë.”

Ancalimë does not reply. This is not what she wants, and she should have known before she came that she could never get what she wanted here.

“This is what comes of Aldarion’s foolishness. He leaves Númenor as no King has before, and now he has everyone on the island follow him to Middle-earth too. Lady Uinen is a jealous enough lover as she is. He does not need to her seducing for her.”

Now, suddenly, Ancalimë is angry. “She asked me, Mother, because she knew Father would refuse her. Because he would not see why she wanted to sail.” Then, quieter, “I cannot lose her. I could not bear it.”

“We bear our burdens as we must, Ancalimë. Complaining about them is beneath our dignity.”

And that, that is not what Ancalimë wants to hear. She wants—she does not know what she wants. Comfort. Compassion. To be told that everything will be okay. That Nessanië will come back, that her father will come back.

But she is not a child anymore, and Erendis was never very good at that kind of falsehood. So they sit together in empty silence, and Ancalimë blinks the sting out of her eyes.

 

***

 

Ancalimë takes a long detour so she can visit the sea on her way back to the city.

She sits on the beach, waves lapping at her feet, and looks out at the water. “You can borrow her, Lady Uinen, because I must, because I have no choice, but if you steal her as you stole my father then I will come for you. I may be a mortal, but I will take her from you by force if I need to.”

The sea does not respond except with the sound of waves crashing down upon the sand.

 

***

 

Ancalimë does not set the bough of oiolairë on the bow of the ship herself. She tells Nessanië it is because she has duties and cannot come for such an insignificant ceremony, that Almarian will stand in her stead. The truth is, she does not want to go. She cannot face the fact that Nessanië is leaving her, does not want to see her off and lose her composure in front of the crowd that will no doubt be gathered to see the vessel depart.

Instead, they say their goodbyes in private, goodbyes of the kind that involve skin pressed onto skin. They are still angry with each other—Ancalimë had not apologized for any of the words she said, and she does not intend to apologize—but that not preclude them ending up in their bed, sweat-soaked and sticky and thoroughly sated, wrapped naked around each other.

“I love you,” Ancalimë tells Nessanië, because whatever fight they may have, Ancalimë cannot let Nessanië leave without saying goodbye. She does not want to be either her mother’s child or a father’s, not in this.

“I love you too.” Nessanië brings Ancalimë’s hand up to her mouth, chaste and light. “And whatever your heart’s desire, Ancalimë, I will give it to you. I will bring you whatever you want from Middle-earth. Whenever I come back—”

“When will you come back?”

Nessanië is tangling her hand through Ancalimë’s hair now. “Whenever the wind blows me back. Whenever I want to. I will think on it, Ancalimë. But it will not be too long, that I can tell you..”

Ancalimë can see the glitter of Nessanië’s eyes very clearly even in the dark, wide-awake and clear and unteary. “Bring me back a circlet, then. Or a jewel. Like the one my mother has, from my father. It will be a promise.”