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Swan Song  by Conquistadora

They arrived back at Caras Ernil just after the wet, grey dawn.  The rain was persistent and gave no indication of lessening.  Imrahil was by no means the only one who was glad of dry clothes and a warm meal.


King Elessar rode into the city only an hour later amidst the torrential downpour.  Imrahil met him at the door and was not surprised to find him in an unpleasant mood.  “I came with all haste out of regard for our friend, the King of Eryn Lasglen,” he said, peeling off his wet cloak and passing it to the footman, “but the purpose of his summons was not entirely clear.”


Imrahil nodded.  “We have only just arrived ourselves, and I have not yet had an opportunity to seek further explanation.  The prisoner is secured in the cells where, I understand, Thranduil intends to meet us.  Shall I go ahead or wait for you, my lord?”


Elessar waved him away, his irritation blunted by his growing curiosity.  “Go ahead,” he said, continuing on through the corridor toward the rooms that always stood ready for him.  “I will follow.”  


Imrahil made his way downstairs to the small prison attached to Faramir’s house.  He slowed as he reached the bottom, strangely reluctant to enter.  In the shadows cast by the lamplight, Thranduil stood close against the iron bars, eye to eye with the Uruk, deep in another conversation of their own.  An unsettling fascination seemed to draw them together, a grudging respect between enemies that was becoming something more personal.  Imrahil had to admit that at first glance this Orc did seem unexpectedly patrician, very different from the others he had encountered.  He was prouder, cleaner, better spoken.  The bestial abandon was gone, and in that Imrahil recognized what had piqued Thranduil’s interest.  Indeed, at that moment, the Uruk and the Elvenking seemed two sides of the same coin, revealing an ancient kinship that made Imrahil’s skin crawl.  He blinked, trying to banish the illusion.  


Thranduil glanced in his direction.  He quietly took his leave of the prisoner and came to join Imrahil in the antechamber.  At almost the same moment, Elessar descended the stairway.


“Ah,” Thranduil said.  “I did hope you could see him for yourself, Aragorn.  I doubted any description of mine could do him justice.”


“Who?” Elessar asked impatiently.


“His name is Draughâsh,” Thranduil told them.  “He and the others who have allied with him have been living by stealth in Cirith Ungol since they found themselves unwelcome on both sides of the mountains.  The hardship has apparently made philosophers of them.”


Elessar’s eyes narrowed sharply.


“I would not have believed it had I not seen it,” Thranduil allowed, “but these are interesting times.  It may be that we must reconsider many things before we proceed.”


Elessar pushed past them both and approached the cell.  He still seemed incredulous, although Imrahil could see that his mind was furiously turning with many possibilities.  The Uruk stared back at him, surly and impatient, but with an injured dignity that was too obvious to be ignored.  It was disarming, but unpleasantly so.


“What am I to do with you,” Elessar wondered aloud, “captured trespassing in my country?  My law does not suffer Orcs to enter Ithilien.”


“Your law would have us starve in the mountains,” Draughâsh retorted.  “We seek no quarrel with Gondor, but we will not be denied the means to survive.”


“How is it possible that I will not quarrel with those who violate my borders and feast upon my subjects?” Elessar demanded.


Draughâsh snarled.  “Old habits will not be conquered in a day,” he said.  “The man was dead, and we had more need of his meat than he.  I tell you again, we want no fight with Gondor, but I could tell you much of some that do.”


“And why should I listen?” Elessar countered.  “I have no reason to trust you.”


“The loss is yours,” Draughâsh said with a snide smile.  “Send back the Elf.  He has reason enough.”


“You will speak to me or to no one,” Elessar demanded.  “What was your purpose in entering Gondor?”


“We came to hunt lest we starve.”


“Why did you attack the Elvenking?”


“I was defending my people whom he would have slaughtered.”


“Why, then, did you spare his life?”


A low growl rumbled in Draughâsh’s throat as he wearied of the questioning.  “Because he had done nothing deserving of death!” he spat at last.  “I have already been made to destroy too much that is good, and I will not be compelled to do evil again.”


It was not an answer expected of an Orc.  Elessar glanced fleetingly at Thranduil, who nodded.  He stared piercingly at the Uruk a few moments more, and then abruptly turned and left the dungeon.  Imrahil and Thranduil followed.


Upstairs, the King began pacing in front of the fire on the hearth, the warmth providing some respite after the damp below.  “Thranduil, make me understand,” he said at last.


“You must consider how deeply the realities of the world have been altered since the war,” Thranduil explained.  “There are very few creatures who are evil without the choice to be otherwise.  Even Morgoth was pure in his beginning. We have all been told how he made Orcs from Elves, and that after his defeat Sauron took them for his own.  Now Sauron is gone, and his driving hatred with him, leaving these wretches free at last to think.”


“Are you saying you believe all Orcs will now begin living in virtue?”


Thranduil scoffed impatiently.  “None may presume to expect that,” he said, “any more than I can pretend that all Elves have been gracious or that all Men have been worthy, but I am beginning to believe that all Orcs may now have awakened to that possibility, and the ramifications will be quite serious.  As often as I have bloodied my sword, I have not yet become a murderer, and I do not intend to begin now through willful ignorance.”


It was a startling possibility to consider, that an entire race considered to be mindless monsters had possibly remembered how to be something more.  Imrahil thought of Draughâsh and his companions, shunned by Men and their own kind alike, trying to rediscover their lost dignity in secret.  It must be a difficult and lonely existence, and for a moment he reflected that it would have been easier in their position to abandon the attempt and lead instead the vicious and selfish lives so often chosen by desperate people.  Why were they determined to make such sacrifices?  Immediately he knew they might as well ask why slaves desire to be free.  Some ideals are worth whatever sacrifice may be required.


Elessar stared silently into the fire, thinking.  “The question certainly merits further investigation,” he finally agreed.  “You did well to send for me.  But, regardless of the larger implications, our present situation remains our first concern.  The prisoner intimated that he may have knowledge of enemies of Gondor.  What would you, both of you, counsel me to do?  Should I trust him?”


Imrahil was not yet ready to venture an opinion.  Even Thranduil hesitated a moment before committing to an answer.


“I believe it would be folly to dismiss him outright,” the Elvenking said at last.  “I have nothing more than my own instinct to convince you, but I would hear him.”


“It may be difficult to justify acting upon any accusations made by a captive Uruk,” Imrahil observed.


“Let us fight that battle when we come to it,” Elessar said.  “If he is in earnest, perhaps Draughâsh knows something of the man who brought Beleg’s body this far from Cormallen.”  He steeled himself for a moment, staring into the flames, and then rose to return to the cells.


Draughâsh did not look surprised by their return.  He seemed to have been expecting them, but apparently had respect enough for King Elessar’s pride to refrain from gloating.


“The Elvenking believes you to be sincere,” Elessar said crisply, “and his trust is not to be lightly dismissed.  I am resolved to give you a hearing.  Who are these enemies of Gondor?”


Draughâsh deliberately savored the moment before condescending to reply.  “You may have reason to credit my veracity,” he said, “but what reason have I to credit yours?  What pledge am I to be given?”


The King’s eyes narrowed.  The tables had been turned.  It was true that Orcs had never expected or received mercy from anyone in the past.  Perhaps Draughâsh could be forgiven for expecting to be treated with the same savagery meted out to his race in previous ages.


“I will spare your life,” Elessar promised, “should your information prove to be accurate.  You will be free to return to your people, although I cannot promise that you or they will ever be welcome in Gondor.”


“You are nothing if not a Man of your word, Elessar,” Draughâsh growled.  “We know that well enough.  Very well.  Your enemy is a corsair who slinks among you unseen, Radhruin by name.  It was he who brought the dead man to us.  It is said that he often acts as the creature of the Lord of Pelargir, who has long been in league with Umbar.”


Elessar did not move.  His face might have been set in granite, though his color drained.  Imrahil, too, began to consider past events in the light of this accusation, and he felt lightheaded as well.  A tall, dark, swarthy man had been described by the stable boys, a description that may well fit a corsair.  He could not imagine any reason for such a man to act at such great risk in such a petty way against the Elvenking if not in the employ of some larger purpose.


“You must have compelling reasons to accuse a Lord of Gondor of such blatant treason,” Elessar said icily.


“The Lords of Pelargir have been in league with Umbar for three generations,” Draughâsh said, realizing the gravity of the revelation.  “Did you know nothing of it?”


Elessar left the dungeon in a swirl of black and white.  Imrahil rushed to follow him, his extremities numb with shock.  He knew Lord Falathar had never been popular, but he had not imagined him to be a traitor.  All the mysterious crimes of the past weeks were falling shatteringly into place, but he did not yet know how to make sense of them.


Upstairs, Elessar turned on them, a wild gleam in his eyes.  “It is because of my assessment,” he declared.  “They have determined to murder Prince Faramir and to blame Lord Baldor!  Erellont would have been the obvious heir to Denethor’s line through his mother.  I have been blind!  Thranduil, I am mortified that your life might have been forfeit to this plot.”


“They are not the first who have failed to kill me,” Thranduil said, remarkably calm now that an explanation had been discovered.  “Now they shall be made to regret it, as have many before them.  What will you do?”


“We cannot yet reveal who has betrayed them,” Elessar replied, thinking even as he spoke.  “Considering how awry their plans have gone, both Falathar and Erellont are fools if they have not already fled.  We must find this corsair and confirm his allegiance to Pelargir immediately.”


“He will be found,” Thranduil promised.  “Leave him to me.”


“Imrahil,” Elessar continued, “you must summon the Swan Knights.  We march upon Pelargir tomorrow.”


 





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