5. Chapter 5
'The Gondorians are driven out...' Those words echoed over and over in Farielle's mind until she wanted to scream. 'Where is she to run?' They were gone. No one had come for her. If this man - this king - but how could he be king? He was a Haradrim! And the line of kings was broken; there was only the Steward now. If she was who she said she was, she would be married to him. Haradrim. Pretender. Liar. Servant of the Enemy.
Marriage - and after, there would be children... the thought of it filled her with sick horror. Unbidden, her mother's voice spoke in her memory: 'You are a scion of a great lineage, Farielle. You must always comport yourself worthily of those whose blood runs in yours. Even in your marriage...' Her mother had hesitated, then smiled and patted the young girl's cheek gently. 'But do not fear. Your father will choose wisely and kindly, and your husband will be a great and honorable man. Only remember, it was the daughter of Mirethlas herself, the elven maid, who married your forefather, and thus her blood is yours. Never bring shame to her memory.'
She would not marry him. She would not! But what could she do? If they wouldn't even consider ransom; if her people were gone from these shores, leaving her behind.. Farielle bit her lip, sitting on the cot Hayya had wrestled into place at Lady Eruphel's orders. She thought of her brothers, of her parents. What would Eruiglas do? she wondered - but she knew. She'd been very young, but she still remembered the day her oldest brother, newly knighted, had stormed home from Dol Amroth. She'd been playing in a corner near the fireplace when he and Father had come into the room, and she'd crept close to listen. Eruiglas had scowled at her when Father took her on his lap. 'She's too young!' he grumped, but then he rumpled her hair and she'd known she could stay.
Her brother, oldest, stiff with honor, so proud of his heritage, so aghast at discovering a brother knight in some lapse of honor. She idolized him. There was no question what he would do, caught in the trap she was in. And Gwaithmir, who'd memorized all the songs about elves before he was even sent to school and was so noble he told the cook in a fit of remorse that they'd snuck his apple tarts before they were even cool! And even Lomin who'd played with her and studied with her and had always been fiercely intent on out-Knighting Eruiglas.
She set her shoulders. Perhaps they would never know, but she too would be as valiant as her brothers. She would be worthy of her name.
It was hot earlier, but now an evening wind sweeps in with the tide, damp and lukewarm and curling the smoke above the Haradrim cook-fires. The camps sprawl among rubble, bloodstained many of them, with guards and bristling weapons aplenty.
Nisrin stalks quietly among the guards, waving away questions with a merry, disarming smile. She carries a basket and now approaches the tent of Eruphel, Lady Seaward.
Farielle is where she has been all the time. Inside the tent. Once, she dared so far as to look out the doorflap, but no farther. The guards at the doorway were more than enough to discourage any further exploration - if the throngs of dark-skinned people (among whom she would stand out like a beacon on a hill) hadn't already done the trick. And now she sits on the cot that Eruphel has given her at last, after that man had come to look at her, and does nothing. There is nothing to do.
"Let me in," begs a girl's voice playfully, quite close to the tent-flap. "I have dinner?"
There is a voice outside, and Farielle glances towards the doorway then away. Then a low chuckle, and one of the guardsmen says something in reply, and then sunlight streams in as the tent door is held open.
The slim, dark form of a young woman enters, perhaps a few years younger and a head shorter than the Gondorian lady. There is a lively bounce to her step as she tip-toes about the various compartments of Eruphel's lodgings, coming at last to stand a stone's throw from the cot.
"Good day," she says politely to Farielle, her Westron academic and ill-practiced, a catlike smile curving on her lips. "I have brought dinner, if you are hungry."
Farielle has been studying her hands, paying no attention to the newcomer - clearly, it is nothing that will concern her. Surprise flashes across her face as the person stops in front of her. She looks up, her expression clearly asking if the girl before her means her. Clearing her throat, she says cautiously, "Yes. Thank you." Her voice sounds rough and unpracticed, as if she hasn't been talking much recently. A pause and bluntly, "Why?"
The Haradrim girl pauses, setting the basket carefully on the ground. "Because I am not hungry and you may be, and I don't like goat-stew," Nisrin says, taking a step closer. She crosses her arms, peering at the other woman. Her smile toys with some thought or another, though cruelty does not permeate it: "And there were rumors. I wanted to see the Northern woman who hitched up her skirts and marched over to Caldur of Farside, for the sake of some sweetheart or something..."
Goat-stew. Farielle wrinkles up her nose, but says again, politely, "Thank you. It was a kind thought." Her stomach growls, but she doesn't reach for the basket. At the girl's last words, something like anger or bitterness stiffens her face - and she doesn't try to mask it, but twitches feet and hands to show the bandages around her ankles and wrists. "I did not choose to come here," she says flatly.
Nisrin grins, "I know. So it is true then: your men command you, and you go. It is a sad life you must have led in your camp: you will do better in ours." The girl cants her head. "This is your first time meeting our people? I have never seen a lady of the North before."
Anger flashes in Farielle's blue-grey eyes. "/My/ people tried to rescue me. It was yours who brought me here, bound and against my will." She shuts her mouth into a thin, tight line, but opens it again to say fiercely, "I will not! What life is this to desire, shut into this tent to be sold off to whoever comes along, never to see my family again, and no choice even in what I am given to eat?" She doesn't answer Nisrin's question, turning her head aside to hide a sudden up-welling of grief as painful as if someone has hit her in the stomach.
Nisrin half-rises. "I did not mean to twist the knife," she says calmly, her features settling back into a decidedly uncurious, staid demeanor. Then, awkwardly, "Is there anything else I can bring you?"
Farielle is silent, wrestling her emotions down until she can speak composedly again. "A knife," she mutters, then gives Nisrin a twisted, almost-smile, saying dully, "There is nothing you can give me that I want."
"Your life should be sufficient." comes a man's voice from the tent flap as another occupant of Eruphel's tent returns to it. Eron's armor is rent, and blood splattered. In fact, the chain seems more patch than origional steel. Eron looks from the captured Gondorian to his sister. "Behaving?"
"Freedom?" asks Nisrin quietly. "That is a price too high, I fear." She whirls, shrinking back reflexively from the tall armored man, before standing and squaring her position before the Gondorian's cot. "We are well," she says, continuing in Westron, the quaver of defensiveness in her tone. "Were you hurt, brother?"
The Gondorian woman is silent where she sits on the cot, lifting her chin a little and looking back at Eron. The stew in the basket at her feet is still fragrant, though it is cooling swiftly, uneaten like this.
Eron nods curtly to Nisrin. "I am glad you are well, sister. This one, I'll as soon keel-haul as converse with. It's like speaking with one without wits I'd imagine. I hope she is worth our trouble." Eron moves to set his armaments down. "I'm fine. No Gondorian steel found anything vital. Though my armor will need replacing once we reach home."
"As expected," Nisrin murmurs, her expression hidden by dark curls. She gestures to Farielle, saying, "There is nothing of import. I had brought dinner, and assumed neither Hayya nor Lady Seaward were present. May I linger?"
The insults have no effect, sinking like stones into water and vanishing without a trace of any response. Farielle's blue-grey eyes don't flicker, her pale face doesn't flush. She does glance down, almost automatically, at the basket as Nisrin mentions it.
"If you wish." Eron says dismissively. He's not the warm, cuddly kind of brother these days. Life is different outside of Umbar. He turns his attention onto the prisoner, but says nothing for a time. "If she eats, she eats, if she doesn't it will be what it will be. Should negotiations turn sour, I'll have Eruphel give her to me to appease The Eye."
Nisrin perches by the cot, rocking back and forth. At Eron's words she stiffens, sparing Farielle an almost pitying, protective glance. "She is weakened, brother. Surely there are robust Gondorian soldiers aplenty that would better slake His thirst?" she asks casually.
Something flashes in Farielle's eyes at the mention of her people's long Enemy, but it is gone again, equally swiftly. It is Nisrin's words, meant to spare her, that bring anger to burn once again. But still she remains silent and unmoving.
Eron is ever watchful. A match easily for Rangers or Knights of Gondor, as has been proven this endeavor. "There is fight in this one, not weakness. And you'd do best not to question my opinions in regards to a suitable gift for the Dark Lord. You forget who I served under for nearly as long as you've lived, sister."
"I know well enough," hisses Nisrin, slipping suddenly into the swift tongue of her homeland. She stands, regarding her brother coldly. "But she is not yours. Have you no pity for the girl? While you were off killing things in the East, your compassion died as well." The girl pauses near the tent-flap. "I am sailing home on the Arambodh, I would think. A good day to you, brother," she says blandly in Westron.
Farielle's gaze darts to Eron and drops away, and she bends her head, drooping a little, subtly, as if she is trying not to let it show. Nisrin starts to leave, but the Gondorian doesn't look up from watching her hands where they are folded in her lap.
If Eron is at all offended by his sister's outburst, there is no outward signs of it. Which could be a bad thing. "Sail home with your precious Yildirim, if you will. In fact, I'll have your belongings moved to Farside Tower once we arrive back in Umbar, if that is your wish." Eron's calm tone offers as much insult as Nisrin's. For now Farielle is ignored.
"That is very giving of you, Lord Eron, though I doubt Farside could match Seaward's accommodations for Lady Nisrin," comes Yildirim's voice as he steps also into the tent, in front of Nisrin, a toothy grin bright upon his face. It has been sometime since he has looked fresh, cleaned and rested, but today is so. He spares a glance beyond Nisrin towards the prisoner, offering a friendly, if absurd, wave, "And a good day to you as well, Lady." For Nisrin he but holds a smile, no words.
"I am sorely tempted," replies Nisrin in a low hiss. But now another enters, and the girl shuffles back towards Farielle's cot, quiet but darting glances towards Eron, tensed much like a threatened cat.
Farielle looks up as someone else comes in, and is startled for the umpteenth time that day by Yildirim's friendly greeting to her. The wary, tense expression slips a little and a small, puzzled frown draws her fine, dark eyebrows together. Her gaze goes between the three Haradrim, watching the interplay between them, though her eyes wince away from Eron - perhaps she is more afraid of him now.
"Since when is the tent of Lady and Lord Seaward open to whomever wishes to enter unanounced?" Eron says in Yildirim's direction. His tone is annoyed, but not overly incensed. "That which I speak to my sister is my own. And she seems quite taken with you and your lot. Which leads me to question her loyalty, to both Tower AND House." Eron crosses his arms over his chest. Either war has dulled his sense of tact, or he isn't ready to stop fighting yet.
"Ah." Yildirim hesitates a moment, eyes moving from Nisrin, to Farielle and then to Eron. "Should I return later then with the casualty report Farside has thus far collected for Seaward?" and in deed, there is a rolled parchment in his hand.
Nisrin glowers. "I have sworn nothing, Eron."
"Yet you agreed to sail on a Farside ship as a Seaward Envoy. Our house, and everyone in it, is Seaward. Everyone but the pupils in our walls. You included, as a noble lady of Hashikh. But if you feel you've sworn nothing, I'll have the Lady Seaward hear over it. I'll not be bogged down in this politicking, and seeing my own sister debase herself thus." Eron then turns his attention to Yildirim. "As for your report. I understand it to be of great import. Your welcome here is not questioned, simply your unannounced entry. What if Eruphel was here, and was dressed inappropriately? An announcement of your arrival is all I had wished."
The Gondorian woman's attention focuses suddenly, intently, on the newcomer at the mention of casualty reports. Absently, she rubs at one of the bandages around her wrists.
Yildirim motions over his shoulders, "Should the guards not then slow my entry? Ah, it is no bother, Lord Eron. Of course, you are correct." Seeking various diversions, he offers both the rolled paper and a question, "How is the Lady? She is, thus far, the only woman among the prisoners. Have you a chance to speak to her much? She seems a woman of quality."
Farielle bows her head to hide her expression, which is something of a smirk at Yildirim's question; considering what Eron has just said about his desire to talk to her.
Nisrin inclines her head, her lips tight. "I understand, brother." She glances over to the Gondorian lady, saying nothing but observing intently.
"I'm not very adept at speaking with the spoils of war. Eruphel has people for that I would imagine. My understanding is she's to be kept in good care, else she'd not be bound where -I- must sleep." Eron waves his hands dismissively, as if to push the awkward conversations from before out, so those within can speak as kin and comrades.
"May I?" Yildirim questions, with a slight motion towards the prisoner.
Eron shrugs and motions for Yildirim to do as he pleases, as he moves to pour himself a glass of wine from a nearby decanter, unrolling the paper and bending over it.
Passing Nisrin, Yildirim takes the chance offered and squats before Farielle. He looks her over briefly, some attention paid to the bandages, "I am Yildirim an Kaplan, Corsair for Farside Tower."
The young man appears suddenly in Farielle's field of vision, and she looks at him. Her expression is a curious blend of dispassion and resolution. After a moment, she says, "I am Farielle Girithlin. You will forgive me if I do not say I am pleased to meet you."
Nisrin smiles, if only for a moment, at Yildirim. She turns on her heel to leave. "Eat," she says to the lady, more coaxing than commanding, and ducks back under the tent-flap.
A brief glance for Nisrin as she takes a hurried leave and then Yildirim looks back to Farielle, "Lady Girithlin. I have not met one of your family. Though I have read something of it. From Belfalas, yes?"
Yildirim then widens his smile, "Do not worry about hurting my feelings. I have been both prisoner and guest of your people and know the awkwardness found therein." The young man's lips twist in contemplation, "You are... sixteen? Seventeen?"
"Near there," Farielle says, cautiously. She looks away at the mention of her family, blinking. But her gaze flies back to his at his next comment, her eyes widening and suddenly uncertain. "Nineteen," she whispers.
"And what do you do?" comes the Corsair's next question.
"Do?" Farielle asks, confused. She looks down at the cot. "Sit here, mostly. Or did you mean be-before." Her voice falters the smallest amount.
"You came along with a small army of Gondorians to rescue the Order of the Swan from certain destruction. Why would they bring you?" Yildirim asks again.
"Oh. I came to help the healers. I do not know much about it, but Mother said it would be good for me to learn a little. For balance." This she says in an expressionless voice, looking down again so that he can't see her eyes. It seems for a minute, she will say something more, but then she doesn't.
"Your mother sent you to Caldur?" he says, incredulously. He sniffs, either amused or impressed by this statement. "I suspect the next trip offered to you she will be more hesitant." He glances at Eron, disposed with his report, and whispers, "Have you been tortured? Beaten? Abused?"
"She - " Farielle's voice breaks, and she stops, her hands closing into fists and the fingernails digging into her palms. After a few minutes, when she has control of herself again, she says, "She sent me to Dol Amroth, to work with the healers. They packed up and came to Caldur, and - and I came with them. My brother was in the Keep."
At his whispered question, she looks up, her eyes confused again. Then she shakes her head, and in an equally quiet whisper says, "No. The .. the lady here said she would did I try to run away - but no one has touched me. Only - " she falters again, then finishes resolutely. "Only the men who - who took me. From the ropes." She lifts a wrist an inch from her lap and lets it fall back again. There is a pause and then she asks, "Why do you care?"
"Do not be mistaken, my Lady Farielle," Yildirim whispers again, surprisingly having little trouble with her name, "I am the snake in this matter, the friendly face that calms and comforts you. Certainly not to be trusted."
"But, I am Farside and you are held by Seaward and there is a difference there. For Gondor, we are the same, but there are many differences between us and you are well to learn them now that you are in Umbar. I am your enemy, no doubt, perhaps even if your brother was slain it was by my hand. But as you are now, your choice of what you may call friend is a limited and unsatisfying thing. In circumstances such as these, perhaps that is what I am to you now."
Farielle listens, paying attention, learning what he tells her - but oddly, there is an air of indifference. As if it doesn't really matter. At the end, she nods and asks, slightly curious, "What is Farside? Is it a House?" The basket with now-cold stew in it still sits at her feet, untouched.
He laughs, spoiling whatever secrecy there may be between them now. "I am sorry, but that was unexpected. Allow the lessons in Haradrim society to fall to me. Certainly, few others shall give them. Oh," he adds, offhandly, "I too am nineteen. In the late summer."
"Umbar is ruled by five Towers, Farside, Seaward, Desert, Black and," a pause, "The Dark Citadel. Each has a Lord, or Lady, that rules absolute for that Tower. The rule of the city is by that counsel of five. Outside of Umbar, things are less formal. There are fiefs, like Caldur here, ruled by a tower or family. Tribes further out have their lands. But the power of Harad is found in Umbar and with those five."
His laughter brings an actual smile to Farielle's face. Faint and fleeting, but there. She listens much as before, with attention and some interest, but detached. As if she learns from inclination and habit, but doesn't expect the information to be important in her life. "I see." And after a moment, offered in return, "My birth day is in the spring."
Her indifference is noted and Yildirim's brow creases, "Be wary, lady. I know little of your fate. Normally, prisoners are ransomed back to their families, a price paid for a life. But you are a prize that has cost Seaward much. For every man of Gondor that lies dead on that field, I have counted five of the south. A good showing for Gondor that bodes ill for you. You have become a very expensive prize. What knowledge I am willing to impart to you could have very measurable effects on how," again he hesitates, "Comfortable your stay can be. Take it as not a threat, for you are not my prisoner, but as fact, snake or no, and heed it as such."
"I am grateful for your ... gift," Farielle says, sincerely. "I am listening." To prove it, she repeats back to him what he has told her. "I said that my father would pay any ransom," she says, "but I do not think anyone listened." She hesitates, then says slowly, "A man came. To - to look at me." She shudders all over, convulsively.
"Oh? Tell me of him," Yildirim requests.
"He wore a cloth over his face," Farielle says. "I do not remember his name. I - I was distracted." Her eyes are shadowed, remembering the fog of terror and bewilderment that covered everything. Then some other random bit of information comes to mind, and she tells the Haradrim that also. "He said, if I chose to stay, the food would be good. As if I have any choices." The words are bitter, but oddly, her voice is not.
"A cloth over his face," Yildirim repeats, fingers itching at his chin, "If you are fair and even with that man, he shall be so with you. If you are not, he shall not. There are far worst men to fear," his eyes dancing briefly towards Eron and his attentions.
"You know him?" Farielle asks, but not as if she expects an answer. She is silent, her eyes following his to Eron. "I do not want to be sold like - like a cow to the highest bidder," she says plaintively, but with a self-mocking quirk to her mouth that says she knows very well that what she wants is no longer of any importance to anyone. She shivers again. Her words may be light, but the fear behind them is real.
"There are few that can be described such, so I say I think I know that man. If you hear the mew of cats nearby when he is, he is the same." Yildirim continues, "I rather you not be sold either. But, you are in Seaward's care and there are differences."
"For now, is there word you would send to Gondor?"
For the first time, Farielle shows a real emotion - not simply something flitting over the surface of her face and eyes. Astonishment, and a kind of terrible hope. It is extinguished in the next moment, forcibly. Her eyes hold his for a long minute, then drop to her hands once more. When she speaks, her voice is very controlled - both resigned and resolute. "I do not wish my family ignorant of my fate."
"Easy enough. I have a ship and the means to sail her. I shall, upon gathering Lady Seaward's permission, deliver a note to a Gondorian patrol that Lady Farielle lives. Naught more?" he questions once again.
Farielle closes her eyes and draws in a long slow breath. She lets it out again. "When?" she asks him. There is a strange urgency in her voice, and her hands are clenched again.
After a moment, she adds, her voice very low, "Tell them... my choices were my own. That I ask them not - not to seek retribution." Quieter still. "Tell them that I love them." She doesn't look at him again, her face turned down and her eyes hidden.
"It shall be done," Yildirim concludes adding but, "On the morrow if I am able." He stands, some pity in his eye for the young woman. He walks away, parting the flap then stops and looks back, "Things are hard for you, but harder for the dead, no?" The flap slaps shut behind him and he is gone.
Surely that cannot be dismay that crosses her face at his answer. But all she says is, "Thank you." And when he is gone: "Easier, I think," Farielle says under her breath, too quiet for anyone to hear, even if they were standing right beside her.