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Falcon, The: The Adventures of Peregrin Took: 4. A Pirate, and a Good Hobbit
The albatross was caught between the crossing ropes at the joist of the mainmast and the upper yardarm. It had been caught in a sudden gust and blown into the rigging and now was stuck there, weeping piteously. On the deck, the crew of the Mormegil stared at it dubiously.
“Someone should go up there,” said one, an olive-skinned, dark-eyed lad from the vales of Gondor.
“I’d like to see you try it,” said another, blond and bearded, a Northman.
“It’s just a climb to the crow’s nest,” said a third, with strangely slanted eyes and black hair.
“And then what? Shimmy on up the yard and let it loose?” said the second one sarcastically. “Easier to bring down the yard.”
“We can’t. Our prey will escape.” They had spotted another merchant vessel, laden with treasure, earlier that morning, and Morelin had declared pursuit.
“Ah, to Old Stormy’s Bones with you,” said an old pirate with a swarthy face and a long grey beard that was braided like a dwarf’s. “It’s bad enough luck we caught this here wind-winger, now you all want to go up there and touch it? I’d like to see you try it. Bring the wrath of Old Stormy right down on us all.” Old Stormy was his euphemism for Ossë.
An exasperated snort came from behind them, and then in a flash a small, slim, copper-locked figure began climbing the shrouds with a knife in his teeth.
The pirates shook their heads.
“Razàr,” said the slant-eyed one.
“Told you he’s crazy,” said the dark-eyed boy admiringly.
“He’s not crazy. He’s a Took.” The pirates turned their heads. Morelin walked to them, a smile on his lips, watching the Halfling on the rigging. Behind him stood his first mate, all seven feet and ebony skin of him.
“Captain, sir?” asked the boy. “Are all periannath like that?”
Morelin shook his head. “Absolutely not, Davy.” He turned to his first mate. “Admirable, is he not, Poclis?”
The man called Poclis glanced upward as if in weariness. The Halfling, the wind billowing through his loose shirt, was shimmying up the top of the yardarm, making some sort of conversation with the albatross, whose wings were wider than the Halfling was tall. A rumble came from Poclis’s chest.
“Impetuous,” said Poclis. “Sir.”
Morelin laughed. He looked around at his men. “And you all wanted me to kill him! I tell you truly: there is great virtue in the Shirefolk. Especially in one of this family.”
“And who exactly is he, and who’s his family, these Tooks?” said the Northerner. “Come on, Morelin. Tell us the truth about the holbytla. Who is he, truly?”
Morelin turned a dark glance upon the speaker. “He is my guest, Orren,” he said evenly. “And as your captain’s guest, I continue to expect him to be treated with courtesy worthy of the Mormegil.”
Orren grumbled but touched an imaginary hat. “As you say, Captain sir.”
Poclis gave the Northman a cursory glance as Orren walked away. “Trouble,” he said under his breath to his captain.
“Orren has always been trouble,” said Morelin. “But he wields a great bow and is a good raider.”
“It’s not his skill with the bow I speak of, but his skill with the knife in the back.”
Morelin nodded. “I know. Ever has he been restive about our chosen quarry.” He glanced up at his first mate. “Does he have support?”
“Some,” said Poclis. “It’s what comes from not choosing more born Corsairs for your crew. This rag-tag of adventurers and wanderers from all corners of the Bay…”
“Such as yourself, my friend?” asked Morelin with a twinkle in his eyes, belying his long and somber face. “Ah, if I wanted all born Corsairs for a crew, I would not be a renegade, would I? And my name would be toasted in Umbar, instead of spit into the wind. I fear our recent targets have only worsened our reputation in the city.” He glanced up at a sudden movement. “Manwë,” he breathed. “I believe he’s freed it!”
They all looked up, for with a startled squawk, the albatross flapped its wings. It shrieked, squirmed, and tried to take flight. “Now, now, there’s no call for that,” came a bright and lilting voice from above, and then the albatross found wind and flew.
Morelin smiled. “Impetuous indeed,” he murmured.
Poclis watched without comment, and saw the danger before anyone else did.
“Razàr!” he shouted. “The rope!”
The cut rope had made a large loop around the yard next to the halfling’s leg. As he moved, he tugged at it unexpectedly, and it unbalanced him. With a little yelp he fell.
“Pippin!” cried Morelin.
But instead of plummeting to the death, the Halfling grabbed a halyard and cut it loose and rappelled safely down, Poclis waiting for him. The tall black man caught him and helped him to the deck, planting his unshod and furry feet solidly onto the planking. He was shaking from fear, but his sea-green eyes were bright with exhilaration.
“Well!” said Peregrin Took breathlessly, smiling. “I’ve never done that before.”
It had been a month since Pippin had been captured by Morelin and his pirates, and he wasn’t quite sure when he had stopped being a prisoner and started to be the captain’s “guest”, but it had happened. He was not allowed to enter the armory or the treasure-hold; during raids, two of which had taken place since he came on board, he was locked in his “quarters”, also known as the captain’s library-closet; most distressing of all, he was not allowed to leave the ship. And he had not been returned Trollsbane. These were the conditions of his stay that reminded him he was not completely free.
On the other hand, he ate with whomever he wished, usually Morelin and Poclis, and otherwise had the run of the ship. The pirates had resented his presence, at first, but Pippin was nothing if not persistent in his belief he could win over anyone with enough effort. After all, he had failed only with his wife. By now, he was at least tolerated by most, and was fast befriending several.
Two of these were Davy, the Gondorian boy, and Brogar the Easterling. He helped both with their duties on board ship, and Davy, who was young yet to go boarding, would keep Pippin company, talking with him through the closet door, reporting on what was going on. Davy was such a Hobbit-like nickname, Pippin asked him what his real name was; he was told it was Davirin. Davy often asked, “When are you going to join us, Pippin? You’d fit in on this ship! It’s the greatest ship in the Black Fleet, and we do what we want!”
Pippin observed that he had killed about five of the crew during the taking of the Seafoam.
Davy shrugged. “The fight was fair. I hold no grudge. A Corsair should not.”
Brogar was skilled with languages and was teaching Pippin the speech of Near Harad, full of soft gutturals and harsh sibilants, as well as his own speech. Brogar said he came from east of the Sea of Rhun, where he lived with his family in a tent made of beaten felt and raised herds of horses. Pippin’s only qualm about Brogar was that he had a taste for the black cakes of poppy that Morelin took from the ships he plundered. Pippin had tried some, at Brogar’s urging, and had been quite sick, flinging the tip of the hookah from his mouth. “I think I’ll stick to pipeweed,” he said. Morelin disapproved of the cakes, but not as much as he hated the clear elixir; Pippin wondered about that.
He wondered much about his host, the tall, well-spoken Dunadan. He could not have been younger than forty, blood of Westernesse notwithstanding, and if he came from the Rangers of Arnor that meant he not only knew Aragorn, but also had counted him as his captain and chieftain of his people. He had such skill at navigation and seamanship that he could neither be new to the sea; not even the twelve years since the War of the Ring could explain that. He asked Morelin about it a few times, but Morelin would not answer. It would be one of the mysteries the Corsair would keep.
Davy had one story of Morelin. How he came on board.
“I come from Imlad Morthond,” said Davy. “My father was a farmer and hunter in the hills of Ered Nimrais. When I was five years old, I awoke to a great commotion, shouting and gasps. I ran out of our house, and saw all the grown-ups were pointing at the mountains to the east. From our hilltop I saw a line of fires upon the hills to the east, stretching into the distance: nearest us, the Halifirien, and then Calenhad, Min-Rimmon, Erelas, Nardol… I was afraid, and ran to my father, but he was afraid too. ‘The beacons,’ he said, ‘the beacons are lit.’ I did not know what that meant, but the next day, Derufin son of the lord Duinhir came to our village, and my father and brother packed their bows and went away with him and many of the men. The women wept.
“They went to Minas Tirith, to heed the Steward’s call to service: five hundred archers from Morthond, with Duinhir and his sons, Duilin and Derufin, and my father and brother. They fell upon the Pelennor.”
After a pause, the boy spoke again. “My mother wed again several years ago, but my stepfather was cruel to me. I ran away, but did not know where to go or how to make my way in the world. I ended … I was in a shameful life in Pelargir.” Pippin understood and his eyes filled with sympathy, looking at Davy’s downy cheek. “Once, this man I … he was … I felt he was going to kill me. I ran from him and he followed me.
“Then out of the shadows came this tall man with a long black sword. He stepped between my assailant, and me and asked what was going on. The man, he … he said I was a thief and a—a whore,” Davy spat, “and belonged to him. I could not deny it. But Morelin, for the captain it was, he said he’d seen dogs better treated by their masters, and begone or he’d set his steel in him. They fought. The captain won.
“I didn’t know what he wanted. I assumed he wanted … you know.” Davy gulped and his cheeks colored. “I had fallen far. But, Pippin, he didn’t. He took me to his ship, this ship, and I became a sailor, and a pirate, and a free Corsair! And I am a proud Corsair. I will die for him.”
Brogar did not know Davy’s entire story, but he had one of his own.
“The Balchoth are a scourge to all the free Men of the East, Razàr,” he told Pippin. “They hunt us for slavery, for ransom, for sport. I was in the high meadow by our summer encampment with my sister when the Balchoth came. They stole us from our tents and our herds and threw us in their stinking wains.” He took a puff of smoke. His eyes unfocused and he wandered in deep memory. “For the Dark Lord, they said, for the Lidless Eye. A soldier for his armies, and a flower for his generals. Long was the journey, far from the dun steppes. I was eleven, my sister fourteen. She tried to comfort me, told me to be brave and never give up hope. I tried for a long time.” He sighed. “But my sister was taken from me upon the borders of the Black Land and I was taken to a camp to become a soldier for the Eye’s wars with the West.
“Years I lived in that place, learning only to hate and kill, to make others suffer as I suffered. I was taught to hate the West, and Westerners, and to kill them and destroy their works whenever I could.
“I hated it and I hated myself.
“You know what happened. A King came to Gondor; the hand of Fate overthrew the Dark Tower; all I had lived for and fought for was cast into ruin, and good riddance. I fled the battle and ran; I don’t know how long, nor why I was not hunted down by the Westerners.”
“You were at the Morannon?” Pippin exclaimed.
Brogar nodded. “We outnumbered the Westerners twenty to one,” he said dazedly, “and yet they triumphed. The gods were with them, I guess; it is sung that they sent a Savior into the Black Land, who defeated the Dark Lord and threw down the Tower. Or so it is said. I found myself free, to do as I willed; I chose to run.”
He put down the mouthpiece of his apparatus and rubbed his eyes. “Enough,” he said. He looked at Pippin, his eyes beginning to focus. “I found my way to Umbar. I sought work as an assassin and knife-for-hire. I truly wished to find a way to die, but had not the courage to end my life myself, so I sought the most dangerous places, picked fights with the most dangerous people. So one night, drunk and mad on poppy flower, I picked a fight with a tall man with a black sword.”
“The captain,” Pippin guessed.
Brogar smiled. “’Mercy,’ he said, same as he said to you though you don’t recall it. He called it mercy. For a while, I called it torture. But then I discovered I had a place here, and a leader who would not torment his followers, only expect their best. I found a place to use the ways of death taught me in Mordor in the service of my captain. I have collected enough treasure in Morelin’s service to be able to retire one of these years. I will find my sister, or her grave. And then I shall buy a stallion and a mare of Rohan and go home.”
“You know,” said Pippin to Morelin as they had one of their dinners, “I’ve been hearing a lot about you from your crew.”
“Have you,” said Morelin.
“Davy and Brogar.”
“Ah. Good men. Anyone else? Orren, perhaps?”
“Orren dislikes me, and I him.”
“Indeed. I can’t say I blame you.” Morelin took a sip of wine. “What do they say about me?”
Pippin smiled knowingly. “You’re not such a scoundrel.”
Morelin smiled. “I’m not?”
Pippin shook his head. “Under all that swagger and sarcasm, under those black clothes and ruthless raids, under that funny little beard,” he said, and Morelin glared, “you’re still a Ranger, aren’t you.”
Morelin’s lips curled into a tiny smile. He pulled another small piece of meat onto his plate and cut it with his eating knife. “Whatever entertains you, Peregrin,” he replied. “For what it is worth, let me tell you something: I am a scoundrel indeed. I have slain in cold blood without a thought. I raid and pillage and steal for my own wealth and for the satisfaction of the hunt. I am a pirate, not a hero. You must know the difference.”
Pippin picked up a large, fat biscuit, his fifth of the night. “Yes,” he said. “I also know every ship you’ve struck since I’ve been here, you’ve relieved of another shipment of narcotics.” He stuffed the biscuit into his mouth whole. “I can tell a hero when I see one.”
“So can I,” murmured the captain later, glancing at the sleeping hobbit sprawled on the hammock in a corner of his library.
The Mormegil stalked her prey, a fat, slow merchant vessel laden with spices and goods from the Grey Mountains of the South, bound for Anfalas. Morelin had gazed at her through his glass, standing athwart the spars of the bowsprit, Poclis behind him, wordless and still. Other pirates sharpened their flambards and swords, their stilettos and cutlasses. Brogar practiced with his paired scimitars. Orren carefully strung his bow. “I once heard a man brought down a dragon with a bow like this,” he boasted. Davy swung over the water from the shrouds of the mainsail, his young face dark with anticipation.
“I am to be part of the boarding party tonight, Pippin,” he explained eagerly as he escorted Pippin to the library-closet, which would be his cell once more for the night of the raid. “It is my first time.”
“I’m happy for you,” Pippin said in resignation. “But, Davy …”
The lad paused at the doorjamb.
“If they surrender,” Pippin asked, “let them live, hey?”
Solemnly Davy nodded. “I will try to avoid outright murder,” he said. Then he smiled. “But I am a Corsair, and won’t be anything other.”
Pippin smiled as the door shut and locked.
“Fine,” he said.
In his quarters, Morelin heard the conversation, and glanced meaningfully at Poclis. The first mate nodded.
Morelin strode out of his quarters, robed in his black cloak and the sword for which his ship was named strapped to his belt.
He climbed up a step. “Corsairs of the Black Sword!” he cried. “We seek treasure tonight!”
“Aye!” shouted the pirates of the boarding party, a hundred strong.
“There she is, my lads,” said Morelin, pointing at the lights of the merchantman. “Heavy with cinnamon and cardamom, for the tables of Gondor; and some of those medicines I’ve been feeding the fish,” he added with a wink. “It shall be ours!”
Morelin raised his voice. “For whom do you sail?”
“For whom do you plunder?”
“What tower claims your allegiance?”
A dark smile twisted Orren’s lips.
Morelin drew his sword and it was black in the night.
“Who is your captain?” he exulted.
“Morelin! Morelin! Morelin!”
“Master Poclis!” Morelin shouted. He pointed his sword to the light on the sea.
“Set a course for interception,” he said, wrapping the black silk scarf around his face, obscuring his fell smile.
Pippin listened and shook his head.
“I get myself into the most unusual situations for a hobbit,” he observed. “I wonder if I’ve passed old Bilbo for adventuring by now? Not that the War counts. No; I’ll never count that as a mere adventure.” He sat on a bench, his hands fidgeting. He realized it, and stared at them for a while. Had he not sworn to avenge the crew of the Seafoam? Had they all faded so from his mind?
But he had spent a week on the small, simple ship. He had lived with the pirates for a month.
One at least had not faded from his memory: Cellas. But now he and Davy seemed to occupy a similar place in his affection.
He heard shouts, now; the Mormegil was closing in on the merchantman. Pippin remembered what she looked like: her lean lines cutting out of the darkness like a ghost, her black sails stark against the night, pennants streaming, a flurry of deadly arrows from her bowmen raking the unfortunate’s hull, killing or wounding all on her deck for the first of the boarding party to swing on.
Pippin groaned through his teeth. He could sit still no longer! He wanted to be out there, fighting!
On whose side?
He looked around. “So what shall it be tonight, then?” he asked himself. Something to read, he decided, before trying to sleep. Pippin had been dreaming again, sometimes of Diamond, sometimes of another girl entirely, a woman of Men; sometimes they were the same individual, and this vision rode upon Tempest through desert into a sudden valley, where stood a silver pillar, upon which shone a jewel like a star…
He climbed up on a chair and brought down the second volume in the work on circumnavigation he had begun. He had just been told that the world was round. Apparently it was true, too.
He had just settled into the book when he realized all had gone silent. The sounds of boarding had ended, and now there was nothing but silence to hear through the walls of the cabin.
Disturbed, Pippin closed the book and went to the window, to see what he could see. The Mormegil held the merchantman, hull to hull. The boarding planks straddled the gunwales. The ships were bound by stay-lines. Apart from that, he could see little else.
Then he heard what seemed like Morelin’s voice, clear and cold, answered by another voice, from within the merchant ship. Pippin examined the merchant ship more closely. It was much bigger than the Seafoam had been, as long as the Mormegil, and broader, and deep; it must house vast spaces, comparatively, in its cabins and holds.
It was so close Pippin could actually make out faces and movement through the windows of the other ship. Many faces, and telltale movements. Pippin’s eyes grew wide.
Corsair marines. He had to warn Morelin!
He clawed the window open, then finally grabbed a chair and swung it at the glass as hard as he could. It broke, and with the heavy books he knocked it open.
The captain was on deck, with the bewildered boarding party, speaking to someone on the quarterdeck of the merchantman.
“Morelin!” Pippin cried. “It’s a trap!”
Morelin looked his way, and then the hidden Corsairs charged.
An arrow struck the sill of the porthole, missing Pippin by hairs. Pippin looked up, for the arrow had come from above. He saw a flash of a grizzled face and yellow beard.
“Orren,” he realized.
Pippin ducked back inside. He grabbed the chair again and swung it against the door. It chipped. He swung it again, and it chipped some more. He grunted and cried out and flung the chair with all his might against the door, and a great crack appeared in the wood. Pippin stepped back and then went to throw his shoulder against it, when it opened. He crashed into a hard, dark body.
“Poclis!” Pippin gasped. “The captain! He’s in danger!”
“I know,” said Poclis dispassionately. For a moment Pippin’s heart misgave him, then suddenly he found himself with a bundle in his arms.
“Your sword and cloak,” said Poclis, and Pippin indeed held Trollsbane in its scabbard and belt, wrapped in his old elven cloak. Pippin gaped, his eyes wide.
“Come!” said Poclis, and Pippin’s sharp face became grim and fell. He buckled his belt and drew his sword and followed Poclis into the fray, donning the cloak so that he seemed one with the shadows beyond the firelight.
A force equal to the Mormegil’s crew had lurked hidden in the merchantman, comprised of marines and raiders from Umbar itself, come to take the renegade ship. The Umbar corsairs and Morelin’s pirates clashed swords upon the deck of the merchantman, the battle quickly beginning to spill over to the Mormegil.
Then the rest of the trap unfolded: a good portion of the remainder of the Mormegil crew, and some of the raiders with Morelin, switched sides. The mutinous Corsairs joined their Umbar compatriots and soon Morelin and his faithful men were outnumbered.
Pippin ran down the Mormegil, hacking at attackers who came forth. It was difficult at first to recognize friend from foe, but he knew that “friends” were Morelin and those of his crew now gathering around him upon the merchantman’s deck. Pippin needed to join them.
He leapt up onto the twelve-man boat lashed upon the deck between the main and fore masts, to get a better view. He saw, upon the Mormegil, some of the faithful crew fighting with a great mass of those who had stayed behind. Poclis towered among them, his shaven head and mighty shoulders above the fray like a mountain rising from the sea. The man of southern plains swung a great staff like a halberd, cleaving through a mass of mutineers, bellowing like an ox. On the merchantman, Pippin saw the black blade of Morelin’s sword flashing through the torchlight and lamplight. He saw Brogar among a dozen other of the captain’s defenders, spinning and striking like a wind made flesh. But where was Davy?
There—he glimpsed the boy’s face, fighting to get back to his captain.
An arrow whistled past his face. Pippin dropped into the boat for cover. Orren. He could hear the deep hum of the Northman’s bow. The mutineer stood upon the poop deck, his back to the mizzen, raining ruin where he could with a quiver full of arrows.
A sudden heat pulsed from somewhere in Pippin’s gut through his chest and into his eyes. He felt himself smile, but there was nothing funny about what was going on.
Pippin jumped out of the boat back onto the deck. He sheathed Trollsbane and pulled out his dagger. He made for the starboard halyards that he had spliced that afternoon, and grabbed one with his left hand, wrapping it around his fist. With his dagger, he cut the rope, above the splice he had made, and flew to the top of the mainmast as the mainsail unfurled completely. He kicked on the crow’s nest, and swung for the mizzen and the man with the bow.
He let go and crashed into the astounded Orren, staggering the man and kicking the bow out of his hands. Pippin landed awkwardly on his side. “Humph!” he grunted in pain, but heard the heavy footsteps coming at him, and pulled out his sword in time to parry the blow of Orren’s cutlass.
Orren roared and lunged again, his blow landing on the planking as Pippin rolled aside and got to his feet. Pippin stood with Trollsbane at his side, daring Orren to attack again.
Orren grinned, baring his teeth. “Pest of a holbytla,” he said. “You pick the wrong friends. The Ranger is done. He and his high-minded buccaneering don’t have a place on this ship!” He was trying to close in on Pippin, but Pippin kept his eyes on him, and matched him step for step. “The lords of Umbar paid me well to bring down the Black Sword of the Ocean, but they need have not! I would have done it for the ship alone! Now I, Orren, who they said did not deserve a place in the meanest hall of Esgaroth, I shall be a captain of the Black Fleet!”
“Oh, shut up!” Pippin said, and swung at him.
Orren parried, and lunged down at Pippin, but he had no schooling in swords. For all Orren’s superior size, he had little idea of doing anything other than hack and stab, and Pippin took advantage.
Staggered again by Pippin’s speed and stealthy blows, Orren pulled back and made to run. Pippin chased him. Orren climbed up the shrouds of the mizzen, but Pippin easily overtook him, and they fought one-handed, blades clashing, against the last of the Mormegil’s mighty sails. The tip of Orren’s cutlass caught Pippin across the left forearm, slicing skin but not flesh. The man laughed.
Pippin scowled, and then with a stroke cut the shrouds. Orren roared as he fell to the deck.
He was slow to pick himself up. Pippin climbed down, glancing at the rest of the affray. Morelin and his faithful were somehow winning back, at least to the Mormegil, but they were still pinned between the forces of Umbar and the mutineers. Pippin saw Brogar, Davy, and Poclis still up, and holding their own. Good.
Morelin had leapt up onto a crate or a capstan and was rallying his people to him. “Have at them, lads!” he shouted, and his voice was bright and angry. Seeing him, the mutineers on the Mormegil boarded the merchantman in droves.
A dull blow caught Pippin on the right shoulder and he fell, dropping Trollsbane. Orren stood above him with a cudgel. He dodged the second blow and lunged for his sword with his left hand. But Orren smashed downward on his hand. Pippin heard his bones crack and he couldn’t stifle a cry of agony.
“Pippin!” he heard, far down the ship, Davy’s voice.
Orren heard it too. He stood over Pippin, straddling him. “I think the punk is sweet on you,” he sneered. “Just like that sailor-boy I offed the day we took you on board—which is what Morelin should have done with you!”
“You?” Pippin demanded breathlessly. “You killed Cellas?”
Orren laughed and swung his cudgel in reply, but Pippin abruptly pulled his legs up between the pirate’s legs and kicked with all his might.
Orren howled in torment. Pippin snatched up Trollsbane and scrambled to his feet. He turned on the traitor, who was bent over and raving, and wrapping his injured hand on Trollsbane’s hilt beneath his good one, dropped the edge upon the mutinous pirate’s neck.
Orren’s body crumpled. His head rolled a few feet away.
Pippin took a deep breath. He was not going to be sick. He swallowed, wiped his sword, and ran back to the main deck.
Pippin fought his way to the other ship and to Morelin’s side.
“I see Master Poclis came for you,” said Morelin at the sight of him.
“Orren too,” Pippin said to the captain. “Unfortunately, he led the mutineers.”
“I assumed as much,” Morelin said. “But he surprised me with the speed of his plan. Where is he know?”
“Dead,” Pippin said. Morelin beheld Trollsbane in Pippin’s hands, still touched with blood. He nodded.
“We must drive as many of our mutineers upon the merchantman,” said the captain. “But you, Pippin, go back to the ship and make ready to sail! We must be ready to heave off at my word!”
“What’s going on?” Pippin wanted to know.
Morelin winked. “We found barrels of blasting powder in the hold,” he said. “Brogar’s rigging it now.”
“Designed in Isengard, perfected in Umbar.”
Pippin’s eyes widened.
Morelin urged him on. “Go, Peregrin!” he said. “Davy!” he shouted to the boy, standing amidst the fallen bodies of his enemies. “Go with Pippin!”
Davy and Pippin pushed through the battle, fighting as they went, back onto the clearing deck of the Mormegil. “Morelin says to make ready to sail at once!” Pippin cried, hurrying to the mainmast.
“Aye!” They went from mast to mast, setting the sails, tugging the yards, working through the injuries suffered by the ship and its parts during the battle—and their own injuries, for already Pippin’s left hand was swelling. Sooner than it seemed to take, they were as ready as they could be.
Davy gasped as he saw Orren’s beheaded body by the mizzen. Pippin hurried past him. “My fault,” he said.
Davy nodded. “Good riddance,” he decided.
Morelin appeared upon the other ship. “Shove off!” he thundered. And his faithful men hurried onto the Mormegil, slaying those mutineers and attackers still on board. They began to remove the boarding planks and cut the stay lines. Above them all sang Morelin’s orders. “Shove off I say!”
Brogar leapt over, coming to Pippin and Davy. “It’s done,” he said. “And I made sure the lamp-oil and kitchen grease would get involved too.”
“What exactly is going to happen?” asked Pippin.
The Easterling grinned. “You’ll see!”
Poclis led the strongest of Morelin’s men in pushing off from the other vessel. “Captain!” shouted Poclis.
Morelin sheathed his sword. With a flying leap, he vaulted over the sea and onto the deck of his ship.
“Make sail! Man the oars!” he ordered. “Get us as far away from that ship as possible!” He ran to the wheel, Pippin at his heels, Davy and Brogar following.
Black oars sprouted from the sides of the Mormegil. Morelin turned the rudder, and slowly the wind began to fill the sails. Pippin watched as they slowly, then gaining in speed, slipped away from the merchantman and its crowded deck.
Arrows continued to fly between the ships. “Pippin!” cried Davy, pushing Pippin aside, and then uttering a sharp cry.
“Davy!” Pippin cried, seeing the shaft of the arrow protruding from his friend. No, no, not again! “Davy!”
Davy sat up, wincing. “I … I’m all right,” he said uncertainly.
Brogar knelt and then with a firm tug pulled the arrow out of Davy’s back. He felt the wound. “Through the flesh and against the shoulder blade,” he said. “You’ll live.”
“How far do we have to get?” Pippin demanded, pressing against Davy’s wound with his healthy hand.
Morelin looked at Brogar.
“A ship’s length,” the Easterling said.
Pippin saw they were near that now. “And when will—”
The other ship exploded. A roiling globe of fire burst from its hold, sundering its deck and starboard side, collapsing its mainmast and incinerating numerous on board. The sea rushed into the wound in the ship’s hull, and steam howled through its spaces. The falling mast crumpled down, crashing upon the deck and catching flame. All the sails were aflame as, crippled, the ship began to list and capsize.
A cheer came from the survivors on the Mormegil.
“Enough,” said Morelin. “The battle is over, but the chase is begun. Our friends in the Black Fleet are now hunting us. Repair the ship as quickly as you can, and the masts and sails first of all!”
Morelin sighed. “Pippin,” he said. “You are injured.” He motioned for Brogar to take the helm.
Then Pippin saw a pirate, a mutineer, sneaking from the stair, a spike ready to be thrown at Morelin. “Look out!” he shouted, and threw himself in the mutineer’s path. The man stumbled and fell, and Poclis ran him through into the deck with the spike on the tip of his halberd.
Morelin and Brogar pulled the body off Pippin. “You saved my life,” said Morelin.
Pippin winced and sat up. Everything was sore now. His broken hand was killing him. He loathed to imagine how he’d feel tomorrow.
“That makes us even, then,” said Pippin. “You spare my life, I save yours. We’re square.”
Pippin winced and pressed his hand to his stomach. They gathered around him, concerned.
He looked up in distress. “I missed supper.”
Three ships of the Black Fleet sailed in pursuit of the renegade and his surviving crew. Their masters, enraged by Morelin’s killing of Sàrtánukîl and his interference in the growing trade in narcotics meant to weaken and enslave Gondor’s youth, had set out a formal charge against him. Three hundred were lost in the destruction of the decoy merchant ship. The fleetest ships of Umbar sailed against the Mormegil.
Morelin dared them to follow. He set his course for the open sea, where the swift raiders of the Corsairs dared not follow. His compass set west south-west, he sailed into Belegaer, into the storm-swept waters of the Sundering Sea.
Pippin, his left hand bandaged tight, his left forearm itchy from the stitches, and his right hand grasping a leg of chicken, visited the captain in his room.
“I hear we’re running from danger into danger,” he said.
“That is accurate,” said Morelin. “We make for the isle of Meneltarma.”
“Meneltarma?” Pippin repeated, thinking. “Wasn’t that the name of a mountain on Númenór?”
“It is the same,” said Morelin. “The last tip of the foundered land to rise above the waves.”
“Is that wise?” asked Pippin in surprise.
Morelin sighed. “They dare not follow us so far, three hundred leagues across open sea.”
“But the books say the wrath of the Valar still haunts that sea,” Pippin pointed out, making Morelin eye him thoughtfully.
“How much lore of travel do you keep in your little head?”
“Perhaps I spend too much time locked in libraries,” said Pippin.
“Were you always thus?”
“Not at all. I was a carefree and idiotic youngster. Now I’m just idiotic, or so folks say. I’ll give you three guess as to what happened.”
Pippin nodded. “Solved the riddle at the first try! You’re quite good.” He sighed. “Davy lost his father and brother, and his simple life in the hills. Sauron filled Brogar’s head with hate, and when Sauron fell, his life lost purpose. Brogar thinks my cousin was some mighty Savior sent by the Valar to fight Sauron.”
“Was he not?”
Pippin looked sharply at Morelin, but he discerned no jest in the man’s face. “Frodo was a silly old hobbit,” he said. “He liked to dream, and watch the sky, and take long walks by himself. He told me bedtime stories, and stole cream pudding with me, and climbed after me when I went looking for bird’s nests and couldn’t get back down. I know he had his dreams of adventure, but instead he seemed content for long and quiet life as a confirmed bachelor, helping his spoiled and irresponsible little cousins survive into the respectable roles prepared for them. Peace and quiet with his books and his home and his faithful friend.
“Instead … he’s gone. He walked into darkness and death, and we followed him as far as we could, and for all Merry and I went through, for all Sam went through, it was Frodo, my gentle, silly old cousin Frodo, who had to pay the price. He’s gone, and I miss him. He was no savior. He was a sacrifice.”
He felt tears threatening, but he blinked them back, and in defiance tore off another mouthful of cold chicken.
Morelin spoke. “Was he compelled to do so? Did the Wise force him to take the Ring to Mordor?”
Pippin coughed out a laugh. “Of course not!” he said. “Frodo chose it! He chose to bear it! Three times at Rivendell; again in Lothlorien; again at Parth Galen; again at Henneth Annun; again in Cirith Ungol; again and again and…” Pippin choked. “Silly old fool. Silly old cousin.” He wept now, and he wiped his cheek with his bandaged hand.
Morelin reached out and touched his shoulder.
“I served long under the son of Arathorn,” he said, “and though I care not now for his guise as the King Elessar, I remember well the fearless Ranger Men called Strider. I know he pledged to protect your cousin, and regardless of what he has become—for a king so great should be named an emperor, and empire is the downfall of the West—the captain I knew, knew honor when he saw it. Your cousin chose the burden, knowing he’d be the sacrifice. That makes him savior enough for me.”
He sighed now, and Pippin wondered at what was wrapped in that breath. “Your cousin bears no blame for the wounds of war that still scar the hearts of Men,” he said. His grey eyes met Pippin’s. “Or hobbits.”
He stood, and held up a chart. “We keep our course, come rain or heavy sea,” he said, and he smiled grimly. “Cheer up, Peregrin. In two weeks’ time, you will be the first hobbit to set foot upon the last remnant of Númenór.”
“Good for me,” Pippin remarked, though he felt a thrill.
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