The Northern Lights|
Summary: A mysterious sellsword and a Prince find themselves in a sticky situation.
The pirate smelled.
Or to be put it more appropriately, Imrahil was absolutely and positively sure the pirate stank.
The corsair had the dark skin, fleshy red cheeks and angled eyes of his race. His eyes were dark brown and his braided hair was black dusted with sand. His mouth curled into a snarl, flashing yellowing teeth at Imrahil. His wore a leather jerkin over ragged shirt and while the mail on top of it was nowhere near as good as the mail armour of Dol Amroth, it did well on its service.
"You stink," Imrahil said bluntly.
Evidently the pirate wasn't amused. He raised his sword high above his head and gave an ululating yell before charging at Imrahil. The Prince calmly stepped to the side at the last moment, swung on his heel and slipped his sword into the notch through mail and jerkin at his side. He pulled back his sword and Thorongil finished him off.
"Well, this is a situation I didn't expect to come into any time soon." Thorongil's voice was moderately dry.
"I will never trust your judgement again," Imrahil said. Thorongil smirked. It wasn't meant to be threatening but Imrahil wasn't sure whether or not the mysterious mercenary, with his colliding traits of impeccable manners and outstanding swordsmanship, was to be trusted.
An unhealthy and frightening notion shot through his mind. Perhaps it was a trap for him. The corsairs could gain the upper hand if they captured a prince of Dol Amroth.
"I swear to you, Thorongil, if this was a trap set by you for me, then I will end your life here and now!"
Thorongil gave a disgusted sound.
"Do you truly believe me capable of such a crime??"
Imrahil gritted his teeth and shook his head. No, Thorongil was many things but he wasn't a criminal. Ironic, really, since he was only a sword looking for a greater income.
When he slew the last enemy before him, he turned his attention to Thorongil briefly.
"Perhaps I was a bit hasty." Imrahil said. Thorongil tilted his head and raised a single brow. There was an amused curl of his lips.
"Perhaps," Thorongil conceded, tolerant.
The sound of a war-cry, composed of numerous voices caught their attention. They looked up together and found they were surrounded from all sides.
"Ambush," Imrahil remarked belatedly. Thorongil shook his head.
"Five and twenty corsairs," Thorongil said, his eyes running over the charging men. “I hope you are ready, my Lord.”
“Let us see which one has the most, then,” Imrahil returned. Thorongil gave him a grim smile.
His first enemy leered at him, his jagged blade held at the ready. Imrahil looked at it and grimaced. The pirates purposely forged their swords with jagged edges; it was more painful for their enemies. The jagged sword swept up before beating down on him. Imrahil met the blow cleanly and his smooth, sharp-edged sword locked into it.
And there was the advantage; the jagged blade always caught in its opponent's sword. Imrahil gave his enemy a grim smile.
Swords locked, Imrahil bore down on his opponent with his weight so that the contact didn't break. One hand went to his buckle and freed the dagger. His enemy struggled too much to notice. Imrahil flipped the dagger in his hand with one fluid motion and embedded it deep into the man's side. He howled with the sudden onslaught of pain. Blood spurted freely and Imrahil freed both sword and dagger. His foe fell without the support. He bore down his sword, pointed tip first into the corsair’s sternum and ended his life. This was war; there was no time to be merciful or honourable, when it meant any wounded gifted him with a dagger between the ribs.
There was no time to celebrate his victory. He heard a war-cry from his right and turned around just in time to step backwards and parry the stroke. Dirt flew when he moved. The man before him snarled, revealing two rows of blackened teeth. Imrahil held his ground and waited for him to move. He didn't need to wait long. The man lunged, his sword aiming for his side. Imrahil met his stroke halfway, twisted it down and kicked the man between the legs. He fell with a howl, and Imrahil pulled free his blade and slipped it into the man's exposed neck. The enemy was dead before he realised it.
With the hot, battle-ready blood coursing through his veins, Imrahil grew stifling hot under his woollen cloak. He impatiently tugged his brooch until his cloak fell behind him in folds. He grabbed it with one fist and threw it at an incoming man. It hit him in the middle, trapping his arms. Imrahil covered the distance between him and his opponent with frightening speed. He gave a loud shout and attacked his opponents.
In his haste, he barely noticed the approaching enemy from his right. He turned at the last moment, but by then it was too late. The sword swept down and Imrahil stepped back quickly. He didn't miss the stroke and the blade sliced through his thigh. Imrahil gave a sudden cry of pain. Thorongil barged through, his blade dipping through the soil. Bits of soil and small stones flew across the air and into their opponents' eyes. Imrahil stood up and sank his sword into the exposed flesh of another corsair. Thorongil worked quickly, his sword swaying left and right until the immediate circle of pirates lay unmoving on the ground. Thorongil threw a glance over his shoulder.
"Imrahil?" Thorongil's voice was concerned.
"Merely a flesh wound," Imrahil said through gritted teeth. The wound bled sluggishly and his main artery was mercifully untouched. He was not in any immediate danger. He tested his weight and found to his relief that the pain was bearable and his mobility was mostly unhindered. Imrahil retrieved his cloak.
Thorongil studied his face before nodding. The sellsword sprinted, apparently in an attempt to take away as many of the corsairs away from Imrahil as possible. It worked, leaving behind barely two or three which Imrahil disposed of quickly. Then he searched for his companion.
Thorongil was on lower ground, battling three men at once. His fair skin was reddened under his beard from exertion. Imrahil sympathised. The sellsword worked more than his men, foregoing rest. He was a very vigilant man. There were times when Imrahil sometimes forgot he was also simply a person. Imrahil judged the distance between him and Thorongil and decided to jump. He braced and leaped down the knoll. He landed on his heels and aside from the slight jolt of pain he was fine.
"This was your idea," Imrahil called.
"You decided to join me in a the scouting mission, my Lord," Thorongil's retort had no bite in it.
Imrahil's warning came just in time. Thorongil whirled about on his heel, his cloak bellowing out behind him. He blocked his new opponent's blow, slid his sword around and embedded it deep in his unprotected side. The dark-skinned man looked up at Thorongil with wide shocked eyes before crumpling on the ground in death throes.
Imrahil scrambled backwards until he and Thorongil were back to back and their swords pointed outwards. Imrahil's gaze swept around him and found more enemies approaching them.
"We need to fall back!!" Thorongil cried.
"An excellent observation."
Imrahil's sarcasm was lost in the mayhem of the newly arriving reinforcements.
Imrahil didn't like to admit it but he was tiring. It seemed to him that it was true for Thorongil as well.
“We will circle around the camp and take refuge among the trees,” Thorongil said to Imrahil, gesturing briefly with his free hand towards the line of trees covering one side of the ambush site. Thorongil looked up briefly and his face changed. Imrahil found a glimpse of enmity and determination on the mercenary’s face and it was directed at him.
His hands were too fast for Imrahil. Thorongil's free hand went for his boot and he lifted it, the steely glint of his dagger's blade, catching the light. He threw it towards Imrahil.
It missed, going past Imrahil's ear. He heard a stiff cry and he turned around.
His heart thudded when he looked down at the corpse.
He touched his ear briefly with his hand. There was no blood, not even a slight abrasion. Thorongil's aim was frighteningly accurate.
"You saved me." Imrahil was stunned.
“It will be of no use if we don't survive this! Come! To the trees!”
Twilight approached swiftly in winter, and darkness came quickly after. It helped conceal their movement from the enemy and the fog hindered their enemy even more. The shouts of the pirates dwindled. At last there was no hint of pursuit.
“We are free, I think.” Imrahil said.
It never snowed along the coastline of Gondor. But during winter, the sea turned dark and turbid and heavy dense fog covered the land.
They made camp once they were completely sure they were not followed. Imrahil insisted that his wound was nothing, but Thorongil wasn't swayed. It was a small wound. It barely needed stitches and Thorongil made do with bindings. While the fog was dense around them, the skies were surprisingly clear.
"This is a strange winter." Imrahil remarked.
"Nature is never constant. It always changes its course in a few years." Thorongil answered.
"Aye, and grandfather claims the last time he witnessed such a winter was during his youth."
It grew bitterly cold. They sat with their thick wool cloaks wrapped around themselves, huddled together to lend whatever body heat escaped them. They lit no fire, afraid to attract unwanted attention. They were too tired to even sort out a watch. Instead, they sat in silence.
Imrahil's head rested on Thorongil's shoulder. Thorongil's back was pressed against a large sloping stone. Neither of them spoke. The excitement of a battle ebbed away, leaving behind the kind of weariness that penetrated bones.
It took him a moment to realise his companion was asleep. He didn't move his head, for fear that Thorongil would wake from well-earned sleep. The last few days were difficult on them and their men. With the unrest churning like a gathering storm between Gondor and Umbar, they were stuck in a difficult position. Time was of the essence and war was inevitable.
Out of the corner of his eye, he found the glint of something golden flash across the sky. He looked up startled. The sky was clear, dotted with brilliant white stars on a dark blue canvas. Nothing appeared at first, and then another flash of gold passed through the sky. He watched as a light green light streaked after the golden one. The colours suddenly burst forth, lines of gold and green wavering and dancing amongst themselves. It was mesmerising and soothing at the same time. He never seen the like of them before.
Imrahil nearly jumped and looked at his companion. Thorongil was awake, his eyes half-lidded from sleep.
"Some call them the Northern Lanterns. And forgive me. I didn't mean to startle you."
"No matter." Imrahil answered. He looked up in renewed wonder. "I thought they appeared only towards the mountains."
"Aye, they do. But at times they wander away from their homes and explore new skies. They go where the cold pleases them." Imrahil listened wordlessly. Thorongil's voice was thoughtful and soothing. Thorongil stopped, grimaced and added, "Or at least that is what my brothers told me when I was little."
The spell broke, and Imrahil didn't know what to say except what came to his mind immediately after.
"You have a very exaggerated flair." Imrahil broke the silence. Thorongil laughed in reply. Imrahil asked, "You have brothers?"
"Two," Thorongil answered with a nod. "And they are very dear to me."
"What is their trade?" Imrahil asked. "Or are they sellswords too?"
Thorongil flinched as Imrahil's words burned him. Imrahil briefly felt repentant. Thorongil tolerated the term "sellsword" but it was clear he didn't prefer it.
"Nay, they are not swords for hire," he said quietly. "Their mother was tortured by orcs. When they rescued her, she didn't fully recover. My brothers now developed an unyielding hate for orcs. They roam over Arda, killing orcs wherever they found them."
"A noble cause," Imrahil murmured.
"And a foolish one," Thorongil said. He looked suddenly weary. "Their antics lead them through dangerous roads."
"Are they capable?"
Thorongil looked taken aback at the question. Imrahil realised that he found out more about Thorongil in one company than all the time he knew him.
"Why, of course!" Thorongil nodded. "My brothers are deadly with both sword and bow. They are adept with other weaponry as well."
Imrahil's brow creased briefly. Yet more questions. Thorongil's brothers must truly have a born talent to master so many weapons. Or they are far older than the man before him to have the experience and physical strength for such skill.
His mind went back to Thorongil's impressive throw of a dagger that saved his life.
"How did you learn to throw daggers like that?"
"My brothers," Thorongil unexpectedly laughed. "When I was of age and old enough to join them in their adventures, they taught me how to throw knives or any blade capable of throwing. The one who lost gave away all his knives in his possession. And so the trade went. My brothers always had an upper hand over me through both talent and experience. I practiced until I was able to defeat them. I won all my knives and theirs too, back. Father disapproved." Thorongil added with a small, fond smile. Imrahil found himself smiling.
Thorongil reminded Imrahil of the dusty tomes left in the library, which had more questions than answers and spoke in riddles. Even Thorongil's answers left Imrahil more curious than before. Imrahil studied the sellsword's face. Thorongil was a full-grown Man who possessed the air of an experienced Captain. He approaching tactics with practicality and through calculations.
"Who are you? Tell me truly."
Thorongil raised one dark eyebrow.
"You have asked me this multiple times, and every time my answer is the same. It doesn't seem to satisfy you."
"There is some hidden meaning in your answer. I don't know what it is and I must say that I am not too keen on having secrets hidden from me."
Thorongil sighed and shook his head.
"You have more similarities with Denethor than you realise, Lord Imrahil," he said. He leaned back against the stone until his head rested against the hard, rough surface. "He doesn't trust my word as to who I am."
Imrahil sighed wearily.
"Stop circling my questions in riddles, mercenary, and answer me truthfully for once."
Thorongil fell into a deep silence.
"What I have told you, little or more, is everything true, even if I speak in riddles." Thorongil spoke, raising his eyes to meet Imrahil's. His eyes were open and honest, leaving no doubt that he was indeed truthful.
Thorongil slipped his fingers through his beard. It wasn't too long, but it wasn't short either.
"The beard helps," Thorongil added.
"Oh." Imrahil paused. "I can't grow a beard."
Thorongil's lips twitched in amusement.
"A disadvantage, I am sure." Thorongil said solemnly.
"At times," Imrahil agreed.
Imrahil closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. His lungs filled and his chest expanded. The action was oddly freeing. To occupy his mind, he let his thoughts gnaw and nibble on Thorongil's puzzling image. The puzzle was more of a game now than a concern. He noticed how Thorongil was calm and cool, revealing nothing when it came to himself. His defended were strong but Imrahil also noticed how there was a faint touch of softness whenever he mentioned North.
Imrahil scrambled up, his cloak parting at the movement. He unsheathed his sword and pointed its sharp tip towards Thorongil.
"Dúnedain," he hissed. "You are one of them." Thorongil didn't move as the tip of the sword hovered inches away from his throat. He didn't immediately say anything. That was confirmation enough for Imrahil that he guessed correctly.
"Are you going to kill me, Prince of Dol Amroth?" Thorongil asked quietly. His expression was sober. Imrahil didn't know what he intended to do. The revelation was strong enough to leave Imrahil's mind in shambles. It was like a heavy cloud that suppressed his senses, a burdensome word that hung between them like a tense cord. He lowered his blade slightly, the tip now pointing towards the hollow of Thorongil's throat.
"There are many rumours about your people." Imrahil said slowly. His mind unraveled and the threads of his thoughts straightened. "They say the Dúnedain have become faithless, hopeless," there was a small knowing smile on Thorongil's face at the last word, "and they say they have no loyalty for Gondor."
Thorongil's smile disappeared. His expression became steady and calm in spite of the hovering naked sword at his neck.
"There are many rumours about Gondor as well; that its past is nothing but a fabric of historical glory which belongs on a tapestry, that the Gondor today is not worth fighting for, that a single organised attack could cripple its army and lay bare its treasures," Thorongil's voice didn't quiver. Imrahil's hand on his hilt tightened until his knuckles turned white. He studied his churning temper. While Thorongil's words cut deep, it was clear he didn't mean so. There was a ring of truth in Thorongil's statement. Imrahil loosened his grip till his knuckles gained colour.
"Are you going to kill me, Prince of Dol Amroth?" Thorongil asked him. Imrahil gave him a hardened stare. Then he stepped back and with one fluid motion, he slipped his sword back into his sheath.
"Are all your kind like this, Man of North?"
“Many of them are,” Thorongil said. “We have grown used to the Wild. There are scarce few who don't have the best hearts but you find dark souls everywhere.”
Imrahil stared at him until he finally nodded. He returned to his seat beside Thorongil.
"Why did you come back?" Imrahil asked.
"Back to Gondor."
"Doesn't the eagle come back to its nest from wherever the wind takes him?"
"Thorongil isn't your name."
"Nay, it is not."
"If I ask what your true name is, will you tell me?" Imrahil asked finally.
"Why, of course," Thorongil said. Imrahil looked at him in surprise. Thorongil's face was solemn but there was a slight glint in his grey eyes. "Although it will be up to me as to when I tell you my name."
Curse the wittiness of sly sellswords!
Thorongil's smile spread slowly over his face and Imrahil found to his dismay that his own smile matched Thorongil's. He looked away from him and rested his head against the stone instead of Thorongil's shoulder.
In a way, the revelation shouldn't be a surprise to him. Thorongil never had the rugged, bold air of a criminal whose sword was for hire. He was loyal, modest, linguistic and very adept in both war and lore. The combination of the the last two was surprising in a sellsword.
Added to that, he wore a brooch on his cloak that was shaped in the outspread wings of an eagle with a brilliant green gem in its heart. His sword was nicked at the tip and the ring on his finger was oddly familiar...
Imrahil's eyes flew wide open and he whirled his head towards Thorongil so fast that his neck cricked.
"Have a care. Do not voice your suspicions if you fear them to be true."
"I am not afraid." Imrahil confessed. The corners of Thorongil's lips tilted upwards.
"That is good. I would hate to lose a trustworthy man for an enemy rather than an ally."
Imrahil studied him more carefully. Thorongil's face was turned away from him and his eyes were closed. Underneath the beard, Imrahil couldn't deny the man had noble features, similar to the statues of past kings in Minas Tirith. His face was weathered by experience and Imrahil wondered where Thorongil's paths led him to give him such an appearance.
"Have you ever thought of leaving behind your heritage?" Imrahil asked.
Thorongil's eyes opened and looked at him.
"I think every man considers the though of grabbing and leaving power when it is presented to him." Thorongil answered.
“And what have you thought?”
“It is a duty,” Thorongil said. “All my paths will one day come to Minas Tirith and there will come a day for me to lead my people.”
“Then I hope I am there to see you there, and I hope I stand beside you under your standard.” Imrahil said.
“I hope to see that day as well,” Thorongil answered.
Thorongil and Imrahil shared a smile.
Above them, the green and golden lights flickered and weaved, dancing between themselves.