Yes, I know! You are educated people and expect a story to have high moral and intellectual standards. And you would never read the colourful papers that tell you all the juicy gossip about Royalties and the like, not even secretly. So you are not interested in how Imrahil of Dol Amroth met his future wife, are you?
Spin-off from "Through Shadow"; just a bit of fluff and fun.
Bay of Belfalas, Úrime 2986, TA
The fact that he had to duck, when stepping out onto the deck of the "Vengeance" made him chuckle. The doors of the captain's cabin being made for much shorter men, the ship could not hide her Umbarian origin, though Calimab had been more than eager to eliminate any traces that the corsair-scum had ever had their paws on her. Pleased with himself, Imrahil of Dol Amroth let his gaze sweep over the slender hull and up to the woad-dyed sails. A true runner she was – and she was his. Walking over to the gunwale, he let his fingers trail the smooth wood. Teak! The very best he had ever seen. And even Calimab's old father, with decades of experience as a shipwright, had been beside himself at the rare quality of the wood and the frame of the ship.
He heaved a delighted sigh. No matter how much he hated the southern rats, there was no denying that the bastards knew how to build ships. His grin deepened. And yet that had not saved them from falling prey to Dol Amroth's navy. Not that he would deceive himself that Dol Amroth's boats and seamanship were any better than that what the Umbarians could boast of. The whore-sons simply had not expected the "Sea-wolf" to be hiding in attendance in the sunken crater of Tol Cobas. And even when surprised like that they had put up a grim fight, every single man knowing that no quarter would be given.
And now she was his. He flexed his shoulders, fixing the sails with an appraising look. They were making little headway, the wind blowing moderately but solidly from the south-east. They would need constant tacking to steer their intended course towards Tolfalas and the estuary of the Anduin, but if the wind held, which was common at this time of the year, they would have quite a speedy return to Cobas Haven.
With the command to tack ringing over deck, he stepped a little back to be out of the sailors' way. It was their first patrol on the "Vengeance", a hand-picked crew, cutlass-happy sea dogs, eager to hunt down every corsair who dared to turn up in as much as a log-boat near the shores of Belfalas. And all of them were more than excited as they were heading for Tol Cobas, the very spot Ossë had given their enemies into their hands, and what was more, had provided them with a prize beyond imagination. Sacrifices to the Unreliable-one and his sweet spouse Uinen they would offer, thanking them for their victory and pleading for their further support. He knew only too well how important that gesture was for the superstitious lot on board and he had ensured that it would be something they would remember. The corsair captain's scimitar, an impressive weapon made of finely damascened steel, the hilt studded heavily with precious stones, would go overboard into the fathomless depths of the crater and also the massive golden necklace the Umbarian had worn, distinguishing him as a member of Umbar's nobility. A smile crept over his features. He might let go of a treasure, but it would win him the hearts of his crew. And was it not more important than anything else to show them that he was able to forsake riches to ensure their well-being?
"Happy with what you see, Captain?" Grinning from ear to ear, Maeron, his first mate and close friend from childhood, appeared at his side.
"Happy? Just happy?" Throwing back his head, Imrahil spread out his arms. "Look at her, feel the way she moves, her elegance. And you ask me if I'm happy?" Heaving a deep breath, he shook his head. "No, I'm not happy. I'm delighted, excited, drunk with exhilaration. I..." The heeling of the tacking ship stopped his enthusiastic gush and made him grab for his friend's shoulder.
"Ossë's balls." Maeron chortled with laughter. "You really seem to be tight. Shall I assist you to your bunk and place the bucket you'll need next morning in front of it?"
Laughing, Imrahil punched him in the ribs. "Let's hope that this kind of jaggedness doesn't cause any hangover, for if it does, I swear I'm dead. I feel that there's nothing else I might wish for, now that this ship is mine."
With mock-disapproval, Maeron shook his head. "Pirate-spawn! If I didn't know better I would assume you've got brine in your veins."
Side by side they went to the bow. The sea stretched before them, greenish-blue, swinging in a low, lazy swell. What a day! Maeron's soft chuckle caught Imrahil's attention, and he gazed at him quizzically.
"You really look as if you have just made love to this hovel of planks and sails, Imrahil. I'm afraid you are lost to all members of the fairer sex now."
Grinning, Imrahil shrugged. "Perhaps I am. At least at the moment no woman in all this Middle-earth could tempt me."
"No woman?" Maeron looked sceptical. "Even if Ossë sent you one of his mermaids?"
Imrahil laughed. "I doubt that Ossë has such a thing in mind. Has he not already favoured me more than enough, giving me the chance to capture a ship like this?" Turning serious, he shook his head. "No, Maeron. I'm afraid there won't be any mermaid for me, nor for anybody else. Have an eye on the men tonight, will you? I don't grudge them the celebration, but make sure there are no drunken bodies."
His friend shrugged. "You don't need to worry. They all had their fill of booze ashore and won't neglect their duties. And what is more, you have a way with the men and they would rather be hacked into pieces than disappoint you."
"I know." A wry grin played around Imrahil's lips. "And I would never doubt their valour and commitment. But believe me: Not a few of them find it much easier to risk their life in battle than to forego wenches and booze."
She heaved herself over the low side of the little boat and then simply stayed lying on deck, drawing her knees up to her chest. No freshwater! She had had so much hope, spotting the patches of greenery up on the steep slopes of the islet. And entering the natural harbour of what had to be a sunken crater had seemed so treacherously promising. Sure, the large patches of sea-lavender covering the beach above the flood line had been no evidence for drinkable water. Being a child of the Falas, she knew that those flowers thrived on brackish water, unfit for human consumption. But the copse up there below the looming wall of the black rock...
She sighed and sat up, leaning against the outboard planks. It had been exhausting to trudge up there, and it had been totally in vain. The trees had proved to be low, wind-crippled figs, their gnarled roots gripping the thin covering of soil, plunging into every crevice of the rock, but there had been no sign of the water she had hoped for. No spring, not even a puddle, though the residue in some shallow hollows of the rock had hinted that there had to be stagnant water, at least after a rainfall. A rainfall! There was next to no chance of it, Úrime always being the driest month. She had checked the trees for fruit, but had only found a few unripe ones and she knew better than to eat those.
Snuffling determinedly, she scolded herself for being pathetic. And silly on top of all. She needed water and if she was to find some she had to move. She licked her chapped lips. Idiotic, how she had troubled her mind with so many things that might occur on her flight, but the lack of water had never been one of them. She swallowed, the dryness of her mouth almost making it impossible. She had known that old Limdir kept a small keg below the thwart like all fishermen, and sailing as close to the shore as possible without being recognised as a woman, she had expected to be able to refill it where streamlets and small rivers emptied into the sea. What she had not considered was the fact that such spots, providing access to the sea and freshwater in one, were perfect locations for human settlements, be it little hamlets or just the temporary camps of herders who drove their animals there because the everlasting breeze from the sea kept the bot-flies at bay. There had been no chance to get any water unseen, and even if the villagers had not heard yet about the events on Tolfalas, a young woman alone in a fishing boat would have aroused curiosity and no doubt set her pursuers on her tracks all too soon.
She rolled her shoulders and passed a hand over her tear-smeared face. She had been crying all the way back to the boat, disappointed, exhausted, but wailing did not help. If she wanted to reach Anfalas alive, she needed water. She knew approximately where she was, having recognized the jutting cliffs of Dol Amroth the day before. Passing that vivid port and the fairway that led towards it had almost frightened her out of her wits and she had continued sailing at night. The wind had been in her favour, a constant though gentle breeze from south-east, but now she found it difficult to say how much headway she had been making with the help of the small rectangular sail of the boat. Her map showed several small islands in the Bay of Belfalas, all of them marked as uninhabited, but she was not sure how far she might have entered into the bay of Cobas Haven where the Ringló flowed into the bay, the ancient harbour of Edhellond on its banks. That area she wanted to avoid under all circumstances. She needed to head north-west, making for the coast of Calenhir and risk the first opportunity to refill her keg. If that went well, she would follow the shore further west. There were settlements on the banks of the Lefnui and perhaps there even was a chance to change the boat for a horse to continue...
She shook her head. It was futile to think too far ahead and lose oneself in daydreams. Sooner or later the news of her disappearance would even reach as far as Anfalas and people would be clever enough to put two and two together. The only thing she could hope for was that Thólinnas would feel so insulted and disgusted with her behaviour that he would be willing to call the marriage off. Though given what a greedy prick he was, she couldn't even be sure of that. She clenched her fists. No way would she go back to Tolfalas! Let her parents sell the island to the Lord of Pelargir, but not with her as the cherry on the cake. But first things first. Water!
With a groan she rose. The tide had come in while she had been trudging up the slope and the anchor rope was tightening. She let her gaze wander to where the spurs of the rocky beach reached out into the sea like two encircling arms, leaving only a narrow gap to pass into the natural harbour. The pressure of the tide through the channel was visible even from where her boat was anchored in the shallows. She would have to wait for the ebb as there was no chance to row her small boat against the current.
And then she froze. Clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle a cry, she flung herself down as the slender hull shot in, making use of the current of the incoming tide. Hoping desperately that she had not been spied yet, she crept to the side of the boat and risked a glance. No doubt: an Umbarian dromond!
Panting with rising panic, she crouched again. For a fleeting second she hoped it might be merchants, but immediately she suppressed that futile thought. No Umbarian, merchant or corsair alike would say no to the chance to get their hands on slaves. Nor would they hesitate to try and get a fat ransom for her, should they find out who she was. Her hand clutched her grandfather's signet ring, hanging on a silver chain around her neck. Perhaps making her origin known would be the lesser evil. But then it might as well end in a forced marriage to an Umbarian noble should they know about the laws of the West that still held on Tolfalas. Too little difference to the fate of a slave and none to what she had fled from! She bit her lips. She had better use what wits she had to escape from what she saw before her. It was no use to jump overboard and try to get to the beach. Not only would the men fish her out in no time, but also there was nowhere to hide on the islet. No, there was no chance to get away. But they would not get their paws on her. If she only had already lifted the anchor!It was but a small stone one, but if she tied her hair to it, it would pull her down in no time. She swallowed back the tears that burned behind her eyes and reached for the knife that was tied to her calf. She would not have the strength nor the resolve to stab herself, but if she placed it on the side of her neck all it needed was a hearty pull and her carotid would be severed.
Bringing her fist that clutched the blade to her lips, she muttered a prayer to Uinen and Ossë. If she was to escape enslavement it was no use to hide. She had to act now. The Umbarians were certainly furling the sails now and she could hear the characteristic sound of anchors being cast. She swallowed, her legs weak with fear. Willing her heartbeat to calm, she stood and faced the ship.
She blinked. Could it really be? The silver swan on blue! The ship flew the colours of Dol Amroth! Her gaze flitted to the side near the bow. "Vengeance", the Sindarin name written in Tengwar! Her knees buckled, just as the crew lowered a boat to approach hers.
"What the...?" Utterly baffled, Imrahil stared at the figure climbing over the rail with the help of a sailor. The tightly knotted headscarf as well as the garment, a simple tunic and lose, calf-long trousers, spoke of a local fisherman, but the curves under the rough-spun garb left no doubt about its female owner. He frowned. A lone woman out here, where the bay of Cobas Haven bordered on the open sea? Impossible. He motioned to his first mate. "Have the island searched, Maeron. I don't fancy nasty surprises."
Leaning against the rail, the woman raised her head. "There is nobody on the island. Nobody and nothing. No water..."
The voice petered out, hoarse and low and Imrahil found himself staring into a face with dark brown eyes, lids red and swollen. He blinked. How young a face. A perfect oval, suntanned and framed by coarse linen. Not beautiful – certainly not, with the rather fleshy nose and the energetic chin – but Uinen help him – intriguing like no face he had ever seen before. Her nose and cheekbones showed traces of sunburn and her lips... It hit him like a battle axe: Water! She had searched Tol Cobas for water.
His command sent the cabin boy running, and in no time the lad returned with a wooden dipper. Taking it from him, Imrahil addressed the girl. "Come, lass. Drink. But slowly, or you'll be sick."
She nodded and grabbed the dipper, gulping down a mouthful hastily.
"Slowly, I said!" Encircling her hands that held the vessel, he forced her to stop. "Take one sip and then pause to breathe."
For a moment something flashed in those dark eyes and he expected her to protest, but then she merely nodded. Keeping her hands in his, he let her have another gulp, then drew her hands towards his chest, forcing her to pause again before allowing her to drink some more. Goodness, for how long must she have been without water, and in the heat of Úrime to make things worse!
When the dipper was emptied, he gently took her elbow to lead her to the awning the sailors had set up midship for the expected celebrations. She was rather short but after one first hesitant step, she lifted her head and squared her shoulders. Imrahil suppressed a grin. A rather impressive attitude for such a little robin, fallen out of her nest. All of a sudden she stumbled and instinctively his hand went to her waist to support her. Quite a pronounced waist, he automatically registered and a nice piece of hip arching just below. He felt her trembling and tightened his grip. "Steady, lass. Come, sit down in the shade."
Carefully lowering her, until she sat on the planks, a convenient cask supporting her back, he could not help to notice her bare feet and ankles, as well as the empty sheath strapped around her calf. All spoke of a woman out fishing, but there was something utterly wrong, though he could not grasp what it was.
"Thank you, my Lord. I'm sorry for causing you such inconvenience, but I have to admit I'm feeling slightly enfeebled."
Imrahil stared. The voice was still raspy but there was no trace of the desperate weakness it had held only moments before. And her wording and accent were no way those of a fisher wench. A grin spread over his face. This certainly was something worth exploring. Crouching down before her, he gave her features an inquiring look and to his surprise and delight found his gaze returned stubbornly. Goodness, this girl was the incarnation of a challenge! Her chin raised, her finely arced eyebrows drawn together in a frown, she stared back at him with the pride of a Númenórean queen. Though otherwise there was nothing Númenórean about her. Her features, her build had nothing in common with the narrow-faced, slender beauties he had met both in Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith. She rather reminded him... He hesitated. Could it really be, could the girl in front of him really have Haradrim blood? Her skin certainly was too fair for that. And anyway, there was enough time to find out later. First of all the girl had to eat and drink some more.
"Captain." Maeron's voice broke into his musings. "A word, if you please."
Imrahil rose. "Have some food, lass and some rest. We'll talk later."
Trying to suppress his annoyance at the interruption, he walked up to his first mate. "Well, what things are that important that they cannot wait?"
Maeron shrugged and then said in a low voice. "Let's go aft, Imrahil. I have to show you something."
They walked towards the captain's cabin and Imrahil noticed the tightness in his friend's shoulders. He clenched his teeth, feeling quite sure that he didn't want to hear what his friend had to say. As soon as they had closed the door behind them, Maeron slew round.
"For Uinen's sweet mercy, Imrahil. Can't you for once keep the blood in your brains, seeing a delectable female?"
"So you admit she's delectable?" Ignoring his friend's annoyed face, Imrahil went to the small wall-cabinet and took out a flagon and two finely worked cut-glass cups. "Sit down, Maeron and have a hit." Seeing his friend bristle, he shook his head. "Maeron, please, trust me. I admit that she's intriguing, but that doesn't make me blind to everything else. I know as well as you that it is vitally important to find out how she comes to be here." He poured each of them a good two fingers breadth of brandy and handed one glass to his friend. "And I did notice that her attire and her bearing do not go too well together."
With a grunt Maeron took a gulp. "The men say she claims to be a fisher woman from Langstrand having lost her bearings due to bad weather some days ago."
Maeron put down the cup. "The bosun swears the boat is not from Anfalas but rather from somewhere around. The rigging differs slightly further up the coast. And the weather has been fine for at least a week."
Imrahil shrugged. "Over here. There could well have been a storm further west."
Maeron snorted. "Sure. As sure as they had a south-westerly wind at that part of the coast and only here at Cobas Haven it decided to become a steady north-easterly."
Imrahil laughed. "Well, so we agree that Anfalas is out of the game. What else?"
"She carried a diving knife. The usual stuff our fishermen and sponge divers carry, but nothing they use further west." He turned to something beside the low table, and only now did Imrahil notice the bundle wrapped in oilcloth and the sturdy canvas bag. Maeron opened the latter, took out a knife and held it out to his friend and captain. "And then there was this."
Beholding the blade, Imrahil gave a low whistle. It was a throwing knife. He took it, weighing it carefully on his palm. Not even as long as his hand, it felt heavy and solid. Handle and blade were blackened and bore no embellishments. He twirled it, and with a twist of his wrist, threw it into the beam beside the door. It bit deep and stuck, vibrating almost imperceptible. He snacked his lips. "Quite a killing tool in the right hands."
"She had it strapped to her arm, hidden by the tunic." Maeron's voice was hard, but then he shrugged. "To be fair, she handed it over the moment the bosun asked her if she carried any weapons, but if you ask me that doesn't make her less of a possible assassin."
A possible assassin! Imrahil snorted. "Take it down a notch, will you? We don't even know if she is really able to wield it."
"And how do you plan to find out? Invite her to puncture your guts?"
"How can she, as the bosun obviously confiscated her knives?" One gaze at his friend's scowl told him to rein in his taunt. More than probable Maeron was right at least in some aspects. He gazed at the bag, wondering what other nasty surprises it might reveal. Why couldn't a nice and cuddly lass... He checked himself. She had not really been cuddly at all, but rather proud and challenging. She had just felt so bloody good under his hands. And a challenge was something he had never shrunk from. Downing his brandy, he set the cup aside. "Well, as I guess that her belongings are in that sack, let's have a look and try to find out some more about our alluring flotsam."
Sitting himself in one of the two low chairs, Maeron started to unwrap the oilcloth. Inside was nothing but a light sleeping-roll, though Imrahil noticed that when unfolded, the oilcloth would be large enough to cover a sleeper from rain or sea spray. He examined the items carefully, but found nothing out of the way. He stifled a sigh of annoyance. Why couldn't the dratted girl be just that: simply a girl. Putting bed-roll and cover on the floor, Maeron started to unpack the contents of the bag. The first thing was a towel, rolled up neatly around a piece of soap and a small earthenware jar. Reaching for it, Imrahil opened the lid. The jar contained a whitish powder, and a sniff confirmed his assumption. Wordlessly he held out the open jar to his friend. Maeron's eyebrows rose.
"Can you tell me what the heck a fisherman carries tooth powder for when fishing?"
"Fisher-woman," Imrahil corrected him. He couldn't say that he was opposed to women who kept their teeth clean and their breath sweet. But he knew better than to tell his friend anything along those lines.
Said friend grimaced. "There is no doubt about her being female. One just has to observe your reaction." Motioning with his thumb at the dagger still sticking in the beam, he added: "But this is no tavern affair, Imrahil."
Not bothering to answer, Imrahil took out another roll of fabric. It turned out to be a brown linen dress and a dark green kirtle to go with it. The garments were unadorned and looked quite plain, as did the sturdy leather sandals Maeron had fished out of the bag in the meantime.
"Simple and practical." The first mate grinned. "At least these confirm the fisher-woman."
Imrahil shook his head. "I'm afraid you are wrong. Just have a closer look at the quality of the fabric. It's much better than anything a simple fisher would be able to afford. And the seams... They are worked expertly."
Maeron snorted. "Goodness, Imrahil. If I didn't know better, I would take you for a nancy. The quality of fabric and seams!"
Imrahil shrugged. "Even a dolt like you would know if you had two sisters who constantly dragged you down to the harbour to accompany them every time a merchant craft berthed." He grimaced. "Well, and then there is this green. As Ivriniel told me, it is rather difficult to dye plant fibres a really dark green. That's why most green fabric you find on the market will be wool." He gave the kirtle another look before he put it on the table. "I dare say this simple dress was quite expensive."
With a look that clearly said told you so, Maeron emptied the contents of a smallish linen pouch on the table.
"What's that?" Imrahil frowned as he reached for one of the narrow, neatly folded strips of fabric.
Maeron's lips curled in disdain. "The proof that whatever our guest is, she was not out fishing but instead well prepared for a longer voyage."
Imrahil turned the strip uncomprehending, causing his friend to snort. "That are rags, dimwit."
Maeron grimaced. "That obviously is an aspect one doesn't learn through having sisters." He stuffed the strips back into the pouch. "That's the things women use when they have their monthly flow. You had better get married, Imrahil son of Adrahil to learn the things that really matter."
Imrahil snorted. "I have no notion of competing with your seven months old wisdom on married life, Maeron son of Daeron. The woman I shall marry has to be special."
That seemed to have stung, for Maeron frowned angrily. "I assure you that Gwinwen is special to me." His frown slightly ebbing away, he added: "But as far as I know you, you are only waiting for some woman you can top Dol Amroth's last scandal with."
Imrahil chuckled. "Oh, come on. I don't exactly dote on Denethor, no matter what Finduilas says, but I simply loved it when he snatched my sister away from under Thólinnas' nose."
Maeron gave him a wry glance. "Is it true that your father privately celebrated upon learning that the Steward's son had crossed Pelargir's plans?"
Grabbing the canvas bag, Imrahil bared his teeth in a rakish grin. "You doubt it?"
The bag was almost empty by now, holding nothing more than a flat satchel, a tiny wooden box and a leather purse, tied close with a string. Unknotting it, Imrahil poured the contents on the table: a handful of small coins, all of them silver. He looked at his friend and grimaced. "Quite a well-off fisher-lass, isn't she?"
Frowning, Maeron checked the coins. All were of Gondorean minting, some new and still shining, others already dulled by time and there even were two from Turgon's reign. He shook his head. "What do you make of that?"
Looking as innocent as possible, Imrahil shrugged. "Family savings? Perhaps her dowry?" Seeing his friend's critical mien, he grinned. "We can ask her, can't we?"
With an angry grunt, Maeron reached for the satchel, but when he opened it, he whistled with surprise. Before them lay a tidily folded map and below it a stack of excellent vellum and three well-prepared quills. Already knowing what he would find in the box, Imrahil opened it nevertheless, revealing the expected inkpot. And what an inkpot! Surprised, he stared at the fine glass vial, closed with a silver stopper. Wordlessly he shoved the thing over to give Maeron a closer look. "If that girl is anything close to a fisher-lass, I'm a salt cod."
Úrime: (Quenya) approximately August (úrië: heat)
to tack; tacking: Tacking is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel (which is sailing approximately into the wind) turns its bow into the wind through the 'no-go zone' so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other.
Falas: (Sindarin) surf-line, sea-shore
dromond: A dromond (from Greek δρόμων, dromōn, "runner") was the most important type warship in the Mediterranean from the 5th to 12th centuries AD
Thanks for their support and advice go to Annafan, Artura, Gwynnyd, Lialathuweril, Sian22 and Willow 41z from the"Garden", to Ygrain33, who never failed to encourage me, and especially to Lady Bluejay who kindly helped me with the language. Her beta reading spared me a lot of embarrassment.