That task proved more difficult than Faramir had anticipated. The deck was packed with fighting men and all kinds of obstacles â€“ uncoiled cables, broken spars, bodies, and the shattered remains of the yawl, the davits of which had apparently been hit by a flaming missile, causing the boat to crash onto the deck. Moreover, fighting was still fierce to both sides of the hold in which the prisoners were stirring restlessly, held at bay by AzrubÃ¢râ€™s towering guards and a number of slightly injured pirates.
Those men that were not fighting were frantically trying to douse the fires lest they devour even more of the sails and worse, begin to eat into the wood. The bowmen in the forecastle had obviously spotted the advance of Faramir and his companions and were raining arrows on the approaching men. Here, the general chaos on the main deck proved an advantage, since smoke and debris provided plenty of cover, so that slowly but steadily, the small company drew closer.
When they had reached the foremast and were crouching behind a locker on deck, suddenly there was a cry from above and one of the corsairs who had accompanied MurÃ¢d on his special task vanished in the sea, hit by an arrow. The bowmen had spotted the men in the rigging, and apparently had guessed their plan. The young Southron was frantically sawing at the stay to loose the triangular sail attached to it, leaning out of the crowâ€™s nest as far as he dared, his one leg hooked round the topmast. The lookout-man was trying to steady him by holding on to his belt, while the other pirate, perched precariously in the upper shrouds, was carefully aiming his remaining arrows at the bowmen on the deck below.
â€œThey are not going to make it,â€ commented KhorazÃ®r grimly when another dart buried itself in the topmast, not far from the lookout-manâ€™s head, causing him to loose his grip on MurÃ¢d. The young man swayed, then cursed when the dagger slipped from his hands and thudded into the locker inches from Aralasâ€™ face. The ranger swore, then began to shed his burnous. â€œIâ€™m going up there,â€ he announced fiercely.
â€œYou stay, and make ready to attack,â€ said a calm voice from behind, and turning, Faramir beheld MezlÃ¢r, his brown face blood-splattered, a cut running across his cheek. He nodded to his lord and leapt into the shrouds. Crawling up nimbly, and skilfully avoiding the arrows aimed at him, he soon joined MurÃ¢d who had managed to withdraw into the crowâ€™s nest. Meanwhile, Faramir readied the men at his disposal.
There was a loud snap when with a last stroke from his scimitar MezlÃ¢r parted the stay, and the sail came flapping down, trailing smoke. Cries issued from the forecastle, and men came running in order to avoid being buried by the smouldering canvas. Faramir, KhorazÃ®r and the rest of the small company used this confusion for their advantage, leaping at the fugitives from behind their cover and taking them by surprise, before advancing into an attack on the remaining men in the forecastle. As he rushed up the stairs, Faramir saw that the man in the fishmail-corslet who he assumed to be the commander of Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s guards had withdrawn as far as the bowsprit in order to escape the sail. He still had a bowman and another guard at his disposal, but their view was greatly impaired by the dark smoke coiling up from the tangle of canvas on the planks before them.
In the wake of a fierce KhorazÃ®r who was rushing over this mess like a shirrikan, Faramir advanced more cautiously, accompanied by Aralas. â€œI need the captain alive,â€ he called after the Haradan, who had leapt at the archer and felled him with a cruel blow to the side. The other guard put up a fierce, desperate fight, managing to hold his own against both KhorazÃ®r and Aralas from his slightly elevated position in the furthermost point of the forecastle. His captain, searching for a way of escape, had climbed the railing and was eyeing the churning seas with a grim expression, obviously considering trying his luck swimming. Faramir advanced, scimitar raised. â€œIn this armour you will drown,â€ he said calmly. â€œSurrender, and you will be spared.â€
The man spun round with a growl, pointing his scimitar at Faramir, about to attack, but froze in his movement when a gust of wind cleared the view for an instant. Faramir saw how his face turned deadly pale. The weapon dropped from his hand and swaying, he reached for another stay to steady himself. Irritated by his strange behaviour, Faramir cast a brief glance over his shoulder, to behold MezlÃ¢r and MurÃ¢d leaping down from the shrouds to join the melÃ©e. Before him, the Umbarian lowered himself to the deck, leaning against the railing, shaking slightly. Scimitar at the ready, Faramir advanced, still wondering about the reason for the otherâ€™s strange behaviour. The man seemed fairly unscathed, but even with his scimitar lying close, he made no attempt at recovering it. Instead, he was staring at Faramir out of eyes widened with shock and disbelief
Only then Faramir realised that the tasselled hem of his veil was flapping round his face â€“ he had uncovered his features for want of air after the fight in the cabin, when he had been tending Dorgil. Afterwards, during AzrubÃ¢râ€™s rescue and the events following, he had entirely forgotten to attach it again. In the heat of the ensuing fight nobody had remarked upon it. And now this Umbarian had seen his face, obviously recognising him. The man was breathing heavily as Faramir advanced, fear written plainly on his features. Upon drawing close, he was revealed as a young man in his mid-thirties, with good-natured, beardless and still rather youthful features despite some recent lines of worry. He looked familiar. Faramir was not able to place him exactly, but was certain he had seen him before â€“ which in return, he reasoned, would account for the man having recognised him as well.
â€œCommand your men to cease fighting and surrender,â€ he commanded the terrified Umbarian calmly. â€œThere has been enough bloodshed on these ships.â€ When the man hesitated, he advanced another step, pointing his scimitar at the otherâ€™s throat. He saw the Umbarian fight a brief battle with himself, while avoiding looking Faramir in the eyes. Drawing a deep breath, he at length raised his head, and in a clear firm voice used to commanding, cried to his men to lay down their arms. At first it seemed that his call would pass unheeded, drowned by the noise of battle and the howl of the wind. He repeated it, until one by one, scimitars and cutlasses, spears and whatever else the men had used for fighting was clattering on planks and gratings. Only on the quarterdeck, where AzrubÃ¢r and KhÃ´miyi and some of their men were battling the remainder of the schoonerâ€™s crew, the fight still raged on.
Kicking the scimitar wholly out of the Umbarianâ€™s reach, Faramir advanced another step. â€œA wise decision, Captain,â€ he told the other. Slowly, the other raised his eyes to meet his opponentâ€™s stern gaze. Faramir could tell that it cost him a great deal of courage. For some reason, the Umbarian seemed mortally afraid of him â€“ a circumstance which pleased him, as it would improve his chances at a successful interrogation.
â€œCaptain, what shall we do with these Umbarians?â€ asked Aralas coming up from behind. He had received a cut along his left arm, but did not seem bothered by it.
â€œDisarm them and round them up on the main deck,â€ Faramir replied, his eyes still on the Umbarian captain, â€œand watch them closely, lest they engage in some mischief.â€
â€œThat they will not,â€ boomed KhorazÃ®râ€™s strong voice. â€œMostly, they are spent, those that are neither dead nor injured. MezlÃ¢r and MurÃ¢d have joined our captain and his crew on the quarterdeck, and we shall keep those Umbarian maggots in check. What about this one?â€ he pointed at the captain.
â€œLeave him to me,â€ replied Faramir, noticing how the other swallowed hard at this announcement. â€œBring him down to the small cabin next to ours and watch him. I wish to question him. Do not harm him, or inconvenience him further than necessary. I shall follow you presently.â€
Aralas took to rallying some of the corsairs in order to round up the Umbarians, while KhorazÃ®r gripped their captain by the collar of his surcoat and forced him to climb the stairs down to the main deck in front of him. After commanding some of AzrubÃ¢râ€™s men to clear away the still smouldering wreckage of the fore staysail from the forecastle, Faramir followed behind. The battle on the quarterdeck had finally turned to AzrubÃ¢râ€™s favour, and just as Faramir was approaching the stairs leading below decks, a clatter of metal on the planks announced the surrender of the remaining pirates, followed by great cheer from AzrubÃ¢râ€™s men.
Before joining KhorazÃ®r in the small cabin which for the duration of their stay and their occupation of his quarters had been taken over by AzrubÃ¢r, Faramir briefly checked on Turgon and Dorgil. The ranger had not been idle: after searching the slain men thoroughly and relieving them of anything that might shed some light on their identities, with the help of Thatch, the fair-haired corsair who apparently had been sent down by AzrubÃ¢r to lend a hand, he had moved the bodies out of the broken windows, and moreover conveyed the still sleeping Dorgil to one of the berths so that he could rest more comfortably.
â€œHe woke very briefly,â€ Turgon told Faramir upon his inquiry after the healer, â€œand asked for you. I told him you were alright. I gave him some water, as you told me, and soon after he fell asleep again. How are things going up there, Captain? Did we win?â€ Faramir nodded, upon which relief stole over the rangerâ€™s face.
â€œThat was a close-run thing,â€ he commented.
â€œIndeed it was. And I should have liked to avoid it. Still, we may gain something from it. We captured the leader of the Umbarian soldiers, and I am going to question him now. Should AzrubÃ¢r come down here looking for me, tell him I am in his cabin.â€
Turgon tipped his forehead. â€œAye, sir.â€ Then his eyes grew wide. â€œCaptain, your face â€¦â€
â€œI know. â€˜Tis not to be altered anymore. I forgot about the veil during battle.â€
Turgon cast a thoughtful glance at the small heap of weapons. â€œYou said there were Umbarians, Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s men on board the other vessel. A strange coincidence, do you not think? Are they the reason we were attacked in the first place?â€
â€œI hope to find the answer to just these questions next door,â€ said Faramir. â€œShould our Umbarian guest prove cooperative, that is.â€
When Faramir entered the cabin, he found the prisoner sitting on the berth with his hands tied securely in front of him. KhorazÃ®r was standing leaning against the bulkhead, watching the other closely, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. â€œHe is a close one, our friend here,â€ he told Faramir as he closed the door behind the DÃºnadan.
â€œWe shall see,â€ returned Faramir, stepping into the small oblong room and studying the prisoner. With helmet and chain-mail neck-guard gone, with his dark curly hair drawn into a thick queue from a pale, anxious face, the Umbarian looked even younger than before. Younger, and even more familiar. Faramir was certain now he had seen the other before. Most likely on Tolfalas, as one of his guards, he reasoned. The Umbarian was keeping his eyes on the floor, not daring to look at Faramir, his shoulders hanging dejectedly. His terror apparently subsided somewhat, or at least come to terms with, he nevertheless projected a pitiful image, of a man close to despair.
Drawing up a low stool which was virtually the only piece of furniture not fastened to the walls in some way, Faramir sat down opposite the other, fixing him with a keen, stern gaze. â€œYou know who I am, do you not?â€ he asked calmly. The Umbarian made no move, keeping his eyes averted from the Gondorian. Faramir sighed slightly. During the fight, the other had shown some wisdom in surrendering when the situation had turned against him and his men, and secretly, Faramir had hoped that during the interrogation he would behave likewise. He was exhausted, his chest-wound and the overstrained muscles in his arms and shoulders hurting continuously, and not feeling up to a long and tedious inquiry.
â€œLet us begin differently, then,â€ he said. â€œI know you recognised me, and I know you are afraid of what you saw. You believed me slain, did you not? Look at me! I am neither a spectre nor a ghost. The simple fact is, your master failed to kill me yet again. You have a choice now of either believing my words, and deciding to cooperate to improve matters for you and your men. Or you choose the foolish way, and continue to consider me a wraith or demon come to haunt you. In that case you will keep your silence â€“ and condemn yourself and all those under your command to death. Or to worse: a lifetime of dishonourable servitude on this ship. I leave the decision up to you, but know that my patience has its limits â€“ and narrow limits as it is â€“, therefore you should decide speedily. What is your name?â€
Silence again. If Faramirâ€™s words had moved the other in any way, he did not show it. Faramir cast a swift glance at KhorazÃ®r who only rolled his eyes in exasperation, and gave a short sign of his hand to dispose of the prisoner quickly, instead of wasting more time with him. But Faramir was not inclined to give up so easily. â€œI repeat: what is your name?â€ he demanded sternly.
Again there was no reaction. â€œShall I tweak him a little with this my sword here?â€ asked KhorazÃ®r, taking a step towards the man and half drawing his blade.
â€œNay, not yet. He showed some wisdom on deck, which means he is not a complete fool. He tried to save his men there, if not himself, which is commendable. I had hoped he would continue on the road of wisdom, although right now it looks rather that he has turned aside. Your name, man! I shall not inquire after it again. If you refuse to cooperate, we shall end this interrogation here and now.â€
After waiting for another minute during which the Umbarian continued to sit motionlessly with downcast eyes and a stony expression, Faramir rose. â€œTell AzrubÃ¢r to lock this one with the other prisoners,â€ he informed KhorazÃ®r with some finality, â€œand to provide him with a foremost place at the oars. I am not wasting my time any longer.â€ Smoothing the folds of his tunic, he turned to leave.
â€œAye,â€ KhorazÃ®r acknowledged grimly, opening the door to let Faramir pass through, when, â€œSakalthÃ´r,â€ came from the Umbarian, in a low, hoarse voice. â€œMy name is SakalthÃ´r,â€ he repeated more loudly and steadily, finally raising his head to look at two men. Even though his features were still pale and plainly betrayed his anxiety, he was obviously trying to get a grip on his fear. There was a defiant, almost fierce look in his dark eyes now, and he was sitting upright, his back straight and his shoulders squared.
Faramir turned, giving him another keen, searching glance, which now the other tried to weather as long as he could. â€œWell, apparently I was not mistaken in you. You are a reasonable man.â€ With deliberate slowness, he returned to the stool and sat down again. â€œNeither of us wishes this to take forever, so answer my questions concisely and to the point.â€
â€œWhat will happen to my men?â€ asked SakalthÃ´r.
â€œI am the one asking questions, and you are the one to answer,â€ returned Faramir sternly, watching the other closely. In truth he was pleased to notice that the Umbarian, despite his questionable alliance with Al-JahmÃ®r appeared to be a decent, conscientious fellow who thought first of the men under his command. â€œBut I shall make an exception, to show you that if you do indeed cooperate, things may improve for all involved. The ultimate decision about your fate rests with Captain AzrubÃ¢r, since you and the pirates you travelled with attacked his ship and slew some of his crew. Most likely he will convey your men to the oars, or else try and exchange them for a good ransom, or sell them as slaves. If they prove useless or troublesome, they will be slain.â€ SakalthÃ´râ€™s shoulders sagged visibly. â€œHowever,â€ Faramir went on, â€œI am certain that if I can give the corsair ample reason to spare your men and provide them with a less dishonourable fate, he will listen to my counsel. As for coming up with these reasons, I am going to need help. You can aid me, and so you should, if you really care about your menâ€™s future â€“ and your own. Tell me about yourself.â€
The Umbarian shook his head, swallowing hard. â€œI must not, lest I betray my master.â€
Faramir drew a deep breath, and reaching up, freed his head of veil and headdress to run a hand through his hair. â€œSakalthÃ´r, we are not getting any further this way. Your master is not your most pressing problem right now. If you fail to satisfy me, my reaction shall be little better than your his. I know you are afraid of me, more than you let show â€“ and you display quite a lot of fear as it is. Which bothers you, as you consider yourself a brave man under normal circumstances. You are still debating if I am alive or not, and are uncertain what to prefer, or to fear more. And now, answer my questions: are you in the service of Marek Al-JahmÃ®r? Did he send you on this mission? Why? What was the purpose of the venture?
SakalthÃ´r hung his head again, gazing at his tied, bloodstained hands. Faramir had noted how the young captainâ€™s eyes had grown wide at him describing his innermost fears. If possible, he dreaded the DÃºnadan even more now. After what seemed an eternity, the Umbarian drew a shaky breath. â€œI am â€“ was â€“ captain of Lord Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s personal guard, up to the events on Tolfalas last summer.â€
Faramir nodded at finding his assumptions confirmed: he had seen him on the island, where SakalthÃ´r had been one of the soldiers set to watch him. The Umbarian had commanded one of the companies of men who had hunted Faramir along the coast after his escape from Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s ship, although they had not been the group to wound and recapture him.
â€œSo this is the reason why you recognised me, is it not? You saw me on the island. I remember you. You teased Azrahil about his lion one day, up on the cliffs.â€ SakalthÃ´r cursed under his breath at that name. â€œThe bloody traitor,â€ he said fiercely.
â€œBe careful who you call a traitor, SakalthÃ´r,â€ cautioned Faramir. â€œIn your masterâ€™s eyes, you will be considered one as well as you sit here, despite not having told me anything of import so far. Thus, I strongly advise you to reconsider your loyalty to the Snake, like Azrahil did. He chose the right side in the end, which at first cost him much. But which, in return, may provide him with greater gain than he considered possible.â€
â€œI know where my loyalties lie, and I am not going to switch them out of some fancy, to save my neck.â€
â€œWell, then you should have leapt overboard and kept your silence, SakalthÃ´r, for the way I know Al-JahmÃ®r, he would even construe our little conversation here an act of treason on your behalf. Think, captain: you are betraying information, be it only so slight and apparently unimportant, to your masterâ€™s greatest foe. Marek is not the man to overlook things like that. And you, the way I read the matter, are one to have lost his favour before. You did not manage to recapture me last summer, and perchance failed the Snake at another event. This is why you were put aboard this pirate-ship, is it not? As a last opportunity to save your honour, and prove to your lord that you are worthy of his trust, and the rank and responsibility he bestowed upon you. And you failed him, yet again. Do you really think you could return to Al-JahmÃ®r now, even if you managed to escape? Do you not believe he would punish you more severely than any of us ever would, including fierce AzrubÃ¢r and his fell crew? Marek does not take kindly to failure in his underlings. Do you truly count on his leniency? In that case, SakalthÃ´r, you are a fool.â€
The way the other hung his head and swallowed several times, Faramir knew he had hit a nerve. When SakalthÃ´r raised his eyes again, there was look of deep fear close to despair in them. â€œWhat choice do I have?â€ he asked quietly. â€œI must not fail again, otherwise he will avenge himself cruelly. Not just on myself. I could live with that dread. I am not a coward, even if I may seem like one to you.â€
â€œYou fear for others?â€
SakalthÃ´r sighed. â€œMy family. They are in great danger. You speak of leniency â€“ hah! The Snake, he has none.â€
â€œI know,â€ replied Faramir grimly. â€œI know that only too well. You have children?â€
SakalthÃ´r nodded faintly. â€œA son and a daughter, five and two years old. Most likely I shall not see them again. Nor my wife. Al-JahmÃ®r will see to that. If he finds out I survived this and did not complete my errand, and that moreover I was taken prisoner by you, they all will die.â€
â€œNot if we can protect them. But that depends entirely on you. Naturally, you would do everything possible to keep them from harm, even if that means doing the dirty work for someone as cruel and ruthless as Marek Al-JahmÃ®r. Even if that means destroying other families on his bidding. Like mine, for example. As a husband and father, you may be able to imagine what it feels like to have your wife abducted by your worst enemy, and to try and explain to your small children who weep for their mother at night why she does not return, nor why their father cannot be with them for long, either. You were on Tolfalas, you know what your master did to me there. How do you think my wife and my boys fared at home during my absence? Do you not think they were greatly distressed about my fate? And only two weeks ago, your master had me shot down before the eyes of my wife, who must believe me slain now, and abducted, perhaps even killed her. There are always two sides to everything.â€
â€œThat may be, but what choice did I have? To disobey my master would have resulted in certain death to my family.â€
â€œYes, the Snake knows how to cow his servants. Now things are different, however. You can choose, and choose wisely. You are a man of conscience and compassion, so much I have learned of you. Do you not believe â€˜tis time you questioned your allegiance to the Snake, now that you cannot return to his service?â€
SakalthÃ´r gave him a long, thoughtful glance. Instead of replying, he asked, â€œYou truly are alive, lord?â€
Faramir smiled faintly. â€œYou do not really believe in ghosts, do you? I am alive. How do you know I was supposedly slain? You were not involved in the attack on Kadall, were you?â€
The Umbarian shook his head. â€œI spoke with some men who were at Kadall. One Fuiner â€“ he is Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s master-archer â€“ he boasted about having shot the Steward of Gondor at short distance, shortly after their return to Ihimâ€”â€ He fell silent, his face paling again.
â€œIhimbra, you would say?â€ inquired Faramir shrewdly. â€œOut with it! This is whither they travelled after Kadall? And this is whither Al-JahmÃ®r brought my wife?â€
SakalthÃ´râ€™s hands clenched the fabric of his surcoat. â€œAye, lord,â€ he at length confirmed. â€œThey came on a schooner, a ship owned by one RhudakhÃ´r, a smuggler and a pirate. I was doing guard-duty that evening, and saw the arrival of the master. He was carrying a golden-haired lady in his arms â€“,â€ he cast a swift, irritated glance at KhorazÃ®r who had uttered a deep growl at his words. Faramir gave him an encouraging nod, despite feeling disconcerted at the image of his beloved Ã‰owyn resting in the arms of the Snake himself.
â€œWhat about the lady?â€ he inquired, forcing his voice to remain calm. â€œWas she hurt?â€
SakalthÃ´r shrugged. â€œI did not see much of her. She appeared unconscious, or asleep. She did not look injured, but her face was very pale. She was brought to the womenâ€™s quarters, and I did not see her again. But word went round how some time later she had a row with Bataye â€“ the masterâ€™s housekeeper â€“, and also that she gave hell to Rashidah, one of the masterâ€™s favourites, after the former had publicly humiliated her. I cannot imagine her to be very unwell, for otherwise she would not have managed dealing with those ladies the way she did.â€
Faramir exchanged a glance with KhorazÃ®r, who smiled knowingly. â€œBataye I know,â€ he said. â€œShe is indeed a tough lady you do not wish to cross,â€ said the Haradan. â€œEven Marek respects her, and is even afraid of getting the wrong side of her. Of this Rashidah I have only heard rumours. She is said to be very beautiful, but with a temper as foul as her looks are fair.â€
â€œSo she is, lord,â€ confirmed SakalthÃ´r. Faramir could tell how slowly he was beginning to relax, having obviously realised that things were not looking quite as dark for him as he had dreaded, or else having accepted his doom. Faramir himself found it difficult to hide both his excitement and his growing exhaustion. He wished for a real chair instead of this low stool in order to rest his head and back against it. Still, the capture of his young Umbarian had proved a stroke of pure luck, as he was able to provide inside information they otherwise never have gained, and fairly willingly, too. At the moment, he was too cowed to lie. Faramir doubted he would attempt to betray them in any case. He seemed an honest person, and moreover not an ardent supporter of the Snake.
â€œWhat else can you tell?â€ asked Faramir, running a hand over his eyes and briefly pinching the bridge of his nose. â€œAny more rumours, gossip you picked up in the castle? Things the servants enjoy whispering amongst themselves?â€
SakalthÃ´r hesitated. â€œI did not stay for much longer at Ihimbra after your wifeâ€™s arrival, for I was commanded to join these bloody pirates on their ship, to watch the channel for any signs of the tarks and their fleet â€“ and the Balak anDolgu in particular. There is one thing I heard, however, ere I left. It was indeed spread by the servants.â€ He hesitated again, eyeing Faramir sceptically. â€œThey said the foreign lady was going to be the masterâ€™s new wife,â€ he went on haltingly at length, before falling silent again. His tense, uncomfortable expression indicated there was more information itching to be revealed. Faramir gave him an encouraging nod. The Umbarian sighed, then muttered, â€œAnd that she was already carrying his child.â€
â€œWhat?â€ exclaimed KhorazÃ®r fiercely, taking a step towards the Umbarian who shrank back.
â€œI can only repeat what I heard, lord,â€ he apologised swiftly. â€œI do not know if it is true or not. Servants like to gossip. But one serving-girl said she had overheard the healers talk amongst themselves, after they had examined the lady, and they had said she was with child.â€ He gave Faramir who had remained silent a long glance. â€œThe master must know about these rumours, and since he did not contradict them â€¦â€
Faramir nodded slowly. â€œAye, it would suit his plans to have people believe that his victory is complete,â€ he mused. â€œAlthough, for everybody who can count properly it must appear strange that she is found pregnant after spending only about three weeks with the Snake.â€
â€œThat is what my wife said, lord,â€ agreed SakalthÃ´r, frowning slightly as he reconsidered what he had heard. â€œIt seems to me that by encouraging these rumours, Al-JahmÃ®r is implying they had a relationship with your wife even before her abduction, and that therefore his claim on her is â€¦ â€“ well, not righteous, but perhaps with some foundation.â€
KhorazÃ®r snorted. â€œThat would indeed be his style,â€ he snarled contemptuously. â€œAnd I bet there are plenty folks believing this rubbish. I do not know of any woman who would willingly enter into a relationship with him (unless paid for it), only this Rashidah, perhaps, simply because she is after an influencial, wealthy position at his side. Let me assure you that Lady Ã‰owyn had no love-affair with Al-JahmÃ®r (I cringe at the very thought), and that the child, should she truly expect one, was fathered by her husband and no one else.â€
For the first time during the trial, the Umbarian smiled faintly. â€œThis is what my wife said exactly.â€ His eyes narrowed as he gazed at Faramir, who thought he could detect a trace of pity in them, and an unspoken question.
â€œYour words confirm what I have guessed for some time, SakalthÃ´r,â€ the DÃºnadan said gravely, â€œand I am grateful for your cooperation. I did not know for certain about this new child â€“ for this is what you would like to ask, is it not? But I had my suspicions, therefore your information is not a complete surprise.â€
The Umbarian gazed at the floor. He seemed embarrassed, his conscience bothering him. Silence descended on the cabin, so that the sounds from the quarterdeck above: footsteps and the scraping of heavy things being moved across the planks were plain to hear. Faramir was experiencing a cross between elation about finding his vision in the PalantÃ®r confirmed and the fact that so far Ã‰owyn did not appear to have fared too badly at Ihimbra, and a great weight of anxiety and worry. She was with child, and so far along, it seemed, that changes to her figure were already visible. What did this mean for her rescue? How much time did they have left before it became too dangerous for her and the child to try and escape?
â€œLord,â€ the Umbarian said suddenly into the silence, having raised his head and giving Faramir a stern, defiant look, â€œyou said it was up to me to choose sides. I see how my information has stirred you, and indeed, I begin to understand how deeply Al-JahmÃ®r insulted and hurt you. He is my master, and I swore allegiance to him â€“ an oath I cannot break without condemning my family and myself, and moreover forfeiting what honour I have. But when I imagine my wife being taken like yours, and myself in your situation â€¦ You were right earlier: Al-JahmÃ®r, when he learns of what passed on these ships and our conversation is going to construe it as treason. And rightly so, because I am breaking my oath, and betraying important information to his enemies. I cannot expect any leniency from him, and neither can my family. I do not know how I will fare at your hands, but I hope you will not avenge yourself on those dear to me.â€
â€œWhy should I?â€ returned Faramir. â€œYour family has done me no harm. And you, even though you have been involved in great injustice on your masterâ€™s behalf, are now displaying great courage in trusting to your own conscience â€“ despite the danger. And I am not one to punish such conduct â€“ on the contrary, I will reward it. You called Azrahil a traitor earlier. Maybe you understand his decision better now.â€
â€œI do, lord. And I admit that ever since the events on Tolfalas last year, which kept me away from my family for a long time (and I knew that by being positioned there I was being punished for an earlier act of disobedience) I have been serving my master with increasing doubt. I cheered his disappearance like many in Umbar and the lands about, hoping that better, more peaceful times were ahead. I do not hate you Northerners like some. I do not love you, either, but I understand that our peoples must try and live peacefully alongside each other for both to prosper. Then the Silver Serpent returned, and my hopes fell. I asked to be relieved of my post, but was told that the only way to quit my service honourably would be a brave death in battle. There was no possibility of a release, because Al-JahmÃ®r needed every man at his disposal in order to prepare his revenge upon the tarks. I was reminded of my oath, then threatened, and so was my family, and thus grudgingly, I continued doing the dirty work for Al-JahmÃ®r. Ultimately, this resulted in me being given this disastrous errand. Right now, I am more than prepared to consider it the Snakeâ€™s attempt to get rid of me, his troublesome captain, without having to dirty his hands.â€
â€œProbably,â€ agreed Faramir thoughtfully. â€œWhat exactly were your orders concerning this ill-fated mission?â€
â€œApparently Al-JahmÃ®r received tidings of this ship travelling northwards and up the River Harnen, and then downriver again to continue its journey north. He assumed that its destination was Gondor, since the Balak anDolgu is famed for her speed and her reckless captain. After the events at Kadall, there were bound to be people there in need of a swift passage to the enemyâ€™s lands. So I and some men under my command were put on that pirate BalÃ®kzagarâ€™s vessel, and told to travel north and look out for the Balakâ€™s return. Also, we were to watch the seas between mainland Harondor and Tolfalas, and to report any sign of the Gondorian fleet being launched.â€
â€œBut you did not simply watch, did you?â€ interrupted KhorazÃ®r.
â€œIn the case of spotting AzrubÃ¢râ€™s ship, we were under orders to attack and try and capture her. The corsair and his men were to be slain, an order embraced with great enthusiasm by BalÃ®kzagar, who was all for giving battle to his long-term enemy AzrubÃ¢r â€“ apparently there was a blood-feud involved. Any other passengers were to be arrested and brought to Ihimbra. I was told to look out especially for any ranger-tarks, and for you, Lord KhorazÃ®r.â€
â€œNot for me?â€ asked Faramir with the slightest of smiles.
SakalthÃ´râ€™s pale face blushed. â€œNay, lord, not for you. From what I gathered, the master believes you slain. And so did I, especially after listening to Fuinerâ€™s account of how they took the lady, and he shot you. How is it possible you survived two darts from so short a distance, and with Fuiner releasing them? He never misses, and I believe his boasts there, as I have seen him shoot. So do not think me a coward for reacting to your appearance the way I did, up in the forecastle. I truly believed I was being approached by your ghost, come to haunt me for the injustice I had done you earlier, on the island.â€
â€œOne could say I was spared because I have a task to do still â€“ rescue my wife and destroy Al-JahmÃ®r. It looks that try as he might, he will not succeed in slaying me, and I should like to keep it that way.â€
KhorazÃ®r laughed softly. â€œWell put, DÃºnadan. Of course, one could also say you were simply lucky that the arrow struck a rib instead of piercing your heart.â€
SakalthÃ´r gazed at the Haradan thoughtfully. â€œBe it luck or else, it will be a black day for Al-JahmÃ®r when he learns of his great miscalculation.â€
â€œIndeed,â€ nodded Faramir. â€œThe blacker, the longer he believes me dead. Therefore, I should like to postpone my return to the living for as long as possible. This means neither you nor your men nor any of the pirates must breathe a word about my presence on this ship. All of you are going to be detained until I see fit (and safe) to release you.â€
â€œWhat will become of my men?â€ asked the Umbarian anxiously. â€œNow, and later?â€
â€œAs long as they are my prisoners, they are not going to be harmed, unless their conduct here makes punishment a necessity. I shall speak with AzrubÃ¢r. He is going to want to make them work. I do not see any dishonour in them helping repair and refit this vessel and the other, to mend what they helped destroy. I will oppose any mistreatment of them, however, and if I can prevent it, they will not labour at the oars. How many men did you have with you, and how many survived the fight?â€
â€œThere were two score men under my command. I do not know for certain who of them made it. Even back on the schooner many were wounded, and at least a handful was slain by those blasted bowmen up in the rigging. In my reckoning, only a quarter survived unscathed, and this is a hopeful calculation.â€
â€œHow loyal are your men â€“ to you or Al-JahmÃ®r?â€
â€œMost have been serving with me for many years, and even volunteered to follow me on this errand despite knowing that it was a dangerous mission, and an act of punishment by the Snake. They will not condemn me for my decision to turn against Al-JahmÃ®r. In fact, it was for their fate I surrendered in the first place, and they will appreciate that, and support my decision. My lieutenant YÃ´pharaz is a different matter, however. He has only been with this company for half a year, and I strongly believe he was put there by Al-JahmÃ®r to have an eye on me. He is young, barely come of age, quick-witted and dangerous, with little compassion to speak of, and a streak of cruelty to make his character worse. Also, he is very ambitious to rise to high rank in the Snakeâ€™s service. More than once he has tried to undermine my authority in the company, with little success, thankfully. It was he who urged our attack on your ship foremost, encountering open ears with BalÃ®kzagar. You will recognise him easily: he is golden-haired like your wife.â€
â€œI shall look out for him,â€ Faramir assured him. â€œIs there anything else you wish to tell me? If not, I will have you returned to your men now. You will not mention to them anything concerning my identity nor our conversation, but you will listen closely to their talk, to find out who recognised me. Lord KhorazÃ®r will bring you to the other prisoners, and I shall talk to AzrubÃ¢r to assure you are treated decently.â€
SakalthÃ´r thought for a moment. â€œI cannot think of anything I could add for the moment, lord. But should something come to mind, I will tell you, I promise. I hope you will keep your word concerning the treatment of my men, and the protection of my family,â€ he added, giving Faramir an anxious, almost pleading glance.
Faramir smiled wryly, touched by the Umbarianâ€™s concern for others. â€œYou spent too much time with the likes of Al-JahmÃ®r, SakalthÃ´r,â€ he said. â€œNot everybody is wont to break his word whenever it suits him. We will talk again tomorrow. For now I thank you for your cooperation. Should you spot this YÃ´pharaz on your way, point him out to Lord KhorazÃ®r.â€ He turned to the Haradan who had stepped over to the Umbarian and was pulling him to his feet by his surcoat. â€œIf he is unhurt or slightly wounded and still capable of causing mischief, see to it he is stowed away securely. I shall deal with him tomorrow.â€
â€œAye,â€ acknowledged KhorazÃ®r as he led SakalthÃ´r out of the cabin. Although the Umbarian was looking anxious and worried still, to Faramirâ€™s eyes he seemed relieved, as if a great burden had been taken off his shoulders. When the two men had left, he drew a deep breath, and resting his elbows on his thighs, he buried his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes before simply closing them. He was spent, and the pain in his shoulder and chest had not lessened. His neck hurt, and the pain was seeping into the back of his head. Hungry and thirsty he was, too. Despite being peaked by curiosity concerning SakalthÃ´râ€™s notorious lieutenant, he knew he would not manage another interrogation this day. Outside the narrow, latticed window, light was failing. It had begun to rain, and the wind had freshened up. For a while he simply sat there, eyes closed, trying to sift through what he had seen and especially heard today.
SakalthÃ´râ€™s capture had been a stroke of pure luck, he decided. Of all of Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s soldiers, one with a grudge against his master and a strong conscience had been put on this mission. He had gained important information from the Umbarian, and was certain more was to come. The man knew his way round Ihimbra, had been there only recently. He had seen Ã‰owyn, and knew where most likely she was being kept. He would also know about security measures in the castle and about. And what was best: he was willing to cooperate, and seemed trustworthy enough. Faramir felt excitement creep up in him to battle his weariness. SakalthÃ´r was exactly the man they had needed to encounter. As yet, he was not wholly on their side, naturally. But with a little more persuasion, and some proofs of their trustworthiness and earnest, Faramir judged him as one willing to face the risk of opposing Al-JahmÃ®r openly â€“ as long as his family was safe.
â€œAh, there you are!â€ AzrubÃ¢râ€™s strong voice startled him out of his contemplations. Swiftly â€“ too swiftly â€“, he rose. A wave of dizziness caused him to sway so that he had to hold on to a beam in the low ceiling to steady himself. Turning, he beheld a wet but joyous corsair. The cut on his forehead had been treated with some dark paste which reminded Faramir of something he and his rangers had often found on orcs when they had harried their patrols in Ithilien during the War. â€œKhorazÃ®r told me to see you concerning the prisoners,â€ said AzrubÃ¢r as he stepped into the cabin, brushing back his long plaited hair to send drops flying. â€œHah, this was a most successful day in that regard,â€ he declared, flopping down on the berth and reaching for a small lamp fastened to the wall above it. He lit it, then pulled an ornate chest from underneath the berth and after rummaging in it for a moment produced a flat silver flask, from which he took a long draught before offering it to Faramir. When the DÃºnadan hesitated, because a very sharp smell was coming from the bottle, AzrubÃ¢r gave him an encouraging nod and a grin.
â€œDo you good. You look like to need something to strengthen you. And no wonder. After the mess you and your friends left in my nice cabin, and on my decks. Cutting the fore staysail? I almost choked when I saw that. Bloody hell, how are we to sail on like this?â€ He laughed when he saw Faramirâ€™s expression.
â€œHaha, got you there, didnâ€™t I? Donâ€™t worry, nothing has been broken that canâ€™t be mended here on sea. No, honestly, as I said before: I owe you. Weâ€™re going to need the night to refit and put on some new sheets. Many of the lads are wounded, but weâ€™re going to recruit some of BalÃ®kâ€™s boys and the Umbarians you captured. KhÃ´miyi is going to take command of the schooner and bring her to a nice little hidden port where they can refit properly. Itâ€™s a fine ship, despite BalÃ®kâ€™s rough handling of her, and she will make a welcome addition to my business. And we are going to sail on to Ihimbra. Come on, drink. That stuff isnâ€™t going to kill you.â€
Faramir smiled faintly. â€œI have your word on that?â€ AzrubÃ¢r shrugged, grinning. â€œPerhaps you should sit down first.â€
Faramir did so, then raised the bottle to his nose. The smell alone was eye-watering. Gazing at the corsair who was watching him with obvious amusement, he took a careful sip. It was horrible. Whatever the flask contained, in Faramirâ€™s mouth and throat it felt like liquid fire. He coughed and gasped for air.
AzrubÃ¢r burst out laughing. â€œYou tarks are too soft when it comes to food and drink. Try again. Itâ€™ll hurt less.â€
â€œThank you,â€ replied Faramir hoarsely, handing back the flask. â€œOnce is enough. What is this made of?â€ Despite his throat hurting now as if he had poured acid down it, he felt his mind clear and his exhaustion decrease, as if with the drink new strength was coursing through his veins. He wondered how long the effect would last.
AzrubÃ¢r waggled his finger and shook his head, smiling mysteriously. â€œYou donâ€™t want to know.â€ He took another swig, then leaned back against the wall comfortably to give Faramir a concise account of the sea-battle. It turned out that the schooner had lost two thirds of its crew, and that SakalthÃ´r had been right with his estimations considering the survival of his men. According to AzrubÃ¢r, who had personally knocked out the fair-haired lieutenant, YÃ´pharaz was still alive, albeit unconscious. Despite having planned to make especially the Umbarians join their unfortunate predecessors at the oars, after listening to Faramirâ€™s account of SakalthÃ´râ€™s conduct, he promised to instruct his men to treat the soldiers fairly, but to watch them closely.
Dark night had fallen outside when finally he rose. The effects of the drink having worn off fairly quickly, during the half hour Faramir had found it increasingly difficult to follow the otherâ€™s speech.
â€œI need to have a look how the lads are faring on deck,â€ AzrubÃ¢r said upon stepping out of the cabin. â€œCook has been preparing some supper in the mess. Iâ€™ll have some brought to the great cabin. You must be hungry. Ah, and donâ€™t forget to wear the veil again.â€
Having covered his features again and following the corsair onto the corridor, Faramir debated briefly whether to accompany him on deck for a breath of fresh air, but decided against it. He sorely needed to rest. If Dorgil had been unhurt, he would be scolding him now for overstraining himself.
In the great cabin he found KhorazÃ®r, MezlÃ¢r, MurÃ¢d, the Haradanâ€™s other two guards, and the two rangers assembled at supper. Some of KhorazÃ®râ€™s men had received minor injuries, cuts and bruises mostly, but nobody was as seriously wounded as Dorgil. The healer was still asleep, but looking better than when Faramir had last checked on him. His face had regained some colour, and his breathing seemed easier. The rest of the men looked weary as they sat on the berths, illuminated by the light of the small lamps on the walls. The broken windows had been mended roughly with some cloth, to keep out the wind which was nevertheless howling through the gaps in the woodwork. The floor had been scrubbed and freed of blood. A faint scent lingered, however.
Uncovering his face and hair again, Faramir sank down on his bedstead. He shed his boots, belt and sash, his fingers fumbling with the knot. Resting his back and head against the wall, he closed his eyes. Wordlessly, Turgon handed him a bowl with stew. He ate a few spoonful, battling an overwhelming desire to sleep. The spoon seemed to be made of lead, and even chewing the carrots or whatever were the vegetables in the stew felt like a great effort. When the ranger asked if he wanted some bread, he only shook his head, handing back the bowl. Then he lay down, and almost immediately fell into a deep sleep.
He woke again late the next morning, to a ravenous hunger and thirst. His berth was swaying considerably â€“ apparently the ship was battling high waves or a strong squall. Upon sitting up, still sleepy and not without pain, he found Aralas, Dorgil and MÃ»rad (who judging from the tinge of his face was battling seasickness again) in conversation over what looked like a late breakfast. The healer sat propped up by several pillows and looked even better than the previous evening. He smiled warmly when his eyes fell on Faramir.
â€œGood morning, captain,â€ he greeted him cheerfully. â€œMurÃ¢d here has just been telling me what befell yesterday after I passed out. Needless to say I do not approve of you going out there to battle pirates and Umbarians. How are you?â€
â€œFirst I should like to know how you are, Dorgil,â€ returned Faramir, smiling as well. â€œYou dealt me quite a shock yesterday by losing consciousness. I could have done with your counsel concerning your treatment.â€
â€œIt looks you did a good job without it. I am prepared to take you on as my apprentice.â€ His face took on a graver expression. â€œNay, honestly, you saved my life,â€ he went on quietly. â€œI only hope you did not overstrain yourself.â€
â€œI am quite well, Dorgil, never fear,â€ Faramir assured him, swinging his legs over the edge of his berth. â€œIs there some breakfast left?â€
He had just finished his third helping of bread, cheese, spiced olives and dried fruit when the door opened and KhorazÃ®r stepped through, his long hair tousled by the wind and his garments speckled with spray. â€œThese corsairs never cease to amaze me,â€ he declared. â€œSomehow they managed to repair most of the damage over night, despite rain and storm and the fact a considerable number of them is injured. But now the ship is making good speed with her new sails. The schooner was left behind â€“ according to AzrubÃ¢r she is going to travel to another port. Even the wind has turned in our favour. Tolfalas is long out of sight. By his reckoning, if all goes well, we shall reach our destination â€˜round nightfall of the 26th.â€
â€œSailing must get more difficult once we reach the Bay,â€ mused Dorgil. â€œAfter all, we do not want to get spotted by Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s ships, nor his spies on land.â€
â€œOur captain has given thought to that, I am certain,â€ said KhorazÃ®r, reaching for an olive. â€œHe is very close about our exact destination. No need to mention we are not making for the port of Ihimbra proper. There are many small bays and fishing-villages nearby. Personally, I think we are headed towards one of those.â€
â€œI only hope your wife and her boy are having the coasts watched properly,â€ observed the healer. â€œTime is pressing, and we need to meet them quickly, without having to search far and wide.â€
â€œThe way I know them,â€ fell in Faramir with a slight smile, â€œthey are going to find us. And as for you, Dorgil, in your condition you are not going to search for anybody for some time. You need to rest.â€
â€œDoes that mean you wish to leave me behind on this ship, captain?â€ asked the ranger with obvious displeasure.
â€œOnly until you are recovered. I have a feeling you will like it here. Moreover, I will make sure AzrubÃ¢r and his men are not going to stray far from where we are based. We may require his services again ere long.â€
â€œAye,â€ laughed KhorazÃ®r. â€œHe would not willingly leave for all the gold of Umbar, what is more. He desires to witness the Snakeâ€™s downfall personally. I spoke much with him recently, and he seems to talk of little else. I think we have found ourselves a very useful and moreover trustworthy ally.â€
â€œSpeaking of allies, how have the Umbarian prisoners been faring during the night?â€ inquired Faramir, finally putting away his cup and plate.
KhorazÃ®r shrugged, pacing the cabin. â€œBetter than they deserve, I daresay. Those not wounded were put to work, with much taunting and teasing from the pirates. But they endured it willingly and without making any trouble. I think their captain had a word with them. They appear safe for the moment. I saw to it they are closely watched, however.â€
â€œGood. The capture of SakalthÃ´r was a stroke of pure luck.â€
KhorazÃ®r nodded thoughtfully. â€œTrue. He is a decent fellow for one of the Snakeâ€™s henchmen. But his lieutenant, this straw-headed fellow, he is a nasty piece of work. He was out cold the entire night, but earlier this morning when I was checking on the prisoners he drew himself up (well, as far as his chains allowed) and haughtily demanded to be brought before the captain of this vessel. AzrubÃ¢r is going to have a little chat with him presently, and he asked me to fetch you to witness the interrogation.â€
â€œYes, I should like to attend. Tell me, did he make the impression he recognised me yesterday?â€
â€œDifficult to say, DÃºnadan,â€ replied KhorazÃ®r, frowning. â€œLike his captain said, he is a shrewd fellow. If he did, he did not let it show. He did not even display any indication that he knows who I am, although I am rather certain he does.â€
â€œI shall wear the veil in any case,â€ Faramir decided. â€œBut ere I leave, I need to wash. I was too tired for that yestereve.â€
He would have liked to don some fresh clothes as well, but found that the spare shirt KhorazÃ®r had provided him with and which had been washed only the day before, due to the rain and the salty air had not dried properly. Together with KhorazÃ®r he entered the small cabin he had interrogated SakalthÃ´r in the previous evening. It was rather cramped with AzrubÃ¢râ€™s two bodyguards at the bulkhead, the corsair himself sitting on the low stool opposite a young man on the berth. His hands and feet were fettered, and he was clad in a long black tunic over dark trousers and short boots. He had been relieved of his armour â€“ Faramir suspected the corsairs had taken it as loot. He appeared unhurt apart from a cut on his forehead which had been treated with the same black paste as AzrubÃ¢râ€™s injury. The dark smear contrasted starkly with his long fair hair which had been arrayed in a braid, but which during the fight and the rough treatment afterwards had slid out of it. His features were tanned, and his cheeks slightly flushed. He was handsome, and judging from his proud bearing, he knew it, even exerting great caution to maintain his good looks. Perhaps a way to get at him, Faramir noted to himself.
He looked slightly older than the age SakalthÃ´r had given. Faramir decided this was due to the haughty, aloof expression the prisonerâ€™s face carried. Surely he must have realised the seriousness of his situation, nevertheless he carried himself with enormous self-confidence. Faramir knew that this might win him points with AzrubÃ¢r who admired such bearing.
â€œAh, there you are, Lord KhorazÃ®r,â€ the corsair greeted the other cheerfully. Despite not having had much sleep the previous night, he looked full of energy. â€œOur young friend here has demanded to see me. Good of you to join us.â€ He motioned to KhorazÃ®r and Faramir to step closer, before turning back to the prisoner. â€œWell, well, Master YÃ´pharaz, I take it you wish to tell me a thing or two. Out with it. Iâ€™m all ears.â€
The young man fixed KhorazÃ®r and his â€œguardâ€ with a keen gaze from dark eyes. â€œI did not ask for any others to listen to what I have to tell you.â€
AzrubÃ¢r frowned, his smile vanishing. â€œDonâ€™t come me like this, lad. You are my prisoner as well as his, and if on my ship I invite him, my friend, to join me, youâ€™ll accept this or you donâ€™t â€“ in which case we end this conversation here and now.â€
YÃ´pharaz returned his stern gaze haughtily. â€œSo be it, then. What I have to say is for your ears only, captain. I will not have this so-called lord eavesdrop on matters which concern only the two of us.â€
KhorazÃ®r made a fierce step towards the prisoner, hand raised to strike him for his insolence, but upon a warning gaze from Faramir calmed down again.
â€œI canâ€™t think of any reason why you should like to talk to me privately.â€
â€œI can,â€ said Faramir quietly.
YÃ´pharazâ€™s eyes narrowed as he studied the DÃºnadan. â€œHah, and now I must even endure stupid remarks from a mere guardsman,â€ he sneered, despite his proud bearing slightly disconcerted by the otherâ€™s calm yet penetrating gaze. â€œUnder these circumstances, I refuse any cooperation.â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t count on that,â€ said AzrubÃ¢r fiercely, signing to his guards. One drew a curved dagger and advanced on the prisoner. Faramir stepped forward. â€œIf you allow me, captain, I should like a quiet word with this man, ere you resign to torture.â€
The corsair shrugged. â€œAs you please. But donâ€™t take too long. I want to be rid of this fellow. Here, take my seat.â€
â€œThis is a jest, right?â€ said YÃ´pharaz when Faramir sat down opposite him. â€œWhy should I talk to you if I refuse to do so to the captain of this ship?â€
Faramir gazed at him levelly. â€œI am sure you will find a reason. â€˜Tis true, it might be less easy to try and win me over to your and your masterâ€™s side, but did you truly believe Captain AzrubÃ¢r here would have fallen to your bribes and offers of everlasting friendship with Marek Al-JahmÃ®r in exchange for your freedom? Come on, YÃ´pharaz, even you must have heard about this Captainâ€™s blood-feud with the Snake, and their mutual hatred. Did you truly believe an offer of gold or unlimited freedom to roam the Bay of Umbar would have turned his heart? Corsairs may be corrupt, but only to a degree. One might not expect it in them, but some of them have a strong sense of duty, and honour. And AzrubÃ¢r is one of these.â€
The corsair who now stood looming in the background with his guards nodded gravely. Faramir only heard the movement, as he did not turn. Holding the young man in his gaze, he could tell by the slight change in the otherâ€™s still well-guarded expression that he had struck a chord. YÃ´pharazâ€™s composure had received a blow, and he was struggling to maintain his confidence.
â€œI see you are thinking about my words. Which is a good beginning. You will win nothing here by haughtiness and contempt. You life is in our hands. And not just your life, your reputation as well. Bear that in mind, and behave accordingly!â€
He was pleased to note how YÃ´pharaz swallowed ever so slightly. â€œWho are you?â€ he asked quietly.
â€œSomeone you do not wish to cross. Someone to bring about your masterâ€™s downfall.â€
Some of his former arrogance returned to YÃ´pharazâ€™s face. â€œMy masterâ€™s downfall?â€ he sneered. â€œMany have tried to bring that about, only to fail utterly. For a moment you almost had me there, but now I know you are only a fool. You and your pathetic little friends may have succeeded in cowing my spineless fool of a captain. No great feat, that. You wonâ€™t fare as easily with me.â€
â€œWe shall see, shall we not?â€ Faramir replied conversationally.
Approaching novel-length: The Snake's Checkmate