4. Chapter 4
The night has passed, another day has come, and it also is nearly gone.
Eruphel had slept. For a full twelve hours after the sound of great fighting finally died down, and the Lady of Seaward returned to her tent, relatively unscathed, yet the exhaustion of years seemed to be upon her. She retreated into a sequestered portion of her tent, with instructions not to awaken her for any reason, unless the tent was afire. And the servants, guards and slaves seemed to take that seriously.
So now, at last, Eruphel emerges looking more refreshed than Farielle, at least, has ever seen her. She almost looks young, even. And, she is dressed in clean robes, her face and body washed, what wounds she has freshly dressed. Still, Eruphel putters in to the main area of the tent with small, sleepy steps. She yawns for a bit, then lets herself down on the pile of pillows, looking at Farielle judgingly, but saying nothing.
Farielle is sitting in the same spot in the tent where she has been, for the most part, since she was brought here. On the floor, not quite in a corner, but close. Her knees are hugged to her chest, her arms around them, and her face resting on top - her eyes are closed, but they snap open at the small sounds of Eruphel's arrival. She watches the woman warily, silently.
For her part, her face is clean, and her hair has been straightened, though it still is somewhat sandy and uncombed. There are neat bandages on her wrists, and around her ankles beneath the shackles. Her dress is plain and clean, if wrinkled - and no longer white. From somewhere, someone has found a faded blue gown for her.
A messenger appears, almost as if by magic. Almost as if he had been waiting for the Lady Eruphel's awakening for several hours now. Thusly permitted by the Seaward guards, the messenger -- who casts his eyes about the tent, letting them linger on the Gondorian lady -- bows to the mistress of Corsairs.
"My Lady. Lord Alphros has come to seek an audience as per your message."
Eruphel stares at Farielle a bit longer. Soon, a slave arrives, requesting if there is something the lady would like to break her fast with. "Eggs, coffee...some meat...wine..." Eruphel says, not really looking away from Farielle, except for a moment. "Farielle Girithlin, have you had aught to eat recently?" She dismisses the slave with a wave of the hand before waiting for Farielle to reply, though.
Just then a Farside messenger is admitted, which is not surprising. But when he delivers his message, the Lady appears surprised nonetheless. "So soon?" Her tone betrays her emotion. "Very well then, admit him." Eruphel tightens the cover of her robes, and runs her fingers briefly through her hair, like she cares what he thinks about how she looks.
Farielle looks blank at Eruphel's question. She is silent a long moment, as if hunting for thought or memory. At last she says, "Fruit. I don't remember. This morning." She startles at the messenger's arrival, though his message means nothing at all to her.
The messenger bows and departs, and the tent flap is not reopened until a sufficient interval of time has passed. Then, as if on cue, the veiled King-Claimant of Gondor appears as Farielle speaks of fruit. "Lady Eruphel," he greets with a dip of his head, ere a curious gaze drifts in the direction of the Gondorian woman.
"Lord Alphros..." Eruphel says, rising from her place on the pillows. She approaches him, extending her hand in greeting. "Forgive me, I suppose I am unprepared. When I sent out messengers to find you, I expected results in a month, not a day..." She waves a graceful hand to the cushions in invitation. "And so I had planned to have this woman more...presentable." She looks again at Farielle, the look somewhat harsh. "Though, even dirty she is comely. Since you have attempted to grant me something which I greatly desired, I thought I should reciprocate." She smiles with reserve.
The words sink in, and then their meaning, and Farielle's eyes widen. She looks at the man - Lord Alphros - a faint crease growing between her eyebrows at the odd veil.
Alphros accepts Eruphel's hand, placing a kiss upon it... One might sense the sentiment of a raised eyebrow beneath his veil, though he does nothing more than smile wryly. "That is very thoughtful of you," he admits, turning to look at Farielle. Whereas the Lady of Seaward's is harsh -- the look of a Corsair -- his manner is different. Not warm, but not calculating either.
"Greetings, Lady...?" he speaks to the Gondorian upon the ground, before catching sight of her bound ankles. Tilting his head back to Eruphel, he adds, "Since I have caught you by surprise, might I suggest now is a fair time to remove her bindings?"
Eruphel looks at Farielle, then at the former Farside Lord, thoughtfully, then answers Alphros. "To be honest, I had planned not to do so until she was safely back in Umbar. But for you..." Eruphel claps her hands, and a guardsman arrives. "Remove her shackles." Eruphel orders, and at once the man hurries to where the Gondorian girl sits, and works at the locks of the manacles with his keys.
As they wait, the Seaward slave returns with others in tow, carrying a serving tray with boiled coffee and tiny cups, along with sweeteners. Behind her comes another tray with cold meats, cheeses, olives dates and other fruits. After him comes wine. The eggs apparently require longer. All of these are brought to the Lady and presented with a bow. Eruphel picks what she wants off the tray of cold food, while the drinks are prepared for her and Alphros. After she is served, the tray goes to Alphros, to offer refreshment.
At last, the shackles are undone, and the guard stands back. "L...King Alphros anAzulada, allow me to present..." Eruphel moves toward Farielle to offer her hand to help the girl rise, "Farielle Girithlin, of Gondor."
Alphros gives the offered refreshments an appreciative amount of attention, but then waves them away without taking anything. "Caution is our friend, but let me allay your fears; the Gondorians are driven out so where is she to run? To death in the deserts or crueller hands in Umbar? The Lady is quite fortunate... If she is who she says she is." With that the would-be King glances to Farielle, a glint of suspicion in his tone.
"Tell me, Lady Farielle, do you bear the name Girithlin by birth or marriage?"
There is little obvious expression in Farielle's face - fear is hidden deep under a layer of numbness. But now a little confusion grows in the blue-grey eyes. She doesn't move as the man works to unlock the shackles, though she doesn't resist either as he moves her feet to do so. When Eruphel holds out her hand, it takes a moment for the girl to put her own in it and stand - and she sways a little as she does so, before finding her balance. Lord - King - the frown grows; and so does the locked-away terror.
Alphros' words do nothing to allay it. "I am not married," she answers at last, in a voice barely more than a whisper. Her eyes flicker to the tent door, before returning to the man's masked face.
Whether Alphros is well-versed in the reading of captured Gondorians or not, Eruphel certainly is, and speaks up, to answer the thought forming in Farielle's mind. "If you were to run through that portal, beyond you would find an entire Army of Umbareans, Near Haradrim, Far Haradrim, most of them Corsairs. They would most definitely notice you. And when I finally found you and brought you back here, you would not be nearly as happy as you are right now. Nor would I." Her eyes flick toward Alphros, her gaze focusing on his lips (as they are the only expressive feature exposed). Eruphel gestures to the platter of meats cheeses and fruits. "You may help yourself," she offers to the girl.
As the Lady of Seaward gives her warning, Alphros neither reacts nor adds to it. Instead, he remains silent and still, almost as if nothing is transpiring. He does wait eagerly for the arrival of the drinks being prepared, however. When he has one in hand, he turns to Farielle and adds: "I assure you, Lady Farielle, should you choose to stay you will find the food to be quite good. I know that those strutting peacocks Thorondur and Arelion may like to pamper their kinsfolk, but that does not mean that noble gastronomy is to be found only in the halls of Edhellond."
Farielle seems to wilt a little, despair flickering through her eyes. Then, with an effort, she straightens again, and wipes the emotion from her face. She takes a piece of cheese, holding it without eating, but Alphros' words break through the blank mask once more; only this time it is anger that sparks in her eyes, not terror. "They are my kinsmen," she says, her voice edged.
The boiled eggs have arrived at last, still steaming in a bowl, which is placed on a low table by one of the attending slaves. Eruphel returns to the cushions, though she chooses the furthest one off to the side. "Please, my Lord, Farielle, take a seat." She waves a hand toward the opposite end of the cushion pile, as far as they might sit from her. A servant arrives with her supercharged coffee, and she accepts it, sipping the tiny cup slowly and carefully.
Alphros sits upon the indicated cushion, though his gaze does not leave Farielle. "They are indeed... If the name you name yourself is truly yours." He glances towards Eruphel, "It is not that I doubt your honesty, Lady Eruphel, but merely that it is not impossible that a captured Gondorian might seek to pose as a scion of higher birth than is truth... In the hopes that they shall be ransomed or treated well." He frowns speculatively, before sipping at his drink. "I shall naturally have a scholar specialising in genealogy interview you and ascertain the truth of your name and your blood claim."
Farielle stares back, lifting her chin a tiny amount. Anger is far better than fear... Though it is very strange to glare at someone who has no eyes. It isn't long before she looks away and sits down, as ordered. Though without moving from where she has stood, so that she seats herself in the exact same position as before. "Why?" she asks - almost demands - the edge in her voice turning brittle. "What do you care of my family? My father /would/ pay you." The cheese is still in her hand, held between fingers and thumb - and entirely forgotten.
"I have considered that myself, my Lord," Eruphel answers Alphros casually, peeling away the shell of the egg in a single string, "which I had also planned to delve into with more...severity, before presenting her to you." She glances at Farielle before taking a bite. "Though I suppose your method is also reliable." Farielle's anger is slightly amusing to Eruphel, but she lets Alphros explain, if anything is to be explained at all.
"Or perhaps your father -- if he is a decent, honourable man -- would be thrilled to discover that his daughter is the potential future Queen of Gondor," Alphros answers blithely without looking away from Eruphel, at whom he then smiles. "I appreciate your willingness to investigate the quality of your merchanise, my Lady. Of course, since we speak of a noble Lady and not common chattel, I trust that you will not take any offense at my thorough investigation of it... It is not that I distrust you, merely that I have my own requirements, not all of which I expect others to anticipate.
"To start: I should one day hope that my Queen will provide me with an heir. Should she be so wronged or mistreated prior to our marriage that she would not be amenable to the notion of copulation without scratching my eyes out, then she is verily useless to me." He gestures with his cup. "Greatest of Kings though he may have been, I do not think anyone thought fondly of the manner in which Ar-Pharazon took his wife. I should not like to make the same mistake."
Eruphel, though she might have been offended at the implications of the King-Claimant, instead laughs heartily. Once the mirth subsides, she shapes her mouth, as if to offer a retort, but then again chuckles and shakes her head, chuckling. "<Haradaic> Then again, after some time in my tower's hospitality; after seeing what her fate /could/ be, she might have been so grateful for your gentle nature she would have leapt into your arms." she answers briefly in her own language, then switches to the common tongue. 'But of course, I will bow to your wisdom in the matter.'
Severity. Farielle darts a look at Eruphel. As her anger drains away, fear surges back to take its place, until Alphros starts to talk. And then the girl can do nothing but stare at him. The feeling that she is living through some sort of insane farce grows stronger. At last, she tears her gaze away, dropping it to her hands, folded in her lap. Cautiously, she touches one wrist. The bandages are real. Incomprehensible words wash over her, and she ignores them, as she does the last sentence, which she does understand. Or would, if she could make sense of anything that is happening.
Alphros laughs in answer to Eruphel, and nods once. "<Haradaic> That is true. Still, it is all for naught if she is not a suitable candidate in the end, though so far the signs are promising," he offers by way of a compliment.
Alphros then looks back to Farielle, noting her confused silence. After a moment, he prompts her with a question: "Have you no thoughts, Lady Farielle?"
Eruphel's eyes flash, should anyone have been looking, at the title thrown in to the girl's name. But she hides it and turns away, and when she looks at the would-be couple, she smiles blandly. She stares at Farielle, who seems not to be processing all of this very well. "My Lord, keep in mind that her situation has changed radically in the last two days. Some thoughts take a while to congeal." She finishes off her tiny cup of coffee.
Farielle accepts her title entirely unconsciously, as if it is her due; looking up as he speaks her name; though this doesn't seem to have helped much with comprehending what is going on. She stares at him, unable to think of which of the thousand things swirling around in her mind to say first, but finally, she blurts out, "You want to - marry /me/?" There is a maze of emotions in her voice, but astonishment seems to be uppermost.
Alphros shrugs slightly at Eruphel's suggestion-- as if he does not comprehend himself that anyone could be so confused by the situation. But he looks back at Farielle at her incredulous question. "No, I do not want to marry you... Not yet."
"<Haradaic> Promising indeed. Fetching, young...did I mention her mother's family is Draud...dreadnaught...Draudgnir? Though, she doesn't seem to be the /brightest/ star in the heavens, does she. I am not sure if you would like to have such slow children by her. Your princely offspring no doubt will need to be fast-witted to keep their heads and their thrones." All of this is spoken in the Southron tongue, as lightly and conversationally as if speaking about the weather above. And then the woman switches to the common tongue.
'What he is saying, child, is that your lineage must be confirmed before he could consider it. Though, while that is happening, you two could perhaps come to know each other, and decide if you /like/ each other.'
Alphros slowly rises to his feet, a rueful smile on his face. "All that is true," he admits in answer to Eruphel. "But it shall have to wait on the morrow. I have much business to attend to... My thanks for this thoughtful gesture, Lady. We shall discuss the transaction further as it progresses." With a nod to Farielle, the King-Claimant turns and departs.
Nearly all of Farielle's energy has been going to keep from thinking about her family, to stop herself spending all her time shaking in the corner and crying, to keep from simply opening her mouth and letting out one vast scream and never stopping. She hasn't much left for comprehension of incomprehensible situations.
Amid all the babble, the fragment of name catches her attention, and she looks at Eruphel questioningly. Until the woman explains just what it is that Alphros does want, and a hint of revulsion flickers swiftly through her eyes. /Like/ him? A Haradrim? She watches Alphros leave, still saying nothing.
Eruphel nods, smiling, and rises as Alphros rises, seeing him to the tent door. Then she returns, standing there and looking down at the young girl of Gondor, considering carefully. After a few moments, she says, "Obviously Lord Alphros does not wish to see you in chains. I will give you one chance. /One/ chance. If you ever attempt to flee," he eyes flit to the tent-flap doorway, "I will have chains placed on you that will require a blacksmith to put on, and take off. Right now, you are in the best position a woman of Gondor could ever dream or hope for in Harad. Do not endanger your position with foolish notions until you understand fully your situation." she warns.
Farielle's eyes follow Eruphel's to the tent door, lingering there a long moment. Then she looks away in defeat, and nods, looking down at her hands.
Nodding in satisfaction, Eruphel sits back at her former place on the cushions. "That's good. I will have a proper cot brought in for you. Good clothing will likely need to wait till we get to Umbar. If you require something, ask Hayya. Now, eat. You cannot think properly without some food in you, and you'll be wanting your strength back, I suspect."
Umbar. Her head still bowed, Farielle closes her eyes in despair. After a minute, she opens them and reaches rather blindly for the tray; her hand closing about a piece of meat, which she takes a small bite of, and then holds - forgotten, maybe, like the cheese she still has. A long while later, she finishes them both.
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.