Storm Front - Chapter 2

"My lord, an urgent message from our western border."

Lord Faramir of Ithilien raised his head wearily, turning to look at the source of the voice. The man who had been speaking only moments before grunted indignantly, clearly unhappy that he had been interrupted. Faramir, however, was greatly relieved. The man's speech had been boring him to a stupor, and he was grateful for the distraction.

"You may speak," Faramir said, beckoning the messenger forward. It was a boy barely out of childhood, and he was clearly nervous. Faramir smiled slightly to ease the boy's nerves.

"A message from our western border," the boy repeated, glancing at the other man, who glared at him. "Scouts observing unusual activity in the mountains reported spotting what looked like a slave train preparing to cross into Ithilien."

Faramir was completely alert instantly, and the other man's glare turned to shock and concern in seconds.

"A slave train?" Faramir asked. "Coming from Mordor?"

"Yes, sir," the messenger replied. "The scouts intercepted them, and arrested the traders. They ask that you come to observe the questioning."

Faramir immediately rose, nodding to the messenger to show that he was going. A slave train coming from Mordor into Ithilien meant that somewhere, somehow, there were people still suffering. How could this still be happening? How long had the trains been moving through Ithilien? He had never heard of them before.

He walked into the corridor, delivering commands to nearby soldiers, ordering that everything be immediately made ready for the journey ahead. So focused was he on the new problem that he didn't notice his daughter until he bumped into her. His little girl, so like her mother, looked up at him with wide, soft eyes.

"What's happening, Baba?" she asked.

Despite his distraction, Faramir smiled. He crouched down and rested his hands on her tiny shoulders.

"Baba has to leave for a while," he said gently. "I'll be back in a few days."

"Is Mama going with you?" his daughter asked.

At first, Faramir was going to say no, but before he could open his mouth to speak, his wife was standing by his side, her arms crossed over her chest.

"Yes, Eomala, I am going," she said coolly. "I am not letting Faramir go alone this time."

Faramir turned and glanced up. Eowyn, his wife, returned his gaze with her own firm one that left no room for protest.

"So you overheard?" he asked, standing.

"Yes," Eowyn replied. She turned to Eomala. "Go on, now."

Eomala nodded, then turned and skipped away. Faramir watched his daughter depart, then returned his attention to Eowyn.

"This is serious," Eowyn said softly. "I do not wish to be forced to hear news about this matter secondhand."

"Then I shall welcome your company," Faramir replied, settling his arm around her waist.

The journey to the camp where the slave traders were being held took no longer than a day. By nightfall, Faramir, Eowyn, and several accompanying soldiers were riding into the ring of campfires. The boy who had delivered the disturbing message had come with them, and pointed out his captain.

"It is worse than I had anticipated, my lord," the captain said as Faramir dismounted and approached. "The captives of the traders are claiming that this is not the first train to have passed this way. They say it has been happening for several decades."

"Decades?" Faramir repeated, shocked. "How has it that this has not been noticed?"

The captain had no answer. Instead, he led them across the camp to where a large cart stood, a pair of large brawny horses still hitched to it. A group of sallow-faced people sat before it, eating the stew and bread being offered to them by Faramir's men. Four others sat nearby, their arms bound. Faramir assumed they were the traders, and the rest their captives.

He studied the group closely. By the looks of them, they were native to south Mordor, a land that had little to offer the people who inhabited it. They all had dark hair and pale skin, but although they were clearly hungry, most did seem to be acceptably nourished. Their ages varied from a pair of old men to a small child, who reminded Faramir of his own daughter. This child was not eating, though her mother was offering her stew, and was whispering to her with a worried expression on her face. Eowyn approached the woman and her child.

"Is she ill?" Eowyn asked.

"She has not eaten in three days," the woman replied shakily. "She is cold."

Faramir could tell by looking into the child's dim, unfocused eyes that the girl was blind. Eowyn seemed to see this as well, for she crouched down and gently touched the child's chin. Faramir was expecting the mother to be defensive, but she only stared at Eowyn desperately, her hands clenched. All of them had seemed to realize that they were safe now.

"I think it is an infection," Eowyn said after studying the girl. "She is not breathing well."

The mother gasped, tears filling her eyes. Faramir beckoned to the captain.

"Have those men given an explanation?" he asked sternly, turning an icy gaze to the bound traders.

"They claim these people are migrants," the captain replied. "But their captives were found chained to wooden poles inside that cart, and a few of the captives claim that their sons were taken on the previous train."

Faramir now turned his full attention to the traders, who stared back with undisguised fear. He approached, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword.

"Well?" he demanded. "What have you to say?"

"Migrants, sir," one of the men stammered. "We aren't breaking any laws, sir."

"These people seem to think otherwise," Faramir replied coldly. "They look like slaves to me."

"When were you going to give this child help?" Eowyn called to them harshly.

"We have no need of a child so weak," another of the traders admitted gruffly.

Faramir stared at the trader in shock. He had known many others with similar attitudes in the past, but now that he had a daughter, his views of how people treated children had become much harsher.

"Where were you taking them?" He kept his gaze on the trader who seemed willing to offer information.

The trader opened his mouth to speak, but the first suddenly hissed at him.

"Say nothing!" he growled. "You have already spoken too much."

"It is over, Ramir," the second replied firmly. "I speak now to keep my neck out of a noose."

"Then speak," Faramir said, narrowing his eyes. "Where were you taking these people?"

The second trader stared back, his gaze just as severe. Although he was clearly willing to talk, he did not seem at all happy about it.

"I have overseen this trade since I was a boy," he said gruffly. "I know everything there is to know about these people, and I'll say this now, my lord. You will do no good to them by setting them free."

"What do you mean?" Faramir asked.

"They know nothing else besides slavery," the trader replied. "They do not know how to survive on their own. If you set them free, they do not stand a chance." He pointed to the older men. "They have been enslaved for generations. You set them free, you'll be burdened with them until the point of their deaths."

Faramir turned back to the group, seeing that every one of them was looking at him, their eyes shining in the dim light. Eowyn had taken the sickly child in hand, cradling her frail form while gently force-feeding her watered-down broth from the stew. The mother hovered nearby, trembling.

"How many?" he asked severely. "How many lives have you destroyed?"

"Destroyed?" Ramir spoke, curbing the second trader's response. "Their lives were destroyed the instant they were born into this world. We paid a fair price for them, and where they're going most of them will live better lives."

A murmur of fear rose from the captives. Eowyn stopped trying to feed the fussy child for a moment, turning her icy stare to the traders.

"How dare you think you can defend yourselves," she snapped. "This child is dying. How can you justify making your living off the suffering of innocent people?"

"We pay for them," the second trader began. Faramir noticed then how the other two traders had remained very quiet, "because there are landowners in Gondor willing to pay twice more."

Faramir could almost see the wave of shock spread through his men. Throughout the interrogation, Faramir had wondered where the final destination of the slaves was to be, but never would he have expected Gondor. King Elessar fiercely enforced the anti-slavery laws he had instated upon his coronation. Where in Gondor could slavery possibly continue unnoticed?

"To who are they sold?" Faramir demanded.

The traders stared back, suddenly devoid of voice. Not even the cooperative one seemed willing to answer. For a moment, there was silence, then suddenly one of the captives coughed slightly. It was the trembling mother.

"The men spoke of farms and fields," she said. "One mentioned the far west."

Faramir deduced the conclusion almost immediately, and realized suddenly how easy it had been for slavery to go unnoticed. The southwest lands of Gondor were plentiful in large farms and plantations, which supplied most of the kingdom. However, because of the distance from the White City, soldiers rarely patrolled there. Faramir frowned grimly.

"We will take them back with us," Faramir finally said to his men. He turned to Eowyn. "Eowyn, you are the fastest rider I have. You must ride to Minas Tirith and warn King Elessar. Have him come here so he can see this for himself."

Eowyn nodded, handed the child back to the mother, and stood. Faramir approached her, settling a hand on her shoulder.

"Be swift," he whispered.

"Nothing will stop me," Eowyn replied firmly, glancing around. "Not now. Not after what I've seen here."

* * * * * *

Two days later, Eowyn arrived at the gates of Minas Tirith, and she was immediately taken to Aragorn. Arwen sat beside him, her brow furrowed in worry as Eowyn related her news. Aragorn shook his head, clearly in as much disbelief as Arwen was. She looked at him questioningly. He glanced back, then turned to Eowyn.

"I will prepare to depart immediately," he assured. "This is something I will not allow to go on ignored. I will deal with it personally."

Despite clearly trying to keep his voice down, Gimli's sudden exclamation of `yes!' echoed throughout the vast throne room. Gimli, Legolas, Maida, and Eldarion were standing to one side, and Arwen saw Maida shake her head in exasperation when all eyes turned toward them. They approached, Maida moving to stand beside Arwen's chair while the other three gathered by Eowyn.

"We will accompany you," Gimli declared. "I do believe I have spent quite enough time lounging around the castle and listening to the gossip of females."

Maida's eyes flashed, but Arwen gestured for her to remain silent. Eldarion was looking excited as well, and when he realized that she was looking at him, he turned.

"May I come as well?" he asked softly, clearly expecting a negative reply.

Arwen saw Aragorn grin slightly, and she stared at him. He appeared to be willing to allow his son to go with him, something Arwen was going to need a lot of convincing to accept. She was still very uneasy with the idea of Aragorn leaving when she was so close to birth. She glared, and he finally turned fully to her.

"I do not think Eldarion will be in danger," he said. "I will have an escort, and with Gimli and Legolas. . ."

"If you trust your son's safety to Gimli's presence," Maida interrupted quickly, "then he will be dead by nightfall."

This time it was Legolas who prevented the start of another argument, for he set a hand firmly on Gimli's shoulder to silence his reply. He exchanged a private, irritated glance with Arwen, and she smiled. Clearly Legolas was accustomed to their bickering. Eldarion turned back to her, pleading silently.

"Very well," Arwen said heavily, turning to Aragorn. "I do not think there will be a great many things for him to do in your absence, anyway."

Arwen had realized that in her condition, there was no possibility of her being able to keep up with Eldarion. Resting a hand on her large belly, she cast a meaningful glance at Aragorn, silently asking him how long he was expecting to be gone. Aragorn returned the glance with a look that clearly said he was not certain. Arwen sighed.

"I do not believe you have met my daughter yet, Prince Eldarion," Eowyn said suddenly, drawing attention. "Eomala will be very glad to meet you, I am sure."

Arwen smiled at Eowyn appreciatively. Being the wife of Lord Faramir made Eowyn a frequent visitor to the White City, and over time a firm friendship had grown between them. Eowyn's continued love for Aragorn had once been a great annoyance for Arwen, but now that she knew the courageous shieldmaiden, she no longer found her threatening. Eowyn had been the first to congratulate Arwen when Eldarion had been born, and a year later Arwen had served as midwife when Eowyn had suddenly gone into labor a month premature during a royal reception.

Another factor that made Eowyn unique was that she was the only person Arwen had ever discussed Faye with. She had never even spoken to Aragorn about her. Mentioning Faye had been accidental, for Arwen had told Eowyn the story of Naret-aluan to calm her during the birth, and when Eowyn had asked her of its origin, she had spoken Faye's name without completely realizing it. Afterwards, Arwen had given in to Eowyn's gentle persistence and curiosity and told her everything.

Eowyn met her gaze, settling her hands on Eldarion's shoulders as he smiled happily.

"I'll watch over him," she said confidently.

The matter settled, Arwen knew her presence was no longer required, and she left Aragorn and the others to their planning. Maida walked with her, softly muttering curses against Gimli as they traveled through the corridors.

"Hush," Arwen finally said after overhearing a particularly nasty comment. "I know you like Gimli as much as Legolas does, and I'm sure you understand how different Dwarves are."

Maida did not reply, and Arwen smiled again, her mood much lighter despite the grim news she had heard only a little while ago. She could see the emotions warring inside her friend, and could clearly sense her indecision.

Despite it all, Maida was fighting the urge to agree.

* * * * * *

Author's note: What you are about to read is taking place at the same time as the events above.

Night did not fall quietly on southwestern Gondor this time. Rain poured down as it had done all day, and lightning frequently illuminated the low clouds that were blocking the stars. All the others had fled inside the shabby huts that were their homes to escape the storm. One, however, did not. She couldn't. The overseers had left her stranded in the field, not caring to venture out into the rain to unlock her chains from the heavy plow. She crouched in the ankle-deep mud, not feeling the rain pound her back and shoulders. She hardly felt anything anymore, so consumed was her body in the fiery pain. Once, long ago, she had possessed a tattered black cloak that had deadened the pain, but upon coming here, the master of the farm had taken it away, and her journey to complete insanity had come full circle.

She could dimly remember a time when her spirit had been strong enough to fight against those that oppressed her. She had once been able to frighten off anyone who tried to make her do what she didn't want to. Once, she had been so much more than what she was now.

Those days were long gone. Her spirit was completely broken now, her mind unable to process anything more than what a common mule could understand. Her name, her distant past, her reason for existing were all lost. All she remembered was the torture, the ugly faces of her former masters, and all she knew was the pain. She couldn't even remember when she had been dealt the wound that had caused the black scar on her belly, though she was sure that was where the fiery pain came from. The pain flowed in her very blood, poisoning it to the point where any that spilled killed the plants and soil it soaked into.

She remembered how she had come here, though. She remembered the pink-faced Orc that had taken her from the black fortress in the dark plain of Gorgoroth and attempted to turn her into his own personal slave. She had rewarded his efforts by turning on him, mauling him viciously. He had sold her to the Orcs that oversaw the slaves in the southlands of Mordor, having become too afraid of her to come close enough to kill her. She had fought those Orcs, too, but by then her strength was nearly gone. She had given up on fighting not long after, consenting miserably to the life as a slave in the fields, working laboriously through all hours of the day and night when it had been discovered that the only sustenance she needed was blood.

The years of slaving in those fields were a blur to her. She knew only that the years were many. She had watched many a youth grow old and die in that time. Then, something had happened in the north, something tremendous, and the Orcs had been killed and replaced with men. For a short while, she had heard rumors of an effort being made to free the slaves from their misery, but they had never proved true. She had continued working, planting and tending and harvesting, until a group of men had come for her. They had taken her away from the fields, put her in chains, and sent her over the mountains in a wagon crowded with other slaves like herself. Of that journey, she remembered little more than being forced to pull the wagon after one of the horses went lame.

She did, however, remember the auction very clearly. The day had been hot and very dry, and she had been forced to stand on a wooden pedestal while people shouted prices all around her. Her sellers were boasting of her great strength and endurance, and they were pricing her twice more above all the others. One had finally come forward and paid the extravagant price, a tall, thin man with cold gray eyes. He had brought her here, taken away her precious cloak, which had been the only comfort she possessed, and left her as she was now.

Thunder cracked loudly, but Faye did not even twitch. She did not remember a similar storm over a millennia ago, when a certain Elfling had come into her room in the Valley seeking comfort. She did not remember the beautiful she-Elf that lay sleeping in the White City now, dreaming of times long gone by. All Faye remembered was the torture.

And all Faye knew was the pain.

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