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11
Sacrifice

Day 23: sacrifice

Summary: Duty can leave you feeling so very exposed...

Tongue in cheek interpretation of the prompt, obviously!


“We attacked the Corsair vessel straight on. I was over the rail first, and Andra was right at my side. It was the most fiercely fought action I had ever been in, and a great many of my men fell. Have you ever seen the scar on Andra’s leg?”

“No sir. He’s always very particular about taking his baths and such in private.”

“The Haradrim are more body modest than we are.”

-- Imrahil and Brand, Passages, chapter 8


~~~

Dol Amroth, 2972, T.A.

A night above Dol Amroth's docks was usually a raucous affair, particularly when The Swan's Cove saw an invasion of landsmen. Things got lively then, though it was more drink and high spirits and a proud rivalry at back of it all, rather than the truly bitter, deep feuds that flourished in some places. Andrahar had been quick to learn the names of those taverns, and he would never have allowed Imrahil to set foot in a single one of them, even if he had to knock the Heir out himself and carry him to safe ground to save him from himself.

But The Swan's Cove was acceptable, though even so, Andrahar as a rule nursed his cups like a miser kept his coins – Imrahil could drink himself drunk if he liked, but one of them had to be sober for the walk home, to keep any pickpockets or other mischief away.

Tonight, however, Andrahar stared at the whiskey Imrahil had ordered and felt dreadfully tempted.

Even worse, however, was the humiliation of being saved from himself by Imrahil, of all people. The heir to Dol Amroth was for once being very temperate with his drinking – he'd been savoring those two fingers of the pungent stuff for the last two hours – and had informed Andrahar he was permitted one ale and no more than one shot of whatever Imrahil decided upon.

“You're not getting out of this,” his young lord had declared that afternoon, with cheerful malice. “Not even if I have to forgo some of the best whiskey to be had outside grandfather's cellar.”

Andrahar had bridled and said a few choice words about the sacredness of duty and honor, and then headed off for a punishing round of sparring to take his mind off matters. And if someone had managed to take him down so hard he couldn't be trusted with tomorrow's task, well, he wouldn't precisely have been disappointed, so long as the defeat (and the injury) had been earned.

Unfortunately, he had been thwarted by his own ability: the punishment had mostly accrued to his sparring partners, and he had run out of them before he'd wearied enough to make mistakes – survival instinct was a powerful force among even swordsmen, after all.

So here he was, in perfectly fine fighting condition, and tomorrow was staring him in the face. As was his lord, who was clearly enjoying himself far too much. Pity, he thought, that Imrahil hadn't followed him down to the practice grounds, as that might have solved two problems at once...

“Honestly, Andra,” Imrahil said just then, taking a minute, appreciative sip of the whiskey, rolling it about his mouth before he continued. “I don't know why you're so very set against this. Harad has a fine naval tradition – ”

Umbar breeds Corsairs, who harry these coasts and may well see you to an early end, Imri,” he cut in.

Imrahil, undeterred by this correction and reminder, continued as if he had not spoken: “ – a fine naval tradition, and where there are navies, there are sea dogs. And where there are sea dogs, there are folk who swim.” He paused slightly, to let that point sink in, before concluding: “Haradrim do not spontaneously dissolve when plunged into the sea, therefore, and many do not even drown.”

“I am not one of that many.”

“I've seen you take a bath, you don't dissolve.” Andrahar growled; Imrahil just tipped his head back and laughed. Andrahar glared at him.

“You're too easy, you know,” Imrahil said, when he'd regained himself somewhat.

“I am so very glad that you are enjoying this.”

“You would, too, were you in this chair.”

“I could have you out of it handily enough,” he offered, and there was that in his tone that said he was only half-joking.

“Mm.” The prince eyed his dearest friend and devoted guardian a moment. “I do not doubt you could,” he conceded, then set his glass down firmly and leaned forward a bit on his elbows, hands clasped. “All right,” he said, suddenly serious. “What is it truly, Andra? No one wishes to drown, 'tis true, but the whole point of learning to swim is so you won't. So that can't be the problem.”

“The sea is wet and cold.”

“Wet, yes; cold, not necessarily. Certainly not at this time of year, and as close to the shore as we'll be. Besides,” Imrahil said, brushing the usual list of the sea's sins aside, “snow is wet and cold, yet you will go out in that.”

“Because I must. This is no different,” Andrahar said shortly, and took a drink, if only to spare himself the look Imrahil was giving him. Not that the tactic seemed to work. Imrahil's eyes narrowed, and he cocked his head at his friend. “My lord?”

“I do believe,” Imrahil replied mildly, after a considering moment, “that you're lying to me.” He shook his head, and said, with apparently genuine amazement: “Apparently it takes an ocean!”

Andrahar grimaced, fought the urge to shift uncomfortably in his seat. “Imri...”

“No, I want to hear this,” Imrahil forestalled him. “You've never really given me an answer as to why the thought of swimming puts the wind up your back so. 'We don't swim' isn't a reason; it isn't even true. So what is it?” And when Andrahar only gazed fixedly down at the tabletop and stubbornly said nothing, he wheedled, “Come on, Andra. Do you not like fish?”

“Not particularly.”

“Very well. But they are not the problem, I do not think. Afraid of lurking sea monsters?” This earned him a disdainful glare, to which Imrahil simply shrugged. “Seasickness?”

“I wouldn't know.”

“Well, you did not feel nauseated when we sailed here from Umbar, so I think we may safely say that is not the problem,” Imrahil reasoned. He considered Andrahar a long moment, and something like concern slid over his face. “Andra,” the young prince said, hesitantly, “you never... I mean, this isn't because of something that... happened... to you, is it?”

As oblique as that was, Andrahar grasped the point immediately. “No,” he said quickly.

“You're certain?” Imrahil pressed, seeming unconvinced, which was rather disconcerting. “You would tell me, if it were so?”

“Yes.” And when Imrahil still watched him worriedly, he sighed. “I do not hate the sea for the sailors who hired me,” he said in a low voice, and then on impulse, seeing that Imrahil seemed yet to waver, he laid his right hand upon the table, turning his palm up in offer to the other. “I swear this is the truth, Imrahil.”

That seemed, finally, to relieve the worry so unexpectedly conceived, and Imrahil smiled with relief, reaching to clasp his hand, pressing it firmly. “Thank you,” he said. “I am sorry, Andra, I simply... I don't understand. It's just water!”

Andrahar sighed, lowering his eyes once more, and silently cursed the fact that he couldn't deny Imrahil anything – not when he said such things and looked at him like that! “It is not the water,” he finally admitted.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I am not afraid of the water.”

“Then of what, if not that?”

“It isn't fear.”

At this, Imrahil blinked, surprised. “Not fear?” he repeated. Andrahar shook his head, and the Heir's brow knit in puzzlement. “Then what is it?”

“Swimming... it is unseemly.”

Imrahil was clearly taken aback. “Unseemly?” he repeated, blankly. “Why?”

Andrahar just stared at him, not willing to say it – not when Imrahil really ought to be to figure it out himself. The Heir frowned, perplexedly, considering the complaint and his friend's expression, and everything he knew of Harad, then put two and two together and came up with... “Oh.” A beat, then: “But you take more off in the baths, Andra!”

You take off more in the baths and don't bother to hide it,” Andrahar corrected him, somewhat testily. “I have some consideration for you, even if the lot of you are shameless!”

Which they were, and Andrahar had managed for two years to bite his tongue and say nothing, so as not to put up with more abuse than he already endured from the other esquires. But it was hard to have to walk each day into a room full of men who hadn't a scrap of modesty – or clothing – about each other when it came to bath houses! And they had the gall to call Haradrim perverse! At least Haradrim, he always thought, fulminatingly, just because of their 'perversity,' knew how to keep themselves decently concealed with towels while still attending to their baths, and Andrahar was scrupulous about maintaining such habits, for the sake of his own sensibilities as much as prudence.

The very thought, therefore, of stripping down to his underdrawers in public, on a beach, where, burn him and the Giver's bones, Dol Amroth's pearl-divers and rock fishers were like to be – no. It was unseemly. It was uncivilized! To make matters worse, for reasons he could not fathom, many of the pearl-divers were women or girls – all of the lower classes, obviously – and they were very nearly as shameless as any of the lads. Andrahar could tolerate many things, so he told himself, and so long as he was not required to participate in the mass, shameless perversity that was swimming, he could even tolerate sharing a beach with skinny little lasses and their mothers, all of them in what he assumed were their undershifts, diving and swimming and running about as if there were no one to see them.

But he was absolutely not going to join in.

Not unless he absolutely had to.

Sadly, it looked as though he were absolutely going to have to. Imrahil had cajoled and pleaded to no avail for nearly a month, but in the end, he knew how to snare his friend. All he'd had to do was appeal to Andrahar's sense of duty.

“What if I were to go to sea, Andra? You would come with me, would you not?” Imrahil had asked.

“If you were to go to sea, then I would come, of course,” Andrahar had answered.

“But what would you do if you could not swim and were to fall overboard?”

“Drown, I expect,” had been his response.

“Exactly,” Imrahil had exclaimed. Then, with his most earnest look – for which Andrahar cordially loathed him – and tone, had said: “Andra, you are my oath-bound man, and I know you would follow me for that bond, but would you have me fail in my own oath to you? Should not a lord care for his people, and especially those whom he loves? But how can I do that if you will not let me teach you how to save yourself from the sea? I should have to leave you ashore.”

And so he'd been netted, like one of the idiot fish, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it – except possibly snatch the bottle and down enough to make himself sick tomorrow. Which would only put off the misery for another day, of course, but that would be one more day...

But no, no, he was going to do this and get it over with. Duty was duty, and sacrifices had to be made, though he promised himself that Imrahil was going to suffer on the practice grounds for every blasted day he had to spend in the cursedly elvish waters. Yes, that was only fair – and friendly in the way of serving his lord's best interests, that, too...

Just then, Imrahil smiled and shook his head fondly. “All this fuss over the sea and a little swimming because it is 'unseemly!'” he chortled. “But happily, you need not fear. Modesty shall be safe, I promise.”

“Oh?” Andrahar asked suspiciously, for the mischievous gleam in his lord's eyes was not at all reassuring.

“Oh yes. For you see, on ship, one is most likely to fall into the water during a battle or else when there is a storm – no one will insist upon you taking a swim otherwise. But I rather doubt that either storm or pirate shall pause to let you disrobe first before flinging you into the sea. So you're going to have to learn to swim with all that on, though it will rather make matters more difficult.”

“By 'all that', you mean full harness?”

Imrahil nodded. “Chain mail and all. Never fear, we'll work our way up to that, but you're not going in with less on than you have now.”

“You promise?”

“By the oath that binds us,” Imrahil said solemnly, though that gleam belied the gravity of the words. Still, Imrahil's word was inviolate, and Andrahar felt a rather crooked grin spread across his face. “Of course,” the young prince added, “you're also going to have to learn how to fall off a ship's deck with all of it on, which means I'm going to have to toss you overboard so you can practice, but...”

Imrahil trailed off, and smiled beatifically. Andrahar shook his head, and finished off his ale in a long swallow, then pushed pushed the tankard towards his friend, who caught it, examined its depths a moment, then obligingly poured two fingers of whiskey into the bottom and handed it back. Andrahar tossed that off, too, and grimaced. “The kheliss here is better.”

“Well, now we know. And you're done, so,” Imrahil rose, and Andrahar swiftly followed suit. They left a few coins on the table for the serving lad, and settled their cloaks round their shoulders. In companionable silence, they walked the long way back up to the keep, and once there, headed straight for the Fledglings' Wing. Andrahar left Imrahil before his door, and continued on up to his own quarters. But ere he had reached them, Imrahil called after him:

“Andra.” He paused, glancing back over his shoulder to find Imrahil hanging off the bevel of his door, grinning evilly. “Docks tomorrow – be there early, for unless I miss my mark, we've got quite a bit of work to do.”

Andrahar shook his head at the other's enthusiasm, and Imrahil chuckled once more. “Good night, Andra,” he said, then.

“Good night, my lord. And Imri,” he called softly down the hall. Imrahil, who had just gone within, stuck his head back out, brows lifted questioningly. “You have my thanks for... arranging... matters.”

Imrahil blinked at him, but then that lovely slow smile spread over his face. “My pleasure,” he replied. “Good night!”

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