The Choices of Tar-Miriel - Part IV

Despite her old fear of heights, Miriel was up in her aerie of the crow's nest nearly every day of the remainder of the journey. The sight of sunset over Andor in the palantir was at once hopeful and disheartening, knowing that the island would continue its daily existence without her. Even the part of her that was afraid of what she might view forced Miriel to look in the seer-stone, for torture was fast becoming a normal part of her routine.

She avoided the two men aboard, although she trusted Ragastion like a father and was quickly becoming friendly with Palansül, she did not feel worthy of their company. She was loath to share her feelings of inadequacy with these two men who were her last friends and companions in the world. Miriel could not take their solace, their pity. A Queen of Númenor should be above such base emotions. Her actions were her own, and she should not need the empty words of men to bolster her wounded pride.

Several weeks into their journey, Palansül climbed up the mast in yet another attempt to bring Miriel down for a meal. She had refused to leave her nest more and more; the further the Elwing sailed from Andor, the longer its brooding passenger spent pouring over the Palantir. She appeared decidedly thinner to Palansül's admittedly unpracticed eye. Pale and gaunt, her rich brown hair contrasted starkly with the tired, worn woman huddled beneath those mahogany locks. A queen had boarded his ship, but the captain feared she would not leave the Elwing unless something was done rather quickly.

"Mistress Miriel?" Palansül placed the tray of rations, which he had balanced precariously in his free hand while climbing up to the crow's nest, down upon the base of the telescope. Bent over the seer-stone, the woman made no reply. "Milady? You have not eaten in two days," the sailor tried again more diplomatically, laying a weather-beaten hand upon her thin shoulder, noting how loosely her dress fit over the pale, tender flesh that was partially burned from its sudden generous exposure to the sun.

The dress may have been borrowed in order to gain Miriel and Radagast the precious time they needed to get to the boats by allaying suspicion, but that could not account for the secondary line in her tan, nor Palansül's memory of a strong-willed, noblewoman where an empty husk now huddled over the seer-stone.

"You really shouldn't leave that burn exposed like that, you know," Palansül added conversationally; glad to feel a bit of movement from the emaciated woman, even just her involuntary flinch. After she had spent nearly three days up here in the sun with a minimum of water, the captain was quite frankly glad to feel a bit of body heat left within her.

"Pharazon," Miriel murmured tiredly. "Pharazon is massing an army." She drooped lower, resting her head against his hand like a sleepy child, her heavily shadowed eyes closed in overheated exhaustion.

Palansül shook his head. Before meeting Radagast, the sailor had never really paid attention to politics. The captain supposed he had supported Tar-Palantir, but without real enthusiasm, the way any average citizen did. When he had heard of Miriel's rise to the Winged Crown, the sailor could not say he had approved wholeheartedly, but neither had he particularly resented a woman upon the throne, as some of the younger men had. Palansül had looked upon the affairs of state of Arnor as none of his business, and thought of his travels as none of the crown's business, so as long as they never intervened with one another he was satisfied.

Then his old friend Radagast, whose skill and sliver tongue had earned Palansül his first real contact with the elves that did not include Palansül as the potential target for several dozen arrows, had asked the captain of the Elwing to transport the queen to safe havens. Not knowing what he was getting into, Palansül had easily agreed. Now this queen, more frail and troubled an individual than the sailor had ever imagined, was dependent upon him.

"Come, now, Mistress Miriel," Palansül favored her with another winning smile. "Let's get you below decks and out of this sun, aye? Then I'll find you something cool to drink. How would that suit you?" He lifted her gently to her feet, but Miriel's legs were too weak for her to stand on her own.

"Wait." The lady's voice was barely above a whisper, but the captain recognized a queenly command when he heard one. Still leaning heavily against the sailor for support, Tar-Miriel reached a trembling hand for the Palantir. "I have abandoned them to fall. I must fall as well." Her flushed face, burnt to the touch, was tragic to behold, but there were no tears left for her to shed for her doomed kingdom.

"Poor creature," Palansül murmured. "You're feverish with heat. Can you climb down, if I lend you an arm?" Allowing her to lean against him as dry sobs wracked her brittle frame, the seaman led her to the ladder on the mast.

"I must fall," the queen repeated grimly.

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