8. Chapter 8
Imrahil stretched his fingers, wiggling them about until the cramp had gone. He'd been incarcerated long enough; they'd had to light the lamps a while ago. Sitting back in his chair, he watched the dust devils dancing in the last rays of sun that slanted through the narrow opening in the stern. No more! Sufficient writing had been done to last a lifetime! With a great deal of relief he started to tidy the papers, looking up from the desk as pounding feet rocked the ship in her berth. The movement caused the shaft of light to flicker like fire over the back of the sailor still bent to his task.
"We must have taken on half the stores in Tolfalas," Imrahil remarked, hearing the raucous shouts of the shoremen calling to one another, and something heavy being lowered through a deck hatch.
"We've farthest to go, lord. It's a fair mile to Dol Amroth, with plenty to feed on the way."
The sailor continued scratching, concentrating on the lists he was making. A good man: Arandir's store clerk. The Captain had loaned him, as he had loaned the cabin and his desk. Imrahil pulled his arms behind his head and eased his ribs. If he sat here any longer they would stiffen even more. Duty had definitely been done for the day, the tavern called.
"I think that's it for now. We'll carry on tomorrow."
"Right you are, lord. I reckon I've got 'em all down. Just need to make sure everyone goes where we've put 'em."
Imrahil stifled a bored yawn. "Well, if they don't, they'll have a long walk home." They'd had to take the details of each freed slave, where their home was – not that they all wanted to go home – and work out which ship would take them.
The sailor stood up, put his quill in its holder and wiped ink stained fingers down his trousers. "I'll be off then, lord." He winked, his broad grin showing uneven black teeth. "Mayhap I'll see you in the tavern tonight."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Imrahil answered with a matching grin, but hopefully better teeth. Very likely, in fact, he and Sergion being bound to gravitate to the roughest and sleaziest drinking houses Tolfalas could offer.
With a respectful nod, the sailor rolled across to the door, a gait earned by years at sea. But as he put his hand to the latch there was a brief knock. The door opened, and Sergion was there, his tall, straight frame totally contrasting with that of the hunched seaman. He stood back to let the man out before ducking his head under the lintel. No sign of his injury, Imrahil noted – the sling being dispensed with some days before – now a long-sleeved tunic covered the bandaging.
Sergion stared at the mound of papers Imrahil had piled up, before his shoulders shook as amusement got the better of him. "This is when I am glad I am not a prince. I have been out and about making sure our deserving soldiers do not upset the local inhabitants with their exuberance, and you have been cooped up here all day."
"Not by choice," Imrahil admitted. Sighing, he shoved his quill back in the stand and examined his own fingers – not quite as bad as his assistant's, but they would need a good scrub. "I've written letters of introduction for those who wish to start a new life, signed travel warrants, made requests for accommodation and clothing. Most have nothing, and the charge on us will be extensive. I never thought of this when we decided to liberate so many."
"But you would not have done anything else."
"No, of course not." His lips twitched, before he broke into a grin, hesitating to admit how much taking part in the raid pleased him. "You must know I enjoyed it. And the letter I took most pleasure in writing was to Ivriniel. My mother just likes to know I am well, but Ivriniel delights in stories of battles. I knew she would appreciate an account of Oriel's rescue and Thorongil's fight. Plus our escape, of course. She likes Arandir."
Sergion chuckled at that, he knew Ivriniel well. "She should have married a warrior, not a scholar."
"She loves him Galuion." Imrahil retorted. "Anyway, her feisty spirit makes up for both of them." He picked up a large sheaf of papers. "But I am only halfway through the report to my father. I must finish it tomorrow. Do you wish to read what I have put so far?"
Sergion took the papers and scanned the top one. "Why are you writing a report? Have you changed your mind about going straight home? I thought you were adamant you would not pursue the lady." He grinned over the top of the papers. "Or perhaps your father's coffers will need replenishing."
"We're not paupers yet!" Imrahil responded crossly. Damn Thorongil for putting him in this position! "I certainly haven't changed my mind about Lady Mirineth and intend to avoid her." He sighed, feeling guilty he hadn't told his friend of the alteration to his plans, but he had given his word not to divulge Thorongil's intentions. "No, I am going to Minas Tirith because Thorongil has asked it of me. But I have agreed not to say why for the moment."
Sergion frowned, giving up on the report. "I have noticed a certain coolness between you. Which I thought strange."
Imrahil twisted his lips, acknowledging the awkward few days, and glad the man was back on Voyager. Although he would have to travel to Pelargir with him. "We did have words. In fact I lost my temper." Something he regretted now, knowing he had no right to judge Thorongil's decisions about his own life. "Anyway, Windsong will be leaving on the tide tomorrow evening and going straight to Dol Amroth. She will take my report along with those wishing to go that way."
"So which ship will be going to Linhir?" Sergion asked, drawing his brow into a frown.
"One of Ecthelion's. Ah… You are thinking about Oriel. Did you want to deliver her home? I will not force you to come with me." He'd noticed Sergion in close conversation with her on more than one occasion and couldn't blame him for that. She was a very desirable lady, but although she had been incredibly brave she would need considerable time to get her life back together. In fact, he was not sure whether she would ever respond to any courting after such awful experiences.
"No." Sergion shook his head. "I will of course go with you. But she has opened up these last few days and something worries me." He pulled the vacated chair around, sat down and stretched out his long legs, dropping the report onto his lap. "I haven't got a sister, so you tell me – what would you do if one of yours had been abducted, raped and abused. How would you react when she came home?"
Imrahil inwardly shuddered, but he didn't have to think. "I'd hug her until she'd cried out all her anguish and sit with her every night until the dreams faded." He paused to clear the awful image of dear, sweet Finduilas being ravished by scum. "Mind you, Ivriniel would probably have knifed the bastard in his sleep, roused the slaves and stolen a ship to get home."
Sergion smiled, but his eyes were troubled. "That's what I would expect: a loving, caring welcome home."
"But you are guessing something else will be waiting for Oriel? Surely her parents will be overjoyed to have her returned to them."
"Her father's dead, although her mother still lives. But it is the brother. Evidently he is a bit of a prig, and has always guarded her honour zealously. She doesn't think he will cope well with what has happened. In fact she is intending to live with her grandmother and planning to retire from life. Unable to face the gossip and speculation, I think."
"Hmm…" Imrahil thought for a moment, acknowledging the truth of Oriel's fears. "Unfortunately there is likely to be some, and I am afraid dishonourable men might think they can take advantage. Her family will need to support her." In fact he couldn't imagine that they would not. A bolt of anger shot through him – if it was one of his sisters, he'd take a whip to any man who looked at her with even a hint of disrespect.
Sergion nodded. "She is going to find it difficult enough to put the horror behind her. The excitement of being rescued kept her buoyed up for a time, but now the full implications of the weeks of torment have hit her."
"I am afraid it's bound to take a while to recover from her ordeal," Imrahil agreed. "She'll never forget, of course, but perhaps it will eventually sink into the recesses of her mind. Hopefully she'll not hide herself away forever." He eyed Sergion speculatively. "Do I detect a special interest?"
Sergion pursed his lips, thinking. "She's a very lovely and spirited lady. I feel for her and hate the thought that her life is ruined, as she thinks. But as for anything else, I just don't know."
"It's a pity Linhir is such a distance from home, but …" Imrahil stopped as a knock came at the door. Sergion picked up the report, rose to his feet and went to open it, standing aside to let Jibran through.
The boy rushed in, halted in front of Imrahil's desk, and treated him to a quick bob of the head. "You wanted to see me, lord. I couldn't come earlier because I was helping…"
Imrahil waved his hand; "It doesn't matter, Jibran." The boy was always doing something, it just meant less time in the tavern. He shuffled the papers he had been working on and pulled out the private letter he was writing to his father.
"You said you wanted to go to Dol Amroth?" Jibran nodded eagerly. He already looked a lot healthier than when they had picked him up; his face had lost the wan, pinched appearance, and his dark eyes were clear. It would give Imrahil great pleasure if he thought Jibran could totally move away from his old life. He looked the lad straight in the eye. "I am making arrangements for you and Gornon to go. Captain Arandir will deliver you safely and you'll be given lodgings with a married couple." He hesitated, not quite wanting to put it into words because he didn't know if such a past could be put aside. "Jibran, you'll be under my father's protection. No one will ever make you do anything you do not wish to do… you understand me?"
Jibran stiffened and he blinked a couple of times. "Yes, lord." Then the full implication must have sunk in, because his face crumpled. "But won't you be there?"
Imrahil smiled at the look of dismay. "Not for a while, I have business in Minas Tirith. But I have told my father all about you and he and my mother will make sure you settle in."
The boy nodded, still looking a little crestfallen.
There was nothing Imrahil could do about that. He continued cheerfully, "Now, Gornon has told me he would like to be apprenticed in the palace kitchens, but I rather suspect you would prefer something different."
The smile returned. "Yes, lord. I want to be a knight."
"A soldier?" That was promising.
"No, lord," he drew himself up, forcing his thin shoulders back. "I want to be a knight. I want to wear blue and silver with a Swan-ship on my breastplate."
Imrahil glanced at Sergion, who raised his brows, lips twitching.
Jibran caught the communication between them. He visibly drooped. Eyes fell to his feet and he scuffed his toe on the wooden floor dejectedly.
"I suppose that's only for nobles. A boy like me wouldn't stand a chance."
Damn! Imrahil chided himself. What right had he to knock down dreams? And though unlikely, it was just possible. "That's not quite true, Jibran. Most come from noble families, but there are also places for those who show skill in arms, loyalty and resolve."
A determined chin shot up. "I can learn. If someone will teach me, I'll spend every moment learning."
Imrahil considered what best to do. He owed the boy a chance, although he would probably end up as a common soldier. "Jibran, you have been a great help to us, and I have told my father how you contributed to the success of our venture. I'll ask him to send you to work in the armoury, that way you will learn to handle weapons and care for them. You'll also be given time to practice at the training ground. After that it's up to you." He didn't say that a knight would have to take him as an esquire – not yet.
"Thank you, lord." His shoulders went back again and he pulled himself up as tall as he could. "I'll do it, you'll see."
"I hope you will." Imrahil stood up. "Windsong will be leaving tomorrow evening and in a few days you will be in Dol Amroth, starting a new life. I shall look forward to seeing how you are getting on when I return."
"I'll be fine, lord." With a quick bow he turned to go, but Imrahil stopped him.
"Jibran, a knight has to ride well. I suggest you spend any free time you have in the stables."
The boy's face broke into a grin. "I'll have to learn to bring a horse down, like you."
Chuckling, Imrahil waved him away with his hand. "Not until you're a lot bigger."
"And he will need a benefactor," Sergion murmured as soon as the door closed behind him. "Are you sure you're right to give him hope?"
Imrahil stared out at the fast coming darkness. "Hope is a precious thing in this world of ours."
"Three fathoms, Capt'n. I reckon we're right in middle of the channel." The leadsman's voice broke the eerie silence.
Imrahil stared out, but he could see no sign of the banks, just swirling thick fog, which muffled sight and sound.
The journey from Tolfalas to Pelargir had started on a bright cloudless day with everyone in high spirits, but was ending in murky gloom and despondency. Sometime the previous day Thorongil must have told those dear to him of his plan to leave. Misery etched a dozen faces; the rest shook their heads with wonder and disbelief as rumour raced around the ship.
Except for common politeness, Imrahil had kept up his stance of cold indifference. He glanced towards Thorongil, who stood a few yards away, wrapped in his customary grey cloak and surrounded by a group of his closest comrades. They hemmed him in, as if they thought to physically stop him going, a couple clutching at his arm and murmuring into his ear.
"They are not going to let him go easily," Sergion remarked as voices rose in argument. "It sounds as if they are vowing to accompany him."
Imrahil shrugged. "I doubt he wants that. Mighty secretive is our Captain Thorongil."
"Well, he'll soon be on his way, wherever it is he's going." Sergion wrinkled his nose, pulling a face of disgust. "We're getting near, you can smell it."
Sergion was right – Pelargir could not be far ahead. Imrahil smelt the smoke of many fires, but also fish, and more unpleasant things. The heavy grey fog that had settled on the river trapped the stench of the port.
"There!"Sergion pointed to where high walls loomed out of the haze.
Imrahil nodded, putting his hands on the rail, and watched the grey stone slip past. Moments later the fog thinned slightly and he glimpsed the unmistakeable arched columns of the house built by Tarannone that thrust out into the river. Now he knew where he was –the junction with the River Sirith, and the entrance to Pelargir's harbour, lay just ahead.
The ship turned, and as they reached the wide opening the mist swirled away. Imrahil blinked and stared. "Great Ulmo! Look at that!" he gasped as the first quay came into view. Every part of it was crammed with people. A great commotion of shouting and cheering went up as they saw the ship, levelling out to a regular chant. Imrahil tried to pick out the words from the general noise.
"A welcome party!" Sergion said.
"A welcome party indeed." But why not? Whilst they had been sorting everything in Tolfalas, word had been sent by one of the river boats of the success of the raid. Although no one but those on board Voyager knew of Thorongil's plan to leave.
"You hear what they're shouting?" Sergion muttered beside him.
Imrahil nodded, he'd heard all right. It seemed he was the only one not fawning over the man. He turned around to Thorongil. "They're calling for you!"
Thorongil looked as if the last thing he wanted to do was acknowledge the adulation of the crowd, but after encouragement from some of the men who revered and respected him, he moved to the rail next to Imrahil and Sergion.
A great cry went up from the crowd around the harbour as they saw their champion, which changed to a holler of disappointment when Voyager headed for an empty pier where soldiers had cleared a space, using a few crates as a makeshift barricade.
The well-wishers surged against the barrier. Imrahil saw one man being roughly pushed back by a guard. Thorongil had been popular before, but wiping out the threat of the Corsairs for the foreseeable future must have raised his standing tenfold. Grudgingly, for the people's sake, he felt he ought to make some effort to make him stay. For a while, at least. Would that he himself might arouse such devotion and loyalty in the coming years.
"Are you sure you want to leave straightaway? You're going to upset a lot of good people."
Thorongil sighed, a flash of regret passing across his stern features. "I am sorry about that, but I have no wish to set myself up as a hero. We all contributed to the success of the raid." For a moment his eyes gleamed with a flicker of amusement. "I am sure they will transfer their admiration to you as soon as they realise I'm gone."
"String me up from the nearest tree, more like," Imrahil retorted, turning away.
Thorongil touched his arm. "Imrahil, if we cannot part as friends, I would hope that we can at least respect one another."
"I did respect you. And I still respect your fighting and leadership abilities," he reluctantly admitted. "But I find it hard that a man who I've no doubt has noble ancestry can so easily give up on his obligations to those that trusted him."
"I only ever promised Ecthelion a few years of my time," Thorongil answered.
"Maybe. But I imagine he would expect you to bid him farewell in the Hall of Kings. Not sneak off like a thief in the night."
"I did not intend for it to be like this, but there are other calls on me. We cannot always choose the path we take."
Imrahil folded his arms, stopping himself from pointing an accusing finger. "Some of us are born to duty. I envy those who can step aside to pursue their own course."
"But what man can judge another," Thorongil shot back at him. "The ways of service are many and varied."
"That's true," Imrahil agreed, sighing. "And perhaps I have no right to condemn you for living life as you see it. Gondor will ever be grateful to you, even if she won't understand your reluctance for praise." He indicated to where the crowd surged at the barrier, determined to meet the incoming ship. But Thorongil said nothing. "And what about them?" Imrahil continued, nodding towards the group of Gondorian soldiers. "Are they going with you?"
Thorongil dropped his voice. "They wish to escort me, but I am afraid they cannot. For a short distance, perhaps."
"No doubt you will lose them in your own time."
"No doubt I will," Thorongil agreed with a twist of his lips. He lifted his hand and waved to the people on the quay, invoking another bout of cheering.
"And how do you think you are going to get away?" Imrahil asked. The crowd had got past the guard, running on to the pier they were heading for. "Whether you like it or not, you are liable to be carried shoulder high around the city."
"Hmm.. ." Thorongil looked over his shoulder. "I need to get across the river."
"East? You are going east?" Imrahil's heart jumped. No, he couldn't be! Had the man fooled them all?
His face must have betrayed his thoughts, because Thorongil put this hand on his shoulder. "Imrahil, do you really think that I am going to sell my services to Gondor's enemies. Do you think so little of me?"
Imrahil searched his face, detecting no hint of evil, only an allusion of veiled nobility. Who was this man? And what secret did he carry?
Thorongil's grey eyes seemed to reach his soul. Damn, there was something about him that got to you, making it impossible to doubt his truth. "No. No, I don't. I cannot believe that of you."
"I'm glad. My journey will end far from here, my feet crossing many lands before I can rest. Before there is any hope of returning."
Strangely convinced that there was something hidden from him, something unexplainable, but good, Imrahil came to a quick decision. "Look, why don't we get the Captain to hold off on lowering the gangplank. You can get away in a boat from the other side of the ship. By the time that lot realises, you'll be halfway across the Anduin."
Thorongil's expression lightened. "A good idea. I will speak to Captain Carafin."
"I'll go," Sergion offered, speaking for the first time since they'd started talking.
"Thank you." Thorongil looked a bit surprised, but Imrahil knew Sergion had thought a lot of the man from the beginning.
"Well, that means the time has come," Imrahil said when he saw Sergion explaining what they wanted to the Captain. "I am going to have to give Ecthelion some reason for your leaving so abruptly. What do you want me to tell him? He will not be pleased." Whatever the excuse Thorongil gave, Imrahil didn't look forward to the moment he had to tell the Steward.
"It cannot be helped." Thorongil reached inside his cloak and pulled out a roll of paper. "Would you pass him this? It's all the explanation I can give."
A written message, which at least made it easier. Imrahil put his hand around the roll, surprised at the sense of loss he felt knowing he might not see Thorongil again. He covered his unexpected reaction with humour. "I'm still not sure making me go to the City isn't a ploy to force me to meet Lady Mirineth."
A rare smile passed across Thorongil's face. "There is another favour I would ask you, one that may turn out to be to your advantage."
Imrahil didn't answer. He hadn't wanted to do the first favour, let alone another. And if Thorongil hadn't led them to such success, he'd never have agreed and would be on his way home.
Thorongil carried on as if he hadn't noticed his reluctance. "Lady Mirineth has a companion, a pleasant lady. She was kind enough to loan me some books. One is still in my quarters. I would be grateful if you could return it. It is one of a set, an heirloom of her house. I would like to know it will be returned safely."
"You want me to call on the woman I am being pushed towards!" Imrahil erupted, feeling the ground opening up under his feet. "That's asking a lot when I've said I wished to avoid her."
Thorongil waved him down. "But I remember you saying something about not wanting to join the line of supplicants. This way you have a perfect excuse to call without it looking as if you are one of them. You can take a look and retreat, or pursue as you wish."
"There's a boat waiting," Sergion interrupted.
"Thank you." Thorongil cocked one brow in question. "The book?"
"Oh, very well." Imrahil sighed, giving in. "I'll make sure it's returned." He could always get Sergion to do it.
"Good. I am sure you'll not regret it." He held out his hand. "I can only hope that you will remember the deeds we shared, and if I ever return will look on me with favour."
Imrahil hesitated for only a moment before he clasped his hand. "Wherever your journey takes you, go in safety."
"We'll have to go, lord. Before the ship docks." One of Thorongil's followers hovered nearby, his face a mask of woe.
Thorongil clasped hands with Sergion, and then turned swiftly. A soldier passed him a sack which he slung across his shoulder and with a few strides he reached the steps that led to the deck below.
Imrahil went over to the other rail, and a moment later he saw Thorongil scrambling down a net to the waiting boat.
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.