4. Chapter 4
They had to move fast, but Imrahil took the time to look along the headland to where he could see the ramparts of the small fort perched over the entrance to the inlet. Sergion was still concentrating on the tower. Noise and light emanated from the windows, quashing the need for stealth.
"There must be a dozen in there. And Thorongil was right about the celebrations, it sounds like they have already made inroads into the Arak. The stuff wields a mighty punch."
Imrahil smiled, temped to leave the sods to drown in fig juice, but he couldn't risk one still being sober enough to see five warships entering their harbour. He was just about to order the attack when a movement along the track to the fort had him wave everyone down. He peered through the gloom. "Can you make it out?" he asked Sergion.
"Looks like three men rolling a barrel," one of the young soldiers piped up.
"I think this lot here are about to be joined by some of our friends from the garrison," Sergion agreed.
"Yes." Imrahil glanced up to the tower. "And I imagine there are some already up there. Which means there can't be that many left in the fort." They knew from reports it was thinly manned, but there could still be enough to cause mayhem if Thorongil came in early.
"Lord!" A voice came from behind him. "I think I can see our ships. I just caught sight of something glinting through the haze. A way off yet, but they must be on their way."
Damn! Just as he feared, Thorongil had seen the light shining and taken it for the signal to come in. He touched Sergion's arm. "Go and spoil that happy trio's party, will you. We don't want them seeing anything here and running back to the fort to raise the alarm. Then scout ahead, I'll join you as soon as we have cleaned up the tower."
Once Sergion had gone, leading three men, Imrahil picked six to take the tower with him. He doubted there would be room for more.
"Right, let's go!" He drew his sword and sped across the open ground to the tower. It had been built on top of a granite outcrop, and not fearing they would be heard with the noise emitting from the upper floor, he bounded up the steps cut into the rock. The door opened with a squeak of rusty hinges, but the room he entered was empty. It served as a store: hams hung from a beam and vegetables spilled out from an open crate. Squashing debris under his feet, Imrahil made straight for the flight of stone steps in the corner. A rat jumped down from a grain barrel and scuttled past his legs. He swore under his breath and signalling the men behind him to be quiet, started creeping upward.
The steps emerged into a circular room, lined by torches and filled by men. A more gruesome looking bunch he had rarely seen. One looked straight at him, a filthy rogue with matted hair and a livid scar on his cheek. He lurched to his feet, swayed, and held up a stone mug.
"Where's the liquor, you whoreson…" His eyes opened wide as he realised his mistake. Imrahil lunged forward and slashed him straight across the throat. Blood sprayed across the room.
Chairs tipped, cups rolled on the floor, as drunken men reached for their swords. A bearded giant charged at him, but Imrahil dodged right and brought his sword down on the man's arm. He shoved the hilt into the brute's face and when he went down, stamped on his throat. No room or need for niceties. It was over in minutes. He had guessed the garrison and the tower would be manned by those too old or too maimed to serve on the ships. Seasoned fighters they might be, but the corsairs had been intent on rollicking their way to oblivion. He had brought Dol Amroth's best warriors with him; mail-clad and well armed, they massacred the ragged bunch.
Imrahil wiped the back of his hand across his forehead and tipped a body with his foot, but the man was dead. His men checked the others; none of this lot would be singing again. But a movement across the room alerted him. How had he missed it – a narrow wooden door? It must lead to the turret and somebody had just pulled it shut. Not knowing if there was anything up there that could be used to warn the fort, he leapt across the room and wrenched open the door, Frightened eyes shone in the dark, a figure was outlined against the lighter sky above.
"Come down! You've no chance!"
"I'll stick you if you come near," a wobbly voice threatened him. A knife glinted.
"Put the knife down. I'll not hurt you."
The boy, he could see it was a boy, stepped down into the light. Thin and black-haired, with big dark eyes, he wore a grubby red tunic. The knife still threatened, but the hand that held it trembled with fear … or maybe cold. Imrahil could have taken it from him in one move, but he didn't.
"You'll kill me."
"No, I won't. Not if you give me the knife. I don't make war on children." Imrahil lowered his sword and held out his hand for the knife. "Is there anyone else up there?"
The boy shook his head, and after a moment turned the hilt towards him. Imrahil guessed he had been designated as the lookout while the rest of the bastards caroused. He motioned one of his men to check the turret, keeping his eyes on the lad. Now what did he do with him? He couldn't leave him here, but a prisoner would slow them down and they needed to be away to secure the garrison. Thorongil would be approaching.
The boy's eyes were pleading; did he still think he was going to be killed? He turned to the nearest man. "Ohtar, take care of him."
Ohtar went for his knife. "You want me to slit his throat, lord?"
"No!" he barked. "He's no more than a child."
"A child with a knife," someone murmured. "And they slaughter enough of ours."
Imrahil took no notice. If he started murdering children he would be like their enemies.
No one else was up the tower, his man reported. Only a large gong, presumably used to alert the garrison to danger. Imrahil wondered why the boy had not banged it straightway. "Bring him along. But make sure he doesn't get away. And find him something warm," he ordered Ohtar, seeing his captive shiver. Besides probably being cold from the open turret, fear was etched on his face. "We need to move out." Another hitch: dragging a boy along when he wanted to impress Thorongil.
Sergion waited for him under the cover of a large clump of thorn a few hundred yards from the fort. He raised his eyebrows at the sight of the boy. "Did you have any trouble?"
Imrahil ducked into the shadow, pausing for a breath after their run along the track. "No, but that one was too young to kill. How about you?"
Sergion jerked his head to three dark shapes lying in the scrub. "They were making so much noise we could have walked right up. But we do have a bit of a problem." He carefully pulled aside some branches to make a peep hole to the fort. "The walls are higher than we were told."
Imrahil studied the fortifications for a moment. "Difficult to tell from here. You went closer?"
Sergion nodded. "Yes. And the gate's closed and locked. There's about twenty five-men left inside, plus a few servants..."
"You found out that from looking?"
"No," Sergion eyed the nearest body. "He thought cooperation would let him live longer. It did, by two minutes … but his death was quick."
"Hmm… we have to get in soon. Thorongil's on his way." Imrahil stared at the walls – the worst news possible, he needed to think for a moment. Would the ramparts be lower where they dropped down the cliff to the platform overlooking the channel? "We've plenty of rope, so could extend the length of the grapples." But he knew the answer as he said it.
"They're unwieldy enough now. We'll alert the whole garrison trying to snag them on top of the wall."
But they had to try. He couldn't give in. If the fort started raining blazing pitch down on Thorongil, besides doing incredible damage, the action would warn the ships in the harbour. Then their fleet would face hostility from two directions.
Still pondering, Imrahil heard muttering behind him. "What is it? Speak up if you have an idea."
"It's the lad, lord," Ohtar answered. "He says he can get us in. Although why he should, I don't know." Ohtar pushed the boy forward. With no immediate threat of death and a dirty surcoat over his tunic, he had stopped shaking.
"Well?" Imrahil demanded.
"They said you're a prince."
Imrahil bit back a retort – he didn't have time for this. "Yes."
The boy stared at him. "My mother said you'd come. That the Swan Prince would come for his people. She went on and on about it. But I didn't believe her." He glared accusingly, lips quivering. "And she didn't believe it either, or she'd never have jumped into the harbour."
When Imrahil said nothing, the boy's eyes dropped and he kicked at a stone with his foot. "She came from Belfalas, lord, taken in the raids. Her master got fed up with her and sent her to the brothel. When she could bear no more she jumped." He raised his eyes again and Imrahil saw a tear glistening. "You should have come sooner, Swan Prince."
"I'm sorry." Imrahil put his hand on his shoulder. "What's your name?"
"You can help us, Jibran?"
"They'll let me in, lord. I can knock, and you hide. Surprise them once the door's open." His chin went up. "But only if you take me to Belfalas, like she said you would."
Imrahil hesitated, reluctant to promise what he might not be able to deliver. He studied the pinched face for a moment. "Can I trust you, Jibran?" he asked, saying it as much to himself as the boy. "You seemed pretty well in with them back there."
The boy pulled himself up straight, meeting his eyes. "They're nothing to me, lord." He spat on the ground. "I'm slave-born. When I'm too old for pleasure, I'll be sent to the ships till I'm only use for fish food. Anything would be better than what life holds here."
Bile rose in Imrahil's throat. Damn them! Damn all of them! He would gut every sod he came across. He looked around the men, they were murmuring together and nodding. "I will trust you, Jibran. And if you help us, I will take you with us when we go home." Now he had to hope the boy really could open the gates. "Are you sure they will let you in?"
Jibran looked back to the tower, his lips twisting into a grimace. "That ugly one with his throat cut was the commander of the fort, lord. I was his favourite. They will open the doors for me."
Imrahil guessed that the boy had been trusted, doing anything to make life easier. Who could blame him for that? "Right, Jibran, then tell me what we'll encounter when we get inside."
Imrahil took a few moments to find out the general layout and confirm Sergion's information on the number of defenders. He had no qualms about the odds, only that he needed to get the job done with no more delays. "Give us time to get into position, Jibran. Then walk up openly, as you would," he said when he had heard all he needed to know, "in case anyone's watching."
The men started to move, but Jibran grabbed Imrahil's tunic just before he left. "You'll only kill the corsairs, won't you, lord? Not the boys. You'll take them with you as well? Away from here."
"You won't leave them, lord. They'll be punished terribly!"
Imrahil sighed. "How many, Jibran?"
"Five, and there's an old woman who does the cooking."
Imrahil nodded. "I promise we'll do our best. But they'll have to keep up and take their chance; we've still got to get back to the ships." He patted the boy's arm encouragingly. "Now we must go."
They moved as swiftly as they could, keeping to the dark shadows of the thorn bushes. As they got nearer, Imrahil could see that the walls would have been difficult. If Jibran could get them in, he would be grateful enough to take him and his friends. Could he do anything else anyway? Any man would cringe at leaving young boys to live in such a way.
Reaching the edge of the open space in front of the gateway, they split into two groups and ran for the shelter of the walls. He could hear nothing from within, maybe all the ones who wanted to drink had gone to the tower. The men were in place; he and Sergion first in line, each side of the gate. Jibran was about a hundred yards away. He walked purposefully, and Imrahil felt reassured. Still no sound from inside, and they had seen no lookouts during the approach. But he doubted the corsairs were even thinking of any attack: it had been hundreds of years since Gondor had made any attempt to raid their stinking nest.
He signalled he was ready, and Jibran hurried the last few yards. The boy paused for a moment, but after a sideways look and a drawn smile, raised his fist and banged on the studded door.
Nothing happened. Jibran banged again, thumping hard on the wood, and shouting. "Let me in. Are you there, Lubayd?"
"Who's that? What do you want?" A slurred voice came from behind the door.
"It's me, Jibran. I've got a message from the commander."
Imrahil's heart thumped, willing the man not to question any more. He had no idea if Jibran had any real excuse.
"What does he want? I thought he'd be too far gone to care what happens here," Lubayd grumbled.
Damn! But the boy must have been prepared: he grinned at Imrahil, white teeth gleaming in the dark.
"Not yet," Jibran laughed, talking into the wood. "But soon. He says that thin rubbish in the barrel would scour a camel. He wants the good stuff in the skins."
"Mighty particular all of a sudden, ain't he?" the gatekeeper protested, but the bolts cranked as he began to open the door. Imrahil jammed his back against the stone, well out of sight, and nodded to Sergion. They were ready.
The gate started to swing, hinges squeaking – the corsairs had obviously never heard of oil. The hinges must have dropped a bit as well, because the gate caught on the rough stone of the entranceway. Jibran put his shoulder to it and it opened with a jerk.
"Mind me! What's the hurry?" Lubayd groused.
Jibran stepped aside and Imrahil dived through the gate. Lubayd's protest gurgled in his throat as he tasted cold steel. They were in!
The entranceway led into a square courtyard and Imrahil ranged his eyes around. A number of buildings led from it, and suddenly a door opened. A man wandered out, looked up at the sky and stretched. Imrahil and Sergion leapt across the intervening distance. With a gasp of shock, the corsair tried to get back in and slam the door, Imrahil flung himself against the wood – the last thing he wanted was to have the whole garrison roused. He fell through the doorway into a room full of stinking smoke. And corsairs.
Imrahil sliced at the nearest man, his men pouring in behind him. Shisha pipes tipped over, hissing on the floor like writhing snakes. Tâb boards and pieces erupted into the air as players jumped to their feet, desperately reaching for their swords. Bleary eyed men jolted awake, horror on their faces. He had to be in the off-duty room Jibran had told him about – this lot hadn't taken so much liquor, but the Dol Amroth warriors outnumbered them. As soon as a few were down, Imrahil yelled to Sergion. "Take half and secure the rest of the place. I can manage here."
He fought his way across the room. Seeing some young boys cowering in a corner, he shouted at them to keep down. Then he felt a blast of fresh air – one big sod was getting away through another door. Imrahil hurled himself after him, down a few steps and out onto an open platform. He could smell the sea. The man he was following headed for a raised stand that held a huge gong. He couldn't let him sound that! But footsteps thudded up from a lower level – three guards coming for him, swords drawn.
Imrahil snatched a dagger from his boot and let fly, straight at the man going for the gong. It hit him in the middle of his back; he stumbled forward and fell against the gong. It clanged dolefully.
The guards were on him. Imrahil met the first with a sweep of his sword and rammed him back into his fellows. Now his own men poured down the steps, and they fell on the corsairs. Imrahil gulped for air, looking around for any other attack. He heard some racket back in the building, but it died away. Quickly he descended to check the platform below, but it held only armaments and no more guards. It looked like the watch kept was pretty meagre. As he came back up the steps Sergion appeared. A dark patch stained the front of his tunic; he sheathed his sword and smiled.
"All clear. I've three wounded, a collection of boys, and an old woman with a bad limp and a sharp tongue. How about you?"
Imrahil checked his men – most were knocked about a bit, a few would be sore. One had a gash on his arm. Already he was wrapping it, but managed a grin. "Nothing serious, lord."
Imrahil nodded, relieved. Now he had to get everyone out of here and hope the boats came to pick them up.
To be continued.
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.