Chapter 2: Night

Since the fleet sailed, the Queen's dreams have been troubled: fire and shadow and the sound of rushing waters, and a darkness rising from the deep. She does not know the form of Númenor's doom, only that it will come, and the dread keeps her awake for sleepless hours.

Yet that night, she dreams of the White Tree in flower, its silver trunk rising upward and its branches swaying gently in the breeze. She hears the splashing of a fountain and the measured tread of soldiers on guard, along with the voices of men and women and the laughter of children.

When she opens her eyes, she wonders what it can mean to have such a dream now. Is it the past she saw, or the future? Was it Armenelos or a vision of Elvish Gondolin in lands long drowned? Could the White Tree bloom again in the Court of the King? A vain thought, and yet -

The Queen rises. Moving with assurance in the dark, she pulls aside the curtains and opens the chamber window. The air is heavy and close, as if before a storm, with fitful gusts of wind. She does not look upwards, where the grey clouds soar overhead like eagles. Instead she turns away, and takes up a golden key to unlock a wooden coffer. Inside lies the tattered skeleton of a single leaf, once silver-white but now faded and brown. Míriel bows her head. As surely as no power can restore that withered leaf to life again, there can be no hope for Númenor.

A gust of wind stirs the curtains. The threadbare leaf, too, is snatched from its place and whirled in the air. Míriel grasps for it frantically. As she turns, she realizes she is not alone in the room. It is the young guard from earlier, the one she set to guard Lord Sauron. His face is pale and set, and a drawn dagger is in his hand. He does not speak.

Too late, she realizes her carelessness. She had not truly cared whether her command was obeyed, whether Sauron remained in his chambers or slipped out to his dark temple; she only wished him to leave her in peace for what little time remained. But Sauron has turned her own guard against her, like a weapon that recoils upon its wielder.

"Lord Sauron commanded you to do this, did he not?" she says softly.

"No," the boy immediately denies it. "He did not command me - he only said he was afraid of what would happen when the King comes home. He said that you had got used to ruling and wouldn't want to give the sceptre back." His voice cracks. "And he said, if any man in Númenor was still loyal to the King, that his throne shouldn't be stolen." His knuckles are white upon the dagger's hilt. Míriel wonders if she will die; she is surprised to find that she can still fear death.

"And do you believe that I am disloyal to the King? That I would harm him?"

His eyes are very wide in the darkness. "I - don't know."

"I have not sought to harm the King," she says gently, "in all the years of his reign." And perhaps that was her betrayal: not to fight him, not to call soldiers to her banners, or if need be strike him down by steel or poison. She had thought of it many times over the years. But always her heart recoiled in horror at the thought. To reclaim her right by treachery, to tear Númenor apart with bloodshed; that could not be the will of the Valar. And so she did nothing, and bloodshed came in spite of it, death after death. And yet the Valar sent no sign to Númenor's rightful Queen.

"Even if I wished the King ill," she says softly, "as I do not, what power do I have to raise against him? Even the royal guards, even one who is oath-sworn to protect me with his life, has raised a hand against me to strike me down."

His hand is trembling, and she knows now he will not strike. She cannot manage to feel relief. The young guardsman lets fall the dagger and drops to his knees before her. "My Queen, forgive me!"

Míriel moves forward and rests her hand gently on his bowed head. "Go," she says, "and think no more of it."

"But my Queen, I have broken my oaths!" His voice is choked with anguish as he looks up at her.

The Queen looks upon him and reads his death in his eyes. Poor boy, she thinks absently, crushed between my will and Sauron's. Once she would have tried to find the words to free his heart of its darkness, to give him back some hope in his own honor. But it is late, and a great weariness lies upon her spirit. "So have we all," she says heavily, turning away. "Now leave me. I wish to be alone."

When he has gone, the Queen dresses herself with care in the royal robes and sets the shining gem for the last time upon her brow. She sits in the light of the guttering lamp, her eyes straining through palace walls and the darkness toward the vast silent bulk of the holy mountain.

Too late. It is surely too late, and yet - Tomorrow, once it grows light, I will go to the Meneltarma.

And yet she knows she will not go.