The guard lay dead at her feet. The beautiful man, for he was beautiful beneath his mop of black hair, had brought her food in the gaol and sometimes stayed to ask how the straw mat was at night, but he never came into her cell. Only his smile warmed her, that sad, confused little smile he gave her before he moved on to deliver the next meal.
His name was Idhrenor, but that did not matter much anymore. She was certain that he had asked that she be placed with him during the trek through the tunnels and on toward the tiniest glimmer of hope. “I will ensure you are taken to safety, Eshe,” he had said. “No man or woman deserves to die in a cage. And when the enemy is driven back, you’ll have your hearing and surely you will go free. Do not lose hope.”
But what is hope? Nothing but vain fantasy, a thought that the mungu gave a last shit about their trials any more.
Behind them, the smoke rose and she longed to immerse her naked feet in a pond or stream. She needed to know who controlled the tide of the battlefield.
Her father never bothered with sides. Enzi chose the path to protect his family and warned to stay away from the power struggles of the “great ones.” One side always had to lose and the losers were always the villains. “Every army marches with hope, Eshe,” Enzi said. “Even an army of slaves hopes that it will survive, little may that false hope serve them. To be real, to have power, men must fight for more than just their own lives. So they fight for land. For boundaries drawn with binding ink on pieces of parchment. Your grandmother’s powers were not meant to serve those fighting over land. Only on the sea can a man truly be free.”
She wondered how many of her brothers sailed with her people. They needed land and power to protect their families back home. They chose sides and if Mosi had chosen to sail with their people, she knew Chane would have, too. Joshi probably marched with the army. She could only hope Kito sailed free and it was not his black powder that ignited her ship and sent it to the bottom of the bay. Would they recognize the Gondorian ship as hers? Did they knew what they were destroying, or did they even care? Orders came. They would obey. Something she could never do.
“Take off those pants! No man wishes a wife that wears britches better than he!”
“Women cannot be sailors. They are to serve their masters in the home, for who will keep the house when the women chase a man’s position?”
“Cover yourself despite the sweltering heat! Do not tempt a man with your skin!”
“Serve the chieftain in your proper role and do not make waves!”
She bent over Idhrenor’s body and was sorry. “I cannot help but make waves,” she told his corpse as she turned him over. “I try not to, but people insist.” In a scold that masked regret, she continued, “I merely wished to make you sleep and you had to draw your sword. You lost hope in me. And now see where it has gotten you?”
With Idhrenor’s key, she unlocked the irons around her wrists. She stripped her bottom half naked and replaced the dirty skirts with his breeches.Too bad his feet were far too large and she had to abandon his boots. But the hole in his shirt could be mended; the blood washed out. She tucked it into his backpack and gave him her thanks.
Quick work she made of it. The others would come looking. Maybe if she moved through the trees as though they were her ship’s rigging, she could escape a hunt. Would they bother to hunt? It did not matter what they would choose–only that they could choose. She would not make it easy.
Out of the mountains. That was all that mattered now. Away from Gondorian and Orc, Rohirrim and Haradrim. But she did not know where she could go now that The Apple slept tucked safely in bed at the bottom of the bay. So she did not think on it as she took up Idhrenor’s sword and tucked it into his belt around her waist. She kissed his forehead and smoothed his hair. And then she walked away.
Upon the highest roof of the Ivory Tower, she blended in with the dark shingles. Her arms were wrapped around her knees so tightly, she halved her already diminutive size. She could have been a great sea bird perched on the roof and not a lonely young woman in tears.
Miss Cirieldis probably did not know she was there, but the woman also did not really care if the Headmistress did know. She did not want to be home alone with no letters to send to Minas Tirith and a stomach full of regret. She knew it was silly, but from the height of the tower, she swore she could see the smoke rising in the east and it helped her come to terms with the breaking of her heart. This feeling in her spirit that knew her people were dying and most likely her father and her husband would never come home.
She hadn’t written Pengail since that first brief letter. He had not written at all. She could only imagine that meant he no longer loved her and everyone around her was right: they had been too young and the courtship had been too quick and he regretted tying himself to something like her. After all, she was only the daughter of a drunk and a prostitute and was only good for lies and death. Black Roses were not meant for romance and love.
Had he thought of her at all, or had he found someone worthy of his heart and status? Did he live? And if he did, did he want her still?
Every time the questions rose, Arameril’s throat tightened and the pain that shot through her chest was akin to a dagger in her heart. Her guilt only rose when hope came in the measure of relief she felt if he did die in battle. Should he die and her father die, she could serve her purpose without fear or guilt. She could serve her city without pain.
It was terrible to think about. The inhumanity of the thought horrified her and she did not let it linger long, but the truth was still there, at least until she remember Cólel and the “aunt” and “grandmother” she promised to visit. More guilt. She had not yet for she feared the condescending aura that surrounded the old woman. She was not Hathlafel’s. She had no right to Hathlafel, and if he should die, she had no right to their attention at all.
As if love and attention was a reward for being worthy.
She should not be concerned with such things. She had the mystery of the missing apprentices to worry about. She had to assist Duvain and discover what threatened Dol Amroth in the dark. The city’s stability relied on the stability of the Illumin much like it relied on the stability of the Mormerili and she knew what could go wrong if that strength was threatened.
Still, she cried. The smoke rose in the east, and she was tired. So tired. No sleep could refresh her. No drink rouse her spirits. She cried silently for her sorrow could find no voice, and at last, as the cool ocean breeze passed through the sleeping city, Arameril passed into an uneasy sleep on the highest roof of the Ivory Tower School for Girls.
No one saw the body fall from the roof and sink down, down behind the high walls of the Tower.