6. Chapter 6
People came and went in the tent. Not many. It was quiet mostly. Servants, Farielle thought they must be, for they straightened things or delivered things or took them away again. Once someone brought her a plate of food and refilled the water jug by her bed. She ate a little. No one spoke to her, though most of them turned to stare at her at least once - sometimes with hatred, sometimes with scorn. Once or twice with pity.
A man lifted the tent-flap and slipped outside. She heard his voice, bantering by the tone, and the guards replies. They laughed, and then it was quiet again. Very quiet. Farielle sat up and looked around. There was no one here. She darted a glance at the tent door, then as quietly as she could, she stood up. Drawing in a quivering breath, she padded across to where Hayya slept and knelt beside his bed to feel under it.
Disappointment, as bitter as salt, filled her mouth. He must have moved it. Or perhaps he kept it with him. She stood up, looking around the tent; then hurried towards the table. Perhaps ... with delicate fingers, she tapped the papers spread over it. Nothing.
Something scratched at the tent door, and she jumped, staring at it with wide eyes. But no one came in, and she tried to calm her breathing. Where else might a knife be kept? Her gaze stopped on the curtain that divided the Lord and Lady's sleeping area from the rest. Yes, of course. There, if anywhere. She took a step towards it, swallowing hard. If someone came in - the casual contempt in Eron's eyes, the threat in Eruphel's - Farielle took a deep breath and walked swiftly towards the curtain.
Someone coughed outside, then spoke to the guards. Farielle turned and almost ran towards her cot as they replied. A shaft of hot sunlight made a triangle on the floor as the tent flap was opened. She had just enough time to plunk her self down on the floor by the water jug before Hayya came in. He looked at her, but didn't stop or speak.
Farielle closed her eyes in relief. He hadn't seen. 'But now what?' she wondered. 'I have no poison, I can't get a knife.' She didn't even bother looking up at the billowing tent roof as she thought mordantly, 'I certainly can't hang myself!'
Water slopped over the mug rim, wetting her hand, and she stilled, looking down at it. 'Of course. If I can just be strong for long enough. No one pays much attention to me, if I lie quietly, maybe they will get used to seeing me like that, so that when...' But her thoughts shied away from that. Death from thirst was a terrible thing. She had seen a man once... 'Mother,' she thought desperately, 'Help me!'
She sat on the bed, holding the mug, and looked fleetingly at Hayya. He was busy with something; his back turned towards her. Deliberately, she poured the water on the ground behind her cot, and laid down.
The sun is hot. It's always hot here, Farielle thinks, but today, the sun seems to be beating malevolently down on the tent roof, burning through it in a huge throbbing ball. She has been lying on the cot, as per usual, but now she lifts a hand to her head, shaking it slightly, and rolls onto her back. She stares unseeingly at the cushions and curtains and pieces of furniture that make up the interior of the tent, and tries to swallow. It hurts.
Quiet steps, and the shift and clink of iron spears and staffs. "I have come to bring food for the lady prisoner," says Nisrin in Westron, a little irritated.
A voice... one she recognizes, speaking Common. Farielle stirs, but in the end, doesn't move.
The dark form of the younger woman slips through the tent-flap. Nisrin casts cautious glances about, ensuring that her brother is appropriately absent, then smiles wanly at the lady. "You do not enjoy the Southern noon," she murmurs.
Farielle blinks. Then slowly, she pushes herself upright, swaying a little as if she is dizzy. "No," she says, and moves her mouth a little. "It is so very hot," she adds after a minute. A pause. Then she smiles back at Nisrin.
"I can get you some more water," offers the girl haltingly, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her corsair's vest -- it seems she has come without purpose, emptyhanded and seeking no Lady or Lord Husband Seaward. "You do not look well -- that is, worse than yesterday," she observes.
Farielle's pale skin is somehow even whiter, and her actions are slow and uncertain. After a moment, she shakes her head, then says, after that, "Thank you. I am given plenty of water." She swallows again. After another minute, perhaps seeking to distract the younger girl, she asks, "Your name... is Nisrin?"
"Nisrin Hashikh," affirms the girl, eyes resting on an ewer lying by the cot, then flicking back up to the pale lady. "My brother is Eron. But we are not very close; he is more of a guardian. You said you had a brother in Caldur Keep," Nisrin prompts carefully.
"Nisrin Hashikh," Farielle repeats carefully. She doesn't mangle the name too badly. After a minute or two of silence, she nods. "Yes. Two." There is a pause while she works her mouth a little to find some saliva to keep talking with. "I hope that they are safe, but I do not know." There is something desolate in the simple words - though she does not say so, it is evident there is a deep bond between the siblings.
"What are their names?" asks Nisrin almost shyly, ensuring first that none of her family is present. "I think you shall see them again," she adds encouragingly, "if after a long time. When Lord Alphros takes what he has claimed..."
A shudder runs through Farielle's body, though she can't possibly be cold, and she looks away. "Lominzil," she replies, her voice suddenly dull. "And Eruiglas." But now that she has made peace with the fact of never seeing her family again, it is a comfort to think of them, and slowly, almost dreamily, she goes on. "Eruiglas is much older than I, but Lomin is only a year older. He looks like me, a little. But taller, of course." A pause. Her voice sounds a little hoarse. "When we were little, we did everything together; even taking harp lessons. I miss him."
"I do not think he was taken," says Nisrin after a pause, regarding the Gondorian woman carefully. "But it was very difficult fighting in the streets." The Haradrim girl crosses to the ewer, pouring herself a cup. "The harp?" she asks -- curiosity without malice. "What do the noblewomen of Gondor learn?"
Farielle's gaze fixates on the water as it gurgles out of the urn into Nisrin's cup. She tears her eyes away, letting them drift shut as if she is thinking. "Oh, many things," she says slowly. "It depends. Some. On what house you are of. We... we learned music and painting and how to make tapestries, and how to ride and to hunt. I was learning to look after our finances, when... when Mother said I should go to learn a little of healing."
"But not to fight," notes Nisrin absently, pouring another cup and offering it to Farielle. "I had wondered why there were no women among the ranks."
The Gondorian woman hesitates a moment, then takes the cup, holding it idly. "Why would I want to fight?" she asks, surprised into a little more alertness.
"Why would you not?" answers Nisrin, equally surprised. She crosses her legs and takes a sip of water. "I know little of your people, save their actions upon the battlefield. But at times even the women must fight, or die. It would be a useful skill, even if you were to be a healer."
"Only when your people attack," Farielle replies in a low voice whose bitterness seems to surprise even her. But she doesn't apologize. Her breathing is a little faster, a little shallower; maybe not enough to notice. She shuts her eyes again, rubbing at her face with her empty hand.
"Your Knight-Captain invaded our land first," says Nisrin, clenching her jaw. "They killed my mentor, too. He taught me to play the lute." Taking a deep breath, she sits back and looks away. "That was ignoble of me. I am sorry," the girl ventures.
"Imrakhor is a fool, if not a madman," Farielle says wearily, dropping her hand to her lap. "But I spoke.. not only of now. But in the past. Long years. Always fighting. There are no battles in Gondor, save with your people, and ..." But she doesn't finish that sentence. A long pause. "You play the lute? Would - would you play for me?" Her tongue seems thick, though not enough to make her slur her words. Not yet.
"And the ..." Nisrin shivers for a moment, glancing away. "Ah, the lute! Do you play it too? Sing with me? Dance? I will play for you if it will help with the heat," she says with forced cheerfulness. "It would not do for you to collapse from sun-sickness. After all, you might be a Queen!" Allowing the other lady a small smile, the girl ducks out of the tent, later to return with the promised instrument.
"I do not think I can dance just now," Farielle says carefully. She makes her smile rueful, as if laughing at the frailties of a body accustomed to coolness and damp. "But I would like it if you played. If it will not disturb anyone." She sets the cup of water down so as not to spill it, and then lies back on the cot again, letting her eyes drift shut to the gentle notes of the music.