Chapter 17 Epilogue
Fourth Age Year 15
Arwen listened to the clatter of feet racing down the hall. How many times did she have to tell those children to walk in a dignified manner! She smiled as her brood roared through the door.
‘Guess what, Momma? We found it, we found it!’ her eldest daughter cried. Esteliel held a rolled sheaf of papers in her hand.
‘What did you find, child, and please lower your voice. I am sitting right here,’ she scolded gently.
Esteliel stopped in front of Arwen’s chair and her siblings gathered around. ‘We found something about Beruthiel,’ she said breathlessly but more quietly. Her little sisters and brother giggled and smiled.
‘How do you know it is about Beruthiel?’ Arwen asked. Her heart beat just a little faster. Aragorn had given orders years ago to the archivists to keep their eyes open for anything about the banished queen, but nothing ever been found. Her children had made it their quest to help them ever since they heard the story one rainy day.
‘The archivist said that it carried the seal of Falastur and that it was mixed in with some papers from Earnil’s reign,’ Esteliel explained.
Arwen took the papers and tenderly smoothed them out. ‘What does it say?’
‘We didn’t read them, Momma. We thought you should read them first,’ Eldarion said.
Arwen smiled. ‘How thoughtful. Well, let’s see what you have found.’ She began to read.
Sworn and witnessed to by me this day in the year 900 during the reign of Tarannon Falustur King of Gondor being an account of Beruthiel and her exile:
‘What I say is this: I only wish I had the power to destroy you and all your kind! I had nothing to do with this fever. You bring all this down upon yourselves by the way you live cheek by jowl in dirty hovels. I curse you; I curse your miserable filthy lives and the lives of all your kin. When I am gone, you will continue to die like the vermin you are. And I say yes! The fewer of you there are the better! Die like rats!’ Beruthiel cried at the angry crowd.
She felt Galden’s hand on her arm and his words echoed in her ear, ‘Perhaps a little too much at the end, but good job, your majesty!’ She caught herself as he gave her a shove onto the deck. As the ship was pushed away from the dock, she turned and glared at the seething horde trying to reach her. Mithril had stationed himself on the rail and she reached out and gently scratched his head.
‘I wonder what my life would have been like if I had never saved you cats.’
‘Not nearly as interesting,’ Mithril replied.
‘Well, old friend, we are about to begin our next adventure and I doubt very much that it will be boring,’ she thought to him.
‘Yes, Mistress, a brand new life lies ahead for all of us.’
Beruthiel looked left and right and saw the other seven cats lounging about the deck so that the crowd could see them. ‘They do understand to stay away from the water?’ The last few days in Osgiliath had been spent teaching the cats the basics of water safety. ‘If anyone falls overboard, we will not be able to help.’
‘All are prepared. Those that sailed with us before have given warning to those who did not. Until they have more experience, none will risk falling.’
Satisfied, Beruthiel watched as several rioters fell in the water in their attempts to reach her. ‘Point those fools out to the others, Mithril! They are perfect examples of what not to do!’ she cried aloud. She also saw Uldis waving frantically from the other ship. She swallowed back the tears that threatened. If only she could be sure that her friend would have a good life. She saw a distraught Noldin with his hand on her shoulder. Perhaps they would be a comfort to each other.
Once the ship was well into the river, Beruthiel went below, changed her clothes and surveyed the supplies. The hold was packed tightly with as much as the little vessel could carry. Most important was food and the means to acquire more. She set out food for the cats and readied a meal for when she was alone. Galden had made sure that there was a decent supply of gold and silver onboard should she need to buy anything. Now she removed three silver coins and tucked them in her pocket.
After checking on the cat accommodations, she returned to the deck. She spent time watching the sailors and asking about technique. Two of them were impressed with her knowledge and intelligent questions. The third ignored her. ‘She’s an easy sailing ship, that’s for sure,’ Bomar said. He had sailed with Berutiel before. ‘If you take your time and be cautious, you should have no problems.’ He gave her a few tips on how to rig the tiller so she could run below for short trips. ‘Don’t trust it too long or you’ll get yourself in trouble and never do it in rough weather.’
She then had Mergond point out to her the ways the color of the water changed with depth. ‘In general, the lighter, the shallower, but use your sounding line if you have any doubts; better safe than sorry.’ She practiced taking a few measurements until she had it well in hand.
‘What else should I know? Have you ever gone very far south?’
‘Nay, I need more time on the ships. Since so few voyages have gone that way only the most experienced crew them. But I have heard the tales! They say it is always warm and that you can pull fruit off the trees any day of the year.’
‘That is why I had new clothes made. My usual black wouldn’t be very comfortable if the rumors of the heat are true.’
‘It’s true alright. I’ve seen men from the south and their clothing is always lightweight and light in color.’ He eyed the former queen’s new attire. ‘That looks about right.’
Beruthiel glanced down at her tan trousers and ivory shirt. ‘Thank you. I only had drawings in books to follow.’ She paused for a moment. ‘Do you think I will be alright beyond the bay? The king and I never went too far from the river.’
Mergond heard the worry in her voice, the first he had noticed. ‘It can be rougher and the wind stronger, but I think if you are careful, stick close to shore and find a safe harbor in bad weather you should be alright. My advice: take no chances. Ulmo punishes those who are reckless.’
‘I think I have already learned that lesson,’ the former queen replied ruefully.
She was unfamiliar with the third sailor, and he was determined to keep it that way. Any time she looked his in his direction, he turned his face away. Well, two out of three wasn’t bad.
It took no time at all for them to sail down the river and out into the Bay of Belfalas. Beruthiel watched anxiously as the cats grew accustomed to the ship and the motion on the water. In only a short time they were leaping from deck to rail, rail to rope and back. Beruthiel closed her eyes on several occasions while waiting for a splash that never came.
‘Do not worry so much, Mistress. We must try these things now if we are to be of any use later,’ Mithril counseled.
‘That doesn’t mean I have to watch, Mithril. And what do you mean of use?’
‘In sailing this vessel; you cannot do it alone, Mistress. We intend to help,’ the little cat assured her.
Beruthiel cocked an eyebrow at her favorite feline. ‘Now that I look forward to seeing.’ While she had her doubts, she wouldn’t put anything past these amazing creatures.
At last the moment came for the sailors to depart. The entire trip down river and out into the bay, they had been trailed by another ship. Now a small boat was lowered and rowed over to Beruthiel’s. She walked over to Bomar and handed him a coin. ‘Thank you, Bomar. You have been most helpful.’
He took the coin and said, ‘Do you have anything you would like me to tell the king? I may never have a chance, but I would try.’
‘No, everything has already been said but thank you.’
Bomar bowed and climbed down the ropes and into the boat. Beruthiel repeated the scene with Mergond and received much the same response. However, when she tried to give a coin to the final sailor he snarled, ‘Keep your coin, witch, I need nothing from the likes of you!’
Though not surprised by his attitude, she couldn’t help asking, ‘If that is your opinion, why did you come to help me?’
At first she thought he would not answer, but then he said, ‘I am not here to help you but to make sure you are gone from Gondor! The king is well rid of you!’ He turned and all but leaped into the boat below.
‘Like I said, two out of three isn’t bad,’ she said mockingly to no one. Putting the coin back in her pocket she watched as her last link to Gondor rowed back to the ship. Taking a deep breath, she got down to the task of starting her new life.
The new life was far harder than she had imagined it would be. Before, she had always sailed with someone else. Someone with thumbs who was able to help when needed. She realized how hard things could get the first time she had to relieve her bladder. Men simply leaned over the side and went, and as queen she had used a small closeted chamber pot on the deck. Now there was no one to take the tiller.
Rather than pull in all her nicely set sail, she asked Mithril for help. She braced the tiller the way Bomar had shown her. ‘I need to use the closet, Mithril. Can you and the others hold this in position for a few minutes?’ She demonstrated.
‘Yes, Mistress, we can do that. It is nice and calm today. I do not know if we could in rough weather,’ the cat admitted.
‘If I have my way, we will never sail in rough weather. I will be right back.’ She waited until Coal and Midnight had come down off the rails and sat with Mithril. She had made it a point to finally learn all the cats’ names. In record time she returned to find all was well. ‘Excellent! That is one thing to cross off the list, although next time I will have a pot handy. What difference does it make? There is no one around to see.’ Even this small victory elated her.
The first major event of her voyage was sailing past Umbar. She had a strong wind at her back; the seas were calm and the day sunny. The first warning of a city of any size was an increase in boat traffic. Up to then the water had belonged solely to her except for some ships seen far in the distance. Now smaller craft appeared closer.
The cats’ curiosity had them all out on deck. Mithril sat at the tiller with Beruthiel, but the rest were lounging all over the deck and rails. Coal assumed his favorite place in the prow. Ebony climbed to the masthead. Beruthiel never watched when she took this risk. They had all been warned and Mithril assured her the cat was safe.
As the other vessels passed them by, some were close enough that Beruthiel could see the looks of surprise and shock on their faces upon seeing a ship of cats. Some tried to hail her, but even if she had wanted to answer they flew by too quickly on the wind to allow it. ‘We probably just created another legend, Mithril!’ she cried in exhilaration.
‘Undoubtedly, the cat replied.’
A day south of Umbar and once again they had the sea to themselves. A few gulls wheeled overhead, but otherwise they were alone. ‘We need to find a safe harbor soon, Mithril. We could use some water. Let me know if you see a likely spot. Some place with a beach to land the dinghy and easy enough to sail into.’
‘I will tell the others to keep watch,’ Mithril answered.
They stared at the coast for what seemed like hours without finding a good spot. If it had deep water, there was no beach. If it had a beach there was a treacherous reef or hazardous rocks. Mithril paced the deck and repeatedly leaped on and off the railing. ‘Settle down, Mithril! You are making me nervous with all your leaping!’ Beruthiel cried after one too many jumps. ‘Whatever is the matter?’
‘Nothing, nothing is the matter,’ he said even as his tail twitched and swished nervously.
‘Then sit down or at least stop jumping. We will find something soon!’ Beruthiel said.
Mithril ceased his jumping, but after a few minutes of trying to sit still, he began his pacing again. No matter how hard he tried, he could not stop moving. Beruthiel gritted her teeth to keep another angry tirade at bay. It was never a good idea to alienate the only good company you had left.
Finally, she heard Ebony cry, ‘Beach!’ from her usual perch on the masthead. Beruthiel turned her eyes to the coastline and soon a smooth white beach appeared. Slowly she guided her little ship into a cove with crystalline blue water.
‘Perfect!’ she cried, ‘Ulmo has been most kind today,’ and relaxed her tense grip on the tiller. ‘How did I do, Mithril?’
But the white cat paid her no mind. As they approached the cove, his pacing had increased tenfold. As they glided almost to a stop, she watched in horror as Mithril made one more leap toward the rail, but this time instead of landing gracefully on top he went over! Even as she stood and cried out, she heard a splash. Racing to the edge of the deck she peered over, fearful of what she might see.
Expecting to see the sodden body of a drowning cat, she was stunned to see nothing of the sort. Instead, a man with white hair treaded water while a sopping wet Mithril clung desperately to his shoulder! She could only stare in amazement for what seemed like a lifetime. ‘Mithril, what have you done?’
The man looked up at her with dazzling emerald eyes. ‘Don’t just stand there, Beruthiel, throw down the ladder!’
Too breathless to answer, Beruthiel moved to do as he ordered. Soon the miserable Mithril appeared over the edge and was boosted onto the deck. She noticed that his eyes were once again grey. Scooping him into her arms, she hugged his drenched little body tightly. ‘Whatever were you thinking, Mithril? You might have drowned!’
‘He might have drowned! What about me?’ a laughing voice cried.
Beruthiel looked over to see a dripping wet, completely naked Aledin smiling at her from the rail. ‘How can this be? You were murdered. That is if you are who I think you are. The hair is all wrong…’ She hugged Mithril tighter and took a step back.
‘It is Aledin, Mistress. I was his vessel. I told you he would return.’
‘You should know better than anyone to you must listen to the cat!’ the man said. ‘It really is me. I told you I was a nix, remember? That I have more than one life?’
Bemused, she could only stare at him wordlessly as he grabbed a towel and dried off. ‘But that was ages ago. Why did you leave me to suffer for so long? There was plenty of water in Osgiliath.’ Her heart beat rapidly as she tried to take it all in. Her Aledin was alive!
‘I am sorry you had to suffer, my love, but I had no choice. I needed the ocean to transition back to a body. Ordinary water does not have enough salt to make it possible.’
‘Did you know what I have endured? Did you care?’
‘I have only vague impressions of my time with Mithril, but I do know that it was terrible.’ He walked over to her and put out his arms. ‘Please forgive me, Beruthiel. I never intended any of this to happen.’
For only a moment she stared at him, then cat and all she moved quickly into his warm embrace. ‘There is nothing to forgive. You did not ask to be murdered. I am grateful to have this second chance.’ She snuggled as close to him as Mithril’s damp body would allow.
The cat squirmed and she pulled back just enough to allow him to slither to the deck where he went to work restoring his beautiful coat. With the cat gone, Aledin drew her back to his chest. Again Beruthiel took note of his condition. ‘In case you are not aware of it, your hair is white instead of black.’
Aledin tilted his head down and looked at a silver-white lock of hair that fell over his shoulder. ‘Ah, a consequence of sharing a body with Mithril; when a nix uses a vessel for an extended period of time he is always left with some remnant of his host. In this case, it appears that I am destined to have white hair for the rest of my days. Rather appropriate in a way, given my age,’ he told her. ‘Don’t you like it?’
Beruthiel face broke into a smile. ‘You could come back with snakes for hair, and I would like it. I love it. I missed you so.’
‘What about Falastur? I do know that he never returned.’
‘Lord Galden annulled the marriage. I am truly free. My conscience will never bother me again on that point.’
He ran his hands up her arms and took her face between his hands. ‘Then I claim you as mine for now and forever, Beruthiel, queen of cats.’ He pressed a gentle kiss on her lips.
‘Did you know that you are almost naked?’ she asked with a blush. While Aledin wore the towel, it was a very small one.
‘Well, it would have been a neat trick to return fully clothed, dearest.’ He enjoyed another kiss. ‘And besides, I would have to go to all the bother of taking them off. And you are wearing entirely too much.’ He bent his knees slightly, scooped her up into his arms and carried her below deck.
Two nights later, Beruthiel woke to the feel of cat whiskers. ‘Oh, Mithril, why do you have to do that?!’
‘The Master needs you,’ the cat said.
Beruthiel wanted to ask archly how that could possibly be after all they had been doing to each other, but she knew that the cat wouldn’t understand. ‘Why?’ she said instead.
‘He says we need to leave. A storm is coming.’
Groaning tiredly, she pried herself out of the comfortable bed. On deck she could sense the change in the wind. It was swirling around the rigging and had a warm moist feel to it. She walked up to Aledin and wrapped her arms around him. ‘Mithril says you want to leave.’
Aledin turned from observing the cats in the rigging and returned the hug. ‘I would like to stay, but my weather sense tells me that this storm is one to outrun, not out last.’
‘But Bomar told me that the shore was always safer than the open water in a storm.’
‘And he was quite right in most cases, but this storm is too strong for this ship. It will be better to out run it. It will pass behind us if we leave now. Plus with the winds at our back, we will be pushed far to the south. Trust me, Beruthiel, I do have an ‘in’ with Ulmo as you know,’ he winked at her.
Remembering his ties to seawater, Beruthiel nodded. ‘I trust you. It is just that this has been such a pleasant interlude, I hoped it would last a bit longer.’
‘We will find many places like this, my dear, including our own little island. Now, check to make sure that those crazy cats have followed my orders and then get everything battened down that you can.’
‘You gave the cats orders?’
‘Ever since my time with Mithril, I seem to be able to hear and speak to cats, Beruthiel. You are no longer the only crazy cat person on this boat.’
She clapped her hands and exclaimed, ‘That’s wonderful! Now we have even more in common than before.’
They set full sail and left the little cove for the open water. As Aledin had predicted, there was a tremendous wind from the north that drove them ahead of the storm. At first it was only a smudge on the horizon but eventually it began to grow more menacing.
‘You’re certain we can outrun it?’ Beruthiel asked as flashes of lightning lit the distant sky.
‘Not so much outrun it as get out of its way. As I said, it will cut across our little cove and miss us completely,’ Aledin assured her. ‘Now come and sit at the tiller with me and Mithril.’ She did as he asked and they spent the next hour watching the storm build and tower. Finally even Beruthiel could tell that they would not be overtaken and her head sagged to his shoulder.
‘Mistress, wake up!’ Mithril hummed as Aledin jostled her arm.
‘What? What is it?’ she asked sleepily.
‘Look,’ Aledin said and pointed to the remains of the storm where the just-rising sun flashed through the torrents of rain and created a myriad of rainbows.
They scrambled to their feet to get a better view. ‘How beautiful, Aledin, you should paint it someday.’
But he was now ignoring the scene to the north and looking back to the south. ‘And here is another miracle for you, Beruthiel.’ He put his arm on her shoulder and turned her around.
It took her rainbow dazzled mind a moment to register what she was seeing. Their ship was rushing up to a large fleet. The first in line sent her back to her first visit to Pelargir when Falastur had launched his pride and joy. ‘It’s Falastur, Aledin! He’s alive or at least the fleet still exists!’ She stared down the line of ships that struggled against the powerful wind.
The first ship pulled even with theirs and in the brief moment they were side by side, Beruthiel saw a figure standing proudly on the deck staring at her ship, at the cats, at her! ‘Oh it is him, it’s Falastur!’ She raised her hand and waved but even as she did so, the two vessels slipped past each other and he was gone. ‘I wonder if he knew it was me? I told him I would wave if I ever saw him again.’
Aledin laughed. ‘Who else would it be, my love? I doubt there are many ships sailed by cats, and we are hard to miss.’
Beruthiel glanced around the deck and nodded in agreement. There were cats on the prow, cats in the rigging, Mithril at the tiller and Ebony on the masthead as usual. ‘Somehow, Aledin, I suspect you are right. We are a little hard to miss! Now that I know Falastur is alright, let’s go find our island!’
I solemnly attest to the truth and fact of this statement.
Arwen finished reading and laid the papers in her lap.
‘Is that it? But what about the island? Did they ever find one? What happened to everyone?’ Esteliel groaned in frustration.
‘That is all on these papers. Unless you find something more, that is the end of the story.’
‘But why didn’t they finish it, and who wrote it?’ Eldarion asked.
‘I have no idea why they didn’t finish but as for who wrote it, there is a note. It only says, ‘As dictated to me,’ and the scribe’s name, Firiel.
‘But when a scribe writes something, the one who dictated it is supposed to sign it,’ Eldarion informed her. ‘There has to be a signature!’
Grinning at her son’s budding legal knowledge, she slowly turned the paper to face the little tribe. ‘And indeed I think there is.’
The children leaned in closely to see the signature of the long-gone historian. Placed neatly at the bottom of the page was a perfectly shaped cat’s footprint.
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