Falastur did not return the next day, but he did return eventually. Lord Galden met him at the dock with hat in hand and heart in mouth. ‘Sire, it is so good to see you safely returned.’
‘It has been a long, trying voyage. For once I am looking forward to being ashore for awhile. How have you managed over the last two years? I never intended to be gone for so long! How is the queen?’
‘Your majesty, I am so very sorry. I tried my best, but there has been great unrest in your absence. A fever broke out and caused many deaths. It has mostly disappeared, but there was rioting in Osgiliath and the area around it.’ He bowed his head and waited.
Falastur narrowed his eyes and asked again, ‘And the queen?’ Galden had never been one to avoid questions.
‘Gone, your majesty. I was forced to exile her for the good of the kingdom,’ Galden’s voice shook as he confessed.
Amazingly, Falastur did not explode in stunned disbelief. ‘She is gone. So it was not a dream.’
Galden managed to raise his head and look at the king. ‘You knew, sire; but how?’
‘I did not know, but I am not surprised. A while ago, I woke at dawn. When I went out on deck it was to find a strong headwind almost stalling our progress. A bank of clouds covered the horizon. As I watched, a ship emerged and quickly closed the distance between us. Her sails billowed in the wind and I thought how much she looked like the vessel I had given to the queen. When it was almost upon us, I knew that it was one and the same! Yet how could this be? I raced to the side to get a better look at her. That was when I saw the most amazing sight I think I will ever see. Black cats seemed to be sailing her! There was one on the bow, several in the rigging and even one at the tiller. She moved so fast that I barely had time to take it all in, but that was not the most surprising thing. A tall woman stood on deck in the arms of a man! Her hair was black as ink and his was white as snow. I hailed the ship, but it was racing by too quickly. At the last moment, the woman turned and waved. It was Beruthiel! In another moment they were gone. No one else had witnessed this strange apparition, and until now I managed to convince myself that it was not real. But now I think that maybe it was.’
‘But who could the man be your majesty? She was alone except for the cats when the ship left Pelargir.’
‘That is still a mystery. I have a theory, but it will have to wait for now.’
‘I do not know if it will help, sire, but I have a letter from the queen that she wanted you to have.’ Galden handed Falastur the queen’s final missive.
‘Thank you, Galden, I will read it later. Now, tell me everything.’
When the steward finished his tale, he said, ‘I have erased her from the Book of Kings as she requested, sire. Do you think I should put her back? It doesn’t seem right somehow. Every king and queen deserves to be recorded and remembered.’
Falastur thought for a moment or two. ‘No, if it was her wish to be removed than I will honor it. Somehow, Galden, I suspect her name will live as long or longer than anyone else in that book. Who will be able to resist the tale of an evil queen and her spying cats?’
When he was alone, Falastur opened the letter from his wife.
It appears now that we are fated never to meet again. On one hand this saddens me greatly because I do love you in my own way. On the other, I am glad that you are not a witness to the mess I have made of my life.
I confess that I could have been a better queen and person. Over the last few weeks I have had nothing but time to think. If only I had been less strong-willed perhaps I would have been more accepting of instruction and criticism. But then I remember that Merdith called me weak, so I do not know.
Please do not blame Galden overmuch. He may be disliked by the cats, but for once I believe they are wrong. He did his best for me and for the people of Gondor. Once Aledin was killed, I could no longer stand the life I was being forced to live, and I was too much of a coward to take matters into my own hands and end it. Now I will trust Ulmo to pass judgment and either take me or free me.
Do not mourn for me, dear Falastur. I know that your heart belongs to the sea as mine belongs to my poor dead Aledin. Remove me from the Book of Kings and let my memory fade away. If I am fortunate, some day I will find a place in this world where I can be happy, and if not, my suffering will be at an end.
I do have two requests. The first is that you let my last Ladies’ Court judgment stand. I know that it is the correct one, and I would not have that poor woman returned to her previous life or worse. The second is to take care of Uldis for me; she has been my one and only true friend although I did not always value her as such. She would have come with me, but I could not bear to see her suffer an unknown fate.
May you always sail successfully and should our ships pass some day, I will wave and you will know that I am happy at last.
Yours with love,
Sadly he folded the letter and thought of his vision. ‘Good sailing to you also, Beruthiel.’
After Galden’s report, the king went to see Uldis. She had remained in the house with Soot and Sable not really sure what she should do. Upon hearing that the king’s ships had been sighted, she hurried to ready the house for his arrival.
‘King Falastur, I am so glad to see you. We thought you might never return!’ Uldis greeted her king.
‘And I am sorry that so much happened that should never have happened, Mistress Uldis. Galden told me what you and the queen went through in my absence. Will you please tell me your version?’
When she had finished, Falastur said, ‘I should have been here.’
‘Do not blame yourself, your majesty. Beruthiel, I mean the queen, was more than willing to go. Life here was unbearable once Aledin was murdered. Not being able to go to the Ladies’ Court or even outside the King’s House was the final straw.’
‘You may call her Beruthiel, Uldis. She left me a letter telling me how good a friend you were to her. I am forever grateful she did not face this alone and saddened to hear about Aledin.’
A tear rolled down Uldis’ cheek. ‘I only wish I knew what happened to her; that she is safe somewhere and happy at last.’
‘I do not know if either of those is true, but somehow I think Beruthiel and her cats have survived.’ He told her of his vision. ‘The one thing that puzzles me is the man. The only one I am aware of is Aledin, but his hair was dark. Did she have another lover?’
‘She had no other lover, your majesty, and she never betrayed you with Aledin. But I think I might have the answer to this question at least. A week or so after Beruthiel and the cats left, I had a very strange dream one afternoon. I was on the ship with the queen. I seemed to be one of the cats because everything around me was bigger than I. I heard the queen say, ‘Well, this looks like a promising place. We should be able to find fresh water here.’
‘I could see that the shore was quite close. We were in a little cove lined with trees. Suddenly, Mithril raced past me and without hesitating jumped into the water. Beruthiel cried out and ran after him. ‘Mithril’ she called ‘what are you doing? You’ll drown!’ I leaped after her and looked over the edge. A man was treading water by the side of the ship with Mithril clinging to his shoulder looking like a drowned rat.
‘The man looked up at Beruthiel. His hair was pure white and his eyes bright green. It was Aledin but with different hair! It was then that I noticed Mithril’s eyes were back to his normal grey color. The man laughed and said, ‘Beruthiel, don’t just stand there throw down the ladder!’ That was all, but it was so vivid. I did not know how he could possibly be alive so I thought it was a dream, but now you make me wonder if he did not survive somehow. Soot and Sable were with me but would not or could not say whether it was true. Could they have seen through the other cats’ eyes and relayed it to me? And how can Aledin be alive?’
‘Beruthiel always said that Mithril thought Aledin was ‘special’ in some way. Did she ever tell you anything else?’
Uldis cried, ‘Yes, I forgot all about it! She told me that he was part nix and had lived several lives! I never even heard of a nix before she told me. What does it mean?’
Falastur smiled, ‘It makes your vision all the more likely to be true. As a boy I was schooled in all the peoples of Middle-earth. There are not many left, but nix do exist. They are water creatures. Legend has it that when a nix dies a violent or unexpected death, he can return if certain conditions are met. When did Mithril’s eyes turn green?’
‘It was the night of Aledin’s murder. Beruthiel always claimed that part of Aledin moved into the cat, but I really couldn’t believe in something so odd. I only pretended to agree with her so she could feel a little better.’
‘I think Beruthiel was right. A nix requires someone to act as a safe haven until he can be reborn. I’m not sure that is the right term. From your vision, it almost sounds like he returned as he had been before except for the hair. He obviously knew who she was!’ Falastur exclaimed.
‘But why did he not return sooner? She was so miserable. How could he watch her suffer so?’ Uldis asked.
‘I do not know enough about the process, Uldis. Perhaps there is a time period to recover or maybe he was unaware of her pain. Mithril did say ‘he sleeps’ didn’t he?’ And then again, they could not be together the way both desired. He may have waited until they could be together permanently.’
‘Would you have let her go if she had asked?’ Uldis said suddenly.
Falastur was silent for a long moment. ‘I like to think that I would, but I cannot say for certain. There is more than romance at stake when a royal marriage fails. I would not have stood in the way of an affair but let them run away together for all Gondor to see? I would be lying to say ‘Yes’. In the end, this was as good a resolution as any and certainly quicker than a divorce or separation.’
‘Then I am glad she is gone. Being able to believe that she and Aledin are together again eases my mind greatly.’ She reached into a pocket. ‘I have a letter for you, your majesty.’
Falastur took it and read it quickly. ‘Galden gave me one almost exactly the same. Why don’t you keep this one? She has entrusted you with her story and this is part of it. You know everything I presume; about my situation?’
Uldis reddened and nodded. ‘Yes, your majesty, but I have sworn to keep it secret. You can trust me; I will not fail either of you.’
‘And I trust you, Uldis. I will do anything in my power to help you should you need it. It is the least I can do in Beruthiel’s memory.’
Over the next few years, reports filtered back to Gondor of a ship sailed by cats and the pair of humans that went with them. There was even one about an island where cats ruled and no others were allowed to go. Falastur always kept an eye open for it when he at sea, but no trace of it was ever found.
Eventually Uldis took the king up on his offer. She married Noldin and
they found that their close relationship with Beruthiel caused no end of
trouble. Falastur made arrangements for them to move to Arnor in the north
where they settled and raised a family among the northern Dunedain.
Uldis kept her promise to Beruthiel and told her children the story of the queen and her cats. By the time they were adults, they could recite it word for word. Every generation has done the same and that is how I came to learn the tale. Uldis was my hundred-times-great something. By then for some reason, it was taught only to the girls in each family. To the best of my knowledge, I am the final woman with the full story which is why I wrote this out for you, Estel. Someday you will receive it from Elrond. I leave the fate of Queen Beruthiel in your hands. I trust you will do what is right.
Your Loving Mother
Aragorn slowly turned the page. ‘That appears to be the end.’
‘Oh, Aragorn, do you think that is true? Did they really exile her and her cats to face the ocean alone?’ Arwen cried.
‘At least some of it is. According to the official history, Beruthiel was forced aboard a ship and cast adrift with her cats. There isn’t much of an explanation as to why, only that she was considered evil and men hated the cats because of the spying. I suppose this (he lifted the book) makes as much sense as anything.’
As he lifted the book, a folded piece of parchment fell out. It was yellow and brittle with age. Aragorn put the book aside and gently picked it up. Carefully unfolding it, he scanned it quickly. ‘Well this certainly lends credence to what I just read. It is Beruthiel’s letter to Falastur. This must be the copy that he gave to Uldis.’
Arwen stared at the ancient script. ‘To think that this has been handed down for over two thousand years. It is amazing that something like this survived. We elves have many treasures from the past, but most of them are carefully stored and preserved away from any hazards. Who knows what this letter went through?’
Aragorn carefully refolded the letter and slipped it back into the book. ‘I will see that it finds a place of honor here in Minas Tirith. Its wandering days are over. Falastur was right about one thing, Arwen. Beruthiel’s legend has outlasted most of the other kings and queens. When I was a boy, it was the queen and her cats that intrigued me the most. I can understand why my mother didn’t tell me the true story when I was five! It is a bit racy for that age,’ he said with a smile.
‘But why not when you were older, or did she stop telling stories?’ Arwen asked.
‘No, she didn’t stop, but this is a tale for girls or at least I would have thought so. By then I wanted battles, valor and victory. Not cats, fidelity and exile.’
Arwen smiled when she thought of him as a young boy. ‘I will tell our children someday! Beruthiel’s memory will continue.’
‘As you should; even the boys!’ Aragorn laughed.
Arwen kissed her husband and agreed. ‘Especially the boys.’