Author: Isabeau of Greenlea PM
A nineteenyearold Imrahil and his friend Andrahar spend a night at a brothel that threatens their relationship. Warning: Explicit slash in Chapter Five. UPDATED: Chapter Twelve is up.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama - Chapters: 12 - Words: 66,306 - Reviews: 79 - Favs: 25 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 03-22-06 - Published: 03-10-04 - id: 1766639
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The Heledir was a merchantman, a large one out of Dol Amroth, which sometimes carried passengers. And being a Dol Amroth vessel, her master was only too willing to go to great lengths to accommodate the Heir, the Princess and their entourage in rather more comfort than had been expected--for a fee that was actually not that unreasonable. The weather was holding fair for the first few days out of Minas Tirith, and they made good time, easy time with full sail set and no rowing necessary, as they were going downstream. The sailors sang as they went about their work, and from time to time, Imrahil would join his splendid tenor to their song.
Whatever it was Thorongil had done, it was effective. The headaches and visions did not reoccur, and with them gone, the young Prince was in a much more cheerful frame of mind. Finduilas, still very worried about Imrahil, would not allow him more than an hour's carefully supervised swordplay a day. The rest of the time he was under orders to loaf, and he did that with a good will, lounging under the awning that had been set up amidships with his sister, Lady Tirathiel, and the Lord Denethor, who had insisted upon accompanying them. The Heir to Dol Amroth played exactly one game of chess those first days with the Steward's Heir. The experience, which was mercifully brief, was also sufficiently humiliating that Imrahil was content after that to leave Lord Denethor to Lady Tirathiel's not-so-tender mercies.
As an inveterate people-watcher, however, the young prince found plenty to amuse himself with during the journey. First there were Denethor's chess games with Tirathiel, who, rumor had it, was a former romantic interest of the Steward's. The vicious proficiency in repartee and on the chessboard between the two were fascinating. Then there was the Captain-General's rather strait-laced pursuit of Imrahil's sister, and his ill-concealed dislike of Andrahar.
But the most fun to observe were Denethor's interactions with Captain Thorongil, who had also accompanied them upon this journey, for he had orders from the Steward to set forth upon his little surveillance mission to Umbar, and it had been arranged that he should take ship from Dol Amroth to do so.
The Captain-General continuously sought to penetrate Thorongil's defenses, to discover something of his past and Thorongil continuously rebuffed him with respectful obstinacy. It was, in its way, as masterful a game as any that were being played upon the chess board, and as Imrahil observed it, his respect for both parties increased. He himself did not seek to discover Thorongil's secrets, though he observed the man closely. He felt no particular need to do so, for he had received answers to some of his own questions in another place and time.
Just now, he was watching his blood brother and the inscrutable captain as they sparred in the double-sword style, Andrahar's sword lessons and Thorongil's Haradric instruction having been continued during the journey. Andrahar had not been exaggerating when he spoke of Thorongil's ability with the blade-Imrahil had seen any number of Swan Knights fight, and he knew that few of them would be able to hold their own against the captain. He was profoundly impressed to see that Andrahar was doing so to some extent. His dearest friend had apparently been very busy during their year of separation. Andrahar's swordsmanship, always good, had taken the leap up to a higher level of mastery in Imrahil's absence, and the young prince knew there was no way he could defeat him now.
When fighting with the double-sword style, which neither man had yet mastered, Andrahar and Thorongil were more closely matched than when fighting with more conventional weapons, and the bout itself was rather sporadic. They would make a few passes, then stop and discuss various strategies and techniques, then make a few more passes, only to stop once more and repeat the process. Both seemed to be enjoying themselves, and Imrahil was surprised at the surge of jealousy he felt. He remembered the exchange he and Andrahar had had about the captain upon Imrahil's return to Minas Tirith:
"The mysterious Captain Eagle of the Star, huh? What is he like?"
"He was here sparring with me when you came in. Did you not see him?"
"No. I was concentrating on other things. What is he like?" he had asked again. "Should I be jealous?"
Andrahar had rolled his own eyes at the inference. "I do not think he is a lover of men, though I thought once that he might be."
The question was, why had Andrahar thought Thorongil was a lover of men? Was it simply a matter of the captain's legendary reticence where women were concerned? Or had Andrahar actually approached him, and been rebuffed? The two men seemed easy enough in their relationship now, easier than the Heir deemed possible had that occurred. And if Andrahar had propositioned Thorongil, what business was it of Imrahil's? The young prince knew Andrahar had had the odd intimate encounter during the time between his arrival in Dol Amroth and Imrahil's departure to sea, though Andrahar had never spoken of them. And those liaisons had never bothered Imrahil like this business with Thorongil did. It behooved him to discover why this was so.
Was it purely sexual jealousy? If so, then Imrahil had no grounds for it and must do whatever was necessary to suppress it. For he had insisted upon a trial with Andrahar in that area, had had it and had been found wanting. Which still rankled upon a couple of counts; the first being an odd annoyance that Andrahar had not been willing to attempt a further trial despite Imrahil's failure (the refusal seemed to comment upon Imrahil's sexual prowess in general a bit derogatorily), the second being the Heir's shame at his relief that Andrahar had let the matter drop after the one time despite the Haradrim's long-held sexual infatuation. Although Imrahil had what he considered to be an extensive sexual education, and had done some advance research, he had found the act of love-making with a man to be uncomfortable in the extreme and not very pleasurable.
Certainly Imrahil himself was not attracted to Thorongil in what he considered a sexual way, though he allowed that the captain was a very charismatic individual, and it would not have taken much for the young prince to be quite smitten with the hero-worship junior officers often gave their superiors. Now if Thorongil had had a sister close to his age, with that same easy sort of command about her…Imrahil had discovered early on that men who disregarded older, experienced women in favor of younger ones who were merely more comely were idiots. And had subsequently enjoyed many a night of exquisite, excruciating pleasure as a result of that insight. Thank you, Celebrindal!
The problem might simply be that Imrahil was aware of Thorongil's true identity, and was suffering from a situational jealousy. As Heir to Dol Amroth, he was one of the four premier noblemen in the kingdom, along with his father, the Steward, and the Steward's Heir. He did not like to think his jealousy was the result of something as petty as you should be paying more attention to me than that Haradrim fellow!, but he knew himself, and knew that it could be so. Though Thorongil had always been courteous to a fault and Imrahil had enjoyed some stimulating conversation with him, he seemed to prefer Andrahar's company. And that, in combination with the ascendance of Andrahar's star in general-his superiority over the young prince in arms; the admiration of his senior officers, which Imrahil had been privy to in Minas Tirith; his obtaining of a white belt when Imrahil was nowhere close to achieving his own yet; and even the much-deserved gratitude expressed a year ago by Adrahil might explain the sense of pique Imrahil was now experiencing.
For he had shared something with Thorongil that no one else had, and it was perhaps not unreasonable to think that that should give him some precedence over his oath-brother.
During his last, worst vision, Imrahil had been wandering lost in an ever-shifting, chaotic sea of images. His strength failing, he had felt his very being beginning to shred and dissipate, succumbing to the chaos around him. Then he had heard a voice calling his name. There had been something about that voice that clarified things, that helped him focus and seemed to strengthen him and he had sought its owner eagerly. And as he had done so, the images had gradually settled and coalesced, until in the end he had found himself wandering bemused in a mountainous landscape of trees and stone and falling water. There he had come upon his summoner. Captain Thorongil he seemed, yet not so, his mien younger and not so weather-worn in this place, though his expression was somewhat strained. His clothing was dark and nondescript, but he wore his star brooch and a jewel that shone like a star upon his brow. He looked relieved when Imrahil appeared.
"Ah, there you are! You have been over long away, my lord prince. Your sister and your oath-brother are worried."
Imrahil looked at the jewel and at Thorongil's kingly carriage, and remembering certain things from his visions, suddenly, shockingly understood who it was that he was speaking to.
"My lord king." And he went to his knees before his savior.
Thorongil raised Imrahil up and stepped back, his face grim. "I am no man's king while the Enemy exists."
"Yet you are of the house of Elendil, are you not?" the young prince persisted. "You are he who could be King in Gondor."
"My descent is from Isildur," Ecthelion's favorite captain replied. "The claim has been made before by others of my lineage and denied. I am the chieftain of the northern Dunedain, and that is all."
"The northern Dunedain…" Imrahil murmured, Thorongil's reticence about his past now becoming perfectly understandable. "There are still some of them left?" Thorongil did not deign to answer, and Imrahil looked at him sidelong with a sudden cheeky smile. "It will be as you wish then, my lord Aragorn," the young prince said, remembering the odd name that had come to him in connection with the captain. It was a shot in the dark, but it hit the gold nonetheless-Thorongil's eyes widened in actual shock.
"The gift of foresight is strong in you indeed, son of Adrahil!" he exclaimed. "Is your sense of discretion equally strong? For this knowledge you have gained is dangerous, both to you and to me. I must have your word that you will speak of this to no one, not even he who is like a brother to you."
"Andra would never betray you, my lord!" His defense of his friend was instant and indignant, but Thorongil remained unmoved.
"Even so, 'tis best that my identity be known to as few as possible. Swear to me that you will tell no one."
Imrahil looked into the stern grey eyes, and swallowed hard, wondering what would happen if he refused to swear. Would Thorongil leave him in this place to die? "I swear as a Prince of Dol Amroth that I will never reveal your true name and identity to anyone without your consent, my lord," he said after moment, his innate love of the dramatic coming to the fore despite his fear. "Will that suffice?"
The rare, warm smile bloomed on Thorongil's face, and he stepped forward once more to grasp Imrahil's elbow. "It more than suffices! Come, let us get you out of here." He led the young prince, starting down a faint trail that Imrahil had not noticed before.
Looking curiously about him at the landscape, Imrahil asked, "Where is this place?" Thorongil cast his eyes about as well.
"The North. The foothills of the northern Hithaeglir, from the looks of things." At the Heir's puzzled look, he chuckled. "No, we're not really there! But the mind tends to shape its surroundings in this place. You have me to thank for this, I fear."
"So this is your home? It is beautiful! But I'll wager it can be harsh as well, particularly in the winter."
"That is certainly true enough! Perhaps you will be able to judge for yourself one day." The two men continued silently down the trail for a time, Thorongil's warm grasp firm and steady upon the young prince's arm, when Imrahil noticed a white mist beginning to rise about them. It put him in mind of the white he had been seeing before his visions occurred, so he dug in his heels and balked.
"What is it, my lord prince?" Thorongil asked as he was brought up short.
"The mist! It happens before the visions! We're going the wrong way!"
"No, we're not." The captain's voice was calm, patient. "You have to trust me on this, Imrahil, even as I must trust you with my secret."
"I was afraid not to swear. I was afraid you would leave me here," Imrahil admitted, hating the quaver in his voice. Thorongil dropped his elbow, turned to him and took his face between sword-callused hands instead.
"Imrahil. I would not have abandoned you to death in dreaming, even had you refused an oath. Though I am glad I have your sworn word, for I know that it is good. But you must stop fighting me. I won't lead you wrong, but I haven't the strength for this that those who taught me possess, and I am getting tired. Walk beside me and if I should lose hold for any reason, then you must follow the sound of my voice." He let go Imrahil's face and took him by the wrist, then moved forward once more, towing Imrahil into the fog. The Heir to Dol Amroth walked blindly into the white on trust and had continued walking blind for what seemed an eternity, his only sense of anything other than white fog Thorongil's grip upon his wrist and Thorongil's voice before him, calling his name. More than once he had had to thrust down a rising sense of panic, an irrational desire to break free from the captain's hold and run to escape the mist that pressed so closely about them.
And then suddenly he had come awake in his own bed, with Finduilas and Andrahar and the captain who was so much more all hovering anxiously over him.
"Fin. Andra. My lord…captain," he had said with a touch of the cheek he had exhibited in his dream. Thorongil had given him a warning look, unnoticed by the other two, fended off Finduilas' questions, issued some instructions and departed. Since then, other than those conversations, he had had little interaction with Thorongil, and the captain seemed to prefer it that way.
Yes, that's definitely it! Imrahil decided, disgusted at himself. I'm jealous that the man who should be king in Gondor likes my friend better than me, and doesn't seem to want to acknowledge what we shared and that I hold his secret. Even though it is perhaps wiser and safer for him to avoid me, lest with some youthful trip of the tongue I reveal what I know. I just need to grow up!
It was a tempting vision, the King of Gondor restored, with all his highest lords at his hand and Imrahil foremost among them as the one who held his greatest trust. But it might not come to pass for years, if ever, and it was certainly not worth poisoning his greatest friendship for. Imrahil made a resolution in that moment to suppress his jealousy, to not seek Thorongil out beyond the bounds of what civility dictated, and to be grateful that Andra had found a companion besides himself whose company he enjoyed, for such were few and far between. And then, since that was rather an excess of maturity for one day, he slipped into his tiny cabin for a drink of the brandy he'd smuggled on board and a nap.
Imrahil awoke many hours later with a start. The image of a robed figure, blood clotting rough dark hair and pooling beneath it was with him still. The face of the figure had never become visible in the dream, and he was not sure if this were truly one of the visions or not. The small stern window in his cabin showed darkness without, and he cursed silently. If it was near dawn then things would not be so bad, but if the night were only half over, he'd be up for the rest of it. The brandy had left a foul taste in his mouth, but the moment he got up to get some more to wash the taste away, there was a stirring from the other bunk in the cabin.
"Imri, are you all right?"
"Yes, Andra. Why didn't someone wake me?"
"I tried at dinner time, but I couldn't rouse you. Your sister figured you must need the rest, and said we should leave you alone. There may be something left in the galley, if you're hungry."
"I'll go and see. You go back to sleep."
There was a muffled murmur of assent and nothing more. Imrahil pulled his boots on, threw his cloak over his shoulders, then found and poured his glass of brandy. Moving softly out of the cabin, he found himself in an almost silent world of darkness, mist, creaking wood and lapping water. The night watch's sailors moved noiselessly about their duties without acknowledging his presence at all. Lanterns hung at stern and mast seemed to hover in misty aureoles of light.
A tiny spark of red showed briefly near the prow of the ship and intrigued, he made his way toward it. Thorongil was leaning against the rail, staring out into the darkness that lay before the ship and smoking his pipe. A nod acknowledged Imrahil as he approached.
"My lord prince."
"What time is it?"
"A couple of hours before dawn."
Imrahil grimaced. "Then I shall probably see it this morning." He took a sip of the brandy. There was the brief flash of a smile around the stem of the pipe.
"They said you'd gone below to sleep yesterday afternoon. Did you usually stand the third watch on your ship?"
"Yes. Or at least I did at the end of my tour."
"Old habits die hard. I like this watch myself. Everything is quiet, and a man can think."
"And what are you thinking about, in all this quiet?"
"Nothing much. Just about Umbar. I've never been there, though I understand that you have."
"When I was sixteen. Though I don't think what I remember would be of much use to you. Most of the visit was spent in the Lord of Umbar's palace. I did shop in the upper markets a bit, and then, before I left, I went to the lower market. That's where I found Andrahar."
"Will you tell me the story? I've heard the most extraordinary things about that day."
"From Lord Denethor?"
"Among others. Your liege man is a very popular topic of speculation at court."
"Almost as popular, I would imagine, as speculation upon Captain Thorongil's origins."
Thorongil inclined his head slightly, acknowledging the hit. "Will you not tell me the tale, Prince Imrahil?" he asked again. The pipe was removed from the captain's mouth, and this time the smile was his most beguiling, winning one.
Imrahil, needing no further acknowledgment, began the story of that morning in Umbar, speaking with hands as much as voice, which he kept very low so that it would not carry to the sailors. Thorongil was a good listener, his keen grey eyes intent upon Imrahil's face, and he chuckled appreciatively in a couple of appropriate places.
"So, the price of peerless loyalty is a sapphire ring," he commented when the tale was done. "Somehow that seems quite the bargain."
"Best money I ever spent," Imrahil agreed with a grin. "Of course, it was a very large sapphire."
Thorongil was refilling his pipe, and Imrahil decided that if good for nothing else, the rituals of his odd habit gave the captain time to marshal his thoughts. And they were also most useful for filling up those awkward, silent spots in conversations between folk who didn't know each other particularly well yet.
"Your oath-brother holds you in equally high regard," the captain said at last. "I asked him about you once, right before you walked in the gate at Minas Tirith. Do you know what he said?" Imrahil shook his head. "When I asked if you were nothing more than a pretty face, he said that you were reckless and rash, but that you had courage and wit and could be a great lord one day."
"Andra said that?"
"Yes. And as I fancy myself a good judge of men, I think it likely as well-providing you do not slay yourself with your own excesses at a young age."
The young prince bent his head, glad for the lack of light that would hopefully hide the flush upon his cheeks. He could feel Thorongil's gaze upon him.
"Imrahil," the captain said more softly after a moment, "there is no shame in never having known hunger or want. A lord is spared those things by his people's efforts so that he might in turn do those tasks which his people look to him for-defending them and administering justice. You will have challenges enough to deal with in due time. There is no need to be testing yourself in this manner."
The Heir to Dol Amroth sucked in a quick breath, taken aback at Thorongil's perception, for there was truth, he realized, in what the man said. "I daresay you know what it is to have been hungry and cold," he grumbled a bit too sulkily for even his own taste. "And you're a lord."
"That I do," admitted Isildur's Heir. "For I have been abroad long, journeying in many lands. But my people might rightly make complaint of me because of that. I have not been among them as I should."
Imrahil looked up, startled, and found Thorongil looking northward with a pensive expression upon his face.
"Regents are well enough," he said in a very low tone, "but they cannot truly take a lord's place among his people. I grew up among the Elves of Imladris, and knew a score of years before I even went among my folk. And I've spent little enough time with them since. There are those who say that I am overmuch concerned with gaining the southern realm to the neglect of the northern one."
"Is that true? Is that why you are here?"
"No. I am here because this is where the hammer will fall, in the end. Not in the North. And within our lifetimes, I think. I have spent time among the Rohirrim, learning their ways, and the Haradrim, and in other lands, spying out the Enemy's design and seeking ways to thwart him. For that same reason, I am here now. Though I will own," and here he gave the young prince a rueful smile, "that there was also in me a great desire to know the land of my forefathers. And that it has not disappointed."
"Why have you not declared yourself then?" Even more conscious of the sailors moving about at some little distance and the volatile nature of the conversation, Imrahil too kept his voice to the barest murmur.
"Because it would serve no end save to cause strife and weaken Gondor. Ecthelion is a wise ruler, there is no need to challenge him. And his son in his turn will rule well, I think." Thorongil gave Imrahil's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I know that disappoints you, that you would have the king return. But it may well be that the time for that will never come."
"I fear that it will never come if you go to Umbar, captain." The Heir had not intended to speak of his dream, but he felt curiously compelled to do so.
Thorongil cocked an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I had a dream tonight, before I came out here. I do not know if it was one of my visions or not. It was just an image, of a man in robes bleeding his life out in some dark place. I could not see his face, but his hair…his hair was shaggy like yours. And his skin was paler than that of most Haradrim."
The captain considered this for a moment, taking a thoughtful draw upon his pipe. "But you are not certain that this was a vision?"
"It wasn't all confused, as they have been. So no, I'm not certain."
"And what if I were to tell you that I have had a vision that tells me I must go to Umbar?"
Imrahil stared at him in astonishment. "You have the dreams as well?"
Thorongil shook his head. "Not like you do. But my family is foresighted. And I know that I must go there. There is something I need to do, that will buy Gondor some much-needed time if it succeeds. But for it to succeed, I need intelligence, the sort of intelligence that I can only gather myself. So I fear that without more information than what you have given me, I must pay heed to my vision over yours."
"You should not risk yourself so."
"I might say the same of you, and say as well that at least I risk myself to better purpose."
Imrahil, remembering the night in the brothel and some of his other exploits over the last several years, felt his face heat once more. He moved a little closer to the rail and bent his head over his brandy.
"I am sorry, Imrahil." There was a noise of movement behind him, as Thorongil drew closer. "That was uncalled for."
"There was truth enough in it," the young prince muttered.
"Perhaps, but still…I have no right to be bludgeoning you with your past deeds just because I have regrets about some of my own. Forgive me."
"Of course, my lord. Always." Imrahil looked up, met Thorongil's grey eyes. "I would say the words," he added after a brief hesitation. It was almost a plea, but the captain shook his head.
"I may not hear them now. And that day may never come. Though if it does, and you still wish to, I promise that you will be the first."
Imrahil nodded, feeling oddly weary of a sudden, and a little sick to his stomach. Brandy as a steady diet was probably not particularly wise, he reflected, given his current condition, and brandy seasoned with disappointment was even worse. The ship's lanterns were blurring in and out in the oddest fashion, and Thorongil's voice suddenly sounded as if it were coming from a great distance.
"My lord prince? Are you well?"
"Well enough, captain," he managed to say. An arm was thrown about his shoulders, a warm anchor to reality that he found most welcome.
"Is it the visions again?" Thorongil's voice, concerned, sounded close by again-right in his ear in fact, which was a bit disconcerting.
"I am not certain. I don't think so. Most likely too much brandy on an empty stomach. More of my excesses."
The captain chuckled and began to steer him back towards his cabin. "Well, whatever it is, let's get you back to your bed. The dawn can wait for another day."