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38
The Black Feathers

A little sidebar to Passages. Elphir and I just had a rather disturbing conversation...


~~~

Captain Tufayl was out of their reach. Elphir had heard his father tell Brand as much. And it was true-to a point. Best not to get the boy’s expectations up, even if it would allay his fears to know that his nemesis was dead.

This was not a business for his father or Erchirion. Or even for Amrothos, though he often helped Elphir with the codes and the more mundane, information-gathering aspects of the intelligence network. Elphir knew that his brother, for all his formidable intellect, was still an innocent in many ways, and he intended to keep it that way if he could.

And it was a risk. He’d spent a long time setting this part of the web up and to risk it for mere vengeance’s sake was a departure from the pragmatism that made him so ideally suited for this task. And hopefully for the princedom as well, when his turn came.

But Tufayl had preyed upon their people. And had almost killed Boromir’s only son, so newly discovered, already so well-loved. It could not go unanswered.

Elphir knew how people regarded him. Imrahil’s personable oldest, loving husband and father. The lesser son of a greater father. A competent heir and second-in-command. And that opinion served him well. The other side of him was his secret alone, and he saw no conflict between it and his honor as a Swan Knight. Foes met honorably in battle deserved honor in return. Foes who preyed upon the weak and children were something else again... His usually amiable expression was hard as he scribed the last few coded words of the short note, his eyes sea-ice. The orcs at the Black Gate might have recognized the expression, but very few living men had seen it.

Elphir set a handful of black swan feathers into the note, then sealed it. The seal itself was the sigil of another feather, and the wax was black.

**********


From Harondor to Umbar the black feathers traveled, and then even farther south, to Far Harad. At each stop along the way, two left the number until the last two made their way to Khand. And there, in a middling port city at the fullest extent of the web, they found their prey.

It was a rough town, and sailors were a quarrelsome lot. It was not uncommon for the tide to wash the odd body ashore, killed in a brawl. But the watch found it strange that a reasonably wealthy captain would do so, particularly when questioning determined that the Haradrim had not been involved in any quarrel that any could remember. In fact, as far as anyone could tell, he’d not even left his ship that evening.

What was also odd was that the man had been strangled in a most professional manner. And that a black feather had been knotted into the cord sunk into the swollen flesh of his throat.

*************


Months later, the packet came across Elphir’s desk, slipped into all the mundane correspondence that fell to him now due to his father’s absence in Dale. A page torn from the journal of a port watch, describing the discovery of a Captain Tufayl of Umbar’s strangled body, caught up against a pier in the harbor. A note in code from Elphir’s Khandian factor, telling of gold paid out in reward. Another brief note, also in code-“Strangled and thrown overboard, as you requested.“ And a single black swan’s feather, unharmed from its long journey.

Elphir took up the swan’s feather and stroked it gently. Upon his face was a most satisfied smile.

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