7. Black Sails at Sunset
"I will take a message to him when he rises, but unless the pirates have drawn up to the docks, I will not wake the governor!" Bainon stood before the double doors, blocking the bureaucrats' way.
"There has been a black ship sighted sailing off the river mouth! A fast ship that looks to be a corsair! It is CaunNor!" the mayor was literally shrieking with fear. At that moment, the door lock turned and the commander appeared, disheveled and bleary-eyed as if he just arose from bed. Bainon was of the opinion the beard the commander had grown and his uncut hair added to his scruffiness. He wore a brightly patterned robe belted tightly. Bainon hid a smile and hoped the agitated mayor did not notice that under it the Commander wore boots.
"Why do you disturb me in the middle of the night?" he demanded petulantly with a jaw-cracking yawn. The two men began to babble at the same time about a Corsair ship being sighted off the point. Thorongil allowed them to ramble on until they were out of breath and staring at him for his response. "Thank you. That is interesting news. I assume, Lieutenant, that a watch has been set. Take a report from these gentlemen and wake me if there is any more activity." With that, he shut the door in their astonished faces.
"Revenge has startled the natives," he announced to Quillion and Fallon, tossing off the hideous robe to reveal shirt and leggings. They had stole back to Pelargir in the pre-dawn darkness from the midnight maiden voyage of the ship.
Riding on the velvet blackness of the moonless night, Kindrel had guided her easily past the delta at the mouth of the Anduin and ordered his sailors to sheet home the sails. Then they had had a merry run under the starlight. A brisk wind sent them bowling up the coast as swift as a kestrel nearly to the Dol Amroth lighthouse. Kindrel had taken a tighter hold on the tiller and ordered the sails luffed and held her a point closer to the wind and they fairly flew. She sliced through the waves cleanly and the foam whipped back from the bow in great sprays like stallions' manes. Quillion and Fallon, both who had never sailed before, were hanging onto the rigging, their clothes plastered against their bodies by the ship's speed, giggling like fools. On the stern, the silent Thorongil stood at Kindrel's side, smiling grimly. This ship would serve his purpose well.
"It is a fine feeling to hold the tiller of a fast ship again. Does it not bring back fond memories to you?" The love of the sea warmed Kindrel's eyes. Actually, Thorongil had been thinking of the many times he had watched the man steering the Sea-wolf.
"The ocean still calls you as if you were Elven-kind," said Thorongil. "Aye, I was remembering those days, but my memories are not as fond as yours. I am reminded of abduction; of a bloody pirate who killed for mere pleasure. It reminds me that the one I hold dearest in this world found life near unbearable because she believed me dead then." He stepped away from the tiller and up to the railing.
"Bring her about!" he called to the deck officer. An 'aye, aye, sir' drifted up to him. He turned back to Kindrel. "I once felt the tug of the sea too. You and I have much in common; however, I will never love the sea again or feel the romance that many feel. The sea has the ability to take too many that I hold dear from me and may still yet separate me from the one I love," he said enigmatically.
The commander stood hand on the lines, staring off into the west toward Elvenhome and the deep waters that covered Numenor, wondering how long it would be until his father and brothers sailed west, wondering if Arwen's love for him was stronger than the call of Eldamar, melancholy because he could never follow whither they would go. Too soon, Revenge's shake down was completed, and she skimmed back down the shoreline and slipped up the river as dawn lightened the east sky.
"She handles well." Kindrel leaned down from his horse and took Thorongil's hand as they parted at the landing. "We have a ship. With blessings from the Valar, we can achieve our task."
"You and Monroth have manned her with a fine crew. Now we must prove ourselves as actors before we can become sailors again. Wait for word from us. It shall come soon," the commander said.
For several days rumors persisted of a strange black ship cruising off the coast. The stories of CaunNor told in taverns and at dinner parties became more exotic and gruesome. At midweek, a black column of smoke was seen off to the northeast. Fallon had done his job well, firing stacked bales of oil-soaked straw. The next morning, Thorongil was listening to the hysteria of the council that CaunNor, this new pirate threat, would soon be pillaging the town. Suddenly, Lord Kindrel burst into the meeting looking wild-eyed; he wore no coat and his shirt was smudged with soot. He slammed both hands on the table before the lord mayor.
"My country house has been sacked; my servants terrorized! Thank the Valar I sent my family north to Minas Tirith for Yule!" He turned on Thorongil, vehement in his demand for action. "It was this brigand, this CaunNor!"
"He threatens to burn the city!" the mayor added, near frantic. Thorongil wondered where the Lord Mayor had gotten that information.
"My lord governor, what will you do about this CaunNor?" Kindrel asked.
"Ulmo save us all! This marauder will murder us all in our beds!" the mayor wailed again. Thorongil examined the braid on his cuff, flicked away a bit of fuzz, and looked up at the expectant faces of the town council.
"My lord mayor, I believe I told you how I would deal with pirates and those that commune with them. You suggested I wait a bit to see if you could find any information for me. Now I suggest the harbormaster keeps a watch out and if this marauder is still a threat after Yule, we shall go forward with interrogating the nobles." Thorongil answered calmly.
"After Yule?" Kindrel thundered.
"Why, yes. I am departing for Minas Tirith for the holiday festivities," the governor announced, nonchalantly.
"You believe that it is wise to leave Pelargir now with this new threat!" the mayor was near apoplexy.
"Wise or not, it is what I plan. Too long have I been away from the pleasures of the White City. Lieutenant Bainon will be in charge of the garrison. Please lodge any concerns with him." Thorongil rose. "I'm sure this fellow will be about after the holiday, and perhaps by then we'll know who his conspirators are, or I shall commence hanging anyone I suspect of collaborating with the Corsairs." He departed, leaving a room full of men thinking this military governor had neither military ability nor governing expertise.
The next morning, though it was nearly noon by the harbor clock, the military governor, his squire at his side, and his captain leading a troop of twenty solders, resplendent in their black uniforms, rode north out of Pelargir. The citizens shook their heads at this folly with the terrible CaunNor threatening their lives. What the citizens did not see was three leagues north, the troop left the road and circled around and back to the secret anchorage. Kindrel was there to meet them as they arrived.
"A fine bit of acting," Thorongil greeted him, swinging down from Dagor's back.
"On your part also. They have written a letter for your recall."
Thorongil shrugged. "So, it is time we bring CaunNor to life."
The transformation of the troopers from Gondorian regulars to pirates began. Thorongil tossed the bundle of colorful clothes at his men and directed: "We are pirates; play the part." Soon Guard jackets were folded and the martial Gondorians became rakish rogues. They lounged along the docks outfitted in silken shirts and bright scarves; a more raffish lot of corsairs had not before been seen in the South. Fallon donned a long, open-throated tunic with turned back cuffs and belted the whole affair with a peacock blue sash, the ends of which dangled nearly to his feet. The troopers good-naturedly admired Quillion's purple coat and the squire swaggered about the jetty, helping Fallon to ensure not an emblem to identify them as soldiers of Gondor could be found.
At that moment, the shed door opened and the pirate captain CaunNor stepped forth. He stood tall, clean-shaven, but for a sinister moustache, his hair braided into many long plaits. He was splendid in a silver-laced scarlet knee length coat and black leather boots that ended cuffed in patterned leather above his knees. From an embroidered baldric across his shoulder hung Angawaen Nor. He eyed his crew, hands on hips, and ordered them aboard. Then Thorongil focused his attention on his squire who waited beside Fallon; as much as he knew the boy desired it, he could not take Quillion on this voyage. The odds were against them returning and he would not take him into such danger. He called his squire into the cabin of Revenge.
"Quillion, you can change back into your uniform. You will be staying here. I need someone responsible for overseeing the care of the horses." Quillion's face fell. "Clean up the offices here while we are gone and finish up arranging those troop reports for Lord Denethor," Thorongil said dismissively. The boy who had never gainsaid his commander, suddenly turned on him in anger.
"I never get near the fighting! You always treat me like a baby! I am supposed to be the squire of the Commander of the City Guards!"
"Quillion, there will be time for that. I wish you to be safe; I promised your mother---"
"You wish me safe?" the boy exploded. "You wish me to be a simpering clerk!"
"That's enough! You will do as you are told---"
"You aren't my father! I wish I had never met you---" Quillion clapped both hands over his mouth, surprised at the words that had come forth; the one thing in the world he wished for daily was that Thorongil was his father. For just a moment, he saw the hurt in the Commander's eyes before Thorongil masked it with his steely gaze. Without speaking, the boy fled from the cabin. Thorongil winced at the dull throbbing in his head; The pain Quillion's words had caused him felt like a portent of doom.
The last preparations were completed; the kegs and casks of oil rolled aboard. In the pre-dawn darkness, Revenge slipped out of her berth and edge quietly down the Anduin, the men pulling steadily at the sweeps. Thorongil watched the dock slip away and wondering at the pouting Quillion's absence from the send-off group. His head was probably nestled against Dagor's side and he was pouring out his ill-treatment to the solicitous stallion. Thorongil pondered the boy's words; he had not realized the boy was so unhappy with him.
Quillion was correct: Thorongil did coddle and shelter him. He was given neither the drudgery nor the abuse the other squires faced. Thorongil ruefully acknowledged that sometime he did forget Quillion was not his own son, lavishing him with treats and presents, and indulging his often over familiarity. Perhaps, Thorongil decided, as much as he would be saddened by Quillion's departure, it was time to re-assign the boy to a new officer. Gethruthon of the Palace Guard had inquired about making Quillion one of his assistants if Thorongil ever tired of him. That assignment, near Finduilas, might make the boy happy. It pained Thorongil to consider it but he wanted the best for Quillion and it had now come to light the boy was unhappy serving him.
Thorongil watched the shoreline flow past. Kindrel guided them competently passed the sandbars of Ethir Anduin. Then he ordered the crew to loose the black sails. They billowing out in the stout breeze, raising cheers from his motley pirate crew. By midmorning, the rocky cliffs of Tolfalas stood off their starboard and the seabirds' cries filled the air and open water lay before them.
As the ship shot through the swells like the silvery dolphins gliding before her, Thorongil and Fallon retired to the aft cabin, the commander to have tea, further discuss his plan with Fallon, and take perhaps the last rest he could until this adventure was finished. His head still throbbed dully and he felt uneasy. Thorongil had thrown off the elaborate coat of CaunNor and sat in his shirtsleeves, pouring mugs of tea. He cocked his head suddenly, hearing a strange scratching sound. He rose and began walking around the perimeter of the cabin, continuing his conversation with Fallon.
To Fallon's confused query of 'what,' he raised a hand to silence him, and the captain realized something was amiss. The rustlings continued louder and now Fallon now also heard them. At a hand signal from Thorongil, he drew his sword. Thorongil gripped the gleaming Elven knife, stopped before a cargo locker, and yanked open the door. The stowaway tumbled out, scared grey eyes looking over the knife Thorongil held at his throat. Quillion scrambled to his feet, biting his lip, and looking silently up at Thorongil, awaiting his punishment. He had hoped not to be found so soon, but the large mosquitoes of the Pelargir swamps had fed too well last night and he itched abominably. Thorongil stared at him sternly and Fallon announced there were sharks in the waters near Pelargir and the boy would make a tempting mouthful for them.
"Or better yet, give him to Kindrel and make him climb the masts to reef the sails." Quillion's eyes if possible got larger. He lived in dread of Lord Kindrel who he knew was once a real pirate, and he shared Thorongil's dislike for climbing things. Fallon contemplated the disobedient squire. "Two days, rat, and then you'll be swaggering on the docks of Umbar where the real pirates spit boys like you upon their swords without a thought." Quillion stuttered, trying to stop Captain Fallon's flow of suggestions. "Sell him to one as a cabin boy, Commander," Fallon concluded, resheathing his sword..
"Quillion, when we get to Pelargir, you will stay on board," the commander announced after shaking his head at Fallon's dire suggestions. "You have disobeyed me by being here, and I will come up with an appropriate punishment, when I have time! Now come and make yourself useful and serve us tea." The boy leapt to obey, weighing that any punishment his master could come up with would be fair for the hateful, untrue words he had uttered, and any pain worth the price just to be here with him.
Two uneventful days passed as they sailed swiftly southward. Finally, the watch called out sighting of the promontory that protected the harbor of Umbar. With incredible efficiency, Kindrel had reefed the mainsails, orders the sweeps out, and soon they were making their way between dhows and fishing boats into the nefarious Haven of the Corsairs. The town itself lay to port, a bustling trading mecca, but their goal lay ahead. Abaronloni, the fortress island, long ago given up to the corsairs, was crowned with the Tower Fortress. Gleaming in morning sun, its rose granite walls dwarfed the other buildings on the island.
Thorongil adjusted the spyglass he held steady against the rigging. Nearly fifty warships of all designs were put in to the harbor, their crews in various states of tying up or leisure. It looked to be nearly the entire pirate fleet drawn up to the docks, forcing any other boats to find what anchorage they might and their crews to row ashore.
"They are packed in neatly as troopers on a cold night," Fallon observed. "A fire would be devastating." He grinned at Thorongil.
"Let's see if they'll accept a brother of the sea. Lieutenant, raise the colors!" The commander called.
Kindrel answered "Aye, Captain" and the red banner with the diving hawk unfurled from the stern rigging. Fallon admired his handy work and the guards in the watchtower waved a welcoming signal flag. Kindrel coolly steered Revenge into an open berth along the quay and the sailors jumped ashore to tie up. Colorful greetings and inquires on good hunting were called from the other ships.
Kindrel nodded at a large caravel bristling with grappling guns and men. Although the sails were reefed, it looked as though they had been dyed with blood.
"That's Naegrol, the ship of the Captain of the Havens." A tall blond corsair stood expectantly on the dock, obviously waiting for the captain of Revenge. "He is one of Toradan's lieutenants. Be wary, Commander, and good luck." Kindrel gripped his hand. "I wish I could have your back, but it would be ill-advised for me to accompany you on shore; I am known by too many of these scoundrels." Kindrel stepped down into the waist and quickly blended into the crew, disappearing from sight below decks so that no former mate might recognize him.
"Captain wants to see you," the man on the dock announced as Fallon and Thorongil came ashore, marking Thorongil as the man he sought. He tugged at his hat brim and executed a slight bow. The gesture seemed an unfamiliar courtesy. He led Thorongil and Fallon through narrow walkways hemmed in by four storey buildings. The valleys between them were stiflingly hot and fetid. At ground level most housed grog shops and taverns, but the upper floors were apartments, and the squall of children and screech of arguing women rent the air. The pirate led them on to the plaza before the Fortress. The grand Tower of Albaronloni, build by Numenor and for thousands of years the stalwart defense of the harbor, was now part brothel, part tavern, and headquarters for Toradan, the Captain of the Havens.
They were ushered past lounging men festooned with knifes and axes who eyed them boldly, down a corridor through a room that looked to once have been the council chamber. It was piled high with booty, in various states of worth and age. The pirate led them through great teak doors out onto a high-walled enclosed courtyard. A fountain carved in the form of elaborate winged dragons burbled, surrounded by tall palms growing up through the bricked floor. The place teemed with people: women, musicians, and more of the heavily armed warriors. Under an awning, sat a man of medium height, one leg flung over the arm of a great, carved chair. He was smoking a long pipe and a near naked woman sat near him slicing up a plate of exotic fruit. The pirate led them before his captain, and melted away. Toradan looked Thorongil and Fallon over carefully with eyes so deep brown there seems to be no iris.
"So you are CaunNor. You have been poaching in my territory."
"Are not all the seas free and the land open for the brotherhood?" Thorongil asked, resting one booted foot on the low table where the woman was working and looked her over appreciatively. "I have yet to take much from the fat lords of Gondor. Just a bit from a minor baron." Toradan found this man who fashioned himself Black Prince insolent; he liked him immediately.
"Do you know that that minor baron was once one of us? One of the brotherhood. The rumors say you killed him."
Thorongil raised his hands in a grand shrug. "If that is what the rumors say. My error, great leader, but game is game. As one of the brotherhood, the man should have been able to protect what was his better." There was a long moment of judgment when Fallon believed they would have to fight their way out of the place. Then Toradan laughed in a great booming roar.
"Come sit and drink with me. You have crist maeg*, Black Prince!" Fallon did not feel the literal translation of Toradan's words fit his true meaning. "I should advise that the one you killed was an old shipmate of Ascabar, my lieutenant. The man killed half his crew and near scuttled the Sea Wolf the night he left. Ascabar will want to thank you for ridding the world of such and pour you many drinks! He should be in later today." Toradan's wine was the finest of Rhûn. He filled massive mugs for both Thorongil and Fallon. They toasted the brotherhood and damned the Steward and all his descendents, Fallon raising his mug a bit too enthusiastically at that toast. As Toradan refilled their mugs, Fallon eyed the commander warily knowing his dislike of overindulgence and his inability to hold his drink.
"I will one day sail up to the docks at Harlond and take the White City for my own!" Toradan bragged. "No Steward's chair for me. I will climb to the throne and sit in the hall of kings!" The man laughed heartily and tipped back his tankard, draining it again. With Toradan so occupied, Fallon witnessed Thorongil upend his drink into the rushes, and smiled at his commander.
"CaunNor," Toradan mused, " the mystery of Pelargir. My agents there say they fruitlessly search for you. The military governor sits idly perhaps hoping we will sail up the Anduin and lay down our arms!" Toradan took a deep drink and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, contemplating Thorongil. "I should cut your throats." Fallon tensed, hand on his sword hilt. "I promised my friends in Pelargir to stop raiding for a bit. The governor threatened to hang them for collaborating with me. That would not be good for mutual business."
"That is one solution for the governor's dilemma," Thorongil pointed out. The pirate captain laughed.
"Drink up!" Toradan filled their tankards a third time, calling for another bottle. A slender, silver-haired youth appeared at the pirate's elbow with it. The young man wore the heavy silver neck cuff of a slave and his shirtless back was welted with whip marks, both old and recent. When he looked up, Thorongil was startled to see he was Elven, probably from Lorien and Celeborn's clan by his features and coloring. Toradan noticed Thorongil's interest, mistaking it as prurient. He grabbed the young elf's hair and turned his face toward the commander.
"Do you like my elfling, Captain? I could lend him to you for a bit though he is willful and requires a firm hand. Gilmeldir he is called, and I am told it means Silverfriend, though he is neither friendly nor a treasure." He shoved the youth at Thorongil, tripping him with a heavy, booted foot; Fallon caught the boy's arm before he could crash to the ground. "Take him, Captain. Consider him my gift for your ridding us of one who betrayed the brotherhood. Send him back when you are finished with him or kill him, I care not." He turned from the three to gesture to the blond lieutenant who had returned and was standing quietly in the background. "We shall have to celebrate another time and plot the overthrow of Minas Tirith." With that, Toradan rose and their audience ended.
Thorongil used Fallon's arm to clamber to his feet, staggered a bit for show, and reeled from the fortress. The pirate lieutenant explained that the brotherhood council should begin as soon as all where there; they simply now waited for Sea-wolf to arrive. Thorongil slapped the man on the shoulder, said he was a fine officer, and ambled off across the plaza.
Fallon followed with Gilmeldir. The elf had not spoken and showed no emotion at his change of owners. He walked as if looking inward, unaware of his surroundings. Once in the streets, Thorongil straightened to his typical ground-eating walk and they strode back in the direction of Revenge, Thorongil's arms were crossed behind him, he was deep in thought. Finally, he said:
"We must do this tonight. Ascabar will know me and will know I am no pirate. He has a score to settle with me," Thorongil said. Fallon questioned whether the drink really had had an effect on his commander since he was speaking so openly before Toradan's slave.
"What would you like done with our elfling who is probably a spy for his master?" he asked. Thorongil turned and looked at Fallon, wondering at his caution, and then at their new possession. Laying a hand on his shoulder, he addressed Gilmeldir in Sindarin.
"My heart aches that you suffered at the hands of your captors, and we mean you no hurt. It would take the heart of Lord Celeborn if one of his people betrayed his kin, do you not agree, Gilmeldir of Lorien?" The young elf looked startled for just a moment, the first sign of awareness of his circumstances Fallon had yet seen from the elf.
"I would give up the hope of ever seeing the Golden Wood again if I by any deed betrayed my people."
"Then know you, Gilmeldir, I am friend and family of Celeborn." Gilmeldir raised a brow as if to say he well knew Lord Celeborn had no pirate friends.
"Looks are not always what they appear to be. I am known as Elessar in Lady Galadriel's realm and am on a dangerous task for those we both revere. You are safe with us and have escaped your bonds, and are once again free. Gilmeldir, if I survive this night, I will see you reunited with your Galadhrim kin." The young elf grabbed his hand and bowed low.
"Le hannon, my lord. Your name is known to me. The Lady has smiled on me to send me such as you. May Elendii light your way."
'May Elendii give us at least a bit of light,' Thorongil thought as he clung to the side of one of the pirate ships. Wisps of fog swirled around him; it had thickened as the night progressed. This ship was the third his group boarded. In each, they looked for a low entry port, avoiding the watch on deck at all costs. He swung easily into the open stern windows of this one. The cabin was empty and he signaled for his men to follow. He hoped Fallon's group was able to set their bombs with the ease his group was having.
The last member of his crew crawled into the cabin and they quietly carried the oil casks they bore to the between decks, collecting any incendiary materials along the way. Gerot picked up an oil lamp from the cabin and his grinning teeth shone whitely from his blackened face. They wedged their barrels into the piles of sails and rigging, and set a slow fuse. Most of the ships would burn like tar-dipped torches; their timbers were dry and soaked with oils that made them water tight but would burst into roaring infernos with one small spark. Many of the ships were also resupplying and the decks were crowded with crates and barrels. New loads of grog barrels were being stacked in the holds, reward for the crew's contentment, and sure to explode violently when the fire reached them.
So they worked their way down the line of ships, setting the oil barrels, lighting the slow fuses. Once done they would row back to Revenge and then Kindrel would slide the ship quietly out to sea before the explosions ripped through the harbor. Once the fire started, Thorongil hoped it would spread rapidly among the tightly packed ships and the riotous pirates on shore would be too drunk to save their vessels.
Thorongil's was the last of the six crews back aboard Revenge. Fallon, smiling, gave him a helping hand up over the side.
"All ships have been boarded without incident, my lord." Thorongil nodded; the Corsairs had considered themselves too safe in their own harbor to set more than a cursory watch.
Thorongil ordered all lights doused, their lines were cast off, and Kindrel got them moving silently through the water. Once in the channel, the men rowed as quietly as possible, the only sounds were the oars squeaking in the oarlocks and shouts of carousing carrying over the water from the shore.
Suddenly off to port, a ship loomed out of the fog, passing them closely. It was Sea Wolf; they were near enough for Thorongil to make out Ascabar's hair as his old captain manned the tiller. The pirate eyed him across the water and Thorongil had the uncanny feeling he recognized him. But, Sea-wolf continued on, silently going into the harbor. The watch's call of midnight came across the water. There was a muffled thud, like a rock hitting the earth and then booming geysers of flame lit the night sky.
"In sweeps!" Kindrel cried out to the waiting men. "Lay on all sail!"
*crist maeg (lit.) a sharp sword. Toradan uses the phrase as a crude compliment to Thorongil's bravado.
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.