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Later, Míriel will wonder whether a will other than hers guided her to the statue. Now, though, all she knows is that she must leave.

The palace is stifling, tense. Something is happening (a failed assassination of one of the few Faithful on the Council, she will later learn), and there are whispers in the halls, huddled groups of harried-looking soldiers and courtiers, messengers flying through corridors.

And they will not tell her anything. Not the courtiers, not the servants, not even her own guards (carefully chose; four of the Faithful of Andúnië).

Not fair, Míriel thinks. People bow to her in the halls with respect that was not there a few years ago, and she is finally being allowed to sit in on the meetings her father holds. And yet, when a crisis comes, no-one will let her help. Her skin itches for want of something to do, and she cannot think

The gardens.

Míriel needs sunlight and privacy. She needs calm. And the royal gardens are large enough that she can have an illusion of solitude, secure enough that her guards will allow her to wander off on her own.

“I wish to go to the gardens,” Míriel says. She is the Princess; the guards obey her unspoken command.

 


 

But—

The gardens, somehow, cannot calm her. Not today. Her feet are restless; she moves through winding paths, her hands brushing leaves of the plants she passes.

No-one disturbs her, but her thoughts will not still. She walks and walks , and finds unexplored corners of the garden she would have stopped to marvel any other day. But today—

Míriel curls her hand into a fist, nails biting into her palm. You have no reason to be restless. Stop.

She is busy enough berating herself that she does not notice the path she is taking; it comes as a surprise when she finds herself in a small grove, the track she must have entered through wandering behind into the thicket of trees around her.

The canopy of the trees is a fresh, vivid green that is startlingly bright but absent from the other foliage of the garden. The undergrowth is wild and tangled, looking, unlike the rest of the garden, untended to. Golden shafts of lights sift through leaves, and a statue basks in one of the rays.

Míriel finds herself walking towards the statue. It is finely carved, made of a dark stone. The statue is that of a woman; her hands are uplifted, and the stone-carver's skill has made her dress and her hair appear to be flying in a non-existent wind.

When Míriel reaches the statue, she finds that it is taller than her, tall enough that she has to strain her neck to see the face. The light falls on the stone, and—

Varda.

Years of devotion and prayer make falling onto her knees automatic. A statue of one of the Valier, here, in the gardens, forgotten, when all such statues have been closely guarded and priced beyond measure since Ar-Adûnakhôr's purge.

Calm. The words fall into her head, and Míriel allows herself to breathe, and look.

Vines wind around the statue (Yavanna or Vána, Míriel thinks nonsensically) and delicate flowers adorn the statue's hair. And when Míriel looks at her eyes—

A flash of starlight. A mirrored pool of sky.

It cannot be. Míriel blinks, and the eyes are made of stone, again, but still beautiful, and the carver must have been truly skilled.

Míriel brushes a hand against the stone, and bows her head in prayer.

 


That is not the last time Míriel visits the statue. She does not know why, but there is a strange peace in prayer at the feet of the statue that she cannot find elsewhere. Unexplainable, but she allows herself this.

It does not harm anyone, after all.

 


 

And then her mother dies. Míriel does not—did not—like her mother, not truly. For she was one of the King's Men, and made her scorn for the traditions of the Faithful well-known to her daughter. Míriel pities—pitied—her, stuck as she was in a cold, empty marriage, but love is impossible. She tried when she was younger. But love, Míriel knew even then, could destroy you if you gave but did not receive. And so Míriel buried her love for her mother deep inside, and, eventually, it faded.

And yet—

She bows her head and makes appropriate appearances of grief. Next to her, her father does the same.

 


 

Later, in front of the statue, Míriel cries.

She cries for her mother, and for her father, and for herself. And she cries for Númenor, that her parents had to marry when there was no love, for the sake of political convenience, that the King's Men held enough sway then (and still do, Míriel thinks) that they could force her father's hand in this, that her father, caught in the Curse of Elros that he still maintains in a blessing, tied his soul to a woman he did not love because of politics.

Míriel kneels at the feet of Varda, and promises herself that she will never marry one whom she does not love. That she will never marry one of the King's Men, no matter what.

She places her forehead on the comforting warmth of the statue, and lets her tears streak the stone grey.

 


 

The next year, Míriel is declared King's Heir. She is barely eighty; this is earlier than custom, and she knows there are whispers of how young she is, disputing her suitability (what about Gimilkhâd's son there was some precedent with Tar-Anárion's daughters after all). Too young, everyone says. And a fair few, she knows, mutter about the Valar and the Elves and damned moonstruck idiots. Not treason, of course; under the law of Tar-Palantír, people are allowed to speak, even those whom the King disagrees with.

And Míriel has been brought up to be a Queen, learned statecraft at her father's knee, but this—this is impossible. Númenor does not want her, they want one of the King's Party. Even most of the Council and the lords do not want her; she cannot rule without them.

Help me, Varda, Míriel prays. Help me, if you have any mercy. Help my people, please.

It is nighttime; moonlight washes the statue, making it seem almost alive. The chill air suddenly lightens, becoming warmth that settles around Míriel like a cloak.

 


 

The first time Míriel makes the pilgrimage to Meneltarma as King's Heir, she gently, reverently plucks a flower from the crown of Varda (an act which takes some effort due to the statue's height), and takes it with her.

Meneltarma for honouring Eru, not the Valar who are his servants.

And yet—it will not hurt anyone.

After the ceremony, Míriel lingers at the top of the mountains as the pilgrims (fewer than there would have been in the days of old) leave. It is traditional for the King's Heir, when first anointed, to worship alone at the top of the mountain.

Míriel kneels, and sets the flower down.

Perhaps it is a trick of the light, but she could swear she sees the flower glow gold for a heartbeat.

 


 

And then—

Then there is nothing. Rumblings of discontent, rumours that cannot be quelled, shady movements that are yet abiding by the rule of the law. The King's Heir has more power than the Princess, but even then, there is very little that Míriel can do.

She and her father and the Faithful manoeuvrer and plot, but the roots are too deep. The King's Men are too powerful, and there are too many of them. There are ways to stop them, still, but Míriel does not wish to see her father become a tyrant.

They try, and try, and try. Míriel thinks they are destined to fail, that after her, perhaps after her yet-unborn child, Númenor will be back in the hands of the King's Men.

And yet she fights. What else can she do but fight?

 


 

Through it all, Míriel visits the statue. And there is still the warmth around her when she prays, an almost-caress, and she allows it (though perhaps allow is too strong a word).

The statue never weathers; the stone stays perfectly carved despite the lack of care. And sometimes, when she visits at night, Míriel thinks that the stars are watching over her, in that moment. Flights of fancy, born of exhaustion that comes with hours of Council meetings and negotiations with nobles, no doubt. Still, it is some comfort.

Her father watches the shores. Míriel visits the statue. They both do what they have to, to hold on to hope and keep themselves sane.

 


 

Then.

Then everything changes.

All at once, and too fast, and her father was willing, Míriel knows, but it is still too soon, and she is not ready, and—

And then ready does not matter at all.

Míriel has never hated the Curse of Elros more than when Calion comes to her, in the night, two days before the coronation. A curse, in truth, despite the words of the loremasters, and in one night, Míriel's dreams and meagre hopes for the future shatter, all for the few drops of Elven heritage which allow her soul to bond but do not grant the choice that Elves are given in the act.

The Curse, and Númenor is dead, gone, and she cannot save her land. Tomorrow, she knows, Calion will tell the Council an altered version of the events. The Council and the lords will not hear her out; the people will believe Calion over a Faithful woman, no matter that she is the King's Heir. It is over.

 


 

Míriel slips out, after, dismissing her guards (they let him in; she does not trust them to protect her), and goes to the statue.

Please, Míriel thinks, and she does not know what she is asking for, who she is pleading to. She kneels on the damp grass, her head bowed. She will not cry, she will not. She—

A kiss, brushing lightly over her mouth. Míriel freezes.

A ghost of Calion. Or it should have been, but it feels—different. And he did not—he did not kiss her. He did not whisper hope in a woman's voice.

There are lips against hers, again, and Míriel allows herself to respond to them. The kiss feels right, even after the events of the night.

She sleeps next to the base of the statue that night, curling into herself. A mantra of hope and faith, words spoken by an other, lull her to sleep.

 


 

The next morning, Míriel sends messengers to summon Amandil.

They are outnumbered and outmanned, but she will still keep hope. This fight is not lost. Not yet.

 


 

Míriel's visits to the statue keep her sane, and they have gone beyond prayer or comfort. The caresses and kisses do not cease, and Míriel wonders, sometimes, if her aloneness is twisting her mind into strange paths.

She cannot bring herself to care. She is sane enough to plot resistance to her husband. That is enough.

 


 

Pharazôn grows steadily worse through the years. Power and wealth have driven him mad, Míriel thinks. He conquers more and more land but it is still not enough for him.

And then, finally, he marches on Sauron.

 


 

Míriel feels Sauron watching her the moment she sees him. He is a prisoner—or Pharazôn thinks he is, but Míriel has read the old stories and knows Sauron's measure better—but does not avoid her gaze, tilting his head, instead, to meet her gaze.

His eyes are unsettling, vivid gold, and Míriel feels herself drawn into their depths—

Remember. Remember. The voice breaks Míriel out of her trance. The voice of the statue-woman, of Varda, and Míriel uses it as a shield, draws it around her, deliberately breaks Sauron's gaze.

He looks shaken. Good. Let him learn that Míriel will not bow easily to him.

 


 

Míriel will not, but Númenor, apparently, is another matter.

There are whispers of Melkor, and right and gifts, and Míriel wishes—

It does not matter what she wishes. She whispers all her broken dreams to Varda, and Varda guards them for her. She does not have the luxury to wish; she must make do with the little luck she has.

 


 

Sauron, near her. Sauron, talking about glory and Melkor and expecting her to agree, the glint in his eyes telling her exactly how her non-compliance will be paid for, later. And then he reaches out, not with body but with soul (how does he have a soul, Míriel thinks hysterically) and touches

Too much. Too much.

Míriel has controlled herself, sacrificed herself for peace, for stability, for a chance for hope, but this is too much.

She flees.

She flees, and she can feel Sauron's angry pursuit (she has slighted him she has slighted him), but she runs, and runs, and her feet tread light, lent wings to by some will other than her own. And she finds herself, unconsciously, in the path winding to the statue—

Míriel collapses next to the base of the statue, and waits. Waits, with bated breath, but Sauron does not come, and she can hear his angry shouts, but he cannot feel her, and that means—

Míriel does not fully comprehend what that means. All she knows is that she does not possess this power, that something—someone--greater has a hand in this. “Thank you, my lady,” she whispers to the statue.

Above her, the stars smile.

 


 

There is a price to pay for those fleeting few moments of safety, of course. There is always a price to pay.

But the safety is enough, giving Míriel room to breathe, to relax, and she has not realized the weight of constant wariness and irons control until she lets herself breathe.

Now, sometimes, she spends the night here. It is too much, and not enough, all at once.

 


 

A temple is built, to Melkor.

Míriel avoids thinking about it. A cowardly act, but it is easy enough to pretend the temple does not exist, closed off from the outside world as she is in the palace, only occasional messages from the Faithful reaching her.

And then—

The first sacrifice, and Pharazôn makes her go. He parades her on his arm, and Míriel makes her face empty. Keeps it empty. Emotion, here, means death.

Her people. Her people.

Sacrifices to Melkor. Human sacrifices to Melkor. It is the final step, and there is no avoiding what will be coming to her people now. And those of them who condone this deserve it, but—

Her people.

Nothing can prevent Pharazôn from getting his due, but her people—

The Valar do not accept sacrifices, Míriel remembers from childhood lessons. But offerings...

Love, freely given and willingly taken. Tar-Minyatur spilled the fires of love and sanctified Meneltarma, or so the legends say. Maybe Míriel can save those of her people who are innocent.

Míriel sinks to her knees in front of Varda, and Varda—

Varda makes her hers.

(And Míriel is selfish, and she wishes she could be Varda's and no other's for all time. But that is not what her people need, so she puts it aside.)

 


 

The day Pharazôn leaves for the West, Míriel rejoices.

She should not. Pharazôn is attempting the ultimate blasphemy, and her people will pay the price. Sauron is still in Númenor, and will undoubtedly wreck havoc on the land. If she were a better queen, a better ruler, she would not rejoice. And yet—

Pharazôn is gone. She weeps tears of joy next to the base of the statue, and feels the warmth of arms around her, of not-quite-there kisses against her neck.

Tomorrow, she will put all her wiles to foiling Sauron. Today, she lies on the grass with the empty-yet-full-space of her almost-lover beside her, and laughs.

 


 

“My lady,” Míriel whispers to Varda, kneeling. “I am leaving for Meneltarma.”

One last time, Míriel does not say. She can feel her life drawing to a close. Perhaps Númenor yet has a chance, but she will not live to see it. And she has done as much as she can against Sauron. Elendil's ships are in Rómenna, waiting unmolested, guarded by the orders of the Queen. It is not enough, it cannot be enough, but it is all Míriel has left to give to Númenor.

To her lady, to Varda, she can still give more, but Míriel knows, now, that it will not be asked of her. And so she will leave for Meneltarma tomorrow, offer her prayers to Eru one last time.

“I must leave,” Míriel says, and feels lips settling on her forehead, a benediction. Go with my blessings.

And so Míriel leaves.

 


 

Míriel is at the foot of Meneltarma when the wave comes.

She knows, a split second before the world tilts beneath her and the sky explodes into a gale of fury. She knows, and she closes her eyes for a moment, and when she opens them again, the world has changed.

A moment for her people and her land. Then she runs, runs up the steps of the holy place even as the mountain spits fire. She runs, and runs, but there are no wings, this time, and she cannot outrun the wave—

And so she turns and faces it, and watches the water crash down on her with a strange detachment. And then everything turns black.

 


 

Gold.

Golden light greets Míriel when she opens her eyes, and she blinks.

Light, still golden. Elsewhere. And—

“My lady,” Míriel whispers. “My lady Varda.”

And Varda, more beautiful than Míriel could ever imagine, brighter than a thousand suns, kisses her.