8. Chapter 8
Time did strange things when you were trying to die. Farielle no longer knew how much of it had passed. She still dreamed of water, but distantly - as something waiting over a horizon she couldn't quite see. And her thoughts swirled in and out of dreams. Eruiglas stood before her, his dark hair gleaming in the sun. He was smiling. Her parents were laughing in the other room. This wasn't real, she knew, but she hardly cared. Hold on, she thought as her brother's image turned transparent and shivered into sand. Just hold on, a little longer, that's all. It won't be long.
It's midmorning, but - as usual - hot. Inside, the tent is dim; various people have come and gone, mostly leaving the Gondorian woman alone. Farielle is laying on her cot, half twisted so her knees are bent to the side, but her face is looking up. Her eyes are shut, and she is breathing swiftly and shallowly. Her skin is hot and dry, and her face, usually so white, is flushed. Her lips have chapped and cracked.
"Lady Seaward!" comes a man's voice from the tent door. This is a dark-eyed, broad shouldered man of about 30. He is not one of the guards of this tent, but he wears the livery of Seaward--and from his bearing he seems to be someone important. Or at least self-important. "I am told to seek the Lady here," he says imperiously pushing past the guards and into the tent.
Farielle opens her eyes at the sounds, but shuts them again. Whatever it is, it isn't important. Then she winces, and her mouth opens in a silent cry, as she reaches to rub at a cramp in her arm.
"Lady?" the man says in Westron as he hurries into the tent. He stops, staring at Farielle. "You are not Lady Seaward. Who are you?" he demands. Then, "Are you ill?"
Farielle's eyes fly open and she stares up at the unfamiliar man, warily. Then, carefully and slowly, she says, "I am Farielle. Girithlin." She takes a deep breath, and shakes her head. "I am only tired," she tells him. Her words are slurred just the tiniest amount, as if her tongue is too big for her mouth.
"Farielle...Giririthrith..." The name comes awkwardly from the soldier. "Tired?" he says, looking at her with a practiced eye. "It would seem not. You are the Lady's guest? Troubled would she be to see her guest so ill." And on that he unslings a waterskin worn crosswise over his chest and uncorks it, handing it to the woman. "Drink."
"Guest," Farielle repeats, and laughs, a dry, cracked sound. Then terror springs to her eyes - as well as a flash of nausea that crosses her face. She shakes her head, putting up a hand to ward off the waterskin. "No... please."
"What do you mean, no?" the man says, thrusting the waterskin her way. "It is hot and you quite obviously have not had enough to drink. Do you wish to die a horrible death of thirst? Do you wish to dishonor the Lady Seaward, so that people will say she mistreats her guests? Drink. I insist on it, in fact. Since you are refusing me, it means you are too ill to decide this already." He steps forward as if to forcibly pour water down the woman's throat.
Farielle puts up both hands now, turning her head away. "No," she says almost frantically, "No."
"This is madness," the still-nameless soldier says. "I will not have one of Lady Seaward's guests die on my watch. You -will- drink. Or I will force you to." He shoves the waterskin into her face.
"I'm not her guest," Farielle manages to say, pushing back on the waterskin, keeping her head turned to the side away from the soldier and his very unwelcome help.
"You are in her tent in her camp, you are not bound, you are guarded. Guest or prisoner, but valued, either way, and I say you will drink." That seems to do it--the soldier tries to grab the woman's hair or head, to tilt her head back and make her open her mouth so he can pour the water down her throat.
Her hair is pulled ruthlessly, turning her head, whether she wants it or not. Farielle grits her teeth together, still trying with both hands to push the water away - it splashes over her face and down onto the cot.
"Guards!" the nameless soldier calls, giving up and shoving Farielle back onto her cot. "See to it that this woman drinks water," he says as one of the door guards ducks his head inside the tent. "Force it down her throat if you must, but the Lady Seaward will be quite displeased with you both if she comes back to find her guest having convulsions from thirst. And see to it that she drinks regularly every hour. I will find a healer and the Lady." Disgusted, he turns and stomps out of the tent.
The guards came boiling into the tent at the soldier's shout, swords half-drawn. But nothing was wrong. One rolled his eyes. The other shook his head in contempt. After a swift consultation in their own harsh tongue, they tramped over to Farielle's cot.
Farielle shut her eyes firmly and ignored them, but it was useless. She felt rough hands yanking her up by the shoulders, and someone's fingers dug into her jaw. It hurt, and she gasped - and water poured down her throat, choking her. Coughing, swallowing, gagging, at last, the unending stream let up. At least half of the water had spilled down her body. But some had been swallowed. Her eyes were already tearing from the terribly coughing spasms, and now she wept also.
So close. She'd been so close.
"If you don't drink every hour like the Sergeant said, we'll pour it down you same as this time." It was one of the guards, standing over her and staring down with displeasure. Farielle nodded weakly and he went away.
And having tasted water, her body suddenly awoke to its cravings again. Farielle didn't think she would be able to try again. She wanted to drink so badly that her hands shook, her whole body shook. Only that she was still coughing water out of her lungs kept her from draining the entire rest of the jug then and there.
Then her stomach twisted, and she gritted her teeth against a sudden nausea. When that had passed, she lay back, exhausted and stared up at the roof of the tent. Tears leaked down her cheeks and dripped into her damp bedding. Already the finger-marks on her cheeks were reddening; soon they would be bruises.
Farielle breathes shallow and swift, and the water that was forced down her throat wasn't enough to repair cracked lips or cool dry eyes and mouth. Not yet.
Entering the tent is the Seaward slave Hayya. As he enters, he stops near a bowl of water and rinses his hands and splashes some water on his face in an attempt to cool off a bit from the heat. Looking over at the female slave, he shakes his head - it does not look like pity, rather he shakes his head out of disgust or annoyance. Moving over to his cot, he sets down a bundle he carries in his hands, and unwrapping it, he smiles at the finely crafted longsword within. Looking back to the other slave, he says "Are you in need of anything?"
"Did she drink?" The voice that speaks outside the tent is commanding, authoritative--and likely recognizable to Farielle as the nameless soldier who first forced her to drink earlier. He brushes his way into the tent, in the livery of Seaward and with the air of someone used to commanding.
Despair and fury - two emotions almost impossible to find together - yet they seesaw through Farielle's eyes. Hayya's voice - she knows that one - asks a question and she ignores it. Another man's voice - the emotions intensify, with rage being momentarily uppermost.
As Hayya hears the voice, he sets down his prize and then moves towards the woman. Nearing her cot, he says, "Have you had anything to drink?" His tone is kind for the most part, but it is apparent he is in no mood for games.
"Ah, well, I see she is being properly tended," the soldier's deep voice says as he peers over Hayya's shoulder. "Who is she? She says she is not the guest of Lady Seaward? And she refuses to drink."
Farielle sets her jaw and refuses also to answer, staring past both of the men as if they are not there, focusing on the roof.
Looking to the soldier, Hayya says, "She was captured some time ago. As for what is to be done with her, I have no idea, sir." Picking up a waterskin, he looks to the woman and says, "You can either drink on your own, or I will force you to do so.. your choice."
"Captured? But she is not bound..." Khaan the soldier says, puzzled. To the woman, he nods grimly. "Best drink on your own. This one can tell you," he gestures to Hayya. "He is a Stonelander like you. Or was, they say."
The anger dies away as suddenly as it had come, leaving only despair. "I drank," Farielle says, her voice hoarse and not much more than a whisper. She looks at the men now: for Khaan, reproach. Only a flicker of a glance to Hayya.
Dropping the waterskin upon the woman's chest, Hayya says, "Drink more." Looking to Khaan, he says, "Where would she run too? She is surrounded by the Armies of Umbar. Her own people fled for their lives, leaving her here as if she were dead."
"Well, she wishes she were dead, quite obviously," Khaan gestures toward the woman, making a face. "And if she succeeds at it, my guess is it'll be your hide that gets tanned by the Lady Seaward for it. She likes her little pets," the soldier says, taunting Hayya.
Looking to the soldier, Hayya says, "My mistress knows that I serve her well, I have killed many a man with my bare hands for merely insulting her." His words are cold as he smiles slyly at the soldier.
Farielle doesn't move when the heavy waterskin drops onto her chest. After a while, she lifts a hand to the skin, curling her fingers around the neck. She lifts it, turns her head to one side to take a swallow, then sets it down again.
A snort, as Khaan crosses both arms over his chest and eyes the slave. "Your bare hands? Come now. You are welcome to kill me if you can. Here and now. With your bare hands."
"Though afterwards, if I deem you unworthy, I may slay you with my blade."
With a slight laugh, Hayya says, "No sir, I would not do such a thing. Not to someone who serves my Mistress, though perhaps I should speak to her on that subject and find out for us." Looking to the woman, he says, "Good. You will finish that before nightfall."
The girl refuses to look at Hayya, though for a minute, it looks like she hopes the two of them will get in a fight and, preferably, slaughter each other. Neither does she answer.
""Speak to her as you like," Khaan answers hautily. "But if you are tending to this captive and the Lady wishes her alive, then see to it that she remains so."
To the soldier, Hayya nods and says, "I thank you, sir."
A flicker of a glance towards Khaan, filled with resentment and possibly hatred. Then Farielle is back to staring at the sky.
"And you..." Khaan goes on, settling his eyes on Hayya. "You are the one that the dark magic brought back from the dead? Or so the rumor is?" His tone seems to suggest that he admires such a thing.
Dark magic. Khaan may admire this, but Farielle shivers, as if she is cold.
Looking at the soldier, Hayya says "Yes, my mistress risked much to save my life, she sent for the High Priestess Mara, through the power of our Dark lord I was healed and brought back from the brink." Looking down at the woman he shakes his head and says "From that day I have felt.. stronger."
"Wise was she in that," Khaan nods. "I should speak to her about it. Do you think..." he looks speculatively at the captive woman, "that is her purpose in capturing this one? To use her as a sacrifice of some sort to the Great One? In repayment for your life, no doubt."
With a sly smile Hayya looks down at the woman and says "Perhaps that is to be her fate.. Though I would have hoped for someone prettier." Looking to the soldier he says "Though I know my Mistress was not happy to have to resort to the dark arts, but she did none the less to save my life."
The girl's eyes widen in horror, and she takes a deep shuddering breath, clenching her jaws together to keep from screaming, maybe. Both hands close; one into a fist, fingernails digging into the palm, the other around the neck of the waterskin that she is still holding.
"Ack...she will make a pitiful sacrifice, though," Khaan says, scowling. "Weak and white-faced, just like the rest of the Stonelanders. Just look at her now, even--she hears us talking and she cowers on her bed. The Great One deserves a great sacrifice, not some pitiful wimpering fool of a woman like this. Better to sell her off to a fat merchant. She's pretty enough to be worth a few coins as a harem girl. If she can be trained up. These Stonelanders...so weak willed."
Nodding his head Hayya looks to the woman and barks an order of "Drink!" then looking back to the Soldier he says "Only time will tell what my mistress has planned for her, be it sacrifice or to be sold off for a few coins." Bowing his head he moves off towards his cot, picking up a wetstone he unsheathes the longsword on his bed and takes a seat, running the stone over the blade from hilt to the very tip.
Farielle is shivering. Weak-willed, perhaps. But she has enough strength, or pride, or determination not to weep in front of these men. And enough strength or pride to glare at Hayya and not follow his orders immediately. When she does, again, she takes only a small sip; as slowly as she can, trying not to let it shake too obviously. Khaan, she tries to avoid looking at entirely.
"And skinny, too. Ugly we cannot fix, but she is far too skinny to fetch a good price for a merchant's harem. You should see to it that she is fattened up, fed right. And look--" Khaan points toward the girl, "see how she dawdles in dribbling drops of water down her throat. She will need to be broken, as well, like a good horse, though--she has spirit, clearly, to resist so. But needs to be tamed. And fattened. Pitiful things, these Stonelander women."
"Your lady lets you carry a sword?" Khaan now asks in surprise, watching Hayya with the whetsone.
Nodding his head Hayya says "She needs to remain looking like a stonelander, for that is her appeal when she is to be sold, why pay more for a stonelander that looks exactly like the rest of your harem?" pausing for a moment "I am allowed to carry a blade so as to kill my Mistress' enemies and protect her if need be."
They are still talking about her. Farielle can't stop shivering; if they think she is skinny and ugly, she doesn't care; but even in her fright, a spark of indignation wavers a moment before it is extinguished again. A sword. She glances towards Hayya, briefly. If he left it ever...
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