14. Chapter 14
It's evening, but early. Farielle hasn't left her room, so she doesn't know when the other inhabitants of this place might eat, but there are the remains of a small meal on the low table, and a hairbrush lies near them. The girl is standing with her hair unbound and loose about her; she has clearly been brushing it, and now is trying to braid the silky black strands. But it is fine stuff and floats about her, clinging to fingers and arms and clothes; and besides that, is longer than her arms. She's not having much luck.
Outside, a floorboard creaks and quiet words are exchanged: one gruff, the other female. Then there is a polite rap on the door.
Farielle starts a little and stares at the door. Then she pushes her hair back, holding it off her face with one hand, and says, tentatively, "Yes?" Someone is actually waiting for her to respond before coming in? How novel.
Nisrin enters lightly, glancing about the room. She is followed by a guard, who shuts the door and leans against it, idly observing the ceiling.
"Good evening," says the Haradrim girl with a small smile, her eyes flicking over the meal. "I see you supped."
"Yes," Farielle answers. She smiles too - though no expression reaches her eyes, it is friendly enough; and returns to dealing with her hair. Giving up on braiding it for the time being, she gathers it back off her forehead and twists it into a loose knot at the base of her neck, pushing a wooden pin through to hold this in place. The edges fall softly to curve along her cheeks. She glances at the guard, then looks back to Nisrin, waiting.
Outside the door there is the sound of a quick and perhaps annoyed conversation before, with a shove at the door, Khaan enters. He glances from the guard to the girl to Nisrin. And then grimaces and stands there, arms crossed over his chest, silent.
"You have such nice hair," sighs Nisrin enviously, dropping unceremoniously onto the other thick cushion that functions as a seat. She nearly jumps as the door bursts open again, and regards the newcomer with a ruffled look. "Lord Khaan," she says, then, continuing unhurriedly, "I brought you some fruit."
She brings forth a small open basket, laden with various citrus, and pushes it across the table.
Only visible by Farielle -- it is difficult to see under all the brightly-colored orange and yellow rinds -- a ragged scrap of paper is slipped into the woven ridges of the basket. Nisrin raises an eyebrow briefly, then resumes her friendly, reserved look.
"Oh," is Farielle's response, as if that was the last thing she was thinking of. "It is hard to take care of myself," she admits. "I can't braid it." She is moving towards the table herself, when Khaan comes in and she turns to look at him with a slight puzzled frown. "Did you need something?" she asks him.
"Lady Eruphel will want to know the purpose of your visit," Khaan says, directing this only toward Nisrin. Farielle gets the barest of nods--grudgingly so, even. "The guards must report all comings and goings with the..." he glances to Farielle, "visitor."
"Bringing her fruit," Nisrin replies shortly, the cant of her head regal and decidedly annoyed. "And for the braiding of hair," she decides mischievously. "It is what women do to look more presentable. You are not going to help me, are you, Lord Khaan? I could use one of the pins from my chambers, this is such an ugly one..."
The guard is gruff, almost to the point of rudeness, but Farielle doesn't seem to care. She nods back, then seats herself gracefully on another cushion - placed so the wall can be used as a chair back. Reaching for one of the oranges, she starts to peel it.
"I am not your errand boy," Khaan snorts back to Nisrin. "If she is to be the Queen of Gondor, then why doesn't she have maids to braid her hair?"
"Fine," sniffs the Haradrim girl, "you can sit there and watch if it so interests you."
Farielle is looking quite intently at her orange - tricky, peeling those things after all - and if any expression slides across her face at her possible future title, it may easily go unseen. Especially since no one seems to be looking at her. The last of the rind is pulled away and set neatly on one of the dirty plates, and the girl starts to eat, one segment at a time. Her gaze lingers idly on the fruit basket, as if she isn't really thinking about what she is looking at, but after a moment, she takes another orange out and turns to look at Khaan, then beyond him to the other guard. "Would you like one?" she asks them both.
"Why, yes in fact," Khaan says politely, taking the offered orange. "Thank you, miss." He looks to Nisrin, "and where do you stand on this matter--is she the queen of the Stonelanders?"
"Not yet," answers Nisrin, regarding the knot of Farielle's hair critically. "And with her hair all over the place, no. Have you a brush?" she asks the lady, rising from her own seat.
Turning sideways, Farielle leans forward across the fruit basket, to pick up the brush that is on the far side of the table from her. She has to stretch to reach it. Handing it up to Nisrin, she settles back onto the cushion, tucking her dress under her legs carefully. "Thank you," she says, gratefully, and ignores the discussion about queens entirely.
When she sits back, the bit of paper is gone from the basket's weave.
"What say you, miss," Khaan asks of Farielle. "You have been quiet on this subject. But then I suppose you have not much to offer?"
"And you," he nods to Nisrin, "what would make it so?"
'Her marriage to a King, presumably, would give her that title,' says Nisrin, methodically loosening the straight, raven-dark hair of the other lady. With a practiced hand, she runs the brush through it a few times. 'I have not seen Lord Alphros much, though.'
The Haradrim girl leans in conspiratorially towards Farielle's head, with the semblance of a girlish giggle, whispering swiftly, "A correspondence in the elvish script that I found in the ruins. Will you read it and tell me of it later?"
"Yes, of course - I want it braided," Farielle replies, smiling. "And you are not to ask him to help you, he will get juice all over. Besides, men cannot braid."
She doesn't turn her head while Nisrin works on her hair, but says to Khaan, smile gone, "When my words might have the smallest effect, I will speak."
"Of course I can braid, or at least tie knots," Khaan says, wiping his hands on his trousers as he finishes peeling his orange. He starts eating one slice at a time from the peeled ball of fruit in his hand. "The smallest effect? Dear girl, when you are Queen your words will rule Gondor--this does not appeal to you?"
And a flash of suspicion then colors the man's glance. "Later what?" he demands of Nisrin.
"Exactly," sniffs Nisrin, deftly separating the other woman's dark locks into sections. "You will tie knots in it, and it shall have to be cut off." She looks playfully affronted at the sudden drop in Khaan's trust. "Later I will bring her some of my ornaments. I have a few whose jewels would match her eyes well," the girl says mildly, her lips curving in a catlike smile.
Farielle is silent, for long enough that Khaan might think she isn't going to answer. But then she says, quietly, "I am not yet of an age to wed, yet if this man wishes it, I must. I cannot speak to even a family member of the lady of this tower alone. If Alphros doesn't find me pleasing, I will be sold as a slave or given as a sacrifice to my people's greatest enemy." She doesn't speak of the third alternative - suicide.
"I will never see my family, or my home again. And no words or desires of mine will be listened to by anyone, or make the smallest change in what will happen. Where in this is there any appeal, Queen in name, or not?"
"Ah, well, none of us can control our fate, can we now?" Khaan says with a grim smile to this litany from the Stonelander. "And yet, fate it would seem to me, that brought you to us. And what good is it to struggle against it?" he shrugs.
A stern look is given to Nisrin, and he slips into the local language. "That is not what you said. You mentioned the word 'ruins,' and if you persist in lying to me, then this will of course be reported to the Lady Eruphel."
Nisrin gives a frustrated hiss and tugs sharply on a knot. "Why would I lie to you, Khaan?" she mutters angrily in the same tongue. "It is her hair that is in ruins, as you can clearly see. I dislike that you do not trust me so."
Nothing she says has the smallest effect. There is no point in speaking. Farielle sits quietly, holding her head still as Nisrin works at a snarl.
"Do not whisper in front of me and I will have no reason to mistrust you," Khaan smiles dryly using Westron again. "There should be no reason to keep a secret, after all, no? And it is my duty to ensure that I, as one of her guards, know everything that goes on here."
"Very well," says Nisrin icily, turning her attention to the thin braids she is working into Farielle's hair. "I shall announce all our girlish gossip henceforth."
"Have you any that are blue?" Farielle asks, as if Khaan and Nisrin have said nothing at all. "I like blue. Or green." She lifts a hand to feel experimentally at her hair.
"Fine," Khaan huffs in return, adding, "Women!"
"Farside's tailors will dress in you green, likely. Yellow-green, if that woman has her way of it. Horrible."
"I have plenty of blue ones," answers Nisrin, flashing Khaan a winning smile. "But yellow-green ... merciful Zimraphel, you will look sallow in such a color. Can the Tailor's heart not be changed?"
"I will look ill," Farielle says. "I cannot wear yellow at all. Clear green, or blue-green. But blue is better." She speaks as if automatically, a girl talking clothes with another girl - and incidentally a guardsman - but also as if it doesn't matter. What she wants, what she says - no one listens, and she will have a dress of puke-green, and look like a week-old corpse.
"Ask for pink," Khaan says, yawning and looking both bored and horrified at this topic. He makes a face. "Is this truly what women talk and care about?"
"Pink like one of Abernaci's elephants all dressed up," Nisrin scowls. "It is what -noble- women talk about, Lord Khaan, so that they appear tasteful and refined. Did you not know? And seeing that you have stayed so long, I would offer to braid your hair, too."
Farielle makes a face. "I hate pink." She looks at the guard out of the sides of her eyes, still carefully not moving her head. "Sometimes, we talk about embroidering," she offers, a mischievous glint in her eyes, though her face is still impassive - the first of anything like humor she has shown.
"And shopping in the bazaar," shoots in Nisrin quickly, intent on boring the guardsmen to tears. "Knitting. Raising kittens. Discussing love poetry and writing it, too."
"I could tell you one, if you liked," Farielle puts in. "I have several that I've written memorized."
"All right, all right," Khaan says, looking more and more horrified with each suggestion, until he finally holds up a hand. "You--" he points a large finger to Nisrin--"are responsible if anything untoward happens as a result of your little chat. I will be outside the door, on duty, before this drivel drives me insane." He all but runs out the door.
"Do tell," begins Nisrin eagerly, "and I will respond with the song of the turtle and the nightingale ... oh. Goodbye," the girl says, waving crestfallen to Khaan and the other guard (not to waste this opportunity for escape) as they exit.
Farielle is silent for a long moment. Then she starts to giggle. It has been so long since she has laughed - or had anything to laugh about - that she almost can't stop. "Knitting," she gasps.
"Knitting," replies Nisrin gravely, before bursting into gleeful laughter. "It has been so long since I had someone to talk to about such things! Eron does not like kittens," she points out sadly, before pulling a butterfly-pin from her own hair, its wings darting a jewelled blue, and securing Farielle's braids with it.
"Please," Farielle begs when she has finally managed to stop laughing - it has become almost hysterical by this time, but she does regain control of herself. "I like kittens. And poetry. And embroidery and clothes but let us please not talk of knitting."
She grows quiet then, glancing at the other girl and then away. And looking at the basket of fruit on the table, she says tentatively, "I am sorry... it seems a terrible thing to me, to be afraid of one's brother."
"No knitting," agrees Nisrin, folding gracefully back onto her seat-cushion. "Give me a sail and a fair wind any day."
"And let us not talk about him," the Haradrim girl says, hugging her knees as she looks furtively to the door. "I am afraid of him, but he is powerful, and strong, and my only family. And I am sure he cares -- but empathy is not one of his strengths."
Farielle nods and says nothing more, though maybe her expression tells that she can't even imagine being afraid of her brother. She is quiet for a few minutes, spending the time trying to see what her hair looks like by feel. "You don't have a mirror, do you?" she asks, and then, in the same tone of voice, "What is that paper?"
"Not with me," says Nisrin, slightly surprised. "I had been longing to try that style out for a long time, you see, but my hair is too curly. Someone cut it off when it got wound about a spar."
She leans across the table, helping herself to an orange. "It is a letter of sorts that I found in the Keep, after they all left," the girl murmurs so that eavesdroppers outside the teak door cannot hear. "But it is in some elvish script, and I do not want the scholars to pore and hum over it. Will you tell me what it says? I am curious."
A letter. In elvish. It must have been written by the Gondorians. Farielle pulls it out from beneath her skirt, and spreads it on her lap, and her hands are trembling slightly. No matter who wrote it or what it is - most likely a list of supplies or something similar - it is from her homeland.
"Do something to my hair," she murmurs. "Pretend you don't like one of the braids or something." She bends her head as if to give the other girl a better look at the bottom of whatever arrangement is there, and starts to read.
"Dearest sister, if it is true that word has passed to Gondor through the Haradrim blockade, then perhaps you shall have news of us soon. We ourselves did not know that Sir Brannon and his ships had escaped but for his absence the next morning, and for Sir Imrakhor's announcement, grim but triumphant. I do not know the mind of my Captain now -- not that I claim to have ever known the decision of the Council that sent us here, thinking that Prince Imrahil might be held in this place. It seems almost a lure, knowing our thirst for vengeance, and we being led by a madman."
"I do not begrudge him his Captaincy, for we are inspired to fight by something like fear, but I am afraid for what will happen to us all should his madness be allowed to continue. Yet in times of war it is men like Imrakhor Bragollach that Gondor needs most: men who know to hate and strike out against those who hate us equally. We have come to Caldur so that the Corsairs need not visit Dol Amroth ..."
"I hope you and Mother and Father are doing well. Has Losse had her kittens? You must count them for me, and we will raise them together when the Knights return, for I am certain that we will return, and the Haradrim cannot stop me from even swimming back to Belfalas once this fighting is won..."
"What is this tuft sticking out?" cries Nisrin loudly, almost petulantly, and marches over posthaste to fix the offending braid.
"It is a letter," Farielle murmurs. "From someone to his sister... he is writing while trapped in the keep, after Sir Brannon escaped. He speaks of feeling that he is led by a madman who thirsts for vengeance. Of being afraid.." Her finger traces the lines of runes as she speaks. "Afraid of what will happen if their captain's madness is allowed to continue; afraid of what will happen if it is not. He..." She stops, her face suddenly dead white.
"Bor Bragollach, is that his captain's name?" comments Nisrin, fussing superficially over the braids. "I met him once. He is a fearsome swordsman," the girl says, a note of anger and sadness in her voice.
"Imrakhor," Farielle whispers, her eyes running swiftly over the last paragraph to where the words cut off abruptly. There is a catch in her throat, and tears spring to her eyes at the same time as a smile spreads unstoppably across her face. She touches the paper gently, tracing one of the runes with her forefinger... Losse.
Nisrin pauses, leaning back from the braids, her head tilted in utter puzzlement. "You know Imrakhor, then?"
"Yes, yes, oh, a little," Farielle says, hardly attending to what Nisrin is saying. She is reading the letter again, her eyes devouring each word, picking out little idiosyncrasies so well known - now that she knows to look for them.
"Oh," says the Haradrim girl, crossing to her own cushion again. "You have not told me the end," she prompts. But it is so wrinkled and weather-beaten, that the letter itself may have been truncated...
"What?" The Gondorian doesn't even look up; hardly seems aware that Nisrin has stopped fiddling with her hair. A teardrop spills down her cheek and she wipes it away automatically.
"Is there more?" asks Nisrin patiently. "What is it -- oh, you are crying." She looks embarassed.
Farielle looks up, smiling through her tears. "Oh, he asks if Losse has had her kittens and after the welfare of his parents, and ..." She bends her head to read the last phrases. 'You must count them for me, and we will raise them together when the Knights return, for I am certain that we will return, and the Haradrim cannot stop me from even swimming back to Belfalas once this fighting is won..."' Then looks up at Nisrin again, urgent and intent. "Please. May I keep it? Please. It is - my brother wrote this. Lominzil."
"Your brother?" Nisrin stares in disbelief for a moment, then smiles sadly. "Yes, I do not think it would do any harm. But you must not let anyone see it. Khaan would be upset."
"Yes, I do not know how... he must have... that you should find it..." Farielle is babbling, smoothing the precious bit of paper carefully with her hand. She wipes the tears away then, still smiling. "Don't worry," she says, returning to earth a little at least. "I am not so foolish as that." Tenderly, she folds up the scrap of paper, tucking it into the time-honored storage spot of women throughout all ages and cultures: her bodice. "Thank you," she says.
For a moment, it looks like she will burst into tears in earnest, but she blinks them away, and says, her voice returning to normal. "Losse is our cat. She had 6 kittens just before... Three of them are orange and striped, and one is grey and one is tortoise-shell, and the other is cream-colored all over." If the guards poke an ear in at this point, they will hear nothing but what the girls said they would talk of: kittens. Presumably, they have passed hair ribbons, and will move on to poetry next.
"You counted them," points out Nisrin, smiling slightly. "Do you know how to raise them?"
"Certainly," Farielle says, lifting her nose and looking haughtily down it. "You feed the mother." A moment and a grin wipes away the fake arrogance.
"Do they not get underfoot?" asks Nisrin. "All six of them!" She glances once to the open door and smiles.
"Well, that is what kittens do," the Gondorian points out. "Then they grow up and learn to catch mice."
Nisrin laughed. Then she rose gracefully to her feet and took her leave. When she was gone, and the door was shut, Farielle took the precious bit of tattered paper out once more. She glanced worriedly at the door, then sat down with her back to it, and read over the lines again and again. Lominzil. That this he had written had ever come to her... she sent a brief heartfelt 'thank you' towards the Valar - nay, to Eru himself, who must surely have had a hand in this impossible thing.
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.