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“Let me out.” whispered Mairen in his ear, one day when they were alone, pressed against a wall, his hands under her dress, between her soft thighs.

Axantur didn’t remove his hands, but rather turned his head for watching her straight in her dark, seductive eyes.

“Why?” he asked, a whisper against the bare skin of her neck.

“You know we can’t continue this forever.” she barely murmured, her hands still tracing doodles on his back. “We risk every day to be discovered. I fear that Atanamir already suspects something. And what would it be of us, then? What would it be if Father knew that I lost my maidenhood with you? He will be furious. We could get separated forever, or .. or worse. He could imprison us.”

“Our father doesn’t care for us,” Axantur replied. He took his sister’s chin into his hands, and forced her to look at him. “You know that. And do you have so little consideration of me to think I will give you up so easily?”

They both knew it was the truth. The great King Tar-Ciryatan, conqueror and explorer, cared little for his frail, weak second born, and for his rebellious daughter. His love and heart were all for Atanamir, their older brother, so valiant and glorious, beautiful like one of the Valar.

“Don’t even dare to trick me in such way,” Mairen pushed him away. If Axantur had been stronger, a mere woman wouldn’t have been able to do so, but Axantur’s body had failed him on more than one occasion. He hissed, feeling a pang of pain in his crooked shoulder. “You had always known our love had no chance to be. And call me a coward all you like, but brother, I’m not going to be locked up all my life for you!”

Axantur wanted to call her, to say her name, to kiss those red lips once again, to slide his hand between her soft thighs, but he could do nothing but watch her go, the door shutting behind her back that echoed in the chamber like a thunder.

**

Years passed. Atanamir grew more and more loved by the people of Númenor, truly the son of their father, a conqueror and a commander, born for leading people into the battle. Tar-Ciryatan arrangeed a marriage between Mairen and the Lord of Rómenna, and Axantur had to watch her exchange rings with him, the mantle of her husband’s house on her slender shoulders, and a pang of hate and jealousy pierced his heart. His sister looked so radiant, all dressed in white and with flowers in her black hair, such a beauty that should have belonged to him, to him that had been born with a weak body and a crooked shoulder, the unloved son of their father, to him that had found in Mairen’s love his only joy, not to some dull lord with more muscles than brain.

“Are you happy, sister?” he thought. “Do you believe that you have finally found the liberty you longed for? Or have you only found another cage in which you will be trapped?”

It didn’t take long for him to realize that he couldn’t stay in Númenor anymore. Axantur had heard for all his life about Middle Earth, of its large spaces and plains, of its endless forests and its mines full of gold and silver. He wasn’t a man made for fighting battles, no, but the Númenoreans that were slowly establishing themselves into those far lands needed cunning minds as well as military commanders.

He never returned to Númenor.

**

 

Axantur became powerful. He was a lord among the Númenoreans that had decided to settle themselves in Middle Earth, who had begun to fight with the Men of Middle Earth for control of the territory. Part of his influence was due to his father’s name, aye, but it was also thanks to his cunning mind, that the new nobility of the colonies had begun to admire and to fear him at the same time. No plot to eliminate his opposers was too ruthless for him, s, no means too vile for him to not be used, were it drops of poison in the cup of his enemies, or a blade between their shoulders in a dark alley in the middle of the night.

He was still hated, but now it was an hate born out of fear, rather than from disdain. For this reason, to keep his mind sharp as a blade, he tore through any book he could put his hands on, he stored any information that could turn useful to him. There wasn’t any topic too difficult for him to be read about or studied, and soon he became expert of all fields of Númenorean sciences, from maths, to architecture, to the ones that the smallfolk called sorcery, in their fear and ignorance.

Axantur, too, was called a sorcerer now, a sorcerer that stole children from their cradles and that held strange rituals in his dark high tower, to make his enemies fall like flies. He smiled of such rumours when he heard them, and let them be.

He never married, despite any attempt of his lords to present their daughters or even to put concubines in his bed. He found himself disgusted by any woman who wasn’t Mairen, with their fake smiles and their painted lips and their smelly perfumes, that couldn’t even bear the thought of touching one of them. Axantur still cherished the memory of Mairen’s fair skin, of the softness of her lips under his mouth and the texture of her breasts under his hands, of her moans of pleasure when he was inside of her, her thighs firmly around his waist, of how she threw back her head and cried his name in the throes of passion.

He still received news about Mairen, of the children she had with the Lord of Rómenna, and he faked a smile on his lips any time he heard about them.

“Are you happy, sister?” he thought every time. “Are you happy, or have you found yourself trapped in a cage made of white marble and golden beaches? Do you regret not having me by your side? I could have made you a queen in those lands.”

But he had no need to fake smiles anymore, when he received the news that Mairen had died in giving birth to her seven child.

**

He continued his research, but now, it was driven by a totally different purpose. He searched for everything that could give him immortality, that would make him more than a mere man, born to die like an animal. But he found nothing but legends and stories in the books he read, nothing that could give him any help. Axantur even searched in the Far Harad for shamans and sorcerers that claimed that they had achieved immortality, but they were nothing but charlatans, ridiculous barkers with no secrets to share.

Axantur would have never expected that, but Atanamir said to him that he shared his thoughts. Now that he was King, he had begun to speak against the Valar and their Ban, for he found unjust that the descendants of Eärendil had to die like all the other Men, and it wasn’t permitted to them to place their feet on the Blessed Lands, like they were mere slaves of the whims of the Valar, and not the Children of Eru.

Axantur even heard that his brother had chased away the messengers of Manwë, when they had replied to him that immortality was the Gift of Eru to the Men. Axantur merely smiled, and returned to his research.

Long years passed. He continued to meet failure after failure, but for an exception.

There was one sorcerer that came from a distant land, a land that Axantur had never heard of. Axantur met him in his tower one stormy night, when the rain fell heavily on the iron roof of his tower, and Axantur could hear distant thunders that shook the air with violence, as if Morgoth the Black Foe had returned and the Valar had risen to battle him once again.

The sorcerer was everything that Axantur wasn’t, with his perfectly-shaped, strong body, a cascade of pure silver hair that fell over his shoulder, and a face of the same unearthly perfection of the ancient statues of Valar that populated the palace of the King. Axantur thought his eyes black, but after a moment, they shone of a golden light at the fire of the torches.

“I’ve heard great things about you, Axantur son of Ciryatan.” said the sorcerer, and his voice was like honeyed wine. “I yearned for a long time to meet you, my lord.”

“If you have come here to flatter me, well, save your breath.” replied Axantur in a dry tone. “I’ve no time for charlatans and bootlickers. Too many of those have come to me, trying to convince me that they had some great secret to share, and they gave to me nothing but empty words.”

The sorcerer’s eyes shone of a red light. “I’m far from being a charlatan, and I’ll prove you that, my lord. I was there, when the Men started to worship Arûn the Great, the Master of the World, and the Valar punished the Men with the curse of mortality, and they created the ghost of Eru to justify their horrid deeds. I was there, I’ve witnessed the fall of Mankind. But there’s a way to escape the curse of the Valar. I found the secret to prolong life, and you will witness that.”

Axantur could only feel a cold shiver run down his spine. He had read the Tale of Adanel, of how the Valar punished the Mankind for a sin too terrible to be forgiven. Was truly this sorcerer so old to remember those times? Had he seen with his own eyes the great temple the First Men erected for Arûn the Great, and the sacrifices they performed in his name?

Maybe he had only read that Tale, as Axantur himself had done, maybe he was nothing but a liar, but watching straight in those eyes, a moment before black as a starless night, the moment after red like fire, thanks to his skills, he could sense that this sorcerer was far from being a charlatan.

“Who are you?” he asked.

The sorcerer laughed. “I’ve many names.” he said. “Too many to count. But they call me Tar-Mairon, and with such name you’ll know me.”

King-Admirable. Axantur shivered again, not for the name per se, but rather because it reminded him of long dark curls that fell on slender shoulders, of red lips pressed against his own, of a soft body entwined with his own.

As if the sorcerer had guessed his thoughts, he smiled. “I’ll give you a gift, my lord. That will give you the immortality you long so much for. And this I swear to you: when the time will come, you’ll hear my call, and know that I’ve kept my promise. And time will come for you to keep your own.”

“I’ve heard you. Let such time come, then. I promise that I will come to you when the time will come, but now, give me such gift.”

Tar-Mairon opened his hand, and, oh! a ring appeared between his hands. Axantur initially smiled, for he wasn’t a man that could so easily be surprised by such tricks suitable for a city fair magician, but such thoughts didn’t occupy his mind for long, for his attention was captured by the ring the sorcerer held in his hand. It was a jewel of exquisite hand, not even the jewels worn by the King were made with such craft. It was made of pure gold, and a single ruby, of a vivid red like a drop of blood, adorned it.

Axantur took it, and wore it on his middle right finger. It suited perfectly.

Tar-Mairon smiled again. “Remember your promise.” he said.

“Aye. I will” Axantur merely said. And before he could say another word, the sorcerer wasn’t here anymore, like he had vanished in the air, and it was only the fierce wind and the storm outside that replied to him.

**

Once again, time passed. Axantur was crowned King, now, a King in the new realms of the Middle Earth. Tar-Atanamir even sent his messengers to him, afraid that his own brother would move against him, once that he had taken enough power, but Axantur managed to play well his cards, and Tar-Atanamir found no proof for accusing him of betrayal.

And why should he? Axantur had no desire to rule over Númenor. He had all that he needed in Middle Earth, golden and silver mines, soft silk from the Far Khand, fine ebony wood and wines and all the wealth that Middle Earth could give to him. He had slaves too, now, slaves that his men had captured during their conquering raids along the coasts.

He always kept the ring at his finger. He never dared to remove it, not when he was asleep, not when he ate or took a bath. During the long hours of the night, in which he walked sleepless in his dark tower, he would watch its shine in the light of the torches, admiring the beautiful way it was crafted. Axantur often asked himself what hand had created such a beautiful thing. Had it been Tar-Mairon, or someone else at all?

He was old, now. His hair had turned grey and he saw wrinkles in his face every morning, when he watched himself in his silver mirror. His body, that had always been far from being strong and powerful, had become a painful place to inhabit, all little pains and creaking limbs.

But he didn’t care. His spirit was stronger than his body, and deep inside him, he felt like he was young again, like the times in which he slid into Mairen’s chambers in the middle of the night. He could see in the minds of the men that surrounded him, all their weak minds full of dirty little secrets, and he laughed at them and at their weakness.

His courtiers began to die like flies all around him, old and weak and trembling. New courtiers took their places, but they were wide-eyed and as weak-minded as the old ones, all eager to follow the first strong man that came to them, only for abandoning him when he showed a sign of weakness. Axantur grew sooner bored by them, and stopped to care at all for the court life.

News came from Númenor. Tar-Atanamir had died, after having so long battled with old age, after having refused to give the sceptre to his son. He had died on his high throne, his mind clouded and his body trembling and weak.

Axantur heard the news, and laughed alone in his dark tower. Stone walls made his laugh echo, and outside, a cold wind replied to his laugh, as it had done a night of years and years ago.

Years after that news, Axantur discovered that now he could walk unseen by the people, and so he entered their houses and spied on them, watching them as they conducted their miserable, empty lives, full of little miseries and of low secrets. He laughed, seeing them, laughed at them for being so miserable, so stupid, so vain, like they were nothing but sheep that waited for the butcher.

Axantur was nothing like them, not anymore. He discovered that he didn’t need any more sleep, or food, or drink, and he welcomed with joy such novelty. Finally, the nuisances of the mortal flesh had left him forever. The weak, crooked body that had signed all his life since his childhood wasn’t anymore, letting him finally free, free of his prison of flesh.

And when Tar-Mairon called for him, summoning him and his companions to his dark tower in the middle of his desolate realm with his One Ring, Axantur kept faith to his promise.

**

He wasn’t Axantur anymore, now.

Year after year, he had even forgotten his name, now. But why he should care? A name was another nuisance of the mortal flesh, exactly like sleeping or eating. He didn’t need it anymore.

He was a warrior, now, the warrior that he had never been in his former life. In the name of his Master, he led his armies against Elves and Men, raiding their villages, their fields, and slaying their men, their women and their children. He laughed and rejoiced in such deeds, for the will of his Master was the only thing that mattered, now.

He feared nothing now, not the cold steel of the blades, or poisons or illness or mortal labour, not even the light of the hated Sun. His breath was poisonous, his voice terrible and fearful, and he stood among the Orcs and the enslaved Men like a god, untouchable and powerful.

And when he rode his winged mount, dominating the world from the highest point, he descended on his enemies like he was Death itself, the neighs of his mount that pierced the air and make the blood of the men freeze in their veins.

If he could still feel love, he could say that there was nothing more he loved than those moments in which his blade became red for drinking the blood of his enemies, of those Men and Elves and Dwarves that still dared to oppose to the Dark Lord. His laughter, in those moments, was like thunder.

Love. This word felt alien and strange to his ears, now, nothing but a mere relic of his past, a past that he had easily forgotten. But still, when Númenor fell among the waves, drowned by the wrath of the Gods, and his Master returned to Mordor defeated and humiliated, his beauty and his power destroyed, there was still a little part of him, a part almost forgotten, that wondered what it had been of the tombs of a too envied brother and of a too loved sister, if they had been lost forever under the sea.

But it was nothing but a mere thought, immediately forgotten. Those things belonged to the past, to a past that mattered no more to someone that had defeated death.

And he had truly defeated death, for he was able to return, many and many years after his Master was defeated by the Last King of the Noldor and the King of the Men of Gondor, a defeat so big that left him wander in the Middle Earth under the shape of a mere shadow, lurking in the dark and waiting for the moment in which he could return.

Long centuries passed, but in the end, he was still on the battlefield, eager to execute the will of his Master. He raised the dead against the people of Arnor, filling their tombs and their barrows with enchantments so that his enemies could know no peace in death. They started to call him the Witch-King of Angmar, and he was for them a living nightmare, the embodiment of all their fears.

And he laughed, and laughed, when he heard the words of the golden elven-lord: “He will not fall by the hand of a man.”

**

In the end, he was alone in facing a young man, an obtuse, weak little man that still defended his uncle’s body, that still dared to rise against him, not knowing that no living man could hinder him. He laughed in his face, covered by an helm, and made for the final stroke.

But the warrior removed his helm, and oh! standing in front of him there was a woman, a woman with long fair hair that blew in the wind, young as a spring flower, and terrible and fierce like an unsheated blade. And this time, it was the woman who laughed.

"No living man am I! You look upon a woman."

And he felt her hit, he felt it like he hadn’t felt anything else since he had became a Slave of the Ring, a blade of fire piercing his cold, so cold body.

And he screamed, and screamed, until he couldn’t see anymore the features of the woman in front of him. She didn’t disappear, but she was different now, she had long black curls and lovely dark eyes, and she was dressed in white, like she had been at her marriage.

Mairen.” he would have whispered, if he had still a tongue.

She smiled, and extended her hand towards him, and everything else disappeared.