Thicker Than Blood: 6. Ulfast

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6. Ulfast

It wasn’t long before the riders reached the borders of Rohan, where the Rohirrim and the Gondorians parted. Faramir thanked Éothain for the valuable services he had offered during the ride and then both parties separated, each to follow its own way: the Rohirrim back to Edoras, and the Gondorians to Ithilien. The rest of the journey was uneventful, so it wasn’t long before Faramir and his men reached the fortress of Emyn Arnen. The structure was built after the War of the Ring as stronghold against any unexpected attacks from Easterlings or other peoples still acting in the name of Sauron, even though the Dark Lord was vanquished a very long time ago. Dwarves had built it, just as they had rebuilt the city of Minas Tirith, using strong stones and metals from their own mines and using all the constructing skills for which they were well known. Soon after the fortress was built, the first houses started to be built near it also. In the beginning those houses belonged to soldiers who happened to have a family; but soon more people came from the realm of Gondor and settled themselves in Emyn Arnen. Thus it was that, within five years of its construction, a small but fair town was formed there under the rule of Faramir, while the fortress itself not only provided dwelling for the prince, his wife and the court, but also barracks were the soldiers were trained; and shelter to every passer-by that happened to cross these particular lands. There it was that Faramir and Éowyn were returning to; and there it was that Beregond had said goodbye to his son, only to be welcomed warmly by the latter once more after so long a time of absence. And, after the captain recovered fully and recounted his adventure in the fullest to Faramir, Bergil, his men and everybody who happened to be interested in it, everything started taking its natural course in the safety of the fortress’ walls. Beregond took up his duties as the First Captain of the guards and instructor of the young trainees in swordsmanship, while he watched his own son taking his last lessons before finally becoming a squire. Faramir resumed with ruling his realm, while Éowyn stood by his side, their child growing inside her day by day. Life indeed couldn’t seem more peaceful, and soon Beregond put the terrors of his captivity behind. One night, however, while Beregond was getting ready to go to bed, exhausted after a long wearisome day, he heard a knock on the door. When he opened, he saw that it was Damrod, a trustworthy man who had been under Faramir’s service as a ranger back in the War against Sauron, and now captain of the second company and Beregond’s second-in-command. Since Beregond himself was always the last to sleep in the fortress except for the guards at their posts, it was quite a surprise for him to see the second captain up at this time of night. “Sorry to disturb you, Captain,” Damrod said apologetically. “But I am afraid it can’t wait. You are asked for in the Great Hall at once.” “Is something wrong?” asked Beregond worriedly. The fact that Damrod – not a soldier - had come to fetch him troubled him greatly. “Nothing that I know of. Lord Faramir just told me that your presence was needed there.” Beregond actually frowned at this. What could be the meaning of it all? “Wait for me, I will go get my overcoat,” he told Damrod. Within minutes they were heading for the Great Hall, the place where Faramir held all his hearings, and soon they reached its doors. However, Damrod didn’t go inside, but only bowed his farewell to Beregond and left, saying that his task was done. Feeling more curious then ever, Beregond pushed the doors open. He only saw three other people in the Hall. Two of them were Faramir and Éowyn, whose pregnancy was fairly obvious now, sitting in their thrones. But he didn’t recognise the other man that was standing in front of them bowing his head in humility; nor he had ever seen someone quite like him before. His adornment was very unusual for these parts of the world and it had the bright colours of the Easterlings, yet the man didn’t seem like an Easterling himself. His body frame wasn’t so much tall as it was powerful and stocky, while his stature and the way he stood upright betrayed a trained warrior. But it was the eyes that made the greatest impression on Beregond, for when he had entered, they had fixed themselves on him and pierced him through, making the captain feel shivers down his spine. In a matter of moment, Beregond quickly remembered himself and turned to Faramir. “I was told you wanted to see me,” he said to his friend. “It is true. Pray come closer and hear the man’s tale,” said Faramir, beckoning Beregond to stand by his side, as it was appropriate at the hearings. The captain did that, although somewhat nervously. The man still gazed at him with the same piercing look in his eyes, his face as if chiselled out of stone; for there was no emotion reflected there. But it was to Beregond’s wonder that, when he returned to facing Faramir, his features softened and his eyes carried a saddened expression, an almost pitiable one. “You may continue with your tale, stranger,” said the prince courteously. “You said you used to be in Sauron’s army?” “Indeed I said that, my lord,” said the man. “I was taken away as a child to serve him and his evil ways and, as soon as I was trained, I became one of his many soldiers who fought in the Great War that took place five years ago. After his defeat, our lands became desolate and we all strived to rebuild them from their ashes, without having the Dark Lord dominating us through his malice and cruelty. “Yet it wasn’t enough. People were still hungry, and I couldn’t offer my services to help those that needed my assistance, for the only skill that I had ever learned was the one of the sword. Thus I decided to leave, hoping that somewhere I would be able to find someone to whom I could offer my services and thus repay him for the kindness he would show me by accepting me in his abode. Far and wide I travelled, but no one needed me, for after Sauron’s defeat, everyone in the Eastern lands had grown tired of fighting, and even the opposing clans wouldn’t go against each other anymore. During my journey, I finally crossed the borders into the mighty lands of the west; and now I find myself in your realm, pleading you to receive me. I know you have already worthy warriors and perhaps you do not care for one more; but believe me, my lord, should you accept my services, I shall not fail you in any way.” Everyone listened to the story with interest while the man unravelled it to them; until finally he ended and again bowed his head low. “What is your name, stranger?” asked Faramir. “Ulfast, my lord, from the Númenóreans of the East,” said the man. A Black Númenórean you mean, thought Beregond with slight disgust. He had heard of that branch of the people from Ancient Númenor who renounced the Valar and turned to the Dark Forces, becoming their most faithful servants. If Beregond had felt uncomfortable near him before, now that the man’s lineage was revealed it was with great difficulty that he refrained himself from ordering the soldiers outside to place him immediately in the dungeons; because he knew that that race was the most treacherous and wicked that existed on Middle-Earth beside the Orcs and that, wherever they went, it was certain that woe would follow soon afterwards. But that kind of call was not up to him to make. He could only follow Faramir’s orders. He turned to him to see what his decision would be on the matter. Faramir arose and looked at Ulfast. “Your race has always been fighting against our own. Despite that, you decided to come here?” “I am well aware of that my lord and I care not. I don’t wish to fight for a cause that has been lost so long ago, but only make a new beginning. I merely need one chance to prove my worth.” Faramir remained silent for several minutes, clearly considering what he had heard so far, and then turned to Éowyn. “You heard the tale. What say you, my love?” Éowyn turned a hard glare at Ulfast, clearly showing her mistrust in him. “The Black Númenóreans have always set themselves against the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. How can he prove to us that his own intentions are otherwise?” Faramir nodded his understanding and then turned to Beregond, his eyes asking also for his own opinion. “The lady has spoken my mind as well, my lord,” said the captain. Faramir looked again at Ulfast, who, while the prince wasn’t paying attention, had turned a hateful look on Beregond, one that Beregond didn’t fail to notice. “What say you to them, Ulfast?” “I say that they let their own fears against my people blind them and they do not see that one cannot answer for the sins of all. He merely carries on with his life as he knows best. Keep me under your service and I shall prove both of them wrong as to my intentions.” Faramir regarded the man for a few more moments and then he spoke again. “You have answered well. So be it then. Guard!” One of the soldiers by the door stepped up in front of his lord and bowed. “Take our guest and escort him to a room where he can rest. He travelled far to come to this place.” The soldiers nodded his acknowledgment and took Ulfast away. Beregond watched the scene with a slight dismay, but he didn’t say a word. It was then that Éowyn arose. “I am feeling rather weary, love. I had better head for bed.” “I shall follow you soon, dear,” answered Faramir. And with that, the fair woman walked out of the room. Only then did Beregond decide to confront his friend. “I would never doubt your judgment, you know that.” “But?” asked Faramir, guessing that his friend wasn’t pleased with his decision. “But,” continued Beregond, “I don’t see the reason to welcome somebody who used to serve our enemies, even if it was so long ago.” Faramir’s mouth curved to a small smile. “I understand what you are trying to say, and I do not blame you for it. Yet think about it: we were not the only ones who suffered from the War. They had to face fear and horror also; they too mourned the dead and lost everything that meant something to them. War made corpses of us all: some physically, some emotionally. And now there is this one who claims that he wants to make something different with his life. Why should I not give him a chance when he asked it of me? For the sole reason of what he used to be? That is something that only a true servant of the Dark Lord would think.” “You believe then that he really wants to reform?” asked the captain. “Let me put it this way… if you were all alone, away from home and desperate enough to walk into the doorstep of your former enemy to ask for shelter, wouldn’t you like him to accept you?” Beregond considered this for a few moments. He had to admit that Faramir’s reasoning made sense. On the other hand, Beregond couldn’t help feeling that this Ulfast couldn’t be trusted. He had listened to the man’s narrative, and the more he heard, the more he felt uncomfortable near him. For some reason, or rather, for many reasons that he couldn’t place, his every instinct cried out that the Black Númenórean was lying. At least, the story seemed pretty vague and the captain figured that that man was telling far less than he kept within himself. Moreover, the cold stare against him and the sad one toward Faramir made Beregond think something was amiss as well, for it was as though Ulfast man was trying his best to make the prince like him. Even his fair talk seemed to Beregond too… well, acted seemed a quite appropriate word. Come to think of it, the captain had to admit that it wasn’t so much the things that Ulfast spoke of that alarmed him as it was the voice itself uttering them. Beregond was certain that it sounded familiar, but where had he heard it before? All he knew for sure was that his mind had somehow connected that kind of tone with something that had happened some time ago. Yet was that something good or bad? Bad more likely: the discomfort his heart felt upon seeing the Númenórean pointed to that direction anyway. Beregond racked his mind to remember, but it was impossible to recall it. “Well, Beregond?” asked Faramir again, noticing that his friend took some time to answer. The captain raised his head and nodded slightly. “You are right, my lord, I had not thought of that. I still won’t feel at ease by his presence just yet; however, I will obey you as I have always done, and I will be willing to give him at least the benefit of the doubt once he proves himself.” Faramir’s face brightened up with relief. “Good,” he said. “That will be all then. Thank you for understanding, my friend.” “What are friends for?” said Beregond, winking; then walked out. He suspected that Faramir understood it, but he still preferred to avoid telling him that he would keep an eye on Ulfast at all times, not trusting him or his intentions. And little did he know how right he was to show so little faith to the Black Númenórean. ---------------- Ulfast was lying on the bed of the guest-room to which he had been escorted, but he wasn’t sleeping, for this turn of events that he just witnessed was quite unexpected and he couldn’t help but feel intrigued by it. He had recognised Beregond and he was surprised to see him here, of all the places of the world. The last time he had seen him he was nothing but a beaten up, broken man, held by Azrag down on his knees, his eyes full of loathing as he desperately tried to prove to his captors that he wasn’t afraid. And now there he was again, a captain no less, enjoying the comforts of a home! Azrag was right when he said that their former captive was of importance – he had heard the master of the castle telling a servant to bring the first captain just before Beregond himself appeared. The tricks that fate plays sometimes! Fortunately for him, the man didn’t recognise him: if he had, then he would have raised the alarm at that very instant. Still, Ulfast discerned a slight look of perplexity in the man’s eyes; and he had also noticed the inquiring stare at him all the while that he was telling his story. It matters not, he concluded in thought. There is a great difference between suspecting and actually knowing who one is. After all, there was no possible way that the captain could find out Ulfast’s true identity. Ulfast had made certain that he stayed cloaked during the man’s captivity at all times; not to mention that the captain wasn’t in the best condition to register much; and now he certainly remembered much less, since everything happened quite some time ago. He placed his gloved hands underneath his head, smiling pleased with himself. He had hid himself thus far masterfully - which is more than could be said about that fool of an Orc that had dared to disrespect him in such a pathetic way. He saw what the men did to the camp and to the Orcs as he passed through again in his wanderings. Well, Azrag should have listened to him. Now he had paid the price. Still, what could one expect from such a mindless race as Orcs? Ulfast hated them with all his heart and he was gladdened to be rid of them at last for good. What had come over him to join them in their ransacking he never understood. He was never supposed to interact with such low creatures in the first place, back to the days that he was one of Sauron’s lieutenants. Back to the time that he had power and everyone trembled at his passing; when he decided who lived and who died; when his sword got soaked in the blood of his enemies, no matter how much they pleaded for his non-existent mercy; when his captives screamed under the tortures he inflicted on them. His cold soul warmed a little at the memory of such glory now long gone, only to freeze again when he remembered his state now. After the defeat of his lord, there was nothing for him to do but wander aimlessly in Middle-earth, not wishing to abandon the land that would have been his by Sauron’s promise had the East been victorious. He realised now that, when he had decided to join the Orcs he had also strayed from his own plans to try and dominate at least part of this world, to call it his own and rule it. And ever since he had left the band of the useless creatures, he had ventured to carry on with his own purpose. From all his wanderings, he had come to decide that this place seemed the ideal one, for it was the closest realm to the East and it was far enough from any other realms of the West. And thus it was that Ulfast came here under the false pretext of defecting, hoping that he could influence the lord of the fortress through his fair talk, until he had made him his puppet and so usurp his rule. But now – now things had to be adapted. There were the prince’s wife and the captain to be dealt with, since they showed their unwillingness to accept him within the fortress. They could prove indeed a hindrance to his plans, especially if these two had decided to keep an eye on him, which he was certain that they would. Furthermore, he noticed that these two were the ones that Faramir kept closest to his heart: that was obvious from the way he looked at them when he asked for their counsel as well. And if so much as these two hinted that Ulfast wasn’t trustworthy, Faramir would certainly listen to them. So Ulfast understood that he would have to play a much more difficult game, though not an impossible one yet, if he was to ensnare Faramir. For if the prince could be cut off from his wife and friend, then there would be no more problems. And Ulfast already knew exactly how he would do that: he had learned long ago that there was no one in this world without a weakness. He would find the weaknesses of these three, and, as soon as he did, he would use them to his advantage. It was true that this would probably take some time; but he didn’t care at all, for patience always proved his best ally. He would wait, until he could strike hard where it hurt the most. Chuckling in satisfaction for his flawless scheming, Ulfast closed his eyes, finally deciding to sleep. The next day, like the ones to follow, would be very busy for him and he needed all the rest he could get. TBC...

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Beregond5

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 01/26/07

Original Post: 04/30/05

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