9. Chapter 9
The flap to the tent opens, and two women suddenly appear... Umbareans by their appearance, tan of skin though fairer than desert-hailing Haradrim, and clad in the relatively well-to-do attire of city dwellers. One is a venerable woman of at least five or six decades, while her companion is a young girl, and in her arms she carries several thick bundles of cloth. They do not bear the sigil of Seaward, however, nor that of Farside, or any other Tower.
The two women glance from the tall Gondorian, to Khaan, then to the other northerner: Farielle. The elderly woman clears her throat and speaks, seemingly to Khaan or Hayya: "This is her, eh?"
Khaan turns and stares at the two women. "And who might you be?"
"The High Priestess of Mordor," the old woman says, and then lets out a harsh bark of a laugh. Her younger, perhaps more pious, companion blanches. When the woman is done with her laughing she says. "Or His Majesty's tailor. Take your pick!"
Taking one of the bundles of cloth from her assistant -- white silk -- the old seamstress gestures to Khaan, and then to Farielle. "Help me with her, will you? I need some measurements."
"His Majesty is it now?" Khaan says, not hiding the sneer curling his lips. "And who exactly might that be? A price has already been paid for this Stonelander?" At which, turns to the girl and barks sharply: "UP! And make no fuss!"
Farielle jerks at Khaan's unexpected shout. Slowly, she sits up, then stands, swaying as if her balance is uncertain. Two days of not drinking can do that to a person. "Tailor?" she asks, hesitantly.
"Yes, whiteskin. Tai-lor," the old woman repeats slowly, as if talking to an imbecile. As Farielle stands uncertainly, the younger woman withdraws a long thin strip of leather and then moves to stand behind the Gondorian, measuring her waist, height, and so forth.
The old seamstress looks back to Khaan as she holds up a few different kinds of silk, comparing them to the Gondorian prisoner's complexion and hair. "The King of Gondor, you drunken wastrel," she corrects him in a tone that is gravelly yet also friendly, or even flirty. "The Lady of Seaward has offered her to him as a potential bride."
The silk is beautiful. Despite herself, Farielle's eyes linger on it; staying longest on shades of blue and green. She is trying not to listen to or care what they say, but still she stiffens again at the mention of 'bride'.
"The King of Gondor...." Khaan laughs a little, then says, "right, right," giving the older woman a wink--and speculatively eyeing the younger one, before giving up on that prospect, seemingly. "SO...this runt of the litter of Gondor's women is to be bride to the King?" He shakes his head, snapping at Farielle. "Do you hear that? Stand up straight and drink more of that water before you ruin yourself for him. Or we will make you drink after these lovely seamstresses leave."
The young assistant holds up some particularly dazzling gold-lined azure silk, but the old seamstress frowns and then snaps: "No! Get rid of the colours. I swear these damned Stonelanders cannot pull off anything except black or white," she mutters angrily, in spite of any disagreements Farielle might have as to the colour choices. "Stick to... that--" she points at some particular cloth. "Umbarean eggshell. No... Cadaver cream. Hm. Maybe that ivory white from Far Harad."
As the assistant goes about sampling some new colours, the old woman turns back to Khaan. "She might be," she shrugs, as if her employer's eccentricities and obsessions are nothing more than peculiarities that happen to pay well. "If her lineage is confirmed by the Royal genealogists. And the suitability of her stock for producing worthwhile heirs is recommended by the Royal midwives. And her profile is deemed aesthetically pleasing by the Royal sculptors." The old seamstress holds a ream of bright pink silk to Khaan's front and waggles her brows. "Now -you- can pull off this colour!"
The blue, in the brief moment it is held up against Farielle, turns her blue-grey eyes an amazing shade; perhaps the old woman wasn't looking. Or perhaps she just doesn't care. Farielle herself watches it almost longingly as the younger woman folds it away. Colors are safe. Silk can't hurt you. She stares at the different swathes intently. But in spite of her attempts, her attention is jerked back by the old woman's rambling speech. Her profile? For a moment, in sheer astonishment, it seems Farielle might have laughed. If she were in a different place. With different people.
"Pink! I'm no fat merchant's slave boy! Get that away from me," Khaan says in disgust, swatting at the material. "If you ask me, the pink would look good on the Stonelander. Better than cadaver white--she's half dead looking already, what with that skin of hers. But why your Master wishes to see her in any clothes at all is beyond me."
The old seamstress snatches away the pink silk with a scowl, her flirtations rebuffed. "I suggest you keep your fashion advice to yourself! As that is why you are a corsair, not the most sought-after tailor in the land!" Turning around, she ambles over to Farielle and, in a fit of pique, holds up a different silk... this one resembling more of a vomit-green. "Hmmm," she purrs thoughtfully. "Now this is nice."
Nice... is a matter of interpretation. Suddenly, Farielle looks ill. Seasick, perhaps. Staring at it, appalled, the girl blurts out, "That?!" Then she stops herself, and lowers her eyes. Meekly, "It is very nice."
"Are you blind, woman?" Khaan snorts. "The girl is right. That color is completely wrong for her." He reaches over, trying to grab the blue silk from the pile that the assistant seamstress carries. "Try this one--here." He holds it up to his own face. "Now..one would assume your King will want to be able to see the shape of her body as well, correct? What kind of dress do you plan?" he asks, suddenly taking charge.
The old seamstress turns to Khaan in a fury, tilting her head up as a haughty coldness comes over her. Then, as Khaan suddenly takes charge... she suddenly grows flirty again. "Oh, I -enjoy- the presence of a man who has a mind for clothing," she answers surreptitiously holding the pink to his back while he's focused on Farielle.
Then she glances at the blue the Corsair now proffers, and shrugs. "Sure, you can put that on her... If you want her to look like a whale going for a stroll. His Majesty wishes a formal engagement gown of a Numenorean cut. His Majesty is less interested in seeing her hips and more in her pedigree," she recites.
"Well, this is an...unexpected scene," comes the voice of Yildirim who's head has popped through the flaps of the tent. "It's oddly reminiscent of a dream I had." Deadpan at first, his efforts break as he smirks, snorting with amusement. "More the nightmare actually. Is that for you...?" he asks Khaan of the silk. "Quite fetching."
Something has restored a little of Farielle's equilibrium. Enough that she says, casting Khaan's words back - not at him, but at the old woman, "I am too skinny to look like a whale in anything." Her voice is still hoarse, as if the words hurt to say, and she doesn't speak very loudly.
"Her pedigree?!" Khaan chokes back a laugh, then turns and swats at the pink silk again. "The fabrics are for this woman of noble birth that my Lady SEaward found. Soon she will be your Queen, Yildirim. You should tend to her, therefore."
"Is that so?" Yildirim responds, brows raised, interest piqued. He steps fully into the tent, eyeing the girl and the escape being performed for her. "You climb the ladders of Umbar society quickly, Farielle."
"Or would you rather look like a walking candelabra," the old seamstress growls at Farielle, holding up folds of a brilliant gold cloth that many women would die for, but the old Umbarean obviously thinks is of poor quality. "Or an oliphaunt?" she gestures at equally fine silver. "I think this is much nicer--" she indicates a mucus-coloured sample, ere she notes Yildirim's entrance.
"Ahhh, Captain," the old seamstress frowns at him. "She is not the Queen of Gondor, yet," she corrects Khaan. "The Royal genealogoists must find her worthy. The Royal midwives must find her healthy. The Royal sculptors must find her pleasing. The Royal linguists must find her laughter to be of a perfectly modulated frequency..." the old woman's words trail off; she is obviously tired of repeating. "I do, however, have something for you," she adds to Yildirim.
"I tried to jump off it," Farielle says quietly to Yildirim. She looks away from him, and says, managing it lightly, "And if my profile is acceptable." The bruises on her face are turning darker; and she swallows with difficulty, and sways again, as if she is suddenly dizzy, putting out a hand to keep her balance.
"I want the blue," Farielle adds, after a minute trying to catch her breath and not fall over. "I look terrible in yellow."
"Oh no, dear lady, I am well," Yildirim says, hands up to defend again what she would put upon him, be it physical or not. "Though it is pleasing to know my Lord has such royal people to attend him." He takes note of the Gondorian's condition, a light frown taking place of his merriment, but saying nothing of it.
"I will fetch a healer for the girl," Khaan says, scowling as Farielle sways. "And Yildirim, see to it that she drinks more water meantime. She is ill used to this heat. And..." Another scowl for the color prefernces of the healer, "I will ask Lady Eruphel to come choose suitable colors for her gown." Without waiting to hear the opinions or reactions of those he is ordering around, Khaan leaves.
The young woman assisting the old seamstress appears to have finished with her measurements, and the old seamstress nods approvingly. A bunch of colours -- mostly shades of white, as well as the mucus and even the blue Farielle expresses a preference for -- are bundled away into one. Once Khaan is gone, however, the seamstress also adds the pink... for her own uses. "We shall be back with your dress," she announces to Farielle.
Then the old woman turns to Yildirim. "You may relax, Captain. It's not a dress. In fact, His Majesty commanded that I give it to you." A black tabard is offered, of very fine make and bearing the King's White Tree, but no longer the Raven of Farside upon its boughs... instead, a Heron. "I must go now, to finish the whiteskin's dress... and maybe a little something else." With a nod to her assistant, the old seamstress departs.
It must be noted at this time that in two days, Khaan shall receive by anonymous courier a sash of pink silk -- made in the manner of those commonly worn by Umbar's warriors -- with a small love heart embroidered on the inside.
Surprise at the tabard, Yildirim calls after the seamstress, "But... what is this... who..." but she is gone already, and he can but shout, "Where are the pants to match?!" Then a sigh, "How I long for war again with such madness as this."
Then they are alone, Farielle and he.
Suddenly, nearly everyone is gone. Farielle sits back down on the cot behind her; abruptly and hard, as if her legs have just given way, and buries her face in her hands.
There is silence while the lady hides sight from herself. And then, nearly upon her, more words, "Would you like one?"
Farielle is trembling again, but when she looks up, her eyes are dry. So are her lips, cracked and parched. "What?"
A trio of odd flora. Three bulbs, prickly and red, sit in his hand, each but an inch or so across. With them he bears a smile, bright and friendly.
She stares at them for a long moment, reaching out at last to touch one with a finger. The rush of pride that held her up during the last long hour is gone, and the blue-grey eyes that lift to Yildirim's are desolate. "What are they?"
And quieter, ruefully, "I would rather have a knife."
"Fruit. Just peel off the ugly part. It comes off easily enough."
In his other hand he holds up another fruit, green and red. "And odd that you should mention a knife, for this one requires such. Though, sadly, the last time I gave a man a knife, he plunged it into my chest." He shrugs, as if there is no more explanation needed.
"Thank you." She reaches to take the offered fruit, looking up at him for a moment and then away. "You need not worry. I couldn't stab you if I wanted to." There is no point in refusing to eat the fruit, not with soldiers about ordered to make her drink something every hour; she peels it carefully and takes a bite.
He takes a seat before her, and plucks the dagger from his belt. He cuts a side off the melon-sized fruit, revealing a yellow flesh inside, handing it to her as well.
"So, I fear I could not leave, but I paid a man to send your note to Gondor. Assuming he is not killed, it should arrive soon enough."
"You have met Eron, have you met his sister? Lady Nisrin?"
Farielle eats slowly. A little nausea shows on her face, but she manages the first fruit without any incidents. Her eyes lift to his as he speaks of the note, and she nods, though the news doesn't seem to bring her any pleasure. "Thank you," she says, dutifully polite.
"Yes. She - she played her lute for me." Something in that memory fills her face with misery.
Her woe seems unnoticed as he bites from the yellow fruit flesh, juice trickling down his fingers. "I did not know she played the lute. Did she play well?"
"I think so," Farielle replies. She begins to eat the other piece of fruit he gave her, glancing once at his dagger. And then her gaze goes to the far side of the tent, where Hayya's cot is, and reluctantly, she lifts the waterskin he had given her and takes a small swallow from it. With a flicker of a smile, "Please do not tell her I wasn't listening very closely. But I did enjoy her music."
Yildirim considers some more, chewing on the fruit. "You are a noblewoman, no? What sorts of gifts did you receive in Gondor? Did you have suitors?" He pauses then adds, "What sorts of gifts would you want?"
Farielle pauses, mid-bite, having laid the waterskin back down again. She tips her head to one side, considering him. "I - yes. I am not old enough to wed, but there were men who - who expressed an interest. In the future." She blushes, her pale skin turning rose, and maybe to turn the subject, asks, "Is there someone you wish to give gifts to?"
Now it is Yildirim's turn to redden but his words do not seem to show any embarrassment, "I have thought on it. Perhaps."
"I do not know if it would be appropriate or even appreciated." He grins, "I have little experience myself."
"The gifts I liked best were when I could tell someone really cared about what I liked and wanted," Farielle offers. She sets the fruit down also, half-eaten. "Instead of jewelry just because all women are supposed to like it." Something makes her smile, softening her face for a brief moment.
"Well, that is good advice I think, though makes the task more difficult, since I know little of her likes." Yildirim sighs, "If I even should."
"Then just give her something simple, so that she knows you are thinking of her." Farielle looks down at the bitten-into yellow slice of fruit and something twists her mouth. "A piece of fruit." Then she glances up again, curiously. Thinking of Yildirim's dilemma instead of her own has smoothed away the rawest edges of her distress. Or at least submerged them for a time. "Why shouldn't you?" she asks.
"Umbar politics are, I would guess, as difficult as Gondorian. Family ties, Tower ties, religious ties, and all with their obligations," Yildirim says, offering the woman another slice of the sweet fruit.
"Is it not like jumping from the edge of a great waterfall? The thrill of the fall, the refreshing coolness of the water... only to be dashed on the rocks below. Is it not better to focus on the goals of one's life? Fickle are not the hearts of great men."
Abruptly subdued, Farielle says, "I don't know." She shakes her head at the second piece of fruit, and a little wistfully says, "But perhaps you would fall into the pool at the bottom, not upon the rocks? My ... parents did that, I think." She swallows. It still hurts, but not so much, and she only winces a little. "Father always said that he was stronger be-because of her." And suddenly, she is weeping, silent tears that slide down her cheeks, while she turns her head, putting up a hand to try and hide her face.
Again the young Corsair says nothing as she cries for a time. Then, "I made a salve for your wrists. You said you worked with the healers so I assume you can wrap your bandages."
"Would you like me to see if I can find something for the bruises?"
"I miss my family," Farielle says with a sort of forlorn dignity, wiping her cheeks dry. "I am sorry. I did not mean to cry."
"Yes. Thank you."
"It is well. You are a prisoner and a Gondorian. Lady or squire, it is the expected outcome," he jokes, bringing a smile at least to his own lips. "On that topics, do you know a Menelglir Telpekhor? Or perhaps a Bor Bragollach?"
Farielle tries to smile, unsuccessfully, at his 'joke'. "I am not very acquainted with the Telpekhori," she says, her voice cooling automatically. "Lord Bragollach, I know a little. Not well. How do you know them?"
"Menelglir and I spent a great deal of time together when I was in Gondor. He is," Yildirim's features lighten, genuinely pleased, "By far, my favorite northerner. Though I know he despises me so. Ah, perhaps one day, when we are old men, we can talk and remember days long gone as fast friends." He chuckles fondly at the thought.
"As for the Bragollach, more of a less pleasant interest. He was my captor for a time. It is my aim to repay," his mood darkens, "The kindness he showed me. I saw him on the field. He remembered me not and struck me down. A disappointing outcome for me."
"He is a madman," Farielle mutters. "I do not like him. I wish..." She stops without saying anything more. "We have not had good relations with Telphekhor, so I do not know Menelglir at all. I think he is younger than I am though." She frowns, her eyes unfocusing. "He was the son of Nalstrarim Telpekhor..." Then shakes her head. "I am sure I have not met him."
"You have poor relations with the Telpekhor? That is fascinating." Yildirim leans forward, unconsciously, "Would you tell me more of that? What do the..." he thinks, "Gilrithin, was it? Your family have against the Telpekhor?"
But Farielle suddenly remembers who she is talking to, and a slight chagrin comes into her expression. She glances away and shrugs, trying to make it look casual, and says, "It is unimportant. Why do you wish to know?"
Yildirim laughs at this answer, "Have we not been speaking only of unimportant things?"
"There are things I seek in life that cannot be gotten by blade alone. So I study people and their ways, seeking what truths can be found there. Your nobility is unlike our own and so I find it a curiosity. Or maybe it is not different at all and I am ignorant. That is why I wish to know."
"Oh." Farielle looks at him cautiously. "You yourself said not to trust you," she tells him. "And - I do not wish for a careless word of mine to be used against my people. But it is only a little matter. They think that their lineage is superior to ours, and it makes them ill-tempered to be wrong. In important things, we are united."
"I see. A simple feud of families then," Yildirim concludes, content with her answer.
"And allow me to augment my statement on trust. Clearly I am Corsair and Farside, not Telpekhor or Girithlin, so it was my meaning to not see my acts for more than what they are. I will not set you free, unless ordered by my Lord or Lady. If I learn of some information that can aid myself or them, I shall use it to my advantage. But, I am not one to speak untruths. There are many in Umbar whose bond of words is unyielding as dipping your hand into the sea, that is to say not at all. I am not one such as they."
"I will not lie to you. And you can believe that because I have no reason to. And I have read tales that if your lineage is true enough, you can look into my eyes and see the truth in my words, even now," and so he does look into her eyes.
Farielle listens, her eyebrows drawing together a little in an unconscious frown. But she does meet his gaze, looking steadily into his eyes, and whether or not the tales are true, and whether or not she was born with that gift, after a moment, she nods. "I do not think you are lying to me," she says. She sighs a little. "I do not lie. Perhaps I shall have to learn."
"Be wary... such gifts are not only to be found in the lands of Gondor." He stands now stretching his arms over his head, "Sadly, my day is filled with tasks less pleasant than fruit cutting. May I ask that you be discreet with what we talked about this day? I have been freer with my own wounds then perhaps prudent."
The girl nods. "I will remember." And she smiles, almost shyly. "Thank you for talking to me. And for the fruit. I will safeguard your words, as much as I am able."
Yildrim nods, smiling at her thanks. He turns and pushes open the flap to the tent, then stops and looks back, "Would you hear but a few words of advice, Lady Farielle, before I go?"
She has looked down as he left, picking up the fruit that is left and nibbling at it, and now she glances back up. "Yes?"
"You are proud, and if the bruises on your face did not paint that picture clearly enough, then it could be easily told by the slant of your nose. There is a time for pride, of defiance and willful determination."
He saddens some, "It is not that time for you. Do you understand my meaning?"
Made unwary by surprise, Farielle doesn't hide the swirl of emotions that cross her face swiftly enough, and for a moment, the torment of the trap she is caught in shows plainly. Then she drops her eyes. "I understand," she says quietly.
"Then be well, Lady Farielle."
"Until next time," a quick nod and Yildirim disappears into the bright afternoon sun.