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Falcon, The: The Adventures of Peregrin Took: 3. The Bay of Belfalas
Pippin was seasick for three days. He lay in a hammock slung between a cabinet and a rack in what he supposed to be the merchant vessel Seafoam’s second-best passenger cabin, located in the tall forecastle, which was about the size of the best pantry in Bag End. He took to bed almost immediately after boarding the ship, and would have bolted with Tempest off the deck if the merest movement of his head didn’t cause him to almost pass out. The hammock was not much better. After three days of its gentle swaying with the swells, and a diet of so-called biscuits that he was convinced were paperweights made of old wood and packed clay, he was ready to try drowning. What had possessed him to accept Sàrtánukîl’s offer? He was a hobbit! Hobbits didn’t belong on the sea!
Then on the fourth day Pippin opened his eyes and, instead of fetching the pail for his morning hurl, lay on his hammock for a moment trying to figure out what was different. A window showed the same hazy golden light it had shown for the past three days. The ships bells rang eight times as he listened. They were still underway, somewhere on the way between Pelargir and Umbar, and his hammock still rolled with the influence of the swells.
Oh, that was it. The hammock was moving, but he wasn’t dizzy or nauseous. Pippin’s eyes grew wide. He wasn’t seasick! He wasn’t seasick anymore! Oh, great glorious stars in heaven, he was cured! He sat up with enthusiasm, and the hammock responded by dumping him on the deck with a thump.
Black Speech echoed through the cabin. Pippin sat up, rubbing his elbow and side. His mother had warned him of the consequences of being skinny. Most unnatural for a hobbit. He tried to explain that he had a good appetite, it just all went away before it could find a spot on his body to stick to. After he came back he said loftily that a soldier of Gondor was properly lean and muscular, as he was. Eglantine squeaked in disapproval, fanned herself, and made him eat more apple tarts. Now he saw her wisdom. Padding would have come in handy.
The door opened and a young Man peeked in. “Master Halfling?” said the youth, whose name was Cellas and who had been keeping Pippin company—he was a friend of Bergil’s. He observed Pippin on the floor for a moment. “Are you hurt?”
“Just my pride,” Pippin said, standing. Cellas’ eyes widened with his smile.
“You have found your legs,” said the sailor.
“Yes, two of them,” Pippin replied wryly, though he felt proud. “I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.”
“But the Bay of Belfalas has no perceptible tide,” Cellas said, baffled.
“Never mind. So, where are we?”
“Come up on deck and see for yourself!”
Pippin nodded. “Let me just make myself presentable.” He looked down at himself and gave a sniff. He was dismayed. “I don’t suppose I could take a bath …?”
He couldn’t, and had to settle for a basin of cold water and a cloth. He scrubbed off the grime of the last three days as best he could, and donned a clean shirt and pair of breeches.
Sàrtánukîl stood with the captain, Anducar, upon the forecastle, when Pippin joined them. Cellas, working the halyards of the sail with other sailors, grinned at him as he walked passed. Pippin grinned back.
“Ah, Ràzanûr,” said Sàrtánukîl with a bow. “How fortunate that you have recovered.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Pippin with a nod. “I hope to be better company for whatever remains of our voyage.”
The merchant smiled. “There are many days yet before we reach the City of the Corsairs. Enough time for us to enjoy your worthy company. Please spend your evenings with us and dine.”
“Thank you, I think I will. We hobbits do enjoy our mealtimes. Which reminds me, am I too late for breakfast?”
The captain eyed him. “There may be some gruel leftover from the morning meal,” he said.
Gruel. Pippin’s stomach threatened to break its promise to behave. He shushed it. “No, I don’t think I should trouble the cook,” he said hastily. “After all, I’m sure it is soon to be elev—er, luncheon.”
“The day meal is in four hours.”
Four hours! Pippin gave a half-hearted smile and decided he needed to distract himself. He turned to the sea … and soon found himself entranced.
The first time he had ever seen the sea, grief and many tears had distracted him. And indeed, the Sundering Sea as glimpsed at the Grey Havens had been a cool presence, silvery and remote.
Not so here. Pippin knew they traveled near the coast. He knew the Bay of Belfalas was a sunny and forgiving sea. But here before him stretched a rolling carpet of indigo blue, darker and deeper and infinitely more motile than anything he had ever before experienced.
He leaned over the bow rail. The water, struck by the sun, was clear to a great depth. He espied shapes in the water, matching the Seafoam’s speed. He cried out in shock and joy as one of these shapes leapt up into the clear air. A fish, longer than a hobbit was tall, with a smile upon it long snout.
“Dolphin,” said Cellas, coming behind him. “They follow ships and are known to save sailors from drowning.”
Pippin could only stare raptly as another of the creatures leapt up from the sea. It looked like they were dancing and laughing. He wasn’t aware he was laughing with them until he heard himself over the bustling wind.
“Cellas,” said Anducar sternly. “You are still on this watch.”
Cellas nodded. “I am sorry, sir.” With an apologetic glance at Pippin, he rejoined the activity on the deck.
Pippin turned to watch. The Seafoam was a broad-drafted, round-bottomed cog with a high forecastle and sterncastle and two masts, a hundred feet long and forty feet wide amidships. From its main mast swayed a wide yard from which hung the mainsail. It seemed much of the attention of the crew was dedicated to controlling the immense and heavy sail and its yards, as they increased or decreased its size and angle to accommodate changes in the wind. Ropes were everywhere around the mast, some seeming to hold it up, others used to hold the corners of the sail and direct the angle of the yard. The second mast was short with a steeply angled and offset yard bearing a triangular sail. It looked like the sails of the Corsair ships he remembered from the Battle of the Pelennor. Another triangular sail was attached to the spars perpendicular to the ship’s bowsprit. Pippin didn’t know how fast they were going, but it seemed plenty fast to him, and the wide, almost shoelike bow of the ship rode gently upon the swells.
“So, worthy friend.” Pippin turned to Sàrtánukîl, who was regarding him with his veiled brown eyes. “How do you enjoy the sea?”
Pippin beheld the immensity one more time, and decided. “I love it!” he declared, laughing.
He heard Sàrtánukîl chuckle. “Myself, I do not have a great love for it,” said the merchant, stroking his beard. “However, my business is one where time is often more important than appeasing my qualms for safety.”
Pippin nodded. “What goods do you transport, if I may ask?”
“Cosmetics and herbal extracts,” was the merchant’s easy reply. “Too long have the pale-skinned and raven-haired women of Gondor gone without the precious substances in which women take such joy. But these precious things would spoil in the hot sun of a caravan, or fall victim to highway robbers, so I hire merchant vessels where I only have the occasional Corsair to deal with. And, loyal to Umbar and their lord and tower, I can arrange for my safety and that of my goods even in that event. Unless, gods forbid it, we come upon a so-called ‘free’ Corsair or true pirate.
“Ah, the sea. Perhaps it is welcoming to you, but I would much rather have solid land beneath my feet.”
Pippin left the merchant and went to the very prow of the vessel, filling his lungs with the wind off the waves. He gazed out searchingly toward the horizon. “I’ve had solid land beneath my feet, between my toes and in my fur, since I was born,” he said. “It’s not enough anymore.”
Sàrtánukîl eyed him. “Is that common among your kind?”
Pippin laughed. “No, indeed it isn’t! My family has an adventurous streak. My cousin Gary, that is Isengar, who died thirty years before I was born, went to sea in his youth. It’s the sort of daring, adventurous, noble thing Tooks are known for. I seem to have it worse than most. Which is strange, seeing as I never would have thought of setting foot outside the Shire until …” He broke off suddenly, eyeing the Southron warily.
Suddenly the merchant laughed. “Until the gods called you and your kin to deeds so renowned all the known lands speak of them!”
“All the lands?” Pippin asked with disappointment.
“Ah. So that is what you seek. Somewhere in the great world where no one knows of you.”
Pippin nodded as he turned away, back to the horizon. “I don’t know what I seek.” He glanced up at the Southron, who was smiling at him knowingly.
“I sup with the captain at six bells,” he told Pippin. “You will join us.”
“If you wish it, master merchant,” said Pippin with a nod.
Sàrtánukîl bowed again. Pippin turned away, back to the horizon, his hands clenched to the gunwale.
So passed the next three days. Pippin woke with the morning light over the coast, a distant but visible dun line on the eastern horizon: Haradwaith. He messed in the company of Cellas and his watch and, with the captain’s permission, accompanied his young friend about his duties. Happy to share with the Ernil i Pheriannath what he had learned, Cellas filled Pippin’s hours with instruction on seamanship. Pippin made himself learn quickly.
“Now show me a reef knot,” asked a seaman of Pippin.
Pippin made an overhanded knot around the foot of the sail, then brought the end next to him over his left hand and through the opening. He pulled tight.
“Well done!” said Cellas. Pippin grinned, and then leapt to his feet and helped the boys hoist the foresail.
They sailed through a sunny day into a foggy evening when the Seafoam lit all her lamps. A sailor stood upon the prow, blowing on a horn to warn any other ships of its passage.
Pippin stood upon the sterncastle with the officer of the watch and the coxswain at the helm. He walked up to study the chart the officer held in his hands.
“I understand this evening fog is usual off the desert coast,” he said.
The officer glanced down at him, and nodded. “Indeed. A cold current appears here from deep in the Bay. Its rising causes the moisture in the air to become visible when the Sun vanishes as the desert radiates the heat of the day.”
“Are we in any danger?” Pippin wanted to know.
The officer smiled indulgently. “This is merely light fog,” he said. “Have no fear, little one.”
Pippin smiled sweetly. “You have reassured me,” he said. Then he went to the coxswain, who was trying hard not to smile. Pippin mimicked the officer, and the coxswain couldn’t help snort.
“What was that, Ondil?”
“Nothing, sir. Fog got in my nose.” The coxswain winked at Pippin.
Tempest was quartered in the rear hold. Pippin led her onto the deck for a few laps whenever he could. The sailors marveled at the animal’s composure.
“Oh, she’s a smart lass, aren’t you, Tempest?” Pippin said, patting her cheek. Tempest nickered indulgently. “You know there’s an untried road at the end of this sea,” Pippin went on, “and in the meantime you’re enjoying the sights, just like me.” He fed her a carrot-top left over from cooking the evening’s soup.
“What’s the shrouds?” cried the quartermaster when the fog lifted and they found a fresh wind. Pippin was with the crew, letting out more sail to make up lost time.
“That is!” Pippin shouted back, pointing to the ropes extending from the gunwales to the top of the mast.
“And the halyards?”
“This that’s burning my fingers!” Pippin replied, hand over hand releasing more rope.
They laughed, and Pippin laughed with them. He broke into song:
O sweet is the wind on the rolling sea
And sweet the kiss that waits for me
In every port and every town
The song lifts up as the ale goes down!
Evenings he sat in the captain’s mess with Sàrtánukîl and Anducar, dining on salted meat and vegetables. “We do not have meals often enough for your liking, I fear,” Anducar told him the first time he dined with them.
“Your table is more than generous,” said Pippin, though both Men laughed at his obvious dismay. But the captain’s ale and wine were excellent, and Pippin was soon regaling them with stories of the Quest, the War, and the Shire.
“… so the riders spear him, and Merry and I run right into Fangorn. Now, no one of course in their right minds would willingly go into Fangorn, at least not then; and probably not now, if they’re looking for wood and not trees! Well, as soon as we realized that the place was quite hostile to two-leggers, we came upon this hill with a broken tree on top. Imagine our surprise, when the tree started to talk to us …”
“… and she had to go away for a while, but Cousin Ferumbras gave her this bejeweled comb to wear in her hair at his accession. He formally named my father his heir…”
“… so Frodo rode on, on and on, to the Ford itself, with the Black Riders at his heels. He’s falling fast now, you realize, falling to the wound dealt him by the Witch-king. Yet still he stands at the ford—”
He broke off. He looked up at his fellow diners. Anducar was grave and sober. Sàrtánukîl was listening closely.
He smiled. “Forgive me. Suffice to say, my cousin lived, thanks to the craft of Elrond of Rivendell. Strider, that is, King Elessar brought us to Imladris shortly thereafter.”
He took a deep gulp of ale. “How about a tale of Harad, then, master merchant?”
Sàrtánukîl acceded. “This is the tale of a young shoemaker, lazy and disgraced, who redeemed himself when he discovered an enchanted lamp …”
Pippin moved his hammock to the crew quarters. He bunked next to Cellas. They spoke of Gondor, and Minas Tirith where Cellas was born, and other things. As men’s conversations are wont to do, they spoke of women, Cellas describing his sweetheart first shyly and then boldly.
“And you, Master Pippin?”
Pippin thought of Diamond. “My wife,” he said, “is very beautiful,” and described her as best he could.
That night he dreamed of her, riding on Tempest through a desert of sand, and a falcon flew before her.
“I don’t know about you, Tempest,” Pippin said on the seventh day of their journey, rounding the Black Cape of Umbar, “but I think I’m beginning to fall for the sea.”
He scratched her flank. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to abandon you,” he said. “We’ve plenty of riding to do yet. I don’t think fate has it in store for us to be parted so soon. I don’t know how you’d like the sands and stone of the Harad, but it’s got to be better than being cooped in this hold, roomy as it may be.” He smiled. “I think Cellas is enamored of you. He’ll want a Rohan horse when he retires. Did you know he and Bergil are in love with sisters from the same family? I met Bergil’s maiden; she’s lovely, if a little tall, and being a girl of Men she has those tiny, dainty feet…”
He listened to her snuffling as he fed her another carrot-top. “What was that, my girl? I don’t know if they have colts in Harad. I’m sure there must be some. For some reason I thought they all rode oliphaunts. I wonder what a baby oliphaunt looks like?”
Then Tempest neighed.
“Say, easy now,” Pippin said soothingly. Tempest’s eyes were wider, and she stamped her forelegs.
Slowly Pippin realized his horse felt danger. Frowning, he tried to calm her, resolving to go immediately on deck and speak with the captain.
The lookout’s cry met him at the doorway.
It was a third again as long as the Seafoam, and its knifelike prow cut through the waves aslant the wind at implacable speed. Its three sails flared like the black fins of a great fish. Black pennants flew from the top tips of the slanted yards. Its flanks were all clad in black timber, and its prow was a jutting blade of black steel. Upon its deck waited a hundred pirates. A steady hail of arrows flew from its deck.
Pippin raced onto deck, ready to fight. But it seemed he had landed in a madhouse. Seamen were running aimlessly, some were trying to abandon ship, others were being beaten by the officers in an attempt to get them to stand and fight. Some held swords and cutlasses with shaking fingers, their faces pale and eyes huge. One of them was Cellas.
“Captain!” Pippin saw Anducar on the sterncastle. The captain was spinning the wheel almost madly, staggering when finally the rudder locked hard over and would no longer stir. “Captain, are we to stand and fight or abandon ship?”
Anducar looked down at him as if stunned. Pippin had seen that look before, and he had to blink furiously to banish the memory of Denethor from his mind. “Captain,” Pippin said as sternly as he could, “we’re outmatched. If we resist, we shall be slaughtered. You know that.” He tried to remember everything he’d read about the Corsairs. “Captain! Surrender your ship. It is the only way to avoid a massacre.”
Anducar suddenly drew his sword. “No! I am the master of this vessel!” He pushed Pippin aside and shouted, “Arm yourselves! Let none be taken! Die as men of Gondor!”
Pippin picked himself up. “Blasted Gondorian pride!” he spat. “He’ll get us all killed.” He thought of escape, then remembered Tempest in the hold. He searched the horizon. The Moon was new, but on the eastern horizon he discerned a glow that was not the dawn: the lights of Umbar, the most populous city in the world. The coast was but a day’s sail away. Could Tempest swim that long?
Ululating cries and curses drew his attention. Grappling hooks flew from the hands of the pirates on the Corsair ship, landing on the gunwales and rigging of the hapless Seafoam. They were being pulled closer.
Pippin sighed, and drew Trollsbane. “Well, I suppose this is as good an adventure as any,” he said, and ran down to the deck to stand by Cellas.
“Peregrin!” said the young, frightened sailor. “This is no place for a hobbit!”
“Not even one of the Fellowship of the Ring?” Pippin retorted. Cellas stared and then nodded. He was fighting with one of the heroes of the Third Age. “Stay with me,” Pippin ordered, and Cellas obeyed.
With a cry pirates swung from their ship onto the Seafoam. They were armed with scimitars and flambards and tiny throwing spikes. Where they landed, they attacked, and slew on sight. Pippin saw his friend the coxswain run through upon the wheel. Boarding planks banged onto the deck. The Corsairs were upon them.
In the darkness in the night and darkness in the chaos of the battle the Seafoam was overwhelmed. Around him Pippin saw the crew of the merchant vessel slaughtered. Some tried to surrender, but they were hewn down first. Those who fought bravest were given time to fight, even facing down individual pirates in single combat. This was part of their code, Pippin remembered from one of his books. Those who did not flee, who chose to fight, were fought to the death; if any attempted to surrender, they were slain quickly, unless the Corsairs were looking to enslave. The Seafoam had a hundred crew; the Corsairs were more than twice that, and it seemed most of them were on the boarding party.
Soon he stood back-to-back with Cellas among the last of the survivors. And where was Sàrtánukîl? The merchant was Haradrim, perhaps there was a chance he could reason with them. Or ransom them.
A pirate came at him howling. Pippin struck him down. Another came behind, and Cellas slashed at him with a knife. “Down!” Pippin cried, and Cellas ducked as Pippin swung Trollsbane two-handed in a wide arc, catching two of their attackers with its tip. Now more pirates came, drawn by their resistance. They circled the hobbit and the youth, two of the last defenders not yet taken or dead. Pippin’s sword held them at bay; those who had tried to break the circle had quickly been wounded or slain. But the numbers were growing. Soon it seemed the whole of the boarding party, a hundred and more men in flowing robes of dark color, surrounded them. Pippin knew he could kill a few if they charged Cellas and himself. But then death or capture would follow immediately. He heard the boy’s hard, panicky breathing behind him, and wondered how to go about saving their necks.
A tall man with a straight sword strode onto the deck. He wore a black scarf over the lower part of his face, and his hair was dark. Pippin felt the man’s grey eyes rake over him. He hated that feeling.
The man slowly walked to them, and the pirates parted to let him through. “Watch them, lad,” Pippin cautioned Cellas. The boy, his long knife wet as his cheeks, nodded.
The tall man now stood before Pippin. His sword was lowered but ready.
“Do you wish to surrender, or would you fight me?” he asked them in Westron.
Pippin knew if he surrendered, he and Cellas both would be killed. Their only chance would be to prove their worth to the Corsairs.
“I will fight you,” he said, stepping forward with Trollsbane.
The pirates looked at the small figure with the keen sword and were torn between amusement and apprehension. But the tall man only nodded. To Pippin’s shock, he raised his sword and touched its blade to his brow, just as Strider and Faramir would.
Pippin closed his mouth and did the same.
He soon found that the man was very good. Almost as good as Faramir, and he had only gotten the better of Faramir thanks to his teacher’s overconfidence. The other pirates may have charged at him blindly, but this Corsair was taking his true measure. Pippin hoped he wouldn’t be found wanting.
He ducked and slashed but the man stepped out of his reach. The man turned and sliced down, and Pippin had to leap from the cut. The man let him get back on his feet before attacking again. Pippin decoyed to the left and then swung an upward-cutting stroke that nearly cleaved the front of the man’s stomach, but the man parried Trollsbane away.
Pippin saw his opening. He spun again, putting all his momentum into a two-handed slash across his opponent’s hips. But with sudden swiftness the man leapt forward and to the side in the space left by Pippin’s swing. The pommel of the man’s sword hurtled at Pippin’s head before he could escape it. The blow was hard enough to send his head spinning.
“Peregrin!” he heard Cellas cry. “No!” No, boy, keep quiet, thought Pippin, but his head was swimming from the blow. It was all he could do to keep hold of Trollsbane…
He heard the sound of a body falling against the deck. Through the daze in his eyes he turned to look for Cellas, but the boy was not where he sought him…
He felt another blow strike him, and blackness closed in.
Pippin was taken prisoner and thrown in the hold of the pirate vessel, with irons on his feet and his arms chained to a post. He swam in and out of consciousness for hours, or days, but he saw no other member of the Seafoam’s crew in the hold with him, and realized they were all probably dead. He did not see Cellas, and mourned a bit before losing consciousness again.
He was letting himself drift through a grey haze between wakefulness and oblivion when the sharp, spicy scent of food reached him. Pippin slowly blinked his eyes open. The tall Corsair stood before him. He was unchanged from how he had first appeared, his face still swathed in black fabric. In his hand he held a bowl of what looked like stew.
The Corsair spoke first. “You are hungry.”
Pippin managed to shake his head in a show of defiance.
“A Halfling is always hungry,” was the response to his gesture.
“Not this one,” Pippin said. His tongue felt sluggish in his mouth, but he seemed to be mastering it again. “Where are the crew?”
“The crew of the merchant vessel is dead,” said the Corsair. “They should have surrendered the cargo. We would have let them live.”
“Yet when they tried to surrender later …” Pippin said.
“Those who start fights and then flee from them are not worth the salt in their blood.”
And what did you do but start that fight? Pippin did not want to ask the next question, but he needed to. “My friend … the boy with me at the end …”
“He interfered with our duel,” the Corsair answered. “Uinen now shelters him, and all his mates.”
Pippin sagged. “Oh, the fool,” he whispered, not caring if the Man thought him weak for crying. Cellas had been younger than Bergil.
The man stood by watching the hobbit grieve. When Pippin’s tears dwindled, he approached again. “Eat,” he said. “Regain your strength.”
“For what?” Pippin raised his head. “If you wish for more sport from me, you can save your breath and your meat. I do not give sport for Men, or orcs, or any other creature. Or do you seek to hold me for ransom? You will get none.”
He waited as the Corsair remained silent for a long while. Those grey eyes that reminded him so strongly of Strider’s in color continued to contemplate Pippin to his discomfort. It was worse than the shackles.
“I believe there would be great ransom indeed, for one of the Companions of the Ring-bearer,” said the Corsair at length, startling Pippin. “It would come in the form of hundreds of those new-wrought Gondorian war galleys blockading the harbor, and the Host of the West marching down the South Road. Then the Elfstone would offer fair compensation for your life—mercy at the point of the Sword Reforged if you lived, the utter ruin of Umbar if you lived no more. Perhaps that would not be so bad. But nothing less I expect of the King of the West for one of his friends.”
“I am not one of those,” Pippin said. “I am a hobbit of the Shire.”
He was startled again when the Man laughed. It was not an evil laugh, but it did not comfort either.
“Forgive me if my memory fails,” said Pippin’s captor, “but most hobbits of the Shire are not more than four feet tall; they do not have flat bellies and grim faces; seldom do they venture outside their borders, and they do not as a rule carry a sword bearing the tokens of Gondor. Nor wield it, I am sure, with the skill of a Gondorian prince. Boromir or Faramir?” he suddenly asked.
He knew everything about him, Pippin realized. “Both,” he answered, affecting carelessness. “Unfortunately, as good as they are, or were in the case of the dearly departed, they could not make me two feet taller so I could strike off your head, instead of your legs.”
“Either stroke would kill me,” said the Man, “so do not attempt to persuade me you are not a threat, small though you may be. But come. I did not wish to add to your discomfort. Eat.”
Pippin, in reply, cocked his head aside and raised his arms in their manacles and chains.
“Yes,” said the Man. “Perhaps I could free you now, rather than later. Then again, you may not be as reasonable as I hoped you would be, later. Perhaps I shall just feed you myself.”
He approached with the bowl, taking the spoon. Pippin protested and tried turn away. “I am not hungry,” he said. When the Man persisted, Pippin jerked his head, causing the spoonful of stew to fall to the dirty straw on the brig floor.
The Man’s eyes grew angry. “This is food off my own table, Halfling,” he said. “Do not make me regret my mercy.”
“Mercy?” Pippin spat.
“Your life was mine,” the Man explained. “I chose not to take it.”
“How noble of you,” Pippin retorted. “Then again, what else would I expect from a renegade Ranger?”
To Pippin’s satisfaction it seemed he’d hit the mark. The Man glared at him. Then again came that laugh, and the black scarf fell away with a tug, revealing a slender, even noble face beneath a short black beard.
“Yes, I am Dunedain,” said the Man. “But I have journeyed far from my home and the secret dwellings of my people. My name is Morelin. I am captain of this vessel. Welcome to the Mormegil!”
Morelin visited him at intervals for the next few days. Pippin finally got so hungry he could not refuse the food Morelin brought him, and to his dismay found it quite delicious. He committed himself to eating the pirates out of supplies. It seemed a good plan, until he wondered if that would lead them to hijacking other vessels.
Morelin continued to be gracious to him, questioning him only about his health and how he was doing. Pippin answered pleasantly that, considering he was chained inside the hold of a pirate ship with little prospect of anything beyond slavery, buggery, or death, whichever came first, he was quite fine, and compliments to the ship’s cook. Morelin had almost laughed at this, and to Pippin’s surprise the next day he was led up from the hold onto the deck of the Mormegil.
The first thing Pippin thought of was escape. His next thought was, Don’t be a fool. The ship, a hundred and thirty feet long and thirty feet broad at the beam, slid low in the water like a wolf in a field, its bow and stern sloping upward, and the transom at the stern extending a poop deck and quarter deck well past the hull. Ports in the hull revealed where banks of oars could be deployed for speed in calms and attacks. The great sail of the mainmast all but dwarfed the ship, with the sail of the foremast not much smaller, and the sail on the mizzen being the smallest still large enough to carpet a comfortable hobbit-hole. The three yards jutted into the sky with the flying pennants at their tips streaming in the wind. A fourth sail flew from the stay of the foremast connected to the jib-boom extending from the harpoon-like bowsprit. There were more than two dozen men on deck at any one time, and Pippin realized there could well be two hundred crew to this ship. Escape, for the moment, was futile.
Besides, which direction would he swim? They were far out to sea; the smell of the waves was different, the wind was almost cold, and no sign of land could be descried. As long as he played along with whatever game Morelin was pursuing, he would be better off on the ship.
Pippin wondered what Morelin was up to. Was it really so simple as he’d said: he decided on an whim of mercy to let Pippin live? His words about ransom of so well-known a hostage seemed to make sense; Strider certainly would bring the wrath of Gondor upon Umbar, and Umbar would certainly surrender the Mormegil and her crew, bound as she was to no lord or tower, in exchange for maintaining the tenuous peace with the resurgent West. He suspected stories were among the Haradrim that the king of Gondor was the same soldier who had burnt their harbor in the days of Ecthelion II, and Umbar did not wish to revisit that now the erstwhile Thorongil was king of Gondor, with Rohan and it was said dwarves and elves at his call.
Pippin wondered at other motives. Slavery? If that was to be his fate, he’d play along until escape or death came into his hands. Preferably escape. Pippin greatly admired dying for a principle, but after having a dance with a hill-troll, living for a principle seemed much more hopeful. But if slavery, why was he not yet being trained for it? Where were the lashings, the breaking of spirit? Morelin was treating him almost as an equal. Unlikely way to make a slave.
He wished he could repay the Corsairs for the death of the crew of the Seafoam. Especially Cellas. If he figured out which one of them had slain his friend, then escape or no escape, he’d introduce the fellow to Trollsbane.
If he could ever hold Trollsbane again. “Where is my sword?” he asked Morelin when after two days of near-freedom he had not yet been bound or molested. “And the horse that was in the aft hold. What have you done with her?”
“Your sword is in my keeping,” answered Morelin. “The horse is gone.”
“Gone?” Pippin’s heart sank all over again. “You’ve had her killed.”
“I have not. A horse of Rohan fetches a good price among the breeders of the southern deserts. While you were in the brig, I unloaded the horse, along with much of the cargo of the Seafoam, to my agents on shore. I am certain she is now the prized possession of some king or chieftain.”
Pippin sighed. It was a great loss, but he was grateful Tempest was not slain. Run away, my girl, he thought. Run back to Rohan, to the sweet grass of the Mark. No man can touch you.
The cargo. “And the merchant? Sàrtánukîl? Did you kill him too?”
“Why? Was he a friend to you?”
“No,” answered Pippin. “But I should like to know his fate just the same, if it’s all right with you. He was a hospitable man.”
“I am sure he was,” said Morelin dryly. “What did you know of his cargo?”
“Cosmetics and herbal medicines.”
“Medicine. Yes, medicine indeed.” He led Pippin to his cabin in the stern. It was small and untidy, heaved with scrolls, books, and bedraggled finery. Upon a table was an open crate. Its false bottom had been raised to reveal numerous small phials filled with clear liquid.
“What is it?” queried Pippin.
“An elixir of poppyseed,” said Morelin. “A narcotic. Very popular among the soldiers of Gondor, I believe.”
Pippin stared at the phials. He recognized them now in horror. “Yes,” he said. “I was given some of it while I recovered from battle,” he said. “It’s … powerful.”
“It is addictive. But I see you know that.”
Pippin nodded. “Yes,” he admitted reluctantly. “I know that.”
“Ah.” Morelin gently closed the false lid. “I seized this from another of Sàrtánukîl’s shipments, heading north. Upon the Seafoam were the coffers of payment, going back to Umbar no doubt to finance the making of more of the substance, which is made of Khand flowers. The poppies of Khand are a different sort than those of the north-west of Middle-earth. The extract is more powerful than even that kept at the Houses of Healing.”
Pippin tried hard not to imagine that. Coming off the drug had been difficult enough at what he experienced as its usual strength, even with Strider’s help. If not for Merry … and Frodo, who understood…
Morelin was evaluating him with his eyes. “Perhaps I should not have shown this to you. Perhaps the taste for the drug is still there?”
Pippin refused to meet the captain’s look. “No,” he said lowly. “It is not.” He took a deep, cleansing breath, and summoned the memory of the scent of bruised kingsfoil. It helped. “So. Is this a lucrative trade, then?”
“You can imagine that once the Houses of Healing have cut off their supply, those who have … need of the narcotic must find their own ways of meeting their desire for it,” Morelin said. “It is an illicit trade, and therefore ‘lucrative’, I fear, is an understatement.”
“What will you do with it?” Pippin questioned sharply. “Sell it yourself?”
He was surprised to see Morelin’s pale, impassive face color in anger. “No,” said Morelin. “I run a tight ship. No, this will go to the bottom of the Sea. It is too strong for medicine, too strong for any sanctioned application. The Sea shall dilute it. I run a tight ship.” The grey eyes narrowed. “Perhaps you should rather ask why this … merchant was introduced to you by the Steward of Gondor.”
Now it was Pippin’s turn to flush. “If I weren’t your prisoner, I’d strike you down for speaking that way about someone dear as a brother to me.” And if he had his sword, he’d strike him down whether or no. He must have looked angered indeed, for Morelin relented.
“Peace,” said the Corsair captain. “I know of the second son of Denethor. He is cunning, but his ways are pure in all aspects. He would not consort with such as Sàrtánukîl knowingly, unless he had other purposes for the man’s fate.” Morelin sighed in satisfaction. “In any case, Sàrtánukîl has gone to his long home, and may it be dark and cold where he is! Come. Dine with me.”
So did Pippin spend his first week on the renegade ship Mormegil.
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