Fandom: The Silmarillion
Warnings: Swearing and non-explicit mentions of rape
Prompt: I picked two. The first fits Miriel very well in this fic; the second sounds more like the life she wanted to lead, not the life she ended up having.
17) What was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do to me was kill me and it seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember. -- Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), African-American voting rights and civil rights activist who was instrumental in organizing Freedom Summer and delegate to the 1964 Democratic Convention from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
126) As long as I live, I will have control over my being. -- Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1651/1653), 17th-century Italian Baroque painter.
Summary: The Downfall of Numenor was written by those of the Faithful who survived and fled to Middle-earth. The last Queen of Numenor thinks it’s about time someone told the other side of the story.
Author's Notes: With grateful thanks to my two lovely betas, moetushie and calenlily, and to gehayi for hosting this ficathon every year and mercifully extending the deadline (I made it... just...)
Notes: everything belongs to Tolkien, and while I love him he does love moral absolutes, and I think both the story of Numenor and Miriel are far more interesting when they’re morally grey. This began when I reread Akallabeth and thought that the few sentences detailed Miriel’s death sounded an awful lot like poetic license on the part of the Faithful – and persecuted minorities are not likely to write an unbiased account of their civilisations anyway, especially when there’s no-one from the other side of said civilisation to argue with them. I think Miriel would be unimpressed by both sides of the political struggle by the end of it, and I wanted to write her sticking it to the Faithful and the King’s Men. (If it’s not clear: she’s speaking from beyond the grave in this fic.)
I’ve put the rest of my long and rambling Miriel-related thoughts in a post here, if you’re interested.
The quote at the start is from a poem called Farewell by Agha Shahid Ali, and you can read it in full here.
I'm everything you lost. You won't forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
They’ll tell you in their histories, the so-called Faithful, that Ar-Pharazon forced me to marry him. They won’t mention the stories they spread at the time, of course, that he dragged me screaming to the altar and forced the ring onto my finger. They won’t repeat the things they said then, that he raped me and laughed at the blood on the sheets, or that he collected my tears in a cup and drank them like wine. Those sorts of details are hardly fitting for telling of the tragedy of a lost queen, so they won’t be mentioned.
I’m glad. It’s all bullshit.
They might say, in their stories, that I married him willingly, for love, and that’s bullshit too. I didn’t love my cousin. I doubt he loved me. But we worked well together, and the kingdom prospered.
They might denounce me as a whore in their sermons, a woman so depraved that she lusted after her own kin, and so weak that she could not control her urges, and so brought ruin upon the land. Or that my cousin couldn’t control his lust for me, or that we couldn’t control our lust for each other. Lust was involved somewhere at any rate. But I’m not a whore for marrying one man, even if in their eyes I married the wrong one.
If they knew anything of politics, they would say I married him for power. That part is true at least; I can’t deny that I enjoyed life far more as a Queen than I would as an exiled ex-royal, but that’s not the whole of the thing.
The thing is. The thing is–
They, the ones who are left to tell the stories, aren’t telling you the whole truth. They’re not telling you that they were a minority, cut off from the rest of their people. They’re not telling you that they spoke an Elvish language that one of our kings had banned more than four hundred hundred years ago, and that they looked forward to seeing Elves before other humans. They’re not telling you that they lived as though we were still in the First Age, and forgot that the rest of us had moved on.
They’re not telling you that they filled my father’s head with history, its unpleasant or unromantic parts glossed over. They’re not telling you that he loved their fantasies better than our reality. They’re not telling you that they got him so enmeshed in their way of thinking that he hardly spent any time being a king.
They’re not telling you that if he’d spent his time ruling like he was meant to instead of being caught up in daydreams he might have been remembered more fondly, and he might not have left me with such a bloody mess of a kingdom as my inheritance–
They’re not telling you I could have ruled in my own name instead of being Queen to my idiot cousin–
Well. Perhaps Pharazon wasn’t entirely an idiot, but he ought to have killed Sauron as soon as he surrendered. I would have done it. I would have swung the axe myself. But Pharazon never gave much thought to history, so he couldn’t have known that he was following in the footsteps of the Valar that he claimed to hate so much.
I know my history. I’ve learnt that you should only show mercy if you can afford it.
So Pharazon and the Valar made the same mistake. But then, the Valar made rather a lot of mistakes, didn’t they? Putting Numenor so close to their own lands, and yet so far, did they really think we wouldn’t try to reach them one day? Did they not think it would be a better idea to put us closer to Middle-earth instead? That’s our place, in the end. We can pretend to be gods in the west all we like, but that’s where we came from.
But then, you can’t really blame the Valar for not knowing human nature. None of them are human themselves, of course. They barely know humans at all.
But then again, I wonder sometimes if they set us up to fail.
I suppose it’s all a moot point now.
Well, anyway. They’ll give any number of reasons why I married Pharazon, but none of them are the right ones, and they can’t exactly ask me themselves now, can they?
I married him because I chose to.
I can hear your jaws dropping even beyond the grave. Shocking, I know, that a woman might choose the direction her own life takes. Even more shocking that I would choose what is obviously to them the wrong choice – between marrying an evil king or dying, they protest that I should of course have chosen death, and they would have done so in my situation.
I’ve died. It’s not something I’d choose lightly. I wonder if any of them have tried it.
But the thing is. The thing is–
It wasn’t a choice between Pharazon or death. I didn’t have a poisoned hairpin or a dagger hidden up my sleeve to take that exit – the honourable, noble exit, they claim, who are still alive to write their stories – from life.
Pharazon offered me a choice of marriage: between him, or Elentir of Andunie. And before you all shout that I should have taken the second choice because it didn’t break our marriage laws, he was a cousin too. Not so close as Pharazon, but close enough. I suffered from an alarming amount of cousins in my life.
He told me to choose between them myself, and promised that I and my family would be left untouched if I did not choose him. Perhaps in the fullness of time my granddaughter might marry his grandson, and bring the branches of the royal family together again, he said.
I didn’t believe that we’d be left in peace, of course. And marrying him was a far more efficient way to bring the family members together again. Less opportunity for more cousins to crop up. How I loathe cousins.
And besides all that, when presented with a choice of being the Lady of Andunie, or the Queen of Numenor, what would you expect me to choose? I was always going to be Queen. I didn’t factor having a King into my plans when I was younger, but I’d learned to adapt.
So I chose to marry Pharazon, and became Queen of Numenor.
I think they would have preferred that I died soon after that. Possibly in childbirth, that’s a popular way. It would have been sad, of course, but then they could have raised me up as the Faithful Queen whose spirit was stricken by her husband’s debaucheries. Then they could have said that it was (almost) a mercy that I had not lived to see Pharazon’s last blasphemies. That way they would not have had to write the rest of my life, where I ruled at my husband’s side and helped form his policies. I suppose that was rather inconsiderate of me, to ruin their histories.
They like their women noble, beautiful and dead. Especially dead, because they can always change what the records say about our looks and personalities after we’re gone.
Well, they’ve certainly done their best to gloss over the rest of my life. What does it say here? Blah blah blah beautiful, blah blah blah took her to wife by force, and the name of his queen he changed to Zimraphel. That’s not a change, that’s a translation. Miriel or Zimraphel, they mean the same thing.
Hmm, I seem to disappear from the record after that. I wish I was surprised.
And last of all the mounting wave, green and cold and plumed with foam, climbing over the land, took to its bosom Tar-Miriel the Queen, fairer than silver or ivory or pearls. Too late she strove to ascend the steep ways of the Meneltarma to the holy place; for the waters overtook her, and her cry was lost in the roaring of the wind.
What utter bullshit.
The Meneltarma is a good fifty miles inland from the sea. How on earth could anyone from the ships have seen it? Even if you could see its peak from the sea (and you can, I’ll grant you), how could anyone see a person trying to climb it? While trying to stop your own boats from being capsized and sunk by that same wave?
It’s pure fantasy, of course, but it’s the sort of fantasy they like – their lost queen repenting, seeing the error of her ways at the last, but still too late to save herself. Once again, it was sad, and I’ll go down in history as another woman they couldn’t save, and they might torment themselves about it occasionally, but trying to climb to the safety of Eru’s shrine makes a better story than what I was actually doing when the wave struck.
Of course I was doing nothing of the sort. Trying to climb a mountain when a wave of water comes at you? You’d be better off finding a bottle of wine to spend your last moments in a pleasant haze. And what was the point of repenting, when I had sent my husband to storm Valinor itself? Repentance would not have made me able to breathe underwater.
I was looking for a boat instead. Or a raft, or a piece of wood, anything that floated would do. You think that I was just going to nobly face my death?
I couldn’t possibly have survived, of course, because even if I was as pure as the driven snow myself (and I wasn’t), I had spent too long with my husband to escape death. I’m not surprised they made up their own ending, though. It hardly sends the right message in their cautionary tale if the lost queen dies without having learnt the error of her ways. And they couldn’t bear to contemplate that I might never learn the error of my ways, and never realise that they had been right all along.
They couldn’t stomach the idea that I’d want to survive, that I’d be so craven that I would want to keep living. They didn’t want to think of me as someone who would fight.
So I died. Without repenting, for the record, except for a regret that my life was ending so soon – which I imagine was a rather common thought across Numenor that day.
Drowning is not a method of death I could particularly recommend, but I suppose you ought to talk to all those people we sent off to the temple for truly terrible ways to die. We were very creative in that area.
I say we. I never tortured or killed anyone with my own hands, of course, but there’s no point trying to split hairs about it. We all had a share of blame in that evil. I wish I had done it myself, now. Not that I count myself particularly bloodthirsty, but if you mean to take a person’s life, I think you owe it to them to at least swing the blade yourself. You shouldn’t hide behind paper or servants.
And now I’m dead. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my life, and my husband’s, and those who survived the great wave and those who didn’t, and all the people to live on this island who came before us, and the thing is–
The thing is. Even if we’d repented, even if I had become Queen in my own right and steered everyone back to the old ways, even if we honoured the Valar and welcomed the Elves to our shores again – even if we buried our history and never spoke of it, even if we castigated ourselves for our ancestors’ sins until the end of time –
It wouldn’t be enough.
We might think we were back to business as usual after a few generations, but the Valar would remember. And what’s more, the Elves would remember. The Valar might forgive us and let the whole thing be forgotten (they’ve made that mistake before, as you’ll remember), but the Elves? Never. They’d never trust us again. We might call ourselves Elf-friends, but they’d always be watching us, always listening for the lie in our words.
Which is utterly hypocritical, given the things they’ve done to each other. But they always think, because they made their mistakes themselves centuries ago, that they can’t make them again. Which is folly, of course, and they’ll learn it the hard way eventually. But they’ve always thought of us as the youngest child in the family, indulged and coddled and scolded in turn, but who can never be allowed to play unsupervised. They can’t believe that we could actually look after ourselves.
I’m glad that I never saw an Elf. I think I would have punched them in the face the moment we met, and that would have made diplomacy very hard.
Don’t look at me like that. Just because I’m criticising the Valar doesn’t mean I’m praising Morgoth. I’m not stupid. No good was ever going to come from worshipping him instead, no matter how good Sauron’s lies were. Slavery, torture and human sacrifice to the god of eternal darkness do not make a sound basis for a system of government. But between the benign neglect of the distant Valar and the close temptations of Morgoth’s most powerful servant, what chance did we have?
So really, we were set up to fail from the moment we sailed to our island home. We had a good try, to be sure, but it was always going to collapse eventually. And what luck, to be the one on whom the blame would fall when the whole thing went to pieces! Between the so-called Faithful – who are they faithful to? A period of history, a group of ancient hypocrites living across the sea, not their fellow humans – and the King’s Men – who always called themselves that, even when they didn’t agree with the current king – who was left to speak for the rest of the people? Who was there to speak for me?
Between two groups of men squabbling amongst themselves, is it any wonder that I never got to rule in my own right?
Perhaps I was set up to fail from the start too. That makes two of us. Numenor and me, swallowed by the sea.
And the thing is – the thing is–
When they talk about Akallabeth, the exact translation is She-That-Is-Fallen. Everyone thinks they mean our lost land beneath the waves.
I think they’re talking about me.
That’s how they’d like to think of me. The woman who was horrified by her husband’s wickedness.The woman who succumbed to evil and repented too late in the end. The woman who was lost to them when she turned away from good and went to the shadow. The woman. No point in recording her name, it doesn’t matter anymore. Just say She-That-Is-Fallen and everyone will understand.
I don’t accept that name. I won’t answer if they call me by it. I didn’t fall. I changed, yes. I adapted. They seem to think those words are filthy. I did good and evil. I was no better or worse than anyone else, at the end, and much less sanctimonious than them.
So if you tire of their stories and their teachings and their smugness, and you want my view of the way things unfolded, don’t come calling for Akallabeth, or Miriel, or Zimraphel. If you want to speak to me, you’ll call me Queen. I’m still your Queen, and theirs, however much they want to forget it.
They’ll forget me in the end. So will you. But if you do remember me, remember me as a person, not a few words on a page. I laughed, I cried; I was angry, happy, sad, bored; I was young, I was old; I ate, drank, slept; I loved, I hated, I fucked. I was afraid and I struck fear into the hearts of others. I died when Numenor sank below the waves, but before that I lived.
I lived my life according to my idea of how it should be.