2. Chapter 2
"There, you can see the cloud over it; one always forms on warm afternoons." Captain Arandir pointed far to their left, to where Imrahil could see a low haze on the horizon in an otherwise clear sky.
"Are you sure that's Tolfalas, Captain?"Imrahil shaded his eyes from the bright glare reflecting off the water.
"It's in the same place as it was last time I came this way. I doubt it's moved." Captain Arandir stomped to the starboard rail, muttering into his beard.
Imrahil decided not to apologise. "Then I thank you, Captain. We've made good time; it looks like we'll be in by evening."
"Earlier, if I can keep them pulling. The tide will turn as we close on the island." Arandir looked out to the west, sniffing the air, white whiskers twitching. "And we are going to get some wind. That'll help."
Imrahil smothered a grin. He had once sailed far north up the coast with his grandfather, and they had spotted bad-tempered walruses battling each other on a lonely shore – he detected a certain similarity with Captain Arandir. Perhaps that was why the sailors had a preference for leaving the hair on their faces – it made them look fierce. But he mustn't mock, because the Captain knew his trade. And if you could get past the gruff exterior he was good company, regaling them will tales of his run-ins with the Corsairs. Windsong was a fast and well-armed ship whereas others had not been so lucky. Hopefully they would avenge some of that, and if the mood on board was anything to go by, the chance of hitting back would be welcomed. However, no one besides himself, Sergion and Arandir had known of their mission until they had put to sea – too many traders who visited Dol Amroth did business with Umbar and Harad as well, for it to be made general knowledge. They had been a few miles out before he had announced their eventual destination to soldiers and crew alike. The result was an air of expectancy, the ship ringing with the sound of steel on stone as blades were honed to razor-sharp edges, and the oarsmen pulling eagerly through the oily swell, setting the rigging singing.
A shout alerted Imrahil as feet scurried on the deck and within moments the great sails had been canted around. Arandir had been right: the afternoon was bringing a westerly. Canvas snapped, the sails filled and billowed out. Now he knew why the Captain had stood out from the coast: on this course they would sail right into the harbour on Tolfalas. Captain Arandir gave the order for the oars to be shipped; the crew could take a well earned rest. He stood with the wind in his hair looking up at the set of the sails.
"He knows what he's doing."
Sergion joined Imrahil on the stern. Sensibly he had his long hair tied back in a tail like the sailors, but even so the freshening breeze whipped it back and forth. Imrahil smiled at his friend, glad he was here. They had grown up together, and sharing similar sharp features as well as the black hair and grey eyes of their race, had often been mistaken for brothers. Birthright decreed that one led and the other followed, but although having no qualms about commanding the men, Imrahil preferred to have the benefit of Sergion's level-headed counsel. For one thing he always said what he thought.
"Yes, if anyone can get us unlooked for into Umbar, he will." Imrahil indicated the mass of men crowding the main deck. "They are in good spirits."
"They are excited about serving with Captain Thorongil, Imrahil. As well as striking a blow against the Corsairs."
"Hmmph…" Imrahil turned away, placing his hands on the rail and staring at the horizon. "He's a sell-sword."
Sergion laughed. "True, but he has an awesome reputation. And the men are hoping to gain renown on the back of that. I take it you do not share their enthusiasm."
"I'm keen to strike a blow against the Corsairs. I just wish we were doing it on our own."
"You have a plan, do you?" Sergion couldn't keep the amusement from his voice.
"As a matter of fact I do." He grinned at Sergion's look of surprise. "Well, at least I think I have worked out what our friend Thorongil is intending," honesty made him admit.
"And? Are you going to share your thoughts?"
Imrahil left the rail and stared ahead; he could just see the island around the edge of the sail. Already the tall tower had appeared above the haze. "What is Tolfalas famous for?"
Sergion shrugged. "Mostly for the garrison. It's a good place to get rid of troublemakers."
That was true; Imrahil remembered some years before, his father had sent a soldier there who had taken too keen an interest in Finduilas, but that was not what he meant. "They also have a fishing fleet, small boats that go out after the squid."
"Ah…."Sergion considered that.
"We can't take our ships right up to the waterfront at Umbar, for a start we'd never be able to get them out quickly…"
"But if we towed a string of small boats and went in at night…" Sergion pondered.
"Exactly, but it's still going to be difficult to get past the watchers on the Cape unseen, even if we land a raiding party to knock them out. However," Imrahil shot his friend a scornful look, "I am sure the great Captain Thorongil has thought of that."
"We might learn something, Imrahil. We might even like him."
"I am just suspicious of a man who fights for Rohan, gains trust there, and then gives allegiance to Gondor."
"But we are all on the same side," Sergion pointed out.
Imrahil knew he was being disagreeable, and deliberately pulled his lips into a grin. "You are right, of course. But I would have liked to be doing this myself; it will come hard to take orders from a mercenary."
"My father would say that you have the arrogance of youth, and that it will do you good to take second place for once."
Imrahil glared at him for a moment, before breaking into laughter. "No wonder my father and yours are friends, they think the same."
"Osprey's in sight again," Captain Arandir called from the rail. "She must have followed us out."
Imrahil looked to where the Captain was pointing and saw a sail tracking down their wake. "She won't catch us, will she?" All sailors liked to outrun their fellows.
"Not a chance," Arandir said with satisfaction. "The tide's got us now; we will be in within the hour."
"Then I will go and make sure the men are not expecting to go ashore. Not until we know what's happening, anyway." Sergion jumped down the steps to the main deck and called to a sergeant.
Imrahil leant over the rail, watching the waves racing down the side of the hull, turquoise bubbles foaming against the weathered planks. He liked being at sea, enjoyed the emptiness of the vista, the smudging of the horizon where distances were blurred. Not that he had ever been tempted to have his own ship; it had been the flash of the sword and the ripple of banners that had called to him. The proud line of knights, bristling with weaponry, their grey horses decked in armour that had captured his loyalty.
Although the incursion into Umbar would see no great charge – more likely a stealthy slither through a dark night. He would still enjoy it, he admitted, recognising in himself the need to fight, not only because he enjoyed the skill of arms, but to protect a land he loved from the increasing evil that harried its borders. And if Ecthelion's confidence in Captain Thorongil gave him the weapon to strike a blow deep into the heart of one of Gondor's main enemies, then he would grasp it. But it didn't mean he wouldn't have preferred another method.
Dismissing his thoughts with a wry laugh, Imrahil strode to the front of the afterdeck and stared towards the island. Below the tower the ramparts of the garrison started to take shape, and very soon he could distinguish the outlines of the houses that clustered around the port. The low sun shone directly into the harbour and by screwing his eyes he was able to pick out the stalks of three masts rising above the breakwater. As they got closer he realised that the ships were anchored in the haven, not berthed alongside. The men wouldn't be pleased about that; even Tolfalas had a tavern or two they would have appreciated visiting. Soon the possibility they would be anchoring out became apparent to everyone and muffled murmurs of discontent wafted up. Captain Arandir ignored them. They didn't bother Imrahil either: confident plans for the forthcoming raid, once known, would push thoughts of taverns and wenches from the men's minds.
"They sound like they're grumbling," he said, as Sergion joined him again.
His friend laughed. "A couple of days at sea and they are already missing their women. But it's mostly good-natured. I imagine we will be off soon and that's why there's no shore-time."
"Probably," Imrahil agreed, "but we'll try and give them some recreation after it's over." The sooner they started the action the better it would be. Any nerves, and there were always some, disappeared once he had the enemy in his sights.
Sergion glanced down at the men on the deck; most had now gone to the rail to get their first sight of the port. He chuckled quietly. "You only have to tell them they will get some time to sample the ribald delights of Pelargir and all thoughts of going ashore here will be thrust aside."
"What?"Imrahil turned around abruptly. "Why would we be going up river afterwards? We shall want to get home."
"Minas Tirith, Imrahil. Isn't your presence required? Something concerning a lady?" Sergion wore his practised innocent expression.
"I have no intention of dancing to Ecthelion's tune," Imrahil snapped. "I am too young to think about marrying, and when I do think about it, I will not discuss the matter with our noble Steward. Dol Amroth makes its own decisions."
"But I thought your father had urged you to look."
"Only because he liked the sound of the riches, I imagine. Wars are expensive." Imrahil ignored his father's call for heirs and slapped Sergion on the back, laughing. "But I don't think our coffers are empty yet and if we can strike a heavy blow to the Corsairs then trade will improve even more. No, we will be going straight back to Dol Amroth. The lady can look for another prince."
"I don't think there are any more, Imrahil."
"No, perhaps not," he chuckled. "She'll have to make do with a mere lord. Be better off, don't you think? I doubt I am good marriage material."
Sergion's face filled with laughter. "There is that, of course. I can't imagine a wife would be too keen on you rolling back from the Crooked Capstan and waking her up with your bawdy songs."
"Very true." Imrahil grimaced, wondering for how much longer he could enjoy such light-hearted pleasures. "But unfortunately the prognosis is poor. I have it on good authority that my father was worse, but look at him now."
"I see what you mean. Mine has become just as po-faced, but there was a time…" Sergion mused silently for a moment. "Which all suggests that if the lady waits, she might get her prince?"
"Oh, go ride a whale! I am fed up with the subject already. Let's concentrate on what we are here to do." Imrahil folded his arms and stared towards the harbour, shifting his weight from foot to foot to steady himself against the roll as they picked up speed. The details of the ships were becoming clear, and he recognised the Voyager. She often came into Dol Amroth. Soon he could see figures on her deck, watching them coming in. He wondered if one was Thorongil.
They left the breakwater to larboard and made for the other three ships anchored in the middle of the haven. Captain Arandir called for the sails to be lowered, and a small boat headed towards them to take their anchor. Imrahil pointed to the quay. "There are the squid boats." Clustered against the wall were a fleet of small open boats, powered by oars with just a mizzen sail to keep the boat to the wind as the fishermen waved the torches to attract the squid to the surface on dark nights. "I wonder if he intends to use them," he mused.
"We shall soon find out," Sergion pointed to the boat that had come to take the anchor, it also carried a soldier in the uniform of Gondor. They were wanted for a meeting on board Voyager, straightaway.
Imrahil hurried down to his cabin, he wanted to change quickly. But he might have known Sergion would make some remark.
"Feel the need to say who you are, do you?" he ribbed when he saw the glittering swan-ship on Imrahil's tunic.
"The man is uppity enough. According to Finduilas he has quite upset Denethor." Not that he bothered overmuch about Denethor being upset. In fact it was the only thing that might warm him to the mercenary. But he would reserve judgement.
Sergion laughed, and made a mock bow. "I doubt he will be able to mistake you, he's sure to tug his forelock when he sees that lot. And the Umbarians will spot you a league away."
Imrahil sighed, knowing he was behaving like a fool. "You're right, but it's too late now. Osprey is in and anchoring. Let's go."
They followed Captain Arandir down the netting and into the small boat. The soldier dutifully saluted as Imrahil swung across the gunwale. "Captain Thorongil is waiting, lord. He's eager to start off tonight."
Imrahil nodded, wondering what the hurry was. He stood in the bow watching Voyager as the big ship loomed closer, speculating as to whether he had been mistaken about the stealthy approach when he noted the piles of shot stored alongside the catapult on her stern. True, Windsong and Osprey carried plenty of armament, but he still couldn't see how they could fight their way past the defences in the narrows and reach the inner harbour unscathed. Fire could be rained down on them. He hoped Captain Thorongil was as good as his reputation. This close, he eagerly looked forward to meeting him.
Imrahil climbed up the ladder and stepped onto Voyager's deck. Three men waited to welcome him: one was Voyager's captain, a man after Arandir's ilk; one a high-ranking Gondorian soldier in immaculate uniform – a good job he had dressed up himself; the third man was tall, taller than most men of Gondor, even Denethor. Stern and weather-honed, he was dressed in grey with only a silver star to relieve the plainness of his cloak. His powerful arms and chest, the confident stance, marked him as a swordsman. But this Thorongil also had the look of Númenor – black-haired with farseeing grey eyes. Great Ulmo! Surely he was not a by-blow of Ecthelion's. Was that why the Steward favoured him, and Denethor hated the man? Imrahil stared, dismissing the feeling that his thoughts were on view. But here was a man that could look deep into the hearts of others. Waiting for acknowledgment of his rank, Imrahil met only blatant assessment. Drawing himself up under the scrutiny, he kept his gaze deliberately challenging. Damn, the man's lips were twitching.
Thorongil inclined his head so slightly that the movement was almost imperceptible."Prince Imrahil, we are honoured that you are able to aid us in this venture."
"I am glad Ecthelion has decided to strike a blow against the Corsairs," he answered smoothly.
"Hmm…," Thorongil smiled, and waved his arm towards the cabin. Imrahil immediately knew that Ecthelion had decided no such thing, and it was down to this man that they were here.
"You are eager to get going?" No way would he acknowledge the power the mercenary had over Gondor's Steward.
"I will explain why as soon as our friends from Osprey get here." Thorongil led him below decks and into the large cabin at the stern.
A dozen men were already there. They stood up as Imrahil and Sergion entered, introducing themselves. Captain Arandir followed them in, nodding to his fellow seamen before sitting himself in the corner. Imrahil and Sergion looked at each other, sharing a moment of amusement and awareness: most of the men in the cabin were twice their age, and of vast experience. His father would counsel prudence in his dealings with them.
A servant filled goblets and passed around some savoury tartlets while they waited. The talk centred on the likely plan of action, but Thorongil kept his thoughts to himself, spreading out a large chart of the coastline of Harad on the table.
"I'll wait if you don't mind, until we are all here." He concentrated on the chart making some measurements across the expanse of sea and frowning as he did so.
The door opened again and Tondir and Osprey's captain came in. Good, now they could start.
Imrahil had to admire the way Thorongil drew all to him, his eyes ranging around the room, encompassing every one of them and making them feel his ideas were theirs. He listened to the mercenary outline his plan with great satisfaction; they were going to tow the squid boats.
"The entrance to Umbar is well guarded," Thorongil pointed out the narrow channel on the map. "On the high cliff is a watchtower and if we go straight in, even at night, our boats will be spotted. They will alert the garrison and that will bring a fury of missiles down on us."
"So we have to knock out the guard," Imrahil interrupted.
"We do. I want to land a small party the night before; they can lie up in the day, and at dusk make their way up the cliff to capture the watchtower, and then the fort. Our ships will remain in this cove," he indicated it on the chart, "– it's reported uninhabited and as long as we are close in, the watchers in the tower cannot see us. We'll make the assault once we have received the signal that the garrison has been taken. When we do go in, the dromonds will wait where the channel widens, armed of course. We will have archers and catapults ready, but the small boats will get right into the harbour amongst the Corsair ships. If we can get in unseen, we should be able to overpower any crew on board, fire the ships and be away before our enemy has woken up."
"How do we know their ships will all be in port?" one of the soldiers asked.
"They will on the sixteenth, which is why it is imperative we get away tonight to allow us time if we encounter foul winds or bad weather." Thorongil chuckled at the blank looks he encountered.
But Imrahil shouted excitedly. "The Festival of Glory! Of course, the bastards will be drunk out of their minds on Arak."
"The reason I think it will work," Thorongil agreed, smiling at him. "And a very appropriate day to destroy their fleet, don't you think?"
Did he! Imrahil couldn't help but meet the man's eyes and grin back. The Festival of Glory – a celebration that had started way back in history to mark the arrival of the Númenorean, Ar-Pharazôn the Golden in Umbar but had, more meaningfully to them, over the years come to commemorate the arrival of the rebel sons of Castamir and the theft of the Gondorian fleet. Oh yes, what a day to choose! He clenched his fists with anticipation and then realised Thorongil was still looking directly at him.
"Prince Imrahil, I thought you and a small party of your men might take the watchtower and fort. It will need youth to climb that cliff."
Miss the main fight? But he would have no man watching him… , Imrahil nodded his agreement.
"Don't worry, you won't miss the rest of the fun," Thorongil carried on. "If all goes well, we will pick you up on the way in. The details can be gone over later."
Imrahil smiled, glad he had not made a fuss.
"Captain Arandir," Thorongil acknowledged the whiskered seaman sitting in the corner, "I hope you will allow me to lead the attack from your ship."
What! Imrahil rose to his feet. Was he not trusted to land a raiding party?
To be continued.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.