17. Chapter 17
It would take them another two days and three nights to reach Umbar. They made good time with Nerlas' expert crew at the helm. They thrust through the seas northward like a hot knife through butter. However, it was far from smooth sailing. On the second evening, they had sped straight into a Corsair ambush. The result was a savage, startling encounter that left three of Nerlas' crew dead, ten Corsairs dead, and one member of the Black Company seriously injured. It was fitting that the one responsible for injuring Loch was also the one responsible for ensuring it did not kill him. In fact, it was by inflicting that injury that Rin managed to preserve his life.
Loch reached Umbar with his left shoulder and upper chest tightly bandaged and a tale to regale any who would listen about how his sister finally made good on years of threats and shot him. Any member of the Black who wondered if the healer would be able to keep pace in a military unit had their questions definitively answered. Frea gave up badgering her to pick up a spear. He and Wulgof both believed that she was precisely deadly enough as was in the interests of their continued good health.
The toll of the ambush did not end there. Their prisoner did not survive. It had been brutal clash with the Corsairs and one that seemed poised on the cusp of Corsair victory. When they had managed to break through the hatch to where they had barricaded their insensate prisoner, it looked clear that the Corsairs would prevail. The Black simply could not countenance releasing the sorcerer to continue the wholesale slaughter and perversions of his campaign on the mainland. Rather than that, his throat was slit.
Rin wasn't sure what to think about that. On the one hand, she had found it hard to restrain herself in administering the counter poison. Just a touch too much and it would be ended as she had longed to do. Since she had first sensed the horrendous screaming of his enslaved dead. On the other hand, they had lost two good men to take this sorcerer alive and now for what? She supposed that there was always a sense of futility in war…and in any case the evil he was responsible for had been brought to stop, saving incalculable lives that would otherwise be forfeit.
The Black Company had left Umbar a mix of old and new. It returned to port as a blooded, experienced unit that had seen a particularly intense period of service together. They may not all be the best of friends, but a mutual appreciation, respect and regard had sprung up from the shared hardships. Forged in the heat of battle and face of imminent death, it was a strong bond that linked them all. The Umbar they returned to had also changed.
The harbour was filled with ships that were loaded with detachments of Gondor's infantry. It was a simple thing to pull aside a scurrying messenger on the dock to learn that the army was shipping out. Knights had already left for the long ride back north. Rohan too had moved out on the day before. They'd expected to find Umbar at siege with war being waged just to the south. Naturally, Berlas inquired what had prompted this sudden change.
"We've been south, missed all the news," he explained to the harried messenger.
"Rebel army fell apart a good seven days ago. Started when the dead finally fell to rest. Only a few core rebels left, and they're fleeing for their lives from their former troops… Ithilien's hunting them now."
"And the King?"
"Do I look like I would know of the King's movements?" the messenger scoffed and hurried away about his business.
Wulgof leaned against the Standard, he had to bear it given Loch's injured shoulder, and squinted at the rooftops of Umbar.
"Well, looks like he's still 'ere. Either that or they've forgotten to take his flag down," he drawled.
"We'll make for the Moon, where we left our horses. There may well be orders awaiting us there," Hanasian ordered.
They arrived just after midday, found their horses had not been sold on, and secured rooms at The Desert Moon. They did not find orders. Hanasian dismissed the men with firm instructions to return to the inn early and out of trouble. Loch, injured as he was, was inn bound in any case. He mourned this openly. Rin departed in urgent and immediate search of a bath. Cold, hot, she didn't care as long as the water was clean and not salty. She returned markedly cleaner and finally free of mail, plate and leather.
Clad in the blue dress Anis had gifted her with in Bree, she felt curiously naked as she returned to the common room. No sword, no packs, no bow, no armour, not even boots. She found Hanasian sitting in deep conversation with another man she did not immediately recognise. Both had long pipes clenched firmly between their teeth and tankards in front of them. Rin hesitated at the sight, wondering if it might be best to give Hanasian some time. It looked like he was up to Ranger business. Even Mecarnil and Farbarad were keeping their noses out of it. Unable to decide, Rin turned it over in her head as she went in search of her own tankard.
As she waited at the bar, a familiar voice sounded at her shoulder.
"Well now, this is a surprise. A dress and everything! Should we be flattered? Honoured?" Faramir playfully asked as he propped himself against the bar beside her.
Rin rolled her eyes.
"Hardly. It one of the few clean items of clothing to my name. But, you believe what you want to believe. I've heard you nobles are partial to flattery."
"I am, if nothing else, a gracious and agreeable gentleman. Therefore, I shall consider myself flattered indeed, m'lady."
"How goes your hunt?" Rin inquired after she finished laughing.
"Heard about that already? Well enough, I believe. I anticipate we'll have those at large within our grasp by month's end. They have no succor from the larger populace, makes our job considerably easier."
"I can imagine. Morcal has quite a few tales to tell about what those men got up to further south."
"So, how goes the wedding plans?"
Rin choked on a mouthful of ale and Faramir tipped back his head and laughed.
"Are you mad? I haven't had time to brush my hair, much less plan a wedding!"
"Cease baiting stop my cousin, Faramir. You've seen for yourself what her temper is like once roused," Aragorn chided gently. Faramir held up his hands in surrender and they sat at the table with Hanasian and Aragorn.
"I was just saying to Hanasian that I'll need you to call in at Minas Tirith to sort a few things out," Aragorn continued on calmly. Rin's eyes narrowed suspiciously all the same.
"What sort of things? I thought everything was sorted out already?"
"We need to sort out your position at court-"
"Oh no. No no. I don't have one. Nothing to sort out."
In the background, Mecarnil snorted and said to Farbarad, "See? See what I had to put up with at Mithlond?"
"And then there is the matter of a dowry," Aragorn continued on as if she had not said a word.
Rin's mind jumped a few gears. One minute she was awaiting orders concerning next deployment and now, dowries? She pointed to where her brother sat, nursing an ale and an injured left arm.
"That's what he is, isn't he?" she asked as Loch grinned sheepishly.
"Yeah," Loch enthused, and then surreptitiously asked Mecarnil what a dowry was.
"Shouldn't take long, a day at best. Whether you decide to ship out now or later after Faramir's hunt has resolved is your decision, Hanasian. Whatever you decide, you'll find a ship more than willing to carrying you north when you're ready."
"We have it in hand, Hanasian. Don't feel compelled to stay on. Your company has done more than enough," Faramir said.
Hanasian nodded at this, taking it all in, and Aragorn stood.
"If I don't make this ship, I will have a lot to explain on the other end. Gentlemen, cousin, see you in Minas Tirith."
And like that, Aragorn was on the move again. Faramir was forced to throw down the remainder of his ale.
"Damn, hate it when he does that," the prince muttered and took off after him. There was some business to sort before Aragorn shipped out for Gondor.
That left Hanasian with a decision: join the hunt or head home. Rin was already up again, checking on her brother's shoulder despite his protests. The option of heading home was appealing. Perhaps he could show her his mother's home, maybe Edoras too, on the way. If they made it back to Arnor in time, they could have a midsummer wedding… perhaps at Fornost, or even Rivendell. Rivendell had an impressive library that would fascinate her. Lord Elrond had been a gifted healer and the knowledge stored there was envied the known world over. They sorely needed time together, without duty impinging on them. Time they didn't have to steal away from their oaths of service to the crown. His entire Company sorely needed to rest. He didn't doubt the ability of Faramir's men to hunt down the remaining rebels…but there was still unfinished business here.
When the Company reconvened in the common room that evening, Hanasian put it to the vote. It was not a narrow margin. Some, Morcal included, wanted to join the hunt for the rebels. Most, however, wanted quit of Harad.
"But Minas Tirith? Too many people and the ale is overpriced?" Bear said of his home.
"True, but remember that tale of that bar maid there we heard back in Bree?" said Wulgof.
"What tale?" Bear and Foldine chorused in unison.
"I'll fill you in later," Folca said, catching the expression on Hanasian's face.
"We ship out then," Hanasian said.
"Now, about that bar maid," Folca said a heart beat later.
The men leaned in around the table, even if they had heard the tale before at The Prancing Pony. It was a good tale. Worth hearing twice.
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.