12. Chapter 12
Farielle had hardly noticed the ship, nor the journey. Despite knowing that her people were gone, still some tiny, unacknowledged hope had lingered - as long as she was there still, where she had been taken, they would find her. Somehow.
She stared at the wall of the cabin she'd been taken to, and felt the heave of the floor beneath her as the ship met a wave. Gone. She was gone, and now they would never be able to find her. A single tear slid down her cheek.
She had been too dazed to pay much attention to the journey from the dock to this place. This Tower. She had vague, confused memories of heat and shouting and an all-pervading stench. The tramp of boots. People stopping and staring and pointing. And now she was here. Where-ever 'here' was. Presumably Seaward Tower, for Yildirim had said she was held by Seaward, and this was most certainly a tower. At least she still had the paper Nisrin had brought her.
Her room is small and not at all fancy, but much larger than a cot in the corner of a tent shared with numerous other people. And it has furniture. Farielle has pulled the low table over near the wall, so that she sits on a cushion, but can lean up against the wall. A shaft of sunlight coming through the small window catches the side of her head and shoulders as she bends over the table writing something on a piece of paper.
The bandages are gone from wrists and ankles, leaving healing red stripes in their place; but she is still barefoot. It must be by choice however, as there are a pair of soft indoor shoes near the door.
Hardly a knock precedes the entrance of the guard Khaan, perhaps a familiar face to the northern woman. Another guard remains at the door outside. "Thirsty?" Khaan asks as he enters, carrying a pitcher of water. His tone fairly drips with sarcasm as he sets the pitcher down, then next to it a clay mug that he has also been carrying. "I wanted to make sure that the future Queen of Gondor is well tended. Ma'am."
Another knock sounds at the door then, and from without comes a low chuckle. "Really, Corsair," says a deep, rich voice, accented unlike that of the Seaward folk Farielle has yet met. "You need not stand on ceremony. Let the paleskin woman eat while we speak, and not keep a cousin of your Lord waiting..."
Farielle looks up, and turns the paper over so that the writing is hidden. She looks resigned as she takes the mug, pouring it half full and drinking a little. She is opening her mouth to reply when someone else comes in, and the girl seems to brace herself against this newcomer - though it seems he only wants to speak to the guard.
"And who are you?" Khaan turns to ask Lojrul as the man appears at the door. "Cousin of who?"
He glances to Farielle. "I have heard," he says, still sarcastically, "that you said that you were so thirsty you would drink this entire pitcher and then another. All today. Fancy that."
"Cousin to your Lord," returns the other fellow with the hint of a scowl upon his features, though as his hands slip to his waist his eyes swivel to Farielle. "Ahhhh," says he, smiling widely and stepping into the room fully. "You must be the mighty prize, snatched from the bosom of the milkskin warriors, brought to Umbar in glory."
Looking her up and down with no apparent hint of shame, Lojrul's eyes narrow slightly. "A strange choice, to be sure..."
The footfalls of a light tread can be heard ascending the stairs, the echoey voice of a woman giving music to the pedestrian tempo as she talks while she walks, only slightly winded. "Yes, a surprise. I am surprised you have not already heard, actually. And I meant for you to see it first, before your brother, but such is not the case. Follow me...its just a few doors down..." It is the voice of the Tower Lady, Eruphel, and her ethereal voice at the beginning seems to find body the closer she gets to the teak door, until at last she steps into view, glimpsing the visitors. And this seems a bit of a surprise for the woman, if the look on her face is any way to judge.
"With each word my curiosity is piqued," replies another voice, also feminine. Its owner enters the room upon the heels of Eruphel. Tall and light of skin, she is not entirely different from the seated Lady of Gondor. Azradi too pauses at the entrance, sweeping her gray-eyed gaze from one person to the next - perhaps wondering which is the surprise or if it is the collection. Finally her gaze comes to rest upon Farielle. "I believe I understand now..." she observes, glancing to Lady Seaward.
"Did I?" Farielle asks Khaan innocently. She stiffens though, at the other man's stare, lifting her chin a little, proudly. Then her eyes go to the door again as Eruphel and another woman appear there. A hint of wariness enters her expression, and she darts a look at Khaan.
"Ah, I see," Khaan frowns to Lojrul, eyes weighing the man. He shrugs and turns attention to Farielle. "Mighty indeed, if she proves worthy," he says, then reaches into his tunic to pull out a sash of pink, which he throws toward Farielle. "Here. I seem to recall you liked this color."
Khaan is already turning toward the door at the sound of Eruphel's voice--he salutes as she enters. "I brought the woman water, Lady. She does not yet know how much she needs to drink in our clime."
As Eruphel and Azradi enter, Lojrul stiffens, turning his gaze to the noblewomen, and he bows lightly. "Cousin," says he to the Lord of Seaward, spreading his arms wide in greeting. "My congratulations and welcome upon your return to Umbar. I trust that matters have been concluded to your satisfaction in Caldur?" he asks then, glancing towards Azradi.
Eruphel nods sagely and silently to the Lady of Farside, before stepping into the room, leaving room for Azradi to follow behind her. First, she speaks to her own guardsman, whose name she cannot remember, though she has a feeling she should. "Water?" She looks briefly at the Gondorian woman, a little amused. "I see, Soldier. I take it you are the guardsman on watch for this hour?" Her dark gaze now sweeps toward Lojrul, in askance. This one, she remembers. "And hello, dear cousin." Her voice isn't exactly warm. "I am surprised to see you, and thank you. Barazon remains ours, and Farside has Caldur back, though I believe it may be some time before the vestiges of the Gondorian visit can be erased." Now she looks at Farielle almost accusingly, as if she may be the true reason for Lojrul's visit.
"But I am being rude. Azradi anAzulada, Lady of Farside, meet Farielle Girithlin, my guest." Eruphel says, stepping aside to let Azradi past.
Glancing once more to Eruphel's cousin, Azradi's brow wrinkles as she tries to recall the man. Whether or not she does remains unknown, however, as her answer gives no indication of recognition. "Indeed, Caldur is ours once more but has suffered greatly."
Her gaze shifts back to the Gondorian Lady immediately and she walks a few steps closer, studying the woman intently. "And you say my brother has met her, already?"
The pink sash falls across the table, and Farielle picks it up, saying sweetly, "No, I preferred the blue. This surely is yours." She stands up, giving it back to the guard. Then she looks back at Azradi, saying nothing. This woman looks differently, and a slight frown draws the girl's eyebrows together.
The pink sash falls to the floor, for Khaan does not take it. "Yes, Lady. It is my shift at the door," he says, bowing. He moves that way now, though with so many people it's a tight squeeze.
And Lojrul, for one, does not make his efforts easy, for he stands yet with his arms outstretched. "A gift, is this, to the mighty Farside?" he asks plainly, his smile fixed upon his lips. "Do you bring any such bounty for my own folk, who shed blood to secure your holdings?"
Eruphel takes a deep breath, and exhales. "Yes. I sent word that I wished him to come as quickly as he may, expecting the usual months-long wait. But instead, he came almost immediately, and I was ill-prepared." She crosses her arms, watching the two women. "He was reserved, I felt."
As Khaan moves toward the door, Eruphel holds out a hand before him to make him stay. "Wait. I would like a report of her conduct, and of what visitors she entertains. There are to be no visitations without the guard witnessing...for now." Lojrul gets an unamused look, but for now she does not answer, while talking to her man.
A grin curls Azradi's lips when the pale woman offers the pink sash to her corsair guard. "She has wit, at least."
Lady Farside glances to Lorjul but first listens to Eruphel as she speaks. It is to the towerlord she addresses her first words, an observation. "My brother reserved? Truly, I would not have guessed." The words are offered drily, but her eyes glitter with amusement.
It is then that she turns back to the one identified as Eruphel's cousin. She looks him over a moment, then says, "I am not entirely sure of who you speak when you say 'my folk' but this Lady belongs to Seaward and is not intended for Farside. She is not my bounty to share whether I would or nay."
As Eruphel asks after her conduct and visitors, Farielle darts another glance at the guardsman. And the tension in her body grows, though the only visible evidence might be that her breath comes light and fast. Still, not far beyond ordinary, and she is surrounded by people of whose motives and goals she knows nearly nothing. It would be strange if she weren't tense.
"Yes, lady, of course," Khaan says with a slight bow to Eruphel. "Here in the Tower, these are her first visitors. Otherwise, I was not assigned to guard her regularly before this, and do not know who else has seen her. As for other matters..." he studies Farielle, considering. "As I said, there was a problem with our hot weather at first, but as long as she drinks enough water, I believe that problem is solved. Of course, you could always send a healer to make sure she is adjusting well. Oh..." he frowns at the dropped pink sash. "A tailor to the King of Gondor stopped by when she was in your tent--took measurements for a gown."
Lojrul replies to Azradi: "My folk, Lady, are those of the Sand who were called forth by your brother to aid your efforts. My right-hand, Saldin, gave his life for such, and his worth cannot be matched by the Corsairs that decorate your ramparts. I have come to see with my own eyes the tribute to be levied to mighty Alphros, and to assume that there is similar in store for both Desert Tower and the children of Lajrul."
His eyes dart then to Eruphel. "Is this so, cousin? Is there an ornament to match this bedwarmer in store for my own uses?"
"Oh? Funny I had not heard." Eruphel's brow is perplexed. "Tailor? Trust Lord Alphros to take a tailor with him to battle." she mutters under her breath. "In any case, inform your relief of these orders as well." Then she turns her eye toward Lojrul, lifting a hand and crooking a finger. "Care to speak with me outside?" she asks, and steps out the doorway.
Lojrul narrows his eyes gently, but ever does his smile remain fixed upon his lips. With nary another word, he follows Eruphel outside.
Farielle relaxes minutely when Khaan is done, then stiffens again at Lojrul's description of her. She can't stop the slight tremor that runs through her body, but lowers her gaze to the table, hiding her expression.
Azradi's eyes glitter upon hearing the Desert Man's demands. Tilting her head arrogantly, she seems on the verge of answering when he leaves with Eruphel abruptly. If anything, the hard glint of anger shines brighter in her eyes. She turns her back to the door and levels her gaze on the Gondorian lady. That anger has not faded, though it does not appear directed at the young lady. "I do not know what my brother said to you, but I feel confident in offering you at least this assurance: Should he choose you as his bride, you will be his honored wife and my sister - not a slave and not a 'bedwarmer' as that man so crudely put it."
"Strange that your brother would seek to wed a woman of Gondor," Khaan says, looking to Azradi. "Though I know little of politics and such matters."
Farielle does not look up as Lojrul and Eruphel leave, staring almost blindly down at the blank side of the paper on the low table. She shivers again, and crosses her arms, then looks up as Azradi speaks. "And if he does not?" she asks quietly. Then she shakes her head as if to rid herself of that question, and says, still in a low voice, "Thank you."
"And yet you have the right of it," replies Azradi, glancing to the corsair and answering him first. "It is a political match - a sacrifice for his ambitions. If he intends to be King of Gondor, he must have a Gondorian wife."
When she returns her regard to the young woman, a touch of compassion can be glimpsed in her hard features. "Do not avoid such thoughts, but do not dwell on them either, Lady. I am afraid I have no power in your fate save what influence I can achieve through my brother."
"Everything comes with a price in Umbar; love, loyalty and alliance as well as the material. If my brother does not wish to marry you, it is possible Seaward will assert its claim over you. It is also possible Alphros will wish to, and be able to be the master of your fate."
"You would be well served if you curried his favor."
She glances back to the guard. "What is your name, Corsair?"
"A political match--then it is true that your brother is the true king of Gondor? Has Gondor accepted this news?" the guard answers, then shakes his head, with a grin. "Me, lady? I am but Khaan, son of Haldin."
Something comes into Farielle's face as the other two speak, a sadness, perhaps. She looks down again, and thus the flash of revulsion - not surely for the man, but him as king of Gondor - in her eyes cannot be seen. When she looks up again at Khaan, it is gone; her face is impassive and there is no expression in her eyes other than a faint interest in his name.
Smiling wryly, Azradi answers the corsair. "His claim is true. We are the descendants of King Tarannon and his Southron Queen Beruthiel. Some Gondorians have accepted this, some have not."
Lady Farside glances to Farielle's wrists and nods her head to indicate them. "The chafing is from being bound in camp, I assume? Has a healer tended to her?"
"Of that I am not certain," Khaan answers, staring for a moment at Farielle's wrists. "I was not assigned this post until very recently. But I will have one sent here right away. For such a purpose, the lady must be kept in good health, after all." Without further formaliites, then, the guardsman steps out of the room.
Farielle's gaze moves to Azradi as she speaks of her lineage - and she manages to keep hold of 'no expression at all'. But she can't keep a little surprise from creeping in at her other words. Some have accepted this claim? Khaan turns to leave and her eyes follow him, then return to the Haradrim lady, slightly wary now and uncertain.
In a drift of silk and sandalwood, Azradi moves closer and looks down at the blank parchment upon the table. She does not reach for it however. "Were you betrothed or leave a lover behind in Gondor?"
The girl shakes her head. Then, in a voice from which also all expression has been expunged, she says, "I am - was - not of an age to wed. There - " She falters slightly and a faint blush stains her pale cheeks. "My father had not accepted any offers on my behalf, yet."
"How many years do you have?" queries the Southron lady. "Does your House wait until the 25th year to marry?"
She glances once more to the blank paper and moves away to sit on the edge of the bed.
This brings Farielle's gaze around in open astonishment. "Yes," she says, "But how did you know?"
"I am but nineteen." The faint color in her cheeks deepens a little. "There were some men who spoke of the future, but Father did not press me to choose among them." She sounds more indifferent to the thought of any of these men than not.
"It is the custom of Adunaim," replies Azradi, looking pleased with her answer. "What you would call Dunedain in your elvish language."
"My family follows this custom as well. I have only recently come of age for such things so I certainly understand your sentiments toward these potential suitors."
The Corsair lady crosses her leg over the other beneath her skirts and absently adjusts them. "It is good to know that there are some in Gondor who still follow the old ways. And it is good to know your heart doesn't belong to another. It will be easier for you to accept your new life without such a complication."
"Do you speak Adunaic?"
Farielle is still standing, but now she sinks slowly back down onto the pillow, leaning slightly against the wall, as she had been before everyone started barging into her room. "So," she says slowly, "Even if - if your brother does - does want me..." She trails off, blushing even more, and grasps at Azradi's question with relief. "A little."
Tilting her head, Azradi studies the blushing woman - perhaps trying to read the thoughts behind such an expression. But, she merely says, "Good. My family speaks Adunaic in private." She smiles, a true smile, and adds. "Women see to the traditions of a family. I cannot entirely predict what Alphros may do or not do, but on this I insist as his sister: You must learn Adunaic and your children must speak it also. I will not see this custom fail."
That smile fades in time, and still she studies the younger woman. "Do not think your age will save you from marriage if that is what my brother desires and do not expect love to blossom."
"Then you do not follow that custom," Farielle says. "Or - only as you wish to." She doesn't say this in any tone of contempt, merely as an observation. The color has faded from her face, and she looks both weary and unhappy. Surely, she has dreamed of a marriage where she might love her husband, and he her, not this bleak future Azradi is painting for her.
She says after a moment, "It can be no harder than Sindarin."
"These are extraordinary times," explains Azradi, simply. "Among the nobles of the South love-matches are more common than marriages of alliance. And yet my brother will forgo that custom as well. You will not be the only one making a sacrifice."
"And yet there are different aspects of marriage. There is the contract of husband and wife; Lord and Lady - and there is the union of a man and woman. You should expect the former should he desire it, but perhaps the latter..." The Adunie lady shakes her head. "I should say no more. These are matters for Alphros to decide and I should not give you false hope."
She allows a silence to fall for several moments, ere she too comments on the more benign part of their conversation. "I learned both very young. I may have learned Adunaic first, though, I am not sure. Alphros might know."
"Sacrifice," Farielle repeats, bitterly. Then she is silent, her eyes downcast, listening to Azradi's words but with no more comments. What is there to say, after all?
And she finds she cannot say anything at all when the lady speaks of learning languages with her brother, but shuts her eyes to hold back the tears she will not shed. The moment of treacherous weakness passes though, and she says, her voice dull, "I have always known Sindarin. I do not remember learning it. We.. I must have learned it when I learned to speak."
"As did I," replies Azradi, her expression not without compassion but certainly not overflowing with it. "I know that many of the High Houses of Gondor still speak Sindarin as their daily language. I imagine it was much for your family as Adunaic was for mine."
"Farielle," she begins, using the woman's name for the first time. "I know a Lady who found herself in a situation very similar to yours. She too was treated with honor and in time resigned herself to her situation. She found contentment, even happiness, in her family. And though perhaps she never found that love we hope for, eventually affection and respect grew between her and her husband."
"You future does not have be as terrible as you fear."
"But I will never see my family again," Farielle says, desolately. "Nor my home. I can live without love in a marriage, if - if your brother is an honorable man, but ... " She looks up at last, "Why have you done this? If - if he is ... wishes to be king in Gondor, must - must he steal a wife? Why does he not speak with a Family. There are girls, surely, among those you say have accepted his claim, who would desire such a union." Perhaps she is trying to sound strong, or reasonable, but all that is in her voice is anguish. For the moment, under the press of grief, perhaps she has forgotten that Alphros is all that stands between her and an even more terrible future.
"He did not steal you," points out Azradi. She rises from the bed, standing tall - tall even as a man of Gondor. "You were captured by Seaward when your forces invaded my land. That you rest in such a chamber as this and have the potential to marry a great Lord of the South is a stroke of good fortune that you do not yet fully realize. If my brother did not desire a high-born lady of Gondor, you would, at best be kept elsewhere and held for ransom. Most likely you would be a marked slave and toil at the worst tasks Seaward requires - such is the way of this Tower and its Lady."
"I will leave you with these thoughts to ponder, Lady Farielle. And I remind you that your future rests in Alphros' hands - whether he marries you or not. Do not forget that."
Farielle is silent a moment, staring down at her hands, struggling perhaps to curb her emotions. Then she looks up. "You are right. I apologize for seeming to accuse him of deeds that were not his." She stands also, in the unconscious manner of a lady bidding farewell to her guests.
A ghost of a smile haunts Lady Farside's lips and she does something unusual, she inclines her brow to the Gondorian lady - albeit only slightly. Then saying nothing more, she turns and departs from the chamber - leaving the sweet woody scent of sandalwood in her wake.
The woman is gone. The door is shut, the guard is without. Farielle sits back down and takes up her pen; turning the paper over. But she doesn't continue writing, only stares at it blankly.
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.