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4
“You’ve finally come far enough to find me...”

Brand was on the beach at Dol Amroth, walking towards the point, troubled because he had forgotten something. What was it? Oh, yes, his fishing pole. He was going to meet Gellam and he had to go back and find his fishing pole.

He turned around and started back towards the city, but no matter how long he walked, it never seemed to get any nearer. So he started running, and ran till he was out of breath and his heart racing in his chest, but still he made no progress. The city was as far away as ever. The sun was almost white overhead in a white-blue sky, and it seemed to him that it should be hot, but it didn’t feel that way. In fact, it was chilly. There was a breeze that would blow every now and again, and it whined past his ears like midges or mosquitoes. Oddly, the breeze seemed warmer than the air.

He had to get back to Dol Amroth! He needed his fishing pole and besides, his family would be missing him! Brand started to run again, frantic. The city shimmered, mirage-like, ahead in the distance. He ran and ran, faster and faster. He kept running, till he felt that he might fall down of exhaustion if he did not stop. And when he finally did stop, he could tell that he’d still not closed the distance. A frustrated sob broke from him.

A gull cried overhead, then another. Gulls were beginning to come from all quarters of the sky. They were descending in a quarreling, screeching flock to the beach directly ahead of him. He remembered what Geliran had told him, that he should not approach the gulls, but get the City Guard instead. But how could he do that? The gulls were between him and the city!

And now something was coming through the gulls. Brand could see the dark shape of it, and whatever it was, it was tall! Remembering the drowned bodies, he backed away a few steps, then a few more. The strange white sun, which had been overhead just a moment ago, was now sinking into the ocean, and there was a moon rising over the dunes. The moon at least looked as it should. The sun sank in a blaze of pinks and oranges and purples, the gulls dispersed and as a cool blue light seemed to suffuse the beach, the figure came towards Brand. It was a man, he could tell at last, dark haired, wearing a white shirt and a pair of nondescript dark breeches. He didn’t look drowned. He wore no stockings or shoes, and carried no weapon in his hands. A huge bird flew overhead, its shadow passing over the man, its pinions silvered by the moon, and it uttered a screaming cry as it flew into the West. Brand thought it might be an eagle, but if it was, it was the biggest one he’d ever seen or heard of.

The man was drawing closer now. Brand could see his face, and it was the face from the portrait in the Steward’s House in Minas Tirith.

“Hullo, Brandmir,” a voice he had never heard in life said. “You’ve finally come far enough to find me.”


8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

Then, somehow, without any time seeming to have passed at all, they were sitting on the dunes together in the moonlight.

“Well, you’re in a bit of a fix, and no mistake,” said Boromir. While apparently aware of his son’s troubles, he did not seem unduly distressed by them.

“What shall I do?” Brand asked. He felt very odd, sitting here talking to his dead father.

Boromir flashed him a grin. “Well, lad, there’s an old saying among soldiers- Fortune is a lady who favors a bold suitor.

“What is that supposed to mean? Aren’t you here to help me?”

“Whatever gave you that idea? I am here to give you a message to give to Andra. I could never reach him like I could reach Uncle and Faramir, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance again, so see that you live and get back to him. I know something now that I didn’t know when I fell, and he needs to know it too. ‘Tis very simple, just three words-Glorfindel was right. Tell him that. He will know what it means.”

Disappointed and feeling more than a little bereft, Brand nodded, arms clasped around knees, his head bowed. Boromir, twirling a blade of dune grass between his fingers, watched his son thoughtfully.

“What would you have done, Brandmir, had I been alive and you met me knowing what you know now about me and Andrahar?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about it yet.”

Boromir smiled wistfully. “I wish I had been able to come back, for Andra’s sake. It would have been grand! Faramir could have been Steward with my blessing, and I could have been Aragorn’s Captain-General. The Gondor the three of us could have made together! And I could have been with Andra openly at last.”

Irritated, Brand snapped, “Oh, do you think so? Do you think your men would have followed a buggerer?”

His father chuckled, and lay back upon his elbows, looking up at the stars. “Of course they would have! They’d have followed me even if I tupped sheep! Don’t confuse morality with competence, Brandmir. To a soldier, only one thing matters-does the man who will make the decision about how to spend my life know what he’s doing? Will he not waste it? My staff suspected I was a lover of men, particularly towards the end, when I stopped making any pretence of looking for a wife. You know from Andra that the officers in the Swan Knights know about him, and I’ll guarantee his tastes are speculated about in the ranks, given that he’s not been seen with a woman in almost fifty years. I daresay they think that he and Uncle are sleeping together right now! Do you think that stops any soldier of Dol Amroth from jumping when Andra tells him to jump? And he’s Haradrim to boot! They may indeed resent him for his nationality and what they suspect are his preferences, but they also know that he knows his business better than almost anyone in Gondor, and in the end, that’s what counts.”

“It’s a perversion!”

“According to whom? It is not in Khand-there are men there who only sleep with women to make their sons-they sleep with boys the rest of the time so as to not pollute their ‘masculine essence’.” Boromir gave his son a wicked grin. “You’d be very popular in Khand.”

Hurt, Brand muttered, “That’s not funny! Particularly since I might end up there!”

Boromir snorted. “Oh, don’t give up hope just yet! You still might get out of your situation-provided you use your head and the things that you’ve already been taught, which are more than you realize you know.” He sat back up and stretched. “Anyway, where was I? Oh yes-the most famous courtly epic poetry of Harad almost all deals with the love of shield-mates. Kedara and Asinyal for instance.”

“The Captain has that one. I’ve seen it. It’s about two men?”

“Indeed it is. Two warriors who are lovers. And the Elves don’t care about who sleeps with whom-love is love as far as they’re concerned.”

“Everything I’ve heard about Elves says they’re strange.”

“Perhaps…having met some, I can’t disagree with you about that. But there are scions of good old Numenor itself who agree with the Elves. You should ask Aragorn about what goes on among the Rangers some time-I’m sure you’ll find it enlightening.”

“The Northern Rangers do it?”

“A few of them. Some of the Rohirrim as well, if my old friend Théodred was to be believed. Though Éomer’s got a stick up his arse about lovers of men.”

Brand sat stunned, as his world view reoriented itself. As he had wondered earlier, it seemed as if there were lovers of men everywhere and more of them than he had imagined. His father watched him with an amused smile on his face.

“Did I leave anyone out? Let’s see…Dunlanders. I don’t know about the Dunlanders for certain. But having seen some of their women, I suspect they’re lovers of men out of necessity. Or perhaps they turn to their livestock for consolation…” Shocked, Brand felt his face heat at the very idea. His father chuckled.

“So there you have it. It’s really only Gondor that has the problem with it; well, Gondor and some of the Rohirrim. And Gondorians are hypocrites. That sodomy law that was on the books for forever until Aragorn repealed it?-oh, and if you get the chance, do tell him that I appreciate that for Andra’s sake-it was never enforced unless the particular man-lover had made an enemy of someone more powerful than he was, who wanted to ruin him politically.”

“I don’t care who thinks it’s acceptable! The idea disgusts me!”

“Hmmmm…sounds to me like you do know how you feel about it! And it’s not something you ever want to do yourself, because it doesn’t tickle your particular fancy. You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion. But don’t go about condemning people because their fancies are different from yours. The time you’ll spend making love in your life is a very small portion of time, really, and it has very little bearing on everything else you’ll accomplish. So how you do it is really not that important-providing that both parties are in agreement about what goes on and are adults.”

Boromir rolled over onto one elbow and looked Brand in the eye.

“Try this one on for size-since you are base-born, you cannot possibly have any honor and your deeds, no matter how heroic, are tainted by the stain of your birth.”

Brand flushed. “I can’t help that I was base-born. I would think bastards could be heroes just like anybody else.”

Exactly! Got it first time around! What a bright lad you are! Andra and I can’t help the way we were born either.”

“But…the captain said he doesn’t know if he was born that way or not. He thinks maybe it was because he was a catamite when he was younger.”

“Well, I wasn’t a catamite! I had been sleeping with women since I was fifteen! Lots of women! And the time came when I realized that it just didn’t work for me any more. So I went to Andra and asked him to sleep with me so I would know if I were a lover of men or not. Yes-I was the one who started it, not Andra! He didn’t seduce me, if that was what you were thinking. Honestly, Brandmir-do you truly believe for one moment that he is raising you up to be his lover?”

“I…no, not really. He said he would never do that, and his word is good. Besides, I don’t see the Prince standing by while such a thing happened, even if I am base-born. But Captain Andrahar raised you, didn’t he?”

“Not really. Oh, he instructed me in arms when I was at Dol Amroth, but I spent most of my boyhood in Minas Tirith when all was said and done. But I had been with him enough to know that he was absolutely honest, trustworthy and discrete. So that was why I took my dilemma to him. And he didn’t disappoint me. He never has.”

“He was a lot older than you were, though.”

Boromir nodded, and sat up suddenly, pulling up another piece of dune grass to twist. “He was,” he agreed, “though I was a man full grown and the Captain-General when I came to him, Brandmir-I’ll have you remember that. I ranked him, rather than the other way around. Probably the only good thing about my dying early was that I used to worry that the day would come when because of the age difference between us he would refuse me, cast me off and tell me to get a younger lover. And I didn’t want that! I wanted Andra-even when he became old and wrinkly and cantankerous. I would have happily loved him until the day he died.”

He looked at his son directly once more. “Had I lived, would you have liked it better if I had found you after having done what was expected of me and married a woman despite my preferences? Made her miserable by trying to live a lie? Made myself miserable as well? Forced you to live in an unhappy home? I think perhaps that you already have already had your fill of domestic strife.”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Would you have wanted to live with your father if he was openly living with another man? Could the whoreson bastard have handled public opinion about that?”

“I …don’t know about that either.”

“Goodness, but there are quite a lot of things you don’t know, aren’t there? You’re going to have to cultivate some decision-making ability, Brandmir, if you ever hope to be a commander. And I cannot stay any longer to wait until you make up your mind. So know this-there are things I did in my life that I do regret. I do not regret refusing to live a lie. I do not regret refusing to marry a woman and make her miserable. And I will never, ever regret loving Andrahar! So you, my son, are just going to have to come to terms with that in whatever way seems best to you.” He rolled to his feet in one smooth motion, and brushed the sand off of his breeches. A hand was extended down to Brandmir, who after a moment’s hesitation took it and was pulled easily to his feet.

“I’ve been a bit of a bastard myself here tonight, so let me make amends now,” Boromir said. He released Brand’s hand and took his head gently between sword-callused hands, looking him in the eyes. “You are a grand, well-grown, handsome lad and what I do regret is that we’ll never have the chance to know each other . You are a good and brave lad as well, and you’re going to need every bit of your courage and your wits in the next little while. You have my blessing, for whatever that is worth,” and he pressed his lips, soft and warm, to Brand’s brow, “and my hope that you will be able to come to terms with this and look after Andra for me. You don’t need me to tell you that you are good for each other.” He cocked his head suddenly, as if hearing something that was inaudible to Brand.

“I have to go. Some people used me pretty badly to get something done that needed to happen, and I have a sort of dispensation as a result. But it only goes so far.” Suddenly, Brand was enveloped in the embrace he’d often dreamed of on the long, cold winter nights in the carter’s garret, the warm embrace of a father. Boromir’s arms were very strong and hard, and though he was only clothed and not armored, Brand fancied there was a scent of leather and steel about him nonetheless. Those arms tightened for a moment, till Brand felt his ribs creak a bit, then released him. Boromir stepped back.

“Don’t forget to give Andra my message, lad. And tell him that I love him, while you’re about it. Valar guard and guide.”

“You too, sir,” Brand whispered.

Boromir, already turning away and starting down the dune, looked back over his shoulder and grinned, teeth flashing white in the moonlight. “Have no fear of that!” He strode away, and Brand watched him go, a dark shape against the moonlit beach that dwindled away in the distance until, suddenly, between one blink and the next it was gone.

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

Brand woke to the smallest bit of pale light filtering down from the hatches above, and lay quietly, thinking about his dream, if dream it had been. Had that truly been his father? He would have thought that a dream Boromir would have been, well, more polite, or approving or affectionate. An idealized father figure, not flippant and insulting and a bit crude, which made him inclined to believe that he’d had some sort of actual visitation. I could never reach him like I could reach Uncle and Faramir Boromir had said-both Imrahil and Faramir had the Dol Amroth gift, as did Brand. Perhaps one of them could tell him the form their visitations with Boromir had taken-providing Brand ever got the opportunity to talk to them about it!

His left arm had fallen asleep, because in the night Eiliriel had rolled over and laid her head upon his left shoulder as if it were a pillow. Carefully, he slid out from beneath the little girl, and then from beneath the blankets. Rolling to his feet, he found that in the night, someone had come down and cleaned up the floor and emptied the bucket. So he used it again, wishing once more that there was water for him to wash with. That habit had been driven into him so forcefully upon his arrival at Dol Amroth that the inability to do so was making him uncomfortable. The blankets had been musty and none too clean and he was already feeling grubby and malodorous.

It was not long before the children awoke and then there was a repeat of the last evening’s business, with Eiliriel wanting her privacy once more. When they’d all finished, Brand set them to folding the blankets into a padded seat that they could rest upon and when that was done he brought out the bread he’d saved from the night before. Tullus refrained manfully, saying he’d had enough at last night’s supper, but Celeg and Eiliriel fell upon it ravenously, though they complained of being thirsty afterwards. Fortunately, the mute sailor brought them food soon after, another tough loaf of bread and some dates and water, and this time the two younger children did not get sick.

Once the diversion of breakfast was over, there was not anything to do. Brand thought for a moment about getting the children to talk about their families, but then decided that that would just upset them.

Eiliriel said, after fidgeting about for some minutes, “Big boy, tell some more of the story.”

“I think perhaps we will save that for tonight,” Brand demurred. “It will give us something to look forward to.”

“But we need to talk about something!” Tullus protested. “There’s nothing else to do down here.”

Brand cast about in his mind a bit desperately. “I went to Minas Tirith back in the spring. Would you like to hear about that? Have any of you ever been there?”

None of them had, and all of them were interested. So Brand found himself speaking of the multi-tiered city and all of the sights he’d seen.

“Did you ever see the King?” Celeg asked after he’d been talking for a while. “And the Queen?” Eiliriel added.

“I did indeed. They came to the Prince’s house for dinner one night.”

“What are they like?” Tullus asked, intrigued.

“The King looks like he’s the tallest man in Gondor. He walks very swiftly on those long legs-that’s why his house is named Telcontar. It’s funny to see him walking through the Citadel and all his courtiers scampering after, trying to keep up. He has dark hair with only a little grey in it, despite the fact that he’s about ninety years old. His eyes are grey too, and when he looks at you, it’s like he’s looking right through you down to your soul.”

“He sounds scary!” Celeg said. Eiliriel and Tullus nodded agreement.

“I think he could be, if he wanted to,” Brand said thoughtfully. “There’s no doubt about that, you can feel it about him. But he never was when I saw him, he was always very soft-spoken. He has a bit of a strange accent though.”

“What about the Queen? I want to know about the Queen and her pretty dresses!” Eiliriel commanded.

“Hmmmm, let’s see. I don’t remember much about dresses as a rule,” Brand wrinkled his nose for a moment, then smiled at the little girl. “but the night she came to visit the Prince, Queen Arwen was wearing a lavender dress. And it had embroidery all about the neck and wrists and hem, and there were little purple jewels sewn into the embroidery, that glittered when she moved. And tiny pearls as well.”

“Oooooo, that sounds pretty! Did she have her crown on? And lots of jewels?”

“I think she had a necklace to match the dress, and perhaps earrings as well. They had the same sort of jewels on them. But no crown. They don’t wear their crowns unless it’s a formal ceremony or something.”

“Well that’s silly! I thought Kings and Queens wore their crowns all the time! How do you tell who they are?”

“Trust me, you would know if ever you saw them,” Brand said sincerely, “crowns or not.”

“Did the King ever speak to you?” Tullus asked.

“Just once. I was in the dining room, and he was polite, as I’ve said,” Brand answered, and did not explain further. If Tullus chose to think that Brand had been serving in the dining room, Brand would not say anything to change his mind.

“So this is Brandmir, of whom I have heard so much already,” King Elessar Telcontar had said, with an understanding smile for a totally intimidated and consternated boy. “You are the very image of your father, lad. I cannot help but feel that you and I shall be great friends.”

“Is the Queen bee-youtiful? Because queens are supposed to be bee-youtiful,” Eiliriel asserted.

Brand, remembering a voice like music itself and eyes that seemed to hold the starlight‘s glow, nodded. “She is the most beautiful woman in the whole world, ‘tis said, and having seen her, I think it must be true.”

“I should like to see the King and Queen,” Tullus said wistfully. Brand smiled, and spoke without thinking.

“Perhaps they will come to Dol Amroth some day and you’ll have the chance.”

“Unless they come to Umbar from Dol Amroth, I’ll never get the chance,” grumbled Tullus, and Brand winced. There was silence for a long time after that.

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

They were not given any sort of lunch. Sometime after noon, as close as Brand could reckon from the movement of the patch of sunlight streaming down through the hatch, a disturbance broke out. “Ship astern!” came the cry faintly down into the hold and there was a flurry of shouted orders and a thunder of feet over their heads, as the sailors who had been sleeping off-watch awakened and hastened up on deck.

“What’s happening?” Tullus asked.

“I think they might have sighted a ship behind us,” Brand answered, struggling to suppress the surge of hope that leapt flaming into life within him. ‘Chiron, is that you?

Tullus whistled. “Is it a Gondorian ship?”

“I don’t know. Let me listen some more, and see if I can find out.” Brand went to the door of the cage and pressed himself against the bars. Eiliriel got up and came over to him, seating herself beside him.

“Big boy, are my mommy and daddy on the ship?” Looking down at her red-rimmed eyes and woebegone expression, Brand felt a surge of pity and gave her a squeeze, letting her snuggle against his shoulder.

“No, little one, they are not. But it might be a ship from Dol Amroth, come to take us home. That’s what we’re hoping.”

“How will you know?” came Celeg’s question. He too moved over closer to Brand, though he did not snuggle as his sister was doing.

“Hopefully, the sailors will say something about it, but I need everyone to be quiet so I can hear. And it might be a little while before we know for certain-you can see a ship in the distance with a spyglass for a while before you can tell what flag she flies.”

“It sounds like you’ve been on a ship before,” Tullus said enviously.

“I have been once, with my cousin for a couple of days. He’s a sailor.”

“Was it a war-ship, or a merchant ship?”

“A war-ship.”

“However did you manage that? You lucky fellow! I want to be a sailor or maybe a marine in the Navy. But Father says you have to know someone to get in, just like in the Swan Knights.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know how they choose people,” Brand admitted. “My cousin is an officer in the Navy, and he arranged it so that I could sail on the ship for a couple of days to see if I liked it.”

“Did you like it?”

“I did, though I think I would rather be a Swan Knight myself. I am better with horses than ships.” He smiled down at Eiliriel, who was being quiet for once, snuggled up beside him and toying with his hair, and gave another smile to Celeg, who was also behaving admirably. “But we can talk about that another time. Let’s be quiet now for a bit, so I can listen some more and you all listen as well. Your ears are younger than mine, after all.”

Celeg chuckled at that, pointing at Brand and saying, “You have old ears!”

Silence fell as they all strained their ears, young and old. At first there was just the running of the sailors and more orders. There was no way that they could hear the captain up on his quarterdeck, but eventually faint cries of “Dol Amroth! Dol Amroth!” arose from the lookouts. The other children could hear as well, and Tullus whooped.

“Now we’ll see some action! Our sea-dogs will make them sorry they ever stuck their toes in the water!”

“Tullus, it might not be a war-ship. It might simply be one of our merchant vessels.”

But Celeg had brightened at the news, as did had Eiliriel. “Are the soldiers going to come and take us home?” the boy asked hopefully.

“I don’t know,” Brand said. “And,” he warned them a moment later, “even if it’s a war-ship the Haradrim might not give us up without a fight. Slavery is against the law in Gondor. They’ll be in big trouble if they’re boarded and we’re found here.” A chill inexplicably ran through him as he said those words, but the other children didn’t seem to notice anything amiss.

“Let’s listen some more,” Tullus suggested, and they did so. Nothing happened for some time, and becoming bored after a while, Celeg and his sister moved back to the blankets where they set to amusing themselves by unraveling a corner of one. Brand and Tullus stayed at their post close to the door.

Eventually there was a clatter of booted feet coming down the stairs. They stopped on the deck up above, by the stairs, and when the first man spoke Brand could hear his voice clearly. It was the captain.

“A warship!” he said in Haradric. “Flying the royal standard! And closing on us as if they’ve nothing better to do with a whole sea to sail in! Could someone have seen you taking the children?”

“I do not see how, captain.” That was Nezam. “We were very careful.”

“However it happened, we can’t be found with the children aboard, they would hang us all.” The captain sighed in disgust. “And this would have been a far more profitable cargo than our last one-particularly that older boy. But it cannot be helped. Finish them, Nezam, and do it swiftly. No blood! We’ll wrap them up and weight them and throw them over the side before the warship gets any closer. The Gondorrim might suspect, but they won’t be able to prove anything.”

Brand suddenly understood for the first time in his life what terror meant. It was listening to a man discuss killing you and disposing of your body as if you were merely some sort of valuable livestock who had outlived your usefulness. ‘No blood‘? he thought queasily. What does that mean? Do they intend to throttle us? Wring our necks like chickens?

And he must have paled or reacted in some way, for Tullus suddenly looked at him in concern. “Go over with the others, Tullus,” he said softly. There was a tiny quaver in his voice and he knew the boy could hear it. A gentle nudge emphasized the command, and Tullus did as he had been bidden and went to the back of the cage, looking back worriedly over his shoulder at Brand, who drew in a deep breath and let it out again, striving to master himself.

“Hurry, Nezam!” the captain was saying. Brand could hear him hurrying back up the stairs.

The successful negotiator always acts as if he is operating from a position of strength, even if that is not the case, Prince Imrahil had once said. That certainly seemed to apply to Brand’s current position!

He got to his feet and backed away from the door. Nezam came down the stairs, unlocked the cage, then stepped inside. “Come lad,” he said to Brand in Westron, pleasant as if he wasn’t intending to murder him in the next moment, “the captain wants to talk to you.”

No, you just want me to step into your grasp, Brand thought grimly. He dropped into the ready stance Andrahar had taught him instead and the sailor looked surprised.

You go talk to your captain, Nezam,” Brand told him in Haradric. “Tell him that Sharhdad is more clever than both of you. I am no wharf-rat-I’m the one the warship is looking for. The Steward of Gondor is my uncle.”

Nezam’s eyes widened. “You speak our tongue!”

“Oh yes. I’ve been listening to you all along. So know this-I am of the royal house of Dol Amroth, and if you slay me or these children who are under my care, my spirit will curse this ship! You will never have a day’s luck upon the sea until your doom is finally achieved and Ulmo and Ossë drag you all screaming so far down into the depths of the ocean that you will never find the Sacred Fire!”

Sailors, his cousin Erchirion had once stated, are the most superstitious people in the world, except for soldiers. This had been said at the dinner table one night in the palace and there had then followed a conversation about whether one or the other was the most superstitious. Elphir and Erchirion had debated the matter, each giving examples they’d encountered, while Imrahil, with his experience on land and sea, had contributed to both sides. Nonetheless, Brand felt a little silly calling curses down upon Nezam’s head-until he saw the sailor actually pale.

“Get your captain!” he snapped. “NOW!”

For a moment, he thought the man might actually comply. Nezam shivered, then did a little gesture that Brand had seen Andrahar make every great once in a while, that was supposed to ward off misfortune.

“If they are looking for you, then of a certainty you cannot be here when they come!” he cried. “I’m sorry, boy, but I have my orders! Don’t fight me and it won’t even hurt much!” He lunged at Brand, hands seeking his throat, and the children, who had been watching the exchange uncomprehendingly, cried out in surprise and fear.

Weapons are all around you, lad, Andrahar had told him once, if you only think about it. Any everyday object that can harm accidentally may be turned to that purpose with intent. Along with the sword lessons that had begun almost instantly upon his arrival in Dol Amroth-for he had, Andrahar had said, years to make up in that-the Armsmaster had from time to time given him some personal instruction in the art of dirty street fighting.

So as Nezam lunged, he slipped to the left. The man’s hand slapped across his upper chest, but did not achieve a purchase. Brand’s hand, however, did find its target, the handle of the bucket. With a squeak, it came free of the hook that kept it from tipping over in heavy seas and with both hands, he hurled the contents up into Nezam’s face. Some of the ordure spattered him as well, but uncaring, he kept moving. The sailor cried out in surprise and disgust, scrabbling at his eyes, and as he did so Brand dropped the bucket and went for Nezam’s waist, where his father’s knife was belted.

Feeling him close, Nezam reached down blindly with befouled hands and got the grip on Brand’s throat he had wanted. But Brand had gotten what he was seeking as well, the hilt of the knife sliding into his hand almost eagerly it seemed, and as Nezam’s hands tightened and stars began to appear whitely in his vision, he shoved the knife into the man’s belly once, then again.

It was easier than he had thought it would be. There was no real resistance at all, and for a moment he thought that he’d missed. Then Nezam’s hands fell away from his throat and the man was toppling backwards, clutching his belly and groaning. Eiliriel was screaming now, but the noise barely registered. Brand’s focus was entirely upon the man down upon the deck before him, staring up at him with uncomprehending eyes, the man he knew was dead already, though it might take as long as a couple of excruciating hours for Nezam’s body to register that fact.

Brand wanted to weep. He wanted to throw up. He wanted to get as far away from Nezam as he could until the man passed away, somewhere where he couldn’t hear the Haradrim’s moans of agony. But he knew his duty. Hunter or soldier, you did not wound then leave your prey to suffer.

“I am sorry. I don’t know how to do this so it doesn’t hurt,” he told the man in his native tongue. “The Fire take you home.” And he swiftly stooped and cut Nezam’s throat.

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