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Minas Tirith Forums » The Green Dragon » STORY - Legacy (RFP) (Page 0)
Author Topic: STORY - Legacy (RFP)
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Loch’s arrival at Edhellond coincided with two things. The horses had been unloaded from the ship and Khule had returned with two downcast engineers to report their findings from the harbour. After all was considered, they prepared to depart as soon as possible. That afternoon, men milled around the tavern’s stables. The two stablehands dashed amongst horse and soldier and Ranger, hopelessly outnumbered but valiantly trying to keep up.

Inside, men were trooping out with their gear past a bewildered tavern-keeper. Rin was upstairs with Rose getting the children ready to travel. Hanasian was down in the common room, having a quiet discussion with Farbarad, Videgavia and Lochared. This discussion hushed as the tavern-keeper edged towards them.

”M’Lord,” the man said when he saw Hanasian look to him, and bobbed his head anxiously.

”They’ll leave it in as good, if not better, condition as they found it,” Hanasian stated, ”Won’t they, Captain Videgavia.”

Videgavia affirmed.

”Thank you,” the tavern-keeper said, ”It wasn’t necessary.”

“Tell that to Doc,”
Videgavia muttered which made Farbarad and Loch grin at each other. When it came to cleanliness, Rin was the most pernicious badger that they had ever encountered. Loch had endured years of it, for Rin made no allowances for an absence of soap, hot water, clean clothes or shelter. Nor, as the Dirty Three in particular had discovered, did any amount of bellicosity or threats make her go away.

Looking bothered and out of sorts, Wulgof climbed down the stairs while still guiltily looking over his shoulder. The concern in his expression faded with each step down and away from the upper floor. By the time he reached the foot of the stairs, he wore a victorious smile that made Videgavia inwardly groan.

The Dunlending would only pay for whatever he had just gotten away with in time and well he knew it. In fact, the man seemed to delight in that fact. Wulgof looked over to where Loch stood and winked before he began to saunter out, a jaunty bounce to his steps, with his gear slung haphazardly over one shoulder. Loch was unabashedly grinning and continued to do so until he realised Videgavia had noticed. The sight of the younger man trying to eat his own lop sided smile was difficult to not laugh at. Videgavia managed.

The tavern-keeper made no attempt to move off. Instead, he seemed to plant himself more firmly to the floorboards and began to fidget with the towel he perennially kept tucked into the waist of his apron.

”Is there something else?” Hanasian asked when he realised the nervous man would not speak up otherwise.

”You’re leaving early,” he answered, voice squeaking ever so slightly.

”I think it best to give Edhellond its tavern back, don’t you?”

“Oh! Oh yes…I mean no…you’ve been no trouble,”
the man was a terrible liar, ”It’s, it’s just that you have paid for…”

The tavern-keeper’s words trailed off.

”Give that no heed.”

“You do not wish it back?”
the astounded man asked, the first hint of a smile they had seen on his face.

”Consider it compensation for the inconvenience and disruption we have caused.”

“Oh! Yes, m’Lord! Indeed!”
the tavern-keeper’s relief flooded his features and Hanasian considered the other men who stood with him. Farbarad nodded. It was more than time they were out of here and on their way to somewhere safer.

At that moment, Hanavia began jumping enthusiastically down the stairs, Rose, his mother and sister in his wake. They were the last to walk out of the tavern to the stables that afternoon. The skies had grown heavier and now hung ominously low overhead. Videgavia strode ahead, issuing orders to clear his men out. Already some of the Rangers had left to secure the way ahead. All were clad for travel and, it had to be said, campaign. Even Rin had donned ring mail despite the fact she hated at the stuff. Her hair was gathered back into plaits in an attempt to prevent it from being caught, her chief complaint about mail, but still she fidgeted in it irritably.

”Oh!” the tavern-keeper exclaimed at her elbow, startling her for she had quite forgotten he was there, ”I’ll be right back!”

The man dashed back into his tavern and Rin swung to her brother, ”He’s not coming with us, is he?”

“I don’t think so…why?”

“There’s something not right.”

Hanasian left the two siblings, heads together, there to talk about whatever it was and finished mounting up. Farbarad was fishing out plate from one of his saddlebags with a grim, resolute expression. The plate was too small for him. His eyes met Hanasian’s in silent question and Hanasian nodded. Ring mail would not be enough to defeat an arrow, spear or bolt and they had no way of knowing what waited for them. A warm welcome was certainly not likely and Rin, unfortunately, was a lodestone of a target. Hanavia could not ride with his mother for that reason, or his father, so he was placed with Caeros. Rose retained Elian and Farbarad started for where Rin stood with Loch, urgently debating something.

”I don’t know what’s wrong here, Rin! It’s impossible. I’ve not enough men! I’m still sorting out who I can trust.”

“Your sergeant is solid.”

“He found you then?”
Loch asked and Rin nodded, “Right, well, that’s one man out of Voromir’s standing troops. Dorne I have recruited myself. Rowdy’s men are solid. But this place is vast and its people scattered.”

Rin let a harried looking stable hand scurry by, ”Dropping more soldiers onto these people is not going to help! They’re scared enough already as it is.”

“I know! We have scared people here who know how to make pitch and are prepared to use it,”
Loch urged and Rin sighed heavily as she shook her head from side to side.

He continued on, ”Either give me more men, Rin, or accept that we will never know what is going on here. It will continue to simmer. Or maybe you’ll get lucky and it will peter out. We’ve seen that happen before too. Maybe you want to chance it. I wouldn’t. What I can assure you of, though, is I do not have the capacity to collect the year’s tithe.“

Rin leaned in to place her hand on her brother’s forearm, ”Loch, you don’t have to collect the tithe.”

“I don’t?”
Loch exclaimed, ”But I thought…”

“You’re not the only one who thought that,”
Rin replied, a thoughtful furrow appearing above her nose.

”That is good news,” he declared happily and then caught his sister’s expression, ”Isn’t it?”

Rin shook her head, still thinking. Distracted as she was, she had no chance of outdistancing Farbarad. He slapped plate armour onto her before she realised he was there. When she did not resist or squirm lithely away, Farbarad frowned at her. She was still deep in thought, chewing on the inside of her lower lip. Loch shrugged at him, unable to offer an explanation. By the time Farbarad was done, Rin had reached a decision. The Ranger stepped back to check the plate was correctly buckled. Rin, meanwhile, spun on her heel and strode back into the tavern with her sword swinging on her hip.

Loch shrugged again and Farbarad started after her for the tavern. By the time he had gained the rear of the building, Rin came back out. She was tugging her gloves on and she looked satisfied with herself. The tavern-keeper followed her, carrying bags of provisions should they be delayed along the way.

”What was that about,” Farbarad asked, trotting along beside her towards the horses.

”All in due course,” she replied and swung into the saddle.

Farbarad ran a hand through his hair, shook his head and took to his own horse muttering about the royal house of Cardolan. He was still muttering when they finally rode out. They pushed hard, eager to place some distance between themselves and the unsettled, and rode through the night. It was a punishing pace for Hanavia and Elian but it also made it difficult for any to ambush them. They saw nary a soul on the road though and they reached their destination as the eastern sky blushed with a new dawn.

Rin was not sure what she had expected of Voromir’s ancestral seat. She was weary but what she saw managed to cut through that all the same. They rode through barracks that had emptied, their men tightening in formation ahead for inspection. They rode past the guest house that Loch and Rose had taken and the various functionary buildings for the main hall itself. The Rangers had pulled ahead earlier in the night to make it safe and even now she could see them emerging from the main doors and milling about. It was huge, overpowering and very old. Stags had been carved into the stone that the wandering ivy could not conceal. Rin pulled up with the others but remained in her saddle, tossing her reins from side to side as she stared at the hall.

”I see why you took the guest house,” she said at length and Rose smiled in a way that made her eyes crinkle.

”Its bark is worse than its bite,” Rose replied and Rin looked at her, wondering if her sister heard the whispering stones too.

”You’ve been inside?”

“Oh yes. I wanted to get it ready for you.”

“Sounds like a lot of work.”

“No, no. It was good to have something to do and Voromir’s family took most of their belongings with them,”
Rose answered, not offering a clue to Rin.

Rin nodded and then studied the house again. It was waiting for her, as if it knew she were here and that she did not belong. How many generations had lived here? Would the stone remember them all? It was a worrying thought. Yet, in there lay answers. Answers she would need. A light touch on her knee drew her awareness down to where Hanasian stood. He gazed up at her, grey eyes steady on her own, comforting. She reached to touch his face, run her fingers down the pane of his cheek and across his dark beard. Then she drew in a deep breath and climbed out of the saddle. It was time.

The doors were thick, old wood that had been carved with leaping stags. They had large, brass handles fashioned to resemble antlers. Both leaves were thrown open. Rin approached the threshold with increasing caution despite her mail and armour and sword. The stones were whispering, voices growing to a clamour with each step towards them. It was almost overwhelming. She drew a deep breath and leapt over the threshold and closed her eyes, waiting for the stones to react. Those with her were accustomed to such things. Hanasian slid a hand under her elbow to ground and steady her.

”Look,” he quietly breathed and Rin cracked open her eyes.

It was, in a word, stupendous. Vast spaces, richly furnished in a display of old wealth and power. It dwarfed the Rangers standing about the main hall. Stairs led up and away and there were cavernous halls to explore.

”I would not be surprised if this was Numenorean in origin,” Hanasian murmured as he looked around. It bore their hand, he thought, in the smoothness of the stone, the sheer size and sweeping grandeur.

Beside him, Rin swallowed and he looked down to see her face was pale and eyes glazed.

”Does it call to you,” he asked as she stared about her.

”I- it…” her words stuttered to a stop.

The spell was broken by Molguv, who sauntered in, took one look and then whistled.

”Rich! We’re rich!” the Haradian declared and Wulgof scurried in after him.

”Look at that! That’s Corsair!” he exclaimed excitedly, pointing at an ornate carpet that had been hung on a wall as if it were a painting.

Videgavia slapped both men on the back of the head, having to reach to collect Molguv’s.

”We are not here to loot or ransack,” he sternly said and both men deflated slightly before Wulgof got a crafty glint to his eye.

”Nor steal,” Videgavia continued.

”Why not! She does! All the time!” Wulgof protested, jabbing a finger at Rin who was finally coming back to the here and now.

”In fact, you two are not even supposed to be in here!” Videgavia pointed out and, grumbling, the two men reversed out the way they had come in.

Rin ran her hands over her face. She desperately wanted to sleep, only not here. She had to gather her thoughts.

”Right,” she said, pulling herself together and struck out towards a hall.

”And just where are you going?” Hanasian asked as she moved off without so much as dropping her muddy cloak.

”I have some ransacking to do,” she called back and was swallowed by one of the many halls.

While Rin systematically scoured Voromir’s estate, the others settled in. Those that did not take watch, and there was a lot of ground to watch, settled into to rest. There was no shortage of comfort to be had. Voromir’s family had lived quite well.

And so, nearly a day after Loch had arrived at Edhellond, Rin commandeered what appeared to have been Voromir’s library. She had everything she had found spread around it. Papers, books and items to anchor each pile down and she now roamed between the stacks, muttering at papers in her hand and frowning. She had yet to sleep herself but Hanasian knew she would not, could not. Not yet.

He nudged a pile of papers out of the way and sat in a particularly comfortable chair. Once settled, he started on his pipe. In all this time, Rin stalked to and fro. He could only guess at what she was doing and how she was organising a small mountain of information. Her mind worked very differently to his. He took the opportunity to study her, properly study her. It was only possible to do at times like this, when utterly consumed by something. She stood, glancing back and forth between three sheets of paper she held, frowning and muttering. A shaft of light from one of the tall windows fell over her and she held up one of the pages to it, as if trying to see through it. For months now he had been gravely concerned.

The events of winter had placed her on death’s cusp twice and the grief and tumult that had followed had not helped. She had been so pale, almost wraith like. Unpredictable and perilous and wild. And then Edoras had occurred and he had despaired. But a transformation had begun there and his wife was a wraith no longer. Tired, muddy though she may be, she was also hale and whole. She had regained her vitality and she was drawing on that boundless energy of hers even now. He felt something change within him. A weight started to lift and it was only then that he realised how heavy it had been. Hanasian’s eyes drifted shut as the enormity of it all started to emerge even as it began to fall away.

”No. No, no! That’s not it, dammit!” Rin declared in profound frustration.

It peeled his eyes open in time to watch her whirl about, still in her cloak, and advance in an ominous manner on a pile. His eyes drifted to the hearth. It lay empty and cold, for the day was warm. Still, there was nothing stopping Rin from creating a fire of her own. He’d never forget that day she had burnt, without warning, her father’s missive. When she lost her temper, she did a proper job of it, and the library had a great deal of combustible fuel. Hanasian pushed himself to his feet, relieved he had taken the opportunity earlier to close his eyes for a while, and approached his wife.

”None of this makes any sense,” she said, greatly offended, as he unclasped her cloak and set it to one side.

Rin turned to face him, paper bunched in one fist, ”It’s here, Hanasian. Right under my nose. Why can I not see it?”

“You’re tired?”
he suggested and she made a rude noise, dismissing that out of hand, ”Alright then, madam, perhaps you are looking too closely.”

That she did not dismiss. Rin cocked her head to one side, the weight of her braids sliding over one shoulder. Hanasian could not help but take up one of the ends and let his fingers wind the soft lengths around and around.

”Distance? How am I to achieve that?”

“A fresh set of eyes. What are you looking for?”


“Specifically, Doc. What are you looking for?”
he repeated, letting the braid unwind to start again.

”It’s the tithe. I thought something was wrong in Edhellond. Did you know that the tavern-keeper approached me about it.”

“Voluntarily? The man’s braver than I gave him credit for,”
Hanasian mused.

”He asked for a furlough,” Rin said and Hanasian’s brows lifted.

”From the tithe?” he asked and Rin nodded, ”But I thought…”

“Yes. The tithe is levied by the crown upon the nobles of the court, not the people. Loch thought he’d been collecting it from the people too, but Loch is new to this. The tavern-keeper of Edhellond is not. And then consider this place. The opulence of it, I understand, but some of these rooms are more ornate than the palace at Minas Tirith!”

“He was extorting his people? Is that what you think?”
Hanasian asked solemnly, hands still now.

Rin nodded gravely, ”I need to confirm how far it went, I need proof. And then I’m going to have to inform Aragorn. I may have to sue for relief for these people. But how much? How long has this been happening?”

“Did the tavern-keeper say?”

Rin sighed, ”When it comes to their former lord, no one wants to discuss the man or his activities.”

She leaned in to rest her brow against the front of his shoulder, troubled.

”Is this what you went back into the tavern to discuss?” Hanasian asked and Rin straightened.

Before she could reply though, there was a knock at the library door. Both turned to find Dorne standing there, looking uncomfortable, with a heavy volume that required both hands to hold.

”Sorry to intrude,” he started but Rin ushered him in.

”I…I think you’ll want to see this,” he said and Rin pointed to a nearby table.

The corporal set the heavy tome onto it and moved back several steps so that Rin could leaf through the pages. Each was crowded with a small, neat script and Hanasian heard his wife suck in a breath as she read, flicking back and forth and then glancing over to the piles she had made.

”Where did you find this,” Hanasian asked as his wife read.

”I found it a week ago when I was helping the Lady Rose here. It fell out of a desk we were moving.”

“Do you know what it is?”
Hanasian continued, studying the young corporeal. He had a hint of the North in him.

Dorne shook his head, ”Oh no. I didn’t read it. It’s all numbers anyway. Makes no sense. But when I saw that the Princess was gathering records, I thought it might be needed.”

The Princess, fortunately for Dorne, had darted away to one of her piles of paper and was too busy ratting through it to notice the title or take offence. Hanasian clapped a hand on the younger man’s shoulder.

”You’ve done well, Corporal,” he said and Dorne brightened, ”Now get out of here before she realises what you just called her.”

Dorne hurried out, trying to figure out what he had said that might be offensive as he went. No sooner had he reached the hall was he summonsed back. He peeked through the door to find his commander’s sister was looking straight at him. She had a way of seeing clear through to a man’s spine and she was doing it now.

”Corporal, have my brother bring my Rangers and Captain Videgavia here,” she said and he nodded, anxious to be away. Then she smiled at him and turned back to the library. Dazzled, the corporal was finally released.

Inside the library Rin drew a deep breath and considered her husband.

”You have it?” he asked and she nodded.

Videgavia was the first to arrive. He stalked through the library doors, considered the two people inside and asked, ”Now what?”

The Rangers were next and while Videgavia perched on a stone windowsill, they lined the walls. Loch was the last to arrive, looking harried.

”How bad is it?” he asked, the question falling out of his mouth as soon as he saw his sister’s expression.

”According to Voromir’s own records, and reports from various individuals, the people of this land have been extorted for years. Decades,” Hanasian stated and looked to his wife.

”A false tithe – applied to the people instead of their lord and at rates far exceeding that which their lord owed,” Rin said, ”Over the previous three or so years I have been tithed, the rate has been a constant five percent. Here, it has been eleven percent for two years and fifteen for a third. I can only presume the sharp increase was necessary to fund certain clandestine, treasonous activities such as recruiting criminals from far afield to engage in various activities.”

“You have proof of this?”
Farbarad pressed and Rin nodded.

”What now, then?” Videgavia asked.

”I need to get word of this back to Faramir, and fast. Not only that, we will need a larger ship – one capable of the voyage north. Perhaps I will be able to win some relief for the people here. Whatever the case, the extortion will cease.”

Men nodded, murmuring amongst themselves until Hanasian held up a hand, ”But that is not all. Voromir could not have collected this false tithe alone. Those that assisted him are complicit now.”

“It explains why no one wants to talk about Voromir,”
Loch said and then he scowled, ”Odds are that most of the officers of his troops here would have been either directly involved or aware of it. Kick backs, favours…an ugly business.”

“We have to bring this to a close, once and for all. The people here must see that a change has come. Things will not be as they once were. And for that, Loch, you will need more men,”
Hanasian said.

”Already arranged,” Videgavia announced, ”With your leave, Doc, I’ll establish a permanent staging post here in the south much as we have in the north. That will supply your Steward with additional, reliable, troops and give the Company the scope to recruit out of Minas Tirith to replenish ranks.”

“You’ll need a commanding officer here,”
Hanasian said and Videgavia smiled.

”I have one.”

Loch muttered at his boots while Rin assembled everything in her head, ”Right, then. That’s that. Vid, I’ll need a detachment to take that river-runner back to Minas Tirith with my message for Faramir. They can fetch back the larger ship and Loch’s missing sergeant. He’ll need the man now more than ever.

“Loch, you will need to secure Voromir’s officers for further questioning. There is no telling how the ranks will react to that. It could be ugly. Farabarad, we’ll need provisions for the voyage north. Edhellond could do with the income, I suspect. I made certain undertakings along those lines to the tavern-keeper. I believe you’ll find him amenable.”

“And the officers? Who will interrogate them?”
Farbarad asked warily, expecting her to announce something risky and foolish – such as questioning them herself.

Rin smiled coldly at that, ”Oh…I’m sure I can induce a certain Easterling we all know to assist.”

What followed proved to be watershed for that part of Southern Gondor. It took time and care to root out those involved in the false tithe and the more people they found, the more they uncovered by way of additional crimes. Smuggling, it emerged, was another significant arm of Voromir’s activities. In that he was carrying on a long established family tradition that seemed to stretch all the way back to when his forefathers had first decided to establish their halls. Gradually, the people of Edhellond came to understand that the ways of the past were done. Their new Lady succeeded in winning relief for them and set about making much needed improvements.

The dock was overhauled, storage buildings erected, a permanent market established and a school. Negotiations were opened that would bring trade to Edhellond. There was even talk of a healer coming, they had heard, once he could be brought down out of the North. Videgavia was reasonably confident that Bells would do well down south. He had a contingent of Company men to see to here as well as the local people and Rin’s assessment of his skills suggested he was sound enough to deal with most things. What he couldn’t manage could be sent to Minas Tirith.

A steady stream of reports started to flow back to Faramir in Minas Tirith. And, while Faramir had indeed provided a ship for them, it did not go north for a good while. There was much to be done there and even if Hanasian and Rin could leave it, circumstances interceded. Their third and fourth child arrived, both at the same time and this time without incident, and Elian was suddenly the sole daughter in a sea of sons. It took four years to return to Cardolan and when they did, they found that the land had flourished there as well.

Surprisingly, Videgavia thought, most of the Company were still there. Certainly the Cats were, and Berlas and Hamoor. Most of the Easterlings had stayed behind with Loch, along with Wulgof and Molguv. Khule, however, had elected to come north. Videgavia suspected it had something to do with the twins. Now two years old, the two lads and the silver haired veteran were often seen in each other’s company. The Company were not alone. The complement of Rangers had expanded, which was just as well given that the Lady of Cardolan was expecting once again. What had surprised them, though, was something else entirely.

People had started to return to Cardolan. Farms were springing up, hamlets forming. The land was returning to life, a new Spring, and they welcomed the return of their Lord and Lady gladly. North and South, then, people prospered and flourished, nurtured and protected. On a bright autumn afternoon, Hanavia and his two brothers swooped through a drift of fallen leaves while Elian wove the dark hair of her younger sister, the youngest of them all, into a braid that would last all of five minutes once Adanel tired of sitting still and rushed after her elder brothers.

Rin laced her fingers over her stomach and stared up at the branches that swayed overhead. Hanasian was stretched beneath her, one of his hands resting on her swelling belly.

”Really, I think we should stop after this one,” he said sleepily, stroking the child that lay beneath and stirring it to kick at its father’s fingers.

”Oh yes?” Rin teased as a particularly vigorous kick was applied to her ribs and Hanasian chuckled.

“Yes. We’ll run out of Rangers. And room in the house.”

Rin winced at a second lusty kick, ”Having a large family was your idea, as I recall.”

“Yes, and it’s one of my finest ideas yet,”
Hanasian said contentedly, marvelling at his fortune. His reverie was brought to a sharp halt when Adanel squealed a protest.

”Hanavia, put your brothers down! On their feet,” Rin called sternly and then, ”If I have to get up and come over there, no one will be pleased – least of all me.”

A short while later, Rin was on her feet and descending in maternal wrath upon their brood. Hanavia was eleven now and due for squiring, Hanasian thought as he watched his eldest son. He resolved to discuss a placement at Fornost with Rin again and soon. It was a prickly subject for Rin, who clung to her family with understandable fierceness after losing so much of it. Somewhere close, but not too close, Hanasian thought for then it would not be too much of a wrench for son or his mother.

Elian was all sweetness and innocence, though from the way Hanavia kept glancing at her, it seemed likely that she was the instigator of whatever had transpired. Even though he was nearly two years older than her, Elian had Hanavia wrapped around her fingers. Adanel was three years of age and clung to her mother’s skirt while voicing her discontent. Meanwhile the twins, both aged six and sharing their mother’s pale hair, were maintaining a brave, united front. They had looked suitably abashed before their mother even arrived to pull them into order, though the way they kept nudging each other and giggling ruined the effect.

While Rin crouched to convene a maternal court, Hanasian shook his head. In his darkest of moments he could not have conceived of this. Even in the early years of their marriage it had seemed uncertain. But now he beheld a beautiful family, one he had fashioned with the woman he loved above and beyond all else. One of his making. There had been times when he had wondered what he was fighting for and whether it had been worth it. Now he knew.

Justice dispensed, Rin climbed to her feet again and rubbed at her back. In another four months, they would welcome their seventh child. She turned towards where he lay, smiling to herself and shaking her head. The starving, waifish thief he had quite literally collided with was now in the prime of her years. She still had sticky fingers and a nose for mayhem, but she had come into her own proper now. He had never met her birth father, but he could see an echo of his pride faintly in how she carried herself.

She had become one of Aragorn’s staunchest supporters and the same could be said of his son and heir, Eldarion. There was no question of needing a Prefect now. She capably and ably dealt with Cardolan and Edhellond in her own right. She had settled into her own skin, as Farbarad put it. Only a fool would cross her path with ill-will now. Between her consolidated position and rank at court, the wealth she had carefully built through canny trade, and those who served as Rangers or members of the Company, Rosmarin of Cardolan was a force to contend with.

She settled down beside him on the grass again and fondly muttered, ”Monsters.”

Hanasian levered himself up onto his elbows to kiss his wife, ”Our monsters.”

She smiled down at him, eyes intently gazing into his own, calm and untroubled, ”Yes indeed, my love.”

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Hanasian looked out from the door of their house to watch the sun set. The kitchen behind him, the ocean in its burnished glory, and yet his eyes were drawn not to the western horizon but his eldest son. Hanavia was silhouetted in the changeable light, off towards the stables where he had room to work on his sword practice. The boy had more training with more styles of sword and knife use from all over Middle Earth than most, but he preferred this spot and avoided the training area established years ago by Rangers and Company alike. Caeros had taken the lad in early. The boy had his mother's curiosity and none of her aversion. Hanavia had watched Caeros work with his mother and, like night followed sunset, the boy had want to learn as well.

Rin had not been well pleased to discover her son learning, in secret, from Caeros. Not at all. Hanasian could still recall that day. Yet, to Hanavia's credit he also had his mother's steadfast will and it did not crumble in the face of her rare but incandescent displeasure. Nor was Caeros cowed, but that was unsurprising. Caeros had been unflapped in the face of the Lady of Cardolan from the outset. So, the lessons continued but with one mandatory modification – training swords only…unless Hanavia wanted to be responsible for his mother exacting from Caeros whichever injury she had to heal in him.

Thankfully, most of Hanavia's mishaps had nothing to do with training. Still, the boy had shown discipline to persist through the years. He had abided by his mother's limits on weaponry and duration and timing of training without exception. Hanasian had suspected his son had been a little too compliant and made inquiries of his own only to discover there were no secret sessions with forbidden weapons. For all of those limits, though, Hanasian could see for himself how smoothly his son moved. It would be time to squire him soon. And that, Hanasian knew, would be a difficult subject to broach. It had not gone well the last time. The concept of squiring baffled and perplexed Rin no end. Hanasian could not help but smile to himself as he watched his son in the distance. One well intentioned and noble family from Gondor had once made the error of sending a messenger with an offer to squire the young Prince of Cardolan some years ago. The poor fellow had barely left with his hide intact after presenting the offer to the Lady of Cardolan. Farbarad had snuck him out one of the windows to hasten his departure.

Hanavia was quite good with sword and knife by now, and was fair with a bow. He was well versed in writing and history. In this he followed in his father's steps and indeed took his study with Hanasian seriously. He had his mother's healing gifts, though the extent of those remained to be seen. Rin had no intention of exposing her son to the full travails of healing in the way she had been. Still, she gave him a carefully considered diet of lore from Edain and Eldar sources – a program she spent many long hours in the night reviewing on the basis of his progression by her side. A scholar, a healer, a warrior. Was this who his son was?

Hanasian wondered as he watched Hanavia dance in calculated movement with his sword in the setting sun. It would be worthy to arrange for him to study and learn from those who remained in Rivendell. Hanasian believed the Sons of Elrond still dwelt there still, even if so few of the first-born remained. Even if they did not, Hanavia would delight in Rivendell's lore. The chance to join the Eldar there was quickly passing and would never ever come again. Hanavia was growing fast too. But how to brooch the subject with Rosmarin? Hanavia would be gone for years and Rin…Rin found the idea of sending any child away an anathema. He drew deeply on his long pipe and let the smoke seep out of him in a slow breath. His thoughts tumbled around his head just as slender arms slid around him from behind.

He felt his wife press against his back. He felt their child shift in her belly and then she pressed her face against his shoulder. Hanasian turned and kissed her before turning again to watch Hanavia.

"I will take Hanavia with me when I go to Bree. I think he would like that, and I need to have words with our boy."

Rin asked as she slipped around to stand beside him in the doorway. Somewhere in the house the twins were at war with Elian. It sounded like Elian was winning.

"About his future I suppose," Hanasian replied and took up one of Rin's hands in his own, "He is fast growing and his interests seem to lie as much in lore and healing as they do weaponry. He has grown up surrounded by Rangers and the Company: Easterling, Haradian, and Dunlanding.

"I would see him learn from the Eldar while he yet may, before they all depart. I know it must be his choice, but we must not hinder him. Neither of us."

Rin was quiet, saying not a word beside him. Hanasian struggled to retain his composure. Surrendering his eldest child, for years at a time, was not easy for him either. He held his emotions in check though and wondered when the storm beside him would break. Instead, he saw the sunset illuminate a single tear as it tracked down her cheek. A diamond. Rin nodded just once, ever so slightly, reclaimed her hand and withdrew into the house. She agreed with him! She agreed with him? Relieved, astonished and puzzled, Hanasian followed his wife into their house.

The next day was quiet. Hanasian prepared to go to Bree for his usual ride. Every six or so weeks he went there to see if any messages had been received for him, and to collect and give news. He usually did it alone, but on occasion early on he and Rin would enjoy some time together. In recent years, Hanavia had started to accompany them. Newer still, he took Elian along as well. She would chatter all the way about who she would see and ribbons and the like, much to Hanavia's chagrin. Thus, when Elian saw her father preparing, she instantly flew into preparations of her own, quivering with excitement at the prospect. Right on cue, Hanavia began to protest the impending presence of his exciteable sister. In the middle of it all stood Rin and she was no help whatsoever. She simply folded her arms over her growing belly, cocked an eyebrow and gave Hanasian a look he was well acquainted with. He had first seen her deploy it in Company days. It was a combination of I told you so, are you insane, this is your problem not mine, and this should be good. It meant that while she had no intention of helping him, she had every intention of staying about to watch the show.

It all came to a head in the sitting room where Elian and Hanavia were hurriedly dragging out what they would take with them. Hanavia had a small pack. Elian…suffice it say she had more than her elder brother. Hanasian strode with a small pack of his own slung over one shoulder just in time to hear Elian instruct her brother to go fetch her other things. Hanavia's retort made his mother, perched in a ringside arm chair with that look on her face, chortle. Hanasian heaved a sigh.

"I cannot take you along this day Elian, but I promise this. Next time, I will take you alone."

This, naturally, prompted a flood of outraged tears. While Elian might have her mother's appearance, in many respected their daughter was quite different. Elian, for example, wore her heart on her sleeve. Rin shook her head and then rose with a dramatic groan to her feet and rubbed at her back for show. Elian's sniffling faded a little.

"The twins have been very quiet, Elian. Don't you think?" Rin inquired midly.

Elian's face contorted from outrage to horror. The twins had been launching assaults on their elder sister's room an they had been dragging little Adanel along with them and Adanel got into everything! If they were quiet, it could only mean one thing and one thing alone. Elian flew off to eject the mauranders from her bedroom and left Hanasian to embrace his wife and take his leave. By the time the horses were saddled and they were ready, Rin stood in a small crowd of children. All lifted their hands in farewell and watched as Hanasian and Hanavia rode over the rise and out of sight. The sound of the twin's laughter over some mischief or other floated along in their wake.

The ride to Bree started out silently, for the boy knew that something was different this time.

After a few miles, Hanasian broke the silence.

"We will go to Bree, but we will make for The Prancing Pony at first. Instead we go to the North Gate Inn where I hope to meet an old friend. You were only a lad when last you saw Elladan."

I remember Elladan. Bright eyes filled with wisdom, yet a sense of sadness in them,
" Hanavia said as he recalled.

Hanasian answered, "There is always a touch of sadness in the eyes of those Eldar that remain. It is said that will not leave them until they quit these lands and seek the West. There are few who now remain here, by necessity and even by choice. I do not think it will be long before there will be no Eldar to be found by men."

"It is sad to think of, isn't it Adda,"
Hanavia said thoughtfully.

They rode along over the pathways that weaved through Ered Luin, and finally coming down to the north bank of the Baranduin they camped by the river. The water was running fast and clear, and Hanavia had some luck catching three fish. Hanasian didn't catch any, and took a close look at the fly bait his son was using.

"What gave you the idea of making this?"

Hanavia answered, "It was Khule's idea…. Well not his idea, rather, but his suggestion led me to come up with the idea."

Hanavia tossed the line in the river in a side pool that had a slight eddy current. Immediately a large trout moved toward it. But the old fish paused to study it. Hanavia tried to try coax the fish to bite.

Hanasian watched as Hanavia continued, "He told me to watch the skeeters on the top of the water and how they moved. When a fish took one, I got the idea to make some bait that looked like them."

"Doesn't seem to interest that fellow, but no matter. We have enough for a fine meal and should never take more than we need,"
Hanasian said as he stood to set a fire.

The fish were soon smoking over the small fire Hanasian had made, and he and Hanavia ate them slowly, savouring every, sweet, juicy bite. By the time they were finished, the sun had vanished and the sky was a deep blue field for the first stars appeared. Hanasian discussed the coming weather with Hanavia, what it might be and how he might sense it himself. In any case, whatever the future held, the night was sure to be clear. As ever, Hanavia proved a hungry student and this pleased Hanasian. Not only did he take in knowledge eagerly, it seemed he always wanted to learn more. Rin was that way too. Voracious minds the both of them…cost him a small fortune in books.

As they lay by the fading embers of the fire and watched the stars, Hanavia asked, "Do you think she is watching us now?"

"Are you referring to Lady Varda Elbereth? I believe she is,"
Hanasian replied.

Hanavia had selected a star and was staring at it. He said, "I find it hard to believe anyone could watch so many at one time, but if each star is an eye, it could possibly be done."

A streak quickly traced across the sky where they were both looking before fading away.

Hanasian said, "That seemed as if she winked at you."

This seemed to puzzle his son and so, after a moment, Hanasian added, "At least I like to think so."

Hanavia took a deep breath and let it out slowly, "And that is another of many reasons why I need to go to Rivendell. Time is short and the lore and memories of the Eldar are fast disappearing."

Hanasian sat up. Yes, he had planned to ask Hanavia about this very thing but how did the lad know. Did he have his mother's sixth sense, or had he overheard one of the many discussions between his parents on the matter. Hanavia said nothing further and simply gazed untroubled at the night sky. Hanasian lay back down again and decided to discuss the matter with Elladan, should he find him as he hoped he might.

It wasn't until they passed Sarn Ford and had come to the rocky passage of Andrath in the South Downs that they left the road to the east. Climbing through the rocks, they came to a narrow break in the rocks that led to a place where the rock overhung the bottom. It was one of many places the Rangers had used in the years past to watch the Greenway, for here at the top of the rocky escarpment, they could see far to the south down the Greenway. The men of Cardolan and those left after Cardolan was extinguished by war and disease had used this place. Here they could rest easy out of sight, and was the appointed place they were to meet Elladan. If the Elf was about.

It wasn't long before Elladan arrived, as Hanasian had hoped he would, but he did come alone. Whoever travelled with him hung back, though, and only Elladan approached. The greetings were swift and talk turned swiftly to the matter of Hanavia.

Elladan seemed grim for a time but then offered encouragement.

"Few of us linger in Imladris and its halls echo with emptiness. Most have now sailed west, yet, the Keeper of Records remains. Though wise, his mind is strange and he tends to talk to himself. Even as the time of the Eldar is now fleeting, soon he will no longer remain. Who could be trusted as a Keeper of Records? It is doubtful that sons of Men will long hold them dear, for the generations pass too quickly. Yet I think it would be worth to teach those young men of high esteem what we can in the time that yet remains."

Elladan turned to face young Hanavia squarely, "Therefore I offer to you Hanavia, son of Hanasian and Rosmarin, Prince of Cardolan, to be my squire, and to study with not only the Keeper, but with me. What say you?"

Hanavia smiled, "I would gladly accept, should my mother and father agree."

Hanasian nodded, "Indeed. Though it has been discussed, my wife and I have not agreed when this might occur. Still, Rin knows as I do that time is fleeting and this opportunity fast wanes even as we stand here. I have business in Bree, but as soon as I finish, I will return. Accompany us if you will."

Elladan shook his head, saying, "Nay, I go not to Bree and have not been there in many seasons. I will ride to your home and speak with the Lady of Cardolan. I will meet you there."

Hanasian and Hanavia looked at each other, and without words, they nodded to each other.

Hanasian then said, "Well, my business is routine. Collect and give news, fetch the things I have been aske to bring back with me. Bree is nothing Hanavia has not seen already. Perhaps it might be best if he accompanies you Elladan? Give you a chance to become acquainted."

Elladan gave brief thought and nodded. Hanavia was overjoyed. As much as he enjoyed the time with his father, he had always enjoyed Elladan's company when he was young. This would be his first chance to have time alone with him. And, it would give him a chance to bid his family farewell.

Hanasian said, "Tell Rin I will arrive home no more than two days after you get there."

The night was spent peacefully as Elladan sat up high and watched. In the morning, Hanavia and Elladan set out south while Hanasian set out north. He would be in Bree that night.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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The Inn at Bree, the Prancing Pony, had seen plenty of business and yet it seemed to remain unchanged. Hanasian arrived shortly after dark to a crowded common room. Many of the usual faces were there, including a few of the younger Dunedain seated at a table that had become their regular meeting place. It was off to one side and out of way with an easy view of stairs and the door both. In fact, if he was not mistaken, it was almost in the same place where Aragorn observed four hobbits fresh out of the Shire so many years ago. Hanasian ordered tea while the two young Rangers drank ale.

Massuil, keeping his steady on these Rangers, puffed his pipe and said, ”Mae govannen Hanasian. No news is good news, they say. Tell me you have no news.”

Hanasian sipped his tea before saying, “No news. Mine is a life with a growing family. My eldest was with me but decided to turn back home to ride with Elladan.”

Massuil nodded, aware of Hanasian’s tidings. A Prince of Cardolan would again abide at Imladris, it seemed. This was worth knowing. A fresh platter of bread, butter, and cheese was set on the table and Hanasian wasted no time availing himself of it.

While he ate, Massuil said, “Ah, I like your place. I just don’t travel too well anymore. This damn right leg has about given up. They say wounds may heal but their memories linger forevermore. Its been reminding me every time I ride and it has been getting harder to walk. But if I don’t walk each day, it turns into a plank and I can’t move. I see you have greyed some since last I saw you.”

“Yes, some,”
Hanasian replied and made a note to mention it to his wife. She’d have a thing or two to say or do about Massuil’s right leg, he fancied.

But he said nothing of it to Massuil and instead offered, ”I’m only half Dunedain remember. I’m doing well to be in this good of shape this far along.”

Massuil nodded and quipped, “Indeed. Must be that fair wife of yours keeping you young.”

The two younger Rangers had paid no attention to any of this because there was food to be had on the platter. Massuil and Hanasian gave over to silence for a while lest the younger men ate it all. The cheese and bread was fresh, and Hanasian was reminded of who might enjoy the cheese in particular. Their children seemed to have inherited their mother’s adoration for the stuff and it was novel to not have to fight to the death for it.

Hanasian lifted another piece of bread and topped it with some cheese, ”My dear wife Rosmarin is the best thing to happen to me. May it be that everyone can find a true love such as I have. I try and keep myself whole for her and the children both, though at time I can feel the weather in my bones.”

The mention of his wife’s name had gotten the younger Ranger’s attention at last. Rosmarin was not a common name yet, though a number of young girls now laid claim to it. If the elder Ranger sitting there with his tea talking of a wife named Rosmarin, that could only mean one thing. Both younger men glanced at each other.

One of the younger rangers, silent until now, said, ”Speaking of weather, it will likely rain this night. I can feel it.”

Both Massuil and Hanasian shook their heads and Massuil said, ”No, not yet. Likely tomorrow, mid-day. Just a shower.”

So the four rangers decided to see who would be closest: before midnight, first light, mid-day, or toward the next evening. A small wager was made and a round was shouted by the youngest of the rangers. They needed to impress the Lord of Cardolan if they had a chance of being considered and nowadays, competition was getting fiercer. The serving girl was near finished for the night but passed the order to the bar. They talked a bit before the ales were brought to them but both Hanasian and Massuil paused as the serving girl set the flagons down on the table. She gave a slight smile and turned and walked away.

Massuil asked, ”Did she look familiar?”

Hanasian said thoughtfully.

It was obvious that she had the eyes, but she looked as if a commoner of Bree. She was not known to him but he spent little time in Bree now…and Rin was chasing another set of hands, particularly with another child on the way.

He asked Massuil, ”Have you seen her before?”

Massuil answered, “She came from the south… Edholland I believe. Came with some of the King’s ministers heading to Annuminas, but she remained here. I think she may have had a falling out with the lady she served. Now she is a barmaid of the Prancing Pony.”

While Massuil spoke, Hanasian watched her as she talked to the bartender. Edholland might be a concern or not. A falling out with a noblewoman would, in Rin’s estimation, only commend the lass further. He’d need to know more, though, before he made mention of her to his wife. Hanasian’s attention wandered to man sitting at a table with a few other men. They all were talking, but he was not. Instead he watched. Hanasian knew the ploy well. Take up with some locals for a brew, and under the cover of your group, watch for whatever you were there to find. Or whoever. For Hanasian’s part, he kept up the ruse of watching the young barmaid, but his attention was on the man. He leaned over to the young ranger next to him. His clean grey-green cloak had told Hanasian all he needed, but thought a test might not go astray tonight.

”Tell me son, what do you see here?” he asked.

The young ranger sat his flagon down and looked over at Massuil briefly before quickly looking over the room. It was only moments before he said, ”The man at the end of the table by the bar doesn’t fit in. He wants to, but doesn’t. He also knows he’s been seen.”

Massuil grimaced, ”Of course he does. You looked right at him! Work on seeing without looking. Look at the man at the next table but watch your target. You work on that.”

The young ranger nodded and said, ”Aye but he knew he was seen before I looked at him.”

Hanasian nodded, ”Then like as not he is working with someone else here. Your objective is to spot them now. Let this be a lesson to you young rangers. Even while enjoying a few ales, you are still on watch. Always. With the likeliness of any war slim, it is evermore imperative that the eyes of the King remain wide open.”

The table was quiet for a time until the young ranger noted that the man had departed. A new watch was set then. Who left next, and in which order? They spent the rest of the evening talking quietly amongst themselves as the crowd thinned out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After leaving the inn, the man made haste north and spent most of the night skirting the Chetwood. He met a shadowy figure in the depths of the early morning. Whispers were traded and a coin fell into the man’s hand. He quickly slipped off. The shadowy figure stood squinting southwards. He not obtained definite word. The man he had just paid was unclear as to who he was looking for. It was hard to give a description of Hanasian, though, being as he did not know exactly what the man looked like himself. He would have to chance going to The Prancing Pony himself and it would have be the next evening, before Hanasian could slip away again. He would have to do this himself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next morning was bright and clear and Hanasian was up early. He never slept very well without Rin beside him. As he lay awake in the early morning, he considered his habit of coming to Bree regularly. It had really become for the most part unnecessary, so he would make arrangements with Massuil that should anything arrive that was urgent for him to get, he could send a runner. He missed Rin and the children and though an inn is usually not quiet, it seemed to be now. Too quiet. There were no small feet running about, up to who knew what. Hanasian drifted into a light sleep as his thoughts turned to his children. The twins had better behaving.

Hanasian woke up a short time though to a song of a bird perched outside the window on a branch of an oak. The sky was barely beginning to blue in the east, but the scent of fresh bread was filling the air. He thought about their wager on rain last night and chuckled. He readied himself to go and when he got to the common room he was the only one there beside the elderly hobbit woman baking. Without word, she set a few slices of a fresh loaf and had butter, cheeses, nuts, and sliced fruit set out on a board.

”It’s all we have at this early hour. The beans are still in the oven,” she said.

Hanasian nodded, ”My thanks. This is all I need.”

He leaned against the bar and ate nearly everything that was on the board. He left the inn before anyone else arrived, went to the blacksmith and picked up a few items he had ordered on his last visit. As he looked about the smithy, a touch of sadness came over Hanasian as he remembered the Easterling Kholach and the Dale woman Tarina. He hadn’t known either long, but it have been a difficult, dark time for himself and Rin. In fact, both had played vital roles in keeping his wife, and unborn son, alive. The couple had met in unlikely circumstance in Dale and they had loved each other. They died too young and senselessly.

Hanasian pushed the memories away and buried them safe, then packed his satchels. Next was a short visit to a shop across the way to check on something he had asked for some time ago and he was relieved it had, at last come! He added his packs to his horse, eager to start on his way home.

The day’s pace was good, having cleared Andrath and cutting west to the Brandywine. He pressed on through the evening as he had made for the Sarn Ford. He set camp just south of there, where they had camped on watch of the Shire in the days leading up to the war. Laying under the open stars, he fell into a deep sleep and awoke startled in the pitch darkness of early dawn. There were no Black Riders coming to the ford this night but he could not shake the memory from him. Hanasian rose and readied himself, dried fruit and meats tossed down in hurried handfuls as he rode southwest along the river.

When he reached the foothills of Ered Luin a light rain fell and the peaks were shrouded in mist. But the trail was well known to him and he pushed through as far as he could. Hanasian found there was no option but to pass the night in a cave on the west side as the light failed. Even a well known trail could be treacherous and dangerous when it was wet and dark. The next morning he came riding toward home. He was glad beyond measure to be back.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Elladan considered the boy travelling with him. How old was he? Twelve? Mortal years passed so swiftly and it seemed to Elladan that only yesterday had he handed the tiny, vulnerable, squalling child to his exhausted and exhilarated mother while his somewhat terrified father hovered nearby. They had almost reached Hanavia’s home now, a day after they had left his father to continue on to Bree. Hanavia had started out bashful, the excitement quivering within him robbing him of his words. Elladan had met his fair share of shy lads down the long years and a few well-placed questions from the Elf had soon gotten Hanavia talking. It was remarkable what these mortal children could flourish into. One such quiet lad was now the High King, and married to Elladan’s sister…

Elladan had hoped to develop a sense of his new squire was and what he hoped to achieve. Would the lad be up to the task ahead of him? It was Prince’s education he was to receive and while every Prince needed one, not every Prince was equal to the task of acquiring one. Some, such as his mother, set about acquiring their own. Elladan found that Hanavia was a thoughtful, intelligent and kind lad who possessed a mortal’s unparalleled lust for knowledge. That all consuming belief that there was some great discovery awaiting them, just over the horizon, gripped Hanavia as it had so many before him. His was a restless mind, searching for new fuel to keep the fires burning. Historian, scholar and warrior. Hanavia would be all of these things if he could and a formidable Prince of Cardolan he would make.

Serious as Hanavia was, he was quick to laughter and he doing exactly that as they crossed a small stone bridge and entered the inner grounds of Hanavia’s home. It was a truly lovely place. The land had flourished, of course. That was to be expected with the presence of its true ruler. The house prowled against a ridge that fell away to the ocean below, a strong and sturdy thing of stone that was mannish, but Elladan could see other influences there. Eldar influences subtly permeated the Dunedain aesthetic given their shared histories and ancestries. It imbued the structure with its own beauty.

Elladan was aware that the restoration of the ancient seat of Cardolan’s royal line had been a gift from Arthedain. Aragorn had been keenly aware of the currents that eddied through their respective histories. Aside from the generosity of the gesture, the land was rightfully that of his cousin. It was as much an acknowledgement of that as it was a statement of good will and fidelity between allies. But the practicalities of the gesture had been complex. This place had lain in disrepair, abandoned for centuries as a result of war and disease, and Aragorn had simply not had the time to effect a restoration beyond the main house.

Elladan could see, however, that the restoration begun by the High King had continued over the intervening years. A large stables, several barracks and various out buildings and workshops spread around the inner area. All seemed to have risen from the ashes of older buildings. People moved in and about the buildings, busy with their day. Rangers were clearly discernable and Elladan surmised the others were Black Company personnel stationed here. He had heard a southern station had been established in the Lady’s southern holdings. Aragorn had been most pleased by that turn of fortune as now he no longer had to look all over Middle Earth when he had need of them.

Over by the escarpment was a hefty frame. It was a device men used to lift and lower things and it was presently lowering a heavy load of lumber. Men gathered around its legs and leant out to watch the timber’s descent, calling to one another from above and below.

”Good,” Hanavia noted from his saddle and nodded towards the device.

When he offered nothing further, Elladan asked, ”What is good?”

“Fresh timber has arrived. Amme has been waiting on that. I’ll show you, if you like,”
Hanavia answered, slid off his horse and left it grazing contentedly near the stables.

Elladan shook his head as the boy scarpered away towards the ridge but a young man strolled out of the stable and nodded calmly at Elladan as if this was all to be expected. Elladan looked to where Hanavia was and then back to young man.

”I can see -“

“No need, Master Elf,”
the chap said calmly as he patted the neck of Hanavia’s horse.

Elladan shook his head again, dismounted and followed Hanavia. He found a set of narrow steps notched into the rocky face of the escarpment that wound their way down to a small, sandy inlet far below. Hanavia skipped down them as if he had been climbing them all his life, which Elladan supposed he had, and he was more than halfway down. Elladan moved with greater care than Hanavia. Surefooted elven grace was one thing. Catching a pebble on the stone and tumbling headfirst the rest of the way was quite another. Still, he caught up to the lad again at the foot of the stairs. Hanavia had paused, hand on a large boulder that sat to one side on the sand. Elladan studied the beach from behind him.

It was a hive of activity. At one end men swarmed over a new structure emerging from the sand and then the water. It was a jetty, Elladan saw, and it seemed that the Black Company engineers and men were hard at work on it. In their midst were two young lads, scampering about amidst the men. This hive of industry was not what Hanavia was watching. Over to the other side, well clear of the men working, was Hanavia’s mother. The Lady of Cardolan had her skirts tucked up so that they did not get too heavy with water and she had a young girl in her arms. Rin was swinging her about in the shallows and the dark haired girl was laughing gleefully. Elladan could see the Lady of Cardolan was with child once more. Further up the beach was an older girl. She was stretched out on the warm sand, contentedly watcher her mother and sister and the men working on the jetty. This, Elladan concluded, had to be Elian.

”Why do you hesitate?” Elladan asked Hanavia softly.

”Amme is happy. She how she smiles? And laughs?” Hanavia’s hand dropped from the boulder to his side, ”I do not think she will smile when she knows why you have come.”

With that, he stepped out onto the sand.

Elian loved the beach. She loved the feel of the warm sand between her toes and the salty tang on the breeze. She loved the sound of the waves and the wind bouncing off the rocks. She loved the way the light seemed to dance and skip over the water and make the sand glow and sparkle, sun or moon. Mostly she loved how the twins left her alone on the beach, drawn as they were to the construction of the jetty.

She could hear them giggling, probably stealing bolts or nails or whatever the men called them. Horrors. She could also hear her sister. Adanel was laughing and when she did she sounded like Amme. Adda said it was like silver and Elian agreed. Amme was singing a rhyme to Adanel that Elian knew well. She began humming along to herself, eyes closed, occasionally whispering the words as she wondered what Adda would fetch back from Bree for her. Adda always brought something for each of them and Elian could not understand why Amme did not ask for nice things. The last time, Adda had brought back a parcel that stank. Hanavia had said it was bark – a special kind that made hair grow when it was rubbed. Elian wasn’t sure if Hanavia had been telling the truth. It was so hard to know. He always had such good answers for questions. So far, no hair had appeared on her hands.

The thought made Elian hold her hands up for inspection. She cracked her eyes open to study them and started when she saw her brother’s face hovering above.

”What are you doing here?” she demanded, startled.

Before he could give a silver tongued answer, she scowled at him and remembered she was upset with him, ”If you didn’t want to go to Bree with Adda, why did you not stay so that I could?”

“Adda sent me back with a visitor,”
Hanavia told her and Elian narrowed her eyes at him, hairy palms quite forgotten now.

Hanavia nodded towards where the jetty was being built and Elian propped herself up on her elbows to see if her brother was telling the truth.

When her eyes widened, he triumphantly said, ”See?”

“Who is that?
” Elian asked as she watched the Elf by the jetty. He seemed to be inspecting one of the large poles that rose from the shallows.

”That is Lord Elladan,” Hanavia said, sounding as if this was supposed to be impressive.

Elian frowned, ”Who?”

“Do you ever listen in history?”
her brother asked and it was a silly question. History was dull and Hanavia was well aware of her thoughts on the subject.

”Lord Elladan is the son of Lord Elrond,” he went on, still making no sense at all.

Elian looked at her brother blankly and Hanavia lifted his eyes to the sky and sank down to the sand beside her, ”He’s High Queen Arwen’s brother.”

“Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
Elian demanded, eyes flaring in excitement, ”Does this mean we will go to Annuminas soon?”

That would mean Amme would let her wear some of her jewels. Perhaps, even, the pearl diadem. It would mean they could stay where there were people – proper people – and interesting things going on. Best of all, it would mean no history lessons. Elian was well aware that Hanavia was shaking his head at her, as if he were some wise old man. He was only two years older than her. Not even that! Sometimes he could be such a boy.

Elladan decided inspect the jetty closer. One of the Company engineers spotted him inspecting a pier footing and had hurried down to explain how they had sunk and anchored each of them. The jetty would not be very long nor wide. Just enough to reach a ship anchored off shore, easier by far than rowing crew, passengers and whatever cargo back and forth. Ships, Elladan was told, could weigh anchor relative close to shore on account of how the sea bed dropped away sharply. This meant the jetty did not need to be very long. It also meant that it became increasingly difficult to sink the supporting piers. Naturally there was a solution for this that sounded complex, risky, ingenious and utterly mannish. The engineer, a middle aged man called Donius, was practically hopping from foot to foot with excitement the system that let men breathe under water.

Donius said, ”I can see you have your doubts, Master Elladan.”

His pale grey eyes moved past Elladan to focus on something behind him. He pushed broad, blunt fingers back through his thinning brown hair.

”And here comes another who shares your concern,” he continued, ”Don’t you Doc?”

Elladan turned to see the Lady of Cardolan only a few paces away. Her skirts were down now and gathered sand as she walked. The breeze had brought a faint glow to her cheeks and Elladan was struck anew by her resemblance to her mother, Lady Verawyn. Verawyn’s daughter, however, was her own woman and the years had brought her something her mother had found little of in her brief life. This was a woman descended from kings in the very apex of her life. Rosmarin nodded at Donius, who now wore a grin that the man was likely unaware of and, Elladan surmised, one Rin likely saw on many a face. She had that effect.

”Drowned any of my men today, Donius?” she inquired as she closed, a faint curving of her lips taking the edge out of what was an otherwise pointed objection.

”No, and I won’t tomorrow or the day after that, Doc. You’ll see.”

“I hope you are right,”
she murmured and her attention moved to Elladan.

He watched her hold her skirts out but caught her before she could curtsy.

”Your grace,” he said formally, ”A pleasure to see you once again.”

While it was clear that the lady had a fondness for the engineer, Elladan had no idea what she thought of him. Her expression was inscrutable, carefully composed over the fine symmetry of her features as to betray nothing. How the years had changed her from that trusting, open child he had first encountered. She held his eyes briefly before she looked down the length of the jetty.

Donius stood a little taller and his chest expanded, ”Making good progress now that timber’s arrived, Doc.”

“Will you need more, do you think?”

“I hope not. This last load was pricey, I heard.”

“You heard correctly,”
Rosmarin replied in a tone that suggested that future acquisitions would involve renegotiation of trade terms. Elladan had heard many a merchant say that the Lady of Cardolan was astute when it came to business arrangements.

”But,” Donius hedged, ”If the same thing happened to this lot as last, couldn’t we just harvest it? I mean, there’s the right trees up there and it’s your land. I’ve even been able to mark a few. Horses, some men, and ten or so days and-“

“Donius, if you have been marking trees where I think you have been, you are fortunate to be standing here now. The only reason they let you go is because you were one man, and you did not fell any. If, however, a team of men arrived,” Rin shook her head firmly.

“But it’s your land…and they’re…well aren’t they your people?”

“Yes Donius, and I gave my people my word. I’ll pay for timber for this jetty.”

“But they don’t live in the trees, Doc. Not really. And I bet they cut them down themselves.”

Rin warned and then canted her head to one side, ”In any case, you told me that last batch accidentally sank. Surely such an uncanny mishap is unlikely to occur again.”

Donius found sudden cause to study the sand they stood on. He shrugged, ”Fine, Doc, we’ll do it your way.”

Rin let it go with, ”It will be a fine jetty, Donius.”

That made the engineer smile again, for engineers always loved it best when their work was appreciated and praised. Smiths, in Elladan’s opinion, were little different

”Listen, Doc, about those boys of yours,” Donius said, switching tack.

”Mine, eh? They’re only mine when their misbehaving,” she muttered and then called up, ”Are you behaving yourself boys?”

“Yes Amme,”
came two high, clear replies. On the heels of the boys’ immediate and dubious answer came a chorus of deeper masculine affirmations that they too were behaving themselves. It produced a wry smile from Rin.

She considered Donius anew, ”I found several hammers under their beds this morning. Once they are cleaned off, they will be returned to you.”

Donius frowned but Rin shook her head, ”Trust me, you do not want to know. Is there anything else missing? Axes, saws…anything sharp?”

“Oh no, we keep a close eye on the dangerous things. Anyway, I should get back up there before they all slack off. Otherwise this jetty will never be finished.”

Donius nodded pleasantly at Elladan and started back up the steeply sloped beach. Rin watched him depart and murmured something to herself in Dunlendic before she turned her attention squarely to Elladan. Again he was struck by how difficult it was to read her thoughts.

”And so here you are, Master Elladan, with my son but not my husband,” she said and shifted so that she could study Hanavia where he sat by his sister, watching anxiously.

”Hanasian expects to return in two days.”

He watched her nod at that and consider her son a moment longer, ”I know why you are here. I see it in his face,”

”He does not wish to cause you distress,”
Elladan quietly answered.

Rin’s eyes flared and her head snapped about to him as if she had been struck. In that instant he saw complex emotions weave across her face. No sooner had he glimpsed that were they gone. Her composure settled back over her delicate features with startling speed.

Hanavia stood beside his sister down the other end of the beach, his hands clenching and unclenching as he watched his mother speak to Master Elladan. They were talking about him. He knew it. He watched Elladan offer an arm to his mother, which she accepted. Together, they walked through the heavy sand to the stairs. Then Elladan followed her up the narrow winding stairs.

Down on the beach, Elian asked her brother, ”What do you think she will say? Do you think she will let you go?”

Hanavia shook his head uncertainly and a heartbeat later Elian said, ”I hope you do go away to Imladris.”

Hanavia asked, distracted as he watched Master Elladan depart with his mother, ”Amme and Adda will not send the tutor away just because I have gone. There will still be lessons.”

“Yes, but I will get your room,”
Elian replied.

The rest of the day and all that evening was torment for Hanavia. He knew Elladan and his mother had spoken. He just knew it. But neither Elf nor his mother would speak of it. At least Master Elladan said that they had spoken. His mother had not even mentioned that and every time he asked her, she found something for him to do. When was Adda going to come back, he wondered? What if Master Elladan left without him? He tossed and turned through the night and arrived at the kitchen table for breakfast the following morning grumpy and out of sorts. He knew it and, for once, he did not care.

Elian kept smirking, like this was all some great big laugh. Sometimes his sister really irritated him. The twins, well they were the same as they ever were. They showed up whispering to each other in their nonsense language and showing suspiciously innocent faces. Everyone could see there were feathers attached to their tunics and hair. Adanel was off in her own little world again, humming the rhyme that Amme had been singing to her yesterday. As for Amme, she bustled around the kitchen as if nothing was wrong. Hanavia brooded like a summer storm as she set out plates and food and cutlery. When she placed the bread fresh from the oven in the middle of the table, the storm broke.

”Who cooked? Was it you, Amme?” he asked, struggling to keep the belligerence from his tone and failing miserably if the expression on his mother’s face was anything to go by.

”Why do you want to know, son?” she threw back at him, daring him to cross the line.

Hanavia threw caution to the wind, ”I wish Aunt Slip was back from Fornost! Ever since she went, hardly anything here is edible anymore! Look at that! It’s hideous!”

He pointed at the bread. It did, admittedly, look like bread. If you ignored the shape of it. Everyone, even Amme, knew that she was not good at baking. Hanavia looked around the table at his siblings. Elian was wide eyed, staring at him as though he were some sort of insect. The twins were slack jawed, eyes bobbing between their mother and himself. Adanel had her thumb jammed all the way in her mouth. She was scowling at him. His mother drew a deep breath and set both her floured hands on the table top, long fingers spread. Hanavia stared at them, unable to look at her face.

”Inedible, you say Hanavia?” she asked, her voice deceptively calm as she pronounced every syllable of his name precisely.

He was up to his neck, he knew. May as well commit all the way. That’s what Caeros said. Better a sheep than a lamb.

”Yes,” he said, staring at his mother’s fingers.

”In that case, you’ll be pleased to know that you’re excused from breakfast Hanavia. You’ll be giddy with delight to know the stables need mucking out. And don’t you dare show your face in here until such time as you have remembered who you are and the manners your father and I have taught you. Am. I. Clear?”

Mucking out the stables? She thought that was going to make him say sorry? Hanavia tore his eyes from her hands to her face and saw that her eyes were very, very blue. Still, he jutted out his lower chin and snarled, ”Yes!”

He watched her lift her arm and point at the kitchen door. He flew out of it, making sure it slammed good and proper and nearly knocked Farbarad over on his way in.

Inside, Rin drew another deep breath. Farbarad filled the doorway, a question on his lips that faded away when he took in the kitchen. Her remaining children were silent and still.

”Go on then, eat up. Before it gets cold,” she said as gently as she could and they set to with determination, eager to stay out of the mess that their eldest brother had just made.

Hanavia was still mucking out the stables when his father rode in. But before he could get to his father to explain what had happened and seek his help, the twins shot in to get there first. They tripped over each other in their rush to say what had happened. It was a blur, but clear enough to condemn Hanavia. He felt shame burn in his cheeks and went back to the stall he was mucking out.

”So Elladan is here, is he?” his father asked his younger brothers, having made out Elf in the mess of words they had thrown at him.

”Yes, Adda,” said Worlin in his high voice.

”Good, good,” came the deep, calm rumble and then, ”And have you been good boys while I was away?”

“Yes, Adda,”
Dorlith said this time and went on to explain how they gave Elladan a welcome present.

When their father asked how there came to be feathers stuck in their hair, the twins explained that the chickens had been more difficult to get into the drawers in Elladan’s room than they had anticipated.

”In that case, I think you should go and set the chickens loose and then tell your mother what you have done.”

“Yes Adda,”
the boys chirruped, suspiciously obedient, and raced off to the house.

Hanavia could hear his father continue to unpack and then unsaddle his horse. Next would come the brushing. Hanavia finished the stall he was working on and went to fetch fresh hay for it.

As he walked back in with it, his father, ”I have not forgotten you are there, son.”

Hanavia tipped the hay onto the cleaned floor of the stall and began spreading it out. His father continued to curry his horse.

”Do you want to tell me what is wrong, or find out for myself?” his father asked.

”Amme won’t let me go, Adda,” Hanavia said, the words bursting out of him.

”How do you know this? Has she told you so?”

Hanavia admitted, blinking away hot tears and shoving the hay about the stall.

He heard footsteps and sensed his father stood at the head of the stall. Hanavia’s jaw clenched and he kept poking at the hay as his father stood there in silence. But it became too much and he threw the rake down and whirled about to face his father. It poured out of him, all of it, and his father said nothing. He just listened, quietly. By the time Hanavia had reached the ignominous events of the morning, it felt like hours had passed. He fell quiet and bit his lower lip, peering at his father.

Hanasian looked towards the house and frowned, ”She’s baking? That seals it. We need another pair of hands.”

His attention swung back to his son and his frown did not abate, ”But your behaviour, this morning, lad was…be grateful I was not there to see it myself, boy, or you’d be doing worse than mucking out the stables on an empty stomach right now. Your mother loves you dearer than life itself and well you know it! She deserves better than that from you. You owe yourself better than that, son.”

He watched his eldest child’s head droop and then nod.

”Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to find some flowers and march back in there and apologise to your mother.”

“I don’t think flowers-“
Hanavia sniffled.

”Nonsense. Flowers and sincerity always work. Remember that, lad.”

“Do you think she’ll let me go?”

“I think there’s a fair chance that you haven’t completely ruined this opportunity. Your mother will not hold this morning against you unfairly.”

Hanasian watched his son’s face lift again, renewed hope there. How badly the boy yearned for this. Rin would be true to her word, wouldn’t she? As he wondered that he heard his wife. She was shouting at the top of her lungs from the kitchen.


Hanasian frowned at that. What had he to do with…he reviewed what he had told the twins and then groaned. Set the chicken free he had said. They had obediently done as bidden. Go tell your mother what you have done he had said. Again, they had obediently done as their father had told them. Hanasian wiped a hand over his face. No wonder the little horrors had been so eager to do his bidding! Could not Elladan take them with him, for a year or two, or twenty?

”Think you might need some flowers too, Adda,” Hanavia observed and together, father and son smiled at each other.

Suffice it say that the arrival of evening, the comfort of his own home and the relative peace within it was a welcome advent for Hanasian. Thankfully, Rin had not baked for dinner and on the whole it was rather delightful. Hanavia had made his apologies and was being the very soul of decorum. He even held his mother’s chair out for her and while she rolled her eyes, she also fondly rumpled his hair. Their son was fast becoming a man, but he was still boy enough to beam like a moonbeam at the gesture.

The chickens had all been located and removed safely. The twins would be up for some time tonight working on their letter explaining why it was wrong to put chickens in the drawers of guests. Or anyone, for that matter. Elian was bedecked with every ribbon her father had brought back with her. She’d made something she said was elven in honour of their guest and, ever the gentleman, Elladan had complimented her on her handiwork. It looked to Hanasian to be about as elven as dwarf, but Elian was aglow. Adanel was in his lap, helping him eat his meal. There was quiet talk around the table about events in Bree and the progress on the jetty.

The meal concluded and the evening unfolded in a familiar, comfortable way. Those who had eaten with them usually headed off to their respective quarters either in the house if they were Rangers or elsewhere if they were Company men. Some would repair to the long, deep balcony that overlooked the ocean with their pipes to take in the stars. Rin, usually assisted by Slippery, saw to readying the children for bed. As Slip was off, visiting someone or rather in Fornost, Rin had her hands full for quite some time. Hanasian was on the balcony when Elladan sought him out.

”I have spoken with your lady wife,” he said to Hanasian, ”It is the clear to me that your son has…gifts to nurture. If he were to be a healer then I would counsel him to remain at his mother’s side. There is no better than her, Edain or Eldar, in these lands now. But I do not think your son seeks that path.”

“Nor I,”
Hanasian replied and then, ”What did Rin say to you.”

” Elladan admitted, ”Though she listened attentively. All I know is that she intends to discuss the matter further with you.”

“What, then, concerns you?”

“I am uncertain if the Lady will consent to her son’s departure. She has not indicated that she stands against it, nor for it. I find it difficult to know what she might think.”

“In that you are not the first,”
Hanasian assured him, ”I still find myself wondering from time to time. She has given me her word that she will not stand in Hanavia’s way. This, though…this is hard for any mother and harder still for Rosmarin.”

“I can appreciate that,”
Elladan said and then, ”Perhaps would have been better if Elrohir were here instead of I. She ever seemed to favour him.”

“I will speak with her further tonight,”
Hanasian said, ”And what of you, Master Elladan? Are you certain you wish to offer Hanavia a place in Imladris?”

Elladan paused before answering, ”It is true I had some doubts. Not every prince is cut from the same cloth. Hanavia’s grandfather, is a case in point. Bereth possessed a formidable intellect. His flaws lay elsewhere and Hanavia is yet young. Who is to say what stuff his character is yet woven from? Is he like his grandfathers? Or, rather, has the apple fallen a little closer to the tree as they say?”

“What do you think, Master Elf?”

“I think, Hanasian, that it would be a great honour to tutor your son, irrespective of whether he chooses to take up the principality of Cardolan after his mother or a different path.”

Hanasian felt Elladan’s hand close briefly on his forearm and then the Elf was gone. He remained there, mulling the Elf’s words carefully for some time before he went in to bid his children a good night. He found Rin in the study, head in one hand as she scanned through a pile of reports and correspondence. With Slippery away, Rin was using the evening to address work she usually did during the day. There was a faint furrow between her brows and she pursed her lips at something she read.

”Extortion! There is simply no way I am paying that much coin! Oh…wait,” she muttered, in the habit of speaking to herself, ”They’re paying us.”

She let out a sigh and pushed the parchment to a particular pile. It was then she noticed him standing there, studying her.

”I found someone in Bree you might be interested in. Dunedain…up from Edholland. Fell out with the nobles she was travelling with to Annminuas and now works at the Pony.”

“We don’t need more staff, Hanasian. Slip will be back soon.”

“Meanwhile, you can’t tell the difference between an account to be paid or received. And you’re baking.”

“Were the flowers your idea?”
Rin asked and Hanasian shrugged at her.

”Flowers and sincerity. Always works,” he replied and then pushed her distraction aside, ”I’ll write to Loch, see what he knows about her. Can’t be too many Dunedain in Edholland.”

Rin muttered and then began riffling through the unread pile of papers, ”If you’re writing that lout, tell him to send his bloody report. He’s three months behind?”

“Do you really want to add three months of reports to that pile right now, love?”

“Not the point. Ask him. No, tell him. I want those reports. I need those reports. For all we know, the Company could have gone renegade down there!”

“If they did, he’d be with them. Especially when he hears he’s three months behind in his reports.”

Hanasian smiled at his wife and it did not work. She was singularly unimpressed. Rin sat in her chair at her desk and stared at him hard, hands resting over her belly. He could just imagine the son or daughter within joining up with her to stare as well.

”I’ll tell him,” Hanasian promised when it was clear she was not going to let the matter drop.

At his words, she nodded and knuckled her eyes. It was clear she was tired. Hanasian decided, then, to leave the matter of Hanavia for the morning.

”Come, these can wait another day. I will help you with them tomorrow, love.”

Rin sighed and dropped her hands, long fingers clasped together, atop the papers.

”They can, Hanavia cannot. I know why Elladan is here. How fortuitous it was you met him on your way to Bree.”

Hanasian did not miss her sarcasm. He really did not wish to argue. She was tired and the issue was a delicate one. One false word or step and she’d dig her heels in. Once that happened, it was all over. Her steely will was a double-edged sword in that respect, steadfast determination on one edge and bitter stubbornness on the other.

”Rin, you gave your word.”

“I know perfectly well what I said, Hanasian! After this morning’s-”

“You can’t hold that against him, Rin. He’s a boy still. He will make mistakes!”

“Hanasian, this morning was more than a mistake! You were not there!”

Rin broke off and muttered something in Dunlendic. Hanasian turned away and struggled for patience and calm. He knew this was hard, but it was cruel beyond measure to chain the boy here simply because his mother found it hard to let go. Was it easier for him? Did he not miss his son already? And had she not given her word? She knew what it was to be denied opportunities such as this. How could she do to her son what had been done to her? Disappointment welled up in Hanasian. And beneath that, anger simmered.

”So now what, Rosmarin?” he asked and turned back to face her, ”Go on, say it.”

She stared at him through wide eyes that were so very blue right now. They dropped away to her hands. Her hands moved to her belly. She was silent for a while and then looked up at him again, biting her lower lip.

”Say it, Rosmarin,” he coldly demanded.

”I – I think,” she started and then stopped. He watched her eyes drop away again, unable to muster the words. Even she knew she was wrong. Surely, if she were the woman he knew her to be, she would stop herself.

”After this morning,” Rin began again and lifted her eyes, ”I think he must go with Elladan. I was not convinced before. Understand me, Hanasian. It is not that I cannot manage our son. I do not wish to dispose of him because he is unruly. But I see how badly he thirsts for this. How can I not? He wants this as badly as… I wanted my family alive. How can we not give him this?

“It will not be easy for him, he has never been away from us. But we must send Caeros too, for he is sworn to Hanavia and a familiar face will be a comfort to him in a strange place. I – And we will visit, will we not? Or perhaps he might return for a time, every now and again?”

Those blue eyes were trained on him and he was drowning in their depths.

”Hanasian…we must let him go. Mustn’t we?”

Relief surged through him. Pride too, for he knew all too well how difficult this was for the woman before him. She was looking to him for an answer and he had no words for her. Instead he strode around the desk, pushed it aside and pulled her to her feet and into his arms. He held her a long time in silence and then, tipped her head back to kiss her deeply.

”We will tell Hanavia in the morning,” he said, voice husked by emotion, ”Come. To bed with you, woman.”

A short while later, as he soaked in the presence of his wife by his side, they heard a clucking noise in the darkness. Father and mother both groaned at the same time.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Donius sat on the sand and watched the waves steadily thrust themselves up the beach. His eyes were trained on the pillars that supported the jetty, his prized construction. The dock was his most notable achievement yet as an engineer. Proudly, he noted the pillars did not budge under the rising tide. Not even a fraction. Unsurprising, really, given the efforts he had made in his design and the fact that he had been observing the rising of the tide for a week now. If his calculations were correct, the dock should withstand the rigours of two laden ships moored under the sort of storms that arose here in the north. Savage things, appearing out of nowhere, howling and shrieking and heaving and then fleeing again almost as fast. A rising tide on a calm day was hardly a storm but he had no other measure to set against it. And besides, the day was pleasantly warm. So he sat and watched for so much as a quiver in the broad timbers that held the whole thing aloft and thought of what other test he might contrive.

He was still thinking when a ship was sighted out to sea. It drew steadily closer during the afternoon and word inevitably spread faster than bad news. Rangers fell in around him on the shore, talking to one another in hand signals that were not really like those of the Black Company or that Elvish tongue that made no sense at all to Donius. No ship was expected and the faces the Rangers turned to the western ocean were wary. Amongst the Rangers were men Donius could understand. The Black Company lounged about in a haphazard arrangement that belied their state of readiness. Donius knew that these men could swiftly move from apparent idleness to terrible action in the time it took to draw a single breath. Their hand signals he could understand. There was a wager afoot already about the ship. The sun steadily drew closer to the western horizon, casting the fiery cloak of sunset over the approaching vessel. It made it difficult to see what, if any, flag the ship might be flying. Whoever helmed it had timed the approach expertly, though, arriving when the tide was most swollen. Wulgof shielded his old eyes with one hand and squinted against the sun.

"It looks vaguely familiar. If I didn't know better, is that not the Fidelity?" he muttered.

Mulgov countered, "How can you tell?"

"Because that looks like Captain Harlas on the bridge rail."

A familiar voice rang over the deck and the narrowing gap to the dock and shore, issuing orders for his crew. It wasn't every day a ship was able to claim the first ever berth at a dock and the crew were already leaning over the rail to peer at the new fixture with anticipation. Donius was suddenly struck by the realisation that a test far better than the rising tide was unfolding right before his eyes. Excitement jostled with immediate concern as he watched the ship heave to, lurching precariously towards his precious jetty. The thing loomed over the carefully wrought timbers of the dock and made the entire thing appear as fragile as spider silk. Lines whistled as they were thrown through to those men who had assembled on the jetty. Donius braced himself for disaster and glanced around the beach one last time. It was filled with people to witness his humiliation as an engineer, including his former captain, the woman who had paid for the jetty, their small army of children and an Elf lord.

"Hail and well met!" cried Captain Harlas from the deck, unflinching in the face of the twins who had begun to swarm down the jetty towards the Fidelity like the devils they were.

"Welcome Captain! This is an unexpected pleasure," Hanasian returned and things appeared to proceed entirely as normal.

It dawned upon Donius that his dock had not failed. He was still grinning about that after the Fidelity had been unloaded, and all the table and chairs had been fetched out of the house and set upon the wide grounds under the summer stars. As barrels of wine and ale were rolled out and food was passed around, Donius sat in a haze of proud delight.

At another table, Harlas sat with Hanasian and Rin and withstood a steady stream of questions from the Lady of Cardolan concerning tidings and doings in the south. She pressed for everything he had seen down the coast, as far as Minas Tirith and even further south. Harlas had heard the rumours of course, concerning the woman quizzing him and her far reaching trade arrangements. It was interesting indeed, he thought, that some of those rumours seemed to have some truth behind him.

"And Edhellond? Did you stop there? Any news?" she asked him, leaning around her husband to fix her clear eyes upon him.

Hanasian shifted in his seat to catch one of his younger sons by his belt as he ran after his sister. The lad heaved a disappointed sigh and Adanel's peals of alarm shifted to delight at her brother's apprehension by a higher power. Harlas used the opportunity to produce a satchel that he hoped would satisfy the Lady and give him a chance to enjoy some of his ale.

"Your man down south gave this to me in Edholland to bring to you," Harlas replied as he set the satchel on the table before Hanasian.

"Quite the backlog of reports," Hanasian observed, surprised, as he pushed it towards his wife with his free hand.

Hanasian well knew that the scout had never enjoyed writing reports and no amount of cajoling from his sister would change it. Hanasian had reconciled himself to receiving nothing at all, or at best a single report. An entire satchel of papers came as a surprise to him and Rin both. Rin began to rifle through them without delay, leaving off her interrogation of poor Captain Harlas to scan each swiftly by the light of lanterns in the oak tree boughs and the fire itself. There was a general air of merriment that night, but her brow furrowed as she read. Reports. Reports, reports, reports. Nothing but reports. Not a solitary word of how he was, or how Rose was. It was all trade, buildings, and last year's harvest.

"Yes," Rin muttered as she sifted through them and pushed out a sigh, "But these are just reports! Where's the rest of it? He could have at least sent word on how things were with them."

Hanasian was careful not to smile. Reports had been precisely what Rin had expected of her Steward and, now that she had them, she took issue with the fact that a letter had not been included.

Hanasian wrapped an arm around Rin's shoulders and kissed her temple,"I'm sure there is a reason why he didn't include in this batch. Perhaps he sent it by land. Maybe he thought the ship would be bound for Harlond."

Hanasian ignored Rin's sceptical sidelong look at him and took the parchments to read for himself, "Or he could have embedded it into the reports he had written himself."

"A coded letter?"
Rin asked, unconvinced.

Hanasian continued, "Some of these reports were written in another hand, likely Dorn's. I never got as far as I wanted in teaching him structure. But at least the corporal can write."

"Shall I request a letter on my way south again, my Lady?"
Harlas offered politely and Rin scowled at the satchel.

"I'll not send you nor anyone else to beg for me, Captain," she muttered and Hanasian knew that if he did not intervene now, Rin would be off to write her brother a blistering rebuke in a matter of moments.

"There will be time enough for such matters later," Hanasian said, more for Rin's benefit than for Harlas, "There is a feast to hand!"

And a feast it was: a celebration for the first ship at Cardolan?s newest quay and a grand farewell for Cardolan?s first son. Hanasian was all set to depart for Rivendell in the morning. The night was bittersweet, filled with cheer and gently subdued sorrow. Hanavia was aglow with excitement, the adventure before him so close now and beckoning to him. He could not understand why his parents were not as excited as he was. He could see the pride in their faces but he could see something else too. This he set aside, determined to make the night one he would not forget and he had just the thing in mind to do it.

"You realise that your son is not drinking water," Videgavia quietly remarked to Hanasian later in the night.

Rin spun about, instantly alert, "WHAT?"

"Wine. It is just wine,"
Videgavia replied swiftly for Rin had spotted her son across the way and looked set to swoop on the lad in maternal fury.

Hanasian set a hand on his wife's shoulder, "It is his last night here for days unnumbered. Shall we sour it?"

"He is still a boy!"
she protested and saw the knowing glance that Videgavia exchanged with Hanasian.

"Oh, very well," she said with a dissatisfied sniff, "But it won't be this healer cleaning up the mess you two seem to think is a fine idea."

And with that she stomped away to corner Elladan and bend his ear with a list of instructions concerning her eldest child, who was utterly and blissfully oblivious to his mother?s withering disapproval.

An impromptu toast triggered a cascade of tales from the Dirty Three of the days prior to Hanavia’s birth. It was no mystery why the Lady and Lord of Cardolan had so many children, they said. The bond between them ran deep and true and the trials and dangers they had faced had only forged that bond into something immutable. Stories were swapped freely and far too many tales that Rin would rather the Dirty Three kept to themselves were instead entrusted to the open, eager and hungry ears of her children. They did not need to know that their father had met their mother whilst apprehending her for highway robbery, for example, and she whisked her children off to bed, ignoring their vocal complaints. The crowd steadily began to thin.

When Khule looked around next he saw that only Wulgof and Molgov sat by the fire with him.

Khule said, ”How is it that we three, of all that have been with the Company, didn’t fall in battle?”

“We were lucky?”
Wulgof suggested.

Mulgov grunted as he tried to get the stiffness worked out of his leg, ”Perhaps we were not the lucky ones.”

Khule nodded at this as he watched the flames. He fed a few of the small sticks he had collected from the ground into its maw and watched them be consumed.

”Are Anbor and Belegost and Mecarnil and Gian and all the others better off dead? Perhaps it is better to fall in battle than to slowly grow old.”

Wulgof grunted again before saying, ”That’s the ale talking. Who would want to miss all this? And besides, we may yet be called out to do battle once more.”

“If that is the case, it best be soon.”
Mulgov said as he twisted his foot about, ”But for now, I’m going to get some sleep. We will be sending off young Hanavia with that elf tomorrow.”

As the night passed some of the younger Rangers newly arrived to Cardolan’s service stood watch. There was a sense of tranquillity upon the land. The stars gently faded and the sun rose in the east all too soon on a day that would be filled with great emotion. Hanavia woke bleary eyed and not nearly as excited as he vaguely recalled from the night before. Now the reality loomed ahead of him, his head felt like it was made of sand and there was a most horrible taste in his mouth. What he wanted was to curl up in bed again, perhaps with one of Amme’s wonderful compresses. Instead, he peeled himself out of his bed and set about preparing for the day.

To be accepted to study by Masters Elladan and Elrohir was a momentous achievement and a joyous occasion. Yet Hanavia felt somewhat deflated as he stood outside to say his goodbyes. Imladris was an exotic place to him, full of wonder, and yet this was his home and his family and his parents. He would be leaving them for many days. The parting was long and, now that he had come to it, even Hanavia’s excitement could not overwhelm his own trepidation. He took his leave one by one, trailed by his hound who would of course come with him. Caeros would come too, each symbols of the home he was leaving. Elian looked excited for him, her eyes bright and gleaming. The twins were upset: Hanavia’s departure meant that they now no longer outnumbered their sisters. Adanel was quiet, as was her way, and solemn. His parents, though…that was hardest of all it surprised him that he had not grasped what this meant for them earlier. Now he understood the pride and the sorrow.

His mother gently stroked his cheek and then leaned in to softly kiss his brow. There was much she would say, he thought.

”Remember who you are,” she whispered softly in Dunlendic, ”And remember that this will always be your home.”

He nodded and then regretted the movement, for it made his head throb. He saw a sad smile flitter across her face and she stepped back.

His father was far more practical, ”Your mother has tucked something into your saddle bags that should help with your headache. Try to eat something too. That also helps. If you study hard, Master Elladan may send word that we can visit.”

“Yes Adda,”
Hanavia replied obediently and peered up into his father’s face. His father’s grey eyes seemed to peer at him closely before he nodded at whatever he saw, ”I know you will do us proud, son.”

Those quiet, gruff words brought sudden tears to Hanavia’s eyes that he rushed to blink away. A soft word came from Elladan and then that his parents embraced him one last time before they stepped back. He realised then that he was released. It was time. They were letting him go. He felt curiously light and adrift as he mounted his horse. He took a look around the grounds and the great stone house that was his home. The jingle of tack signalled that the rangers escorting them had started to move off. Elladan rode out next. Hanavia glanced at Caeros whose face seemed curiously closed off and then started out behind the Elf. Hanavia did not see his Ranger glance back at his parents and exchange a solemn salute before he fell in after Hanavia. Last of all came his hound, trotting along at an easy lope, long tongue lolling from the side of his snout.

Hanasian and Rin stood by the empty tables under spreading oak and watched their son disappear into the woods that surrounded their home in silence, hand in hand.


Anvikela wiped the bar even though it was clean. A few travellers lingered about at a couple of the tables but it was the shadowy man by the fireplace that she watched most of all. The tea he had ordered upon arrival sat before him, barely touched. It had to be long cold and bitter. Yet he sipped at it whenever she should glance towards him. It was her job to watch the guests and see to their needs but seemed to Anvikela that he was doing the watching and she was the one watched. He gave her the shivers.

A greying man entered without so much as a glance towards her and walked as if he was familiar with the place. She had not seen him before in all the years she had worked at the Forsaken Inn. He made his way to the man with the cold tea by the fireplace and slid into an empty chair. The two fell in a quiet, intent conversation almost immediately. Anvikela strained to listen without being noticed from the bar. It was not easy.

”I think he’s been seen but I cannot be sure.”

“Why not?”
cold tea drinker asked.

The grey man said, “I do not have a proper description of him. It’s hard to identify anyone in those circumstances.”

“I heard that someone with his description went away east, and so I went there. I found a place on the shores of a great sea called Skharr or such. There was word there that he had sailed off east and neither he nor anyone else who left with him have been seen since,”
the cold tea drinker said.

Anvikela’s movements froze, her damp cloth mid wipe on the bar. Could it be, she wondered, that they were talking of Hanasian?

The grey man turned towards the bar and waved for service. Anvikela quickly tapped the last of the ale in the keg, tipping it to fill the tankard. She nodded at him to show that she was seeing to his request and he turned back to his companion. They paid her little notice except to pause talking while she delivered him his ale. When she stepped away to tend the fire, they started talking again in hushed tones.

The grey man said, ”I waited in Bree for months in hope word would come. It did not. Then I heard a rumour that the Black Company was in the south. Once there, I gained word from another who said he had been seen there, but you had gone east by then. So I went south to Tharbad in hopes of learning more.

“There they had no news or knew of whom I spoke. That was, until I plied a bar maid with drink after her work was done for the evening. She spoke of the cadre of armed men who had been through, Black Company. But they were led by a man of Gondor called Berlas and she had not seen the man you are seeking. So, I made for at the Forsaken Inn. I am glad to have found you here. I did not wish to go to Dale.”

The log hit the embers and the fire cracked. Silence fell between the two men and their heads turned towards her again. Anvikela stood up, replaced the poker by the hearth and returned to the bar. She tried not to hurry, though to have lingered would have brought suspicion as well. Despite her efforts, the two men said no more to each other and soon, both had left the inn.

Anvikela went on tending the few remaining patrons until they too set out into the night for their homes. A quick check of the register revealed that the inn expected no overnight guests. Anvikela’s mind was awash with barely defined thoughts. In the years since she had left, she had been alone and for the most part happy. But she owed so much to the people she had left behind. In a strange world, Hanasian and Rosmarin had given her a new home and a safe place. She had been welcomed into their family. It had been Rosmarin’s brother who had brought her out the bondage she and her sisters had been born into. Rosmarin herself had healed her at Skharr even though she had been her enemy. And there was something about those men that had seemed…wrong. Why were they looking for Hanasian? What business did they have with him? And what could she do to prevent whatever mischief they were about if her powers were failing? She knew they were dwindling. She could not stay and hope that the protective shroud she had set in place upon her departure would somehow endure. She had to do more. There was somewhere she needed to get to, and quickly at that.

The going was slow and wary at first for she did not wish to encounter the grey man and the cold tea drinker unawares in the wilds around the inn. As she went, she sent more and more of her failing powers, keeping now nothing reserved from the shroud around the ancient seat of Cardolan. This pressed Anvikela sorely and she almost did not sense the approach of the party striking east from Bree. She quickly climbed into the trees and hope they would pass her by and not even realise she was there. There was little she could do to conceal herself without risking the shroud.

Then came a vague sensation. It was almost as if the elf-lord that she saw approach knew she was there. He raised no alarm. Indeed, to her surprise, he seemed to make her smile though she had no understanding of how. It was most confusing. And yet there she sat, perched in a tree, smiling as they rode by below. The elf-lord rode with Rangers and some, she thought, looked familiar to her. They had always seemed to be formidable men to Anvikela and her smile began to fade until she saw the youth in their midst. Surely that had to be Hanavia. Her gaze fell on the large dog trotting along with him and she stifled a gasp of recognition. Hanavia had grown so much! Could so many years have passed? He was all arms and legs now, bouncing along on his horse as if he had been born riding it. The very image of his father, with his mother’s piercing eyes. She recalled holding him in her arms as a small boy. She recalled his small hand in hers, tugging her this way or that. And yet surely that had to be him riding there below. If she dared spare a little from the shroud, she knew she would sense the echo of glorious Numenor in him. Still, if Hanavia was here with all those Rangers, where were his parents? Anvikela waited until the last Ranger had passed by. Neither Hanasian or Rin were there. She would have to press on and find them.

Anvikela was sure to let Hanavia’s party get well out of sight before she climbed down out of her tree and continued warily towards Bree. As she drew closer to Bree, the burden of shielding their home grew steadily heavier. She would not have the strength to continue for much longer. It was remarkable, really, that she had lasted this long. Her power was waning to the point of ineffectiveness. She hoarded every last shred of it and set it into that shroud and it had stood fast for years. Long enough for their eldest child to reach the cusp of manhood, only now to fail and perhaps at a time they needed it most of all.

Taking a room at The Prancing Pony, Anvikela closed herself away, and with one last gasp of effort cast the last of her strength into the shroud she had kept on Cardolan. It would now slowly wane and fall away. She had no more to give and no way of knowing when Cardolan would be laid bare.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Two women hundreds of leagues apart woke with a start in the middle of the night. Both slipped from their beds and the husbands within and went to the nearest window or door to peer at the stars. One woman raised her hand and studied the ring she bore upon it. Behind her, in the bed, her husband rolled over and found her missing. She heard his sleepy question and turned to give him soft words of comfort so that he might sleep once more. When Loch had settled back to sleep, Rose turned back to the window and her ring. There would be no further rest for her tonight.

The second woman, far to the north, went through the great glass doors of her bedroom to the balcony beyond. She stood beneath the stars and gazed first out to sea and then inland, north and east. It was a warm night and the breeze tugged at strands of hair that had slipped from the braid she set her hair into every evening. Gooseflesh rose on her arms. She frowned as she tried to comprehend what had woken her. Inside, her husband was accustomed to his wife’s absence during the night. Years of raising children did that. Being married to a healer did that. In any case, Rin had always found it difficult to sleep through the night when with child. Still, when she did not return to bed Hanasian stirred.

He lifted his head and saw his wife standing outside on the balcony. The moonlight had transformed her pale hair into quicksilver. With a sigh he rose and brought out to her the shawl she had been wearing of late. When he set it gently on her shoulders he noticed that Rin flinched. Hanasian’s concern was immediate and he came around to take her hands between his own. They were as ice and he saw that her eyes were distant in the moonlight. He glanced over her shoulder and past the balcony’s edge to the small inlet below. The Fidelity was moored safely still, small pinpricks of warm lantern light glowing for the crew bunked aboard in the harbour below.

”What is it,” he asked her as she looked to sea and then inland.

”You heard it too,” she murmured softly

Hanasian began to rub her hands to warm them, ”Heard what, my love?”

Rin’s brow furrowed faintly at his question and he saw her eyes shift to settle on him. From the way she blinked, it was as if she had only just noticed him there. She was surprised to find him standing there with her despite the fact she had spoken to him only moments ago.

”My love, are you unwell?” he asked and she slowly withdrew her hands from his to pull her shawl tighter about her bare shoulders.

”It is nothing,” Rin answered and then glanced down at the soft swell of her belly, ”You know how it goes with me.”

he admitted, certain there was more to it than her usual restlessness.

”Go back to bed, love. There is little sense in us both losing sleep,” she urged him.

”You will come too?” he asked, reluctant to leave, and she nodded.

He leaned forward to kiss her long and sweetly and then retreated to the large bed they shared. He lay there for a long time, watching until he could not keep his eyes open any longer.


When Loch stumbled down the stairs to breakfast he found his wife sitting upright at the table, hands folded atop it calmly. He came to a stop, still scratching at his beard and realised that Rose was neatly dressed for travel.

”We have to go. I have to go,” she said and he frowned at her.

”Huh? Where? Are we both going? Why?”

“You need to sit down and eat breakfast,”
she continued as if he had not spoken at all.

At that his corporal came in bearing food. He too was neatly presented for the day. Loch peered down his sleep rumpled clothing to his bare feet below. His toes wriggled back at him against the flagstone of the kitchen floor.

”Good morning, sir,” Dorn said cheerily, ”Eggs?”

Loch demanded and Rose took a deep breath, well accustomed to her husband’s manner first thing in the morning.

”Coffee first would be best, I think, Dorn,” she said and the corporal nodded.

”Of course.”

It wasn’t much later that Loch found himself squinting into the sun, his frame of mind little improved. The day had begun with the promise of being a hot one and it appeared a promise that would be kept. He shifted in his saddle as sweat trickled down his scalp and back.

”But why, Rose? Cardolan is a very long way,” he pointed out, ”Especially by horse. It will take us a month. Easy. Maybe longer,” he added when he considered the various taverns along the way.

”It is necessary,” Rose replied from ahead and Loch scowled at her words. Sometimes he was convinced the woman led him about by his nose.

Try as he might, though, Rose did not relent and nor did she say why they were going all the way to Cardolan. As they set up camp for the first night he tried to question her again. She turned on him, hands on her lovely hips and her patience apparently at its end.

”I would have thought you’d be pleased to see your sister and brother and nieces and nephews,” she accused and he felt a pang of guilt that he quickly squashed.

”Of course I am,” he returned, not mentioning anything about his sister’s twin boys. No one would be pleased to see those two monsters again. ”But you know what Rin is like. She’ll demand yet more reports! Reports I can write in the comfort of our own home! In my own time!”

“Her home. We live in her hall, Lochared and she is paying you for your time. She owns your time. Perhaps if you wrote her a letter every now and again, you’d satisfy her.”

“Fine! I’ll write my sister a bloody letter! Now can we go home, Rose?”

“No. It is necessary to go,”
Rose replied, turned her back and began setting out her bed roll, ”I can go alone, if you wish husband.”

Loch took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, bent and snatched up a small bucket to carry to the nearby stream. Rose smiled quietly at her husband and then sat back on her heels. The stars were just coming out and she studied them intently, desperate to understand what waited in the north.


Rin sighed out on the verandah and shifted restlessly in the chair she had settled into after dinner. Something had been dogging her every step through the day and she was no closer to understanding it now than she had been the night before. It was like an itch she could not scratch and it was quietly driving her crazy. She could not even concentrate on the reports from her brother and Valar knew she needed to. Harlas had delivered her about a month’s work in one fell swoop. Sometimes, she could throttle her brother with her bare hands. If he just sent the blasted reports when he was supposed do, she would not have so much to do all at once. Even her irritation with her brother could not drown out that blasted itch. Rin stared at the dark night horizon and tried to untangle the knot that had formed deep in her thoughts.

”She’s not been herself all day,” Hanasian said in the sitting room as he watched his wife out on the balcony.

”Perhaps she is missing Hanavia. Eru knows, letting a child leave is hard for any mother…especially one who has lost so much over the years,” Farbarad commented but Hanasian shook his head.

”It is something else, I think. She was not overjoyed to see Hanavia leave, but she was reconciled to it, in the end. Did you sense anything odd the night before last?”

Heads around the sitting room all shook from side to side and Hanasian sighed.

”Rin has a knack for sensing things we can’t,” Videgavia said and then more speculatively, ”The Rangers have looked twitchy today.”

“You always think we look twitchy. There’s been nothing amiss today reported by the Rangers,”
Farbarad swiftly pointed out and Videgavia shrugged.

”You’re a twitchy bunch, the lot of you,” Videgavia maintained as he came to his feet.

Another thought struck him, ”Perhaps she is just tweaking our noses by occupying our favourite smoking positions. I wouldn’t put it past the woman.”

The two men in the room nodded for it was precisely the sort of thing Rin would do if it suited her. Still, Hanasian was unconvinced. When eventually Rin came in, distracted and distant, she made her way to the pile of reports waiting for her on her desk. When Hanasian started awake in the sitting room, he saw that the small fire in the hearth was all but out. The hall glowed with light and he followed it to its source. Rin was marooned in a sea of paper, ink smudged on the tip of her nose and a ferocious scowl that would make the bravest of men step back.

Hanasian must have made some soft sound for her head snapped up and he saw that her eyes were a most brilliant blue.

Rin riffled through paper and extracted a rumpled sheet that she had scrawled notes across, ”This is the tithe report.”

“I’m impressed he did one.”

“I might be too, if in fact it was complete. And correct. And not months late. I have no idea how much tithe is due from the southern holdings, Hanasian. None. And how am I to explain that to Aragorn? Because he wants to know where the report is.”

“Rin, your brother is a scout. You know that intricacies such as these are as suited to his nature as breathing underwater.”

Rin admitted with an exasperated sigh, ”I taught him how to read. And write. But he told me he knew how to COUNT! Look at this!”

She thrust the paper at him and turned such an imploring look on him that Hanasian had no choice. He took it up and reviewed it carefully. The corrections Rin had made to the volumes were numerous. Edhellond’s wool harvest was missing entirely, and even the corrected figures for the honey suggested there had been some sort of natural disaster involving the bees.

”Perhaps you will need to relieve your Steward of his reporting duties,” Hanasian admitted reluctantly.

”I know,” Rin remarked, ”I’ll have to take them on myself. But to do so I need to know the actual state of affairs in Edhellond and I can’t do that from here.”

“Nor can you do that if you throttle your brother before he can tell you,”
Rin heaved a weary sigh and leant back in her chair as Hanasian pushed on, ”And I think you can still stand to keep him around, if only to keep the peace and manage the grievances that arise in any land from time to time.”

Rin pinched the bridge of her nose to clear her tired mind, ”There is a great deal to be said for retaining a southern detachment of the Company. I do not think I need to toss the baby out with the bathwater over a tithe report.”

“Nor do I.”

“Besides, where would we put all his men if we withdrew them here to the North?”

“Exactly. Have you noticed something, my love? You are managing a realm.”

Rin's eyes narrowed at him, ”Did you just call me a noblewoman and a politician?”

Hanasian sketched a mock bow, ”Your highness.”

Rin rolled her eyes at him and amusement tugged at the corners of her lips as she rose and pulled out her skirt.

”My lord,” she answered, sinking into a curtsy and bowing her head.

Hanasian dropped the report on her desk, stepped back and extended his hand towards his wife. She canted her head to one side, puzzled.

”Would your highness do me the honour? It has been some time since last we enjoyed the simple pleasure of dancing,” he stated in a solemn tone.

”But there is no music to dance to,” Rin replied, catching on.

”We shall make our own.”

“You are bold, Ranger,”
she chided him as she came out from behind her desk.

He pulled her into his arms and grinned raffishly at her, ”How fortunate for you that I am.”

And so, arm in arm, they spun about their study as if the world was theirs alone. Before long he heard his wife laugh with delight and the silvery sound lifted his own heart and spirits. Around and around walls lined with books spun. Unbeknownst to them, a singular audience formed in the open door. Adanel sat in the doorway and soaked in the reward for creeping out of her bed. She watched how her father held her mother so carefully. She watched how they moved together, each somehow knowing what the other would do next. She watched her mother’s hair swing, not yet pulled back into its braid for the night. And then she watched one of the Rangers, the tall one with sandy hair, approach down the hall.

Adanel scowled up at him and he shot her the sort of smile that adults did when they were going to do what you didn’t want them to do no matter what you said or did about it. Sure enough, the Ranger cleared his throat and ruined it. Her parents stopped what they were doing and stared at the door, surprised. Their eyes found her sitting there and her mother lifted one brow at her. Adanel knew that that meant but she wasn’t ready to go back to bed just yet.

”We did not see you there,” her father said and Adanel saw that her mother’s cheeks were faintly flushed, like she was embarrassed. She had looked the same way at the big party for Hanavia, when they were talking about highway robbery. Adanel had yet to sort out what it all meant, but she stored it away with all the other things she noticed but did not yet understand – which is to say that she had quite a list assembled over four years of observation.

”I apologise for the interruption. Lassie, we have need of you,” the tall Ranger said and this made her mother stop looking at her and look at the Ranger.

”Is someone unwell? Hurt?”

“It is Anvikela,”
the Ranger answered, ”And we do not know what is wrong with her.”

her father asked, ”Are you sure it is her, Farbarad?”

“Aye. Lassie, you’d best bring your kit. I do not think you’ll want to move her.”

All of a sudden Adanel seem to be invisible again. She liked it best when this happened. When she was invisible, she could see things and learn things that the others didn’t. Not even Hanavia, who was so clever. Certainly not Elian, who did not seem to try. Definitely not her twin brothers; they were only interested in the things no one wanted them to know. Her mother pulled away from her father and went to fetch her kit.

”Where is she?” her father asked the Ranger.

”Outside, by the barracks. Khule found her, notified Videgavia immediately. Can’t have been more than five minutes ago.”

All three of the adults strode out of the study, the kit over her mother’s shoulder and her hands busy weaving her hair into a braid. Elian said that hair was braided because it was pretty but Adanel thought it was because it kept your hair out of your face. Adanel also knew that the kit is what her mother used to make people well again. She did not know how it worked, or what was in the saddlebag that her mother used. No one did. Not even Hanavia. And so Adanel trailed along behind her parents and the Ranger, out of the house and into the grounds.

She could not keep up with them for they were moving fast. Her father was worried about her mother being too tired. She heard him say it to the Ranger walking with them. Her mother didn’t because she was moving faster than both of them, braid swaying down her back as she rushed towards the barracks. There were men gathered there that fell back for her mother, like the tide going out. She did not need to say a word, Adanel saw, to tell them what to do. Her mother knelt by a lady that was laying on the ground. She had dark hair like Adanel’s and her eyes were closed. There were torches about and her skin was shiny, like it was wet. Her eyelids flickered like she was sleeping.

”Did she say anything?” her mother asked and a grey haired man standing near by shook his head.

”Not a word, Doc,” he answered, ”Like I told the Captain, she just came out of nowhere and dropped.”

Her mother leaned over the lady and it was hard to see what she was doing. It looked like she was holding the lady’s hand, by the wrist.

Her mother frowned at that and said, ”Thready. Did she hit her head?”

Then her mother made the lady’s eyes open and that was really a sight to see. Adanel leaned closer to get a better look.

”I didn’t hit her head,” the grey haired man replied with a frown and glance to the man standing next to him.

Adanel saw her mother slip her fingers over the lady’s head and push out a frustrated sigh, ”No Khule. You said she dropped right in front of you. Did she hit her head on the ground?”

“Oh! No…I caught her just in time.”

Her mother withdrew her hands and seemed to be thinking really, really fast. Adanel knew that Amme did that sometimes.

”Well Adanel, what do you think?” her mother asked, eyes on the lady.

Adanel was surprised to be asked, but she did have an idea, ”Spiders.”

“Why spiders?”
her mother asked.

”Because they are small and hard to see in the dark and they can make you very sick if they bite and the big ones are very bad.”

“Can you see any bites on her feet and ankles?”

Adanel scooted down to check, not in the least troubled by the fact she was tugging at the lady’s skirts so she could see. While she did this, her mother stood.

”Is there anything you can do?” her father asked.

”Yes,” her mother admitted and way she said it sounded like there were extra words she was not saying. Adanel knew her mother did that sometimes.

”No bites, Amme,” Adanel announced and her mother knelt again.

”That’s very good news, my darling. Now be a good girl and move back and make sure that you are not touching Anvikela. That goes for everyone, by the by. The more room I have the better.”

Adanel found herself scooped up by her father, who fixed her with a stern look for being out of bed followed by a little smile. The others shuffled further away too.

Then a tall man who nearly never smiled said, ”We’re all good girls, Doc.”

“Very amusing, Vid,”
her mother answered, then leant forward and placed her hands on the sleeping lady.

After that, nothing seemed to happen for a very long while and Adanel started to get sleepy in her father’s arms.

”What is she doing?” asked the tall Ranger standing next to him and her father’s answer rumbled in his chest.

”Precisely the sort of thing that made Elladan very, very nervous last time back in Dale,” he said.

”I don’t remember anything from….oh… I see. She did this to me.”


“And why did it upset Elladan?”

“I do not know. There was an argument between them over it.and none of it made any sense to anyone other than Elrohir, who had the sense to stay out of it.”

As time passed nothing seemed to change. Her father said nothing more and her mother continued to sit with her eyes closed and hands on the sleeping lady without moving. Adanel did not realise she had fallen asleep until she felt her father move. She stirred and cracked open her eyes to see that the tall Ranger held her now.

”Come, little healer. To bed with you,” the Ranger said and began to walk. Adanel liked the sound of that and settled back in without complaint to be carried back to bed.

When Rin finally opened her eyes, she too had no idea how much time had passed. She felt the familiar weight of fatigue press upon her as she relinquished her efforts but it was not accompanied by a sense of victory or success. As soon as she removed her hands from Anvikela she felt someone reach for her shoulders.

”Is it done?” Hanasian asked, voice close to her ear.

”I can do no more than this,” Rin admitted, ”We should be able to move her.”

She vaguely heard her husband issue instructions, her senses swimming. Through it all came the erratic rhythm of her heart. Had she pushed too hard in trying to restore Anvikela, she wondered? Had Elladan been right after all? The child she carried shifted restlessly, lurching within her. It was the last thing Rin clearly discerned as her head sagged against Hanasian’s shoulder. She was insensate by the time the men had lifted Anvikela and then herself to ferry them both to her house.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Rin was moved to her bed, by her Cats – for the Lady of Cardolan would permit none other to serve as ladies (or otherwise) in waiting – and watched closely. It was clear that the healer had exhausted herself; so grave was her concern for Anvikela. Hanasian knew a familiar deep worry as he watched this unfold. Thankfully, he observed his wife transition into something akin to a deep sleep and after many years wedded to a healer of her talents, knew how it would unfold from there. His worry eased somewhat but something ate at him even so. Something was awry even if they knew not what and he had sworn never to risk complacency ever again.

Hanasian posted Mulgov at the door to their bedroom and yet two more of Cardolan’s Rangers he had stationed at the entrance of the hall in an open display of caution. It was unlikely that anything would pass Mulgov while the man was awake, Hanasian knew. He also knew that the Haradian was prone to falling asleep for a few minutes every now and again. Age had caught up with the giant Southron. At some point no one recalled, Molguv’s hair had turned grey but his dark eyes remained as steady and sharp as ever and he still had his formidable strength and reach. Molguv was not the only Black Company member who had been marked by the tide of the years. Time had washed over Hanasian too. Grey flashed at his temples, and strands of silver wound through his beard.

Hanasian watched his wife sleep and ran his fingers through the thick, soft bounty of her own hair. The gold of sunlight on snow still, she was yet young by the standards of her people and his. Her years showed in the depths of her eyes. All she had seen could be found there, if she permitted you to glimpse it. It had always been so, from the first they had met. He remembered her eyes well, wide in the rain, filled with fear and desperation and a ferocious determination. She was to him as beautiful now as she had been then. But now she was still, at peace, breathing evenly and deeply. Much had changed since that day and he regretted none of it. He kissed her brow and soon he too was fast asleep.

Morning came, and with it sun and warmth. Yet those within were slow to stir. It seemed everyone slept just a little much longer that day. Hanasian kissed Rin as he arose and she stirred, mumbled something in blurred Dunlendic. Hanasian waited for his wife to wake proper and was ready for her when she attempted to quickly rise. He captured a slender wrist and drew her back towards their bed, fixed her with a stern eye that once had cowed the Company Healer. For all of half a day.

”You must rest my love. For yourself, for our children: born and unborn.”

Rin appeared convinced as she nodded at him, and slightly dizzy if he did not miss his guess, slightly dizzy. She said, ”I won’t admit you are right, but I do need rest still. I thought I was somewhere else.”

“Dreams? Where did you think you were?"
It had been some time since his wife had told him of her dreams, those dreams that came to her and, he guessed, their children as well. Hanavia, and perhaps the others.

Rin laid back and pulled the covers to her chin, thinking. Her reply was soft, ”I’m not sure.”

There was no time for anything further. The children came bursting through the door of their parent’s bedroom and piled onto their bed, eager to find reassurance that their mother was well. Evidently the tale of the evening before had found their eager ears, likely from Adanel herself.

Once they saw that their mother was awake, however, matters changed swiftly. The twins were the first to slip away, eager to have their breakfast with the Company. Rin’s frown of concern over such a concept deepened when Molguv stepped in to escort the twins on their way. She fixed Hanasian with a frank stare and he knew what she was thinking. What could go wrong with the twins breakfasting with a military company in the care of a reprobate Haradian? Elian was next to leave, although with far more grace and decorum than her younger twin brothers. She pressed a shy kiss to her mother’s cheek as she left but was soon back with a tray of food for her mother. Watching all of this quietly was Adanel, perched at the foot of the bed and considering her mother closely. Hanasian knew his youngest daughter would have questions about Anvikela. He caught her eye as she opened her mouth to inquire and shook his head slightly. Adanel sighed and for a moment, Hanasian wondered if her curiosity would win out over her natural wariness. The small, dark haired girl made her decision and, with a bold glance in her father’s direction, shifted forward so that she could sample her mother’s breakfast.

Once he satisfied things were settled, he left his wife and youngest daughter with a kiss for each and went to seek word on Anvikela.

Anvikela had passed a restless night in the guestroom she had been placed in. At first, calmed perhaps by whatever Rin had accomplished, she seemed to rest but this did not last the duration of the night. She was fevered, shaking and clammy. Despite her discomfort, the woman did not wake. She mumbled words in a strange tongue, said those who had watched over her, and Hanasian guessed it was likely Anvikela's native language. However all of this paled in comparison to the reports that it seemed as her blood seemed glow on occasion. So brightly, he was told, that it was possible to watch its passage through the webbing of veins beneath her skin. She seemed to be ensnared in a world of shadow. Dreams enshrouded her. Hanasian could only guess that some demons of the past were haunting her. Rin's Cats kept close watch on Anvikela, but there was little more they could do. They had been trying to soothe and calm the woman all night. Every now and again Anvikela would smile, as if she somehow knew the efforts of those watching over her. And while one of Rin's Cats reported hr hope that Anvikela would wake soon, Hanasian knew doubt

He could see for himself that Anvikela's breathing was erratic, even if her fever was down. The Cats had attempted to wake the woman and found that she would, or perhaps could, not. Water was squeezed from a damp rag in an attempt to break the fever and give Anvikela some sustenance. Hanasian's foreboding did not lift as he listened to the Cat's report and observed Anvikela for himself. In the light of day she seemed even more fragile than the night before. And if he relayed this to Rin he knew what she would do and feared the toll they would pay. He wrestled with his decision, to tell his wife or withhold what he knew, on the way back to their bedroom and remained undecided as he arrived. As it turned out, the decision was made for him, for he found his wife was again sleeping, Adanel cuddled up to her mother. There was a smile on Rin's face. She was recovering from whatever she had done last night and that must continue. He resolved to leave the care of Anvikela to others. It was unwise to set the counsel of Elldadan aside, just as it was unwise to underestimate the Lady of Cardolan.

As it turned out, it took almost a week for Rin to return to her usual self. Recovered as she was, however, the child she carried was restless. Naturally, his wife fretted. She paced and fidgeted and growled and twitched despite the discomfort their son or daughter wrought upon her, anxious to help Anvikela. Hanasian remained resolute. It could not be risked.

"I must see how Anvikela fares! It has been a week!" Rin stated, throwing down yet another challenge at Hanasian's feet. They had been piling up of late, a sure sign Rin was getting back to normal.

"It has been a week. Still, you cannot. But you can't. What you did, what you gave when first Anvikela was discovered likely saved her life. Yet it was dearly bought. I have no desire to bury another child. Or you.

"You must look to your own care now, Rosmarin. Lady Anvikela will prevail or she will not. We will continue to watch over her. It is not for you to intervene."

Hanasian softened his words with a kiss to Rin's cheek. As he drew close he imagined that he could hear her nature wrestling with itself. He did not know a healer who could stand back and not attempt to help, futile as it might be, dangerous as it often was. And the more gifted the healer, the more driven they were as if their gift pressed them on, demanded it of them. Yet, the sorrow of a child's grave was as etched on Rin's soul as his own. He felt rather than heard her sigh as she turned away, hands cradling her belly.

"Has she woken?" Rin asked, pressing for information, unable to help herself.

Hanasian shook his head and reluctantly said, "Her breathing is faint. They have taken to dribbling water and the juice of fruits past her lips so that she does not perish outright. Still, she had not woken once and I do not know how much longer Anvikela can endure like this."

Rin sighed and rubbed at her arms, troubled, "Perhaps Rose will know of something. Has word been sent?"

"Yes, the very night we found her. A messenger was dispatched south, and should by now have arrived in Tharbad. A messenger was also sent to Annuminas to the King. As yet, no word has come back. Still, there are many leagues to cover to Annuminas and more yet to Edhellond and then to return. We have done and do all that we can,"
Hanasian answered.

Rin nodded and after a moment of thought turned back to face him. From her expression, he knew that she had come to decision. What, he dare not guess and knew some relief when she summoned her healers. He left her to arrange matters to her satisfaction, working from afar. As healers rushed past him, Hanasian went in search of a Ranger to station by the door to Anviekla's room with instruction that under no circumstances was the Lady of Cardolan be permitted to enter the room. Leaving the Ranger there, Hanasian went next to search out the rest of the Company and Rangers with the same instruction. He did not think Rosmarin would risk their child, but he knew how relentless she could be when she felt the call of need.


After a tense night, Loch had resolved himself to journeying north to see his sister and family. Just not on horseback. Thankfully, he managed to be much more charming this day than the day before and he managed to convince Rose that a ship would be much more pleasant than the long road north. Or, perhaps, she had time to think on it further herself. Not that he’d point out to her that he had been right all along. Even if he had been. As they swung about for Edhellond, Loch found himself looking forward to seeing familiar faces far to the north. All they needed was a ship heading north and as it had been quiet in the south for some time and the King was at Annuminas, Loch thought that they just might be in luck.

Until he reached Edhellond, that is. On their way back to Edhellond they had somehow managed to acquire a full retinue of Rose’s ladies, young women sent out from Minas Tirith to serve with the Steward of Cardolan’s wife. Each of them managed to bring what appeared to him to be the equivalent to an entire company’s worth of luggage and belongings. He had no idea how they managed to pack so quickly, unless they had been planning this trip for some time. Every time he tried to get a look at Rose’s face, she ducked his eyes. He suspected the last person to find out about a trip to Cardolan to visit his sister was her brother.

In all twenty people reached Edhelleond with enough luggage for four hundred in Loch’s estimation. They did not find a ship waiting to go north, however. Instead, still sweating and rubbing shoulders that had loaded up all those trunks, Loch found himself on the receiving ends of a summons to Minas Tirith. He squinted at Faramir’s crest and then glanced at Dorn, who was surveying a gaggle of young women milling about the small contingent of men he had also managed to collect on their way to the docks, excited about a voyage north to Arnor.

”I think you’d best stay here and keep an eye on things, Dorn. This could take a while,” Loch sighed.

Dorn whipped around with what appeared to be a relieved expression, ”Really? I mean, of course Sir.”

With a sigh, Loch strode down to the docks with the summons gripped tightly in one hand to procure a suitably swift ship with sufficient capacity for their party.

Rose took the news that they were headed east to Minas Tirith well, he thought. Summons from the Steward of Gondor had their uses and Loch wondered if Faramir might have a few more, lying about, that he might donate to him. For a good cause. Getting everyone and everything aboard was an ordeal in and of itself. But, once stowed and away, the voyage itself was easy. The winds were kind and fair and the Anduin was welcoming for a change.

The evening before they would dock in Minas Tirith Loch stood by the starboard rail to watch the moon’s passage over the Mountains of Shadow. Though the war was past many decades, the mountains still gave him the shivers. Still, anyone who knew them from the Age passed would wonder at the life that was slowly returning to them. They even appeared somewhat green during the day. But now, in the silvery shadowy light of the full moon, they seemed uninviting to Loch.

As he contemplated this, Rose silently appeared above deck. She stood for a moment and considered her dear husband. She could see he was deep in thought. The moonlight shone on him, and it made the silver of his beard shine. He was getting older, and she had an uneasy feeling in her stomach. She put it down to the movement of the ship beneath her feet and quietly approached Loch. Rose came behind him and slipped her arms around him. He started out of his thoughts but knew her touch and then relaxed against her. She kissed his neck and cheek, and looked out across his shoulder toward the shadows of the mountains.

Rose’s presence dispelled his gloom. His mind had wandered down the courses of his life and its many seasons. The hard days and years before he had met the Company and then all that had happened whilst he served within its ranks. The places and battles, the fear and the blood and the boredom and the excitement. He had thought of the day he had met Rose. He had been so frightened for his sister that day. Loch’s hands clasped Rose’s hands where they had settled against his belly and he felt her slip around to stand beside him.

Rose glanced at her husband and saw his eyes rested still on the mountains that reared in the distance. Rose leaned her weight against the ship’s rail and studied the shadowed trees that ran along the eastern shore. Unaware of the paths Loch’s mind walked, she turned her own to the day she had discovered Loch in the room and the moment the old ways of her world ended. Because of him. Because of she what let him, what she helped him do. She thought of the days that followed in that broken building, dazed and lost. He had been upset about his boots. She remembered that he had argued with his companion, a young Easterling boy he called Runner. She had never asked him why he had come to that place, that room, with that knife and Runner. Why it had been him and not someone else. Together they stood by the rail, silent and wrapped in memories and questions from days now long left behind them both. Rose leaned out to look down at the river, and the breeze that pushed them up river tumbled her loose hair about. She turned to Loch.

”I am glad we are here, Loch. I am pleased that we are going to see Rin. I like the life we have been given here in Gondor, but I think it will be good to get away. For a time anyway.”

Loch brushed a wayward lock of her hair from her cheek, tugging it free from the corner of her mouth and she smiled. He found himself unable to speak, choked with an emotion that was difficult to describe. He knew how fortunate he was to have Rose with him now. A blessing his own father had not known for as long as he had. And he was fortunate to have Rin, a sister such as her. He was grateful for the Company and those who had taught him so much over the years. He remembered that day when Hanasian had fixed him with a look that he was sure would melt his spine and asked him if he wanted to sign up as if it were yesterday, all while his sister watched on from below as if she already knew, fuming and terrified all at once.

He scratched at his beard and thought of the silver hairs that had started to arrive. He wasn’t sure when it started happening, but he had felt it for some time now. When was it that he got old? He was a commander in the Black Company, he was a Steward of Cardolan and acted with his sister’s full authority. And he had the most beautiful wife whom he loved more than he dared believe possible. He pressed a long, slow kiss to Rose’s lips and then sank his fingers into her wind-swept hair. This moment, on this night, on this river as they approached Minas Tirith, he would remember always. He had never been happier.

For a little longer they lingered until Rose was unable to fight of a deep yawn.

Loch said, ”My love, I would freeze the hours if I could, and spend eternity here with you. I am but a mortal man and for us, time hurries by unending. Come, we should sleep while yet we may, for it will not be long before we dock by The White City.”

They retired to their cabin and they fell asleep entwined. Too soon was the tap on the door and daylight, though the sun had yet to rise above the mountains. One of Rose’s ladies whispered through the crack of the opening door, ”We dock shortly.”

Loch groaned in his sleep as Rose slipped from the bed. Minas Tirith and whatever it was that Faramir had in mind for them waited. That would formal attire and formal attire was always itchy and uncomfortable in Loch’s experience. In this, he and his sister were of singular agreement. Rose soon chivvied him into something respectable. He figured it had to be without the benefit of a looking glass, for it rubbed his shoulders and itched his neck. And his boots rubbed, for all that they were new and polished. She refused to let him near his usual, well broken and deliciously comfortable boots. In fact, he suspected she or one of her ladies might have done something untoward with his prized boots. There had been a suspicious splash off the stern of the ship a few days back. Still, there was a golden lining for all this. He could not help with unloading all those wretched trunks in his formal attired.

Their arrival in Minas Tirith was not a quiet affair. It began with a breakfast banquet so wondrous that Loch almost forgot his jacket. Afterwards, Faramir asked Loch to walk with him. That was not nearly so appealing, for his boots were unforgiving leather demons intent on mincing his toes. But, as the palace’s Sergeant-Of-Arms was to join them, Loch figured that he could not beg off.

As per usual, Faramir was direct, ”You are going to Cardolan to visit your sister? I wish you to take something to her for me.”

Loch glanced at the other man pacing along in what had to be well broken boots and said, ”Easily done, my Lord. I wonder, though, wouldn’t the royal messengers be better suited than me?”

Faramir agreed, ” It has more of a personal touch if you give it to them. It is a package marked for them in the caravan.”

Faramir then added, ”I have some foresight I wish to share with you, Lochared, though not as sharp as that of our King. Or your sister for that matter.

“As you know, Videgavia is well on in years. His command of the Black Company will soon come to an end. Hanasian could lead again, if he were so minded. He will not want to. You, Loch, will be appointed Captain when that time comes.“

“How do you know this?”
Loch asked, suddenly uncomfortable for an entirely different reason. The Company was no one’s to manage. The Company was a Free Company, and had taken service with Cardolan.

Faramir for his part shrugged, "If it isn’t you, they will disband. There is nobody else. We really can’t have that. Please, discuss this with both Videgavia and Hanasian when you’re there.”

Loch sighed. He liked being a commander and a steward. A Captain, though? On top of everything else or would he have to give the other things up? And what of Rose?

Loch sighed and they walked in silence a moment before Faramir chuckled dryly at a jest only he seemed to appreciate.

”Time enough for that later, I think. We have other business to concern ourselves with today.”

Loch said.

”You have the freedom of the city today, with your lovely wife. There is a ball tonight that you will attend. It starts at the setting of the sun and should end early enough.”

“Early enough for what?”

“The caravan sets out tomorrow at sunrise.“

“What’s that got to do with me?”
Loch asked, scowling at his painful boots and Faramir ignored the question entirely.

”Now, about this caravan. Some officials about the King’s business will be in it, and as escort, a company of The King’s Palace Guard commanded by Cenor here, Sergeant-of Arms of Minas Tirith, and son of Anborn, a Ranger whom I served with in the war.”

Loch blinked at the mention of Anborn and took in the silent third member of their party anew as Faramir continued on.

”They have been assigned both for the security of the caravan and will the be posted to the King’s Palace in Annuminas. As for you, I see no need to worry quite so much. I know Hanasian, and he would have trained you otherwise. Enjoy the city and your lovely wife. Hanasian always did. I look forward to seeing you both at the ball this evening.”

Loch took in his words, looking for some answer about what this caravan had to do with him. Faramir nodded at him and strode off, leaving him with Cenor. Loch considered Anborn’s son a moment. He had his father’s look to him. Cenor traded a patient gaze with Loch and then it occurred to him.

”I can’t take the caravan. I’m taking ship,” Loch said and Cenor smiled quietly.

”Until the morrow, Sir,” he and with a nod and took his own leave.

Loch stood there a lone for a while, thoughts bouncing around inside his head. Captain of the Company. Caravan, long and dusty and hot caravan north instead of a fast, cool, peaceful ship. Ball…he raked his hands through his hair and replayed Faramir’s words about enjoying the city. The way the steward had spoken, it seemed there was more yet to be told about what Hanasian got up to here by way of entertainment. Then again, if it was with his sister, perhaps he did not wish to know. At least Rose would not break into the Steward’s office with her ladies in waiting. The very thought made him smile despite himself and he turned to go and find Rose, hobbling ever so slightly now that there was no one to observe.

Freed of formal engagements for the while, Loch’s feet were liberated from their prison and he was overjoyed to be reunited with his footwear of choice.They passed a pleasant day in the city, exploring its smooth stones and marble fountains. Once you got out of the taverns it was actually a very picturesque city. Loch was as astonished by this as Rose was.

"Have you not been here on several occasion prior?” Rose asked, when he remarked on this.

”I was busy then,” he mumbled but could not help the crooked grin that sprang to life on his face.

They had such a lovely day that Loch found that he did not wish to disrupt it by talking with Rose of what Faramir had said. Beside, he reasoned more than once during the day, Faramir could be wrong.

The ball that evening was wondrous and Loch was minded of the day his sister had married in the palace’s elegant gardens. He found himself looking for her, listening for her laughter. It had sounded often that day, silver and vibrant. He found himself looking for Hanasian too, standing close to his bride or else gathered with several of his Rangers, smiling privately as they discussed their quiet business. Once the music started, though, all Loch could see and think of was Rose. He had managed to wheedle his way to keeping his comfortable boots, suitably cleaned so as not to be utterly reprehensible and, in concession, Rose was intent on dancing the night away. There were plenty of partners for her to pick from but she would have no other but her husband.

Unlike Rin, Loch was not enamoured with dancing. Somehow, though, the joy in Rose’s face helped him rise about his reluctance and self consciousness and the hours flew past in a whirl of music and movement until the final note sounded.

The caravan set out in the morning sun with Loch, Rose and their party very much a-horse and not at all a-ship, and made their way west. It would take some time. The road had gotten much use since the war was done and improvements had been made. There were fair places to camp and water the horses along the way, and the damp areas had been repaired so as the ease the difficulty of passage. There was much he noticed that was new from the last time he had ridden out that way. He hoped this time, things would go as well.

Loch’s wishes for the journey were granted for the journey all the way through Gondor and even as they began the approach to Tharbad. As they came to the very place that he and Rin had ambushed the Company and ended up quasi arrested Loch saw that the recovery of Cardolan his sister had gone to effect had even reached the place where their fortunes had spun. And it was precisely here that Rose fell suddenly ill.

They paused in those very grasses and set a watch out while the Guard physician and one of the King’s herbalist checked on her. Loch waited patiently by, wondering what his sister had been looking for around here. Lamb’s tongue, was it? He couldn’t recall. It had been so long ago and he had no head for plant names. Not like Rin’s at least. As time dragged by, Loch’s worry deepened. Shouldn’t they have come to a conclusion by now, he wondered, and rubbed at his jaw. Just as he was about to ask one of the men if they knew what Lamb’s Tongue looked like, he heard Rose say something in her native tongue, voice raised.

Then, In common and more quietly, ”Loch! Please, I must speak with you.”

Loch inserted himself between the two healers and crouched beside Rose. The two healers exchanged an unreadable glance, a habit amongst healers in Loch’s experience, and backed away to leave them in peace.

Rose tried to catch her breath and drank deeply when Loch lifted a water bag to her lips.

”Lochared, I am with child! I am sorry… I should have told you.”

Stunned, Loch stared at her a moment and then sat heavily down beside her.

”You… are with child? I… don’t be sorry Rose! This is wonderful news! We have to … we can’t be on the road… “

All things considered, Loch thought it was a reasonably coherent, well thought out statement. Rose reached for his hand to try and settle him. He was undecided once again. It seemed to be a regular occurrence of late, he noted. And then, straight away, likely to happen with increasing frequency now. The realisation shook him like nothing had before. He did not know what to do. At all. By rights, they should turn back. There was no telling whether Rose’s discomfort would pass or continue. Then again, they were nearly to Tharbad and they could rest there a while. Loch raked his hands through his hand and stood, looking for Cenor to send a swift rider forth to Tharbad. Rose was set in one of the wagons and there made comfortable in one of the wagons. She did not create nearly so much as a scene as his sister. Loch sat with her as they trundled on towards Tharbad.

” How long have you known?” he asked even though Rose’s eyes were closed.

She squeezed Loch’s hand, ”I am unsure of these things, but I first wondered when we were on the ship. I passed the dizziness off as being the rocking. But last night, after the dancing, I felt so tired. I never feel tired, not like that. You know that Loch. And I awoke late and was sluggish. And I could not eat much breakfast. I have been queasy ever since. And since it will not pass, I think… oh-no…“

Loch knew what was happening. He quickly got Rose to the side of the wagon and behind them, the physician shrugged and passed the herbalist a small bag of coins.

In Tharbad, riders arrived swiftly; one came from the north and another from the south. Berlas was south of the river on a routine patrol and so he gained word that Loch and Rose were soon to arrive, Rose apparently unwell, the nature of her illness uncertain. Berlas sent word off to all who served in the east to greet them, and had such that they called healers ready to lend aid should the Lady Rose require assistance. Three of the Company set off to meet the caravan. They readily volunteered, for they wanted to see Loch again. It had been some years since the Kid had knocked about with the northern contingent of the Company. Berlas himself was eager to see the Kid again too. As he pondered his memories of their time in the east, the rider from Cardolan was brought to him.

”Urgent word from Hanasian… there is need to get word quickly to the Lady Rose at Edhellond. It concerns her sister, Anvikela.”

“You are in luck. I just got word only a few moments ago that they are almost here, saving you a long ride to the south coast. Word has come that Lady Rose is unwell.”
Berlas said.

The rider dismounted and took a drink of water. He then said gravely,” So is her sister Anvikela.”

Berlas nodded slightly. He supposed he should not be surprised. It had been quiet in Tharbad for so long and then suddenly news of the two sisters from the east comes within moments of each other. It was going to be one of those days.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Loch was awake, pondering the events of the day, unable to so much as buy an eyeful of sleep. Aside from the watch, who performed their roles quietly, the caravan was asleep. Men formed lumps scattered around and under the wagons. Horses dozed or quietly cropped at a midnight snack. Beside him, Rose shifted in an uneasy sleep and he wondered whether it might be best to remain at Tharbad and send the caravan on without him. Even had Faramir been correct in his surmises, Rose’s news changed everything. Loch’s mind wandered to Hanasian. He had been elsewhere when Hanasian had resigned the captaincy but they had spoken of it afterwards more than once. More than one fellow served with a family waiting at home for them. In the War, there had been no choice. Women throughout the lands had sent forth their husbands, fathers, sons, grandsons, grandfathers. And the women had fought themselves, by choice or sheer necessity, as the war washed over them. That is what Hanasian said. Loch recalled the tall, dark Ranger shaking his head sadly at the time, eyes distant as he fought off unwelcome memories. Hanasian had said the war forced the people to such lengths and that he could never choose it for himself and for his own family.

Loch had not been minded to disagree at the time and nothing had changed as a result of today. He could not imagine leaving Rose and their child behind, not by choice. Not even to lead the Company. And, in any case, what would befall Edhellond? Rin would need to select a new Steward for one and like as not the home he had made with Rose there would pass to the new Steward. Loch blew out a long breath, arms crossed beneath his head and the stars dancing before his eyes in the velvet vault above their heads. He had a good life in Edhellond, one with meaning and purpose. A fine home, even if it technically belonged to his sister. A loving wife…and now a child. Would he be a good enough father? Could he be, given his lack of years spent with his own? What would his father had done? As soon as the question popped into Loch’s mind the answer revealed itself to his restless thoughts. His father had left it all behind to start new, elsewhere. That is what he had done. Not that he managed to outrun the hatred that still marked the lands he had built his farm and raised his young family on. A familiar, well worn sorrow, reached for Loch. His father would have been happy at this news, he guessed, and yet he could not even remember what his smile looked like or his voice or laughter.

Rose shifted again beside him and muttered something in her own tongue. He could not understand the words but her tone was clear enough. Whatever she was saying, she was troubled. She repeated the strange words and then followed it with a sharp exhortation that he could comprehend: ”No!”

Loch raised himself onto one elbow and reached to smooth the hair back from her face. Long years spent with his sister had trained him well. A sleeper was best brought slowly out of a nightmare. Bad things, frequently painful for the person waking them, may occur otherwise. He still had the scar that Rin had given him when they were both still children. She had terrible nightmares then. They made her scream and scream in her sleep, even though she could not manage a word when awake. She had bitten him once when he had tried to wake her suddenly. He still had a faint cresent scar on the inside of his wrist, courtesy of his sister’s teeth. Gently did it, Loch knew, and so gentle he was. Rose did not bite him. Nor did she strike him or kick him. But she did not wake either. She calmed, either through his efforts to soothe her or the shifting of her own sleep, and rolled away, leaving Loch to the empty hours of the night once more.

Inevitably, his thoughts turned back to the Company and Faramir’s words. If Loch refused the position, would the Company disband? What of Berlas, Videgavia’s second in command? Surely Berlas was a better choice for the role. Berlas was older, had more experience and actually held a position of command in the Company itself. As his thoughts tumbled over each other Loch heard one of the men watching signal that someone approached. It was not a signal of alarm but Loch was a creature of habit. Before he knew it, he was stepping over sleeping men even as he fastened his sword belt and once again reminiscing about his axes. A man could never have too many axes to Loch’s way of thinking. He came to stand near the sentries just as two riders came into view. One was swaying in his saddle, clearly weary, while the other lifted a hand to push back his cowl and send forth a signal that Loch immediately recognised. In the darkness of a new moon, the two riders had almost closed before Loch recognised Berlas. He smiled in immediate welcome and found that Berlas, by contrast, seemed preoccupied or distant. The man nodded at him, a bare lift to the corners of his mouth as he reigned in. It gave Loch immediate pause for thought. If Faramir was wondering over in Minas Tirith, then perhaps others were talking as well. The unwelcome thought made Loch anxious.

The man riding with Berlas bent forward, arms resting on his saddle pommel. His head was bowed and Loch could not see his face. But any man who hesitated to dismount after a long ride was a man who doubted whether his legs would hold him up. And this was man who had ridden long and hard. That much was evident in the state of his horse, boots and cloak – splattered and unkempt.

”How go things here, Kid?” Berlas asked.

Eyes still on the other man, Loch waved the sentries back to their positions, ”Well enough. You’re late, though-”

“I came without delay as soon as I heard you were camped here,”
said the other man, too tired to put any heat in his voice.

Loch frowned, on verge of saying that he didn’t send invites for the impromptu party that Berlas had missed when the other man pushed on, ”I bring urgent tidings from Cardolan.”

“What has happened? Is Rin-“

“It concerns your wife, Steward, not your sister – not directly, at least.”

“Rose is sleeping,”
Loch answered.

”She will want to hear this,” Berlas countered and Loch hesitated before he rolled his shoulders and beckoned them both forward into camp.

Loch strode ahead, eager to reach Rose to prepare her for whatever was about to unfold. Berlas was slower, helping the other man keep his feet. Loch easily reached the wagon ahead of them and found Rose was sitting up. She had already shrugged on the light jacket she had worn during the day and was combing her hair with her fingers.

”I’m not sure what is happening, Rose, but I have a feeling it is not good,” he said to her and Rose nodded.

”It concerns Anvikela,” Rose answered and began to climb down from the wagon.

A short while later Loch found himself again facing Berlas, this time with his wife by his side. Berlas nudged the man he supported and the fellow started as if he had fallen asleep.

”Lady Rose! I have been sent to find you on an urgent errand by Hanasian, Lord of Cardolan.”


“She is desperately unwell. I was sent to find you as soon as she was discovered. The Lady of Cardolan herself tended to your sister, such was her peril. Yet even so, my lord doubts if the Lady will be able to save your sister.”

“My lady, Hanasian bids you to come north, as swiftly as you may, for there may yet be time. But that was days ago and your sister’s health was precarious even then. I cannot say whether-“

“Anvikela lives still,”
Rose said with quiet conviction.

”Rose…listen to me….you can’t take the road at speed in your condition…The going between here and Cardolan is rough, at least directly. Rin is caring for your sister. You know what that means. I think it best we do continue on to Cardolan. At a sensible pace. Haste gains us little if Anvikela lives still, and much to be lost,” Loch said.

“Loch, Doc’s abilities as a healer are rightly considered the best in this world. Surely Hanasian knows this as well as you do and yet he has bade all speed be made, knowing what he does of your sister’s skills. I have never found it wise to ignore the Cap’s counsel,” Berlas said.

”You don’t understand,” Loch objected and turned to Rose.

She forestalled him, setting a hand upon his arm, ”Nor do you, my love. Anvikela’s time is short. I know this. Your sister’s blood sings with power, but even she cannot hold back death indefinitely. I must go and I must go now. Will you come with me?”

“But what of our chi-“

“It is for our child that I must make haste,”
she replied and Loch heard a fearful note in her voice that he did not understand, ”Please, my love.”

Loch’s shoulders slumped and he nodded slowly, ”Very well, to Cardolan we go and straight away. Berlas, will the caravan be able to obtain more horses in Tharbad?”

“Your sister has been using Tharbad as a centre for horse sales for several years now.”

“Well and good. I will speak to Cernos about commandeering a few horses at least as far as Tharbad. We’ll take fresh mounts there. I take it that my sister trades in horseflesh from Rohan, Berlas?”

“Would she bother with anything else?”
Berlas replied.

Dawn stretched across the eastern horizon by the time they were off. Loch rode as fast as he dared, Rose impatient beside him, followed by Berlas, for Tharbad. They would change horses there for fresh mounts and press on for Cardolan. Provided they could procure horses from Rohan, they would make Cardolan within a week at Loch’s guess. It was an estimate that he thought would need to be revised when day broke and he could take in properly the pallor of Rose’s skin. Yet she would not hear of any delay and so they were across the bridge and riding north before midday. Berlas remained behind to ferry the caravan’s horses back to the caravan but he had ensured that Loch and Rose had sufficient supplies to see them to Cardolan and back.

They rode largely in silence, slowing only to spell their horses. In all that time, Rose’s colour had not improved and in the late afternoon she caught Loch peering at her worried.

”I know what you’re about to say, Lochared, and the answer is no. We should definitely not slow down or turn back.”

“But this is madness! Have you any idea how unwell you look, Rose? What good will this do? This mad rush? Rin will-“

“Your sister is with child herself, Lochared!”
Rose snapped.

”What? Again?” he asked, dumbfounded, ”And how do you know? Rin is not your sister. You surely do not sense her as you do Anvikela.”

Rose closed her eyes and gathered her frayed temper, ”I felt what your sister did, Lochared. Your sister is powerful. I did not realise what was happening at the time but I know, now, that your sister has done all that she can and perhaps more for Anvikela. And I sensed the child she carried. I do not think she can do any more. Not without risking her own child. Would you have her do that, for Anvikela?”

“Then, it’s hopeless? Is that what you’re saying? We’re rushing headlong with scarce a thought between us, and putting our child at peril in doing so, and for what?”

“Loch, there are things I must tell you.”

“Then tell me. Now. Or I’ll not ride another mile today -“

When Rose was finished speaking, Loch was not sure that he understood it all.

He rubbed at his jaw and tried to assemble it all, ”So hurrying is better for you, better for Anvikela and better for Rin.”


”Even though you are not well.”

“I think it is Anvikela’s passing that makes things difficult for me now, Loch. I must get to her and ease her way. For all our sakes.”

“I knew we should have taken a ship,”
Loch muttered to himself.

Rose’s health did not improve as they pushed north. If anything, it deteriorated but she refused to brook any delay. journey seemed to drag but in truth it passed swiftly. Their horses proved equal to the demands of swift passage and soon enough they were upon the trail that lead through the coastal forest to his sister’s home. Rose’s skin was sheened with sweat and her eyes were too bright by half when they gained walls that Loch had never seen before. They rose ahead, thick stone comforting walls lined with green ivy in places. He guessed that Daius must have been busy with them for his engineering brother Donius preferred to work with wood. Loch paid them scarce regard beyond that, pushed forward over the little bridge and came to the wide entrance flanked by two Rangers Loch did not recognise.

Within the walls, a great deal of work had been done over the years. Ruins from an age passed had been restored. There were barracks, stables and stores. Two young lads ran through the people going about their business. Some were Company, some were Rangers and some appeared to just ordinary people. The two lads were breathless by the time they reached the gate and utterly ignored the two Rangers standing there.

Both turned identical grins on Loch, ”Amme says that you have to come quick. So does she.”

“Look you two, we’ve come a long way very quickly and we’ll go where we want as fast as we want. Besides, my wife has a fever.”

“How do you know. You’re not a healer,”
one lad challenged and the other elbowed him.

”That’s why they have to come quick. Amme said so.”

said the first lad, nodding as it all came back to him, ”I forgot about that part.”

“Your mother, I take it, is the Lady of Cardolan?” Loch inquired, a glance to one of the Rangers to confirm his suspicion that the two lads were none other than the twins that had arrived in Edhellond some years ago. They looked to be six or seven now. Had it really been that long? Both boys looked dubious despite the Ranger’s firm assent.

”Who’s the Lady of Cardolan?” one asked and then the other giggled.

”She sounds fussy. And bossy.”

“Maybe it is Amme, then,”
and both lads guffawed, ignoring the disapproval and, thankfully, faint smiles upon the faces of the two Rangers nearby.

”Well then, I think for that impudence you can look to our horses. Is your mother in the house?” Loch asked, one eye on Rose and the other scanning the way to the large house ahead.

“Aw, why do we always get the horses?” complained one boy while the other shook his head, disturbingly cheerful.

”You’ll have to go to her workshop. It’s that way,” said the other, pointing out a well trodden trail that lead past the garden into a thicket of trees.

The lad stepped forward to pick up the dangling reigns of Rose’s horse and Loch was too distracted to ask just what the boy was going to do with the horse. He helped Rose out of her saddle as one of the Ranger’s stepped closer.

”Hanasian has given strict instruction that Lady Rosmarin is not to be permitted near the Lady Anvikela, for the sake of her own health – irrespective of what she might claim in a bid to compel your assistance. Your sister can be very convincing,” the Ranger said.

”Of that I am only too well aware,” Loch muttered and he set out for the trail that Rin’s twin sons had indicated.

Rose’s skin burned to the touch and she was disturbingly silent. Upon the trail he encountered two harried looking men in robes that reminded him of the ones the healers of Minas Tirith wore. Both passed him by, heads down as they rushed back towards the house, both carrying bundles of something or rather that were probably for Anvikela. Loch did nothing to delay them and continued on the trail through the trees. In time he came to a large stone building, wide and low to the ground, lined with windows nearly all the way around. Here more people in robes buzzed about, most working in a second smaller garden and coming and going through the door of the building with whatever they had found. From inside, he could hear his sister’s voice. She was issuing orders and asking questions almost simultaneously.

Through the press and buzz Loch pushed until he was inside the building proper. It was a vast workroom, filled with long benches in rows, shelves and cupboards and lines where plants had been hung to dry. There was a broad bench under the window, scattered with bowls and paper and knives and other equipment he did not recognise as anything other than a healer’s tools in a very general sense. Rin had her back to him, her hands pressed into the small of her spine as she addressed three healers standing on the other side. He saw her hair was gathered into a thick braid that tumbled down her back, as bright and clear as ever it had been. Strands of hair had come free and floated about her like gossamer.

"No…the yield will not be high enough. It is no better than what we are doing now and much harder to make. We need to keep looking. There has to be something better than fruit juice and water! She will waste away if we fail!”

Her final statement was one of general dismay and frustration rather than irritation with the people she had been speaking to. In any case, the three healers had already turned away to get on with their work, unperturbed by the dire statement that Rin had made. Rin turned towards the windows with a sigh and Loch saw that his sister was indeed with child. She appeared to be five or so months gone, at a guess, and she was frowning furiously at the windows and the garden beyond, clad in what was clearly her work wear. She still had Molguv’s tunic, ragged and patched but serviceable all the same.

”Excuse me, sir, but you can’t be here,” said a timid girl at Loch’s elbow.

Rin turned to see who this new interloper was and let out a small cry.

”Oh you’re here! Where are Dorlith and Worlin? They were supposed to bring you straight here. Why are you just standing there? Rose is clearly unwell. Did you walk all the way from the yard with her in that state?”

“I bloody well rode all the way from Tharbad to here with Rose in that state!”
Loch growled at his sister.

”Thank goodness that you did,” Rin breathed, stepping close to peer at Rose and ignoring her brother for a while, ”Hmmmm….”

Loch’s patience reached its limit. He was worried, tired, Rose was sick and his sister was arguing with him over the manner of their arrival at this particular building after having ridden almost without cease for days on end. Without so much as a by your leave or hallo. And, if he was very much mistaken, she looked like she was about to heal Rose and he was reasonably sure that she should not.

”You are NOT supposed to be healing anyone, Rosmarin.”

“Who told you that?”
Rin replied, distracted as she laid a slender hand on Rose’s brow.

Rose smiled at her sister in law feverishly.

”Take your hands off my wife this instant, Rin, or we’ll leave..”

“She has a fever. She is fatigued…weak…and..oh….well now, there’s a surprise. Or perhaps not. Does he know, Rose?”
Rin murmured, speaking to Rose as if Loch was not standing right there holding her up.

”OF COURSE I BLOODY KNOW! You don’t need to be a healer to know when someone has a fever! Or is tired! Or that….other thing,” Loch said, voice lowering as he realised everyone inside was staring at him, fascinated. He stepped back, removing Rose from Rin’s reach.

”That’s unnecessary and foolish, Lochared,” Rin warned in a low voice, fists planted on her hips and eyes flashing dangerously.

”I agree,” Loch countered, squaring his shoulders against his sister out of habit, ”Have one of your other healers care for Rose. I’ll not have you risk your life of that of your child, Rosmarin. Nor would Rose, were she aware of what you are doing. And don’t bother arguing with me. As soon as I stepped foot past your gates, the Ranger’s there informed me of Hanasian’s standing orders.”

Rin eyed him up and down and then sighed irritably. At her signal, several healers came forward and Loch was only too happy to surrender Rose to their capable care. As soon as he was assured that Rose was in good hands, he slipped away to find his sister. Rin had removed herself to a bench outside, shaded by the eaves and overlooking the garden proper. Her feet were bare, stretched out to soak up the sun’s warmth as she leant back against the wall of the building. Loch eased his bulk down beside her before she realised he was there, so preoccupied was she. She looked very tired to him, as if she had not been sleeping properly and working far too hard.

”Anvikela’s pretty bad, isn’t she?” Loch said and heard his sister sigh as she nodded.

”And getting worse. I had hoped that Rose might be able to accomplish something I cannot. I’m useless here, Loch. Useless…”

“You have a veritable army of healers at your disposal. That’s not useless. When did that happen?”

“Oh, I don’t know. They just started to come here, to learn of all things. Had to do something with them else Videgavia said he’d start to use them as target practice. I don’t think he was joking. Not really.”

“Rose sensed what you did for Anvikela, all the way south in Minas Tirith.”

“She did?”
Rin asked, surprised into looking at him properly and he nodded.

”Such good that it did her,” Rin said, frustrated and then her head tilted to one side and he felt her really look at him.

While he was used to it, he still found it uncomfortable.

”You look well, Loch.”

“I do? I’m getting old, Rin. And I am tired and worried…and anyway, what I look like doesn’t matter in the least. I’m worried about Rose, and Anvikela and…you.”

“You’ve no need to worry about me, Loch.”

“Thanks to Hanasian, largely, for you’ve little ability to restrain yourself even now. How far gone are you?”

“Five months…but that has nothing to do with it. I was carrying Hanavia when I tended to Farbarad and nothing bad happened then.”

“Aside from a stupendous argument with Elladan. Did you know that he’s told Aragorn about that argument. Apparently the King agrees with Elladan too.”

“He would, wouldn’t he?”
Rin muttered.

”It’s dangerous Rin and well you know it. Rose said it was. Elladan and Aragorn said it was.”

Rin was silent until her eyes narrowed, ”Why would Aragorn tell you about any of that. Or Elladan, for that matter. You made that up!”

“Not the part about what Rose said. You should listen to her. And Hanasian too.”

“I am listening, Loch. I don’t like it. It’s making my job harder. But I am listening.”


“Did you know that you’ve got grey hairs in your beard?”

Despite everything, Loch smiled at the sudden change of topic. His sister's mind moved at a gallop.

He dropped an arm around his sister’s shoulders, ”I name them.”

“You do?”

“Yes. This one here I call Rosmarin.”

He felt her laughter and it reminded him of all the other times they had laughed together, in difficult times.

”I’m glad you’re here, Loch.”

“As am I, Rin.”

When evening fell the healers declared that it was probably safe to move Rose into the house and so Loch trundled along in their wake, tired but feeling not nearly as heartsick as he had on the way. Even if Rin could not risk doing anything directly herself, her presence created an order that Loch found familiar and comforting. While the years did not touch her as they did him, she had a depth and wealth of experience from battle fields in war and in peace that she drew from. She knew where healers had to go, what they had to do, when and how they had to do it and why. Add Hanasian to that, which occurred just before sundown, and Loch had a sense that everything would be right. Between Hanasian, who had come back from checking the traps about the forest, Rin and the Old Company command they had every angle covered.

His sense of hope was sharply reinforced when Rose’s fever broke later that evening. For the first time in what felt like weeks, he slept soundly through the night and when he woke, Rose was alert and bright and even had some colour in her cheeks. Rin stood at the door with a decidedly smug expression on her face, well pleased with the handiwork of her healers. Her pleased expression lasted until Hanasian happened by and reminded his wife that she was still not to be healing anybody. That brought her scowl back even as Hanasian nodded at his wife and brother in law and sister in law amicably. His cheerful whistling as he strode down the hall only seemed to infuriate Rin even further. Muttering, skirts clenched in her fists, she set off after her husband with an expression that would turn lesser men into stone. In her wake, standing calmly and staring, she left a small dark haired girl. Loch guessed that his youngest neice had to of been lurking behind her mother, like a tiny shadow.

The girl removed her thumb from her mouth and lisped, ”You are not going to die. Not yet.”

Adanel was not incorrect. Rose continued to recover and Loch initially thought it was due to the fact that she was resting and not in the saddle. Rin, however suggested that it had something to do with the proximity of Rose and Anikela.

”But how? I mean, Rose said that she thought Anvikela was making her sick. And now that they’re together, you say that she’s not? How do you know, anyway? You’re not supposed to be-“

“I haven’t been healing, Loch,”
Rin interjected hastily with a sidelong glance towards her husband.

They all sat in the living room, Rose having retired for the night. She tired easily still.

”Then how do you know, lassie?” Farbarad asked. Loch thought the Ranger was looking old. In fact, everyone was looking old except for Rose and his sister. Even Hanasian and Videgavia and the Dirty Three.

”I can’t just silence my senses, Farbarad. No healer can. What I sense is consistent with what my healers report to me. Anvikela is calmer than she had been before Rose’s arrival. Rose is clearly recovering. Do you have another theory?”

After a moment, Loch voiced his hopes, ”Do you think, then, that Anvikela may recover?”

“I honestly do not know, Loch. I wish that I did,”
his sister replied and there was little more to say that night after that.

The following day Rose was recovered enough to want to see her sister. While there was no knowing what might happen, it was unthinkable to keep the two women apart under the circumstances. Rin, for her part, mounted a strong campaign to be permitted into Anvikela’s room for the meeting.

”For observation only. I promise,” Rin said only to find that she was once again outvoted. The hall outside Anvikela's room remained as close as she could go.

Loch, Hanasian and two of Rin’s more senior healers accompanied Rose in and at first it all seemed rather unremarkable to Loch…until Anvikela started to glow.

”What’s happening?” he asked nervously.

”She has done this before,” Hanasian murmured but one of the healers said, ”Not to this degree.”

Rose was seated on the bed beside her sister, Anivkela’s hands clasped in her own, head bowed. The intensity of the light grew such that it could be seen even out in the hall.

”What is happening in there?” Rin called but before anyone could answer Rose gave an unearthly moan.

Loch watched his wife’s head tip back with an unnatural jolt. When she spoke, her voice was not her own. It sounded like something from beyond the grave.

”Ware,” came the words from Rose’s lips, ”The Moricarni are come.”

Loch’s hair stood on end. The healers were crouched to the floor, hands clamped to their heads as if they feared their skulls would fly apart. He had no idea what Hanasian was doing. All he knew is that he had to reach Rose for something was wrong. Somewhere, someone was keening. The air became thick and oppressive, seeking to pin him down.

He had no idea what happened next. One minute he was on the other side of the room with Hanasian and the next he was there with Rose. His wife was shaking violently in his arms, there was a distant shriek and then blood. A lot of blood on the floor around the bed. Anvikela lay there, still as a stone and dark, all the light gone, wide, empty eyes locked in an unblinking stare at the roof. He tightened his arms around Rose. Her pulse fluttered erratically in her throat and someone was shouting orders. It sounded like Farbarad or Videgavia.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Loch sat , dazed, in the kitchen as people milled about. Farbarad was directing Rangers and healers both. Loch's ears rang and itched. He had already found dried blood there. Hanasian was in the kitchen too, sitting at the table and ashen faced. He had not said a word that Loch could recall. Rin was there too, shoulders slumped and arms wrapped tightly around her stomach. Rose was not there and they would not let him go to her. He should be with her. He had to be with her. It was not so much as a thought but a compulsion and it made him rise from his seat. Hands pressed him back down.

”Not yet,” he thought someone said, ”We’re working as fast as we can.”

The young man who had spoken glanced surreptitiously at Rin, as if seeking her approval. She gave the barest of nods, a mere dip of her chin and off the apprentice healer scurried. It had to be bad if they were hurrying, Loch thought and his stomach twisted into yet another knot. A chair scraped on the flagstones of the kitchen floor and when Loch glanced up he saw that his sister had risen. She swayed slightly on her feet and her lips were pressed into a straight line. Hanasian seemed to shake himself out of wherever he was and reached for her.

”She needs him. You know she does. I have to,” Rin said flatly as she edged away from his grip.

”But can you?” Hanasian countered gravely.

”I must. I am a healer able to stand on her feet. I do not know how many others can do the same.”

She was already moving towards Loch as she spoke and Loch saw the battle playing out on Hanasian’s face. He wiped his hands over it as if to clear his thoughts even as Rin came to Loch’s side.

”What happened?” Loch asked as his sister bent close. She was the colour of the pale marble that decorated the halls at Minas Tirith.

”I don’t know.”

“What about Rose?”
he asked. She didn’t answer him and that filled him with fear.

”Will she die too?”

“I hope not,”
she whispered, uncertain. This was wrong. His sister was never uncertain.

”Rin?” he asked as he turned to face her.

She was so close to him. Her face hung before his, eyes wide and bright with unshed tears. She blinked suddenly, drew a shaking breath and pulled back to hold up her hand.

”How many fingers?’ she asked, voice almost back to its usual self – precise, calm almost, measured.

”I haven’t been hit on the head! I NEED TO SEE MY WIFE!”

The surge of rage came suddenly upon him. He saw Rin pull back further when he rose to his full height. He had no idea that his fists were clenched or that the popping sound were his knuckles. Hanasian was on his feet in a flash but Rin continued to back away, shaking her head slowly.

”That way. She’s in the room beside Anvikela’s. Please do not harm my healers, Loch. I do not know how many I have left.”

Loch’s departure from the kitchen seemed to leave a vacuum of sorts. Rin could hear him go, hear the scurrying of people rushing to get out of his way. She closed her eyes and tried to steady herself. When she opened her eyes she saw that Hanasian was staring at her, frightened. Her husband was frightened. So was she. Her stomach was still, utterly still. But now was not the time for panic. Still sitting at the table, staring blankly ahead, were the two healers that had been in the room with her husband and Loch. She feared that they were…ruined by whatever had happened. What would they say to their families? Rin grasped for something to steady the shaking of her hands.

”Rosmarin?” Hanasian asked and Rin closed her eyes.

This was a battle. That is what it was. A battle. There were wounded and dead. She was scared and her heart ached but she was a Healer. Her fear and her sorrow would have to wait. Because that is what a healer must do in battle. A healer must endure through the battle and see to the aftermath, the longer war that followed. And if her fears were proven correct, then there was already nothing anyone could do for the child she carried.

”I’m fine, Hanasian. Truly,” she said, opening her eyes and meeting his gaze for a long moment.

He was frightened, and shocked and likely had a headache that would thump the living daylights out of his skull but somehow her beautiful Ranger had pulled through. He was beautiful to her, always had been. Not that she could say that to his face. Men had strange ideas about such things.

”Do you feel sick to the stomach? Fatigued?” she asked and he shook his head and then winced. He was not bleeding from his ears or nose. Somehow he had escaped the apparent concussion she suspected Loch had sustained. Perhaps it was something to do with the Dunedain heritage that they shared but Loch did not. She pushed that to one side. Now was not the time for analysis either. That, too, would come later.

”We have much to do then, my love.”

As it turned out, the worst of the damage was centred within the immediate vicinity of Anvikela. All of the healers had sensed something that troubled and confused them. Some had headache or complained of feeling ill. The healers there had escaped the worst of whatever had happened, aside from the two unfortunate men that had been in the room at the time. And, potentially, herself nearby in the hall. More concerning for Rin and Hanasian both were their children. Elian was confused and startled but otherwise seemed unaffected. Dorlin and Worlith were off with Khule and Mulgov to fish one of the local streams, well away thankfully. Adanel was visibly upset but could not articulate what troubled her. It took hours to calm her and by mid afternoon, Rin was exhausted quite literally.

She sat beside Adanel’s little bed and watched her daughter. She was frowning in her sleep but most definitely asleep. The urge to lie down next Adanel was overcome by the urge to weep. Anvikela was dead and a new life lost. Two men were ruined. Her hands went again to her belly. It had been hours since she felt movement. The stillness could mean anything at all. Anything. Slowly, heart aching and thoughts troubled, she slipped from her daughter’s room and went next to seek out her brother and Rose. She knew what they endured now and it was not something anyone should endure alone.

Hanasian knocked on the door jamb of Videgavia’s quarters. The Captain poked his head around the corner of the building and as soon as he saw Hanasian standing there hurried towards him.

”Is it true?” he asked and Hanasian nodded grimly.

”Anvikela died this morning. Her sister lost her child. Two healers are ruined,” Hanasian said and Videgavia winced as if with physical pain.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his head and shook his head sorrowfully, dark eyes locked on the ground, ”That is terrible.”

“It could have been worse, much worse. Thankfully it was contained to Anvikela’s room as far as we can tell.”

At Hanasian’s words, Videgavia’s head jerked up, ”Was Rin there? She’s been agitating to get into that room for-“

“She was in the hall outside. That, I think, was bad enough. I daren’t imagine what might have happened were she in the room with us. I have never heard her scream like that before. Not even in her sleep.”

“So that was what we heard. I set the Company scrambling and the Rangers were fair frothing but we found nothing at all,”
Videgavia studied Hanasian as he spoke, ”You were in with her, though. What of you? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I have, Vid. We need to talk – just you and I.”

There was something about the way Hanasian spoke that blew an icy wind through Videgavia’s thoughts. The Daleman stilled as a result and considered the Ranger. He’d been serving with Hanasian for too many years to count now. They had seen, and done, a lot together in that time. He could count the occasions when Hanasian needed a very private word with him and him alone on half of one hand. And on each occasion, hard deeds had been necessary. Deeds that even those of the Old Company knew little if anything about. Silently, Videgavia nodded. He was too old for this now. But what else could he do? His second in command was in Tharbad and for all of Berlas’ qualities, he was not one to replace him for whatever lay ahead now. Khule had potential for this, but he was old too. Loch was another, but his hands were full with his wife and family. Rosmarin was ideal – but Hanasian had clearly decided to leave his wife out of this.

”Step into my office, then, Cap,” Videgavia said, slipping back into a familiar role from years gone by.

Hanasian sidled through the door, glancing suspiciously about even as he did so. The Black Company was a difficult place to keep secrets mainly on account that recruited people adept at uncovering them and then expected them to keep their skills sharp. Videgavia strode straight for his desk and reached for the shelf overhead. He kept a bottle there for just this sort of thing and he retrieved it along with two glasses. He did not ask if Hanasian wanted one. He simply poured and silently handed the other man one. There were no salutes or toasts. Not for this. Whatever it was, the drinks were not celebratory.

Videgavia downed his in one gulp and through the burning of his throat (curse or bless Molguv for that), said ”How bad is it this time.”

Hanasian swirled the contents of his glass as if studying it. Then he lifted his eyes to Videgavia and he man noticed then that they were haunted. Hanasian said one word before he drained his own glass.


From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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The liquor (one of Molguv?s if he was not mistaken) did little more than tickle the back of Hanasian?s throat. Hanasian passed the glass back to Videgavia to refill again. The second dram had the same effect. He was chilled by knowledge well beyond the reach of such remedies. Hanasian had no idea how much time was left. Some one would come looking for him. That surely was why Anvikela had spent the last of her life in a desperate scramble to reach him with warning. They were coming for him. He knew that with a sick certainty that squatted at the base of his stomach. They must not find him here. It was unthinkable. He wondered again what else Anvikela knew. He wondered how long she had been shielding them. How long had they been living here, oblivious to what was hunting for him.

Videgavia broke the silence that had sprung up, voice strained, "What are we going to do?"

Hanasian stared at the remains of the liquor in his glass. He swirled it around, reluctant to speak.

"The question is; what am I going to do, with your help?" Hanasian replied in scarcely more than a whisper.

Videgavia nodded and silence arose up. Sometimes, all the choices were bad.

"Who else of us was there?" Videgavia asked, "Wulgof was, I think. Mulgov came on just after when we went into Harad that first time. My old brain has a hard time remembering now."

Vid half filled his glass again and then offered Hanasian some. The Ranger shook his head, "No, not yet."

Hanasian's mind trudged back through the years, "Mulgov's mind is going. I prefer he stays here. Wulgof perhaps, but he's always had trouble keeping his mouth shut. He's the reason why Mulgov and Khule knows anything about them.

"In truth, Vid, aside from yourself and Wulgof, everyone else is dead."

Hanasian rubbed at his face. Every where he looked he saw ruin and destruction waiting. He could not hope to prevail with all hope abandoned. Surely the Moricarni had to be diminished now. Surely they could not have prospered in the intervening years. He needed to believe they were somehow lessened. He needed information he had no way of obtaining. After thirty years, most of his old contacts were dead one way or another. Even if they weren't, how would he find them again and convince them to aid him a second time against these monsters?

Every moment wasted now, every hour that passed delayed action that they had to take. With Anvikela, and whatever she had been doing, gone they were no longer safe from these men. Not safe for him; not safe for anyone the Moricarni suspected might know or be connected to him. He felt helpless and foolish for hoping, ever thinking, that somehow he had managed to avoid this. A bitter anger soured in him at the futility of his hopes and dreams for a peaceful life with the family he had created. He should never have brought Rin, or their children, into his life. Somehow, he had to defend them.

The tone of Hanasian's voice, the expression on his face was that of a doomed man. It made Videgavia uncomfortable. Defeating the Moricarni the first time had been terrible. These men were demons. Videgavia believed that to be true in every sense of the word. Demons, and they had demanded a ruthless, implacable response that had haunted him down through the years.

Videgavia sighed, "I remember."

He set his glass down and scratched at his jaw. Hanasian, still standing, turned away.

"From this point on," Hanasian said, "We must assume they have eyes and ears here. We can't suspect everyone, but we can't rule anyone out either."

"Surely not, Cap!"
Videgavia reacted with immediate dismay, "You can't mean-"

Hanasian swung back to face Videgavia, "I mean it! Most wouldn't know they said anything. Word will travel, one to another and another, until finally they hear and they know. Perhaps they already know where I am!"

"I can't risk believing anything less, Vid. My decision is made. I hate it, but it must be done. I'm sorry to drag you back into this, Vid, but I cannot do it alone."

He expected Videgavia to protest. Videgavia did not have a wife and children to protect like Hanasian did.

Videgavia, for his part, did not even blink, "There is Company business to attend to, then, before we do this thing."

Hanasian agreed with a nod as Vid offered up another dram and this time Hanasian took it. The glasses poured again, Videgavia corked the bottle purposefully.

Hanasian asked, "You're the Captain. What Company business do I need to know about?"

Vid waved off Hanasian's words, "Like it or not, retired or not, you are the Captain, Hanasian. It is obvious now, surely, that you can/t really retire no matter how much you wish to."

Hanasian stood there in thought, the glass in his hand seemingly forgotten.

Videgavia continued, "You made this Company, Hanasian, and it has always been your Company ever since the original dozen. It remains your Company.

"How many of us are left, those of us who fought in the War. Seven? Maybe. Most of us are next to useless now anyway. We could fight if it came to it but age is catching us. It certainly is breathing down my neck. I can scarce be Captain whilst I am helping you.

"The Company faces yet another vote for another Captain. One hundred votes to be cast, based on the most recent figures Berlas sent me. A good fifty of us are from Rhun, dedicated to Loch. The rest are mostly from Gondor and so aligned to Berlas. Berlas is a good man, a good officer... still, we both know why he was transferred to the Company. Any chance the rumours were just talk has been dispelled since. You've seen the same things I have."

"So that is why Berlas spends most of his time in Tharbad,"
Hanasian replied and Videgavia shrugged.

"Berlas' idea. Makes it easier for him to not to mess things up the way he did in Ithilien. He will not welcome a posting back here - too close to flames the man seems incapable of avoiding."

"Rin has said nothing,"
Hanasian murmured.

"Doc, Captain, is oblivious. She thinks Berlas is just friendly. In fact, Berlas was one of her friends in the company from the outset. In any case, Loch is the only real choice. I think we should just appoint him and be done with it."

Hanasian considered this for a moment, still holding his glass and Videgavia wondered if his tidings concerning Berlas had come as a surprise to Hanasian. As far as Videgavia knew, there were only two people not aware in some way of Berlas' unfortunate inclinations regarding fair-headed noblewomen. Aside from Rin, who was oblivious, the only other person unaware was her brother. No one needed Loch pounding Berlas into oblivion if he found out.

Hanasian finally said, "For a quiet man, you talk a lot."

"Perhaps it's my nervous disposition showing."

Ordinarily, Hanasian would have appreciated Videgavia's dry humour. These were not ordinary times. Hanasian finally tipped the glass down his throat.

He then said, "Sounds reasonable, Vid, but it could only be temporary until a full Company vote was taken and the commission approved by whoever was retaining you - Rin, in this instance. Loch will make a good captain. He commands the loyalty of most.

"But he can't know, or suspect anything, what we will do. And I have no idea how much Rose might know now that Anvikela is gone. Frankly, I'm not even sure how we're going to do this."

Vid downed his own drink and said, "You'd best work that out, and fast, else we may as well fall on our swords now and be done with it! You must master yourself, my friend, as soon as you walk out my door."

Hanasian nodded at Videgavia's advice and the Daleman grunted, "Anyway, they are probably already suspicious of us already. We've been holed up here for too long."

Hanasian sat his glass down and headed for the door, "Until next we meet, Captain. We carry on as normally as we can, as we must. I'll tell you now, this once: within six days, you'll know what I need you to do."

Hanasian shut the door behind him and left Videgavia to work out what Hanasian had meant. As he stepped off the steps, he was charged by two young boys that had been lying in wait. Hanasian scooped them both up. The way they wriggled like puppies nearly broke his heart. That they might have heard something sent shivers up his spine.

His voice was gruff with emotion and he turned this into a mock growl that made them giggle, "What mischief have you two been into now, eh?"

Plans to take them out on a short hike into the forests that afternoon had vanished. He slung each son over his shoulder like they were sacks of millet and strode back towards the house. He wanted to see and speak with Rin and Rose.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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The room that Rose had been placed in was quiet when Rin came to the partially closed door. No one bustled about within. There was no quiet talking – or weeping. For all she knew, Rose might be sleeping and that, probably, was a good thing. She gently eased the door open to find that Rose was indeed in bed, but not asleep. She lay, still and quiet, staring at the roof. Beside her, as quiet as she, was Loch. He slumped in a chair he had pulled up, her hand wrapped in his own, head hanging between his shoulders. Rin hesitated for a moment, uncertain and then Loch raised his head. He had always had a knack for knowing when she was around. He fixed her with his dark eyes and she ached for her brother. He slowly stood and she ventured into the room.

Rin’s attention first was on Loch. He watched her steadily, unblinking and unmoving and then nodded his head towards the bed where Rose lay, staring at the ceiling rafters. They were carved, Rin knew, with flowers and vines and sometimes forest animals changing depending on the room you were in. Rin reached for her brother and squeezed his upper arm. He shuddered at her touch but then jerked away, a silent message to focus herself on Rose.

Rin settled onto the edge of the bed frame – Rose blinked at the movement – and set a hand to Rose’s brow. She did not need her healer’s senses to know that the work had been done. There was nothing left now but to grieve and heal. She knew what it was to be alone, to lose your only family. She would never forget Skhar and the discovery that Loch was gone. And Rin knew what it was to endure the other loss…that of a child. Everyone knew of Míriel, of course, but no one knew of the first child Rin had lost. Rhun had been a difficult campaign in ways even her husband did not know. She had told no one then and the knowledge sat heavy in her now.

Rose moved with a sigh, rolled away to face the wall. On instinct, Rin moved to lay beside her brother’s wife, back pressed against Rose’s. It was a simple thing, that contact. Undemanding warmth. Watching it all was her brother. Loch stood against the wall, away from the bed with his arms wrapped around his torso. She knew, then, that she would have to tell him. He had to know he was not alone either.

”There are preparations,” Rose whispered to the wall.

”What would you have done?” Rin quietly asked.

”She must be washed…by those who knew her, loved her. Then she must be freed…fire…it is the only way.”

Rin closed her eyes. A pyre took time to make and she was calculating where they could find wood for it when Rose continued.

”It must done within a cycle.”

Rin’s eyes popped open. What was a cycle? Loch provided the answer.

”A day,” he said hoarsely, ”She means a day.”

They’d never get a pyre built in a day. Two days, at the outside. Alarm fluttered through Rin, the only thing she felt moving within her.

”Did –“ she began and then paused, searching for the words, ”Is the sea of importance?”

Rose said simply and Rin’s alarm eased.

”The sea is our shelter,” Rose continued and then, forlornly, ”Anvikela so loved the sea. We could see it, from the temple, if we climbed the walls. The temple is gone now…as are they…”

Rose shivered and pulled away, severing contact with Rin and casting her adrift. With preparations to set in place within the day, Rin knew she had little time to delay. They’d need to find a boat, they’d need to find a way to get Anvikela into the boat, and then there was the matter of firing it properly.

”I will see to it,” Rin said simply and pushed herself upright. Still the child she carried did not move.

Rin climbed to her feet and considered Loch a moment. He seemed lost. She wanted to go to him but he had pulled himself away. He watched her back, dark eyes burning beneath lowered brows. Rin lowered a hand did not realise she raised and turned for the door. She pulled it to after her only to have it pulled out of her hand. Loch thrust himself out into the hall. She had to hurry to avoid colliding with him.

”Tell me,” he demanded raggedly, ”What do you know? I know you know something. Tell me, damn you!”

For a moment she thought he’d lash out at her. But she could not back away, could not abandon him. This was her brother and he had never abandoned her. Rin set a hand against the wall to steady herself.

”I know what it is to bury the last of your family, Loch. I know what it is to be alone. I know what it is to bury your child.”

“At least you saw her face! You knew you had a daughter! I never will! Never! How do you grieve for someone you never saw?”

Dangerous as it was, Rin edged closer. Loch pulled himself back and she edged closer again.

”Do you remember the first, real battle in Rhun?” she whispered.

His head jerked towards her, frowning. All she could do was watch him. It happened gradually. Through his grief and his anger came a dawning realisation and after that she simply went to her brother and wrapped her arms around him as though they were children again. She held him tightly and felt his head sink onto her shoulder.

”You never said-“ he whispered and Rin closed her eyes.

”It was not the place. I had wounded to see to. Remember Gian?”

“You never said!”
Loch repeated and he began to shake as his grief finally spilled wide. She held him there in the hall and let him weep.

Hanasian rounded the corner and saw his wife and her brother standing in the hall. Loch’s face was buried in her hair and he was trembling with emotion. Rin looked weary but steadfast. Nothing would tear her away. The bond between these two siblings had been evident to Hanasian from the outset. In a way, he envied it. Though, Halcwyn’s distance most likely was her greatest defence now. He stepped back as quietly as he might and turned away. He would find another time to speak with Rose and his wife.

Sometime later his wife came into their study. Her complexion was pale and her expression was pained. He looked up from his journals, swept them aside in a hurry. They were coded, but he could not be sure if his very clever wife had unravelled them all the same. She’d never let him do this if she guessed. He rose from his desk and crossed to where she stood. Rin’s hands were on her belly.

”My love,” he said as came to her and she blinked at him, pulled from whatever her thoughts were by his voice.

”Oh,” Rin said and he heard the weariness behind it, ”Wrong room.”

“Come, sit a while,”
he urged, folding his arms around her.

”I can’t. There are preparations…for Anvikela…a fire…on a boat…”

As she spoke, Hanasian led her to the lounge that sat before the hearth. Despite her words, she did not prevent him from easing her into it. He sank beside her and pulled her into his arms. Her scent was heady, intoxicating. He drew it deep into his lungs.

”Have the healers seen to you, yet,” he asked and found that she stiffed and pushed back.

”Ai! The healers! There are two men and their families that-“

he said and pulled her back against him, ”It is in hand. It is all in hand. Just stay here a moment and rest.”


he said sharply, regretting it almost as soon as he said it. He did not wish to quarrel with her. Then again, he had to carry on as usual, did he not?

”Just a moment. Just for a while,” Hanasian continued, gentler now, ”Tuck your feet up…There we are…Close your eyes.”

As he suspected, she was exhausted and overwhelmed. He would never forget the terror of her screams for as long as he lived. This had been a difficult day for her in many ways and yet, she resisted for a while. She would not be his wife if she meekly did as she was told in any case. For all of that, he felt her sink against him. Her breathing shifted. Soon, her long fingers twitched in his lap. Hanasian soaked in this precious opportunity while he could.

Rin did not sleep overlong. When she woke she found the study empty. Hanasian had placed a pillow from their bed under her head, draped her shawl over her and left her in peace. Even his desk was cleared, as if he had never been there. Rin rose and threw herself back into the preparations underway.

There was much to ready. A gown for Anvikela was needed which was hardly any trouble at all. The boat was little trickier but they found a dinghy and Donius was soon at work, modifying it into something he deemed more suitable. His brother, Daius the stonemason, turned his attention to the riddle of getting Anvikela into her boat in a dignified fashion. He focused on the contraption that they used to haul materials up and down the cliffs that towered over the sandy cove below.

It was late summer if not autumn proper. The Cats busied themselves with fashioning wreaths. Anvikela would not be sent off alone against the elements and whatever lay beyond. Rin wasn’t sure if this was what Rose wished but Rose, for her part, made no protest. In fact Rose said nothing at all. That night, silently, Rose materialised in the sitting room, startling them all. She stared at Rin for a long moment and then turned away.

Rin climbed to her feet and knuckled her aching back.

Slippery stood too but Rin shook her head, ”No…as I understand it, this must be done only by family. Similar to Dunland, in many respects.”

The washing and preparation of Anvikela’s body was a solemn affair. The two women said not a word to each other. They brushed out her long, dark hair so that it gleamed. They anointed her with fragrant oil, violet her favourite scent, and arrayed her in the best gown Rin owned. Rin added gold to her wrists and ankles, again moving out of instinct for the rituals of Dunland. Rose did not protest. Then Rin pulled back so that Rose could farewell her sister.

Rin stood by the door, sentinel. She knew Loch waited outside. He would be nowhere else. When she opened the door with Rose on her arm, she was proved correct. Silently, she set Rose in her brother’s arms and let them go. Tomorrow, she knew, would be harder yet.

The day of Anvikela’s funeral dawned crisp but fair. A brisk breeze blew out to sea and hastened into the West. The Company gathered to carry Anvikela out, Loch joined by Hanasian and others of the Old Company while Rin walked with Rose on her arm behind. Down below, the Rangers had formed up ready to receive Anvikela and convey her to her boat. The plinth she was carried upon and her final resting place were bedecked with the autumn foliage and flowers that lay thick on the forest now. Foreign plants that Anvikela had marvelled over upon her arrival on these shores years before. With gentle care, Anvikela was lowered down slowly toward the shore whilst they climbed down the stairs. Even Dorlith and Worlin were quiet and subdued. Adanel was yet too young for such things, her mother had said, and so remained in the house with Slippery and the Cats.

The boat that would carry Anvikela had been positioned so that the currents of the outgoing tide would carry it free of the cove and out to sea. The men that had carried Anvikela out formed up again to convey her to the boat. Then, all stepped back so that Rose stood in the frothing shallows. Rin felt Elian grab at her hand and hang on tightly. The twins clutched at her skirts, leaned against her legs and peeked out at proceedings from within their folds. Hanasian came to stand behind her, one hand on her shoulder and another on Dorlith’s fair head. Loch stood between those gathered and the water line, hands twitching at his sides uncertainly. Rin wanted to go to him, steady him, but she could not. This, she knew, he had to do. He had to know that he did this. Rose turned to glance at her husband and he started forward.

Loch set his hands to the boat and sank his feet into the sucking wet sand. Rose brushed his shoulder and he heaved, set his full strength against the boat to push it out into the sea. He followed it, driving it forward until it floated clear. Shivering, sodden and sandy, he stumbled backwards until Rose caught at him. He glanced at the top of his wife’s dark head and then looked over to where Wulgof stood and nodded. The Dunlender set alight the arrow he had prepared, put it to bow and loosed the shot. He fired another three, to be certain. It was how such things were done, though without the boats, in Dunland. They stood on the shore in silence and watched the boat drift over the water, a blaze of fire springing up. As the boat was carried out to the mouth of the cove, Rose sank to the sand beside Loch, unable to stand it any longer.

Of course, Rin came forward to meet her brother and see to Rose. While that trio gathered on the waterline, Hanasian looked over to where Videgavia stood and met the Daleman’s grim eyes. Videgavia nodded imperceptibly. Four days to go. They would be ready come what may.

[ 11-18-2014, 05:16 PM: Message edited by: Elora Starsong ]

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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The house was a quiet place, subdued, as people drew in around Rose and Loch. While the comfort was necessary, it made preparations difficult. Loch was scarcely seen without Rose. In fact, the only time the man emerged was when Rose was asleep. With time escaping fast, Hanasian knew that the arrangements Videgavia had mentioned had to be made for the Company. And so the Daleman slipped into the house and onto the balcony at a signal from Hanasian. He found Loch there, hunched over and his elbows on his knees, staring at the horizon like a man who wanted to punch it.

Hanasian waited inside as inconspicuously as he could. He could not hear what passed between the two men on the balcony and thankfully there was no one in the sitting room. Of course, his wife rounded the corner on her way to the kitchen, clapped eyes on him there in the sitting room and paused. Rin did not say anything, but he watched her eyes narrow and he knew that she had sensed something.

"Something wrong?" she asked but Hanasian was spared answering her.

Rin had heard the murmuring from the balcony herself and went to the windows to investigate further, "What's going on out there?"

"Company business,"
he replied and she favoured him with an arched brow.

"Important business, by the look of it."

"Could be,"
Hanasian said and Rin turned to him, hands on her hips.

"I'm not an idiot, husband. What I am, however, is the present employer of said Company. If it's important, I need to know about it. Or are you just lurking here, hoping to eavesdrop, on idle company gossip? What is going on ? And don't you tell me nothing, Captain, because I won't have it!"

Hanasian had a moment's sympathy for his twin sons, "Videgavia is talking to Loch about the captaincy."

"The Company has two captains already, and Berlas. What does it need a third for?"
Rin retorted swiftly, and lifted her chin in a silent dare to contradict her.

Hanasian opened his mouth to reply but her own thoughts jumped ahead even faster, "Unless?... Oh that is clever!"

He heard a note of approval in her voice, "It is?"

"Loch could do with something to sink his teeth into. The idea of Rose rattling about in Edhellond on her own is simply unacceptable and now she won't have to. But then, I?ll have to find a new Steward. I need to write to Aragorn, again."


"I only just wrote him a few days ago."


"What do you think?"
she replied, events on the balcony forgotten.

Hanasian daren't guess. Rin had been just outside in the hall when Anvikela had died. Far enough away to be spared the fate of the two healers in the room with Anvikela. She had been screaming, he'd never forget that sound, but what if she heard Anvikela's message? And what if she wrote to her cousin with that name?

"The annual tithe, silly!" Rin said with a shake of her head, "What else would I write Aragorn about at this time of year?"

She was smiling at him gently as she approached, concern in her eyes. She crossed to stand before him and stroked his cheek.

"I think, my love, that you should spend a little more time following your own advice," she murmured to him, palm of her hand cupping his face now.

"Which advice would that be, exactly," he said and her smile broadened. He had not seen her smile for days and the sight now was like rain in the desert.

Rin chose not to tease him about his habit of issuing advice in a display of wifely grace and instead leaned in to kiss him sweetly. Her belly pressed against him and he tightened his arms around her, hand stroking up her back before he knew it.

"Rest your worried mind, beloved," she said against his lips and he closed his eyes. Would that he could.

When he opened his eyes again, Rin was gone. The smoke of her voice curled in his mind and her warmth was still sinking into his skin.

Out on the balcony, Videgavia knew he had Loch’s attention in a shallow sense but nothing further and it could be no different. Loch’s wife could have been killed, their child was lost, and his wife’s sister had died. It was not the best time to be telling the kid he would be Captain. But it was the only time and in the Company, as Videgavia knew from long experience, waiting for the right time was a luxury few ever could afford. Loch paid him no heed as he edged towards him on the balcony. Videgavia considered the western horizon and found nothing there but ocean and the sky. Loch, however, was staring at it fixedly and so Videgavia seated himself nearby. They both were silent. Videgavia waited, and waited and eventually Loch looked sidelong at him.

He seized the opportunity presented, ”You mind if I talk to you now?”

“Come back tomorrow. I’ve had all the condolences I can take for one day.”

Loch’s reply was indifferent and he flicked his fingers at some imaginary thing in the air before him.

Vid saw that he did not have the luxury of treading lightly either and he stood, ”It’s Company business soldier. Last time I checked, you are still active: a lieutenant commander. I ask you again, Commander, as your Captain: can I talk to you?”

Loch looked up at him, a faintly belligerent expression threatening to take hold. Videgavia had seen the younger man use it time and again over the years, principally against his sister. Videgavia had no idea what would happen next when Loch slowly unfurled himself and stood at his height.

“You’re the boss,” Loch replied in precisely the same tone as he used when discussing nobles with his sister – faintly contemptuous shimmering under a mask of bland deference.

Videgavia sighed, ”You don’t have to talk. Just listen."

Loch nodded abruptly and rolled his shoulders as if willing himself to settle. He had that distant stare back again, one Videgavia had seen on most of the older war veterans. The one he saw in the mirror some mornings. All he could do now is hope that what he was about say penetrated the heavy fog that Loch seemed to be swimming through. By the time he had finished, Videgavia thought that the younger man was looking at him alertly. His expression was not a happy one, though. Far from it.

”What do you mean you’re not going to be Captain?” Loch demanded.

”Kid, I’m old. Khule, Mulgov, and Wulgof are old. Hanasian is too, even if he has the blessed blood. I’m just saying that I will have to retire soon. And I don’t think there is anyone in the Company that don’t think you would be a good Captain-”

Loch cut in, “I can name someone: me. You should be talking to Berlas about this.”

Vid nodded, “Berlas is up to it too. But you know as well as I that when it comes to vote between you both, the Easterlings will go your way. Even the ones who remain from Khule’s recruitment. That’s close to half our number. Those of Gondor will lean towards Berlas but they aren’t on fire for him – not bad enough that they’d lose half the Company over it. You, Kid, have it. You need to be ready for it.”

Loch looked out west again and Videgavia wondered what he saw there.

”Maybe I’ll never be ready for it. I’m married, and I hope to have a family. Even Hanasian only lasted a year or so after he married my sister.”

Vid sighed. The kid had a point.

”It’s been noted. I’ve sent word to Berlas, and he will accept it if it came to it. No one can force you into this, Loch. If you’re not ready, Berlas will do well provided he has your support and your Easterlings. We do not doubt Berlas’ ability, but we have the utmost confidence in you.”

Videgavia turned and had started to walk away when Loch asked, “We?”

Videgavia paused and half turned to find Loch was looking over his shoulder at him, puzzled again. His sister might be frighteningly clever, but her foster brother was not nearly as slow as he liked everyone to think.

With a nod, Videgavia said, ”Yes, we. Me, Hanasian, the now ancient three. We know you have it in you. And you have the respect of everyone… the Easterlings, the Gondorians, even the few Rohirrim we have would follow you into a fight. For them to have a Dunlanding they would follow into battle says a lot. Keep it in mind Kid. Give it some thought.”

In the living room, cornered by his formidable wife, Hanasian continued with the front of normalcy he had been wearing for a number of days now. He was particularly worried for Rose. Suffering loss two fold was a heavy burden to carry. He did not know well Loch was coping either. How Videgavia would be able to reach the man was uncertain. Videgavia could be compelling but what Loch and Rose faced was far larger and reached far deeper than even Videgavia might contrive.

Hanasian could not let his concern for those around him swallow him whole. It would undo him. Already he doubted if he could do what needed to be done. It was unthinkable and, as his wife pressed against him, it seemed impossible. Fortunate, then, that Videgavia walked back in from the balcony at that point and sighed.

Videgavia as troubled by Hanasian’s expression. The man was breaking under the strain. The faintest flicker of her skirts in the hall, combined with the tortured expression on Hanasian’s face confirmed that Doc had just been right here – well within earshot if she were so inclined. She could not be permitted to guess at what was happening and yet Videgavia knew that the only person more suspicious than himself and Hanasian was Rosmarin of Cardolan. She suspects everything and everyone all the time. Hanasian’s eyes opened and the pain was somehow swallowed in that way Hanasian swallowed such bleakness.

”Hold steady,” Videgavia warned, alerting Hanasian to his presence and then switching to hand signals, ”She can’t know. Especially her.”

“I know,”
Hanasian signed back and then spoke, ”Is it done?”

Videgavia answered and slipped back out of the house.

As the Daleman made his way to his quarters again, he shook his head. He believed Hanasian would hold steady. He knew why Hanasian had to and he knew what Hanasian was capable of. The Ranger was a good man and there was nothing he would not do when it came to those he loved. Nothing. But Videgavia could not begin to imagine how any man could leave the woman he adored and his children behind. Certainly not that woman. For Hanasian had chosen a woman that would haunt any man…and she was carrying his child. Doc was six months gone now. What they set out to do, he guessed, would take much longer than three months. Assuming they succeeded at all. And if they failed, Doc would be left with a family to raise on her own. He knew women faced this, men too, for all sorts of reasons. But Rin had faced, and survived, enough. Too much.

Videgavia shook his head. No, they had to succeed. Because bringing Rin news that her beloved husband was dead would probably be the thing that killed him.

Hanasian knew it was likely that his actions over the remaining days had drawn attention and he was as careful as he could be. It would have been safer, perhaps, to not do as he had done but that was too cruel to contemplate. And so he found time to spend with each of his children alone, and his wife. He sought out the old crew and spent time with Videgavia. He made plans of his own and he slept as much as he could till his dreams woke him. Plans, always plans. Some scribbled out and discarded, only to be resurrected later, at least in part. Late nights at his desk, always locking things away even if his wife could pick any lock she cared to. So he wrote in his code too, reasonably confident that she had not found a way to crack that yet. He discussed all these plans, at length, with Videgavia in the time they spent with each other. Yet even Videgavia didn’t know it all. Couldn’t.

The time Hanasian spent with each of his children was time he wanted them to remember clearly.. He walked with them around the woods and down on the little beach and they spoke of things great and small. His youngest child, Adanel, was a perceptive child and so Hanasian knew that it was nearly impossible to guard himself. Like mother, like daughter in that way. He carried Adanel to a place up on the ridge, somewhere that even the twins could not find. The way was hard in places and while Adanel sometimes seemed frightened of the height, she seemed to enjoy herself. Again, so very similar to her mother in that fierce pleasure gained from uncertainty – that uncommon bravery that sometimes seemed reckless or foolhardy. When they reached to a flat rock that looked out west, they sat and ate the fruit that Hanasian had brought with him – the last of the oranges that Rin had managed to import all the way from Harad. Adanel licked up the sweet juice that ran down her wrist and considered the view offered of her home and the sea beyond.

Hanasian said, ”You never have been here before, my young Adanel. None save Hanavia has been here with me. Since he is gone, it is now your special place.”

“Why me Adda? Why not Elian or my brothers?” she asked, juice successfully removed from her hands.

Hanasian took one of his daughter’s little hands in his, ”Dorlith and Worlin have other places, many. They are explorers and you would do well to keep a watch on them. Don’t follow them, just note what they do. But they will never find this place. Not even Hanavia could find it without my help. Only you, when you have gained some years, will know how to get here.”

The words may have slid over her head now, but Hanasian knew she would remember in coming years. Of all his children, Adanel and Hanavia would remember things like this.

“I like this place! Does Amme know?”

Hanasian chuckled and brushed back her hair, ”Amme and I have other special places. They are for us alone.”

“Elian says when you and Amme go to your special places, we will get another brother or sister. You went somewhere special with Amme and now she will have a baby.

Hanasian chuckled, though the pain of his impending departure stabbed at him, ”Amme and I go to our special places lots of times and no brothers or sisters come. Elian would have been happy had she and Hanavia were the only ones. But that was because of Dorlith and Worlin. She really likes you I think.”

Adanel shifted closer to him as if she was about to confess something, ”I love my brothers. I love my sister too. I miss big Hanavia.”

“We all do. I miss you all when I’m away.”

They were quiet for some time and Hanasian heard his daughter give a slight sigh as she settled against him and began to doze. She curled, like a contented house cat. Just as mysterious most times. The urge to remain here, just like this, was strong. It would hold back what was to come for just that little longer, or so it seemed. It was a lie, he knew. What would come would come and that was that. He lifted Adanel up and carried her back home.

After he tucked Adanel into her own bed he went in search of his wife and found her dozing as well. Loathe to disturb her, Hanasian withdrew and took himself off to the place off the sitting room. He was in urgent need of his pipe and as he drew on it, Farbarad found him.

”Enjoying the autumn days with the children,” Farbarad said, not quite statement or question.

“Yes,” Hanasian replied, expelling smoke and realising he need to distract the Ranger before he dug further. He asked, ”You find that young ranger I asked about yet? I need him.”

“Aye. He was called in. Will serve as your adjutant for a time. Should be here tonight,
” Farbarad answered and went about lighting his own pipe.

”Good,” Hanasian answered quickly, ”When he arrives, send him to Videgavia. If he arrives late send him to me. Right now, I think I’m going to go take a nap.”

Hanasian tamped out his pipe and emptied it over the railing well aware that the curiosity of the Wolf of Cardolan had to be at least partially tickled. Hanasian took himself inside as swiftly as he could and came to find himself in his bedroom, studying his sleeping wife. It was good to see her rest. He ran his fingers through her loose hair a few times , then settled in next to her and draped his arm over her. His stomach hurt. There were only a couple more days.

It seemed like only a moment later that he realised that he must have gone to sleep. When he awoke, he found Rin laying quietly beside him, very still and her eyes wide open as she pondered.

He leaned over to kiss her cheek, and said to her, ”I love you so very much. How was it per chance that we had to go toward Tharbad, and that you and Loch would try to waylay us?”

“A good memory beloved,” Rin replied and ran a finger down his cheek.

Hanasian sighed, ”I lost two good men just before that. Original company … Amira and Belgon were their names… a Daleman and a Gondorian. I believe it was Amira who talked Videgavia to join us. They were in the war up north. Vid won’t admit it, but he hasn’t been the same since that day…”

“Not good memories,
” Rin said and she leaned against him to kiss him.

Hanasian tensed, expecting their child to kick as Rin pressed into him. The child was quiet, though and they lay there, still and silent, in each other’s arms. Hanasian did what he could to commit this sensation to his memory. The feel of her, her warmth, the scent of her…her hair against his skin, the sound of her voice. This would be what would sustain him through what was to come. He would be as quick as he could. He would demolish the Morcani once and for all before returning. But before he did, he would have to be sure they were gone... all gone.

They must have dozed off again, for they both woke to a knock at their door. Elian peeked in and whispered, ”Amme, Adda, dinner is served! I helped make it!”

Hanasian sat up, scrubbed at his face and smiled at his daughter. He stood and collected Rin’s hand as she yawned.

”Come my Love. Let us go see what our Elian has concocted for our dinner tonight?”

The trio walked out, Elian between them with a hand in her father’s and an arm around her mother.

Dinner was one of the tastiest Hanasian could remember. Perhaps it was because he was thinking he would miss this. The potatoes tasted particularly delicious, for they had been prepared by Elian. Hanasian was greedily storing memories that, he hoped, that would give him the strength to pull through.

Farbarad arrived towards the end of the meal with a young Dunedain Ranger. Hanasian nodded at the pair, excused himself from the table and followed them back outside again.

Farbarad said, ”This is Beragil of the House Daurumir.”

The young Ranger nodded at his name and Hanasian inclined his head in acknowledgment. He turned to Farbarad and gestured with his hand.

”A word,” Hanasian said quietly to Farbarad but as they started to step aside, Beragil spoke.

”I know that which you question. Yes, I have Rhuadurian ancestry. Rest assured that I am a loyal Dunedain, in the service of our King Elessar.”

Farbarad eyed Hanasian a moment and then imperceptibly shrugged, ”Well do you know how that goes, do you not?”

“I do indeed, as did my father. Yet the name… well, it mightn't mean anything."

Hanasian turned back to Beragil, ”You are familiar with the hand signs I see. How is your writing hand?”

“I present you my letter of requisition to become your adjutant, written by my own hand.”

Beragil handed Hanasian a parchment. Farbarad raised a sandy eyebrow but said nothing as Hanasian unrolled the parchment and read it. A stern nod and a grunt was all Hanasian gave before he rolled it back up and returned it to Beragil.

Hanasian said to him, ”You come highly recommended by both Malassuil, and Farbarad here. That carries much weight with me.”

Hanasian walked around behind the young ranger and looked over his appearance and demeanour. He wore the plain grey-green cloak, and had some basic leather armour. Two knives, a sword, and a bow. He likely had more to his disposal.

Hanasian went on, ”This assignment will likely not be very exciting. I am, after all, the retired captain of the Black Company.”

“Yet it is my assignment and I will see it to its end, whatever that may be,”
Beragil replied, unwavering.

Hanasian nodded and considered Farbarad. The Wolf of Cardolan lifted a shoulder and stepped away, eager for a chance at a hot meal like as not.

”I don’t think you need me here any longer,” Farbarad replied and, when no argument came from Hanasian, headed off to find his own rest.

Hanasian turned back to Beragil, ”Your Tengwar is quite good. There will be a lot of writing involved with your duty with me. Do you know the Cirith?“

Beragil answered.

Hanasian stepped back in front of him and stared into Beragil’s eyes. The young Ranger was unflinching.

Hanasian held his gaze and asked, ”You look familiar. I have seen you before. Have we ever met?”

Beragil swallowed, ”Yes, in Bree. Once, I was seated at a table with some other rangers when you were there. I was newly signed onto duty.”

“I remember that. But somewhere else I’m thinking,
” Hanasian muttered, thinking.

Beragil cleared his throat, ”When the Easterling blacksmith and the lady from Dale were killed at Bree. It was the first time I saw blood spilled… I mean…”

“I know what you mean. You never forget the first time,”
Hanasian said as he put his hand on Beragil’s shoulder. Hanasian was already beginning to like him.

Hanasian said, ”Their names were Kholas and Tarina. Don’t you forget that!”

“Kholas and Tarina…”
Beragil repeated as he committed the names to memory. He would not forget. Hanasian spoke again and brought him out of his thoughts.

”We’ll have some writing to do in due time. For the moment, I need you to seek out Captain Videgavia of the Black Company. I will meet you in his office shortly.”

Beragil hesitated for the first time that Hanasian had seen and then asked, ”I should give you a message I carry first?”

Hanasian frowned, ”A message? From who? And about what? And why have you not said anything of this until now?”

“I’m sorry sir. I only remembered just now. I lack sleep as I made my way here as fast as I could,”
Beragil said as he reached inside his vest and pulled out a small parchment.

He handed it across to Hanasian, ”This was on its way to you from the Messenger of the King.“

Hanasian took the scroll and saw that the seal was indeed that of the King’s messenger, “It must be for my wife, the Lady of Cardolan.”

“No sir, it’s for you.”

Beragil shifted his weight from one leg to the other, reluctant to contradict his new commander so early. Hanasian looked closer at the parchment. An old rune, one they used to use in the days before the war, marked the parchment.
Hanasian mused openly, ”The King’s messenger usually delivers his own messages and King’s messenger you are not, Beragil of the House Daurumir. You are, however, a Dunedain Ranger of the King’s Watch of Rhuadur!”

Beragil was only momentarily taken aback by Hanasian’s recognition of his small starred brooch. Much like the Dunedain rayed star it appeared yet the northeastern star is brighter again. The younger Ranger realised then that he explanations to make and swiftly.

“I am not of the King’s Watch of Rhuadur, aside from this message I was commissioned by the King’s messenger to bring to you. I was sworn to deliver it in the name of the King’s messenger to you and you alone.”

Hanasian studied the parchment, ”Who is this King’s messenger?”

Beragil answered, “Darian, a southerner. We met in Bree. He told me that he had come from Annuminas and was quite ill. I left him resting at the Prancing Pony.”

“I see,” Hanasian unfolded the parchment, ”Darian is known to me. He came from Gondor with a message for the Company some years ago… ten, maybe eleven. He is a good man. It grieves me to hear he is ill.”

He read the parchment and more to himself than to Beragil, said, ”And so it begins.”

Beragil stood silently as Hanasian drew and released a deep breath

”You will seek Captain Videgavia now. He should have everything in readiness for you to get started. I’ll join you there later when I’m able. You will find the Captain in the old house out there in those trees.“

Beragil set off in the direction shown with a nod and Hanasian turned and went into the house with a heart that felt as heavy as stone. He had to show Rin this message of summons and explain why he had to go to Bree in haste.

He found Rin settling the twins into their beds. Dorlith and Worlin decided the sudden appearance of their father, with a solemn expression, was a good time to settle down and do as their mother had bade them. Besides, when all was said and done, they were tired. It had been another full, exciting day for the twins.

Hanasian withdrew from their room with their mother and found himself on the receiving end of scrutiny she had recently employed on their twin sons.

He said, ”Come to our study. I want you to read something.”

He waited until they had closed the study door and passed her the message to read. She did so in silence, reading swiftly twice. The air she exhaled said everything as she read it a third time, as if hoping the words there would change or disappear. When they did not, she let the parchment fall to the floor and turned her attention back to him.

”I suppose you have to go,” she said dejectedly. Hanasian took her head in his hands and looked deeply into her eyes. Storm clouds were building there, he saw.

”I believe… it would be best for all if I go,” he answered.

“Take Loch with you. He needs to think of other things,” Rin sternly declared but Hanasian shook his head.

"No… Rose needs Loch and they need to remain here. I’ll have Vid with me and a young Ranger who knows the ways of the land in this day. I will return as soon as I am able.”

Rin sighed unhappily and he thought she would push harder. He made himself as resolute as he had to be and, as she scanned his face, she hesitated. The parchment was written as a request, but read more like a summons. And, as he had known, she had recognised the hand that wrote it.

She nodded unhappily, ”I will not argue with you, at least not right now. I am tired and it is late.”

Rin stalked away from him and while he knew the worst of it was yet to come he felt relieved that this, at least, had gone easier than it usually did. He hoped that she would not lie awake, fuming and this too came to pass. This far along, the child she carried took all the energy she had to give. He found her fast asleep not long later, but the expression on her face was unhappy.

It pained him to see her so. The past week had been one of near constant pain. But when he considered the alternative, he knew that this difficult road was the one he had to walk if he would save those he loved beyond all else. He left the house and made his way to Vid’s office. Their supply was set and their packs ready.

”I am sorry you will not have a day to rest here, Beragil,” Hanasian said, “At least you may get some sleep tonight. I take it Videgavia has shown you his spare mat?”

They both nodded and, seeing that all was in preparation, Hanasian turned to leave again, "It’s the last night I will spend with my wife, so I will not linger here. I will see you both in the morning.”

He was quickly back to the house and wasted no time sliding into bed next to Rin. He breathed in the scent of her hair and he sighed. It was not long before he too fell asleep.
~ ~ ~

The next morning was clear and cold. The autumn frost clung to the branches and colouring leaves of the trees, and the steam from the nostrils of the three horses being readied at the stables made small clouds that lingered in the still air. Hanasian readied himself as he spent these moments with Rin.

Rin felt anxious and she did not know why, really. Not really. Which only made her even more unsettled. Her nerves jittered and jangled and she could not stop fidgeting. She looked down at the boots she had in her hands and willed herself to be calm. She took a deep breath and held it, counting. A moment later she became aware that Hanasian had finished dressing for the day and stood, watching her. A long moment after that, she realised that she was still hanging onto his boots and her breath. She released the air she had been holding and it rushed out of her, making the bedroom swim around her. Hanasian stepped forward and slipped a hand under her elbow.

”Steady there, love,” he said with concern, looking down at her, ”May I have those now?”

“If you must,
” Rin answered and he tried to smile for her.

”Will be a long journey to Bree in bare feet.”

“Then don’t go! I don’t see why you have to go. Send someone else!”

The words leapt out of Rin before she could stop them. She flushed, embarrassed, as he wordlessly retrieved his boots. They had had this argument. It had led nowhere last night and it was leading nowhere now. He sat to pull his boots on.

”I don’t want to go, Rin, and I wouldn’t were it not absolutely necessary. You know that, don’t you? You understand that?”

Rin nodded. The words made sense, she supposed, but the reasons behind them did not. Nor did the pain that underlay his words. Her husband was in pain. She could hear it in his voice. Did he know something that she was not aware of? Did he know about their child? Had he somehow sensed that? She knew he liked to place his hand on her stomach, sometimes while she slept, and talk to his son or daughter. Had he tried that of late and found no response?

”You shouldn’t worry,” Hanasian said and Rin blinked as she realised he was standing now, watching her.

”I’m not,” she replied and he simply raised his eyebrows so she tried a different tack, ”I’d worry less if-“

he warned softly, voice of deep rumble velvet, and stepped towards her, ”Must we quarrel before I go?”

she sighed and he cupped her face in his hands and tilted it gently.

Usually, when he did this, her husband kissed her. This time he merely studied her face intently. It unsettled her.

”Promise me you will rest,” he said, brushing against her belly, ”I mean it, Rosmarin. Promise me.”

“Will you stay if I don’t?”

“No. I must go. All you will accomplish is to send me away worried out of mind for you and our child.”

“I promise, then,”
Rin said, her heart sinking. He really was going and there was nothing she could say or do to prevent it.

”Follow the bidding of your healers. You well know that they know their business. Rest, dear heart, be hale and safe,” he told her and then he did kiss her in a way he had never before. It drove all thought and all air out of her and left her reeling. She felt his fingers softly graze her cheek and then he was gone.

~ ~ ~

Hanasian felt sick to his stomach. His nausea had been mounting for hours, first in bidding his children farewell and then his wife. The lies he had told them were necessary. It was all necessary, yet it twisted in his belly like knives. He strode out to where his horse waited. Videgavia and Beragil were there already, holding onto three bridles. Their horses were saddled, packed, and seemed to have a desire to go. Thank the Valar for Vid. Just leaving was difficult enough, organising the gear and horses would have brought him undone completely. Videgavia’s expression was sour and bitter. Beragil’s was sombre. What they were doing, Hanasia knew, would chew at the Daleman in a different way. Beragil likely didn’t have any idea what he had gotten into.

Videgavia nodded brusquely at Hanasian and passed him the reins to his horse. Hanasian swung up into his saddle first, followed by Beragil and Vid. With his back turned to the house, Hanasian prayed they had not gathered there to say one last farewell. He prayed that the twins would not run after him this time, to chase the tails of their horses. His prayers were not to be answered today, though.

”Brace yourself,” Videgavia muttered dourly and as Hanasian’s horse turned about under him he saw them all gathered there.

As soon as they saw him facing them they lifted their arms. He could hear his children’s voices, high and sweet and clear, offer him safe journey and a swift return. Rin stood behind them, Slippery at her shoulder. Then the twins started off at a run, giggling.

Videgavia swore.

”We have to get out of here,” Hanasian hoarsely stated, lifted his hand to his family and then wrenched himself around for the gate. Beragil had already led the way and Vid followed behind Hanasian. Hanasian took it at a gallop, speeding ahead of his sons and along the trail at a reckless speed to pass Beragil.

Videgavia followed slow enough to give Hanasian the space he needed. But no space would be enough, Videgavia knew, for what they had just done. Hanasian could see in his minds eye how his son’s faces would fall as they realised that their father was not going to play that game. He could see them turn back to look to their mother, hurt and disappointed. Rin would come and gather them to her, murmur words of comfort even as she herself wondered what was amiss. By the Valar, what had he done! What were they doing? What was yet to come?

The other two men pulled in some distance away. Ahead Hanasian’s shoulders were slumped forward, shaking with distress. Videgavia gave him all the time he could. He knew it would not be enough. How could it?

”We should move,” Videgavia said when the itching between his shoulder blades got unbearable.

He didn’t know if Hanasian would round on him in anger or simply take off back for the house again. Instead, Hanasian tightened his grip on his reins and urged his horse forward in abject silence. The sooner they were about it the sooner they could return. Hanasian’s head was still lowered and his shoulders sagged. A signal from Videgavia sent Beragil around and into the lead. Young eyes on point, that’s what they needed right now.

Vid waited until Hanasian had started before he allowed himself to think that the break had been made. May it not already be too late. May they not fail…and ride back to this place and find…Videgavia shook his head as gruesome scenes popped too readily into it. Scenes he had seen before and never wanted to see again.

~ ~ ~

Back at the house, the Dirty Three leaned against the wall of the small building they had appropriated as their permanent quarters, each quietly wrapped in thought. Rin gathered her sons up and shepherded them towards the house. Dorlith and Worlin were uncharacteristically subdued and Rin had glanced back at the gate, clearly baffled and unhappy. Khule rubbed at his face and pushed out a deep breath.

”He wouldn’t, would he?” Wulgof said a moment later.

”Wouldn’t what?” Molguv asked, still frowning at the scene they watched.

”No….no,” said Khule, not needing the explanation, ”Impossible. Hanasian is not his father.”

Wulgof admitted.

”You were there at the outset. You saw what we all saw. He adores her, was a lost cause as soon as she collided with him.”

Wulgof said warily.

”He wouldn’t,” Molguv rumbled, only now catching on to what the other two were discussing, ”He couldn’t!”

“We’d tear him to pieces, Captain or no, if he abandoned his wife and family,”
Wulgof ferociously opined.

“And if he was going to do something like that,” Khule pointed out more rationally, ”He’d not take Videgavia along with him.”

Molguv agreed, sounding relieved, ”Vid wouldn’t stand for it. Besides, the Cap is not a fool. Doc has an army, Rangers too. One of the young ones accompanied them. He wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of either.”

The Haradian deemed the matter settled and began to walk off. Wulgof joined him, curious to find out who was in charge whilst Vid was off somewhere else. Khule however continued to study the gate. The dust was most settled now but he was not. There was something off about all of this and he had a familiar sense that it was going to haunt them sooner or later.

”Something just isn’t right.”

[ 11-19-2014, 11:51 PM: Message edited by: Elora Starsong ]

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
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Beragil found the day a confusing one that extended into the night. He had no idea what was going on around him. He barely knew Hanasian or Videgavia. Still, Massuil spoke highly indeed of Hanasian and so Beragil decided to keep his peace, watch and wait. The day passed quietly. Hanasian scarcely made a sound and Videgavia was not the loquacious sort. Beragil took point with barely an idea of where they were headed for. All he had to go by in the dense wood by Cardolan's coast was the trail he had taken in only the day before and so he followed that and he was watchful.

He noticed movement, shadows, on either side of the trail. They had been yesterday but he had a night's rest under his belt now and his senses were keener. The suspicions that had popped into his weary head the day before were confirmed now. The woods they travelled through were diligently and expertly watched. Rightly so, Beragil supposed, given the history of the land they travelled through. Cardolan had been powerful foe of Rhuadaur for a time. It had vied, even, with Arthedain so mighty had it been. His ancestors had fought men like those he rode with now, men commanded by the ancestor of the woman he had glimpsed earlier today, the Lady of Cardolan.

Bree had been buzzing with speculation regarding Hanasian's wife. Would she have a boy or girl child this time and when? Twins or not, who could say? Fair or dark of hair? Hanasian enjoyed what many Rangers hoped for, or so Massuil had told him. Hanasian had found a place to call home and created a vibrant family with the women he loved. A powerful woman. More than an aristocrat by a long shot. She was higher in rank than Ithilien and Dol Amroth both! Beragil had heard them say that she was even considered an heir to the Reunited Kindgom, after the King and all his issue. An unlikely match on the surface, then, between the subdued Ranger that rode just behind him and a highly born Dunedain princess. There was more to it, he knew there had to be, but Massuil had proved reluctant to speak further of the Lady of Cardolan.

"Rangers do not gossip about their betters, lad," Massuil had warned and Beragil had thought the subject closed but then the old Ranger had grinned suddenly, "Consider yourself fortunate to have the opportunity to meet her Ladyship. And, under no circumstances address her by her proper title."

Bergail had asked and Massuil's expression became strange - fond, if Beragil had to describe it.

"Trust me lad, you do not want to know what she is capable of when crossed."

It had sounded all very ominous and yet, when Beragil had actually sighted her for himself, she was not at all what he had come to imagine. Between Massuil's formidable description and her ancestry he had expected to find a dour woman with a proud and stern mien, a distant gaze and an aloofness. Likely clad all in armour and ready to cry havoc at any given opportunity. Instead, Bergil had been swamped with sudden realisations. The Lady of Cardolan was hauntingly beautiful and, he thought as he observed from a distance, not at all aloof or thirsty for war. She was quite far gone with child and yet she had she had stood with no small store of courage to bid her husband farewell without tears or wailing.

It was a parting that Hanasian had taken hard, Videgavia too if he did not miss his guess. He could not help but wonder at what would pull Hanasian away now. Something compelling, something that even the Lady of Cardolan with all her Rangers and the Company could not withstand. How was it connected to Annuminas, though? Why was Darian in all of this? Round and round the questions swirled, like the drying leaves kicked along by the day's brisk, cool breeze. Winter was not far off, he guessed. It would come early this year as it sometimes did.

Beragil led them along the trail until the woods petered out into meadows. He led them on through farmland, where men and women briefly paused their work to lift their hands in greeting to Hanasian as they passed. Videgavia called a brief halt once they had cleared the tract of farms. Beragil had to watch Hanasian and Videgavia confer quietly whilst he watered his horse and himself. After that, he got a heading and that was about all that was answered for the rest of the day.

They rode well into the night before they stopped. There were no tents to pitch, no camp to make, no fire to be had. The sky above was clear, beautiful and above all cold. The horses were picketed and Bergil was dispatched to his rest. Videgavia followed soon after when Hanasian declared that he would set the first watch.

"I'll get no sleep tonight in any case. May as well do something useful," Hanasian said and so Beragil settled himself into his cloak and wondered.

Perhaps the morrow would bring some answers, he hoped. Until then, he would trust to Massuil and in any case, he had already given his own word. He may hail from Rhuadaur, but he would not be foresworn ? especially when it came to Cardolan and Arthedain.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was, without exception, a difficult day. The children were unsettled and unruly with their father?s strange departure and little could be done to remedy it before evening. They squabbled amongst themselves, were rude to the long suffering tutor, the twins set fire to one of the out buildings and Rin believed she would never get to the bottom of who was responsible for the mess made in Videgavia?s quarters. All she could do is hope to restore the Daleman's office to its usual state and pray he didn't notice. Last time he had caught her in there it had not gone well.

If that wasn't bad enough, Loch was moping. The departure of Videgavia had sent the Dirty Three questing in his direction. Loch had rebuffed them and told them to wait until Berlas arrived. And then he started after her to summon Berlas, as if the man came and went at her bidding. As if she had any right to be issuing operational orders as soon as Videgavia's back was turned. That had prompted an argument between her and Loch over who was the Company's captain. It had not been resolved. Rin had the distinct sense that they were arguing about two different things entirely. Besides, Videgavia would be back soon with Hanasian. There was no need to go shuffling things about. Loch had directed a wounded look at her, declared that he had always known that she thought he wasn't good for much and then slunk off.

Baffling - but then he wasn't himself right now, and well she knew it. Rin resolved, as she readied for bed that night, to speak to him tomorrow. Things would be better tomorrow. As she moved about the room, preparing the fires for the night and pulling the thick curtains into place against the glass door that led out to their balcony, the size of the bedroom loomed around her. It had always been a large space, decadently so. The roof was high and the thick, sturdy rafters were swathed now in shadows. The twin hearths made the light within dance unsteadily.

A large room - an empty room, it felt...hollow and hungry. It was an unsettling thought and one she shoved aside roughly. It was followed by an angry question: why had Aragorn written as he had? Why now? Sorely tempted as she was to think things that, frankly, bordered on treason, her child weighed heavily on her. She put those questions aside as well. They were best addressed in the light of day

Rin eased into the too large, too cold bed and tried to get comfortable. Easier said than done at this point, she well knew, but in the end the demands of the day and needs of the child she carried won out over comfort and she fell asleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The iron tang of blood hung in the air like a heavy mist. It was not alone. The stench of death and violence, of spilt bowels and split bones lingered. Death, twisted and sudden, or insidious and creeping, as far as the eye could see. They lay everywhere, a shattered tableaux of battle carpeted the ground and even the waters around her. There were some pockets of water, she saw, that were not red. A slaughterhouse. Carnage. Charnel. She could see movement still, small bands roving to deal the final indignities on those who could not claim death’s peace or flee for their lives. They would take their time, she knew, savouring this after-battle pleasure. She looked away from the scene around her to the sword she held in her hand. Despite the gore upon it, it was still a thing of beauty. She barely felt its weight in her grip.

They would speak of this sword and her. Not all of the bright Elves had fallen on this day. Some she had permitted to escape. Something trickled slowly, like sweat, down her cheek. She lifted a hand to it and brought her fingers away, glistening red. Slowly she brought her fingers to her mouth. The taste was not unpleasant but really she could not see the appeal. In fact, all of what she sensed left no mark at all. She felt hollow. There was no satisfaction, no sense of victory, no exhilaration. Her vengeance had begun and she started to wonder if it could bring her a measure of peace. If she had made an error it was certainly too late to turn aside now. They would hunt her the length and breadth of the lands for this. Gil-Galad and all his puppets, her kinswoman most of all.

Noise nearby, scuffling, attracted her attention. It was one of the squads. They so slovenly and crude that she never bothered to recall their names or discern one from the other. Orcs were orcs, flawed but useful in their way – if handled correctly. They had been hovering for some time, out of reach, nervously bickering amongst themselves and now, it seemed, someone had been forced to approach her.

”Mistress,” it hissed, drooling either in mindless glee or anticipation. She knew what it wanted and she had little sympathy for it.

”No,” she said coolly as the brutish thing sidled closer.

”We’re hungry,” it persisted.

She smiled at it then, a cold and yet beautiful thing and it shrank away, gibbering miserably.

She slowly drove her sword into the soft, marshy earth and then raised her hands. She let her head fall back and felt the harsh, scouring wind snatch at her hair. She felt the ground quiver fearfully and dimly heard water gurgling. After a while, she opened her eyes and lowered her arms. The nearest band were howling with fear, loping away as fast as they could. They would find the going slow now. The marshes had risen to claim their dead. Let the fallen forever be left to stare emptily at the sky above, abandoned in life and death, trapped. Just as she was. Friend and foe, Elf and Orc, eternally entwined. The Gladden Fields were glad no more. Just, she realised, as she was.

She still felt no joy, no sense of satisfied victory. She felt no exhaustion or pain. She felt no fear or regret. Her heart beat steady, serene and slow like a drum, and she turned and walked from the battlefield.

Rin woke screaming, rigid with terror. That tolling heart beat thundered in her ears, merciless and cruel beyond all measure, the charnel stench hung in the air still and all she could was her sword in her hand, dripping with blood.

She found herself alone, in a room she did not recognise. It was dark. There were people coming. She had to hide. If they discovered what she had done, the atrocities she had committed...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

”In the wardrobe?” Farbarad exclaimed in quiet surprise and Slippery nodded.

”She was terrified,” Slippery said, ”I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“It’s been some time, years, since she has Dreamed.”

“I know,”
Slippery said, impatient, ”But this was entirely different! It wasn’t like…then”

“Did she say anything when you found her?”

“Nothing useful – Dunlendic tangled with some sort of Elvish. I could make no sense of it at all. Wasn’t easy to get her out of that damn wardrobe. She’s only just gone back to sleep now.”

Farbarad sipped at his tea and watched the eastern sky lighten, preoccupied with his thoughts.

”I know what you’re thinking,” Slippery said a while later, ”And I don’t think it’s a good idea. Asking Rin about it will not help.”

“But it-“

“Wolf, no. Hanasian was clear and, what’s more, absolutely correct. Rin needs to rest.”

Farbarad nodded and Slippery removed her forbidding glare. Inwardly, though, he resolved that he would change his mind if the dream returned again.

”I’m sure it will pass,” Slippery continued, ”Rin’s just out of sorts with Hanasian going away. He’ll be back soon and she’ll settle down again.”

Farbarad said despite the parchment he had tucked into his pocket after finding it in the study. Strange that the King would summon him in that fashion but for all of that, Farbarad knew Hanasian would return to his wife and family as soon as possible.

The dream did not return. Not the same dream, at least. Each time it was different. What united them was her sword, that slow heartbeat, callous and unmoved, and a dread too profound to be put into words.

After a week of this, Rin began to wonder if she was going mad.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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OOC - Apologies for delay. Major surgery has come and gone and now the show continues...

Hanasian stared at the fire, convinced that sleep would not come to him on this night. He looked over at Beragil. The younger Ranger did not share Hanasian’s problem. While this was a good thing in itself, Hanasian hoped that he had mastered the Ranger’s sleep – one eye open and one ear alert. Hanasian thought him an alert one. Across the way Vid was failing in his efforts to not snore. The second watch would fall to Beragil. It was always that way. The newest recruit had the middle watch. Theirs was a broken sleep, if they managed any. So, Hanasian concluded, Bergail could count himself fortunate that he slept now.

Thoughts passed through Hanasian’s mind as if leaves blown on a stiff wind. He considered each as they came. One such thought drove his hand into his vest and his fingers curled around the shape of the item he had tucked into his pocket earlier: Brooch of Cardolan. It had been given to Rin, along with a great many other talismans of her heritage, on the day they had wed. She, in turn, gave it to him. He had brought along as a way to keep her close, knowing even as he had stowed it there in the early hours of that day it was likely not a wise thing to have upon him.

His fingers smoothed the outline of the device. It was delicate, finely wrought mithril – strong and precious…as was the woman he thought of even as his fingertips marked its circumference. Another thought pulled his fingers away from the brooch and set them off in search of another important item. It was only then that he realized that he had not brought Aragorn’s message with him. The discovery shot through him and, as he replayed the evening prior, he guess that he must set it aside or dropped it somewhere in the house. Wherever it was, Rin likely would have discovered it by now.

He knew his wife. She would have read it many times over and set her mind to unraveling its mystery. The timing of its arrival would surely snag her attention. It could have been worse…and then, perhaps it could not have been better. When he considered what he believed lay ahead of him, his thoughts darkened. Best she not know what he did. Best she think it something else, anything else. Hanasian shifted uncomfortably. He knew he would miss her. He would miss his children. And yet, there was no other course.

A star streaked across the sky and Hanasian studied it. Was Rin on the balcony even now, watching the same star? Hanasian shook his head. He had to quit thinking about such things. He needed to focus on the matters at hand and only that. Bree was two, perhaps three days ahead of them. Did the Ranger’s Summons that Aragorn had sent mean that the King knew…it was likely, Hanasian thought. With a sigh, Hanasian realized that the night had passed faster than he initially thought and he rose to his feet.

He crossed to wake Beragil, ”It’s your watch. When that star reaches the trees, wake Vid for the third watch.”

“And if clouds come?”

Hanasian sighed again, ”Then use your best guess.”

Hanasian trudged to his blanket and set about getting as comfortable as he could manage whilst Beragil took up the watch. He was tightly wound and thought it unlikely that he would find sleep no matter how comfortable he might make himself. At the least, he could rest his eyes and so he lay there, listening to the night around them.

Morning ambushed Hanasian in the form of Vid. The Daleman was warily nudging Hanasian with his foot.

”Wake up Cap. Got some leagues to cover this day.”

Hanasian was startled, surprised to have been woken at all. He thrashed away from Videgavia’s boot and shouted, “I’m awake alright… let’s go!”

Beragil, already on his feet, paused to glace over to Videgavia. The only person not on his feet was Hanasian. Videgavia pondered Hanasian for a brief moment, then looked at Beragil and shrugged. When the Daleman strode off to gather up his pack, Beragil did the same. Setting out in the early morning light, Beragil found Videgavia was keeping a safe distance from Hanasian. The Daleman, at the rear, noticed the young Ranger’s glance and kicked his horse forward to catch Beragil up.

”Don’t take it personally,” Videgavia advised from the side of his mouth, ”He’s like this when he has a lot on his mind. I’m just glad he was sleeping. It’s worse when he isn’t.”

Beragil nodded at that and, with a glance ahead at the subject of their discussion, saw that Hanasian might soon out distance them. He pushed his horse forward and, once he had overtaken the man declared,”We’ll go this way. It’s better concealed and will not add too much time to our journey.”

Hanasian reined in, ”Never went that way…. Never used to be a track that way.”

“There is now,”
Beragil insisted and set forth, veering to the left. When Videgavia caught up with Hanasian, the Captain lifted a brow in askance. Both elder men studied the younger Ranger ahead a moment before Videgavia shrugged and kicked his horse onwards. The matter evidently decided, Hanasian followed in the rear.

For most of the day, Hanasian kept to himself. He was reluctant to talk about anything and when he did, his words were terse. Quiet though he was, his mind roiled with activity. He was already hunting the Moricarni in his thoughts. He did all that he could to recall everything he knew of their ways, signs and such. Anything he could remember may provide an advantage they sorely needed. So few of the Moricarni had survived. Of that Hanasian was certain. The Black Company had been brutal in their eradication. Rin would, in the language of her craft, call it a necessary incision if she knew of this dark chapter as he did.

So many years later, Hanasian knew that he had to consider that the Black Company had not incised deeply enough. It was possible that some of their writings had not been destroyed. It was also possible that their new form might have significantly altered the Moricarni in many ways. Was it not how such things went, after all? History becomes legend, twisted often in ways that bore little if any resemblence to what actually had gone before and so, if this had happened to the Moricarni would they be now? Worse, even, than what Naiore had wrought. Nothing, he thought with a shiver, could be worse than that. Or could it? As his thoughts grew steadily darker he drew away from the other two men he travelled with. That night, he did not sit with Videgavia or Beragil as they camped at the Andrath. And he did not sleep. For if the Moricarni were even more twisted now, what horrors would come searching for those he loved?

They arrived in Bree the next day. Younger Master Butterbur was the more accommodating than his elder when it came to the Dunedain. Barliman the Elder tolerated them, certainly. The Dunedain always settled their accounts and, whilst trouble had a habit of following them, they never caused any directly. Master Butterbur the Younger, however would go so far as allow the Dunedain use of the parlour whenever they gathered there. And at a reasonable price too! It was this parlour that Hanasian, Videgavia and Beragil walked into without delay upon arriving at the Prancing Pony.

Already several of the Grey Company had gathered and Hanasian found himself welcomed despite the grim cast of his thoughts. Even as forearms were clasped, he knew that their arrival here would be marked. He had seen nothing in the streets but still he knew.

More Dunedain arrived and soon most in the parlour were Beragil’s contemporaries, young Rangers. Only a couple were older. Massuil was there, and beside him was a shadowy older man that Hanasian recognized as the King himself. The younger Rangers were not nearly as well acquainted with King Elessar’s guise of Strider. Indeed, few beyond those who had served with the King in the northern wilds before the War would mark Strider for his true identity unless the King wished it. From the way in which the younger Rangers behaved, it was clear to Hanasian that the King had revealed himself to them. Whatever was to unfold in the parlour, all there would know it came from the highest authority in the Reunited Realms.

They wasted no time to set to discussing the recent trouble that had sprung up in and around Bree. All agreed that the start of these difficulties was marked by the death Kholas and Tarina. Hanasian could not help but think that he should have recognized this sooner. The long hiatus between this and recent events he ascribed to the intervention of Anvikela. She had battled this evil on her own for some years. It had spread, and quickly, upon her recent death. Again, his wife’s scream that day, as the full enormity of the malice settled over her senses pierced him.

"You have been quiet, Hanasian,” Aragorn observed.

The King’s gaze sliced through him in its usual fashion. It was a trait he shared with his distant cousin. Rin deployed it regularly. Hanasian raised his hand to his chin and scratched his closely cropped beard.

”Yes, I have been.”

The King was not content with this and pressed further, ”You seem to know more of these matters. I would hear of it.”

Hanasian’s hesitation showed on his face, ”I have a theory, nothing more, that this is related to… unfinished business.”

A thin stream of bluish smoke issued from Aragorn’s lips as he considered Hanasian’s statement. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, ”Company business you mean.”

“Yes… Company business,” Hanasian cleared his throat and leant forwards himself, "My King, my Chieftain, I request a moment of your time in private."

Aragorn shot Hanasian a hard look before he nodded. Both men removed themselves from the parlour and found a vacant room nearby. Hanasian glanced up and down the hall before closing the door on it. He took a deep breath.

”There are…aspects of company business that I have sworn to you, Sire, would never be revealed. The Chronicle held in the archives at Minas Tirith is abbreviated as you know. Specifically, the events of the Khand rebellion and, later, the pursuit and death of Naiore Dannan.”

Aragorn’s lips thinned at the name, “You were wise not to speak of such matters Hanasian in the parlour. Still, I think you will find every man there has in his possession at least one piece of the puzzle before us. And you…well I think you put them all together. What do you wish to speak of, Hanasian?”

Hanasian rubbed a hand over his face. He was tired, so tired already, and he had not really yet begun.

“I had hoped to spare my family the threats of my past. Yes…I can put the puzzle together, as you say. I know who we now seek. We seek the final adherents, and their followers, of Naiore. Few, if any, of the Moricani remained, as Vid attested to at the time. We were necessarily ruthless. But now, it would seem, not nearly ruthless enough. Enough seems to have survived and, moreso, perhaps even perverted yet more over time from the original dark seeds. They bear the same name now, but they are not the same. I fear they are worse, much worse, than the Moricarni we faced before.”

Hanasian paused, staring at the flame of the candle that lazily burned near the door of the room. It felt strange giving his fears voice.

”I am all but sure they seek me. I was Captain of the force that slew their mistress. And if they seek me, then I know they will seek my family and the families of anyone who has ever borne the badge of the Black Company of Arnor.”

After a long moment of silence, the King spoke.

”You have confirmed what I suspected, what I feared. Already a watch has been set but we cannot know how many we watch against and how widespread they are in these lands. You will need to speak to every man in that parlour. Each, in their own way, will help you put the pieces together.”

Hanasian looked out the window for a moment as he thought.

”And while I am here, putting these pieces together, what of my wife and children? Rin is with child. This will not be a swift, short assignment. What do you suggest I tell her?”

Aragorn's expression softened, ”You have been in my service many long years. All I ask is that you to spend some time, a few weeks at most, teaching these men what you know of the Moricarni. I’ll send word immediately to my cousin concerning what you are doing.”

Hanasian nodded, resigned and skeptical both. Rin already had one missive from Aragorn and she had given it short shrift already. Still the man was the King of the reunited Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, Numenorian Kingdoms in exile. Hanasian could no more deny him than he could breathe water and so they returned to the parlour to set to work.

Hanasian outlined what the pursuit and confrontation with Naiore and indeed, of the weeks prior to her demise. He spoke, voice strained, of his Company’s efforts to eradicate her followers. It was very close to what he had told Aragorn only moments before, even if some details were omitted by sheer necessity.

”Now we know that some, perhaps only one or two, survived and lived on. From them, the Moricarni have reformed anew and whilst their creator and Mistress is long since dead, they worshipped her alive and perhaps even more so now she is not.

“They are hunting me, and any who may have served or serve now with me. They hunt our families. They will come for anyone you love.”

One of the young Rangers asked, "Would they dare challenge the King here in Bree?”

Hanasian glanced at Aragorn, ”I would like to think not. Certainly, were they under Naiore’s control they would not be so foolish. Now…now I do not put anything beyond them. I do not know how restrained, how strategic or tactical they may be as a group. Assume nothing, and expect anything.”

Videgavia cut in, ”You young ones listen. They will do whatever it takes to see to their ends. Anyone dear to you is in danger simply because you are here now, in this room. If they so much as suspect you know of them, you and all you love will become their targets.

“The original Company was composed of umarried men, many without living families. Hanasian, our captain, had a mother and a sister he feared for. Now he has still more, a wife and children of his own. Yet here he stands. I assume you all are unmarried?”

The worried faces around them suggested that many had families, but all nodded. No one, aside from Hanasian, was married and when the chance came to step aside, not a one of them did so. Aragorn had chosen well. As the king moved about the room, Hanasian’s thoughts again drifted to Rosmarin and their children. He had left the Company there and, along with the Rangers in her service, hoped they would establish a vigil that would keep them safe. He hoped they would never need to. Perhaps the Moricarni had yet to learn who his family was…and where they were. Let them, instead, focus on him. It was the best he could hope for.

Hanasian sucked in a breath and found Aragorn was watching him closely. Hanasian turned his attention back to the parlour and the King addressed them all a final time.

”Begin immediately. Your work is vital. I will take my leave now, for I am out hunting, but I look forward to hearing of your progress. Let it be soon.”

Aragorn drew up the hood of his tattered cloak and was swiftly gone.

Hanasian looked about the room and divided it by age. The younger, the men that had accompanied Aragorn and Beregil would provide the bulk of the muscle. There was no way to know whether they had what it took to do what lay ahead. Hanasian had not mentioned the methods of their coming work and for good reason. The King had left in haste, again for good reason. The older Rangers were not nearly so innocent. Massuil suspected much and, from the hardness of his glance, and knew something of it. Videgavia, though, well he’d had the advantage of encountering the Moricarni before. He knew exactly was lay ahead now. The knowledge sat heavily on him. Hanasian drew in a deep breath, sorrowing at what was to come…and all because he had not been ruthless enough the first time.

”Something amiss Cap?” Vid inquired.

There was a time, Hanasian grimly thought, when he had thought it a dear thing to ask of your commanding officer. Now, though, Hanasian thought otherwise and more to the point, Videgavia should had realized it before asking. He rounded on the Daleman.

”Well you know there is! But I’ll manage. Don’t ask me that again!”

Hanasian stepped to the end of the long parlour table, shot a cold stare at Vidgeavia that found its way of the table. No one there repeated Videgavia’s momentary lapse of concern. A terse nod at Massuil saw a map of Arnor swiftly thrown down onto the table.

It was very old indeed, a complete map of Arnor when first it formed, with various notatons upon it. The lines that marked its subsequent division had been added, with names of each of King Earandur’s sons marked upon each part. Hanasian nodded, his eyes drawn to Cardolan first. This was not the first he had seen this map, but he had been married to the descendant of a Prince on this map before. Rin’s forefather was listed there, long before Cardolan had fallen to the East’s blight. He pulled his eyes away and considered the remainder of the map.

”Study every detail of this map,” he quietly said.

One of the young rangers frowned, ”We’ve seen maps of Arnor before…”

“You have? How pleased I am for you…”
Hanasian stalked towards the Ranger. He seized him, swift as a striking snake, with a hand around his neck and forced the young Ranger’s head towards the map. Closer and closer until there was an audible thunk from the wooden table beneath the map.

”You won’t have seen this one. Tell me clever young man, what is different about this map from all the others you have seen?”

Hanasian released the man’s neck and allowed him to stand. The man cautiously rubbed his forehead and peered hard at the map. Finally he shook his head, reluctant to give his answer.

"I’m not sure. The script is different… rougher I would say. “

Another Ranger spoke up, ”I think this map has been made by someone from Rhuadur.”

Hanasian nodded and patted this fellow on the shoulder. He looked over the Range who first spoke and then patted him on the shoulder too. The fellow was obviously confused by his sudden change in fortunes.

”You all will have to forgive me. I am new at this,” Hanasian said.

Massuil nudged Vid with his elbow and the two elder men leaned back in their chairs.

”Here it comes…” Vid mumbled, not escaping Hanasian’s attention.

Hanasian paused and stared flatly at Vid. After a moment, Vid made a slight hand movement and at that, Hanasian turned his attention back to the young muscle in the room.

”I am new in the fact that I usually select those who serve under me. You have been chosen for me by our King. I expect you to do whatever is needed to achieve our end. We must eliminate the threat of this and any other murderous order that may call upon so much of a sliver of the lore of Naiore Dannan.”

Hanasian looked stonily around room.

”I’m not going to ask your names, now or ever. I don’t want to know you. I don’t care about your story, or why you became a Ranger. I don’t care about any of that. All I care about is the problem before us. All I want from you is to see it through, to the end, come what may.

“As for this map, here, you can that the most eastern part of Arnor bears the most detail –Rhuadur. My man Beragil knows that land about as well as anyone I know of. Any of you know of it? Any of you even patrolled there?”

The Ranger who had recognised the map raised his hand slowly as did one other.

Hanasian nodded at them and then glanced at Beragil, ”Good, you three will be my lead scouts. Brief the rest on what you know of the tracks and trails. I have long suspected that there may have been some place in that land that was used back in the dark days of Angmar. Had Naiore worked with the Witch King in those days? I don’t know. I need my notes.”

Hanasian paused in thought. His notes were not with him nor did he keep them at not. They were notes best forgotten and that is exactly what he had done. It was likely they were at the Forsaken Inn. He had moved most of his various items there over the years. Quietly. No easy feat given his wife’s uncanny ability to sniff a secret out. If not at the Forsaken Inn, the only other place could be…Hanasian shook his head.

”For now, we must assume that the Elf did collude with the Witch King and plan accordingly.”

For two days they stayed at the Prancing Pony to develop plans and establish likely places to check. Their list grew. As a group they would draw too much attention, but they would need to leave soon. It was decided they would all ride east, and spend the next night at the Forsaken. Anvikela had spent much of her final days there and a clue may yet be found. They might even be able to draw some of the Moricarni out.

By the morning of the third day, only Hanasian, Beragil and Videgavia remained at the Prancing Pony. The others had left already set out to gather provisions. Once assembled at the East Gate of Bree they had arranged to ride for the Forsaken Inn. A brief delay there would enable Hanasian to retrieve anything of his old records of value and then it would be onwards to Amon Sul, then Rhuadur.

To Hanasian’s mind, it all seemed like madness. What would they really be able to do? Even with five young Rangers added to their number, their total was a scant eight. Yet they had to do something. Relucant as he was to keep the younger Rangers clear of this mess, Aragorn had made his wishes clear. And so, Hanasian told himself that it was akin to the earliest days of his forming Company. He had his men, now he had to make their first move.

Once settled up with young Butterbar, the trio left the inn. Outside, in the still quiet morning street, Videgavia paused.

”There is something I’ll need before I go. Mulgov will not remember where he put it, if ever he returns to Bree again and we may well have need of it before this is done.”

As Videgavia took his leave, Hanasian and Beragil studied the street. The sign just above the inn, a rearing pony freshly painted by the look of it, swayed ever so slightly.

Beside him, Beragil curiously studied the retreating back of Videgavia.

”What is he going after?”

Hanasian lifted a shoulder in half a shrug. There were a great many things Mulgov had acquired, not many of them wholesome but usually entirely useful in his experience. There less innocent Beragil knew, in Hanasian’s mind, the better. He eyed those trudging through the streets at this early hour. He suspected everyone. If he kept his wits and paid attention, he expected to know a Moricarni upon sight – even now. There were not the sort of creatures easily forgotten.

A woman approached the Prancing Pony’s entrance with a brief glance at the two Rangers who stood there. Hanasian nodded at her politely and she offered him a smile and a nod of her own before she considered Beragil. When she spoke, her voice was soft.

”Beragil? How is it that you are here in Bree and yet I find you here purely by chance, particularly after your sudden and unexplained departure the last our paths crossed?”

Beragil had the look of a man that wanted to be anywhere but Bree.

Hanasian slapped Beragil on the shoulder, ”Take a moment, lad, with your…friend. Vid will return shortly. I’ll fetch our horses.”

Beragil’s stammering behind him brought a brief smile to Hanasian’s face as he made for the inn’s stables. Then came the sound of a palm making rather sudden contact with a cheek. Hanasian liked Beragil’s friend all the more. Hanasian no sooner set foot in the tack shed when he was ambushed. The door swung shut hard on the sight of Beragil and Videgavia running for the stable, hands reaching for their swords. They tried to open the door but to no avail. They tried ramming it but it would not give way. Startled as Hanasian was, he did not hesitate on his own score. He slammed his elbow hard and found the soft gut of one of his attackers. Despite the man’s grunt, he did not fully release Hanasian. Both men lost their balance and tumbled backwards, knocking a lantern to the ground with them.

Hanasian slammed his fist into his nose for good measure that convinced the lout to release him. He sprang to his feet and made for the door but the bolt had already been dropped by his attackers and it was secured fast against a swift departure. If the sight of the bolt did not inform Hanasian that he faced more than one opponent, the need to dodge whatever was swung at him as he lunged at the doors by a second attacker did. The blow, as a result, was only a glancing one to Hanasian’s head. It was enough to send him off balance again. He lashed out with a boot as he fell and kicked whoever was nearest to him. It bought him enough time to regain his feet and draw his knife.

However time was not only assisting Hanasian. The first assailant drew his dagger and charged at Hanasian almost as he had just regained his feet a second time. They collided and crashed against the wall of the tack house, struggling. Again, a savage blow to his assailant’s nose drove the man back, reeling as blood streamed and bones cracked. Hanasian delivered a kick that sent him flying towards the small fire that had been created by the fallen lantern.

Outside, Videgavia and Beragil again slammed into the door and this time heard a strained crack from the bolt across the door. This, after all, was the tack house of the Prancing Pony and not the armoury of Minas Tirith. Smoke was issuing from under the doors and any nook and cranny it could find. Within, it swiftly billowed ad carried treatcherous sparks aloft, to the second floor and all the straw kept safe from the weather there.

Coughing, the remaining assailant lurched towards the doors to prevent Videgavia and Beragil from breaking them in entirely. Much encouraged by the strained bolt and greatly dismayed by the increasing smoke, the two Rangers outside renewed their assault on the door. Their frenzied attack on it threw the weakening man on the other side back and shook the entire tack house but the bolt, whilst cracked, yet held.

Spotting the man sprawled on the ground through the stinging smoke, Hanasian darted forward to see to him. A swift kick to his head broke his neck but even as Hanasian turned a dagger found his right thigh and sent bolts of pain shooting through his leg. He staggered, leg buckling beneath him, even as the first assailant emerged from the sooty flames, singed and smoldering. He could not avoid the savage swing of the man’s fist. It smashed into his cheekbone and knocked him into the very flames the man had emerged from.

The fire greedily licked the wall and the roof, sending a fitful and treacherous light over all within. Hanasian’s lungs burned and his vision was unsteady yet he could see his assailant closing for the kill. His fingers closed around his remaining knife and he threw it as best it could. A wet gurgle sounded even as Videgavia and Beragil collided with the door once more. It splintered under the abuse and daylight was thrown into the ruinous scene. With it came much needed air. Flames roared into sudden, vicious life, reaching for the source of air. The tackhouse gave a terrible groan and then collapsed. As Videgavia and Beragil were thrown backwards again, they both saw the haunting image of Hanasian trying to stand beyond the flames, within the doomed structure.

The pair swiftly regained their feet but it was too late. The shed was now completely engulfed in flames. They could but watch in dreadful horror as it crumbled into naught more than a pile of shattered wood and charred straw. The terrible sound of a man’s desperate cries from within the conflagration did not end nearly soon enough. The silence that followed was worse still.

A great hue had been raised in Bree and the town’s fire watch was even now swiftly moving buckets of water to keep the old inn and larger stable from catching alight. The tack shed was already lost. There was no hope of saving it or any within, but all the same Videgavia continued to circle it. He was desperate for some sign that Hanasian, as wily now as ever before, had managed somehow to elude a gruesome death. He circled around the shed and the stables, willing some sign to make itself known to him. But there was naught to find.

Sick to his stomach, he returned to where Beragil stood.

”No one could survive that,” came the young Ranger's voice, broken and flat.

“No, they could not,” Videgavia mumbled, unable to find any comfort for the younger man. They both turned as the other five Rangers rode up, drawn by the hue and cry from the inn and troubled by the delay in meeting at the East Gate.

”What happened?” one asked

“Hanasian went down fighting,” Videgavia replied as he turned back to the ruined tack house.

”He was in that?”

“He and his attackers.”

”Are you certain?”

Both Videgavia and Beragil nodded mournfully. One of the Rangers dismounted and stepped toward the flames to be driven back by the heat

”What…” he said, turning back solemnly to face Videgavia, ”What about the maps?”

Necessary as the question was, it settled over the Rangers there like a pall.

Beragil answered, ”He gave everything to me to carry.”

No one there looked relieved and Videgavia himself made no movement whatsoever. Yet Beragil’s answer struck him as strange. In all his years serving with Hanasian, Videgavia had always known the man to carry such things himself. Certainly, he had not been himself of late. The Daleman stared at the ruined tack house, still burning. No mystery as to why that was. Still, even so… Videgavia found his throat suddenly dry.

He finally said, ”It falls to us seven now. We will continue as planned, with necessary adjustments. First, we will mount a vigil here until the King’s men arrive. Nothing is to be disturbed or moved until then. They will investigate what has occurred here thoroughly and confirm what we already think we know.

“Once that is done, Beragil will take command of this mission. If you know of anyone else who is trustworthy and will want to join us, I’ll see to it that they are assigned. I always thought we would need a few more men even if Hanasian didn’t want any. He wanted to do this himself.”

Vid paused a moment at that and then continued, ”Now, two men on a quarter day watch. Since there are seven of us, one from the first watch will take taking the forth as well. We will rotate this way until all is done here.”

“Why will you not command Videgavia?”
asked a truly baffled and overwhelmed Beragil. Videgavia swung to meet him squarely.

”Are you volunteering to tell the Lady of Cardolan and her children that Hanasian is dead?”

Beragil blanched at that. All suddenly looked away, even those who had not directly encountered the King’s cousin. Such a task was horrendous to consider, irrespective of her station and identity. The notion chilled Videgavia, the man who was reportedly fearful of nothing, to his bones.

More gently he allowed, ”In any case, it should come from me.”

They all stood silently, broken by Beragil, ”But of all us, only you and Hanasian know what we face. How am I to know?”

“You will know. Much has changed since the old days. It was a moment of our mercy, all those years ago, that has led to this day. You will kno, and you will do what is necessary.”

Vid considered the six Rangers, pale and grim on this ruinous day, before him.

”When it is done, seek out Captain Lochared of the Black Company. I think they will be in need of ones such as you, and you may want a place to call home and find what peace you yet may.”

They looked uncertainly at each other for Videagavia’s words had a fell ring to them. Beragil swallowed, aware that he may have witnessed just enough to guess at Videgavia’s meaning.

Once the inn and the stables were safe from the dying flames, Vid assigned the vigil watches and the grim waiting began.

Hanasian broke through the burning wall, covered in burns, cuts and bruises and swathed in their attendant misery. For all of that, he leaped towards the rear of the inn, fell and rolled over the ground. Probably good for the bits of him still burning, he thought. He rolled against the inn even as the cook shoved the rear kitchen open and gustily screamed, "Fire!!"

He pulled loose a plank and somehow squeezed himself under the inn itself. Hanasian fumbled the plank roughly back into place and lay there, listening as his mind raced.

They made the first move, he thought. Sooner than anticipated. And here in Bree! It stunned him. That and the repeated blows to his skull and who knew how much smoke inhaled, of course. The brazenness of it, with the King so near to hand was astounding. He knew there would be an inquiry. Things did not just burn down in Bree. Especially tack houses. He had no idea what they would find.

His mind skittered onto the next thing. What would they tell Rosmarin? He gritted his teeth against the moan that rose in his throat. This…this would…and the children…The idea would have made him retch had the fire not already seared his throat.

I have to make this work, he thought with rising desperation. But how was he to avoid no less than six Rangers, not to mention Videgavia himself, finding him? A dreadful idea flicked into life. What if they thought him dead? If he was declared dead, the Moricarni would hear of that as surely as his wife would. Might that mean that they leave off their hunt of his family? What possible gain, what possible torment could they inflict by harming them if he was dead. The dead do not care. Might Rosmarin, devastated as she would be, be saved or would they come for his family anyway?

The confusing questions and thoughts teamed through his rapidly tiring mind and Hanasian drifted into a painful sleep despite the clamber of voices and the sound of water splashing about.

He started awake as a spider crawled boldly across his face. His eyes flew open even though they now burned. He tried to rub them but there was little space to move his arm and he knew he had to be quiet in any case. He blinked furiously and tilted his head towards the exterior of the inn. It was nearly dark outside. His back ached but he could barely move in the tight space he had crammed himself into earlier that day. His only idea was to quietly wiggle back and forth, displacing the dirt as he could his back and legs, and gain him more space. He could do nothing more and he soon went back to sleep…

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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The Watch returned in three days and with them rode the King, alarmed by the initial reports he had received whilst hunting. The grim faces of those standing vigil and the blackened ruins they stood about did little to soothe Aragorn’s dismay. He set the Watch to the task of investigating immediately and strode to the parlor he had departed nearly a week prior. Two Rangers stood in a corner, huddled over various maps with Massuil. They looked up at their King in surprise, blinking owlishly. Two were tightly wrapped in their cloaks, so tired that they were asleep on the floor.

Videgavia was at the long table, head in his hands and shoulders slumped. His eyes were shot and weary as they settled on Aragorn and slowly he rose to his feet. The pallor of his unshaven face made the ball of dread in Aragorn’s stomach fatten.

With the embers now cooled, the Watch set to their task with alacrity and by day’s end the parlor was empty of all but Aragorn, Videgavia and Massuil. Upon the large table, resting on sacking, were the items retrieved from the ruined tack shed. A belt buckle, a dagger hilt and the thing that Aragorn turned over between his fingers were blackened and badly damaged by the fire. As he did so, black flakes drifted onto the table below. A dull silvery gleam emerged in patches but Aragorn knew it for what it was even without that. He knew who would have carried it here in Bree and his grief silenced him.

Slowly, he set the brooch down on the sacking and drew a shaking breath.

”It’s certain, then,” Videgavia said beside him, eyes fixed on the belt buckle.

It seemed to Aragorn as though the man was asking a question.

”Not lightly would he have parted with that. These, too, belonged to him. And,” Aragorn steadied himself, ”The bones are that of a man. Scattered…more than one.”

Massuil sat heavily and wiped a hand over his face, ”Of all of us, I thought he’d have a chance at…something better than this.”

The old Ranger waved a weary hand at the grim artifacts on the table. Videgavia leant his weight upon the table and let his head droop. It was all there, spread out right before him. Charred bones, Hanasian’s belt and dagger. His wife’s brooch. She had pinned it to Hanasian’s breast upon their wedding day. Their joy had been so bright, their potential so limitless, then. And now this sad tableaux. Or was it? What if they were wrong? What if he was wrong? Where was Hanasian’s sword? Surely they would find that if they found these other items. And yet, if somehow the man had survived that where was he now? Why was there no trace of him? Was he injured somewhere or was he deliberately avoiding them? If the latter, what madness had taken the wretched man? What was he thinking? Questions, too many questions and Videgavia had little confidence he knew what to do.

The silence in the room grew oppressive. Light was falling and night came more swiftly with each passing day. Winter would be upon them soon. Already the talk was that the winter, this year, would be a harsh one.

”With your leave, sire,” Videgavia found himself saying, ”I will return to Cardolan and –“

The King’s hand wrapped around Videgavia’s left forearm to curtail his words.

”No. I summonsed Hanasian here to this. Rosmarin, her children, are my kin no matter how distant. I will do this thing.”

The news spread swiftly through Bree and so there was little time to tarry. Bad as it was, it would be worse still if Rin learnt the tidings from a passing tinker. As Aragorn made his preparations, Videgavia continued to wrestle with himself. If Aragorn was correct, then Videgavia needed to get back to Rin. This new Moricarni were bolder than ever before and she would need all the protection she could get. He was the only one left, now, who knew in any detail what they were up against. But…if his suspicions were correct then Hanasian would need him here. To do what, Videgavia could not guess, but surely something. Besides, accompanying the King to inform Rin that Hanasian was dead when he wasn’t made Videgavia sick to his stomach.

He’d done a lot of things, questionable things and even, at times, bad things. This, he was convinced, would be the worst of them. Videgavia’s suspicions firmed as the hours passed but try as he might he could not conceive of a way to wriggle out on Aragorn. The King would see straight through any misdirection he could contrive here in Bree and Rin would see straight through him when they reached Cardolan. There was only one thing for it, Videgavia decided.

After the third bottle, it even started to seem like a good idea if he didn’t think about it too much. Dawn the next day saw Videgavia slumped in a stupor in a corner of the Prancing Pony’s common room. He was in no state to travel and Aragorn would brook no delay. Consequently, the King left with Massuil and made with all haste to Cardolan.

Aragorn pushed hard, permitted few stops, anxious to reach his cousin before she discovered the truth by some other means. He thundered over the final arched stone bridge and into the main yard early in the morning of the third day, Massuil on his heels. The sudden unannounced arrival of the King of the Reunited Realm, without ceremony or indeed guard beyond one aged Ranger, drew no small degree of attention despite the early hour. Rangers stationed there swirled and coalesced, confusion on their faces, even as Aragorn swung out of his saddle. He pulled off his dusty gloves and strode through them for the house, his expression grim.

The sudden rushing of Company and Rangers had pricked Rin’s attention too. In any case, she wasn’t sleeping and thus she reached the door before Aragorn. He saw her step out, a shawl thrown around her shoulders, her face already wan. She stared at him a moment, turned around and went back in. The door slammed and he heard her shout at him to go, to leave this place. In some ways, he thought, her senses were keener than his. Of course, Aragorn could no more depart than he could force his way into her home and so he remained there, outside.

By midday, Aragorn stood in the study before his cousin. Her eyes were a hostile, simmering blue. She was still in her nightdress. It was pulling taut against her swelling belly and Hanasian’s final heir. The shawl looped around her shoulders was clutched in fists that clenched so tightly her knuckles were white. Her hair floated around her face in a eerie, almost eldritch manner, restless tendrils of pale gold. As for him, he was still in the travel stained clothing he had arrived in and his hands held the grim items retrieved from the fire. Still, despite these tokens, she refused to believe him.

”Why do you say such vile things?” she reproached him. Rin yanked her eyes away from him almost as if she hoped he would vanish and with him, the ill tidings he bore.

”Would that it was, as you say, a falsehood. A trick, albeit a cruel one. There is nothing I would not do, cousin, to unmake this terrible truth.”

For a moment, as the silence stretched and her eyes returned to the evidence in his hands, he thought he might have reached her. Then her eyes swung, militant, up to his face again and her chin lifted. In that instant she was a daughter of Kings, terrible to behold.

”He is not dead,” she stated, treacherously quiet at first and then rising as she said it again, ”My husband is NOT DEAD! HANASAIAN IS NOT DEAD!”

By the door, watching on in appalled shock, was Farbarad. He shifted his weight, unsettled. But even so, no one was prepared for what came next.

Aragorn turned as the study door opened again, some time later. He held a chair in his hands. It had been overturned along with a number of items in the study and he set it down as Farbarad quietly closed the door behind him. The Ranger looked old, Aragorn thought, worn beyond measure. On his heels, but a few heart beats later, came his cousin’s foster brother. Time seemed to have caught the younger man as well. His dark eyes were solemn indeed. Loch glanced at the overturned desk that Aragorn had yet to set to rights. He surveyed the books spilled onto the floor and he caught the knife, still lying by a wall on the rug. Loch blanched at that, winced as if struck.

”She is resting?” Aragorn quietly inquired and Farabard nodded.

”As near as she can get to it, Sire,” he began and then faltered.

How does one explain away an assault upon the High King, regardless of the circumstances?

”She hasn’t been sleeping,” Loch blurted, ”For weeks. She’s not in her right mind. Nightmares, terrible nightmares that make her scream. She didn’t mean it. Not really. ”

Of the men in that study, only Aragorn had gotten a good look at Rosmarin’s face the moment before she attacked him. She most certainly meant it. Evidently, from the pleading tone of Loch’s voice, her brother suspected she might as well. Aragorn sat in the chair he had set down, too weary to stand any longer.

”The fire…Hanasian’s death…it was no accident,” he said heavily.

At this Farbarad’s glance sharpened but Loch looked confused.

”Are either of you familiar with the Moricarni?” Aragorn asked.

Loch shook his head but Farbarad scowled, ”Rumours, faint at best.”

“More than that, my sorrow to say,”
Aragorn demurred.

”But dead and gone now, all the same.”

The King sighed, ”So I thought. So did we all.”

And with that he outlined the nature of the danger. Loch shuddered when it was done, ”A man can never outrun his past.”

“Are they a threat now…now that Hanasian is…”
Farbarad’s voice trailed off.

”I do not know. All I can be sure of is that they will hunt down the Black Company as surely as night follows day. I would prefer Rosmarin, and the children, were as far away as possible.”

Loch said.

”I doubt they will care, over much, whether the Black Company they hunt are old foes or new. Edhellond is just as perilous, methinks, as remaining here.”

“You would rather she go to Fornost? Annuminas? Or Minas Tirith?”
Farbarad asked.

”Fornost is no place for children and I am not yet assured that the fortress has been rebuilt to a sufficient degree,” Aragorn replied, ”Minas Tirith is too great a journey to make for her at this time. She is five months gone?”

Loch replied, his frown deepening, ”For how long, Sire?”

“Until we can be certain she and the children are safe, I will keep her with me. She must go to Annuminas.”
Aragorn said.

Farbarad nodded reluctantly but Loch shook his head and addressed his sister’s Ranger.

”She won’t leave, Wolf. Not now, certainly not with the King.”

“She must,”
Aragorn said, grimly, ”For I will not risk losing Hanasian’s family to the beasts I set him to hunt.”

It was a miserable, grim party that set forth some days later. They tarried long enough to gather the children and their grieving mother and make arrangements for the Company and Rangers. Loch, perforce, remained with the Company but he sent his beloved Rose with his sister to safety. Rin had retreated into a profound and troubling silence. Only Loch had seen it’s like before, many years ago, and its return now pained him deeply.

”This has happened before,” Fardbarad quizzed Loch and the man nodded, ”When?”

Loch did not like to speak of it yet Farbarad was clearly stricken. His grip on Loch’s biceps was painfully tight.

Loch swallowed, ”In Dunland.”

Farbarad’s pale grey eyes combed Loch’s sorrowful face a long moment and then his expression seemed to crumple. He released Loch’s arm and swung away, a hand clapped over his mouth and silvering beard.

”It’s happening again,” he said, his back to Loch, ”And I am just as useless to her now as then.”

With that Farbarad walked to where they were gathering to depart. Loch thought he looked like a man broken. Again, Farbarad said and he considered that. In a way, it was true. Rin had lost her parents twice, her world had been torn down twice and now it had crumbled around her again. Would his sister ever find peace? Would he? He set off after Farbarad to take his leave of Rose and Rin.

Loch found Rose clinging to Rin. Rin, in turn, clung to her frightened children and her silence. Her baleful eyes looked out on a cold, bitter world bereft of joy or reason and among the Old Company, few could meet her gaze. Word had spread. Rosmarin was transformed into a living reproach for the Old Company. There was nothing they could now do to make it right and well they knew it.

The unwelcome journey to Annuminas was something akin to a waking nightmare that refused to release them. Rose was confused and frightened. She feared for Lochared as did Rin, even if she had no words to voice such things. Her children became bent twigs under sudden weight of their father’s death. There was nothing she could do to shield them from that. Nothing she might say or do could combat the steadfast belief of those around them and so her beloved children wilted. And all the while Aragorn watched them.

In the small hours of the night, when the fire had burnt low and only those maintaining the watch knew it, Rin found the necessary space to let her thoughts unfurl. During the day she kept them tightly wrapped around her. A fire, they said killed him. Rin had seen the aftermath of deadly fires herself. It was a truly gruesome end to make. No matter how she tried, she could not accept that Hanasian would perish in such fashion.

She would have seen such a calamity approach, surely. She would have sensed his agony and suffering. And yet, Rin thought, what if she was mad? Could she trust her thoughts when they flew in the face of the apparent truth? And if she were deluded, what price might her children pay? A dead father, an insane mother…Rin shuddered at the thought. But if she could see it was not so, why could not Aragorn? Her wild anger had cooled. She could see he genuinely believed that Hanasian had perished.

Rin gathered her cloak tighter around her shoulders and poked at the embers with a nearby stick. Sparks danced in the night. What if Hanasian wanted them to believe him dead? It was a horrendous thought. A sudden snap nearby startled Rin from her ruminations and she saw the stick, now broken in two by her hands. Her fists were clenched around either end. Movement in the night lifted her head and a Ranger materialised, drawn by the sudden sound. Rin looked away, carefully set the pieces of stick aside, and hoped he would return to his watch.

He did not, to her chagrin and so she drew inwards and gathered her roaming thoughts to her once more. Madness or not, it was a shield of sorts.

”You should rest, your Grace,” he said softly, crouching by the fire to feed it. It was several hours yet till dawn and yet another day on the road. Aragorn was pushing as hard as he dared.

By now they were growing accustomed to her silence and so he was not offended or discouraged by it. Fire tended, he withdrew his hands and considered her a moment.

”You need not fear, my lady. Come what may, there will always be a place for you amongst us.”

She knew what he was alluding to. Rangers gathered their own tightly and she had been informed in no uncertain terms upon her wedding day that, come what may, she was one of them now. His words, however, only triggered another riddle for her. Why would Hanasian forsake his men, and the Rangers along with his family? Surely, he would want whatever aid he might obtain and the Rangers would render it gladly, as would his own men.

A sickening realization popped into Rin’s mind. Unless he was walking away from them all, as his father before him had. A sudden image rose in her mind; a pair of exquisite green eyes. She knew whom they belonged to even before that mocking laughter echoed in her ears. Rin shook her head to dislodge it, surprising the Ranger nearby. Suddenly, she stood and walked away from the fire to where her children slept uneasily.

Rin curved herself around Adanel. The little girl instinctively nuzzled closer. Still, the comfort of holding her daughter could not dispel the chill that had lodged in Rin’s heart. Long had Hanasian feared he would repeat his father’s mistakes. What if those fears were well founded?

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Hanasian awoke in the blackness aching all over. It was the silence that woke him. The sounds of boots on the floorboards had ceased and there were no voices outside. He turned his head to look between the cracks in the planking and the one he had pried loose earlier came loose at one corner to hand askew. He could see the glow of a watch fire, and the two faces were of the young Rangers that had spoken up in the meeting. This was his chance, provided he could convince his body to move.

He lay there for some time flexing his muscles in his arms and legs. The burning had subsided provided he lay still but any movement brought it rushing back. A light push on the other corner of the plank with his boot saw it fall flat to the ground. He hesitated to make sure it didn’t raise any suspicion. The two Rangers didn’t notice, and they went on talking. Hanasian thought to himself if there was a time to be discovered, it will be now.

He squeezed himself out, rolled onto his stomach ground and looked about. Only the early morning sounds of the town could be heard. He pushed the plank back into place so it would not be noticed and then crawled the short distance to the track that led from the kitchen door at the rear of Inn. There, he stood and with a grimace and limp, moved as quietly as he could manage around the corner.

The street was deserted and his blackened face and arms hid him well. Most of his hair and beard had been singed down to the scalp. His tunic and breeches were burned and split. Hanasian worked his way north toward the gate and paused by the smithy where Kholas had worked. He slipped inside to look around. He only realised that he had lost his belt and pouches when he went to strap on two knives that he found in the smithy. He reached for his vest pocket and found that the whole side was ripped away. He had lost Rosmarin’s brooch, his knives were in his attackers, and any money he had were lost in a pouch that was on his belt. He would have to pay the smith later for the knives and a belt.

A dog barked in the distance and Hanasian squatted. He had tarried long enough and he knew he had to make haste now while the darkness of the quiet morning lasted. He slipped out and made his way down the side of the street to the North Gate. The Watch was awake and alert and they had two dogs with them. Hanasian knew then he would have to find another way to slip out of Bree unnoticed. He climbed into the back of a wagon that was loaded with small barrels and hay bales, nestled down and hid himself as best he could.

He would have slept if possible but the cramped space made everything hurt. He used the time to check the knives he had acquired and found that they were new and sharp. He used one to finishing cutting off what remained of his hair. He then cut holes in the burlap bag that he was sitting on and pulled it over himself. Hanasian devoted the rest of his time to finding a solution to his situation. There was only one choice right now, as far as he could see, and that was to sit tight. Dawn was approaching and he could hear voices nearing. They made straight for the wagon and Hanasian tried to make himself as small as he could as he listened to their talk. He guessed there were at least two people, a man and a hobbit. The talk was of the fire at the Prancing Pony and the deaths of two men. A faint glow of a lantern moving beside the wagon could be seen and Hanasian tried to make himself flat.

A heavy voice said, ”It’s all in order. I had it loaded last night. Here is your docket of loading. The only thing needed is you will have to stop at the Coombe Tea House and collect a crate there. They didn’t get word and never sent it to me. I told them to hold it and you would pick it up on your way past to Archet.”

“All is well, then. We’ll be ready for a fine cup of tea by the team we arrive. We’d best be on our way now. The sun rises late these days and I can feel the chill of the morn.”

A slight gust of wind caused some fallen leaves to rustle. The wagon shifted as the man and hobbit climbed up and started rolling shortly thereafter. Hanasian marvelled at his stroke of luck. The problem of getting past the gate was neatly resolved and he wouldn’t have to find a way out of the wagon unseen until it arrived at Coombe.

The wagon plodded along at a leisurely pace and Hanasian tried to remain alert and still. The sounds that passed were the quiet ones of a country lane. Birds called to one another. An occasional bee bumbled by with a heavy buzz. Passing wagons rumbled by once or twice, with friendly greetings exchanged by the drivers. The little talk between the driver and his companion seemed to centre on the day’s work but eventually their talk turned to the recent queer happenings in Bree.

”Strange, that fire,” the hobbit remarked, “Makes no sense to me. My friend works the stables there at the Pony and he said to me that there was no way that lantern fell on its own. With two men dead, and one of them a ranger, it was a fight I tell you. And I heard the ranger was that Lord of Cardolan…I forget his name, but everyone says he was important.”

“Bah! That stuff don’t happen in Bree… not since the ruffians came during the war,
” the driver dismissed it but the hobbit was not to be dissuaded.

”Remember the smith and the girl, what…some twelve years ago now? He came to Bree with that ranger. And strange shadows have been seen now and again too.”

“Bah! The smith was from the east and the girl, though nice enough, was from the east too. Their troubles they likely brought with them. I’m tellin’ ya lad, there been no shadows ‘ere since the King returned. And its absurd, all that talk about who the ranger was. Rangers are rangers, I grant you, but the one you’re talking about is married to the Lady of Cardolan – the King’s cousin! It might have been a ranger, but it weren’t him and it was probably just an unfortunate accident. Simple as that.”

”There be strange happenings goin’ on, King or not.”

Their talk faded away and yielded to the sound of the wagon trundling over the gravel of the road they followed. The hobbit was a discerning fellow, Hanasian thought. If only they knew what it is that stirs. Hanasian let the sound of the wheels slowing be his warning for their arrival at Coombe. The sound of people talking and greeting the wagon driver told him that it had come time to make his exit.

The wagon rolled up to the Coombe & Wattle Tea House, where the driver said to the hobbit, ”We’re early, and you know what that means! I do think we have time for a bite and a tipple both!”

“It is convenient the Tea House is right across the back way from the inn!”
the hobbit chuckled, the prospect of food and other delights pushing all thought of strange happenings to one side.

The driver rolled the wagon around to the alleyway and parked it. He said to the hobbit, ”Can’t be long. Someone will be after us to move this rig sooner rather than later.”

“I’ll go to the Tea House and get our load situated before I join you. Best get that out of the way,”
the hobbit replied, and with a shake of the wagon, the two went through a door on either side of the alley.

This was his chance! Hanasian worked his stiff, aching, burning body up out of the straw he had nestled in. He was sure their crate would be placed in that very spot. He leapt to the ground and immediately crumpled. Damn leg! Hanasian hobbled off to the backstreet and stepped out. He looked a mess. The fibre sack would only attract marginally less attention than his burnt self. He made for the wooded patch across the way and soon he was out of sight of Coombe. He worked his way east through the woods, taking little used tracks, with little understanding of where he was going. All he needed now was somewhere to hide, rest and heal. He needed time, above all else.

The track Hanasian started down looked like it had not been used recently aside from a deer or two. The brambles tore at him and he cringed each time a thorn scraped his burns. He reached a point where the track turned sharply to the left after it passed a large rock, but Hanasian got down on the ground and crawled straight, through the thicket. It seemed it would give him the best cover should someone happened to come down this track. He pushed through what seemed endless branches, trying not to make noise. But the snaps and pops of the twigs he broke would have told anyone nearby that he was there. Once he reached the edge of a clearing, he lay down in the tall grass to rest. Despite aching all over, his exhaustion had its way with him. The shade and the sound of the breeze in the trees lulled his troubled mind and he fell asleep.

Hanasian woke up suddenly, drenched in sweat. The sun had climbed and the day was warming fast. Though Autumn was thick in the air in the morning, Summer refused to surrender the day. He looked about the clearing as he tried to wipe away sweat from his brow. It just made the burns on his arm hurt more. The leaves rustled on the trees, desperately clinging to their branches as some broke free and floated away. Hanasian knew this weather would not hold and he wished for cloud and rain. It would feel better than the sun beating down on him.

He stood and tried to flex his wounded leg. It was bleeding again. He searched the clearing and started to walk along its edge toward some tall oaks that were to his left. The ground started to tilt downward and he realized the trees were much bigger than he had first thought. It wasn’t until he got closer that he could see there was an old run down log house nestled amongst the grove of oaks. He crouched and watched it close before slowly approaching. There was no sign of anyone around and he could hear was the voice of the wind singing with the leaves of the mighty trees. There was no sign of a track but he could see footprints of those who had come and gone before him.

Hanasian crouched and looked at the prints in the dirt nearest to the door. The ground nearby had been turned in the past. A garden had once been planted there, and from the look of it, carefully tended until recent years. The grass had overgrown it now, but Hanasian could see some feral herbs and he knew them from Rin’s own gardens. They will be useful. He stepped toward the door. It had a small glass portal set within it and someone had set a large oak limb across it. He pulled it away and this caused some of the glass of the window to fall away. He glanced about warily before he set the heavy limb down beside the door and then peered in through the portal where the glass once had been. Seeing no sign of anyone, so he pushed the door open.

Once inside, Hanasian pushed the door closed. Dust, dirt, and broken glass and crockery were strewn about on the floor against the door. He stepped over to the fireplace and sat on the stone ledge in front of it. He looked at the walls and the table that was in the middle of the room. A few old books sat on it, and an old tea pot. Hanasian reached into the fireplace, picked up a hand full of the old ashes and let them fall through his fingers. He guessed there had not been a fire in it for some time… a year at least. It seemed to tally with the thickness of the dust he saw. Whoever had lived here had left and noone had returned since.

Hanasian walked over to the table and looked at one of the books. He brushed off the cover and squinted at it. It was old. He opened the cover and saw that the paper was badly damaged. The pages, he knew, would crumble if he touched them. Though he was eager to try and read some of it, he gently closed the cover. He set it upon another other book and picked them both up. He would put them out of the light and weather of the room that had bore the brunt of the storms and tree branches. He went towards another door that separated this room from the next and gently pushed it open.

The room was dark and had the smell of a cellar. Not in the wet mildew sense, but in the dusty old sense. He couldn’t see very well in there so he backed out of the room again. Hanasian found a candle and searched the fireplace for tinder and flint. He knew that a fire would not be a good idea as fire produced smoke and smoke draws attention. He used enough of the shavings to light a small fire which he then used to light the candle. After that, he extinguished the fire and returned with his candle to the dark room. With the candle held high, above and behind his head, the room was illuminated without blinding his eyes. Hanasian was astonished by what he found.

The room was filled with scrolls and parchments and sketches and portraits. Some clung precariously to the wall but most were either laid out on the floor or rolled up. At the far end of the room there was an old bed. When he stepped closer, he saw that it was not empty.

The woman had been dead for nearly a year. What he could see of her taut skin, stretched over her bones, she had been old. Perhaps, he thought hopefully, she had passed peacefully in the night. But then, surely she would have been missed by someone. And who had set that oak limb against her door? He stepped closer to the bed, and looked closely at her. Who was she? He brushed a few strands of the grey hair from her face and knew then that he would have to lay her to rest. There was a rolled parchment still in her hand atop the blanket that covered it. He slipped it free and unrolled it to find a drawing of two women. They looked nearly the same, with only slight differences suggesting that they were sisters and perhaps, even twins. The thought struck a memory to life of twin daughters that he pushed to one side. Now was not the time to lose himself to thoughts of the daughter lost to them.

There was a name at the bottom right corner of the page: Anna. He picked up another that lay beside her. It was a profile drawing of a rough looking man who had a look of deep sorrow in his eye. Again, the lower right had the name of Anna on it. There was nothing to hint at where the people he saw might be found or who they were to the old woman in the bed. He walked carefully to the end of the bed where a trunk sat.

The light of the candle then illuminated in the corner of the room a chair and a desk with charcoal and parchment. Hanasian realised, then that the old woman had drawn all of these! There were dozens of them, all with the name of Anna in the corner. Her name was Anna. He would have to clean these up and try and preserve them, for they were intricate and detailed. He looked at the drawings that were in his hand and wondered who this woman was and how it was she had come to die alone.

Hanasian spent the rest of the afternoon collecting the drawings and looking through the ones stowed in the trunk. From the few writings that he found he learned that the woman was Anna Ferny. She was the sister of one of his father’s mistress’, Courtney. Word had it that Courtney had perished in a raid east of Bree sometime before the War. It was these sisters who were in the drawing he had found in Anna’s hand. As far as he was aware, Anna had gone blind not long after her sister died. Yet, it seemed that she continued to capture the images of the people she knew. How was it she had drawn all these fine drawings but was not able to see them? Hanasian thought Anna must have been a remarkable woman. She likely knew his father, at least of him.

Hanasian bided his time in that cabin until the sun had dropped and the shade reached toward the oaks before he set foot outside. It was so quiet there and he thought Anna must have wanted that to live so far away from everyone out here. He wandered around the side of a house by the old garden and sure enough, he found some tools there. He began to dig at the corner of the garden, careful to spare any herbs that still grew. Twilight was closing fast by the time he had finished digging and climbed out of the trench. What, Hanasian wondered, did Anna do for water? He looked about, saw no solution and so resolved to lay Anna to rest before he tried to solve that dilemma.

Hanasian carefully wrapped Anna in the blankets she lay with and lifted her up. He carried her out and laid her out in the trench he had dug, setting her arms and straightening her legs. He had brought the drawing of her and her sister, and before he rolled it, he took a long look at it in the fading light. He would remember them. He then rolled it and pushed it into her hand much like the way he found it. While he covered her over, Hanasian wondered where her sister lay in these wide lands. It was dark when he was done. He went inside the house, turned an old mat he found over, lay down and fell into a deep slumber.

His dreams came upon him almost as soon as he closed his eyes. Visions of the fighting in Khand streamed before him, and the hard choices he had been forced to make with only a heartbeat of time for deliberation. Other Company battles flashed where instant decisions made the difference of winning a battle or falling back in retreat. Then he was young again, training to be a Ranger. He had sought to know of his father then. He tried to suppress that thought now. He heard words come from the lips of a man that looked like the one he had seen in the drawing. But he could not understand what he was saying. He was in the desert, the wind blowing the sand into his face. He staggered and fell, and his leg pained him badly…

Hanasian awoke with a start and found that his leg, in truth, did hurt. He needed to take care of it, and now. He could almost hear what Rin would be saying, were she here. He should not have waited this long. He got up and coughed. He needed water. Outside, he found the night clear and chill. Mists hung about in the trees behind the log house and Hanasian limped in that direction. It wasn’t long before he came down to a crevice where water could be heard, below by some way. He found a bucket tied to a rope there that was obviously used to get water. He checked the rope and lowered the bucket. The current caught it and pulled and the rope started to break. Hanasian grabbed it with his hand, and he worked at pulling the bucket up. He had water!

Hanasian spent three days there, using the herbs and the water to tend his wounds. He relented did start a fire to boil water, if only to silence Rin’s terse demands in his head. He could get the fire hot rapidly and then let the embers settle. It was the best way to keep the smoke from pluming. His burns began to heal, but he was scarred badly, his arms and his side mostly, and the side of his head. His leg had been lightly burned too but his thick breeches had spared them in the main. The knife wound worried him. He had to cut away some of the dying flesh, clean and wrap it in what he could find. By the time he was done he was dizzy, sweating and hissing at Rin to leave him alone even though she was not there and he was alone.

After a time, Hanasian fashioned a tunic for himself out of one of Anna’s old dark green dresses. He repaired his breeches the best he could. He spent some time investigating Anna’s trunk and inspecting her drawings of people he did not recognise. If only she had named them, he thought. He stowed everything back in the trunk and worked wax to seal the edge. He didn’t know if it would work, but he thought it important to preserve Anna’s work. Where to put it though? Hanasian found a door to a cellar behind the log house and he carried the trunk down there and buried it in the ground. He would have to remember where this place was so someday he could return. For now though, he had stayed too long even if he knew his wife would demand that he rest longer. He decided to go north and east in hopes of skirting Archet, and then make for the swamps. And whatever Rin might say about swamps and infection he pushed firmly to one side.

Hanasian worked his way east and after a day at Amon Sul he slowly made his way north through the Weather Hills. It was here Hanasian found a camp. He remained out of sight and listened. There were four of them. Their talk and their chants had alerted him. Too familiar, he though, yet he heard differences. It was a distorted perversion of what he had heard in the distant, unquiet past. Still, the words they uttered would only be known to those misbegotten creatures that followed that damned Elf, Naiore Dannan. Hanasian settled in to wait. He would move when they were asleep.

He opened his eyes and looked up at the stars. The cold air raised a mist from the ground, fingers of silver reached up towards the sky. The moonless night was perfect. He crept down silently and came up behind the one who had been set to watch. The man was busy playing some sort of game with stones. Hanasian leaned over the man’s shoulder and he turned. Their eyes met through the pale grey shroud of the rising fog, and Hanasian ran his knife across the man’s neck without delay. He sagged with sigh and Hanasian took up a sword from the man’s body as he stepped over him.

Hanasian approached the fading embers of their spent fire and considered at the three sleeping men, mounds beneath their cloaks. He knew he’d manage one, perhaps two, but the third would inevitably be alerted. There was nothing he could do about that. The third was always alerted. He chose the one who stirred and the sword he had taken hewed the man’s neck as he peered sleepily into the night. The biggest of the three grunted at their fellow’s dying gurgles and the smallest, nimble one jumped awake with knives in each of his hands. Fast as he was, Hanasian was already awake and moving. A swift flick of one of Hanasian’s knives impaled the big man in the neck as he lumbered to his feet. He raised his sword to fend off one of the smaller man’s daggers and it rang in the night, a liquid note of steel that would carry even in the fog.

He parried a second knife and then saw the small one draw his sword. There were more blows then but Hanasian was content to let his opponent wear himself down. While he had good form in movement, Hanasian could tell he was young and still inexperienced. Hanasian had to be quick to remain ahead of his younger opponent but eventually frustration overcame the young man. Hanasian pounced them to disarm him but he countered and Hanasian was forced to step back. It was then his run of relative good fortune came to a crashing halt. His heel kicked one of the dead bodies and he stumbled as a result.

This, in turn, strained his injured leg and it buckled. Hanasian slammed into the ground hard, his spine aching viciously with the impact. His opponent, meanwhile, saw his advantage and seized for it greedily. Hanasian threw his remaining knife, and it would have hit its mark had the man not pulled his sword up from its killing arc to deflect it at the last moment. It was a scant, narrow opportunity. Hanasian lifted a boot and kicked the man as he jerked his sword about and threw his balance off. He flew over the top of Hanasian and crashed onto the rocky ground. Hanasian could hear the explosive sound of his lungs emptying all at once. Hanasian rolled to his stomach and reached for his opponent’s boot to pull him back. The man went for a knife still on his belt but Hanasian caught his hand as he pulled himself over the man. They struggled, both out of breath until Hanasian pressed his hand over the man’s mouth and nose. He continued to kick, with increasing desperation and fading strength. It took longer than the uninitiated might credit. It was not easy to smother or choke a man. Hanasian held him there until he was still and his chest heaved no longer.

Hanasian rose slowly then, crossed to the big man and retrieved his knife from his throat. He cleaned it off with the dead man’s cloak. There was no shortage of weaponry at the campsite. Hanasian dragged the watcher down and lay him next to the two bodies. He stirred the embers of the fire back to life and found a pot that was nestled in the rocks next to it. It still held sort of stew. He didn’t care what it was. Compared to his fare over the past few days, bugs and various plants, it was a feast. The last meal Hanasian could remember was at the Pony, and it had long become a vague memory. He finished off the stew before he set to stripping his bodies. He decided that most of the clothes of the one he killed in the camp first would fit him well enough. He took the big one’s boots, and the cloak from the watcher. He now had four knives and he set himself to inspect the swords next. Eventually, Hanasian decided he liked the watcher’s sword best as well. He collected their pouches of herbs and food, burned his old remnants of clothes and burned the clothes he did not need. He then sat back by the fire as it started to again burn low and looked at the parchment and a map he had found on one of them. He read the parchment and tossed it in the fire. The map he rolled up and stowed. As he did so, he caught movement out of the corner of his eyes.

Hanasian jumped alert again as he saw the foot of the man he smothered trying to push away. He leaned over the man and quickly slit his throat.

”No mercy. No survivors,” he said as a last gasp of life flooded from the man, ”Not this time, not to any of you.”

He lifted the pack with all he could use, decided to take an extra sword with him, and then set off again north, through the Weather Hills.

Hanasian walked slowly, favouring his leg, but he worked it enough that he found the pain diminished until he did not notice it anymore. The limp he could not shake and he knew that he never would. All he could do was hope that he wouldn’t have to run any great distance. He paused when he came to the northern edge of the Weather Hills and considered what he had read back at the fire. He looked east in the setting sun and decided to rest. He would set out in the night.

Crossing the grasslands would be hard and as the day started to break a soft drizzle fell from the skies. The clouds were low and settled in on the ground. Hanasian thought it good in that he could not be seen but it meant that he was similarly blinded. He would not see anyone who may be near, and he could not see the hills to guage his direction. He had to be careful. He steadily pressed on, despite his growing weariness, eager to get as far as he could this day.

The fog seemed to linger. At one point he could see the lighted grey ball of the sun when it was at its zenith but the murk thickened again and held fast. Hanasian had begun to look for a place to rest when he heard a sound. He rolled into a gulley and lay flat. The sound, soft yet solid, was that of a horse and it drew closer. He prepared himself to leap and to take down the rider. He flexed his leg to try and ready it for the exertion it would need. The horse slowed. It sniffed and huffed its way into the gulley, pulling nearer and nearer. Hanasian was ready to strike when he realised there was no rider. He relaxed his grip on the blades and sheathed them. Closer the horse came, whinnying softly and Hanasian recognised his horse. Joyous was their meeting! Hanasian wasted no time getting his satchels tied on to her and he mounted up. This was good fortune unlooked for, but as he move east through the fog he had to consider there may be some who would recognize her. He would have to be very careful.

It was a couple days before he reached the Ravenwash. It was a creek that ran south from the Ettenmoors into the River Mitheithel and the place was thick with memories for him. The year he first rode with the Rangers he had seen his first battle here. He went slowly upstream into the rough hills. He listened for the sound of the falls he remembered but heard nothing. The prevailing caws from the ravens were the same though. It was good that they were making noise. He remembered his commander saying as such, that day. It was when they went quiet, as they had that fateful day, when you had to worry.

He heard splashing but it didn’t sound like the falls he remembered. He walked is horse to the edge of the rocks and dismounted. He sat down and looked up at the cliffs. A single small stream of water fell, and it splashed with a meek echo onto some rocks. Hanasian had never been there in Autumn. If the summers are hot and there is little rain, Ravenwash runs dry after the snow melt passes through. It was likely that now only ran little with the rains in the high hills. The sound of the wind and the crashing of thunder in the east, however, spoke to him that there would soon be more water running.

The evening brought with it a steady rain, and the sky stirred with flashes of light now and again. Hanasian took shelter under a rocky overhang, but it was far from dry. Forced to wait out the storm, his first memories of this place awoke like ghosts. His first kill had been here. His first comrade had died here. His first commander had been mortally wounded here. It was a day that had shaped the rest of his life, echoing all down the years even to now. While Hanasian had passed through this area many times since, he had never returned to this place until now. He had no choice but to face down that day and all the ghosts that haunted it.

The storm finally passed and it took with it the day. The night was calm, free of anything suspicious beyond the sound of the trickle of the falls as they slowly grew in strength. The rain continued to fall and the trees dripped. The pool below where he stood rose as water poured into it. Hanasian peeled off his clothing and and waded into it, sinking down and rising again. He let the falls rain down on his head and he took in its soothing coolness. He looked at his wound on his leg, and though it was not right, it had healed enough. He seemed to have beaten the infection. He dressed it with the white linen shirt he had taken, wrapped it securely and then washed out the clothing he had. He then took his one sharp knife and shaved the jagged mangle of hair he had crudely cut back at the woman’s cabin. One side was growing back but was quite curly. He shaved it close to make it uniform, and he shaved down his beard. He dove in to the falls pool one last time before dressing. He then went and lay down near his horse and fell into a Ranger’s light sleep.

The morning broke the same as the day before it: grey, foggy, drizzly. The trees continued to drip and the falls were much fuller now. He ate some of the dried meat that he had taken from the camp he had attacked and considered his course. A glance into the pool below revealed his face to him. Burns, scars, cuts would likely render him unrecognizable for the most part but he was not inclined to take chances. It was vital that everyone thought him dead, particularly his quarry. Hanasian took in a deep breath and looked toward the top of the falls. If he was thinking correct, he would have to go that way, into the Ettenmoors.

In the six weeks that passed since he left Raven Falls, Hanasian’s path through the Ettenmoors led him to many deserted encampments. Empt yes, but not useless. He found much at some of them. One appeared to have been inhabited only a few days before. He could read the sign that some who followed the Moricarni had been there. While there was no sign of them now, their tracks were recent enough. Hanasian decided to track them towards a thick forest.

He found more of these tracks there. Many tracks presented a tangled picture. Hanasian could see boots mostly, they were the most recent, but there were smaller feet, and lighter feet that had stepped off the track where they didn’t get walked over. Hanasian paused, recognising this from something he had seen before. He didn’t want to know where they led but he did want to know who owned the booted feet. They looked familiar. As he was untangling the signs on the forest floor he heard the sound of voices. Hanasian stepped quickly into the undergrowth and crouched. As they drew nearer he realised that the voices were familiar. He was in a precarious position. He held his breath as the sound of the boots came closer and prayed they would pass him by and spare him the awful necessity that would arise if he was discovered.

”This is madness!” said one of the men.

The other quickly put his hand up, ”No, this is necessary. It is what we need to do.”

They stopped almost on top of where Hanasian hid and the man continued, ”If the old ranger had lived, I have a feeling he would tell us we were doing exactly as we should. He said it would be hard and he said we shouldn’t show mercy. Well, it is and we haven’t.”

That he did, Hanasian thought, and that it was. Hanasian saw that the two young rangers had understood what he was saying back at the Prancing Pony. It seemed to him that Beragil’s rangers had been busy seeking out the newest adherents of the Moricarni along with their varied supporters. Rhuadur was ripe with small pockets of followers. They had to be to be able to push as far west as Bree. All Hanasian could do was hope that these rangers had been effective in their work so far. From their talk, it seemed as though they had. These men would have been among the finest had they been there when he formed the company. It was a pity he could not reveal himself to them. It was also a pity that there were only four of them

After some more philosophical talk the two rangers moved on and Hanasian was could breath freely. He was torn between following them and observing them further. But then, they were quite skilled and would likely discover even the slightest thing that would give himself away. He decided to move north and east, deeper into the Ettenmoors, hunting the Moricarni followers through the winter.

As the weeks passed, Hanasian lost count of his kills but each one was a good one. Even when they suspected someone was coming for them, he managed to finish them. Eventually the days became longer and the air warmed. He settled into a cabin that he had broken into. It made for good shelter and he could rest through the worst of the winter weather. , He considered going back south again, but didn’t want to risk encountering Rivendell’s people. His son would be there, the son that thought him dead. The thought drove a shudder through him. Hanasian had not thought of his family for a long time and that thought was the first crack in his wall he had put up. Rin would have likely have delivered their child now. A boy or girl? Safe and healthy? He remembered her face the day he had to ride away, confused and troubled and trying bravely to hide it from him. He remembered her face the day they had met near Tharbad. He then considered himself. Scarred, burnt, limping and his hair growing back with a threads of grey. Would she know him if he stepped in front of her this day? Could she ever forgive him?

”Beloved Rosmarin, I love thee so much. I don’t know when this will be done or if it ever can be. Yet, I hold to the hope that one day I might find myself in your arms again.”

Hanasian squeezed his eyes shut and felt tears track down his cheeks. He ached for her. He ached for his children and these thoughts made him hate the Moricarni all the more. He looked around the cabin and decided that he had tarried there too long. He donned the furs he had taken from some of his victims, and readied to go but it was too late! Someone approached the door.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Videgavia thought his head might crack but despite his pain his plan appeared to have worked. Aragorn had left for Cardolan without him. If fate was kind to him, he would not have to explain himself to the King or to Rosmarin. It was a comforting thought, particularly when it came to Rin. If he survived this headache, and the work ahead of him, and she found out…well she’d kill him and he’d even help her. He did not want to have to explain himself. There was little chance that he would be spared, he knew, but he held to that temporary relief and focussed on clearing his head as fast as he could.

He went out and circled the inn again. He found Beragil and the other five ready to ride, discussing where they should go. Vid listened to their plan, and nodded his approval. It could only help, in his opinion, to have them carry on as planned and that was what they were intending to do. Beragil could manage liaison with Massuil as far as reporting to the King and receiving orders and that left Videgavia free to pursue his work. The rangers had studied the maps and notes that Hanasian had left with Beragil and decided to set off east toward the Forsaken Inn. From there they would ride past the Midgewater and turn north into the Ettenmoors before they returned to Bree in a months time.

While they explained their plans to him, Videgavia kept glancing over at the rear of the inn. Beragil followed the daleman’s glance and finally asked, ”What are you looking for?”

“I’m not sure,”
Vid answered, scratching his beard. He looked back to Beragil and the others and nodded, ”One month, here at the Pony. Make it look as if you are on one of the King’s routine patrols. Gather what information you can, and if you can get away with it cleanly then do it. Just be sure before you strike.”

Beragil nodded, not sure that making sure would be a good idea if it cost them their lives. They mounted up and made for the east gate.

Videgavia stood at the very spot he had paused the day of the fire. The grass and dirt had been well and truly trampled and disturbed by now, but Vid kept looking. He walked slowly along the wall of the inn, eyes on the ground. Something wasn’t right. He could feel it. The heat was getting oppressive though and so he retreated back into the inn with a pounding head. He sat and sipped his flagon. While it did not taste very good it seemed to relieve his headache. If it was not about crops, livestock or children, the town was abuzz with the fire and its known victim. Bree, after all, was within Cardolan’s borders and the fact that the Lady’s consort and husband had died here was astonished. The locals worried about what might happen. Would she blame them? Would she punish them? Would she cease doing business with them? Through the chatter, there was one voice Videgavia kept trying to pick out. It belonged to the blacksmith and he could only pick out a word here and there.

”… knives gone… scabbard… belt… nothing…”

Vid downed the remains of his ale and quietly walked out the front door. He went to the corner of the porch before stepping into the street, and looking down found something dark caught his eye. He picked up a small broken and burnt piece of leather no bigger than his fingertip. It smelled of smoke, and it crumbled when he pinched it. He let drop the remains and looked first one way, then the other way down the street, squinting, nodding his head slightly.

The blacksmith came out the door, looking content after his lunch, and started up the street toward the smithy.

Vid followed after him. ”Pardon me sir…”

“Don’t ‘ave time to talk now, fire will be hot n ‘ave to get to work,”
the hearty hobbit said.

Vid walked along beside him, ”Yes, I’ll not take your time. Just curious what you were saying there at the inn.”

“’bout the knives? Yeah, gone. Scabbards and belt too! They were fine work.”

As they neared the smith the hobbit nodded with satisfaction. His apprentice had the forge hot and was already heating steel.

Vid glanced about and asked, ”Where did you have them?”

The smith stepped inside his workhouse and pointed to a table by the far wall where they were left. He said, ”Was to give them to a customer today, now I have to start anew and they will be late. Who are you anyways?”

Vid looked at the ground by the table. There were several flakes of burnt leather scattered about the floor.

He answered the smith, ”I’m an old friend of Kholas… Look, how much are you out for the stuff you lost?”

“The knives were worth aplenty, and the leather belt and scabbards were nice too…”

Videgavia had a leather bag in hand and he was dumping gold coins in his hand. The smith eyed it curiously before saying, ”…and I’m out my delivery schedule, and that means a lot in this business. People talk…”

A few more coins fell into Vid’s hand. He paused before slapping the pile down on the table, ”This should cover your costs and inconvenience. Here is a bit more to not say anything more of them, or of this.”

He set a smaller bag down next to the coins. The smith seemed pleased and Vid started to walk out.

The smith asked him, ”Why you pay for a theft?”

“I’m not sure,”
Vid said, pausing. He turned and looked at the smith, ”Let’s just say I have a feeling they will be put to good use.”

Vid gave him a stare that the smith understood meant that nothing more will be said. He scooped the coins and the small pouch into a satchel on his belt and set off to start working the hot steel.

Videgavia stepped out into the street, his eyes squinting as he mumbled to himself, ”You rat. You did it. Now, where are you…”

Vid thought that Hanasian would need some sort of care after that fire. The man had to be in pain and so Videgavia set out for Bree’s healers. It was unlikely that Hanasian would seek the help of people his wife knew well and, further trained, but he had to eliminate all possibilities. Videgavia talked to of the lead healers here and found that his hunch was correct. Hanasian had not come here for help. However, Videgavia did learn what was needed for severe burns. They could not be ignored, not even by one stubborn and desperate ranger. Obviously, though, Hanasian was trying to treat himself. The question, Videgavia thought, was where.

Clearly Hanasian could walk for Videgavia was certain he’d made it to the smithy. He scouted about looking for more burnt leather and then realized that Hanasian’s horse was still at the inn! Vid quickly walked back to The Prancing Pony and went out to the stables. Both their horses were still there. Vid gave them both a handful of oats as he tried to think of what Hanasian might have done. It was not easy at all. The man was difficult enough to understand when he was with you and now Videgavia had nothing but memory and hunches. He tried to fit all the pieces together as he delved into his long memories of time spent with the man. He once said that the best place to hide is sometimes the most obvious. But that would not work well if one was injured and didn’t want to be found. No, Videgavia decided, Hanasian wasn’t at the inn. He’d either found a place to hole up in near by or he’d found a way to get far away. Videgavia decided he was going to start with the obvious first though, and that meant searching the inn. He would have to collect up coin all of Mulgov’s stashes, especially if he had to cover for Hanasian’s acquisitions along the way. The man had acquired knives, so what would he need next? Clothes, came the obvious answer, and treatment for his wounds. So where would he go for that? Who does Hanasian know in Bree?

Vid plotted a methodical sequence to start working on, starting with the inn. He needed to be sure that Hanasian was not somewhere near and he himself could use a decent rest after the abuse he put himself through the night before. He only drank tea, and retired to his room early with plans to wake when the last of the inn’s patron’s departed for the evening. If Hanasian was near, it would be during the small hours that he would be able to move. Meanwhile, he took account of the fortune he liberated from Mulgov’s hiding places.

The first thing Videgavia needed was discrete help and there was nobody that would serve this purpose except Hanasian’s horse. When he set out, tied Hanasian’s horse to his own and set out with both. She may have the sense to find him. At least , he thought, it couldn’t hurt. She would carry half his provision that he gathered for a prolonged search.

As the week passed, though, Videgavia’s frustration compounded. He had followed what he thought was a good hunch and worked his way all over Bree and up to the far north reaches of Archet. There was not a trace to be found of Hanasian. He pondered the paths north toward the North Down and to the east to the Weather Hills, but the locals said that nobody had set out from there. Vid reviewed his route and he considered returning to Bree and the Prancing Pony. Ultimately, he resolved that the Archet Inn would serve well enough. Videgavia rested there and pondered his path.

There, the talk had started to die down about the events of the last week in Bree, with nothing new or strange or out of the ordinary being heard, life was getting back to its usual self. Videgavia pondered an ale but decided he didn’t deserve one. He had gone this long without a drink and he would continue to do so. He made up his mind that his next drink would be with Hanasian when he found him. This day he would stay with the tea, cheese, dried sausage, and bread. Videgavia realized that he would have to play his nose on the next move, and it would either pay off, or have him wandering around in circles through the lonely lands like a lost vagabond. He replenished his provision and decided that this would be where Hanasian’s horse would come in to her own. If anyone could sniff him out, she could.

He left early, and after unburdening her, let the horse walk free. She set out to the north and east, and soon started to run. Vid set out following several paces behind, initially cheered by the first solid progress in over a week. The one thing Videgavia didn’t think about was the speed of an un-laden horse. Soon he lost sight of her and soon thereafter he lost her track. Still, he considered the course she had taken and he thought there would be a chance of finding him.

He didn’t. He indeed wandered about the Lone Lands, making first for the North Downs where he skirted east of Fornost and searched the highlands. He then returned south through the Weather Hills, where he found some carrion-eaten corpses by an old camp. Vid could tell there had been a fight, but he couldn’t tell who the victims had been. He was going to set out toward Amon Sul when he noticed something in the rocks. He picked up and looked at the knife, noting the inscription at the base of the blade. It was one of those made by the blacksmith back in Bree. Videgavia went back and looked at the corpses again. None of the men were Hanasian. But Vid was convinced that Hanasian had done this. He looked around in hopes of noticing anything else but he was there too late. Going by the condition of the bodies, he guessed a week late. Now, which way would Hanasian have gone? Vid decided that he would go on south to Amon Sul.

It was indeed a week since Hanasian was there. He had gone north, then east across the long steppes toward the Ettenmoors. Had the day not been foggy when Videgavia stood on the high ridge on the edge of the North Downs, he may have been able to see a man in the grassland walking east toward the Ettenmoors. Yes, they were close this hour, but neither man knew it.

For the long months through the winter, Videgavia searched for sign of Hanasian. He had found little more than the charred bits of leather in that first few days. When winter set in hard and cold, Vid found himself again seated at the Prancing Pony. Where had he missed the clue? He could not say. He drank his tea and stared at the wood grain of the table and took little notice when three grim rangers walked in the door.

Shaking the chill rain off, they saw Videgavia sitting there, and they sat themselves down around the table. Vid looked up as they cast back their hoods. Beragil nodded, and the other two did likewise. There was no joy in this meeting after so long, for Beragil had to bury two of the men he rode with.

Beragil said, ”I am sorry Videgavia, but we are somewhat late.”

Videgavia waved it off. Beragil looked at the table where Vid was staring but could see nothing.

Beragil continued, ”We have found some of those which we sought, but we could not return at the appointed time. We found places where they met, and surprising them, they were …. The matter resolved. However, we lost two of our number, and it seemed that was something had alerted our quarry, so we chose to return now.”

Vidigavia looked up at him sharply and then considered the other two rangers with Beragil. Their grim demeanour told Vid they had seen and done much in the months since they departed. They would never be the same. Vid reached across the table to clasp each man’s forearm.

”Welcome to the Company,” he said obliquely and then sipped at his tea.

Loud as the urge was to tell them he thought Hanasian was alive, Videgavia knew he could not. Word had spread of his death and things had started to settle. With that awful deceit was protection for his family won. But Vid knew… what did Beragil say?

”You say the Moricarni were alerted?” Vid asked him.

Beragil answered, ”Yes… as if word on the wind had come suddenly. Where we had at first found several groups of these followers, they were unsuspecting. Then a month ago, we could find none, as if they had vanished.”

“None except the ones who attacked us….”
The Rhuadurian ranger with him interjected.

Beragil nodded, ”Yes, we did get taken by surprise on the East Road, but they both paid for it with their lives.”

Vid took it all into consideration. Attacks on the East Road, and on Rangers none the less. This was unheard of since the War’s end. Vid stopped the serving maid on her way by and ordered ale for each of them. He stayed with tea.

He asked Beragil, ”You didn’t notice anything that may have been happening around that time?”

“No…. but once we did come to a place that we thought they would be, and they were there, but they were already dead.”

Vid nodded, scratched his chin and quietly said, ”I see…”

Videgavia said quietly. He knew now that Hanasian is in the Ettenmoors, or had been. With the cold and the snows low in the hills, he would not find him there now in the dead of winter in that rugged country. No, he had to get in front of Hanasian’s moves somehow come spring So far, his anticipation of Hanasian’s moves had not played well. Videgavia was unsure where he should go, but he would have some time to consider it all. He sipped his tea and thought of Rin. She would likely be heavy with child now and on her own.

Videgavia shook his head at the thought and turned again to Beragil, ”What is your assessment of this? I think you will need to go to the King with this news. He will want to know of the brazen attack on his own. Ride to Annuminas in the morning. All of you, use your discretion on what you tell of your work in Rhuadur.”

“But what are you going to do?”
Beragil asked.

Vid sipped his tea again, ”Tomorrow I’m going to have breakfast. Then I’m going to prepare to ride back."

Vid wasn’t going to go back though, at least not to Annuminas. Instead he would stocked up and prepared for a winter ride into the Ettenmoors.

A week had passed since he left the Prancing Pony. The weather had not been that good, but then, it had not been that bad either. The recent snows had ended by the time he reached Amon Sul, and the sun even broke through the grey winter sky for a day. It was a mixed blessing. While it made everything very bright, it also turned the snow heavy and wet. The night came clear and cold, making the ground icy. Several days later, he found his first signs of struggle. He suspected it was the work of Hanasian. He decided to assume as much, and use any clues to try to find him.

Another week had passed, and Vid could only find more dead. He knew now that it was the work of Hanasian, for some had been stripped, and ragged clothing had been left behind. Among them was a pair of burnt and cracked and torn breeches. Vid looked at the frozen bodies, and guessed they may have only been a week or so old. He gathered and burned the remaining clothes, and left the fire to burn. Vid was not making it a secret that he was there. He hoped Hanasian noted his presence.

With the passing of another week, the snow turned to rain and it made things quite miserable. The melting snow was heavy and wet, and streams of water and mud were everywhere. Spring was coming. Had he been in Bree, the first flowers would be starting to grow. But here, all that had changed was the air was slightly warmer. It still rained, snowed, rained and snowed, with bitter winds for added variety and enjoyment. It made tracking harder in many ways, but easier in some. But he had seemed to have lost the track a couple of days back. Videgavia pushed on kept and happened across a cabin. It would offer shelter from the damn freezing rain that fell…

He no sooner opened the door when a man jumped onto him. They fell back into the slushy snow and struggled. It came to a screeching stop when Hanasian had his knife at Videgavia’s throat.

”Cap! No!” was all Vid could cry.

He relaxed his grip on Hanasian’s wrist and trusted that Hanasian would not kill him. If he was mistaken, it would be his last stupid mistake at least.

Hanasian stayed his hand despite the dark turn of his thoughts. The world thought him dead and in truth he felt it, yet Videgavia had found him. If Vid could, then so could others. If he silenced Videgavia, though…It would be a betrayal of their Company oath. Hanasian looked around before removing his blade. He stood and offered Vid his hand instead.

He pulled Videgavia up and into an embrace, ”It’s good to see you again old friend.”

After that brief moment when they recognized each other it became a joyless meeting. They were wet, cold, and there was no fire.

Hanasian said, ”You did not go back? Just as well. Come with me now. I have been here too long.”

Vid had hardly got his breath back when he set out after Hanasian. He wasn’t going to lose him now that he had found him.

The two pressed north around the east of Mt Gram, and though they found few they had need to kill, they did find some fair caves and caverns. Ill things could still work there, but this day, none were more so than Hanasian and Vid. They deemed it safe to make a fire there, and around the tea and the warmth, they talked of that fight in Bree. Hanasian was sombre when Videgavia spoke of the days that followed but he held himself together. This night was likely one that Hanasian had slept the most, with someone there to have his back.

The two raided a small ville of Moricarni and after all were dead, they burned the place to the ground.On that night, Videgavia felt compelled to say something to Hanasian

”I just don’t have the stomach for this anymore. Forty years ago, maybe even twenty, it would have been different. But we mellowed with age, and I thought the worst was behind us. Now, I am old and I can’t take this chill weather anymore. I need to go back in. I will go back down to where spring is flourishing.”

Hanasian didn’t say a word. He stared at the fire where the faces of those he had killed floated within its flames. They didn’t stand a chance, a dreadful knowledge he had held from the outset, even had everything gone to plan. Without Vid, he was certain to fail. He could not clean out all of Rhuadur on his own. Vid looked at him across the fire and saw his captain's face grow haunted.

Vid offered, ”Come back with me. Things can be explained.”

Hanasian looked at the edge of his sword. He finally shook his head, ”No… I can’t trust that this is over. It isn’t. And what scares me is it may never be over. I have headaches now after Bree. I can’t remember things as I should. I sometimes struggle to hold on to the memories of the faces of those I love. But Rin comes to me in dreams, and there she keeps me alive. I must finish this. I cannot go back with you - not yet. You go. You know where to find me now."

And so with the coming of the sun and the longer days, Vid returned south. Hanasian, maintained his vigil, roaming the Ettenmoors and the dark mountains north and east, returning to the caverns with each pass he made. The caverns, then, became the place where Videgavia would meet him, or leave messages for each other.

Hanasian was determined to reach the end, when he was sure every last thread of Naiore was extinguished. And if he did, he was not sure it was possible to explain this to those he loved.

[ 03-30-2015, 12:55 PM: Message edited by: Elora Starsong ]

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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"Curse you, he’s alive,” Rin howled at Farbarad while outside the storm shrieked. It’s icy talons tore at the shutters against the windows.

Sudden pain jolted up her arm and Rin realized with a start that she had slammed her fist on the desk. She snatched it back, startled, and turned away to face the wall and gather her composure. Had her back not been aching for days now, it would have likely hurt more. The blizzard roared with fury that she felt echoed within her. She knew that she was right and yet, after all these months, Farbarad still refused to believe her. He refused to help her find Hanasian and she was at her wits end.

The doors to her room were thrown open, ”If you think that storm is drowning you out, think again!”

Halcwyn’s eyes flashed angrily as they raked across the room, ”And if you think I came all this way to listen to the two of you tear each other apart, you are sorely mistaken on that too!”

Farbarad growled something in Aduanic that Rin did not catch. Halcwyn, however, had no such difficulty. Whatever he said earned him a glance that she had deployed, more than once, to quell Hanasian and other Rangers. Rin, meanwhile, reached for the table to steady herself. A sensation rippled through her and left feeling strangely light headed.

”What is it that brings you to this, then?” Halcwyn demanded to know, arms crossed and feet planted as if she expected a fight.

She looked left to right, waiting to see who would speak first. Rin shook her head wearily, hair swaying at her hips with the movement. The set of her shoulders told Halcwyn that her brother’s widow was tired. Entirely to be expected, given the woman barely ate, did not sleep and was heavy with a child due any day now. Halcwyn pressed her lips together and looked across to Farbarad.

”You’d best close the doors for this,” he said.

Doors closed, Halcwyn leaned against them whilst Farbarad gathered his thoughts. She used the time to consider the room she stood in. This was the first time she had seen Rin’s bedroom in Annuminas. It was large enough to hold a desk, which even now seemed to bow under the weight of Cardolan’s business. No wonder, Halcwyn thought, that Rin took little sleep. She was working herself ragged, from dawn to well after dusk taking up her duties and those that had fallen once to Hanasian. Aside from that desk, littered with reports and books and puddles that had once been candles, Halcwyn was struck by the absence of personal belongings.

Halcwyn understood that they had come to Annuminas with little warning but that had been months ago now. She’d seen the children’s rooms and knew that their treasured possessions had steadily followed since. Someone had even given Adanel a kitten. It seemed odd that Rin would not wish for some measure of familiarity in what could only be a strange place and difficult time for her.

”Where are your things, Rin?” Halcwyn asked.

Farbarad crossed to the wardrobe and threw it open. Halcwyn was astonished to find it almost bare.

”Why are you living like this? Even were you destitute, the King would surely provide.”

“She has refused him. Repeatedly,”
Farbarad replied as he closed the wardrobe again.

”I don’t need his help,” Rin answered testily, ”I live here, under his roof. Is that not enough?”

“Is it pride, then? That’s not like you,”
Halcwyn took a few steps closer to Rin and saw the woman move away.

”Oh there’s a reason,” Farbarad said from across the room, ”There always is. Tell her, Rin.”

Rin’s head dipped forward but she remained silent.

Farbarad continued, ”Rin doesn’t expect to stay very long, Halcwyn. She expects to leave any day now. She’s been ready to go since we arrived here.”

“Why on earth would you think that, Rin? It is not safe and I thought that was unlikely to change soon.”

Rin slowly turned around to face them and Halcwyn was startled by the woman’s appearance. Rin was pale, almost as white as the snow that lashed the city outside, but her eyes were a searing blue and they looked past Halcwyn’s to the Ranger standing across the room. Never before had Halcwyn seen her so angry and it was a fearsome sight in a woman of such lofty heritage.

”Is this how you wish to play it now, Farbarad? You use his sister against me?” she said, eyes narrowed and voice dangerously quiet.

Farbarad shrugged as if he noticed none of this, ”Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am mistaken. Maybe we all are, even the King. Perhaps Halcwyn will understand what I clearly cannot. What have you to lose, now, anyway? Explain to Halcwyn what I and everyone you know cannot understand.”

Halcwyn twisted about to look at Farbarad. There was something very strange about his tone. Bitter as his words were, his expression said his intent lay otherwise. He transferred his steady gaze from Rin to her and Halcwyn saw there was no anger there. If anything, she saw fear and sorrow. Halcwyn turned to face Rin and saw the woman push out a weary breath.

”As you will, then,” Rin answered and met Halcwyn’s eyes, ”I believe Hanasian yet lives.”

“Have you gone mad?”
Halcwyn gasped and Rin reached for the desk again.

”So it would seem,” she sighed and something bent her spine for a moment.

”But- but…” the implications were staggering, incredible, suffocating. Halcwyn’s mind reeled and she looked to Farbarad for aid.

”How could that be? Is it even possible?” Halcwyn whispered, her fingers pressed against her lips.

”No,” came Farbarad’s solemn reply, ”It is not.”

”And how is it that you’re so certain?”
Rin snapped.

”Aside from all that was found at Bree? Aside from the report of Videgavia, Massuil, Beragil and the King?”

Rin hissed, gripping the desk more tightly.

Farbarad shook his head sadly, ”Do you think Hanasian could be so cruel as to allow his family to endure, to suffer such grief, his sister, his wife…his children…to mourn him as dead if he was not?”

He took no joy in the fact that his words inspired tears in Hanasian’s sister. He took no joy in any of this. If Rin had been driven mad by her grief, then it had serious implications for her children. And if she continued to wait each day for some word or sign that her dead husband was alive, it would surely drive her mad in the end. It had to be put to an end.

”Why, in all these months, would he permit you to linger in such sorrow? Why not so much as a word? Why would he chose to stay away knowing that you carry his child? Is this truly the man you think him to be?”

“Stop, oh please, stop,” Halcwyn pleaded, lifting her hands to her ears.

”No,” Rin whispered and then her knees buckled.

Halcwyn rushed to Rin’s side, ”Fetch the midwives!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

”Push, Rin! Once more! I know you can,” Halcwyn demanded and Rin lacked the energy to dispute it.

The room was stuffy. The fires had been raised to a blazing roar. Midwifes milled about. Rose was sitting behind her, propping Rin up while Halcwyn was to one side, issuing orders like a military sergeant. Molguv would have been proud, Rin thought.

”She’s slipping away,” Rose warned and pushed back tendrils of hair that stuck to Rin’s slick face.

”Don’t you dare, Rosmarin,” Halcwyn growled at her, ”You can’t! Not now!”

Rin’s spine knotted in agony, muscles cramping uselessly, as another wave promised to swamp her. She was tiring fast and she knew it. What was the point, really? This child would never know his father. And she, the woman who had lost not one set of parents but two, had no business trying to serve as mother and father both. It was all so pointless.

Outside the blizzard roared, rattling the shutters behind the thick winter curtains drawn to fend off the chill. It spoke of the futility of it all. There were some things that could not be resisted, not by her, not by anyone. The noise of the room, its stifling heat, the pain that racked her body, the voices demanding she do this or that faded. Rin yearned to be set free. She could sense the oblivion that waited. The children would be well cared for, by uncles and aunts and the King, no less. Not for them the grim years she and Loch had endured. Would Hanasian be there, in the Void beyond that he had said waited for all mortals? Would she find him? Would she know him? Distantly she heard frantic words but they could not reach her now. She would not be fettered again to such pain.

Then came a thin cry. It was a feeble thing, warbling and new. Rin crashed into her aching body, her freedom gone. The child was swaddled quickly and laid over her. Rose and Halcwyn were crying and laughing both, giddy with relief. Rin felt nothing at all. Emptiness, so vast a chasm that it hummed, lay within.

”A son! A beautiful boy,” Rose whispered.

”What will you name him?” Halcwyn asked, gazing at the infant.

Through a throat parched, she croaked, ”Hayna.”

Halcwyn gasped, ”Truly? Oh, Rin…Hanasian would be so proud.”

Rin closed her eyes. Hanasian could not give a damn. Her husband was dead and the dead were beyond such worldly cares. How she longed to be quit of them herself.

”Who is he named for?” Rose asked.

”Our elder brother,” Halcwyn answered, voice shaking with emotion, ”He died on the Pelennor in the War. Hanasian found him there, wounded, after long years apart. He died in Hanasian’s arms. Oh, Rin… I cannot say how much this means!”

Rin considered her infant son. He was staring at her, all wide eyed fascination. Could he guess at his mother’s true feelings, or absence thereof, she wondered. If he could, he gave no sign of it. The door opened as one of the mid wives left to inform those waiting of Hayna’s arrival. The other mid wives efficiently packed away their gear and readied to move mother and child out of the child bed. The sooner, the better, Rin well knew. That they considering this so swiftly meant that the bleeding had slowed. It was yet more proof that her freedom, so close to hand only moments ago, was yet further away. Child birth had not claimed her.

Rose bent down to whisper in Rin’s ear, ”All will be well.”

She wanted to scream but could not even manage that. Nothing would be well. All had gone awry. Desolation seared her. She should never have permitted Hanasian to go and now her children were fatherless and she was alone. Rin closed her eyes and turned her head away. Men, one of them Farbarad, entered the room.

”It is safe to move her?” he asked warily.

”Be gentle,” Halcwyn admonished as he approached, ”If you know the meaning of the word.”

“I did what had to be done, Halcwyn,”
Farbarad replied.

”Your methods, and timing, leave a great deal to be appreciated,” Halcwyn slapped another Ranger’s hands out of the way, ”I will take the child!”

Rin felt strong hands lift her up and off Rose’s lap. Someone cradled her head in his hand. Darkness, the temporary kind, rushed over her senses.

For the weeks after Hayna’s birth Farbarad lived with a secret dread. He had no choice but to watch his mistress wilt under the weight of her grief and the needs of her children. There was no respite for her. There was no joy for her. The hope that had always been in her eyes before had been put out and that, he knew, was by his hand. Farbarad feared that he had made a dreadful mistake. On the day Halcwyn departed in early Spring, Hanasian’s sister turned to him.

”Mark my words well, Ranger,” she said, ”Should it come pass that she can no longer endure the despair, I will gladly take the children in. But you…you will not be welcome.”

“What would you have had me do, then?”
Farbarad demanded, stung by her condemnation.

Halcwyn turned to her horse and adjusted something that didn’t require it before answering, ”Hanasian told me something about you, once. He said that he thought Rin loved you as she might a father.”

She turned back to face Farbarad, cocking her head as she looked up into the ashen Ranger’s face, ”Would a Ranger fail to heed the lesson in Lady Gilraen, the King’s mother? Would a father destroy his child’s only hope?”

Somehow, though, and by means Farbarad could not perceive, Rin endured. She was so young still by the measure of her people. Her beauty mingled with her sorrow transformed her into something new. Her wisdom, sprung from grief beyond her years, came to be sought in the King’s council of Arnor. Many a noble sought to catch her eye and win her favour, but Rin was blind to them all.

Summer saw the King was ready to return to Gondor and much had changed in Annuminas. Rin established a place of her own within the city, beyond Aragorn’s halls and facing the lake. Aragorn began to use his cousin as his representative upon Arnor’s council and there was talk that the King was considering appointing her envoy for Arnor, until such time as an heir of his own came of age. It was in this capacity that Rin commenced a recruitment campaign to bolster the number of Rangers in service to Arnor and Cardolan both, using the midsummer festival at Bree as an unlikely pathway. A tourney was introduced that included trials of combat, jousting, archery and even a melee. From the ashes of a grieving widow rose a woman who was a powerful member of the royal family, strongly allied to the King and with increasing influence through the council across all of Arnor.

Of course, not everyone was pleased with this but Rin proved herself adept at forestalling anything that might endanger her position and, by extension, that of her children. Worlin and Dorlith became squires to two of the more fractious noblemen in Annuminas. Rin privately said that bestowing the twins on the two fellows was an elegant revenge if ever there was. Hanavia continued his studies at Imladris, writing frequently to his mother and siblings and visiting as he could. Elian emerged as a talented musician and commenced training with those Bards in residence at Annuminas. Rin knew her daughter longed to go south with the Queen's household, to Minas Tirith. She spoke of it routinely, face aglow with the excitement of it all.

The youngest of her children remained close to their mother’s hand. Adanel seemed certain to follow her mother’s steps as a healer and accompanied her mother whenever Rin was called upon for unusual or complex cases. Little Hayna, known to all as Baby within the household, proved himself to be a happy child despite the upheaval that surrounded his arrival. By summer’s end, Farbarad glimpsed the welcome return of something that had been missing for nearly half a year. A sense of resolve, of purpose, had come back to his mistress.

Relieved as he was, Farbarad did not perceive why this was and for her part, Rin did not confide in him. He could not help but think that she would never trust him in that way again. She kept her own counsel now and something had changed irrevocably between them. He was pondering this early one morning as he poured water into the teapot. All was quiet, the children still abed. Not even Rin was up, or so he thought until she strode into the kitchen. She was still braiding her hair and he saw that she had sheaves of paper gripped under one arm.

”Just boiled?” she asked, tied off her braid and let the thick golden length swing over her shoulder.

Farbarad nodded, ”Sleep well?”

Rin set her papers down on a sideboard and bent to pull out two thick pottery mugs – Elian’s latest artistic project. Farbarad heard her sigh at his question.

”As well as could be managed with seven reports to get through by today.”

“Another day of council, then?”

Rin nodded, spun the teapot around three times as was her habit and began to pour. Farbarad considered Rin’s appearance. Despite her position on the council, Rin eschewed fine garb for more practical solutions. The more ornate her fellow nobles became, the more utilitarian Rin became.

”What would happen, do you think, if all the others arrived today dressed in sack cloth?” he asked, on a whim.

”The sky would fall, of course, before any such discomfort was countenanced,” Rin answered wryly.

In some way, the exchange had a familiar echo to times when it had been easier between them. That only served to make the edges of the distance between them now keener.

He pushed past that to ask, ”Will you take Baby with you today?”

Rin shook her head and sipped at her tea, ”Today will be filled with one meeting after the next. Best Hayna remain here. I had thought you might watch him.”

“Me? But what about-“

“I’m expecting a number of recruits to report today. Surely you’d like to review them. I’ve made other arrangements for my escort.”

Reasonable as she made it sound, it felt like a dismissal to Farbarad. For all of that, she was his mistress. He nodded quietly and sipped at his own tea. The silence between them stretched until Rin reached for the reports she had set to one side and began organizing them. Farbarad watched her shuffle the pages and the urge to say something, to bridge the gulf between them, grew.

”Rin,” he began.

”Mmm?” she responded, attention on the reports.

”There is something I want you to know.”

“Oh, yes…that,”
Rin said, pausing to scan one report before replacing it, ”I found Dorlith’s most recent surprise for his sister and dealt with it last night.”

“No, not that,”
Farbarad murmured and then more clearly, ”I would hope that you know that I have always done the best that I could for you. I have made mistakes, I know, but -“

The clatter of boots in the hall drew Rin’s attention from her papers to her tea. She reached for the cup and drained it, wincing at the heat. As she stood, she glanced at Farbarad and saw his expression. Whatever she saw made her pause for a moment.

”We will talk, you and I, this evening,” she said and while his shoulders slumped, Farbarad nodded.

”Your Grace,” said one of the Grey Company rangers from the kitchen door and Rin gathered up her papers.

”I’m ready,” she said and strode out of the kitchen without a backward glance.

Strictly speaking, everything Rin had said that morning was true and she would have said more if she could have. However experience had been a harsh teacher and she could not be defeated by well meaning objections this time. Not for this. On her way to council, flanked by Aragorn’s Rangers, she ran through her arguments and plans once again. She would have one chance at this and she could ill afford a misstep. This day was about one thing and one thing alone and everything, right down to the clothes she wore, was in service to that goal.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dismal and dank. They were the words that came to mind when Rin saw the Forsaken Inn for the first time. Suitable enough for their business, she supposed. It was even familiar, in a way, for she had made her way through many such places before this one. Rin was already reining in by the time Haldeth threw up his hand. He glanced to her over his shoulder and once she nodded applied his heels to his horse.

While he spurred forward, Rin slid out of her saddle to stretch her limbs after a long day’s ride. There had been no sign of Beragil on their way here and this troubled her. Massuil had been clear on these arrangements and while things can and did change in the field, some changes were worth paying attention to. If Beragil was not here, where was he? And, also, would Videgavia show up or not?

They had pulled in at a small copse of trees for cover from the afternoon sun. The mornings were cool but the afternoon's could still be ferocious. Between Rangers and horses, there was little room for anything else. Farbarad shouldered through the press, his expression forbidding.

”This is a bad idea,” he told her frankly.

”Unless you have something new to offer by way of conversation, we can count this one as done.”

“You have no idea what’s waiting for you in a place like that.”

“That’s why I am standing here and Haldeth is not. Are you saying he cannot be trusted?”

Rin watched Farbarad swallow what he was going to say, perceiving that she had him cornered. Truthfully, he did not trust the man but then he had been the one to recruit him all those years ago. Since his sudden arrival a little over a month ago, Farbarad had come to regret that decision. This, however, was no such time or place for that discussion.

”Haldeth aside, you have no business being here,” Farbarad instead said.

”The King disagrees with you,” Rin steadily replied, ”As do I.”

“Hanasian would throw you over his horse the instant he saw you here.”

Mention of his name saw sorrow rise within her. It swelled, growing monstrous and fat and pushed all the air from her lungs. Rin was left gasping like a grounded fish in its suffocating wake. Tears stood in her eyes and she was keenly aware that the other Rangers stared at her.

”Leave, Wolf,” she managed to grind out through her teeth.


Rin rounded on Farbarad so hard that he took an involuntary step back.

”When Loch and found places like this we were GLAD! They were BETTER than the alternatives. Would you like to know what we saw, or what we did, in places like the Forsaken Inn?”

The ferocity of her voice, a quiet snarl, took him by surprise. Farabarad shook his head for he dared not imagine such things of the woman that stood before him, reins clenched in her gloved fist. Her eyes raked over him and then she abruptly turned to stare at the Forsaken Inn. He had no choice but to withdraw.

Silence returned to their small group and they settled in to wait through the afternoon. Haldeth came trotting back at sunset. His signal gave Rin some measure of relief and it showed in her quiet smile as he returned.

”Not long now,” he murmured as he passed and she nodded. It was time to pull back.

Sunset surrendered to night and a clear sky revealed a dazzling display despite the moon's absence. Shortly after that, a dim shape could be seen approaching their position. To all appearances, it seemed to be a drunk man lurching on his way after too long at the inn. In actual fact, Videgavia was not drunk at all.

To his right he heard a night bird’s planative cry and he knew he was close. His stomach twisted into another knot. Why was Massuil not here, at the Inn? Where was Beragil, who should have arrived yesterday? Who was that strange looking ranger in the common room, with wooden beads and feathers in his hair? A hand gripped his forearm and Videgavia hissed a curse.

”Steady,” he heard a Ranger whisper and his stomach both sank and clenched at once. He’d know that lupine growl anywhere. If Farbarad was here, then…

”What are you doing here?” he demanded.

”I’m no happier about it than you,” the Wolf of Cardolan replied and then, ”Where’s Beragil?”

“You haven’t seen him either?”
Videgavia hissed and heard Farbarad mutter something vastly inappropriate in Sindarin.

”Come on, then,” Farbarad sighed and towed Videgavia forward.

Along the way Videgavia established that yes, indeed, Rosmarin was nearby by and by an ever better stroke of luck he was to report to her now instead of Massuil. Vid wanted to run in the other direction at that. He also discovered the name of the strange Ranger he had seen back at the Forsaken. His name was Haldeth and Farbarad did not like the man.

”Is he new?” Vid asked.

”You won’t remember him. He’s been on patrol for years, right up until last month.”

Memory stirred then of the ranger Rin had sent out years ago. The man had found a lost group of Cardolan’s indigenous peoples and Rin had decided to entrench the ranger there, to protect them from the newly expanding settlements coming to Cardolan. Evidently, Haldeth had liked arrangements just fine, going from the man’s appearance. To Videgavia’s eye, Haldeth had a feral, wild look to him that meant denizens of the Forsaken would think twice before bothering him. And as he recalled, Haldeth had been one of their best Rangers signed on in the days after Voromir’s hand played out.

He followed Farabard into a wide thicket of trees, a remnant of an ancient forest. The further they traveled, the more fearful Videgavia became. He did not know if he could face Rin and he did not know what would happen if he had to. Farbarad led him some way through the dark trees. At least, Videgavia attempted to console himself, it was a moonless night. She might miss the guilt in his face tonight.

They came to a clearing in the trees and Farbarad gave the signal. At that, Videgavia saw a lithe shape rise across the way. As she approached, he almost swallowed his tongue. Despite the absence of the moon, the starlight was occasionally echoed in her pale hair. Hanasian, Videgavia thought, would be beside himself were he here now. Rin should be safe, far away, with the children. Before Videgavia could demand an explanation from Farbarad, she startled him with an embrace.

It came as a shock to the Daleman. He was confused by sudden sensations and the emotions they dragged out of him. A year in the wilds, the very scent of a woman made his throat dry. She was so close, so real, so…so not supposed to be here. Hanasian would kill him when he found out. Videgavia was certain of this, provided Rin did not discover the dreadful secret he carried and kill him first. He was a dead man walking.

”Hello Vid,” she whispered as she pulled back and he found that all the hair on his arms and back of his neck was standing on end.

”You better not have lifted anything,” he growled back at her roughly, his voice hoarse.

”I have missed you too,” came a wry answer.

”Why are you here? Where is Massuil?”

“He is seeing to other matters.”

“And Beragil?”
he asked and her tone sharpened.

”I take it we should have sighted him,” Rin said.


Videgavia heard a familiar Dunlendic curse hiss from her as she turned and signaled to the Rangers nearby. Dark shapes streaked into the night and Rin crouched near to the ground. He could not help but feel grudging approval. It was wise to make as small a target as possible.

”We’ll keep this short then,” she said once Videgavia squatted beside her, ”Your report.”

“Do you recall the patois?”
he asked and he heard her sigh at him in impatience. Of course she recalled the Company shorthand language.

Videgavia launched into his report, thankful that the darkness seemed to prevent the woman from seeing his face clearly. If luck held, he would not have to look her in the eye until all this was over. The Company patois enabled him to deliver a succinct report that, even if overheard, could not be deciphered. As he spoke, however, his mind split between what he might say to Hanasian about his wife’s involvement in this and what had befallen Beragil.

”They have been confined, then, to the East Road and surrounding lands,” she summarized in the Company lingo, ”And you could do with more men, given attrition.”

“Men with knowledge of Rhuadar.”

“Agreed. That is where you intend to push next?”

“Aye. Unless there is instruction from the King otherwise.”

she replied but he sense she was thinking fast, ”Rhuadar is a vast land and the numbers there could be considerably more thanwhat we have found this far west. Can this remain a covert operation and succeed, in your opinion?”

“It must. Open war in Arnor again is unthinkable. I do not think they are so widely entrenched in Rhuadar just yet. We can prevail still. My sense is that we have caught them early, in their infancy.”

He heard another sigh, but this was not impatience. Rather, it was the sorrow and regret of a woman grieving her husband’s death. It made Videgavia sick to his stomach. He could feel her pain and it was within his means to end it with just a few words. And start a new one.

”I am sorry, Doc,” he said instead and then, before she could pull away, he reached closed a hand around her wrist. It was so slender in his fingers.

”The children? How do they fare?” he asked, certain Hanasian would want to know.

”They are strong, like their father.”

“And mother.”

she replied, unwilling to be drawn down that path.

“And the baby?”

“A boy. Healthy, happy even. It has not yet occurred to him that he has a father to miss. He is called Hayna.”

Videgavia nodded, unable to speak past the lump in his throat and the fat toad of guilt in his belly.

”What does he look like?”

“I have had a likeness made,”
she answered and he heard leather creak as she fished it out of her pouch, ”Here. Take it with you. I can have another made.”

Videgavia tucked the square of paper she had pressed into his hand into his jerkin for Hanasian, feeling very much like a thief himself now.

”You should go,” she told him, ”We will look for Beragil. If he has fallen nearby, then it is best you are away from here.”

“And you, Doc?”

“I have myself and, failing that, my protectors.”

“Such as Haldeth.”

“He, and others,”
she acknowledged.

”Rosmarin,” Videgavia said as she started to pull away, ”Be careful with Haldeth.”

“He is a dangerous man. Fare you well, Vid,”
she said with meaning and then she was gone, a shadow gliding beneath the stars once more.

Dangerous men, Videgavia thought. Her brother was a dangerous man. The Company was full of dangerous men. She married one of the most dangerous men of all. The woman seemed inextricably drawn to dangerous men and that she thought Haldeth dangerous did not in the least appease Videgavia. Another question popped into his head and made it hurt. What if she re-married? She was free to do so. What is more, there would be many who would see how young, beautiful and wealthy she was. That, he swiftly decided, was not his concern. There was little to be served by mentioning it to Hanasian at this point. She might not re-marry at all. If she did, it would be a mess that was up to Hanasian to sort out.

Videgavia travelled for three days and two nights, through several late storms to find Hanasian holed up and impatiently waiting precisely where he said he would be.

”You’re late,” Hanasian growled at him from the mouth of the cavern.

”There were…complications,” Videgavia replied, for he had delayed on the way so as to think through a number of knotty problems that had arisen as a result of his meeting a the Forsaken Inn.

”Such as?” Hanasian demanded and Videgavia dug into his jerkin to withdraw a folded square of paper.

He passed this to Hanasian and watched the man open it out. Colour washed from Hanasian’s face.

”Who…who is this?” Hanasian whispered hoarsely.

”Your son, Hayna.”

A wretched sob choked out of Hanasian’s throat and the man could not tear his eyes away from the image. Barely six months of age, the artist had captured something of the infant’s spirit. A happy, placid child, with auburn hair and plump cheeks and twinkling eyes all of grey, like his father’s. Vid had no idea where the hair came from. That had been a shock, really, considering his older siblings all had hair of gold like their mother or night like their father.

”Hayna,” Hanasian repeated.

”It was brought to the meeting and given to me,” Videgavia said, deliberately omitting who had brought it, ”By all accounts, he does well as do your other children. They are stronger than they might appear.”

“Like their mother,”
Hanasian said, jaw tightening.

”I have word of her too, if you-“

Hanasian shook his head, turned away and whispered, ”No, Vid. It is too hard. I…I can’t.”

Videgavia’s hands curled by his side. He had never wanted to punch this man so badly before, and that was really saying something given the things they had seen and endured together over the long years. Hanasian spoke in his sleep and his words betrayed his apparent cold determination to forget his family and wife. Then there was the desperately haunted look he would get sometimes. Videgavia knew the man ached for his wife by that alone. As necessary as this deception was, it made Videgavia sick to his stomach.

While Vid battled to master himself, Hanasian refolded the drawing of his son and tucked it away safely. Something occurred to Hanasian, penetrating the black storm of longing and anguish that roared ceaselessly within.

”Given to you, you said?”

“Aye. Beragil did not show.”

Hanasian looked up at him sharply, his expression remote and resolute once more, his armor back in place, ”Anything from the King?”

“Push towards Rhuadar approved. We can expect more recruits. I’ve asked they have some knowledge of the eastern realm. Beragil might show up alive, but even if he does we will need more like him to finish this.”

“And the overall strategy? How does that hold?”

“We seem to have curtailed them to the Eastern Road. No reports of them penetrating further west than Bree. The Company remains contained to Cardolan, bait to lure them west and south, down through the King’s net.”

“So we tighten it in the push east.”


Hanasian nodded at that and then stood, ”Get some rest. We’ll move out this evening.”

Uneasy as he was, guilt was a tiring burden to carry and so Videgavia had no difficulty finding his way to sleep. He woke with a start. It was dusk and Hanasian was shaking him.

”What?” Videgavia hissed.

”Is….is she safe?” he asked and Videgavia noted that he did not ask if his wife was well or happy. The man was keenly aware of the hell he was putting her through.

”The King has brought her north, clear of the Company, to Annuminas. I understand that Doc has established herself there.”

Hanasian said, relieved, ”That is good.”

Videgavia started but Hanasian stood, head shaking.

”I know, Vid. Believe me, I have thought about it. There have been times when it is all I can think of. Word could be gotten to her. Rin is so very good with secrets…but if it was intercepted on its way…if they learned that I was not dead…”

If the Moricarni learned that Hanasian was alive then they would resume their hunt for him and all that he loved. His children, his wife, could never be safe no matter where they took shelter.

”I understand,” Videgavia admitted and gathered himself up for the night ahead of them.

As they strode out into the darkness and away from the cave, Videgavia reconciled himself to the choices he had made. He was deceiving Hanasian and Rosmarin both now. Somehow, it seemed fitting. Balanced, in a strange and horrible way.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rin’s party slipped back into Annuminas under a sliver of moonlight without trace of Beragil. Despite the late hour the children were up, even little Hayna. The look of delight at his mother’s return, so pure and unguarded, made Farbarad seethe. But he said nothing of it and let the reunion between mother and children unfold without disruption. It took some time to get the children off to bed and so it was well past midnight when Farbarad found Rin seated in the kitchen. She was whetting her various blades, tending to each carefully before she packed them away. It was a habit ingrained now from her time in the Company. Indeed, she still wore her field gear as she sat there, daggers neatly lined up on the kitchen table.

”Out with it,” Rin said, not looking up from her work, ”You’ve a face of thunder, Farbarad. Is it Beragil? I am aware you knew him. You fetched him, if I am not mistaken, for my husband. I’ll ask the King to look for him on the morrow. Failing that, Vid can relay the orders to the others.”

Farbarad snapped, ”It is not Beragil.”

At his tone Rin looked up at him. Whatever she saw made her set the dagger and whetstone down.

”Where will this lead?” he asked, waving his hand at the weapons on the table. He thought he saw disappointment in her face but it was gone swiftly.

”You would have me remain here, where it is safe,” she said and then cocked her head, ”Is it because you do not trust me?”

Farbarad crossed to seat himself and lean forward over his knees to address her, ”Rin, I am no fool. I know what you are capable of. I know what lies beyond that delicate façade of yours.”

“Then perhaps you do not trust our men. Haldeth, for example.”

Farbarad could not help but grind his teeth at that name, ”No, Rin. I trust each of those men, even Haldeth, to serve you faithfully and well. And who you choose to spend your time with is your concern.”

Her eyes narrowed at that, ”He trains me, and that is all. He does that, Farbarad, because you refused.”

Farbarad sighed, ”Do you not see, Rin?”

She crossed her arms and squared her shoulders, ”Educate me, Wolf. Tell me what I am blind to.”

“All the training, all the precautions, it can all come to naught in an instant. A moment of sheer bad fortune is all it takes, something you well know. And what then, Rin? What of your children then?”

He saw her draw in a deep, shaking breath. Her head bowed for a long moment and he perceived that she was wrestling with herself.

”You truly think I am senseless to that. You believe that I, the woman who lost not one but two sets of parents, the woman who endured all that followed could forget what it means to be orphaned. You believe, Farbarad, that I am so cruel, or selfish, or callow-“

He reached out for her shoulder. Rin bit off her quiet words and shied away from his touch violently. She spun out of her chair to her feet and backed away from him, face pale and eyes glittering with fury.

”No, lassie, not that,” he pleaded, standing himself.

Rin bared her teeth at him, ”What then?!”

“You are all they have left in this world!”

Rin cried and turned away, shaking.

”Then I don’t understand,” Farbarad said, chin sinking to his chest.

”I do it for them, Wolf, not despite them. I do it so that I can meet their questions, meet their eyes now and in the years to come. So that I can tell them when they ask me, as they surely will, what happened to the men that killed their father. So that they know that I did not sit idly on my hands. So that my people, and even Arnor know that the King and I were united in our resolve to free us all of this evil.”

“And that is why Aragorn consented? Vengeance?”
Farbarad asked, horrified.

Rin snarled something in Dunlendic and turned to face him, ”Very well, then, go ask him. If you will not have it from me, then go ask your King.”

When the report of Farbarad’s boots faded away, Rin let her head sink into her hands.

Within the hour, Farbarad stood within the King’s study, quivering with frustration that he could not keep from his voice. Aragorn, on the other hand, was calm. The King considered him solemnly.

”And what did she tell you, Farbarad?”

“That she is doing it for her children,”
he replied tersely and Aragorn nodded.

”She serves all of Arnor in this as she bound by honor and ancient oath to do. But that is not sufficient, clearly.”

Farbarad ground out, ”The risks are…”

“I well know,”
Aragorn said and Farbarad wisely did not argue.

The King considered Farbarad a moment and was strongly reminded of the Ranger’s title: Wolf of Cardolan. Right now it was not so hard to imagine the Ranger might leap for his throat.

”What would you have of me, Wolf?” Aragorn inquired.

”Stand her down! Immediately!”

“That is not why she sent you here.”

“Granted…and she would be wroth. She is willful, as her father was, but she is not prideful. In time, she would come to see the wisdom of it.”

“If indeed it was wise.”

Farbarad frowned in open credulity at his words and Aragorn pushed on, ”Rosmarin reminds me of someone else. Another woman with hair of gold in another time of peril. Before I took the Paths of the Dead she came to me and I told her what you would have me tell my cousin now.

“In that, I wronged her. She said as much but I held to my decision. In the end, she defied both her father and I. Had she not, the Witch King would not have been undone.”

Aragorn walked towards Farbarad slowly as he spoke, ”How fortunate we are that there are women such as the White Lady of Rohan. Without them, the Captains of the West, the Dunedain of the North would have failed and none of us would be standing here now.

“I learned at great cost the grievous error I had made that day. The White Lady of Rohan almost paid for it with her life. She should never have taken that field alone. I will not make that same mistake again with the Rose of Cardolan. I will not force my cousin to act alone. And, in point of fact, I am glad to have her aid in this.”

Aragorn did not raise his voice and he did not release Farbarad from his gaze. His words, he knew, would come as knives and still the Wolf stood staunchly. He was frowning now, trying to reconcile what Aragorn had said.

The King gently touched Farbarad’s shoulder, ”You swore service, my friend, to a woman with a spine of cold steel. She will do this, whether you agree or not. The question, it seems to me, is not why she has chosen this or why I permit it. Rather, the question is whether she will go forward without you. And only you, Wolf, know that answer.”

Early the following morning, Farbarad followed the sound of swords to locate Rin. As was her habit of late, she was training with Haleth. And, as was his habit, Haleth was holding nothing back. His approach was fast and lethal. He was, in Farbarad’s opinion, better with a sword than even Caeros. He arrived in time to see him spill Rin onto her back. He pounced, sword raised for the kill. The tip stopped scant inches from spilling her life onto the dusty packed surface of the ring. It was not mercy that spared her. Rather, Rin had produced a dagger and held it to a somewhat delicate aspect of Haldeth’s anatomy.

The Ranger grinned with open approval and withdrew his sword. He then held out an arm to pull Rin up. This she slapped away and got to her feet herself. There was always a frisson at play when training. It was hot, intensive, close work. Sometimes it was aggression and temper. Sometimes it was frustration. Sometimes it was something else entirely. Farbarad cleared his throat loudly and broke the stare between Haldeth and Rin. Haldeth shrugged, sheathed his sword and stalked away for the sheds. Rin watched his departure for a moment before she turned to Farbarad. He could see as she neared that her expression was wary. She was coiled for another argument.

”I have come to apologise,” he said to her as she closed and was rewarded with an expression of genuine surprise that was not often seen on Rin’s face.

”Oh,” she said, searching for a trap and not finding one.

”Furthermore, I am willing to help you if you’ll still have me.”

He let her scan his face and could see her thoughts were wheeling, ”Are you sure about this?”

Farbarad smiled ruefully at the question and then glanced to the sword at her hip, ”When I first laid eyes on you, lassie, you were a tiny thing no longer than my forearm. When I found you again, you had that sword at your hip. So much had happened, so much had changed, right down to your name. But one thing did not change and will not change. I swore to serve you, Erían of Cardolan. I swore to watch over you, to keep you safe, no matter what path you choose to take.”

“I will not give this up, Farbarad. I cannot.”

“I..I know,”
he said, lifting his eyes to her face, ”It is part of who you are. And so, what would you have of me?”

For a moment he thought she would turn away, that the damage done on the day Hayna was born and since had been too severe. Then she smiled at him and he was so relieved that it he felt a lump in his throat. He had not seen her smile like this for far too long.

”I have Rangers to recruit, Wolf, and little time to do it,” she told him and together they walked back to the house to set to work.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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The new bridge of Tharbad was truly a marvel to see. The stonemasons of Gimli Construction were the best in Middle Earth and they had recreated the Dunédain style flawlessly. Berlas stood and watched as the work went on high above. There had been hope that the new bridge would open before winter’s advance but inevitable delays during construction had made this all but impossible. The cost, Berlas thought, must be eye watering and all of it borne by the Lady of Cardolan.

It was difficult for him to think of her as anything other than Doc, or even the waif that he had beheld bursting out of the nearby forest so many years ago, slathered in mud and fevered and mostly starved. Now, she was powerful enough and wealthy enough to have such things as this bridge erected. The work would be completed and the celebration of it’s opening would fall on Mettarë. It had better be, Berlas thought, for the coming winter seemed likely to be a difficult one. The temporary ford that had served since the destruction of the last bridge would not suffer the heavy spring runoff that he suspected would come. He wondered if this new marvel would. Only time would tell.

As his thoughts ranged in the warmth of the late summer, Berlas’ attention was drawn by the approach of a horseman at speed towards the ford. The rider would be able to cross swiftly, for the river was it its lowest summer point and easily broached. Berlas lifted his hand in greeting, as did the three men on duty. The rider dismounted on the far shore and saluted. Berlas walked toward the edge of the ford as the rider led his horse across the shallow waters towards where Berlas stood.

”Commander Berlas, it is good to see you again.”

“As it is you Runner. I shall not ask what brings you here in such haste,”
Berlas answered.

Runner reached into a leather pouch he kept slung from his belt and pulled three rolled parchments out, ”I’m come on business of the Company and Crown. These two are for you.”

Berlas nodded as he took them in hand. Upon each were two seals: one used by Loch and the second the official seal of Cardolan. Berlas looked up again at Runner and asked, ”You know what this is about?”

“No Sir,”
Runner admitted and then added, ”But rumours amongst the men in Cardolan are that the Company will assemble as one and I have a third missive that needs must be taken to the Lady’s garrison in Edhellond by the fastest means. One message has already been sent by ship, but this is to be delivered in haste also. The ship had sailed before it could be added.”

Excitement shone from Runner’s dark eyes and clearly, the lad had come to be well regarded if he was so deeply amongst the counsels of Loch and his sister.

Berlas looked around and said, ”My tent is over there. You will have time to rest and you need it, as does that horse of yours.”

Runner nodded at him gratefully and made for the tent. Over to Berlas’ left were two young recruits, both of them hailing from Rohan and hovering in the hopes of overhearing something of excitement. At his nod, they trotted quickly towards them, young faces eager.

Berlas asked the pair, ”What is the fastest way to get to Anfalas?”

“There is a high pass that would be fastest if the weather doesn’t turn. Otherwise, with speed on a horse, it would be via Gondor,”
one answered readily.

Berlas nodded, ”I want you both to remain near to hand. Make ready to ride at a moment’s notice. You are now my Company messengers.”

The two young men exchanged wide, toothy grins, and set off to see to their preparations. With a shake of his head for their youthful exuberance, Berlas turned for his tent and arrived to find Runner sipping at freshly brewed tea.

”Let us read these. As for you taking the message all the way to Edholland, I have two who can do it faster.”

“You trust them?”
Runner inquired closely, sounding ever so much like the rangers Doc had been carefully recruiting over the years – Farbarad in particular.

Berlas looked at him sidelong as he broke the seals and unfurled the parchments, ”Yes, as much as I trusted you when you first signed on with the Company. Besides, I have a message I need you to run to Loch.”

Berlas wanted Runner out of his camp as quickly as he could manage but in the brief time that Runner had spent with those on duty as he reached the ford was enough. In whatever little that must have been said, for Runner was not one to chatter, enough had been said to raise concerns among the men of Berlas’ garrison.

He had his scribe copy the message that was to go to Edholland and he added another from himself. He issued a challenge to his two new company messengers and a small reward for the man who arrived first. One was to go by the high pass whilst the other was to take the road through Gondor. Berlas then scratched out a brief response to Loch and agreed to meet him at the appointed time and place. It was a risky thing to commit to, for much depended on how swiftly those coming up from Edhellond would arrive. Still, he sent Runner back north to take his response to Loch. All three men had departed by the coming of twilight that day.

That evening, a cold wind came down from the north, pushing the heat of the day away. It seemed to Berlas to be winter’s first breath. Berlas sat at a table at Tharbad’s only inn with some of his sergeants. He quietly sipped at his ale, content to listen while one of the men at his table spoke.

”Word has it that not only is Hanasian dead but Videgavia is missing! We know that Runner come through today with messages and left again for the north, but not before one of his messages was sent off south with our fastest riders. It’s strange, it is…and as first sergeant, it falls to me to ask you Berlas what is afoot? What is word from the north?”

There it was, Berlas ruminated. Runner said nothing of Videgavia to him and he, for his part, hadn’t asked.

“It’s not for me to say as yet. You will be the first to know when it is,” Berlas replied, reluctant to speak overly much of what waited for them in the north yet.

The simple truth was that he had gotten comfortable in Tharbad but he was also aware that he had to ensure the garrison was ready for what was coming. Meanwhile, the sergeants at his table were not content to leave the discussion at Berlas’ vague answer.

”There has been much talk going around. With Vid gone -”

“Reportedly gone.
” Berlas cut in firmly.

The sergeant paused then went on. ”Everyone says that Loch’s been made Captain, and not you.”

“There has been no call for a vote,”
Berlas said.

Another of the sergeants let his palm slap the table for punctuation, ”Exactly! Given who his sister is, what need for a vote?!”

Heads bobbed angrily and Berlas resisted the urge to knock those heads together. They had no idea who they were talking of like that. They’d not met her, much less served by her side.

Berlas drew a steadying breath, ”Hanasian may be dead, but the ways of the Company he founded have not died with him. At the proper time, if the need arises, the Captaincy will be decided by a vote as it always has been.”

Berlas glared over the top of his flagon as he took a healthy mouthful and set the vessel down hard enough to make the others on the table jump. It brought the rumble of the talk amongst them and of the nearby tables to a stop. He was clearly annoyed at the direction the conversation had turned and made no effort to keep this out of his face. The allegation suggested that the woman that paid their wages had corrupted the ways of the Company founded by her own husband for the petty advancement of her brother. The woman that had been one of them before most of these men had even signed on!

Had any of the Old Company been present, particularly the Dirty Three or the old Rohirrim men such as Frea, Folca or Foldine, the sergeants at his table would be picking their teeth and possibly their ears up from the floor of the common room.

Berlas’ thoughts returned to the day’s tidings. With so many of the Old Company gone now, he didn’t want to be Captain. The few Old Company that remained were with Loch along with most of the young Easterlings he had recruited during the Rhûn campaign. Loch would have added new recruits to that too. Meanwhile, Berlas sat here in Tharbad with the Gondor recruits that had signed on before the last Rhûn campaign, some of Khule’s Easterlings and the Rohirrim that Berlas had recruited and sworn in. And it was enough quite enough, for the business of weeding out generations of inveterate bandits that preyed along the roads. Berlas’ recruits were barely into adulthood, weaned on tales of the great War and hungry for adventure.

He’d had taken in the hardiest of these young men, aware that good riders were something the Company had always seemed to be short of. What they made of their service to the Lady of Cardolan’s and the northern Kingdom he could only guess at. The lawlessness that had made these lands so dangerous had faded, much as the orcs that had preyed on these passes had before them. Now, well now something was in the wind – and the hand of their fastest rider. Despite making it clear, Berlas wondered if some of his new recruits really knew what they had become a part of.

Alas, they all, veteran and new recruit alike, were tired and bored and tired of being bored. The Easterlings had an itch and the Gondorians wanted to go home. After all, serving as border guards making sure anyone crossing the river had legitimate business and protecting farmers and trading caravans wasn’t what they had hoped to be doing for an extended period of time. However most had settled in and behaved. Only a handful had been so persistently restlessly that they had made and found trouble. This had been their assigned duty since being sent there, and while it wasn’t the glories that so many came in search of, it was a job they have done remarkably well.

Berlas began to ponder the messages that Runner had delivered when he was brought out of his thoughts by the first sergeant’s voice cut across his thoughts.

”Well… you know what I and most of the Company from Gondor think. We think you should be captain.”

Berlas looked up at the soldier, then at the other men at the table and found they were studying him in return.

He asked, ”Sergeant, how long have you been in the company?”

Since before we marched into Rhûn.”

Berlas nodded, looked around the table he sat at and said, ”And I am at a table of Gondorians. I am a Gondorian myself.”

He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, ” Over there is a table of Easterling sergeants. I’m sure you lot would vote for me, and that lot would vote for Loch, or maybe even Khule. So you know how it works. We all are Company… all of us!

“We don’t segregate ourselves from where we come from or what we may have or have not done. Everyone needs to know that they can trust the man next to him at all times. And, we all follow orders, whether we agree with them or not. If those orders come from Captain Hanasian or Captain Videgavia or Captain Lochared or Captain whomever, then I would follow them, and I would have that from you who I’ve been entrusted to command. Should I become Captain, this will not change. Is that clear?”

The sergeant eased cautiously back into his chair and nodded but Berlas had not only been speaking to those at his table. He had spoken loudly enough that he had captured the attention of the Easterling table of sergeants as well.

So Berlas stood and continued, ”Good. I don’t want to hear any more about who is currently Captain and who should be or not. As it stands, Videgavia is captain until he is dead or otherwise resigns. Since word has it he is missing, he is still Cap. Until it is otherwise decided, Loch and I are currently lieutenant commanders; he of the southern and the Cardolan contingent and I of the Tharbad contingent. Is that clear?”

Silence was his answer and, as Berlas looked about, he saw that the common room was filled with Company sergeants and other officers aside from the inn’s staff and proprietors. Since he clearly had their attention, Berlas decided that he would tell them of the messages that had been delivered earlier during the day.

”Now, listen carefully…” Berlas paused as he pulled out the parchments out from where he had tucked them into his jerkin, ”You want something to gossip about? You want something do? Then this will be just the thing.”

He unrolled one of the parchments and held it aloft so they could see it, ”This bears two royal seals as it came from King Elessar in Annuminas, issued under his authority by the Lady of Cardolan who is his envoy.”

Clearing his throat, he lowered the parchment so that he could read it to them.

”The Free Company is relieved of duty in Tharbad once reservists from Minas Tirith, who are now called the Road Wardens, arrive. The Road Wardens have been given charge of the safety of the roads in the Kingdom and all such duties will fall to them. Upon their arrival, the Tharbad garrison of the Free Company will have a fortnight to hand over duties. Once this is done the duties of the Free Company at Tharbad comes to an end.

The Crown wishes to convey gratitude to the Free Company for its service in Tharbad during our efforts to restore safety and prosperity to the Reunited Kingdom and those who would make of it their home. We hope that your next commission will be met with similar success.”

Berlas looked around the common room at his unit leaders. There was a murmur of pleasure and apprehension, for though they were finished here with a duty that was often dull and prosaic, some thought of the next commission and what it may entail had arisen. Berlas himself considered the words he had read out. It was now many years since the War and the need for large armies had diminished. With the need for order and security to be restored to lands that had long lay unkempt likely to continue for some time yet, it was a relief to Berlas that this would not fall to the Company. He was a ranger, a soldier…not a constable or keeper of the peace or a thief taker.

As for their new orders, they need not wait idly for those either. The second parchment addressed the issue. While the two messages had arrived at the same time was advantageous in regard to timing, no Company furloughs to manage, it also seemed to suggest that the peace and security they had re-established in southern Cardolan was not enjoyed elsewhere in the wide lands of the kingdom. He let the first parchment roll itself up and he stowed it before unrolling the second one. He stomped his boot heel on the timber floor to cut through the chatter that had sprung up around him and again he had their attention.

”And now for the news you have been waiting for: our next commission.”

Berlas looked over to the first sergeant and saw the man was nodding, as if he understood already.

Berlas went on, ”Orders have been sent with haste to our Edholland garrison by land and by sea so that they swiftly march to join us here at Tharbad. We are to hold fast until time they arrive. Then, after a few days rest, we are to proceed to Bree with all speed where we will join with the rest of the Company from Cardolan. There we reform as one Company, one unit. The purpose for this will be forthcoming upon our arrival at Bree.”

He paused and let it roll itself up. This time, there was no buzz of chatter. He stowed the second parchment with the first and stepped via a bench onto a table.,

”Loch makes no mention of why we are to gather so swiftly but clearly there is a sudden need for us in the north. Considering the timing, we are likely to face winter duty. From tomorrow, we will undertake daily drills. Have the men put their affairs into order for it is unlikely we will return to Tharbad swiftly. Questions?”

There were none, as he expected, and so Berlas nodded and dismissed them with three words, ”As you were.”

The sergeants now had plenty to talk about. They would be the ones issuing the orders to the men that would see the Company get into something resembling readiness for a more traditional Company commission than the one they were in the throes of finishing. It had been far too long since the garrison had completed what Berlas would consider a proper drill more frequently than once a week. From tomorrow, it would be a daily occurrence and there was good reason for it. Whatever lay ahead, a winter commission in northern Arnor would be difficult. Particularly this winter.

Berlas left the inn to his sergeants for there was work to be done and it was best done when he wasn’t hovering over them. The sergeants, in turn, elected to spring the new drill schedule on the garrison at first light the following day. They then turned their efforts on preparation for what they guessed lay ahead from the information to hand. Berlas was relieved to see the clannish divisions and talk seemed to evaporate. His garrison was working as one.

The officers went from tent to tent, not missing one, as they rousted men out and chivvied them into ranks. There was much grumbling, particularly from those had decided to put in a long night. At first, the new orders were unpopular. The officers of the garrison were not the only ones to have gotten comfortable in Tharbad. But beneath that, the men hungered for something new to do. They spent their mornings in training, and the afternoons on preparation and after a week, Berlas saw hints that they were getting back into shape. The spectre of their southern brethren loomed large and no one wanted to appear lazy, slow or incompetent when the Edhellond men arrived. As the southern garrison would have surely be in fine order after marching all distance, it was a tall order for the Tharbad men. Soon the energy devoted to grumbling was redirected to saving face. The garrison was determined to be ready to march, with full supply and materiel, as soon as their southern counterparts arrived.

It was a fortnight to the day Runner had arrived at Tharbad when the Minas Tirith Road Wardens arrived. All of them were proud young men of Gondor but to Berlas they looked like boys. Their commander was younger than Loch, perhaps a little older than Runner if by a week, but for all of his youth Berlas found him to be professional as indeed were the men under his command. They wasted no times acquainting themselves with Tharbad and their duties and after three days, Berlas realise that his garrison had finished their commission there in the town.

All that remained before them is to prepare for their march north. As they waited for the southern contingent to arrive, they spent the weeks working hard and gathering supply. Some of their gear was obtained from the Road Wardens by various means and it wasn’t long before their commander ordered his men not to partake in games of chance with the Company. The veterans of Rhûn, Easterling and Gondorian alike, had learned well from the Dirty Three, and in turn passed their knowledge of provision on to the Road Wardens of Tharbad.

The warmth of summer gave way to cooler nights and then to rain. It was a cold rain that fell incessantly and it arrived sooner than was the usual custom. On a dim morning, grey and dully glistening and wet, the two riders Berlas had sent south returned. All their youthful exuberance had been washed away and the pair looked rather worse for wear. They informed Berlas that the Edholland garrison was soon to arrive and, once they did so, Berlas’ command would extend to them as well. This Berlas was resigned to, for their nominal commander had been Loch until he had been drawn north by events in recent years. The Tharbad garrison swelled, tripling in numbers once the Edholland men arrived. After they rested and refitted, the Company set out north up the Greenway beneath the chill rain that continued to fall.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hanasian was silent as he and Vid went out to their horses, his thoughts preoccupied by his newborn son. Hayna was a good name. Rosmarin had chosen it wisely and, in it, he could perceive his wife’s meaning in choosing it. It had belonged to his older brother and Hanasian had never really known him. He had met him once, briefly, when they took the fight to the Corsairs, and after victory sailed up the Anduin. For a couple of days, he had a brother, and then Hayna had been slain in the Battle of the Pelennor Field. And now a son he had yet to meet and did not know bore the name of the brother he scarcely knew. Was it a recrimination? Could he manage to rewrite his history with that name? Dare he hope? Would she ever forgive him for what he had consigned her?

Videgavia looked hard at Hanasian and said, ”You look tired Hanasian.”

“I am tired! Living rough does that. Winter up here does little good for a man’s heath, body or spirit. And it looks like the second winter comes upon us hard and fast.”

Hanasian’s answer was quiet, his mind still elsewhere. They set to redistributing the packs on Videgavia’s horse to Hanasian’s. Once this was done they slaked their thirst from a water skin. While Videgavia drank, Hanasian considered the supplies that remained on Videgavia’s horse. He also considered the Daleman covertly. Not for long, for Videgavia was notoriously able to tell when someone was paying him close attention. Videgavia re-stoppered the water skin and returned it Hanasian before reaching for Hanasian’s hand, intent on taking his leave.

”While Beragil has gone missing with the two Rhuadurians, my gut tells me they are alive and still hard at work. I intend to search them out, though I doubt they will still be combing the Ettenmoors,” Videgavia said, “The campaign the king commenced in Bree has developed further within the ream.”

Hanasian thought he saw a devious glint in the Daleman’s dark eyes at those words but it was gone in a flash and Videgavia continued, ”I suspect the Company will eventually be called upon – perhaps to occupy Rhuadar. It won’t be a short foray for them either. Wouldn’t be surprised if they move into place sometime this winter, and will be pushing hard ahead of the spring.”

And just where had Videgavia heard all of this, Hanasian wondered? Had he been rubbing shoulders with Aragorn? Unlikely! There was much that Videgavia wasn’t telling him on this but Hanasian decided against pushing him on it. Regardless of how he had come by these tidings, they settled Hanasian’s mind. The Company would be a good fit for this duty, he thought and then amended, at least the Company of old would be. As for this new generation, this would be a test for them.

Hanasian mildly inquired, ”Who is captain of the Company now?”

Videgavia didn’t know what to say to that. Ostensibly he still was. He’d not told Hanasian that he hadn’t resigned and turned it over to Loch just like he’d not told Hanasian who was commanding the Rhuadar campaign. Secrets within secrets, they were twisting ever tighter around him as secrets tended to do. Despite the fact that the Company was likely to deploy and he was still its captain, Videgavia intended to ‘go missing’ while he searched for Beragil. He didn’t tell Hanasian he had a rough idea where they may have gone.

He finally said, ”Technically, I still am. But I think Loch has things in hand and will have overall field command as the company’s lieutenant commander. It’s something I’ll need to settle when I get back.”

Hanasian considered Vid silently for a time. No words needed to be spoken. The time for explanations was not now. He nodded and Videgavia turned away to mount his horse. Hanasian followed suit and they set out together.

They rode through the afternoon in silence before Hanasian said, ”I know where Beragil and his two Rhuadurian Rangers have gone.”

Vid reigned in and demanded, ”Why did you say nothing of this before now?”

Hanasian shrugged as he pulled his horse around to face Videgavia, ”Didn’t think I needed to. But pondering what you said, I told you so you would have somewhere to start looking.

“They went east to seek information sign of Moricarni in Dale. If you think about it, our troubles with the Moricarni may have started there. Tarina was from there, where Kholach took a liking to her, and they were the first to die. So maybe there was still something to be learned there. They set out by a hard north mountain track to the East. They would never make it south to the road and over the High Pass before the weather turned.”

Vid squinted hard at Hanasian, ”So they know then… that you’re not dead?”

Hanasian nodded as he looked to the west where the sun had all but vanished, ”It couldn’t be helped.”

They came to a rise where they could see far to the north and west. The clouds hurried past the newly rising moon on a chill wind. Both men pulled their cloaks tighter around them. Videgavia was silent, mind reeling with implications. If Rosmarin encountered Beragil or his two companions, and they said anything… the concept made his skin crawl. Would it be worse if they said something or not? He couldn’t figure that out and was going to ask, but Hanasian started talking before he could say anything,

”I was in a fight, up by the Raven Falls. I had gotten complacent and they surprised me. It could have gone poorly for me. I was outnumbered, but some well placed arrows and thrown knives evened things out somewhat. Beragil and his companions come upon us as we fought and they lent me aid unaware of who I was. It wasn’t until after the Moricarni were all killed and they came down to the lower falls that Beragil recognized me.”

Videgavia sighed heavily before he asked, ”How did he take it?”

“They all were stunned. But Beragil has fortitude and he said he suspected you knew more than you let on.”

Videgavia snorted at that, ”I had very little to go on. Things just didn’t look right and I was unsure. A few scraps of burnt leather, and the missing knives made me decide you weren’t dead. So… they went east. You must have had something to go on?”

Hanasian nodded and he pointed north toward the tall mountains, ”I was up there scouting when the first rains came. I found many of the Moricarni gathering. I could not take them myself so I went east to discover where they were hiding.

“I found that they were coming over the mountains by a seldom used North Pass, probably made by the armies of Angmar to move between the east and west. That is why I wondered if they had infiltrated Dale.

“I would have preferred they had not gone that way, but Beragil was insistent. They likely found more coming this way. I am hoping they didn’t find their end up there.”

”How will we know, short of going that way ourselves?”
Videgavia asked.

Hanasian looked across at him and at his horse. The supply he carried would keep him for some time, even on a hard road through the North Pass. The only trouble would be the weather, hoping to cross the mountains before the weather turns chill and the snows close the way. Hanasian looked west in the direction of the North Downs, shrouded now in the mists.

He looked again to the north, ”We could… we should. They were confident they would make it but if they were delayed, they would need supply. But it’s late in the season to go now…”

Both Hanasian and Vid had a degree of admiration for the three Rhuadurian men. They were rough yet had some Dunedain blood in their veins. More to the point, they were the sort of men that would see the Company through the days ahead. Videgavia and Hanasian agreed that they would take their trail and ,if they were lucky, they would reach Dale despite the lateness of the season.

They set out north and by morning light, they turned for the east. The way led through difficult paths that only grew harder as the days passed. The autumn rains came early to the high mountains and the dry creek beds soon became torrents of white water – impassable even if they were fish and not men or horse. They holed up in the crags in hope that the heavy rains would blow over and only ventured out when it tapered back to a steady fall. They had a hard time finding sign of Beragil’s passage ahead of them but Hanasian managed to find a few clues along the way. Most of hints were on the ground and while most had been washed away, enough were found to assure Hanasian and Videgavia that they were on the Rhuadarain’s trail east.

Days later, the rain still fell, growing inexorably colder as they pushed higher into the mountains. They ploughed on in the miserable greyness of the clinging sodden clouds, when they sheltered in a deep cut in the rock. The next morning they were awakened by something bright. It was the sun. Not was the sky now clear, it was cold! The last of the rain had turned to snow at this elevation, and a soft white blanket covered everything. Vid and Hanasian wrapped their heads and faces and left only a slit to see from. The glare was blinding and squinting through the slit helped keep them from going blind. They crossed the summit and slowly made their way down the east side. As night drew every closer, each day arriving sooner, they stopped in a place by a lone gnarled tree. It didn’t take much looking to find sign of recent activity.

”They had been here, perhaps a fortnight ago,” Hanasian said as he peered at the ground in the failing light.

”There’s been a fight too,” Vid said as he knelt beside rocks marked with faded blood.

A walk around the area only confirmed this conclusion. There had been a reasonably sized party of men here and the only way Beragil and his two companions could have prevailed against such numbers was through the element of surprise. Still, the two men walking around the site now found no bodies.

”We’d best not get caught out like they did. Let’s move,” Hanasian said as they mounted up.

The track was easy to follow now as hoof marks of three horses led them forward down the slope. The following day, a sunny morning surrendered to the approach gray clouds from the north and it wasn’t long before the rain returned. Hanasian pondered the signs and thought of the instructions he given the men Aragorn had assembled back in Bree. He had re-iterated it to them again before they left. He could see though, that they had seen and done hard things since that night in Bree. He considered the fight they must have been in. Perhaps ten men had been killed there by that gnarled tree, more than Hanasian had expected to find clustered together on this side of the mountains.

It was clear to him now that the Moricarni had held this way east and that they, he and Videgavia and the three Rhuadarian rangers at the forefront, had closed the route. The Moricarni had come west, ready to fight, and that suggested that they had planned this for some time. It was likely his work in the Ettenmoors may have set their hand in motion sooner than they liked. But now, how could he know how many are still east of the mountains? That is why they had to get east to Dale. They had to find out how much the Northmen know about them.

The rain was sparser on the eastern side of the mountains but as they worked their way down, the rain fell harder and the gorges filled with water. The air grew colder upon the gusting north wind and the next day the rain was freezing. Winter was coming early. Hanasian could feel it. They were fortunate to have made it east of the Misty’s this late and now he would likely have to stay east until spring now. Once they got below the tree line, they slowed to scout the ways, searching and watching and finding places where they had camped. But they encountered no one, and any supply that had been there had been moved. It appeared they had not found the North Pass soon enough. It was doubtful any more of the Moricarni could get into Eriador from the east now, if indeed any remained eastward at all.

Hanasian thought hard back to the last time he had been in Dale. So much had been swirling around them then, plots and rebellions and traitors and the peril they posed to his wife and the child she carried. Their first born. He strained to remember someone in Dale he might be able to trust now. He also wondered who may be there that remembered him. It had been many years. With his scarring and his greyed hair, he looked nothing like he had when they were last there, but still he had to be careful. There was possibility he would be recognized. The only people he could trust, Hanasian concluded, was Videgavia and Beragil.

The rain did not abate. Instead, it became colder still and confirmed that winter had indeed arrived east of the mountains as was making itself felt as they drew closer to Dale. They reached a decrepit, abandoned cabin where they found respite from the incessant rain and readied themselves to reach Dale the following day.

When the early morning came, it found two men abundantly relieved to have found at least one night under the shelter of a roof. They left what remained of their dwindling supply at the cabin and made their way towards Dale. When they arrived at Hunter’s Rest Roadhouse, they found Beragil and his men. At first, Hanasian assumed they taking respite from the hard road over the mountains but he realised that they had likely been at the roadhouse for at least a week, if not longer. Videgavia didn’t miss the sign Beragil gave to them nor the face of the rough man by the bar. Hanasian had noticed the rough man right away and challenged himself by walking to the bar and standing there next to him.

”Hot tea and some bread,” he rasped.

The bar maid gave him a kindly smile and, without a word, had some bread and butter before him and poured out steaming mug of tea. She looked familiar in a distant way but Hanasian couldn’t put his finger on it. Perhaps, he thought, it was one of those drawings he had found back at that cabin near Bree. He would have talked to her, but he couldn’t risk her recognizing him, nor did he have the time. He dropped his coins on the counter, took his tea and bread, went over to the table Videgavia had claimed and sat.

For now, it was best they act like they knew not Beragil and his two companions. They were into a deep game of cards with some locals, and Hanasian guessed that Beragil was maybe on to something. Vid kept looking at the rough man at the bar. He sat his empty flagon down and paid for his service, and walked to the door. He looked around before leaving, but didn’t seem to pay any them any heed. Vid recognized him as one of the card players that the Company men sat in with when they were there many years ago. He, like Vid, was much older now, and his cough was harsh and unhealthy sounding. Vid considered following him out the door, but Hanasian put his hand on Vid’s arm to forestall him. It was best not to tip one’s hand here. So Videgavia instead ordered some tea from the serving maid that passed by their table.

Coming to the Hunters Rest had proved a wise decision, even though there may be some around who remembered the Company. It had reunited them with the Rhuadarian rangers and thus, a risk worth taking. After staying the night, Hanasian settled up his bill and left the following morning. They had pushed their luck far enough and it was wise that Hanasian fell back to the old cabin while Videgavia remained on at the roadhouse with Beragil and his companions. All the while, the men played cards and this was for one reason alone: the information gleaned from such a pursuit was rich and extensive.

Beragil had discovered why the Moricarni had left the area and that had proved sufficient for them to be able to track down the few Moricarni that had lingered on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains. As for Hanasian, it was soon proved fortunate that he had left the roadhouse when he hand. Too many of the Guardsmen frequented the Hunter’s Rest and there were a few amongst them yet that had been young guards when the Company had last been there. Some recognized Videgavia but he was able convince them that he had not been in Dale since the days of his youth.

A week passed and, alone in the cabin, it seemed to be an eternity to Hanasian. It gave him entirely too much time to think. He considered going back to Hunter’s Rest more than once but he did not wish to attempt fate any more than he already had. So Hanasian sat alone in the old cabin, wondering why he had come here instead of continuing the fight in the Ettenmoors. There he had been busy, spared the relentless onslaught of his thoughts and the gaping chasm of his loneliness and longing for his wife and children. Still, even as he questioned himself, he knew why he had crossed the mountains. The Moricarni were growing suspicious of his shadow as he hunted them through the Ettenmoors. He would have been found out, either by the gathering Moricarni, or by the ever-increasing vigilance of the Rangers in the area. It was necessary for him to leave and he knew he had work to do here.

Waiting for Videgavia and Beragil was excruciating but necessary. He passed the rainy days writing. He wrote to Rosmarin, to Hanavia and to each of his children. The hardest of all of those was the letter he composed to Hayna, the son he had yet to so much as glimpse. His thoughts turned to the woman he had buried at the cabin near Bree, and he took from his pack the leather bound pouch that held her pencils. He looked at one at length and then he drew a likeness of a small child: a boy, with his mother’s sweet smile and mischievous, twinkling eyes.

Hanasian had lost track of days when Vid and the Rhuadurians came at last to the cabin. Videgavia wasted no time telling Hanasian that they had to go. What they had managed to learn at Hunter’s Rest was nothing short of incredible.

The Daleman said without hesitation, “We must seek the Lord of Dale. It seems he knows much about those whom we seek. He had started seeking them out himself and… dealt with them with extreme prejudice. It was because of this that they pushed west in greater numbers. We can’t be sure of their strength, but it would seem the Moricarni were better established than we guessed. We can only hope that the Dalemen have been thorough. Perhaps we can try and find out what led him to take the actions that he did.”

Hanasian nodded. It was worth a try and he resolved would go along, even at the risk of being recognized. Anything to be spared the torment of his thoughts and fears. They decided to ride in as Rangers, but without further insignia than that.

Winter lay thickly over the land by the time they came to the halls of Dale. Beragil acted as the leader of the five Rangers, with Vid and Hanasian standing to the rear. This would be a test for the young ranger, and they all assembled behind him. When the Lord of Dale decided to speak privately with Beragil, the two elder rangers relaxed. When Beragil returned, much later, he beckoned the others to follow him out onto the streets of the town. They mingling with the people near the markets and purchased a few items before they moved on. Only once the town’s lamplights had faded into the distance, shrouded by the lightly falling snow, did Beragil speak.

”The Lord of this land had good knowledge of our quarry and he was aware that many had left for the west. Had he the resources, he would have prevented it and he was anxious that this is conveyed to Arnor. He is assured that any who are not in his dungeons have been either killed or escaped west. I was not so sure myself until he divulged that he had even arrested a few of his own guard!”

“How long has he known of them?”
Hanasian asked.

Beragil answered, ”A few years. He held his hand until he was sure and he moved swiftly once he decided he knew enough. He did say that he seeks one in particular – a man who is quite mysterious. My suspicion is it was the same fellow that was sighted in Bree some time ago. The Lord’s commander gave me some information on where he suspects this man may be wintering over. He didn’t want us to alert this man to the Lord’s suspicions concerning his location.”

The five men made their way back to Hunter’s Rest and for a week they tarried and watched. The grey days and chill nights trickled by slowly land they came to suspect they were following a phantom lead. It came one night, late, when the skies had cleared. A moon shone brightly through the bitterly cold land, bathing it in crystalline silver light as the five men silently followed the man they were sure was the mastermind, the commander of the Moricarni known in Bree as Shadow. They hung back and watched him go into a hut. Moving quickly, they had surrounded the place as best five men could whilst remaining unseen. Swift movement of one of the Rhuadurian rangers carried him to the hut door, where he quickly set the structure alight. The choice of burning the cabin down was a harsh one, for they could not know not who else may be inside. As the fire spread no one fled the flames and there were no cries, no screams.

Once the fire died down, their search revealed a lot, mostly what was not discovered. There were no bones, no bodies. Hanasian was careful to look at what remained of the flooring and under the cabin for traces that someone, the man they had seen enter the hut, but there was none. Somehow their quarry had gotten out unseen. Or perhaps he had never gone in? At first they could find no sign, but as they cast about more widely Hanasian noticed light footprints in the snow. Somehow Shadow had slipped their grasp when they were moving into position. Videgavia, Hanasian and the three Rhuadarian rangers set themselves to tirelessly track Shadow.

For days it seemed as if the man was always just ahead of them, by one step. Still, as the days passed, Shadow’s lead seemed to diminish in his haste to move south and east. One step was eroded to half a step ahead but then, their vigilance and persistence came to naught. The trail went cold, and Hanasian could not shake the feeling Shadow had mirrored his own disappearance. But despite this, they were confident they had destroyed every trace of the Moricarni in Rhovanion. With winter passing, then five made for the East Road as soon as they thought the High Pass could be crossed

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Company was glad to finally arrive in Bree. For those who came from Edholland it had been a very long march indeed, with little respite. After a brief rest in Tharbad, they had resumed the march north through weather that was nothing short of miserable. Consequently, it was no surprise that the men looked forward to being off their feet for a few days. The news that they would have to push on from Bree for the Forsaken Inn, another day’s march east, was not welcome news. With their numbers, most would have to stay in their tents in the field south of the Inn. With it being winter, this was not anything the men wanted. But then, this was the Company and Videgavia, had he been there, would have had little sympathy for their complaints or discomfort. There were worse fates for the Company than aching muscles and wet, cold clothing.

The fields to the south and east of the Forsaken Inn were transformed into a military camp by the arrival of the Company. In Videgavia’s absence, they would have to decide who would be acting captain and this loomed large over the Company. It would have to be resolved before they deployed, as everyone assumed that was what they had been assembled to do, but it seemed the Company wanted to put that off for as long as possible. Neither Berlas or Loch wanted to be tagged with the full responsibility and the two men seemed to have an unspoken agreement that the orders issued by one would stand for all. Despite this, there would come a time when these two would have to decide between them.

That day came in the dead of night after a particularly hard snowfall. The skies had cleared and the full moon lit the land in a harsh, bright palate of grey and black and white. Berlas stood on the knoll that fell away to the south, about a mile from the Inn and looked out over the quiet silvery grey land. Each of his breaths pushed out a cloud that glinted in the moonlight as it dissipated into tiny icy crystals in the still air. The silence wrapped around him made things seem otherworldly, and but for the soft crunch of footsteps approaching, no sound could be heard. With his hand on the hilt of his sword, he turned to find Loch approached, trying to get solid footing on the slope as he came to join Berlas.

”It’s a chill one tonight,” Loch said as he pushed his feet deep to get up the last couple steps to the hilltop.

Berlas turned toward him and grunted. It was rather obvious that things were quite frozen. The two commanders of the Black Company stood silently gazing over the land. Loch pulled a pouch of fine Southfarthing pipeweed out along with his pipe and offered some to Berlas. Grunting again, Berlas reached inside his fur wrap and drew out his pipe. Loch loaded a fair amount into it and did the same to his own. They both put their pipes in their mouth and drew in.

The sweet taste was relaxing in itself, but Berlas broke the silence and said, ”How do we light this? We don’t have a fire up here.”

“No, we don’t,”
Loch said with a slight puzzled look on his face, for he’d not realised this until Berlas mentioned it.

Then he fumbled for the satchel slung around his torso, and pulled out a small block of stone. Checking that he had some dry straw lying in its cut away slot, he said, ”Darius gave me this. Said it could make a flame. Do you think it will be alright to chance up on this rise?”

Berlas looked around and saw that the only ones they would give away their position to would be a Company insomniac or man simply too cold to sleep comfortably.

Berlas said, ”I think it’s worth the risk, just to see if Darius’ contraption works. Provided we can get this done and the flame extinguished before any of the stickybeaks below decide to come and see what is going on.”

Loch said as he knelt down and set to work.

A few sparks from the stones in his hand had the straw smouldering, and a chill breath erupted it into a flame. Loch tipped his pipe and drew in, igniting the pipeweed. Berlas was quick to kneel and repeat the process. After that, Loch dumped the straw cinders into the snow and everything was again dark. Clouds of smoke arose from each man as they straightened to their feet again.

Berlas nodded as he felt his shoulders unknot, ”Many thanks, Lochared. I’ve had nothing decent since Tharbad, and even then only on occasion.“

“Young Butterbar from the Prancing Pony owed me from a while ago… Back when my sister and I first took the Company oath there. I have Wulgof and Mulgov to thank really. I picked up a couple of their card tricks and I tried them out in a game with the inn staff.”

He drew in on his pipe to keep it from going out but Berlas had no problem keeping his lit while listening to Loch.

Loch shook his head, ”Rin’s card tricks were always too complicated for me. The ones I picked up from those two, though, worked a treat. And this, I think, is worth the wait.”

Berlas exhaled a thin stream of fragrant smoke, ”You won a couple favours but couldn’t collect before we left?”

Loch exhaled a cloud that lingered around his head, ”Something like that. Anyway, he’s paid in full now. I have plenty of the Shire’s best, and even had a keg of the Green Dragon’s finest ale sent over to the Forsaken. Don’t plan on breaking it out just quite yet though.”

The two stood silently as they enjoyed their pipes. Looking around at the camp below, it appeared they got away with not raising any curiosity with the quick flame but the silence was tense. They both knew it.

It was Loch who ventured into the morass first, ”Do you know what became of Captain Videgavia?”

Berlas let the smoke out slowly, making a long stream of cloud before damping his pipe on his sleeve. The ashes fell away in a silent wisp.

He said, ”No. I’ve not had an order from him in nearly a year.”

Loch let his last draw seep slowly out of his mouth before trying to get more from the dying ember. He took his pipe from his mouth and turned it, letting the ash and the last ember fall to the snowy ground.

He nodded, admitting, ”I’ve heard from him since then but he seemed to not put much into it. I heard he was in Bree around Midsummer, but I did not learn that from him.”

Loch drew on his empty pipe in hopes there was something that would ignite, but there was only cool air. It was, he decided, time to just say it.

”I can’t say what became of Vid, but should it come to a head, you should take on the captaincy. You deserve it, Berlas.”

Berlas coughed and spit on the ground.

He glared over at Loch, ”Are you wanting to stick it to me with overall command of this mob? The majority are Easterlings who look to either you or Khule, and the rest mostly Gondorian or Rohirrim soldiers who were too young and missed out on the war.

“The word back in the day when Hanasian was still our captain was that you were the one with the spirit to lead the Company. Vid knew that, the old crew knew that and I knew that. You’re the one who’s meant to be captain, Loch.

“Now I am not saying that Vid isn’t, but he has clearly not been really been the same since… since Hanasian died in Bree. I think it hit him quite hard, and he’s not really been with us since, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I may have a vague idea,”
Loch replied vaguely, confident in increasing measure that he really wasn’t sure what Berlas meant.

Berlas kicked some snow out and it spread into a shower of frozen crystals in the moonlight. They were silent for a time, looking out over the camp.

Then came Berlas’ turn to break the silence between them, ”Look, I know I could be captain and I would probably be good at it. But I think you have the stomach for it. So should it come down to it, I’ll be voting for you as captain. And I’ll encourage anyone who asks me about it to do the same.”

Loch was somewhat stunned that he could be made captain. Berlas had by rights the inside track. He would do well but everything the former Ithilien Ranger had said suggested that Berlas really did not have the appetite for it. Frankly, Loch wasn’t sure that he did either.

To solidify his point, Berlas added, ”I think something big is coming, and I think we will be moving out soon. Hopefully we will have some clear vision of our objective. I think it best that you act as captain, and I’ll be your second. We need to unify on this, show the men we are one.”

Loch didn’t have anything to say at first, but then reluctantly added, ”I don’t want the men to think I’m made captain because my sister is the Lady of Cardolan…”

Berlas waved that aside, ””It will be a fair vote when it comes. Should you not have the confidence of the men and you lose the vote, then so be it. But I’m saying that wont happen.”

They again fell silent and after a while Loch gestured that he was about to attempt to descend the icy hillside, on his feet rather than any other extremity. Berlas nodded and started out, Loch in his wake, and as they navigated the treacherous slope Loch began to talk.

”Something has kept me awake for a couple of nights now…I…um…I had a dream the other night, before I left Bree. Now, if Rose was with me, I’d think she was manipulating my mind. It was so real, so intense.”

“I really don’t want to hear about your wife and-“

“No, Berlas! I didn’t dream about Rose. At least, not the dream I’m talking about now.”

Berlas heard the man behind him falter and sigh heavily before he blurted out, ” I am pretty sure, and maybe even could be as bold to say that I believe, that Hanasian is alive.”

Berlas looked back as his boot heel slipped forward on the snow. He caught himself and said, ”Hanasian alive? Wouldn’t we all like that to be true – no one more than your sister! But he wouldn’t just vanish like that, not with his family and all. Still, he were alive, he’d come right up here and slap the Captain’s baton right into your chest.”

Berlas skidded on his boot heels and slid down the last of the hill. Loch followed suit. They were back down in the camp where the smoke from the dying fires lingered in the air. They didn’t say a thing as they parted to go their separate ways: Berlas to his tent, and Loch to the inn where he had taken a room.

The morning dawned late but was bright with a sun that struggled to give the men any warmth. The cook fires blazed and the inn’s chimney issued a wisp of smoke into the pallid blue sky. Despite the frigid chill, the men pushed through their daily drills if only to say warm. The camp buzzed with tension, for this was the day that their patron was expected. Envoy of Arnor, commander of the Rhuadar campaign, Crown Princess Rosmarin of Cardolan would ride in at any moment and the orders were clear – neat, tidy, professional and orderly. The Lady was said to possess a keen eye for detail and had very clear expectations when it came to military encampments. Above all, they must be clean. And as the sun reached as high as it would get, she came riding toward the inn amid a phalanx of Rangers. They would get their orders to ride north into the Ettenmoors this day.

[ 08-09-2015, 04:30 AM: Message edited by: Elora Starsong ]

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
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Rosmarin’s arrival was neither unlooked for nor concealed. She, and the Rangers accompanying her, rode openly without attempt to hide their presence. They were stark against the snowy land. Still, for all of that, the Lady of Cardolan did not arrive with banners unfurled. Aside from the silver roses that pinned the Ranger’s thick winter cloaks, there was little at all to announce her identity. For instance, she did not come in gilded carriage as some of the Company had supposed and as a result, the chief architect of that particular rumour made a tidy sum when the wagers came due. Wulgof was busy counting his winnings and reflecting on the gullible natures of new recruits, by which he meant anyone who signed on after he had, whilst Molguv peered over the heads of the Company men that had gathered to watch the Lady’s arrival.

”Hmmmm,” Molguv rumbled, able to see clearly despite the attempts age had made to bow his height, ”That’s interesting.”

“What is?”
Khule asked, unable to see overly much for the press, but Molguv did not answer immediately.

Wulgof stashed his winnings and looked up at the Haradian, ”Well? Answer the Easterling! What’s interesting?”

Molguv shook his head thoughtfully, ”You’ll see.”

“Useful as ever,”
Wulgof muttered, dissatisfied, but Khule was not content to merely complain.

He slipped forward, moving reasonably agilely despite his years, into the press. Wulgof scowled as the Easterling’s silvered head vanished from sight. Age had turned him in a piece of wizened leather left out in the sun too long but it was different for the other two. Khule became increasingly distinguished to the point that nearly half the Company (the Easterling half) bowed and scraped and deferred to him as if he were the Lady of Cardolan. As for Molguv, he still carried enough bulk to draw a certain gravitas. His inclination to fall asleep on the spot meant that the Company men had learnt to keep a wide berth of the Haradian if only to avoid being crushed beneath his suddenly comatose form. Wulgof, though, well as per usual the mounting years had not be kind and it only served to prove the Dunlending’s belief that in general, life was just not fair.

Molguv turned away and set off down the row of tents. Wulgof scurried after him by instinct alone. A quick check over his shoulder confirmed that the men were scattering too. He followed the Haradian all the way back to the tent they shared. Inside was a brazier that Molguv had purportedly won a few nights ago in a game of dice at the Forsaken Inn…even though the Company men had strict orders to stay well clear of the Inn. Wulgof had a theory of his own about how Molguv had come by the brazier but as the proprietor of the Inn had yet to complain about theft, he had no choice but to accept the Haradian’s explanation. In any case, he was content to let the matter rest for the brazier brought welcome respite from the damnable cold that infested Arnor this time of year.

”What we need,” Molguv announced as he shouldered into the warm interior, ”Are carpets. Perhaps a hanging or two for the tent walls.”

Wulgof snorted with contempt for the idea but the Haradian was not so easily put off, ”We’re going further north and it’s only going to get colder. You’ll be whining and sniveling like the greenest recruit without a few more necessary…items.”

“I’m not carrying carpets, or hangings,”
Wulgof announced flatly and crouched by the brazier to feed it more wood.

Wulgof groaned as he lowered himself down to sit on his dry, warm bedroll and asked, ”Who said anything about carrying?”

The Dunlending squinted over at him, ”Good luck getting near those wagons Berlas brought up with him. He won’t let anyone near ‘em and he keeps them guarded – day and night. The man’s as prickly about those wagons as I’ve ever seen him!”

“There’s a way,”
Molguv persisted, ”There always is.”

“Even if there is, as soon as we get them on there they’ll vanish. Nothing’s safe from the mob of thieves this Company is.”

Molguv tapped the side of his nose and smiled mysteriously at Wulgof, ”Not if the wagons continue to be guarded.”

The Haradian’s smile grew as Wulgof considered the elegance of the notion. They’d have the most comfortable tent in all the Company and they deserved it. No one had served longer than they, except Videgavia and Videgavia had up and disappeared on them. Wulgof nodded appreciatively and then shivered violently as Khule pushed into the tent, admitting a spear of icy air as he did so.

The Easterling bore down on the brazier and held his hands over the guttering flames for warmth, teeth chattering. As he rubbed at his chilled, aching hands, he glanced over to where Mulgov was stretched out and nodded.

”Interesting indeed. We’ll have to do something about that.”

“I know,”
the Haradian rumbled.

”What? Do something about what?” Wulgof demanded, eyes bouncing between the other two men in the tent.

Khule speculated, ”Though for the life of me, I cannot understand why Farbarad has not done something already.”

“The Wolf may not know Doc carries Naiore Dannan's sword.”

At the mention of that cursed name, Wulgof turned his head and spat on the bare earth he squatted upon.

”Hanasian ought never have given her that thing,” Wulgof grumbled, ”Not like she needed the thing anyway. We already knew what she could do with a set of knives by then.”

“None of that changes the fact that she carries it with her now,”
Khule said, unwilling to reopen that old debate between them, ”And if the Moricarni realise the woman who leads the campaign against them carries their dead mistress’ sword…”

Khule knew he need not finish the statement and for a moment there was grim silence in the tent as the Dirty Three considered their various options.

”Going to be a hell of thing to get it off her,” Wulgof declared and the other two men nodded.

But then Molguv smiled, ”Then again, it will be a case of long overdue justice. Won’t it Khule?”

A smile flickered over Khule’s face at the Haradian’s question. So many years ago, a certain waif had dared rob them in broad daylight even though they’d tried to lend her assistance. And now…well now it was time to turn the tables on her.

’When?” Khule asked, ”Tonight?”

Molguv and Wulgof nodded in agreement and Wulgof added, ”She’ll get the inspection out of the way first, then serve up the details on our next assignment tonight. It’ll have to be late.”

Molguv declared as he stretched out on his bedroll, ”Time for a nap, then.”

There wasn’t, really, for the camp inspection was sure to begin imminently and the Dirty Three knew that Doc would be thorough. Still, the Haradian employed his knack for instantaneous sleep and was snoring within the minute of his announcement.

Wulgof eyed Khule while Molguv thundered away and, after a while, asked, ”How did she look to you?”

Khule withdrew his hands from the brazier and tucked them under his arms, ”Tall and fair.”

“Of course she was! She’s been like that since we first clapped eyes on her!”

“She’s made herself into a weapon, Wulgof. That’s how she seemed to me. All steel and deadly promise. A beautiful weapon to match the one that swings from her hip.”

Khule’s tone sounded as sad as it was pensive and the Easterling seemed lost in his thoughts for a while before he shook his head. Wulgof watched the Easterling’s dark eyes sharpen again.

”She’s become what we shaped her to be,” he said softly and Wulgof’s mouth turned down at the corners.

”You know,” he admitted solemnly, ”Somehow I don’t think that’s a good thing.”

Rin knew from the way Berlas’ smile was plastered to his face that he was taken aback. It had been years since she had seen the former Ithilien Ranger and so she guessed that her appearance must come as a shock to him. Well, she thought, if Berlas had six children to rear alone, a realm to manage, a kingdom to keep tabs on for the king and a military campaign to run all at once, he might look a bit different too. She strode towards him, hand outstretched to grasp his forearm despite his widened eyes and frozen smile. Berlas managed to recover his composure as she closed her gauntleted hand around his arm.

”Well met,” she murmured sardonically as she peered past his shoulder to the growing knot of men, ”This is them, then? All of them?”

“Aye, Doc,”
Berlas said as he released her armoured forearm and turned about to face the camp, ”Well over four hundred of us.”

“Will it be enough?”
she asked and Berlas shrugged.

”You tell me, Doc. You’re the one who knows what’s planned.”

Rin cut Berlas a sidelong glance, well aware that the fine art of guessing what the next orders might be had not perished amongst the Company since she had left its ranks.

Still, she let the statement slide and instead muttered, ”An old habit – talking to myself.”

“I imagine even you have to talk to someone sensible,”
Berlas answered and leaned back to grin at Farbarad where the Ranger stood close to hand.

Rin looked over to the Forsaken Inn a moment, ”Loch’s in there, I take it?”


“Then let’s get this inspection out of the way before he can do anything further about it,”
Rin declared, displaying her cynicism in a wide streak for Berlas.

”As you wish, your Grace,” Berlas replied, testing the waters to see what else had changed in the woman he had once known quite well.

Rin merely rolled her eyes and advanced towards the camp, hands clasped at her back and her cloak flapping at her heels. Berlas hurried to fall into step beside her and decided that, in short, mostly everything had changed about Doc. From the chain mail and armour she openly wore without complaint and, from all appearances comfortably, to her mannerisms and perspective on the world around them. As they went, he noted her keen eyes missed nothing. They were mostly grey in the light of early afternoon and he wondered if that still meant that she was deep in thought.

Men, including his sergeants, scattered at their approach and Berlas hoped his officers had the sense to alert the other men that inspection was imminent. He wondered what his officers would make of the woman by his side. She had never been what anyone might describe as a conventional member of the nobility. He wondered if that had changed since she had come to reside in Annuminas. Certainly her rank was elevated in Arnor above all others aside from the King and his heirs. The commonfolk, fondly, had taken to referring to her as the Queen of the North when they thought no one was listening. He knew she was frantically busy, rarely at home, constantly on the move and traveling. When she was done here, she was due down in Tharbad to formally open the new bridge.

Berlas glanced surreptitiously at her pale hair again and for a second time he found himself startled. The delicate golden hue he had known it to be was gone and in its place now was unmistakeable silver. Despite the fact she’d been ahorse for days on end to reach them here, it still shone in the sunlight, but with none of that golden glow. Her silver hair, coupled with her youthful Dunedain features rendered her beauty almost uncanny and otherworldly and perilous. On the other side strode Farbarad and Berlas saw the Wolf of Cardolan look gravely across at him. The Ranger nodded slightly, as if he could guess at the thrust of Berlas’ thoughts and Berlas returned his gaze to the camp ahead. Perhaps, he considered, it was unreasonable to expect Doc to be unmarked by the sadness that had defined her life. Hanasian had been beloved by her and then cruelly snatched away before his time. That, surely, had to leave a mark.

As was always the way with inspections, Berlas saw a fresh crop of shortcomings only just before Rosmarin noticed them. The men were nervous mostly, ducking their heads and touching their brows hesitantly as she passed. Still, she spoke to them as if she were one of them and usually they were left in her wake smiling and perplexed at how that had come to be. The Company medics were the most anxious of the lot and, after Rin had scrutinised everything and declared it satisfactory, the most profoundly relieved. The Cats swallowed her whole into their midst, leaving Berlas and Farbarad standing there to entertain themselves for a good while. Rin emerged with a genuine smile on her face, eyes twinkling, but soon a more solemn expression was in place as she continued on. The only greeting of a like the Cats had offered came from the Old Company. Daius and Donius rushed up to her as though they were lads, brimming with tales about new contraptions and ideas and competing with each other for her attention. The Dirty Three waited for her to come to them and that exchange was the one thing that went the way Berlas expected it to.

While they exchanged insults and insinuations with each other, Berlas edged closer to where Farbarad stood.

”I know,” the Ranger replied as soon as Berlas was in earshot, ”We’re doing the best that we can.”

“Hanasian would not have wanted this for her.”

“A lot happens that Hanasian didn’t want,”
Farbarad growled unhappily.

”It’s not my place,” Berlas apologised, surprised at how agitated Farbarad was.

”No, it’s not…but you’re right. She can’t go on like this much longer,” Farbarad bitterly declared, ”But you try telling her that!”

Loch came puffing up to join them, cheeks and ears reddened by the cold, whilst Rin was wrangling with the Dirty Three.

”What’d I miss? Why didn’t anyone tell me she was here?” his eyes narrowed as he considered his sister, ”She wanted it that way, didn’t she!”

“She did,”
Berlas told him and Loch sighed with his disgruntlement.

”That’s not fair,” he complained, ”Did she notice the-“

“Yes, she did,”
Berlas said and Loch heaved a second sigh as his eyes drifted to where the Company’s stores had been assembled.

Berlas watched Loch study the wagons there and those who guarded them and then flick his eyes to Berlas with a silent question. Berlas answered it with a shake of his head and that was that for Rin was done with the Dirty Three. She beckoned Berlas and Loch both to accompany her and once she was clear of the camp her questions began.

”What the hell are you thinking, Loch? The Dirty Three? War is no place for old men!”

“Those old men are the only ones who actually know what and who the Moricarni are. Would you rather we go in blind?”
Loch returned squarely.

Berlas saw Rin’s jaw tense at the response for a moment as they strode towards the inn, ”Well, I suppose they’re fool enough to want to meet their end anywhere but in a warm, comfortable bed.”

“Knowing those three, I think they’ll have acquired aforementioned warm beds no matter where they might be,”
Berlas offered to cut through the tension and was rewarded with a nod from her.

”Like as not, “ she said and then switched topic suddenly, ”The captaincy. Is it resolved? I’ll not have you take the field without a clear line of command.”

Loch said.

”Yes,” Berlas said and Rin climbed the broad wooden steps that led into the Inn.

She turned at the top to consider them both, ”Vote in an acting captain.”

“Still no word on Vid?”
Loch pressed and in response Berlas saw open worry flare.

She shook her head as she gazed north and east, ”Not yet.”

Rosmarin spun about on her boot heel and reached for the Inn’s door, ”Report back to me this evening.”

Just like that she was gone, with Loch and Berlas standing in front of the steps to the Inn.

”I bet she’ll take my room, too,” Loch said and then glanced at Berlas to shrug, ”So now what?”

“We vote,”
Berlas said emphatically, ”I’m not coming back here without an outcome, are you?”

“Suppose not,”
Loch allowed and Berlas guessed that Doc’s brother was perhaps not as intimidated by her as the others were.

Loch turned for the camp again, hands thrust deep into his pockets and boots crunching over snow.

”How long has she been…you know…like that?” Berlas inquired.

”It was worse. Much worse. This is actually better,” Loch told him.


“She smiles now. Sometimes,”
he explained and glanced at Berlas, ”And she’s different with the children. Not so grim and stern.”

Berlas nodded to himself and, after a few steps, ”But she doesn’t laugh anymore, does she.”

Loch admitted, ”Nor does she dance or sing.”

”She didn’t even greet you,” Berlas said, ”Are you quarreling with her?”

”No – she doesn’t want anyone thinking she shows me favour. Nothing more than that. She knows how the men gossip.”

“Ah, I see,”
Berlas said, relieved that at least she was not estranged from what family she had left.

The pair split up as soon as they entered camp, for organising a vote took time and effort both. By the time it was done, it was past sundown. Loch trudged through the campfires, shoulders hunched dejectedly, for the Inn.

”Told you,” Berlas said quietly, the only thing he had said since the votes had been cast.

”You needn’t gloat,” Loch grumbled, guessing that Berlas had a grin from ear to ear in the darkness, ”And anyway, it’s only acting captain.”

The pair found Rosmarin a table by the common room hearth. The fireplace was well alight and it cast the Lady of Cardolan and the Rangers she sat with in a flickering glow. Rosmarin had cast her plate armour aside for the evening. Steel no longer glinted across her torso, atop her shoulders or down her arms. Her hair was combed out smoothly and loosely braided to fall in a thick river of silver down her left shoulder. The table was in deep, quiet conversation as Berlas and Loch approached. From what they heard, it appeared to be in Adûanic and Rin was nodding while one of the Rangers spoke.

Their arrival in the common room had not gone unnoticed. With the Lady of Cardolan in residence, the Forsaken Inn’s common room was littered with more Rangers than it had ever before seen. Some were stationed here permanently now, Loch had discovered, disguised as inveterate customers of the Inn. He wasn’t sure how Rin had managed to accomplish that but he admired the move all the same and he had spent the few days waiting for her arrival trying to figure out which of the regular drunks were in fact Rangers. He was pretty certain the man that permanently occupied the far left bar stood was one but he’d yet to make his mind up about the one that liked to sit in the darkened corner by the stairs. Give a Ranger a few days in the wild and they tended to go a touch feral, in Loch’s experience.

The Rangers at the table with his sister were no less wild and dangerous for all of the fact that they were more neatly accoutred. Their conversation faded away as Rin looked up at him and Berlas. Her eyes bounced between them both for a moment.

”Are you going to make me ask?” she inquired as the Rangers with her watched on.

Her hands were loosely wrapped around a mug of tea, long fingers not tapping or otherwise tense yet.

”Your brother has been voted acting captain,” Berlas said when it was clear Loch could not bring himself to answer and Rin nodded her acceptance.

”Good,” she declared and then asked her brother, ”Doesn’t it feel better to at least have that resolved?”

Loch combatively replied, ”You’ve not told me yet what you’ve got in for us and besides, it wasn’t a fair vote.”

Rin lifted a brow at his statement and looked to Berlas for an answer which he supplied, ”He thinks I stacked the vote.”

“Did you?”

“No more than usual.”

“It’s done then. Have a seat, gentlemen.”

At her words two Rangers rose and made for the door to the Inn. Loch sat into one recently vacated chair, muttering about how it wasn’t done and it was only a temporary measure, while Berlas took the other.

”Your next commission...” Rin began, switching to the Company patois out of habit and then pausing.

Berlas thought he saw true concern, if not outright fear in her eyes for a moment and beside him Loch shuddered.

”I hate it when you do that, Rin! Just tell us, for pity’s sake!”

“You’re to relieve the Rangers currently holding the Rhaudar line. They are to fall back into Western Arnor as they see fit, bearing in mind that the King is eager to restore Fornost. That is to serve as their base.”

“Fornost? What’s next, Amon Sûl?”
Berlas inquired and Rin’s eyes travelled to his, unreadable and impassive.

”In time, Berlas,” she answered calmly, ”I am of one mind with King Elessar in this. The northern realm is to be restored fully and, mark my words, I will see it done. Do you take issue with this, Man of Gondor?”

Berlas blurted out, startled.

She studied him a moment longer and then frowned, her brow crinkling, ”Fornost…Western Arnor…Rangers…where was I?”

Farbarad leaned in to murmur something in her ear and Rin’s confusion cleared, ”Yes, now I have it. My thanks, Wolf. The Company is to hold the Rhuadar line throughout the course of winter. Then, once the season clears, you are to commence occupation of Rhuadar. I want to Moricarni extinguished in Rhuadar once and for all.”

“How long are we to occupy Rhuadar?”
Loch asked.

”As long as it takes. If it can be done in a year, I will triple the Company’s pay. I suspect, however, that it will take at least two summers. And, if you have not guessed, the coming winter will be bad. I have seen it. Getting into position will be your first challenge, surviving there will be your next. The Moricarni will be the relatively easy part.”

“What of Rhuadar itself, though? Are they supported there?”
Berlas asked and Rin grimaced.

”I do not yet know. I had hoped to learn that from Beragil, and failing that from Videgavia. Both have vanished…what I do have comes from the Rangers currently holding the Rhuadar line. They made easy progress at first but for the past six or so month they have been hard pressed to hang onto it. They’re tired, thinly spread, and will not withstand winter’s onslaught. I do not mean to see us lose ground won by their blood, nor do I wish to see the Moricarni break back into Western Arnor.”

Rin paused then and washed one of her hands over her face. She regarded Berlas and Loch solemnly.

”I believe the Moricarni must have support. I believe they are organised, they train and they must be recruiting. That suggests a command structure, a base of operations, somewhere in Rhuadar. Whatever the case, they are a sloppy cult dedicated to a dead Elf no longer. You should deal with them accordingly.”

“But if they are supported, then who supports them?”
Loch asked, ”I thought Rhuadar was largely deserted.”

“Plainly it is not,”
Rin replied, ”And bear in mind that whoever calls Rhuadar their home now reside within the greater realm of Arnor. They are subject to the King’s laws…and his protections. Am I understood?”

Berlas and Loch nodded slowly and Loch said, ”Don’t worry. I’ll keep them on their best behaviour.”

Rin sat back in her chair and Berlas realised that she must have been concerned indeed, ”Good…you had better…because Arnor has had quiet enough of tearing itself apart. Any Company man failing to abide by the King’s laws will meet with the full force of those laws himself.”

Their talk shifted to more practical matters such as supply. Rhuadar’s reputation as a rather bleak land had been worrying Berlas on that front so the assurance that Rin would keep the Company supplied was a welcome relief. As the evening pressed on, a simple meal of stew was served and the remaining Rangers drifted to other tables aside from Farbarad and another man, with strangely beaded and braided hair and a dangerous air to him. He didn’t look at all familiar to Berlas but despite that, the younger Ranger was clearly deeply within his mistress’ counsels. Every time the man caught Berlas studying him, his eyes glinted knowingly.

Once business was done, which occurred around about the time the last of the bread had been devoured, Loch leaned back in his chair and gestured at the commonroom.

”Are they all Rangers in here now?”

“They might be,”
Rin replied evasively and then canted her head at her brother, ”Why?”

“I was just wondering…idle curiosity.”

Rin picked up a fresh cup of tea and sipped at it patiently, waiting her brother out.

Eventually she won for Loch confessed, ”How? How’d you do it? How’d you slip them in here like that? How?”

For a moment Loch thought his sister would keep her methods to herself but she ended up lowering her mug, ”It’s simple, actually. I purchased the Inn.”

Loch’s jaw swung at her answer, ”You own the Forsaken Inn?”


“The Forsaken Inn?!”

“What of it?”

Loch cast a leery eye about, ”Well, of all the establishments the Lady of Cardolan might acquire, this does not exactly spring to mind first! Aside from the activities known to occur in and around this place, does it even turn a profit?”

“Depends on how you manage those activities you mentioned,”
Rin said and Berlas thought she was enjoying herself now. It was hard to tell.

”Banditry! Lawlessness! Petty larceny!”

“The occasional assassination too, I’m told,”
Rin added.

”But your job is to apply the King’s laws!” Loch argued and Rin rolled her eyes.

”Lochared, my job is no different to any of Aragorn’s nobles. We apply the King’s laws…most of the time in accordance with what best suits us.”


“Oh settle down!”
Rin snapped, ”I acquired the Inn for its strategic and tactical merit in the campaign, you idiot, not to turn a profit. If I charge in arresting its customers left, right and centre, what do you think will happen then, eh?”

Loch flushed and the dangerous looking Ranger that still sat at the table shook his head slightly.

”Oh, I see,” Loch admitted, ”That makes sense, I suppose.”

“Of course it does,”
Rin growled, ”And thank you for so readily thinking I was just like every other corrupt noble we’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter too! Did you honestly think that I’d-“

“I’m sorry, Rin! I am, honest!”

Rin sniffed at her brother but said nothing further. Berlas found the argument a refreshing piece of normality, both in how the siblings baited each other and the way Rin’s eyes flashed a deep, searing blue. Loch appeared genuinely contrite and in the aftermath the dangerous Ranger stood and excused himself.

Berlas was thinking about doing the same when Loch leaned forward over the table to reach for his sister’s hand.

”There’s, um, something I want to tell you about, if I might.”

Rin withdrew her hand, still stung, and crossed her arms over the faded green tunic she wore.

”That all depends on what you’re about to accuse me of next.”

“Nothing! I said I was sorry, didn’t I?”
Loch rejoined and withdrew his outstretched hand, ”I’ve had a dream.”

“We all dream,”
Rin replied, stubbornly intractable.

”No….a Dream, Rin. Like…like the ones you have.”

His sister’s truculence evaporated. She sat up straighter in her chair as she uncrossed her arms.

”I did not know you Dreamed, Loch. When did this start?”

“I don’t Dream…and it only happened the once a little while ago.”

“But you’re certain it was a Dream?”

Loch nodded, ”I just know it was.”

“I understand,”
Rin told him, her eyes glinting in the flickering firelight of the hearth, ”What did you see? All I see is ice and…well never mind the rest. What of you?”

Berlas found himself tensed in his chair, every muscle coiled as he willed Loch to silence. Loch didn’t even glance in his direction. Instead, his attention was centred on his sister across the table.

”Hanasian is alive,” he whispered.

Even though no one else would have heard it, Berlas thought the entire common room froze. Certainly Rin did. She did not so much as twitch or blink for the longest moment.

Then she said, ”I see.”

“I see? Hanasian is alive, Rin!”

“Yes, I heard what you said, Lochared,”
she replied, her voice taut as a bowstring and she looked to where Berlas sat, ”I’ll see you on the morrow, then. Good evening.”

Berlas stood as did the others at the table and watched Rin depart, her movements smooth and as tightly controlled as her voice had been. She disappeared up the stairs without a backwards glance and Berlas was struck by how strange her reaction had been. He was so busy staring after her that he did not realise Farbarad was moving until the Wolf of Cardolan had Loch by his shirtfront.

”Have a care,” the Ranger snarled, anger stamped on his face.

Loch pulled himself free of Farbarad’s grip and pulled his clothing straight, ”I’m not joking, Farbarad. Not about this. I know what I saw and she has a right to know!”

“Your sister nearly drove herself mad thinking that way,”
Farbarad snapped back, ”It was nearly the death of her!”

Berlas asked, shaken by the revelation.

Farbarad turned away, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides as he grappled for control of himself.

”She clawed her way back from the brink and I’ll not see that unravelled,” he said as he turned about to face them again, ”Not even by you, Lochared. Think what you want, but if you have any love for your sister then you will keep your thoughts to yourself.”

Loch nodded wordlessly and with that the Ranger strode away to take the stairs two at a time.

”I didn’t know,” Loch said quietly, stricken, ”I didn’t realise.”

Berlas clapped a hand on the acting captain’s shoulder, ”She’ll come good. You’ll see. She’s made of stern stuff.”

“I didn’t know,”
Loch repeated, ”How could I not know? She’s my sister.”

“Come on…you’d best spend the night in camp.”

Berlas led him away and offered the troubled man a berth in his tent. Loch passed a restless night tossing and turning and the clear morning that followed found the new acting captain taciturn and irritable. By contrast, his sister emerged looking as fresh as new snow. The Company assembled for her address and to hear their new commission and, with the blessings and well wishes of all within the Reunited Kingdom ringing in their ears, it was time to break came and set forth for Rhuadar.

For her part, Rin strode towards where her horse waited with the Rangers. They had saddled it for her that morning, despite the fact that she had not asked for it and usually preferred to saddle her horse herself. Everything was wrong this morning, including the empty air at her left hip. She had no idea how someone had made off with her sword and she should be wroth. She was, in fact…aside from that corner of her mind that was nothing short of relieved. She had come to hate that sword, and the Elf it had been fashioned for. It had haunted her nightmares, night after night, as had the sword’s original owner.

The hilt of the replacement caught her eye from where it had been lashed to her saddle. The thieves had been well meaning and she had three men in particular in mind. Why they had decided to acquire her sword was a mystery to her but for now she was content to let them have it. And, should they survive the winter that waited for them and the campaign beyond it, she could settle up accounts then. If anything, she was patient.

Rin swung up into the saddle and turned to watch the Company break camp. She lifted her arm to her brother and saw his own shoot up to wave energetically at him. Loch had been filled with self recriminations and regret that morning but given she was sending him into an uncertain future, she had no stomach for taking him to task. She had quarreled with Hanasian before he had left and would have to live with that regret through all the years ahead. She would not repeat that error with her brother.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If the sound of her weeping had been agonising, the silence that followed was worse still. The Ranger washed his hands over his face, felt the grit on his skin in the darkness that surrounded him, and tried to sustain his hope. As if by force of will alone would get him and his sister through this hell. Time had come adrift by the time he heard something in blank emptiness. Someone was unlocking the door and excitement collided with sudden dread. A shaft of sunlight blinded him and hands pulled him roughly into the searing light of what once been his sister’s sitting room.

The furniture was smashed, curtains torn and there were grotesque dark brown splashes on a floor his sister kept spotless.

The Ranger was dragged through this to the yard outside where his sister’s children, his nieces, had played on bright warm afternoons like this. He still did not know where they were but he feared the worst.

”You know what we want…you know what we can do,” whispered a voice in his ear and the Ranger whimpered miserably despite himself.

”Please…my sister…”

“She will be ours until you deliver us what we desire.”

“But it can’t be done! It’s not possible!”
he pleaded.

”Find a way.”

And just like that they were gone. When the Ranger dared pick himself up from the ground, he found the yard and house empty. But, by the post of his sister’s front gate there was the favourite toy of his youngest niece. He recognised the stuffed rabbit by it’s bright red vest for it’s head had been wrenched away. The Ranger crouched in the grass of his sister’s yard and buried his face in his hands.

What they asked was treason…but if he refused then he would be responsible for the murder of his sister and her daughters. Shaking, the man rose unsteadily to his feet and with each step, what he had to do firmed in his mind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

IV - 57

In Annuminas the winter’s end had arrived at last and the city streets were bathed in equal measure of relief and sunlight both. Windows were thrown open to admit the much sought after warmth. There were bright streamers and banners hung in all the colours of Arnor’s noble houses. Prominent amongst these was the black and silver standard of House Telcontar and rightly so for the King had returned to the north and with him had come his queen and his heir.

Receptions, banquets, balls glittered within the restored northern city. Minstrels and bards roamed widely. The trials of the winter past were brushed aside. Nestled liberally amongst the black and silver was another standard. This one was all of sapphire and silver and it belonged to a woman that was not in the city in late spring. She was far afield from her official duties in a place where spring had yet to arrive proper and, right at that moment, she was scowling at the thin crust of dirty snow that persistently clung to everything.

Her horse shifted beneath her. The gelding pushed out a heavy breath laden with impatience that she shared. Her brother was late and her business with him was nothing she was pleased to be conducting. Rosmarin of Cardolan tightened her fist around her reins and glanced over to where Farbarad was astride his horse. The ranger was focused elsewhere, his pallid grey eyes somewhere off to the north where, she presumed, his thoughts ran.

They waited in a copse of trees, branches still bare despite the lateness of the season. They had scarcely survived this past winter and well she knew it. The stores of Annuminas had nearly failed them. Had she not been able to move those willing south to her holdings in Edhellond, there may have been starvation outright. It had been close enough that she had genuinely feared outbreaks of unrest within the city for a good number of weeks. Then a horse had kicked a lantern over in a stable by the northern gate and the city had nearly burnt! Investigations were ongoing but so far, nothing had been found to suggest the fire had been deliberately lit. Annuminas had stood on the knife’s edge through the winter of IV – 56 and 57 and she had managed to pull them through it by the narrowest of margins.

”Just as well the White Wolves stayed away this time,” she muttered to herself but even though this was true, Rin harboured no small degree of dread for the winter to come.

Here, in the north, winter had not ended yet. Further south, spring had arrived but it was late. There was genuine concern that the harvest would fail and if that happened, all of Arnor would fall. Not just Annuminas but the entire northern realm! Underneath her layers of wool, fur, leather and steel, sweat dripped down her neck and spine. She needed to have a long, serious discussion with her cousin when she returned to the city. She’d put ships out far afield in the hopes that they may trade their way into replenishing their stores. Surely Rhun and Harad could not be so blighted by Fell Winters as Arnor had been. But if that failed, if those ships returned with anything but full hulls…

The sharp, clear whistle of one of the local birds, a dullish brown pheasant that made decidedly unpleasant eating as they had discovered, reached where Rin waited with the five rangers she had picked for this assignation. They were chosen for their skill and their capacity for discretion. Farbarad looked over to where she was and nodded. Rin pushed her thoughts back to the unpleasant matter at hand as Loch and his fellow commander, Berlas, rode at last through the trees. The thin, stubborn snow crackled under the hooves of their horses and left a clear trail of muddy brown crescents behind them.

”Sister,” Loch said curtly, already suspecting why she had taken the extraordinary measure of riding so far into Rhuadar.

Beside him, Berlas nodded politely and Rin urged her gelding forward to draw nearer.

”One question, gentlemen:” she said, adjusting her reins as her horse ambled towards the two men, ”Why? Chose your answers carefully indeed.”

Loch’s attempt to remain cool and calm evaporated and he launched into an impassioned accounting for the Company’s actions over the course of winter in Rhuadar. Berlas continued in his silence. No one could get a word in edgewise around her brother in any case. Rin waited for Loch to run out of bluster and, eventually, he petered off into silence with a shrug.

”Just so that I understand,” she said, ”The detachment in Tharbad thought the surplus incendiary powder the dwarves were using there might be useful and brought it with them. And this was subsequently involved in …how did you put it, Lochared?”

“It was a training mishap. An accident. We were still learning how to use the stuff.”

“A mishap,”
Rin repeated, ”You utterly rearranged an entire valley, turned it inside out and on its head…but it was just a training accident.”

“It wasn’t even a good one, as valley's go. Nothing but lizards and rocks really,”
Loch glanced to where Berlas was beside him, ”See, I told you she’d understand.”

“And how much of this powder do you have left?”
Rin inquired.

As Loch opened his mouth to answer, Berlas finally perceived the moment had come for him to speak.

”None of it, Doc. We used it all up,” Berlas said quickly and saw her eyes narrow suspiciously.

”It’s all gone?” she clarified and Loch recovered from his momentary confusion.

”All of it. In fact, we need more of it.”

“I see,”
Rin said quietly and the leather of her gloves creaked anew. She canted her head to one side, ”What does the Company make of this new weapon?”

“They see it’s potential, of course,”
Loch replied enthusiastically, ”It could bring this campaign to a close months earlier! Think of the lives saved!”

“And useless landscape features eliminated,”
Rin added, unable to keep her sarcasm out of her voice this time.

Loch missed that entirely in his relief that his sister had not arrested him and did not seemed inclined to do so, ”Exactly! Think of all that arable land…once the dust settles…and the rocks…you know what I mean, Rin.”

“I am afraid I do, Lochared. What did Wulgof make of it?”

“He thought it a grand idea. He said it worked at Helm’s Deep just fine,”
Loch said.

”Wulgof was on the losing side at Helm’s Deep,” Rin pointed out.

”Yes, but only because a whole cavalry of Rohirrim showed up at the last gasp. I don’t think these Moricarni have that, Rin. Do you? We know what we’re doing with this stuff now. Give some more and we’ll finish this off for you. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Peace? It’s been three years. Let us end it. You know what Vid would say were he here. Hanasian too,” Loch answered and saw his sister’s jaw tense as she clenched her teeth.

She looked away from them for a long moment before answering, ”Yes, as a matter of fact I do. But neither man is here now and even if they were, neither man is the commander of this campaign. That pleasure falls to me and me alone.”

When Rin looked back at Berlas and her brother, she let her anger shine clearly. Berlas sighed in defeat but Loch appeared genuinely surprised. When she next spoke, her voice was iron. It had to be. There was no other way.

”Mark my words well: I forbid outright the use of this wizard’s powder. I will not have Rhuadar saved by Saurman the White’s malice. I will not have Arnor’s stability imperilled by rash, thoughtless action here. I will not lay waste to Rhuadar just so that you can go home a little sooner. Is that clear!?”

“You’re making a mistake, and you’ll come to regret it!”
Loch burst out.

Rin’s tone became icy, ”They are my mistakes to make, brother!”

A short distance away, one of the rangers cleared his throat and Loch remembered himself. He shook his head sullenly and shifted in his saddle.

Berlas quietly said, ”We understand, Doc.”

Rin’s gaze snapped to the former Ithilien Ranger, ”You’d better, because the next time I hear of this I’ll have the heads of those responsible. Irrespective of who they belong to.”

Berlas nodded and endured her scrutiny until she released him. He was struck by a sudden recollection of the woman that had confronted him. It was that morning at the Prancing Pony, many years ago. Hanasian had only announced the evening before that she had signed on and the very next day they were gathered together to receive their next orders. Rin had arrived with cheeks flushed and hair tangled, slightly late, harried and breathless. While the rest of the Company had taunted her roundly, he had found himself seated beside her and unable to join in the fun. Instead, he’d discretely suggested that she untangle her hair.

She’d turned such a wide eyed look of dismay at him that he’d nearly drowned in her eyes. Then she had looked over to where their captain stood, irritably waiting for them to all settle down and her cheeks had burnt anew at the reproach Hanasian had no choice but to deliver. Now, he would be hard pressed to connect the woman on the horse to the woman he recalled all those years ago. Her trepidation and uncertainty had vanished and she looked as indeed she was: a daughter of kings, descended from the royal line of Núnemor.

Rosmarin drew a breath and broached a new topic, ”Your supply train should reach you in a week or two. I do not know when the next one can be gotten to you, so make it last. If this year’s harvest fails as they fear it will, you may be fending for yourselves like the rest of Arnor is.”

“Is it that bad?”
Berlas asked, shaken by the grim words.

”We’ll continue rationing. The men are accustomed to it,” Loch replied, voice flat with reproach, ”Any word of Vid?”

Rin shook her head testily, ”No, and if he’s any sense he’ll stay gone. I have no option now but to arrest and try him for desertion!”

“We’ll continue as we have been, then,”
Berlas said quickly and gathered his reins, ”Travel safely Doc. You’re a fair way into Rhuadar and a significant target for the Moricarni even without that sword of yours.”

Rin nodded shortly and Berlas wheeled his horse around and departed. Loch, however, remained where he was. Rin could tell he was brooding.

’Rin, it’s a mistake I tell you.”

“The matter is closed, Loch. I will discuss it no further,”
Rin said and watched her brother’s shaggy head turn aside.

She sighed unhappily and then reached for her nearest saddlebag. Rin drew out a bundle of paper wrapped in brightly coloured string. Her movement drew her brother’s attention and she tossed him the bundle.

”Rose sends her love,” she told him as he caught it.

”She’s well?”

“She misses you…but yes, she is well. I sent her south to Cardolan with the children. They are safer there, now.”

Loch nodded and turned the bundle over in his large hands.

”Loch?” Rin asked quietly and his head lifted so that his dark eyes, coals of anger still, met her own gaze, ”I want you to come home to your wife, whole.”

“I’m not going to get myself killed, Rin,”
he scoffed as Rin nudged her gelding closer still.

She reached out to wrap her hand around Loch’s wrist, ”That’s not what I meant. I know what it is carry that darkness within you…to wake sweating and shaking in the night, haunted by what you saw and worse, what you have done. Do not do that to Rose, Loch. Do not consign her to watch you suffer like that. Have done with this recklessness.”

Loch curved the fingers of his other hand over hers and squeezed a little, ”I understand, Rin.”

She nodded and knew she’d have to be content with that. He let her fingers slip out from underneath his own and she picked up her reins.

”Have you had any further Dreams?” she asked, eyes on a spot between her horse’s ears.

Loch looked over to where Farbarad waited, ”No.”

His answer was an honest one and he wanted to reassure her that it changed nothing. He knew his dream was true. He knew it. Instead, he let her go and she turned away for Annuminas. Loch remained where he was until Berlas slipped back out through the trees.

”That went as you expected,” Berlas observed, sounding surprised.

”Of course it did. She’s my sister,” Loch replied and tucked the bundle of letters into his saddlebags.

”Shame we couldn’t get any more of the stuff out of her.”

“Aye…but we’ve enough left for it to be of use to us all the same.”

“You mean to proceed?”

“I see no reason not to,”
Loch replied.

”I think she meant it, Loch. If your sister discovers what we’re doing here, she really will have our heads. Even yours.”

“I know,”
Loch said, ”Rin is not given to idle threats and we still don’t know how she got wind of that accident a month ago. If it wasn’t the rangers-“

“It wasn’t,”
Berlas said.

”Then my money is on the Cats. They’ve always been hers ever since Vid created the unit in Minas Tirith.”

“Whoever is responsible for it, we need to ensure we get to the bottom of it before we try to use the powder again. I really don’t want your sister showing up any angrier than she was.”

A lop sided grin surfaced from Loch’s beard, ”Haven’t seen her that mad in years.”

“Took a demolished valley to make it happen,”
Berlas said with a faint smile of his own, ”You’re losing your touch.”

“It’s those twin boys of hers. We have to go to extraordinary lengths now to get a bite out of her because of those two.”

The two men turned their horses about and rode off to regain their Company encampment, discussing their plans for the months of the fighting season ahead.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

”You know, it’s not too late,” Farbarad told her as sunlight flickered through the tree boughs overhead, ”We could still turn south and bypass the city altogether.”

The idea held no small amount of appeal for Rin as well Farbarad knew. The king waited for her report in Annuminas but her children were in Cardolan with Rose. They were far enough away from the city to be able to slip south. It had been so long since she had held them in her arms that her body ached at the thought of them.

”Are you tempting me to shirk my responsibilities to the crown, Wolf,” Rin inquired.

”Just a suggestion,” he said and nodded ahead, ”Think it over.”

She smiled as she looked ahead to their resting point for the evening. Amongst the Rangers it was a well known place – ample water and shelter and all things considered reasonably defensible too if it came down to it. A short while later she was unsaddling her gelding whilst the Rangers around her discussed the evening’s duties. Two decided to set off on a hunt. If they were fortunate, they’d find something for dinner and not have to dip into the cache that was here. In turn, that would spare them the trouble of replenishing it on the morrow before they set out. There was firewood to collect and water too. Just the mention of water made Rin’s scalp itch furiously.

”I’ll get that,” she said swiftly as she hauled her saddle free.

”Not on your own you won’t,” Farbarad groused at her and Rin rose onto the tips of her toes to smile prettily across the back of her horse at him.

”You can help me wash my hair, then. I suspect it will be a two person job anyway.”

At that there was quiet chuckling from the other men, Haldeth the loudest of them.

”I’m not here to wash your hair,” Farbarad grumbled, ”I’m too busy collecting firewood. That’ll have to be Haldeth’s job, as Mardil has to ride ahead to Fornost.”

Both Mardil and Haldeth sighed unhappily but Mardil had the worst of it. It would fall to him to let Fornost to expect her arrival any day now and that would not be welcome news. It would be worse yet when she informed them that the King was set to inspect the reconstruction efforts there by the close of summer. As of this moment, she had no idea if there were even any masons left after the last winter. Her thoughts preoccupied by where she might find more masons, Rin collected up waterskins and set off for the brook nearby with Haldeth in tow.

”I don’t know why you don’t just cut it all off,” he told her as they walked along through the trees, ”It’s no use to you in a fight and a pain in the neck when traveling.”

He was talking about her hair, which was currently a gnarled mass of knots and dust and sweat. Rin twisted about look at the Ranger, with his beads and braids and feathers.

”But how would you recognise me?” she asked and swiftly straightened before he saw the grin on her face.

Behind her, Haldeth drawled, ”Oh, I imagine I’d think of something. I’m quite resourceful, like that.”

Her grin grew wider at his response but they’d reached the stream and so she crouched on the bank and began filling water skins. Once this was done she passed them back to Haldeth and set to unstrapping her pouldrons.

”Hey,” Haldeth protested when he noticed what she was doing.

”If you think I’m stupid enough to go into a stream wearing armour…”

“Then don’t go in!”

“I’m not squatting on the bank like some toad and dunking my head in the water for your amusement, Ranger!”

Haldeth sighed and settled in with the waterskins, ”Fine…you can explain it to Farbarad then.”

Rin began to unlace a boot and had pulled the first one off when she first heard the sound. She peered across the stream to the far bank but saw nothing. A swift glance to where Haldeth was confirmed that he’d heard it too, whatever it was. Rin returned to scrutinise the far bank but saw no movement amongst the trees gathered there. Then, bouncing across the water, she heard the sound again. It drove her to her feet despite a warning hiss from Haldeth for now that she heard it a second time she was convinced it was an infant.

”What are you doing?” he demanded as she waded into the stream.

Haldeth hurried after her but the speed of the water meant that he did not catch her until she had reached the far bank. Here, when the sound came a third time, even he could tell what it was. Haldeth winced at the woman who stood next to him.

”I don’t suppose,” he started but she was off again.

”Even if you did find it, what then Haldeth?” she asked as she pressed through the trees.

”I might ask the same thing of you,” Haldeth replied through gritted teeth as he followed her along and finally found a way to insert himself ahead of her.

She glared at him forcefully but he asked anyway, ”What if it’s a trap?”

Rosmarin jabbed a finger in a random direction, ”Even if it is, there’s an infant alone in the woods, Haldeth!”

“We don’t know it’s alone, though!”

“No mother would let her babe wail like that – hungry and in pain. The child’s alone.”

Somehow she slipped around him and Haldeth regretted training her so well in that regard. Even though she only had one boot on, she was moving so fast he was forced to scrabble about to catch her up. She turned this way and that, following the pitiful, wretched wails of the child. It was the sort of sound that tore at a man’s eyelids. But then, through a particularly rending peal, Haldeth heard something else entirely and it made him reach ahead blinding and drag Rosmarin back towards him by her braid. Once she was within his arm’s reach, he wound one around and clapped it over her nose and mouth. As soon as he did that, she stopped trying to shake him off and went as still as he was. Through the trees came the unmistakeable sound of battle and death.

Dreadful as it was, there was only one thing to do now. He lowered his hand from his mistress’ mouth and shifted silently to take her hand in his. Their eyes met briefly and Haldeth mouthed a single word at her. She nodded even as her eyes flicked to where she could hear Rangers dying. Tears stood in her eyes, illuminated by a shaft of afternoon light.

”We must run,” he said and no sooner had he spoken did a thick, bristling shaft embed itself in the tree by his head.

In an instant they were off, him pulling her on after him as he tried to find a way to see her clear of the ambush that had closed in around them. They did not stop until the sun had westered and even then it was only because she could go no further. Her one bare foot was bloodied as she fell, gasping to her knees. Haldeth spun about, looking for some sign of pursuit.

”We cannot remain here,” he gasped and turned to where she lay, chest heaving for air.

”A moment. I need to bind my-“

Another bristling arrow ended debate and even though he was exhausted, Haldeth leapt forward and gathered his mistress up to resume the race. He ran past the setting sun and into the evening until he could go no further.

Haldeth set the Lady down at the foot of a small hillock. He could hear them coming. There was little point in trying to elude them now. His best chance, exhausted though he might be, was to try to fight them off. He had half drawn his sword when a man emerged from the shadows.

”Hold!,” the fellow called in Adûanic.

”Come no further,” Haldeth panted all the same, sweeping his sword all the way free.

”If you stay here, they will discover you,” the fellow said and this Haldeth knew to be true.

”I know of a safe place,” the man said, ”But we must hurry.”

“Your name?”
Rosmarin asked from the darkness behind Haldeth.

”Garrimond, m’Lady – I am honoured to serve amongst the Rangers of Arnor.”

“I know that name,”
Rosmarin murmured but still Haldeth hesitated.

”If you will not come away, perhaps you might permit me to stand with you,” Garrimond asked.

”I see little option, Haldeth,” Rin murmured, ”Do you?”

Though he had little liking for it, Haldeth answered by sheathing his sword. At that the other Ranger approached them.

”Careful,” Haldeth told him, ”My mistress is injured.”

“We must delay no longer,”
Garrimond said and swiftly led them further into the darkness.

By the time they reached Garrimond’s place of safety, Rin had lapsed into sleep in Haldeth’s arms. He hunched to fit the pair of them through the hut’s low door. The interior was simple and rustic, a table and chair and a narrow cot that Garrimond waved Haldeth towards. He set the Lady down upon it, trembling with fatigue himself, while Garrimond lit a lantern from the hearth coals and brought it closer. He clucked his tongue at what the light revealed.

”This will not do,” he said and set the lantern down.

”There was no other choice,” Haldeth told him, ”We had to run or be taken by them.”

Garrimond nodded sadly, ”I know…I found the others. Over there on the shelf over the hearth you will find a small bag. Bring it here while I pour water.”

Haldeth located a small cloth pouch that smelt of herbs and other things good for healing and fetched it back to the cot. Garrimond, meanwhile, poured water into a bowl and brought it to the cot. He had found rags too and Haldeth peered at them to ensure they were clean.

”Fear not, Ranger of Cardolan, I know who your mistress is,” Garrimond told him and Haldeth forced himself to step back again out of the other Ranger’s way.

He watched Garrimond sprinkle a packet of white powder into the water and then soak rags in it. He lifted the sodden cloths towards Rosmarin and Haldeth could not restrain himself.

”Wouldn’t hot water be better,” he asked.

Garrimond lowered the rags again and considered Haldeth a moment.

”Perhaps you might want to check that we were not followed. It would not do for us to be surprised now,” the ranger said and Haldeth knew it for what it was.

He sidled to the door and pushed outside again to leave Garrimond to his task. In the darkness beyond Haldeth stared up at the stars overhead. Three men were dead, one of them the Wolf of Cardolan no less. It was a stunning loss that would affect his mistress profoundly. If Mardil had not gotten clear away on his run to Fornost, the tally would rise to four. He had no idea how it was even possible. Four experienced Rangers taken just like that and in Western Arnor too. Still it could have been worse. At least he had managed to get Rosmarin free and clear. He had not failed her even if it meant he had left his fellow Rangers there to die.

By the time Haldeth returned to the hut, Garrimond had finished up. He checked to find Rosmarin still asleep, her injured foot neatly bandaged in such a way that he thought even she’d approve. He glanced over to where the other Ranger sat and nodded with gratitude.

”She has lost a surprising amount of blood. Her foot is badly injured.”

“It could have been worse,”
Haldeth said and finally permitted himself to sit down.

With Garrimond in the hut’s only chair, Haldeth perched on the wooden frame of the cot. The other Ranger watched silently as he slipped inexorably into the grip of his exhaustion and it was not long until Haldeth was curled upon on the pressed earth floor beside his mistress’ bed.

Garrimond waited until he heard the rumble of Haldeth’s snoring before he rose. He approached and considered the two sleeping forms for a long while. Then, slowly, Garrimond drew his dagger.

”Forgive me,” he whispered as he lifted his arm.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The crows. It was always the crows, Aragorn thought, as a new wave of disgruntled cawing was set off by his men. Down on the stream bank, the gruesome trophy that had been left there on a rough wooden frame had been taken down. It was a hell of a thing, the king thought, for a man such as the Wolf of Cardolan to be put on display in ignominious death like that. Who know how much longer he would have hung there like that had a hunter not been alerted by the crows.

The site was littered with thickly bristled arrows and that alone told Aragorn who was responsible for this. The fact that his cousin was nowhere to be found was either a very good thing or very bad. It was too early to say which yet. A piercing whistle indicated something had been found. Aragorn tensed, dreading what it might be but there was no subsequent signal to indicate it was another body. Soon one of his Rangers came trotting back from across the stream.

”A trail, leading north and east,” he said, pointing the way.

”Pursue it!” Aragorn nodded and the man whirled away to see to the king’s bidding.

Aragorn’s fists clenched and unclenched. He wanted to track it himself. As he wrestled with the idea Massuil pounced.

”You know who did this as well as I,” the irascible old man declared, ”And it makes no sense whatsoever!”

Aragorn turned to consider the elderly Ranger, ”Perhaps it was opportunistic.”

Massuil snorted contempt for that, ”Ha! If it was opportunistic we’d be gathering up Moricarni corpses now.”

“They shouldn’t even be this far West!”

“They were…and they made sure we knew it. Made sure we noticed.”

Aragorn looked down to where the rough wooden frame still stood, empty now.

“Think boy! Think!” Massuil urged him, ”Why would they take the risk, eh? They’d have to know you’d come after them like a dragon chasing his plundered gold. They’ve had a good three years now to strike at your cousin and they haven’t bothered. Now this, and while the Company is crawling all over the East! And it’s not like the Lady would go quietly with them – not that one! Why would they invite the trouble when their plates are already so full?”

“A message,”
Aragorn said and Massuil threw his arms up.

”Well that’s obvious, but to who?”

Aragorn was quiet a long while, staring at his dusty boots, as he twisted the old Ranger’s question around. When he looked up again, Massuil was peering straight at him with both eyes, including the one that did not see any more.

”A dead man,” the old man said, nodding, ”That’s who.”

Massuil’s words struck new dread into Aragorn’s heart. If he was right and if the Moricarni had their hands on Rosmarin there was no telling what they would do so as to lure their avowed foe out. And how could Hanasian comply when he was dead? It was truly diabolical.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The rag was pulled from her mouth not long after the blindfold was taken away. She did not waste time sucking down fresh air.

”Please,” she begged, ”You don’t have to do this!”

The man she begged looked at her sadly as he uncorked his water skin.

”I’m afraid that I do or otherwise I'd not do it,” he told her as he raised the skin to her lips, ”Though I have no liking for it.”

The tepid water coursed down her throat and spilled over her chin.

”I have children!”

“I know…six of them…but they have aunts and uncles…my nieces have no one else but me. Please, drink some more.”

He poured water into her mouth again and she was forced to swallow or drown.

”How is your foot?” he asked as he stoppered the skin and replaced it on his belt.

Garrimond did not wait for an answer as he crouched to see for himself. Even though he’d bound her hand and foot, gagged and blindfolded her and murdered Haldeth, the Ranger had done an excellent job tending her foot. It pained her less and less with each passing day. He finished his inspection and nodded with satisfaction.

”Very good. Shall we move on, my lady.”

“I hope you rot, Garrimond. I hope they find a dark cold cell and leave you there.”

“They probably will, your Grace. I have resigned myself to my fate. I recommend you do the same.”

“Whatever they’ve promised you they won’t-“

Garrimond tugged the gag back into her mouth but as he was doing so, something distracted him. He was usually so careful to keep his fingers clear of her teeth but this time he failed to be cautious. Rin bit him hard, the metallic taste of blood thick on her tongue, and Garrimond roared with sudden pain. Finger injuries were painful, as she well knew, and while he was grappling with that sudden onslaught, Rin wriggled away to roll as fast as she could down the slope he had paused upon. Rocks and sticks and tufts of grass jabbed at her ribs and hips but she screwed her eyes shut and hoped the jolting roll did not snap a rib or shatter her arms. Once she was at the bottom, she was fresh out of ideas.

Rin landed face first with a pained grunt and spat Garrimond’s blood out onto the ground. She could hear the Ranger shouting on the slope but as she wriggled around the noise cut off. A large looming shape stood between her and the sun and she squinted up at what was probably certain death.

”Great. Just great,” the shape declared, nonplussed, ”You’re not supposed to be here!”

she asked, stunned, and the shape sighed as if she had just dealt him a great injury.

”Why is it always me,” the shape grumbled as he knelt down beside her.

Still a little stunned, Rin attempted to wriggle away.

”And why do you always make things harder than they need to be? Hold still, you idiot! Do you want me to leave you trussed up like this? Yes, it’s me…now stop wriggling and hold still. Wouldn’t want to accidentally stab you or anything,” Videgavia direly muttered.

He severed the bonds at her wrists first and then her ankles, ”What have you done to your foot? You can’t walk, can you?”

“I can too, mostly…and don’t you start with me, Videgavia! Where the hell have you been? You’re under arrest!”

“Oh, sure, of course I am,”
he said, grunting a little as he hauled her up and over her shoulder.

”Did you find Beragil?” she asked, her voice muffled by Videgavia’s dusty cloak.

”Can this wait until we’re somewhere more suitable?” he asked as he set off at a trot.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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[OOC: Please note my co-writer backtracked in time for backstory reasons]

Misty Mountains – Eastern Flank, Rhovanion – IV 57 – Spring

Losing the trail was a bitter pill for to swallow but they did not abandon hope. Hanasian and Videdgavia pushed west over the mountains towards Eriador as the melting snow allowed, while Beragil and his Rhuadur brethren went east following a track. Somehow, whether by coincidence or design, the five men met again at the burned out cabin. After combing the ruin, they gathered under the withered oaks to camp for the night. Unsettled, Videgavia stood at the perimeter of the charred earth and stared at it. This set Hanasian to thinking. As the sun set, the Rhuadar rangers established a watch while Hanasian got a fire going. Anyone and everyone, including the one they hunted, would know they were there by the fire’s bright glow.

Videgavia returned, crouched and silent, as Hanasian coaxed the flames to life.

Hanasian leaned back as the hungry flames too and as the fire spluttered into steadier life he said to the watching Daleman, ”You know it as well as I. He got out, even if we don’t know how. I suspect he used the cabin fire as a diversion of sorts. He’d be He is heading north back to Dale as fast as he can.”[/I[

Vid tossed a stick into the hungry blaze, [I]”Why? The Dale Guardsman would be very much alerted.”

Hanasian nodded, ”Yes, but he need not see a single guardsman if he doesn’t press too far in. The Moricarni had supporters there, supply and a line of communication to the west. These have been eradicated, but he may still have a sleeper up there. I suspect he only led us down here to get us out of the way.”

Hanasian took his pipe out and scraped together a bowl from what was left in his empty pouch. A twig had it lit in no time.

Vid took a strip of jerky out and gnawed at it a while, thinking, ”You managed it. I suppose he has too. You’ve a suspicious mind Cap.”

Hanasian let a slow stream of smoke out, ”Cap? … you’re ‘Cap’ now. Or have you left your duties to others while you run after this phantom with me? You need to go back. Take up the captaincy again, then resign. Do it right Vid. It isn’t fair to the others.”

Vid nodded as he pitched another twig into the fire, ”I know. I was going to head west no matter. The rivers are still quite high, but I think they’re passable.”

”Take Beragil and the scout with you. They are good rangers and they are Company. They need to settle up with their campaign command too,”
Hanasian said, then took his pipe out to dump the ash.

He sighed then and put the empty pipe back to his mouth, ”Massuil, Aragorn too, never held much with deserters.”

Videgavia ducked his head and winced. Neither, he thought, did the woman who actually commanded the campaign. But Hanasian had no idea about that and now was not the time to inform him. Vid looked out to where one of the Rhuadurians stood watch.

He asked, ”What of the quiet one? Is he staying with you?”

“I think so. He is very observant. Has secrets he does, and I get the feeling he is looking for something or someone himself. But that is not my business. He is wise in the ways of the North Country, and we are going north. His skill will be needed,”
Hanasian answered.

Vid nodded, then asked, ”How will you split those two? They’re like brothers.”

Hanasian nodded but had nothing to offer on that. He leaned back against a tree trunk and rested his chin upon his chest. A moment’s sleep was worth much at such times. Videgavia stood and decided to relieve the scout that would travel with him and Beragil.

When the scout later rose to relieve the quiet, secretive ranger in the early morning, Hanasian was awake. He watched the ranger that he had decided would join him north pad back towards the oak trees. As he lowered himself to the ground, Hanasian broke his silence.

”I think I can count on two hands if not on one the words I’ve heard you say,” Hanasian observed.

The Rhuadurian shrugged and said after a moment, ”Don’t have nothing to say.”

Hanasian stood, preparing to relieve Beragil, ”That’s fair. You’ve already earnt your Company name anyway. Even Beragil refers to you as ‘Quiet’. But I like to know a little about those I travel with. You’re secrets are your own and I don’t want your biography, but I need to know your name. What is it?”

The Rhuadurian shrugged, ”Quiet.

Hanasian checked his blades while Quiet stared at the fire.

A moment later the Rhuadarian said, ”You said you didn’t want our names back in Bree.”

Hanasian leaned towards him, ”You’ve a hard life ahead of you ranger if you’ve not learned that things change. Get some rest. Come dawn we have many leagues to cross, you and I.”

Hanasian soon sent Beragil back to the camp fire to eat and rest. In position, Hanasian watched the shadows and the stars, his mind wheeling furiously. By the time the eastern sky shaded blue, his thoughts had narrowed to the path they would take and what it was they would look for. Yes, he knew. He knew where he went wrong in losing their quarry.

The morning chill was wintry even if the sun rose a little earlier each day. The frost of the morning was lighter and there was even a bit of a chance that the sun would be warm this day. The five men sat about a fire that had failed to draw any Moricarni out and ate their trail ration slightly warmed. It was agreed that Vidigavia would head west with Beragil and the Scout, while Quiet would accompany Hanasian north back toward Dale. They said their farewells and rode off their separate ways.

Hanasian moved quickly, which concerned Quiet. He thought that they might miss something at the speed Hanasian had set but Hanasian clearly wanted to reach the north in haste. Their first break didn’t come until they stopped for the night. There would be no fire that night. With only two, they could not afford a watch and the last attempt had not yielded any Moricarni. Hanasian immediately set to writing in his journal before the day’s light failed entirely and darkness took them. Aside from the scratching of his nib across the rough paper stock, there was silence until Quiet suddenly blurted out his name.


Hanasian looked up in surprise, ”I know that name!”

Hanasian eyed him closely and then made a note in his journal. Dauremir shrugged, uncomfortable again, and picked up a branch that had recently fallen from the bare tree above. He eyed it before tossing it back to the ground in front of him.

Hanasian asked, ”You have Dunedain blood?”

“So I am told,”
Dauremir replied, wishing he had said nothing.

Hanasian went on, ”And your parents named you Dauremir. That is interesting!”

Dauremir looked over at Hanasian and warily asked, ”Why does my name interest you so much?”

Hanasian nodded, ”Well, for one, King Earendur of Arnor had younger twin sons. One of that very name. He would become the first King of Rhuadur when Earendur died and Arnor was broken up. His twin brother Caontar became the first king of Cardolan. Knowledge of the Line of Rhuadur is even harder to find than those of Cardolan. It was said that the royal line died out when the Hillmen arose in rebellion and slaughtered the family. It led to most of the Dunedain either being killed or driven out where they fled to Arthedain.”

“Well I can assure you there is nothing royal about my family,”
Dauremir said as he took a bit of jerky out to chew on, agitated now.

Hanasian decided he would let this be for now. He could look further into what is known of Rhuadar when he gets back…if he gets back. They were silent for a time as the night drew in around them, dark and cold.

Nothing more was said between the men as they pressed north. They tarried seldom and only at need. A moment’s rest by a pool gave Hanasian opportunity to study his appearance. His hair was greying on the left, but was near white and curled where it grew where he was burned. He used his knife and shaved his head close, leaving only stubble. There was nothing he could do about the scars. Would his wife, would his children even know him if he returned? Would they find him too terrible to behold? He returned to where Dauremir had remained with the horses and sat in quiet, dark thought. Even if they could bear the sight of him, he was not in the least assured that they could forgive him for what he had done to them.

The sky was fast turning from deep blue to darkness as the first of the bright stars began to show and Dauremir broke the long silence reluctantly, ”There has been no sign.”

“Yes, I know,”
Hanasian replied, laid out his bedroll and stretched out upon it, ”Any sign we might have seen would have been a decoy. on the right track. Tomorrow you’ll go in and get supplies. We’ll be continuing north, where it is still winter.”

And that was that, even if Dauremir had no idea how Hanasian could be so sure that any signs they had sped past would be false. The following day, Hanasian hung back to avoid Dale while Dauemir went into town to collect supplies. It took them a number of days to acquire what they would need but once it was done, the two set out north towards Ered Mithrin (Grey Mountains) after a week or so.

They were only three days in before Hanasian said, ”We are being followed. They have some skill, but they are inexperienced. I suspect they are following you, for I know I have not been seen in town.”

Dauremir nodded, not looking, ”I thought this would happen. I don’t believe they’ll cause us any trouble.”

Hanasian scowled, ”That so? Having somebody on our trail? How could you know this unless you know who it is!”

Dauremir looked out to the western horizon a moment, choosing his words carefully, ”I was noticed when we were at Hunter’s Rest. I didn’t see them clearly and but I didn’t want to compromise is us while we were there. I didn’t see them when I was in town this time, but I had that feeling on the back of my neck that someone had an eye on me.”

“And you don’t think this will cause us any trouble,”
Hanasian replied before he shook his head, ”Then no trouble it will be. We’ll move on now, no camp this night. It will draw us closer to our quarry and put distance between us and whoever follows us.”

Dauremir was puzzled, for he expected Hanasian to question him harder, but opted to take the inexplicable reprieve the older ranger offered. They rested shortly until it was dark so that their hunter would think they readied for yet another cold camp. Then, as soon as twilight had deepened into night proper, they mounted up and continued north. Other than leading out into a creek and riding upstream for nearly a league, they did not bother to hide their track.

They were soon back in the snow, wet and cold and slick. It was near impossible to cover tracks in the spring slush and it revealed a solitary track. Hanasian was sure they were on the heels of their shadowy quarry, but he could not determine why the canny man had made no effort to conceal his path at least to some degree. Could he really think that they might not uncover his deception back at the razed cabin?

As for their tail, it appeared they had lost them, even if for a time. Whoever it was may be inexperienced, but they have the gift, and were learning quickly. They had been spotted when Dauremir and Hanasian had reached a high escarpment in the Greys where they could see far south into the lowlands. Their river decoy had worked but their hunter had guessed they were going north. It was doubtful they had regained their trail but the hunter pushed on none-the-less. Hanasian noted to not underestimate them. He also knew that whoever this hunter was, they knew Dauremir better than the Rhuadarian was aware of or prepared to admit.

Spring was late to come to the north and they were daily pelted with rain, snow, sleet and wind. But the two kept on, and one night they found shelter in a cave that was partially covered in ice. The dripping water had made the inside wet, but they were out of the wind, and even the horses enjoyed the relative warmth.

For three days the rains fell hard. Water flowed everywhere and creek beds that were dry most of the year raged with rain and melting snow water. A cave in of ice had blocked the mouth of the cave they were sheltering in, but the two worked at digging and moving the slabs of ice away so they could get out. It wasn’t until the fifth day that the rained slowed to a mere drizzle. Hanasian went out to scout the area and returned with tidings back.

”We are either in luck or deep trouble. Somehow, our hunter has managed to negotiate the steep tracks in the rain and is now not far away. Our own tracks were obliterated by the slide and cave in. Our hunter is now on the track of our quarry.”

“Why is that lucky for us?”
Dauremir asked, surprised.

Hanasian replied, ”Because they will set off any traps our foe may have set and when he makes a move against our hunter, we will have the upper hand on him.”

Dauremir stood, not hiding his concern, and Hanasian’s mild expression shifted into one that was as hard as stone.

Hanasian growled, ”Tell me who follows us or sit yourself back down!”

Dauremir backed away, realizing the sudden threat in Hanasian’s demeanour was no ploy. He leaned against the damp cave wall and kicked at the river of water at his feet.

Then the Rhuadarian sighed unhappily and said softly, ”I’m not sure. I think it is someone who knows me well but I cannot be certain.”

“Who do you know that would they follow you? You have to know!”

Dauremir shrugged, ”I can only guess. But you are right. We will see if they draw out our Shadow.”

Hanasian shook his head at Dauremir’s sudden change in demeanour and drew his sword, ”Well, if we’re going to see anything, we best get into position.”

They managed to get out over the wet ice and snow and they climbed up to a rocky ledge and looked out to watch their hunter ride closer. Hanasian watched close for movement in the rocks. Dauremir kept his eyes on the hunter. Just when thought the hunter would ride straight up toward them, the rider stopped. The hunter dismounted and studied the ground. Then, having noted something, the hunter turned and made off in a westward direction. An interesting turn this was! Dauremir at first didn’t say anything to Hanasian, for he was intently watching and the rocks.

Later, when Hanasian’s eyes moved to search out their hunter, Dauremir said, ”They are in the draw, they turned west for some reason.”

Hanasian squinted hard at the draw and then glanced briefly to Dauremir, ”That will go well for us. Look, the Shadow watches. He has revealed himself to us!”

It was an advantage that Hanasian would not lose this time. They watched as he slipped back into his hiding place in the rocks, suspicious of the rider and likely just as curious as they were on why they turned west. Hanasian and Dauremir readied themselves and made way to the north while the break in the clouds prevailed. They had to be very careful.

The days started to grow longer but the wind, rain, snow, and sleet was relentless. Hanasian and Dauremir managed to keep on the trail of their stealthy quarry without him guessing they were following him. The horse he was riding helped in marking the way. Still, they were only able to follow him at a distance. They could not guess why he was lingering so far north in the Grey Mountains, slowly working his way west.

The days turned into weeks, and the weeks reached out into the summer months. The long days and the morning and evening twilight had them moving longer and farther each day. With supply running lean, Hanasian and Dauremir had to ration their remaining dried goods. At times they managed to find small game to eat, but it was always raw, for no fires could be lit. They would then have to move quickly, for the crows and vultures would soon start to gather. It was the same with their Shadow. He was much more careless now, almost as if he were confident of his success. He would even light a fire, as if he did not care who might find him. He seemed to have forgotten the men that had hunted him over mountain and dale.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rhuadar – IV – 57, 17 Lothron


I have located the Free Company of Arnor and informed them of my position as campaign command. It is difficult to say how this has been received for the Company is in a state of uproar.

Tidings of the attack upon the Lady of Cardolan arrived before me and their new captain is the Lady’s foster brother – Lochared of Dunland. I am told the Company voted him in prior to taking the field.

He is overcome with grief for they believe the Lady to have perished and I have been unable to confirm whether or not she has survived. There are three, advanced in years now, with prior experience of the Moricarni. They hold that no one survives as a captive of this foe and there is no one to gainsay them.

Into the breach has come another, a former Ithilien Ranger by the name of Berlas. A steady hand, well regarded within the Company. The Gondorians amongst their number are particularly strong supporters. He has been able to moderate, to some degree, the Company’s blood lust.

Their hunger for vengeance is strong, Father. Unfortunately, Berlas served alongside the Lady for a time and he, too, is disinclined towards temperance.

I will do what I can to contain them, as I must, but I fear it will go ill for any the Company encounter here in Rhuadar. I have sent a small party of Easterling scouts ahead with instructions to warn those they find to flee.

I cannot help but wonder what has prompted our foes to attempt such a bold venture. The risks are many and for what? To seize the Lady of Cardolan? Surely they cannot think that would bring this campaign to an end.

If anything, it appears only to have spurred it on.



Rhuadar Campaign Command

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Annuminas – IV – 57, 28 Nórui


I have received disturbing reports concerning the Free Company and the use of wizard’s powder.

Rumours are ever the rats of war and they flourish within Western Arnor. Still, I must ask, is this true?



Elessar Telcontar

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rhuadar – IV – 57, 18 Cerveth


Sadly yes. Battle was joined shortly before dawn on Erulaitalë. It raged through the day and into the night and I will not soon forget it. The screams and moans of the injured and dying will, I think, haunt me to the end of my days.

The killing field was strewn with bodies torn asunder, limbs…I cannot go on to describe it adequately.

Battle was triggered by the sudden arrival of Moricarni fleeing ahead of the rangers that had pursued them from Fornost. I did not discover the ampules of power before the first was ignited and by then it was too late. There is none of the wicked stuff left now, of that I am certain.

By the following dawn, none of the Moricarni flushed from Western Arnor lived. By comparison, our losses were light. Nineteen dead, many more injured. Of those, perhaps two score are serious enough to merit removal from Rhuadar. Arrangements have been made.

Of the Rangers who drove the Moricarni into our savage arms, those of Arnor have since returned and those of Cardolan have been given leave to seek their mistress.



Rhuadar Campaign Command

~ ~ ~ ~

Imladris – IV – 57, 21 Ivanneth


I hope the Easterling messenger, Runner, found you with my hasty note. Now that I am arrived at Imladris I am able to provide a fuller report.

If Runner found you then you will know that the Lady of Cardolan was located, alive, in Rhuadar. Her captor is dead. She was returned to the Company by Videgavia of Dale, former Company captain. He was accompanied by two Rhuadarian Rangers, one of whom you might know – Beragil.

The Lady’s arrival was a moment of great relief and immense dismay. Her injuries were considerable. Videgavia reported that most were incurred during her escape. Bound hand and foot, her captor had halted atop a steep, rocky ridge far to the north. I believe her captor was attempting to elude the Company and those you have set to pursue the Moricarni attackers from Fornost. As Videgavia tells it, the traitor was distracted by either Videgavia’s presence or one of the Rhuadarian Rangers. The Lady seized the opportunity this presented and, after a brief tussle atop the ridge, hurled herself down it.

Beragil says that he killed the traitor, an arrow to the eye, when the man seemed likely to set off after her. Videgavia says he found her at the bottom, shaken and stunned but otherwise alert. He moved swiftly, keen to locate cover to take stock and put as much distance between them and whoever the traitor was seeking to meet with there.

By the time they regrouped and halted, the Lady had lost consciousness. It was only then that they realised how grave her condition was. Any rib that was not broken was cracked. It is a wonder her lungs were not punctured. Her right wrist was snapped and she was bruised black and blue from head to toes. There was an older injury to her foot, likely sustained during the initial attack at Fornost if I had to guess. At some point, a knife was taken to her, likely to quell her resistance. Most troubling of all, though, was a head injury sustained on her way down that wretched ridge.

The Company’s elation swiftly soured when Videgavia brought her in. The medics did what they could in camp and they tended to her well. The Company’s captain surrendered his position to Videgavia and retreated to his sister’s side. A vigil was mounted in which time she scarcely stirred. She woke once, briefly, confused and unable to recognise her own brother. She could not comprehend nor speak any language bar Dunlendic. I sent to Imladris then and there and some weeks later, my uncles answered my call.

They bore her swiftly back to Imladris, accompanied by her brother. Videgavia issued him a temporary leave of service. As for Videgavia’s own absence, he told me that he had gone in search of Beragil as approved by the Lady of Cardolan. I have been unable to confirm this with her directly, but it does correspond with the records she has kept. The Company has swiftly settled under his more experienced hand.

As of now, they scour Rhuadar for any Moricarni that might yet linger. Few have been found and I suspect the Moricarni may well be a spent force. Again, I wonder at what they hoped to gain.

Our cousin has steadily improved under my uncles’ care. They tell me they are optimistic. Bones knit and bruises fade, as we well know – but even the confusion that beset the Lady in Rhuadar has begun to recede.

Her household arrived a few days ago despite the concern that she may not recognise her children. It proved unfounded, thankfully, and I suspect her children will accomplish whatever my uncles cannot. They have taken measures to ensure the Lady and her household may remain in Imladris, beyond the Moricarni’s reach until this campaign is done.

I expect to remain here a little longer yet, another ten days and no more, before I return to Rhuadar.


Eldarion Tel-Conntar

Rhuadar Campaign Command

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Northern Rhuadar – IV 57 – Late Summer

Berlas checked his men before sending them out on one last long-range patrol before they withdrew south for the winter quarters. He had many of his Tharbad men with him, and his recruits from their days in Tharbad now had plenty of field time under their belts. The young Rohirrim all now had nicknames bestowed upon them based on the skills and demeanour they had shown. It had been a week since they had any contact with the Moricarni, and it seemed they had given it their last in the battles they had fought a ways south.

Loch and most of the Easterlings had pushed their sweep east into the high country, seeking out any pockets that may have remained. They did the same to the north. But winter would be coming to the northern heights of the Misty Mountains, which some called the Angmar Mountains. They had pushed as far north and west as the low hills to the east of Mt Gram, and they were overstretched. Berlas knew that he had to make sure he was thorough, and so he planned this last foray.

He would send out six groups in sort of a star pattern from their main encampment on the upper Mitheithel where he would stay with the remaining men. They had instruction to gather information, and search and use any caches they may find, and secure that which they could not use or carry. Berlas doubted they would be back, but one never knew. If they came back next year, he would have a cache of his own. The groups were to avoid any fighting if possible, and to send word if strength was needed. He trusted his field sergeants, for they had done well since their deployment north. A couple were veterans, like Hamoor who had been with them since the Rhun campaign.

One group headed due east up the river into Hoardale, another would accompany them for a time before turning north and back west down a valley to the lowlands that lay between the mountain spurs. They would meet up with the third, which would go due north, then they would go west along the foothills until they met up with the fourth, fifth and sixth group coming around Mt Gram. It was the last three groups that would have the hardest terrain and the longest way to get to their waymeet with the others.

”You all are as well supplied as can be and know what to do. I’ll expect you back here when you get here. The journey back may get rough if winter comes as early as it did last year. May you find only caches and no battles.”

The men spent a few minutes on their farewells saying farewells and were soon formed up and ready to move out. It would be months before they would be back here again.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Signs of the waning of the short summer of the far north appeared with the dry withering of the scrub grass in the rocks. But for now, it was if not outright hot, it was quite dry. Hanasian wanted to take a hard look at their back-trail, so he left Dauremir to keep an eye on any movement of the Shadow while he set out for a day of back tracking.

”I’ll return by tomorrow evening,” Hanasian said, ”I’m going to back sweep to that spring we passed. so we don’t fall into complacency. If you need to move to keep his track, do so. But it is appears he has likely settled for a day or two and I should be back by the time he moves. He is familiar with this far North Country. The rocks give little, so he likely has found water there and will not move for some time.”

Dauremir nodded agreement with the assessment, “I will move around northwest up that way so we will be shaded in the height of day. Make haste, and bring back some of that water. We were too swift in our haste when we went by it.”

Hanasian nodded as he handed the last full water bag to Dauremir and took the empty ones and the one partially full with him. He silently eased his horse away over the rise they had just come over and made his way back east.

The itch between Hanasian’s shoulder blades had been there since yesterday. He was convinced they were being followed again and determined to see if this was indeed true. He’d said nothing of this, however, to Dauremir. His young companion was an excellent ranger but there was something about his silence and his reticence that troubled Hanasian.

Hanasian made sure he didn’t leave a track and cleaned any sign he saw they had left on his way back. He had hoped to come to the small spring they had passed earlier by nightfall, but he stopped short. Dismounting, he climbed up to a rock ledge to see what he might find. Sure enough, their hunter was back on their trail again. They’d been pursued since Spring, on and off, and yet over the months that had passed their hunter appeared to have learned nothing.

He saw signs of carelessness everywhere. The hunter’s horse rested by the spring while the hunter splashed in the water. All the hunter’s gear, water, satchel, knives, sword and bow were still lashed to the horse. Hanasian eased back from the rocky edge of his vantage. He picked up a small rock in one hand and a larger one in the other. With a hard hook he lobbed the small rock far overhead. Just as the small rock hit some rocks up the far side, he pushed the larger rock over the ledge. The small rock started a small slide in the loose scree. The resultant din made the hunter leap up, look about wildly and reach for a blade. Just as the hunter realised the blade was still on the horse, the larger rock crashed down. The horse spooked, reared and bolted up the track only to slow after a few spans when it sensed and then saw Hanasian’s horse.

Hanasian calmed the mare swiftly and began to study the gear the mare had carried off in her flight. Westernesse blades, Rhovanion bow, Rohirric horse. Scant food, no water, and a small pouch of Gondorian coin.

Hanasian could hear the hunter struggling up the track, cursing in the common tongue, totally unaware that Hanasian was there. He sent the mare over by his horse, grateful that the pair seemed to get along well, then crouched behind a rock pillar where the track curved. The hunter stormed up the track then paused at the sight of two horses.

”Who did you find?” the hunter said, her voice raised in mild surprise and no small relief that she’d found her mare without too much difficulty.

Hanasian swiftly emerged behind her and wrapped a hand around the woman’s mouth, his blade pressed against her flank. A brief struggle caused the blade to cut through her leather jerkin and shirt but it drew no blood and she soon capitulated.

Hanasian whispered into her ear, ”You’re late. Dauremir was expecting you much earlier.”

The sudden gasp at the mention of Dauremir’s name confirmed what Hanasian suspected. The woman not only knew the Rhuadarian, the ranger knew in turn who she was. Hanasian’s trust in Dauremir had been reserved since they had left Dale, and even more so when he did not tell of who tailed them. Hanasian spun her around, keeping grip of her wrist as he sheathed his knife.

”So you do know, and dare I say, seek him?”

“I…. I don’t know of who you speak.

She said with hesitation, nervously darting her tongue over her lips.

Hanasian smiled at her grimly, “I know better lass! He told me all about you, back when we first saw you followed us in Spring. I have to admit, though, that I thought you would be older.”

She tried to pull away from him but Hanasian held fast to her wrists. He wasn’t getting too much information from her other than her body language.

He told her, ”I will release you if you promise not to do anything. Yes?”

After another slight tug against his grip, she nodded grudgingly. Hanasian slowly relaxed his hands, she remained still, looking at him. Quiet though she was, her eyes betrayed her. He could see she was calculating distances and options, and he was reminded of another woman who would do exactly that had she stood in this young lady’s boots. Hanasian was ready for her next move yet she still made the distance to her horse quickly. Her hand did not fully grasp the knife she reached for in her saddle as Hanasian collided with her. The knife fell to the ground with them and he knew he had knocked the wind out of the girl. He got his knees under him and held her wrists to the ground as she tried to draw in new breath.

He said in a low voice, ”You lied to me girl and that was not wise. But Perhaps you didn’t understand what I said.”

He stood, dragging the gasping woman up with him, and using rope from her horse bound her wrists together.

”This wouldn’t be necessary if I could trust you,” he told her, ” What is your name?”

Still trying to breathe properly, she gasped, ”Didn’t Dauremir tell you?”

Hanasian took up the reins of both horses in one hand and led the woman by her wrists in the other back down the track.

”He was very protective of some information about you,” he told her, looking about to check no one was ahead or behind or above them, ”It’s getting dark, so we’ll go back down by that spring you found and camp there.”

She nodded in agreement as if she had a say in the matter, and again he was sharply reminded of another. Though, were his wife here she’d be considering how best to roll down a mountain rather than actually comply. Fortunately, the young woman he towed along behind him seemed to have lost her will to fight and they settled by the water without further incident.

With the woman secured to the gnarled tree with the two horses, Hanasian filled his water bags, and took the two from the woman’s horse and filled them as well. Finding a pouch of dried berries on her horse, he sampled a couple. He offered her some, but she turned her head away.

Hanasian finally said, ”Listen, I don’t think Dauremir would want us to get along like this. I prefer to take you to him unbound.”

He offered her a drink next and after considering it carefully, she did not recoil.

She then heaved a forlorn sigh, ”Alright. Yes, I know Dauremir.”

Hanasian shrugged, ”I already know that. I also know who you are to him. Like I said, he told me.”

“Then he has told you I haven’t seen him in a long time?”

Hanasian nodded. He was finally getting somewhere, which was good since he didn’t know how long he could fool her with his charade.

”Over a year at least,” Hanasian replied and added, ”Believe me, I know how that feels.”

Hanasian released her from her bonds and watched as she stretched her arms but made no unwise moves. She retrieved her bedroll from her horse. Hanasian sat on a rock carefully looking on as she rolled it out.

Laying back and watching the sky darken, she said, ”My name is Caila and we have been married two years.”

Hanasian realised then that there was quite a bit that Dauremir had failed to tell anyone, including Videgavia and his brethren. The young Ranger had an even younger wife for one. But, if this answered Hanasian questions about the Rhuadarian, it only triggered a much larger swathe of new questions.

Caila finally drifted off to sleep talking of how she wanted to see her husband again. Hanasian slept alert, sitting up. It was possible the young woman was deceiving him, but somehow he doubted it. The next morning came and Hanasian awoke with a start. He expected to find she had fled with everyting, including his horse. Certainly, it is what his wife would have done. But now, he found Calia was still there by the spring. He rose and went to offer her a hand full of dried berries and nuts to eat.

”It isn’t much. Food is scarce here.”

She stood and turned as she pushed her wet hair from her face. She scraped it up and tied it, then took the offered food.

”Thank you,” she said haltingly and ate, studying Hanasian as he walled away again.

Before she could ask him his name, he turned and said to her, ”No, thank you. These were yours to begin with. Come, we should go. By day’s end, we should meet up with Dauremir.”

Hanasian wasn’t sure what to make of Caila. She was perceptive enough, despite her initial hostility, to know that he was sincere. He could see that she believed he would lead her to Dauremir. He also knew she harboured no small amount of curiosity about him. It was best she did not know his name, though.

They rode at a fair pace, and by midday, they stopped at a saddle in the ridge. Hanasian looked about as he dismounted, taking a water bag and the pouch of the dried meat. He convinced the horses to eat the drying grass that grew in tufts amongst the rocks there. Caila dismounted and picked at more of the dried berries she had.

Hanasian broke off some of the dried meat and handed Caila the other piece, ”Here, take this.”

He placed the other half in his mouth and peered into the bag at the last remaining piece before he tied it off.

”You keep this as well,” he said as he set the pouch into her hand. He slung a water bag over his shoulder and looked north.

”This is where I must leave you. I will have to borrow your horse. You take your things, these water bags, and my horse, and go due west on this track. You keep my cloak as well. Dauremir may not want to be found by someone who isn’t me.”

“No, he won’t,”
she agreed, ”Where do you go?”

Hanasian reply was a riddle.

“If my gut is right, I go to end this whole mess.”

Calia’s confusion showed but then a coy expression that belonged only to the young crept over her features, ”Should I say that I killed you?”

Hanasian shrugged, ”If that is your wish, lass. I doubt you two will be talking about me over much, given it’s been over a year since you have seen each other. You should get moving if you want to change that today. You stay safe.”

She smiled openly at him, taking no effort to conceal her feelings and Hanasian found himself wondering why Dauremir had stayed away from her so long. Or didn’t talk about her, or conduct himself like a husband separated from his wife by unwelcome circumstance. Then again, the same questions could be asked of him. Or so Hanasian supposed as he whispered to his horse and sent her up the track.

Caila turned back and said, ”I still don’t know your name!”

Hanasian mounted up on Caila’s horse and mare seemed anxious over this change of events. He turned the horse around a few times before he called out to Calia, ”You can ask Dauremir when you find him!”

She turned and rode forth over the rise. Swamped by his large cloak, she resembled a small wraith. He watched her until she dropped over the ridge and was out of sight, hoping he had not just sent her to her death. Dauremir was either going to be surprised and very happy to see her, or surprised and not so happy when Caila finds him. And find him she would, for Caila’s tracking abilities were good for all that they were still developing.

Hanasian turned Calia’s spirited mare to the north and made his way down the steep embankment. The rocks rattled behind him as he sprinted the horse out onto the still snowy flat. He wanted to make speed and he read the horse well. She was a fast one. Hanasian was guessing at a good place to cut back south. He had seen it on vague maps and so he sought the easiest way. The chill air was growing ever colder by the day here in Forodwaith and it would be too soon before winter’s grip held this far northland in its sway. Working back up and southwest, Hanasian did his best to avoid the worst of the rocky ridges and peaks that reached westward called the Mountains of Angmar.

If he stayed north and followed along them west, it would lead to Carn Dum where no man wished to go. Mt Gundabad was his mark, and hills of the Ettenmoors. With a diligent search and only passing it once, he found the one canyon that cut through these mountains with the least rise. The rocky outcrop shielded its opening from sight in the grey mists, but could be seen easier while moving back to the east. Though the days grew ever shorter, Hanasian was blessed with clear and relatively warm weather through the waning days of summer but for the one day he passed the canyon.

He rested the night at its mouth, knowing the season was quickly turning of autumn which could last a mere days here before the winter winds and snows started. When he awoke in the morning to fog, mist and greyness, he made haste south up through the canyon. He made good headway despite having to dismount and walk his horse up some rocky slopes. Finding a place to rest after the night fell was difficult, and Hanasian started moving south as soon as there was enough light to see. It was this morning that the first rain and wet snow blew in from the north. Winter had come to the Northern Waste.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The company scouts made good time to their designated points. The second and third both found only supply, and a lot of it. Most was sorted through and taken, with the rest hidden well away. It wouldn’t be found by any who had left these caches, and they noted that it had been some time since anyone had been there. They hoped the hoarders had gone south and were wiped out in the southern battles. They met up at the foot of the valley as they watched the declining weather form over the Mountains of Angmar to their north.

The first was led by a young Rohirrim sergeant that Berlas thought had some leadership potentia. This would be his first small unit command. They moved easily along the high reach of the Mitheithel to its headwaters, where the trickle of the waterfall fell from high over the cliff wall that was the Misty Mountains. They searched caves and crevices but found little. There was sign that the Moricarni had been there, but not in quite some time.

The fourth under Sergeant Sticks missed their primary route and they ended up going north up a deep ravine just to the east of the cliffs of Mt Gundabad. Their timing was good, for the second and third had made good time on the edge of the valley, and met the fourth when they emerged from the ravine. They found nothing. No sign of caches and no sign that anyone had been there in decades.

The fifth led by Sergeant Flint had the hardest route, having to traverse several ridges as they went west then north around the west side of Mt Gundabad. They collected several caches of food but nothing else. As with the other groups, they found nobody. Their only enemy was the route, and this set them well behind schedule. The deteriorating weather added to their hindrances. Surely by the time they got to the far point, the sixth would in position, for they had an easier way to go at the edge of the lowlands to the west.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hanasian was tired and hungry, and had no idea when he would ever eat again. Forodwaith gave very little for a man to eat in its short summer. There was a reason so many maps just called it the Northern Waste. He was unsure how things went with Dauremir and the young woman he had sent forth toward him. He hoped the best for them, but he really had no time to care. It was strange what came to mind in times like these. Hanasian had traversed the narrow passage through the Mountains of Angmar and crossed the valley into the hills of the northern Ettenmoors. The young horse was easily distracted by the green grass of the valley floor, and Hanasian was glad for the heavy low cloud and mist. Though he could not see the hills south, so to could he be seen. Still, he estimated he would still get west of where the Shadowy one would be, even if he had moved. It was a gamble to do, but one he hoped would pay off.

He had gained the edge of the Ettenmoor Hills, and soon discovered he was well west of where he thought he would be. He saw a flicker of light in the greyness, and the heavy scent of wood-smoke hung in the air. He dismounted the horse at a low break, leaving the horse to forage much sought after and needed grass. He waited for nightfall before moving forth toward the camp. The glow of the fire could be seen flickering against the rocks and the scrub as he crept up toward the blaze. Whoever it was, they had no night discipline. He could see nobody on watch. Climbing up to the edge of the flat where the fire was, he lifted his head and the fire came within sight. He could see nobody nearby the fire or anywhere within its light. It blazed bright, so it had been recently stoked, and there was a kettle hanging with water just beginning to boil. Hanasian stayed in the shadows and watched. He may have alerted them but there was no sign of anyone. Maybe when the kettle comes to full boil, someone might appear.

He didn’t have to wait long. The boiling pot drew out someone. They moved ever so cautiously, sword drawn, turning and looking slow. A second figure followed, watching behind and ready with a short sword. Whoever they were, it was clear that it was not their camp. They had paused on the far side of the fire and turned slow, looking hard. Hanasian remained frozen and blended in with the rocks he was behind.

It seemed like he came from the sky, dropping down from a rocky ledge above the flat. A tall figure dropped down and kicked the kettle of boiling water toward the two who were for the moment surprised. The man in front quickly leapt toward the attacker, but the one that was following did not move so fast as they were looking away. The water hit their hand and arm and they cried out as the sword dropped from their hand. A knife flew toward them and hit with a thudding sound and they fell back. The attacker paid them no further mind as he turned toward the other who had tried to impale him with their sword.

A ring of steel told of the move being deflected, and they fought hard. Hanasian watched close, and with their turns in the firelight, he recognized the man as the shadowy one whom he sought. It was time for him to join the fray while he had an ally in the fight. Hanasian stood and sprinted up and leaped onto the flat from the rocky ledge, sword drawn. The shadow knocked the other man back with a blow, and turned to access the new threat. Now faced with two sword-wielding opponents, he parried Hanasian’s first lunge. But it gave the other man time and he hit the shadow with his sword. His turning saved him from serious wounding, but wounded he was, and he knew he had to get himself out of this situation.

Hanasian was pushed back and nearly stumbled over the fire pit, but corrected his fall. He glimpsed at the fallen one that was before him. It was a woman! Caila! She looked very much dead with the blood seeping out onto her leather vest from where the knife had sunk in to her. Hanasian now knew the other man was Dauremir. If she was indeed his wife, he will be sorely grieved by her fall.

Hanasian got around and stabbed at the shadowy man, rending his cloak and splattering blood. But he spun so fast that Dauremir’s killing blow missed, instead he fell forth, taking a hit from the shadowy one in the neck at the edge of his leather collar. He staggered forward, but not before getting his sword tangled in the legs of the shadowy one, causing him to stumble. Dauremir fell face first down by the rock where his wife lay.

Hanasian wasted no time and turned on the shadowy one, keeping him on the defensive and managing to severely cut one of his arms. This time the shadowy one stumbled over the fire pit. Hanasian wasn’t expecting it and his lunge only caught the shadowy one slightly in the side. But the Shadowy one hit Hanasian in his right leg, causing him to fall to the side hitting his head on a rock. His vision blackened, and he knew he would be finished if he lost it now.

He struggled to his knees, and he saw Shadow rise in the firelight. As he stepped forward to finish him, he screamed and fell back. Hanasian faded and fell forth on his face. He was sure he saw someone behind the Shadow take him down, but could not be sure. He fell away into either death or dreams and visions…

Hanasian’s eyes opened to light. It was grey, cloudy, and cold. Rain was falling lazily upon him. He had a bad headache, and his leg hurt badly.

”Just like Bree, except I’m not on fire this time,” he mumbled to himself.

He pulled himself up to sit and realised that he had a crude bandage on his head, and one on his leg. His vision was blurred, but he looked up to the sky to let rain hit his face, and he wiped his hand over his eyes. He looked again to see the fire they had fought around was out, with only grey mud in the ring of rocks. He looked past that and saw legs and boots. Hanasian stood, so dizzy that he nearly fell, but he righted himself to take a stunted step toward them. There lay Dauremir, with legs coming out from under his cloak. His head lay in the lap of Caila, who was wrapped still in Hanasian’s old cloak.

She stared out past him, not really seeing Hanasian’s unsteady approach. He sat down hard next to her, but she didn’t even flinch. Hanasian might think she was not alive had it not been for the steam that rose from her. But there was no steam coming from Dauremir. She sat there staring, slowly running her fingers through his hair.

Hanasian said, ”Caila … you’re alive! I saw you dead!”

She went on as if she did not hear him. Hanasian turned and grabbed her hand, Dauremir’s hair among their fingers. He leaned over and looked into her dark eyes and squeezed her hand.


Her wet lashes fluttered heavily. Then she blinked and seemed to look into Hanasian’s eyes. Wherever she had been, she was back now.

Hanasian told her, ”Caila, I need you with me! Do you hear me?”

Her lashes again fluttered as her head started to drop. Hanasian squeezed her hand and put the palm of his other hand gently against her cheek, lifting her gaze back to him.

”Do you hear me?”

He said as he lightly tapped her cheek and cupped her chin. Moving to follow her gaze, he brought it back to him.

”Caila, I need your help. Stay with me and we’ll see to this. Are you with me?”

He lightly tapped her cheek again. At this she reached up, grabbed his hand and squeezed tightly. Her fingers wound around his other hand to match and she nodded weakly.

”He’s dead!” she whispered, shuddering, ”Why?”

Hanasian held her to him, aware that she would need to grieve before anything else could be done. She sobbed brokenly and it was difficult for him to bear. How had his wife sobbed, his children, and who had comforted them? Finally, Calia pulled back and gazed down at her husband. She stroked his lifeless cheek.

”You must go now, my beloved.”

Hanasian leaned back and Caila lifted Dauremir’s head from her lap. She slid herself out from under him and pulled the cloak around him as she lay him down on the ground. Hanasian could see her rent leather armor and the blood soaked tunic. While she had clearly tended to him and Dauremir, she had not tended herself. A knife had pierced her left shoulder, clearly causing her a great deal of pain. Hanasian could see that she had used Dauremir’s tunic for his bandages.

”You’re still bleeding! I though I saw you dead, so how you live and breath now is beyond me. Allow me to see to this,” he said.

Hanasian picked up his knife out of the mud and wiped it clean on his leg. Caila flinched when he cut away at her leather vest. He looked into her glazed eyes and it seemed to calm her. He peeled back the collar of her tunic to expose the wound where the knife had been. It wasn’t as deep as it appeared as her vest did its job well, but it still bled slowly.

”My apologies, lass,” he said as he tore off the sleeve of her tunic to use as a bandage.

”You know you have taken a wound near to your heart, but your leathers have turned the blade just enough to save your life. I must clean and dress this.”

She turned her head away and closed her eyes as she nodded slightly, braced for the pain. He cleaned it as carefully he could and while it elicited a low moan of pain, Hanasian was still impressed with the young lady. She bore the pain better than many a man who had served in the Company. He dressed it as best he could in the dirty field environment, remembering all that he had learned before in battle, and he had observed Rosmarin say and do when treating battle wounds on the field. As he worked, Hanasian wished his wife were here now. Her steady hands would do a far better job than he was. The thought popped into his head, as they had been doing since his path first crossed with Calia, before he could stop it. It brought sharp sorrow like a knife to him. He blinked against sudden tears and banished the thought from his mind. This had to stop, until the Shadow was dead!

Close as the wound was to her heart, Hanasian suspected Caila would survive it. He would have stitched it if he could but he had nothing to hand for such a task. The burns on her hand and wrist would likely heal without scarring. She was in shock, broken by the death of her husband Dauremir, but Hanasian considered what little he knew of her spirit and determined that Calia would likely live through this terrible ordeal.

His thoughts turned again to the Shadow. The events that he knew and remembered kept running through his head. What had happened to him? Hanasian knew that the Shadow would now hesitate to kill him when he was down but now there was no sign of his foe. He was sure he seen the man hit by a blade and fall but where was his body? Only Caila could know, for it must have been her that struck that blow and saved his life. He would have to ask ask in time but right now the young woman was grieving. They needed to prepare her husband for burial and they needed to do it swiftly as they could. But exhaustion took hold, and they both fell asleep leaning against the rock.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The sixth unit managed to round the hills and they climbed up to the highlands a bit early. Ravenclaw deemed it would be best as the way up was the easiest, and they would have a vantage point to the west and some to the north. He knew the fifth would be coming over the hills, and the combined second, third, and fourth would be either coming around the hills from the north or crossing the hills from the north. Right now, they would just settle in and wait and listen. Ravenclaw got everyone set for a rest before he addressed his group.

”I’ll need you two Rohirrim archers ready at all times. You will alternate resting, and will be ready to move when needed. You’re our only long-range threats we have. Points, you will be in charge of the forward observers. I want you to go with Echo and Looksee, and take a few of the others and go up to that high point up there. Take Fleetfoot with you to run messages. The rest of you set up perimeter here and keep watch. All of you, be careful what you shoot or swing at. We are expecting our comrades in the other groups. We don’t want to be killing our friends.”

They all nodded, and moved to get their position set. There was no sign of any of the other groups that night.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hanasian awoke to a dying fire. He got up but soon discovered couldn’t walk very well. His new wound had aggravated the old one and he felt like he had now had a painful log for a right leg. But it did not keep him from digging up the fire pit with the sword he had found laying there. It was work breaking through the hard rocky ground, but the rain helped soften it some. Hanasian removed his leather vest, set it aside, and wrapped himself in his old cloak.

He gave Dauremir’s cloak to Caila with the vest and said to her, ”You need to put these on. It will give comfort and some protection, and keep you close to him.”

Caila wasn’t at first willing to bury Dauremir with the old cloak but she saw the wisdom of what Hanasian was saying. She nodded, and Hanasian then pulled Dauremir into the grave he had dug. Caila leaned down and kissed him before pushing some muddy soil onto him. Hanasian saw to the rest while Caila wept and turned away. When Hanasian had finished covering Dauremir, he arranged a pyre of rocks over him. At his head he pushed the sword he had used to dig with into the ground. It was the Shadow’s sword and his knives were there too. One Caila had pulled from herself and used against him. The other lay discarded to one side.

Hanasian needed a rest, and he sat back against the rocks and let the rain splash against his face. Caila approached him and sat down beside him. In Hanasian’s large vest and Dauremir’s cloak she seemed small and frail. The strength and stamina within her, though, was more than her stature might reveal. Hanasian sighed and looked up at the heavy clouds overhead.

”What happened, Calia? Where is your husband’s slayer? Tell me what you know.”

She lifted her hands and covered her face, then pushed back her limp wet hair back over her head.

She said, ”I know little of the battle, for I was burned and knifed before I could do anything. Dauremir was fighting as I fell. I hit the ground hard and I remembered no more until my eyes opened. I saw him then, staring at me and trying to speak. I saw the attacker turn and lift his sword, and at first thought I too was done. But I saw in the firelight that he was looking away, stepping toward where you lay.”

Calia paused then and shook her head, ”I do not know what came over me. I pulled the knife from my shoulder and lunged at him. I slashed at his legs, cutting him deep behind the knee. He buckled, and I thrust the knife into his back. His elbow hit me hard in my face and he cried out. But I kept my grip on the knife and pulled it out of him. His blood spurted out onto me. Then jammed it into him again and he fell. I remember no more. I must have passed out.

“When I awoke, there was no sign of him. He was gone. I followed the blood trail and it led over the ridge. Then I saw you laying there so I did what I could for you. Then, I only wanted to die to be with my beloved husband.”

Hanasian was amazed at what Caila had done. If she had wounded the Shadow as bad as she said then he could not have gotten far. Hanasian knew he would have to look around before it got dark but for now, he dug into a pouch on his belt and pulled out a strip of stale jerky.

”Here, you chew this. I will have a look. When when I get back, we will need to move away from here.”

Caila took the meat and gnawed at it with a hunger unique to grief. He didn’t tell her it was the last one. Instead, Hanasian got up and limped over to where she said the Shadow had gone over the ridge. There was blood all right. And it looked like he didn’t go over with much control. There were signs that he had fallen or tumbled.

He would have to go down and see what he could find. He looked about the area and found a satchel with a little food in it. The Shadow didn’t seem to be better supplied than they were, but every little scrap would help. Hanasian came back to the flat where he had left Caila, and she had summoned the two horses she and Dauremir had rode on. Hanasian’s horse was overjoyed to see him and Hanasian greeted her fondly.

Once in the saddle, he looked over to Calia, ”You have inherited your husband’s horse, so let us go and see if we can find your mare. I hope the Shadow one hasn’t found her first.”

Caila led the horse to where Dauremir was buried, and the horse sniffed the ground and snorted a few times. Caila stood before the grave, and knowing she had to depart, she removed the gold ring that had a white stone upon it. She knelt and buried it under a rock and wet earth. She let her hand rest bon the rock for a time. Then she sniffled and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, stood and mounted Dauremir’s horse.

Hanasian led them down a steep scrabbly way and came to the bottom of the hills. He could see blood, even though the rain tried to wash it away, and he proceded slowly so as to not miss further sign. Wounded as he was, Shadow was a master of escape. They soon discovered that he had found Caila’s mare. It appeared he had set off west toward the Hills of Angmar. The man was bleeding badly to leave such a track. That he could even mount a horse wounded like that was astounding. Unfortunately, darkness was closing in around them and the rain showed no sign of letting up so Hanasian looked for a place for them to rest.

He found a spot where the high rocks overhung the ground, and it was not as wet as being out in the rain. It was shelter enough. They hobbled the horses and kept them close, and the two sat and leaned against the somewhat dry wall. It was not long before they were fast asleep.

When first light came, they were huddled together and shivering. Winter was advancing fast in the North Country, and with little food and no fire, they were hard pressed to move. They pressed west and at midday found Calia’s mare trying to eat the nubs of dead grass. They brought her in, the mare’s coat daubed in her rider’s blood. While he Shadow was not there, Hanasian did not have far to look.

A few paces to the north, crumpled upon the ground, was the master of the Moricarni – the man they had taken to calling Shadow. Hanasian dismounted and studied his fallen foe. Shadow was pale, but somehow still alive.

”It ends here,” Hanasian said as the man kicked in a feeble attempt at escape.

Hanasian drew his knife and leaned over the badly injured man ”I would leave you for winter’s wolves if I could be sure you would die.”

As he adjusted his grip for the killing blow, Calia appeared at his elbow and stared down at the man.

”My husband sends his regards,” she hissed, crouched and slid one of Dauremir’s knives across the man’s throat.

Shadow had lost so much blood that he could not even manage a decent spray. It bubbled, dark and thick as all life left him. The last thing he would have heard was Calia wretching beside him. It was clear to Hanasian that the young woman had never killed before and he hoped she would never have to again. Still wretching, Calia then took the dagger Shadow had wounded her with and plunged it deep into the man’s chest. Barely any blood emerged from that wound.

Calia spat several times to clear her mouth before she snarled, ”The wolves may have his rotting flesh, if they are so inclined.”

She stood, tottering and Hanasian had to catch her even though he felt as though he had just fallen from a great height onto his head. All the years, all he had done, all the longing and grief for the loved ones he had abandoned and the rage at those who would do them harm. He had had been playing this moment in his head over and over. He had seen it many times, in many different ways, but never this. He did not know if he felt relieved or robbed.

A gust of wind blasted past them, soaking them with the drizzle it carried and giving them a chill. Hanasian stood and took Caila’s hand

”Come Caila, we have far to go and little to sustain us, and winter is biting at our heels even now.”

They silently mounted their horses and they set off south even as the grey drizzly clouds pushed along the ground toward them. They would make their way around the north Ettenmoors, for Hanasian knew he could find shelter and supply there. But it would take some days, and they had little food for themselves and very little could be found along the way for the horses. With the fog and low clouds shrouding them most days, Hanasian at least didn’t have to worry too much about being seen.

What Hanasian didn’t know was that the Company had been active as far north over the summer. Before the onset of bad weather and winter, it would be most likely they withdraw south. It would be a wise decision not to winter over this far north. Hanasian didn’t know they were up that far, but he and Caila approached the western escarpment of the Ettenmoors. It didn’t take long before he found an abandoned company camp. In style typical to company and ranger both, small caches of food and dry tinder were stowed. When he was Captain, he always encouraged this on a small scale. Hanasian thought about Molguv and his taking this to extremes hiding his loot. That had paid off a few times, but not usually for Molguv.

Unfortunately Molguv had not up here hiding things, or they would have beena bit better off. Taking the cache, Hanasian gave most of the food to Caila, who ate while he looked about to read the signs. The company had only pulled out a short time ago, and knowing their tactics, he knew that some would be left at strong points and watching to their rear for movement. He wouldn’t be surprised if they had already been spotted. Only the low cloud cover and mists kept eyes from seeing too far. Hanasian considered where their first one would be, and as he considered their path, he was torn between shadowing the company withdrawal south and bypassing their strong points, or to stay as far away from them as possible. Calculating the supply he had and what he found, he considered his preferred option to make his way west. He could make it unhindered, if only just, and not considering unusually bad weather conditions.

But what of Caila? Where is it she now goes? But for the day they had met by the spring, he had learned nothing more of her. He never again got to talk with Dauremir, and Caila had been quite silent in her grief and anger. He went back to where she rested and tended the horses.

He said, ”Caila, the days grow short and the weather harsh. Though it would seem the way to go would be south to stay ahead of the freezing weather, and follow and even find the Company of … Dauremir’s old comrades, I feel my path does not lie that way. I would like to make haste west to Fornost, or to Evendim for the City of Annuminas.

“The road would be long and there will be winter chill and hardship with supply before I get there. My coming will be unlooked for and may not be seen if I go alone. I wish to go there for reasons that are many, but for one most of all. But I have to ask of you Caila, where does your path now lay?”

Caila stood unmoving, petting the nose of her horse. She looked south, then west.

”My path has always been to find Dauremir. It was what led me to Dale. I have found him, and I have laid him to rest. I have slain his murderer. I have no path now. I have nowhere to go. If west is where we are to go, then I will go with you.”

Hanasian looked at her, knowing she was beginning to suffer remorse from the recent events. Her grieving had only begun. She also had no idea what it would take to get across the northern steppes in winter. He was a fool himself to even think of trying by himself, let alone with another.

He asked her, ”Where is it you come from?”

She answered, ”The hills of Rhuadur.”

“Why do you not return to your home?” Hanasian asked, aware that he had to tread carefully if he wanted Calia to divulge more of herself.

While she considered his question, he looked about and deemed it safe for them to rest there for a time. Caila’s stare told him she was swimming through the few years of her life, and trying to decide to confide in this greying scarred man with the squinting eye and a noticeable limp. She looked at him hard and tried to decide if she had ever seen him before. There was a vague sense of familiarity at times to his face, but when she tried to focus on that, it slipped away.

She said, “You ask a lot of questions, yet I have yet to learn your name.”

Hanasian took a deep breath and nodded, ”True on both counts. I’m not giving my name. You don’t have to trust me and I don’t have to ask questions. I didn’t trust your husband fully, but only because of his reluctance to tell me who followed us.”

He paused then and gave her the harsh news, ”I cannot take you west, for you would likely perish. Besides there is little supply for such a journey for one, let alone two.”

“I am as hardy as anyone, even an ageing Dunedain man who will not tell me his name!”
Caila replied scornfully, glaring at him.

Tears sprang into her eyes and it softened her expression sooner than she wished. Hanasian considered her for a moment.

”I am sorry for your loss, Caila. I did my best to make it not so. If you make your way south, you will come into contact with the Free Company probably within a day. You tell them old cap sent you to them, and they will likely be kind to you. But be prepared for many questions, many more than I would ask. Perhaps we will meet again, and I will tell you my name. Now, I’m going to make my way west.”

Hanasian turned to mount his horse.

”Wait… I…”

Hanasian didn’t hesitate and soon in his saddle. He down at the tearful, young lady that stood before him, appearing.

Caila went on, ”… I’m sorry… you may ask, and I will answer your questions!”

Hanasian checked his satchel and made sure all was secure. He had little as he left most with Caila on Dauremir’s horse. He made ready to ride.

Panic filled Caila’s voice as she grasped his boot and said, ”Please hear me! I owe you much, even my life! I only wished to know the name of the man who stood fast with my husband and I. I will not ask your again! I do have family! There is someone else I seek. I will tell you all! Please stay?”

Hanasian turned his horse around as Caila fell back. Hanasian waited for her to pull her dark wet locks from her face before he pointed to a crevice in the rocky ledge.

”Neither you or I would get too far down our paths this day. We will pass the night over there. You can tell me of yourself.”

Caila breathed a sigh of relief, clearly fearful of being left on her own here. Hanasian, too, was relieved that his bluff had worked. It was not wise to leave her alone in such country, and he would not have done so, but nor did he have any alterative bluffs to elicit the information he needed to help her. It was only her brave but foolish naivety that led her to go alone to seek her husband. She had no fear of the unknown. Nor could Hanasian know the current mood of the Company and how they may react to finding a lone rider on their tail, or if they would listen to anything they said. And there could be Rangers about in these parts. And though much more restrained now than in the days of the War, there was still evil that lurked and the rangers meted out swift, deadly attention to.

Hanasian dismounted and said sternly, ”Go get your horses.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Company Camp

Looksee climbed up with a waterbag and sat on the rock next to his comrade.

He asked, ”What are you doing Echo?”

“Knitting. What do you think I am doing up here on this point?”
Echo answered irritably.

Looksee fell quiet as Echo tried to focus his hearing again. He finally shook his head and took the water bag from Looksee.

Looksee, eternally curious, asked, ”Do you hear anything?”

Echo shrugged as lowered the water, “I would like to say yes, but when I think I hear a voice, I try and listen harder and all I hear is the blasted wind. Yet since you said you thought you saw a something moving in the greyness the other day but you couldn’t be sure, I’ve been hearing things. A voice, maybe two.”

“Different to the ones in your head, you mean?”
Looksee asked with a grin and then, “You tell Ravenclaw?”

Echo shook his head and said, ”Can’t go running to command every time we think we see or hear something.”

Looksee agreed and added, ”My gut says that there is someone or something out there, and the Moricarni have been known to be stealthy.”

Echo put a listening horn into a rock cradle and set his ear to it, raising his hand to keep Looksee quiet. After a few moments, he removed it and took a bit of rolled up cloth and stuck it in his left ear. Looksee gazed at the rocky landscape below.

Echo slid back down the rocks he had been perched upon, ”I think we should talk to Sergeant Ravenclaw. He’ll know what to do. The low clouds keeps you from seeing anything, and the incessant wind keeps me from hearing clearly. I might tell him I thought I heard swords clashing the other day as well.”

Looksee grunted, ”I hope he isn’t too mad at us.”

They got Fleetfoot to take the messages to Ravenclaw and he was indeed angry, but not for the reasons Echo and Looksee feared. He had sent the best out in hopes of gaining an advantage. But then they don’t say anything for days! All Ravenclaw could do now is hope that the fighting was not the third and fourth units that they still awaited.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Once the horses were settled and Hanasian was sure they were out of sight from any high ground, he came and sat next to Caila who was deep in thought.

Once he was settled, she began, ”My family is a poor one. Father was gone most of the time working and my mother worked hard to feed us.”

Hanasian cut in and Caila nodded.

”Yes, I have a sister. She’d ten now. I have not seen her in many years. When I was twelve, I was apprenticed as a maidservant to a family of better means. I don’t know what my parents agreed to or the arrangement they thought they had made with this family. Whatever the case, I was for all intents their slave.

“It was into my second year when Dauremir came to the house as a guest of the family. He did not care for how I was being treate, and said as much to them. He was told that it was not his concern and Dauremir spoke no more of it. I thought he had forgotten, ceased to care. It was only later that I discovered that he had sought out my mother. A contract had been signed, and Dauremir could read.”

“An indenturing contract? I believe that is illegal in the Kingdom of Arnor!”
Hanasian cut in, aware that this was something his wife had been working on in tandem with Aragorn for some time now.

It was an odious practice that both were determined to stamp out. Caila looked at him in surprise. The land of Rhuadur had long been beyond control of the Men of Westernesse, and it seemed to hanasian that many ill practices were still in place there.

Caila said, ”Illegal or not, it happens. Even if it is not allowed now, no one has put an end to it. I fear my sister may have met the same fate. I have not word from them since I left, but I did learn that my father died in a construction accident far to the south.”

Hanasian nodded and winced, ”Tharbad Bridge. Many workers of skill came for work from all over. Some perished in its construction,” and his wife had been beside herself over it on each and every occasion, ”Again, I am sorry for your loss. Do you think your mother and sister are still alive?”

Caila shrugged and swallowed, “I like to think they are but I do not know.”

She swallowed again and Hanasian handed her his water bag. She took a big gulp from it and some splashed down her chin. She gasped and coughed, but recovered.

Hanasian took the water bag back as Caila went on, ”I know my mother was not well when I left. If she had died, I would know not what became of my sister.”

Caila paused and closed her eyes, took a lock of her hair that hung limp by her ear and twirled it with her finger, ”As for me, Dauremir found a clause in the contract that after two years, should I marry, then my service would come to an end. I did not know why he came by the house often, but before he left, he would look at me and give a rare smile. It was not long before I was smitten, even though I barely knew him.

“Perhaps it was the freedom he represented. A foolish child’s hope to escape my horrible life at that house. When Dauremir did not come by the house for a couple months, I feared I would not see him again. I didn’t know that he had agreed to take me as wife. On the day my second year was done, he arrived and we were wed.”

Hanasian kept his eyes on Caila as darkness closed in around them. He didn’t say anything, but he was thinking of the burnt villages and houses that he had come across when he was wandering Rhuadur.

He asked, ”What was the name of your home village?”

Caila took a deep breath and said, ”It was a small place called Ostinand. Do you know of it?”

Hanasian swallowed, but remained still. He did not wish to tell her that the place was burned to the ground and there were only the dead that lay about. The nearby village of Duinand had met the same fate. He could only hope that some may have gotten away and survived. May be it would have been a saving stroke for Caila’s sister if she did get indentured.

He nodded and said only, ”Yes, I know of it. Go on if you please.”

Caila seemed buoyed that he knew of her village. But she was perceptive, and could tell that the name did not bring with it good memories.

”I did not know if Dauremir truly loved me but that did not matter to me. He took me to Bree… Archet, and settled me there. But he hardly ever came home. He made sure I had work at the small inn and he would stop in for a night every so often but really, I was alone. After some time when he did not come by, I set myself to seek him out.

“With little to follow, I found myself in Dale. I had a little experience working at the Archet inn so I was able to find work. It was only by chance that Dauremir came into the inn. I nearly dropped my platter of flagons for I wanted to run to him. But I had to serve the tables, and when I was done, he had gone. I made ready to follow him again but I was unsure of many signs. Then you caught me.”

“That explains a great deal indeed. You were doing well I would say,”
Hanasian said as the chill wind blew misty rain down upon them.

They could not have a fire to keep warm, for they could not chance it. They wrapped every cloak and blanket around them to ward off the cold.

He then said, ”You obviously managed to find Dauremir after we parted.”

“Oh yes! And those last days were the best. Our talks and… well, I think he really did love me,”
Caila shuddered as she began to cry.

Thinking of him brought back the pain. Her grief was well and truly heavy. They soon fell into a restless night of exhausted sleep that came to an end all too soon. Hanasian jumped awake, and was to his feet quickly. Caila fell and started to wake slowly with the rush of cold.

”What is it?” Caila asked sleepily.

Hanasian slapped his hand over her mouth and with a slight hiss, she understood that they needed to be quiet. Hanasian had her sit quietly and he crept out to where the horses were. They were slightly agitated, but he calmed them with his presence. He stood by the opening of the crevice and listened close. The wind and the rain had given up their incessancy, and the night was so quiet. Too quiet. He went back and gave Caila a hug, whispering ever so slightly in her ear.

”We need to be absolutely silent. People are on the move, and they are skilled in stealth. Step softly with me toward the horses, and when we mount up, ride hard due west.”

They moved slowly together and readied the horses. It wasn’t until they were mounted that one of the horses snorted, breaking the silence of the night. They set out in a gallop through the dark.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Voices could be heard, and after the initial surprise, the two archers the Company had in the patrol fired their arrows.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dauremir’s horse screamed and veered away. Harder they rode, for their only chance was to out range the archers. The sound of hooves grew fainter as they separated ever further.

Hanasian felt a sting in his right shoulder and he slumped forward close to his horse’s neck. He heard Caila cry out in pain and then heard a tumbling in the dark. He pulled up and turned, dismounting. Caila’s horse screamed a death wail, and Hanasian found Caila not far away. He thought her dead but she kicked her leg as he approached and reached for him.

Hanasian lifted her to his horse, and mounted behind her, holding her from falling. His shoulder ached, and the arrow stuck through the front of his shoulder and he had to be careful not to jostle Caila into it. He rode west with speed even as arrows sped and fell nearby. For night shooting, they did quite well in getting all but his horse. Had there been more of them, he and Caila wouldn’t of had a chance. He knew a pursuit was likely imminent as soon as they got mounted. He pushed his horse hard, all the while trying to keep Caila from falling and keeping himself in alert. The arrow wound burned, but there would be no attendance… not until they were well away west. He could only guess his direction, for the clouds had again closed in and the rain soon fell steady. It was their only cover until they reached the North Downs.

”Stay with me Caila! Stay awake! We have thirty leagues before we come to the first breaks of the North Downs. What we find there I know not. But I hold to hope that places of old still remain.”

Caila gave a moan and squeezed his hand with hers. She heard him.

”We need to stop… I’m going to be sick…” she breathlessly warned

Hanasian could not stop, and with so little to eat there was little for Calia to bring up from her stomachOnce Hanasian found a fold in the rolling land, he stopped and they dismounted. It was time to tend their wounds again.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was only confusion. Ravenclaw had the men move in the night to see if what was heard was maybe their guys. The horses breaking with riders had indeed surprised them, and the two archers let loose with well-aimed arrows as soon as they were sure that it was not any of their guys. They could not pursue as they had no mounts, but it was then that the third and fourth came up. They had more archers and they sent volleys out into the grey morning mist.

”Do we go out there and see if we hit anything?”

Ravenclaw looked into the lightening grey morning.

”No, we will return to our high ground, and maybe we will get a break in the weather and be able to see. If not, we wait two or three days for the other groups to rest up a bit, and we return to our base camp. Berlas will be wanting us back before the weather turns bad.”

“This isn’t bad?”
Looksee asked, looking up at the sky where the incessant drizzle fell, ”I forgot what it was like to be dry.”

“Well, we will have tents when we get back. I don’t think this rain will relent any time soon. If the other groups are willing, we can start back tomorrow,”
Ravenclaw said.

There was some grumblings of relief, and they thought no more of who they had encountered. Had Ravenclaw know it was Hanasian his men nearly killed, he would have been surprised indeed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A thorough cleaning and bandaging of their arrow wounds was done. Though the danger to both Hanasian and Caila could have been serious, the wounds turned out not to be so. The big loss were horses. They only had the one now, Hanasian’s, and only the one bag of water and little food. They rested for a time even though the drizzle had turned to a steady cold rain. Caila’s sickness seemed to pass but she could not eat. After drinking some water, she lay down in the wet grass and went to sleep heedless of the rain.

With many leagues to cross before the high ground of the North Downs, Hanasian knew they had to move. But Caila was sound asleep, and his horse really needed rest, and here was green grass that she could not stop eating. He tried to discern if they were still being pursued but neither saw nor heard anyone chasing them. Hanasian gave his horse and let Caila sleep.

They had gained the North Downs in the fog, and the two found shelter where they stayed a few days. They both cleaned up some in a stream, and Hanasian pondered what he would do. With Shadow dead and most of the followers defeated by the combined strength of the Company, the Rangers, and from Dale on the east side, Hanasian considered how to reveal that he lived. It was something that he thought of so much. With each passing of someone, he hoped maybe he would be recognized, but with his limp and his scars and his hair cut so short and what he had was grey, he looked nothing like the man who had ridden away from his home and his family a few years ago.

In friendly lands now, they would have to travel openly for there would be many soldiers, rangers and villages there in the North Downs looking for anyone suspicious. Hanasian managed to procure some good oats for his horse, clean clothing for Caila, and a reasonable cloak for himself, and they set out west through the North Downs toward Fornost. The days were cold but for a few days they were dry. Caila had taken a hard blow to her head when she was thrown from her horse, and she seemed to have withdrawn into herself since. She said little and frequently felt unwell.

It was a cold night at a camp under some trees that Hanasian guessed what was happening. He had seen it before, six times. As they sat by a fire, Hanasian tended to the venison he had gained, and they would eat well this night. Caila ate a little, seemed unsettled and then became sick. Hanasian nodded and counted the days he could remember. As Caila drifted in and out of sleep, Hanasian sighed. He missed Rin so much. A last memory he had of her was being just like this. He wondered how they were and how his son was doing. He’d be two years old now, walking and talking and laughing. His own little person, and a complete stranger to Hanasian. He had missed it all.

When Caila awoke and was ravenous for absolutely anything, he told her ”Lass, those last days with Dauremir may indeed be the best. You must know, by now, that you are with child.”

Caila had not known, but the realization had a profound and immediate effect. The darkness that had haunted her since the day she had slain Shadow faded as hope began to glimmer in her eyes. Her life had just tilted on its axis once again, but this time it brought her purpose. Hanasian watched her as she went to sleep, knowing he had to get her to Formost and to somewhere that would be safe and she could eat well enough to give herself and the unborn child a chance in this world.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rhuadar – IV – 57, 24 Hithui


I will keep this brief for there is little to report and it is wretchedly cold.

The Company has conducted sweeps and patrols of Rhuadar since the battle of Erulaitalë (still it haunts my sleep). There is little show for their efforts. If Moricarni remain in Rhuadar, they are scattered, divided and leaderless. But, then, so were we once. Moreover the Company has thought the Moricarni extinguished before and been proven wrong.

For all of that, my sense is that the Fornost attack marked a tipping point in the campaign. The Moricarni must have thrown every agent they had spent years trickling into Western Arnor to accomplish it. Rangers of Arnor and Cardolan both report not a trace of them now.

Is it indeed possible that Hanasian lives still? I overheard the Lady’s brother discussing it quietly with his wife in Imladris. Loch maintains that it is the only answer that fits the puzzle. Certainly there was no tactical merit to their actions over the past summer. Could their hatred for this man have blinded them so thoroughly?

Whatever the case, the patrols continue. No stone, here in Rhuadar or Western Arnor, will be left unturned.


Eldarion Tel-Conntar

Rhuadar Campaign Command

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Annuminas – IV – 57, 2 Girithron


Speculation is a soldier’s lot. A Ranger’s too, truth be told. There are too many empty hours in the wilds.

I hope care is being taken to ensure this speculation does not reach the Lady of Cardolan’s ears. She has endured enough, by anyone’s measure. Know this: I would not have tormented the Lady with tidings of her husband’s demise if I believed them to be false.

Who can say what led the Moricarni to believe Hanasian lived. That they do is clear enough. And while it seems to us their actions were foolish, the Moricarni succeeded in taking all but one of Cardolan’s senior rangers.

The Lady must remain in Imladris with her children. I have informed Elladan and Elrohir accordingly that she is not to leave, under any circumstances, until this matter is finished. Lady Rosmarin will not be returning to campaign command and nor will she act as my envoy. I have no need of an envoy in any case, given my presence in Arnor.

If the Moricarni have any strength left to them, I expect they will attempt to move against the Lady a second time. Any such attempt must be disrupted early. Send any Cardolan Rangers in Rhuadar still to Imladris.

My scrutiny of the Rangers of Arnor is reaching its conclusion. I have found no other like Garrimond. It is possible the Moricarni lacked the resources in Western Arnor to infiltrate the Rangers beyond him. There, speculation Eldarion. It serves a purpose but must always be kept in check.

Expect a re-supply before spring’s end.


Elessar Tel-Conntar

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Winter had set in fully and the snows fell in a lazy dance when they came in sight of the new Fornost Erain. Even now, work went on in the chill of the grey day. The lookout saw them approach as the horse walked slowly through the light cover of snow. They appeared as one, with Hanasian having wrapped his cloak around them both. They came to the gate where an old soldier stood, ready to meet visitors. Hanasian looked the old man in the eyes and hesitated. Caila looked down at him and smiled slightly. Hanasian dismounted and stood before the old soldier, waiting for him to say something. But the old soldier didn’t ask questions.

He instead said, ”I see yours has been a long hard road. The lady looks cold. Seek the Varda Shroud Inn and ask for Duema. Tell him Massuil sent you. He will see to it you are looked after.”

Hanasian wanted so much to reach out to the old Ranger, for he must have surely recognized him. But Massuil turned about and retreated into his little notch where he shielded from the snow and rain.

Hanasian nodded and said in a throaty rasp, ”We thank thee sir.”

They made their way up the road and found the inn. The boy who tended the horses looked at the poor animal and cringed.

Hanasian said to him, ”She has been through a lot, crossing too many miles with too little to eat. Tend her well.”

The boy looked at the silver coin Hanasian tossed to him. It was one of Molguv’s Bree stash. There was enough of the Haradian’s ill-gotten profits to pay for the inn for a few months. Here he would make his home while she sought for tidings. He needed to know who was in Fornost and most particularly, uncover any word possible of his beloved wife.

To sleep with a roof over their heads would be strange after so long. Caila’s last bed inside had been in Dale. Hanasian’s was in that dank cabin south of Dale. After a hearty dinner of stew and bread and hot tea before retiring. Sleep reached out to them Hanasian made himself his bedroll on the floor by the door, ever alert and ready. He watched Caila drift into a deep slumber. It was good to see her resting in peace.

Leaving the room, he silently shut the door as returned to the common room. Looking around the smoky haze, he saw Massuil sitting in a far reach of the room. He walked slowly across the floor, trying not to let his right leg hinder him. Coming to the table, he saw that he had two flagons before him. The old ranger waved his hand at the second chair, beckoning Hanasian to sit. Once he had complied, the second tankard was slid across the small wooden table towards him. Hanasian studied the old man as he drew back his snowstained hood.

”Back from the dead I see,” Massuil said flatly, ”I heard talk that you lived but few if anyone paid it any mind. That brother in law of yours was adamant. I see he was right.”

“Loch! Where is he?”
Hanasian asked.

Massuil sipped his ale, ”Not sure. Company business and all. Last I heard, he was still campaigning in the Ettenmoors, though winter has seen many of them pull back south to Bree and the Forsaken.”

Massuil looked over at the stairs as Hanasian sipped the flagon. He made a bit of a face as the ale seemed stale.

Massuil set his flagon down on the table, ”What I do know is Ranger business. And so I have to ask why it is you are here with Dauremir’s wife?”

“You knew Dauremir was married?”

Massuil nodded, ”Dauremir was never really a Company or Cardolan man. He is a dedicated Ranger to the Kingdom of Arnor. We’ve lost word of him though. Can you answer this mystery?”

Hanasian took a drink of the ale, and he nodded. He told of the days with Dauremir and of Caila finding them. When he told of the fight and the final resting place of Dauremir, Massuil shook his head and there was silence.

Hanasian then downed his ale and said, ”I need to speak of Caila, for she slew the Moricarni’s master. Not I. I can still scarcely believe it. And…she carries Dauremir’s child.”

Massuil looked up at Hanasian and found him staring at him hard in return, ”Now, I need to know…. Where is my beloved Rosmarin, for I surely desire to see her.”

Hanasian blinked as dizziness took him. He tried to stand but he fell back into the chair. He squinted at Massuil who sat sipping his ale. Massuil said finally as Hanasian sagged onto the table.

”Well now…not Halasian’s son after all, and just as well. Fornost would not have been kind to you otherwise. The rest will come, all in good time, my friend. For now, you sleep. You are quite tired,” Massuil quietly said to himself before he signalled to two of his men to carry Hanasian out of the inn.

Massuil finished his ale, dropped a few coins on the table as he stood, and following the others out. Once they had Hanasian settled in the Ranger’s barracks, Massuil retired to his office and loaded his pipe. He was, on the whole, quite pleased indeed. It made for a nice change, as usually surprises such as the one that had ridden up out of the fog did not end so pleasantly. Once he had his pipe alight, he called for the man who led the rangers’ messenger corps.

He said, ”Send a message to Annuminas to the King, and also one to Imladris to the Lady of Cardolan. Tell them Hanasian is alive and well in Fornost.”

The man wasted no time on getting riders to go into the night. Meanwhile, Hanasian would be comfortable while he remained in one place. The messages sent, Massuil moved next to ensure anyone else who might have sighted Hanasian’s arrival with another ranger’s wife did not leap to the wrong conclusion.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Fornost – IV 58, Midwinter

Massuil met Aragorn at the entrance to the barracks but neither man said a word until they were within Massuil’s office. The old ranger began without preamble.

”Cruel as this has been, Hanasian may have been correct,” Massuil said, mouth twisting with distaste even as he said it, ”The hoax was not premeditated. While he suspected the Moricarni had regrouped, he had no idea they had come so far as to launch an attack in Bree.”

Aragorn nodded, ”I don’t think anyone expected that fire. But how can he possibly explain leaving his family, his wife heavy with his child, to grieve him as dead when he was not?”

“He feared the Moricarni would come for them. They were already in Bree, well into Cardolan, bold and aggressive. And, considering what happened at Fornost last summer, he was proven correct.”

“He did it to protect them,”
Aragorn said, ”Is that what he is saying?”

“Aye. He went hunting the Moricarni’s master and, once the man was dead, set about returning that very day,”
Massuil said and rubbed a hand over his face, ”Hanasian could have gone anywhere. Instead, he came here, asking for his wife despite the fact that he was exhausted and wounded. None of that sounds like treason against the Lady or Cardolan to me.”

“And Rosmarin? Anything further from Imladris?”
Aragorn asked.

Massuil shook his head, ”Too early, Sire. The snow lays thick between Fornost and Imladris.”

Aragorn replied, thinking hard.

Massuil nodded, ”One last thing, Sire. Hanasian has paid a heavy toll to keep his family safe.”

“Your message said he was well.”

“And he is…but he is not uninjured.”

“Show me to him.”

Massuil led Aragorn to a modestly sized room, unlocked the door and let the king inside. At his arrival, Hanasian slowly stood.

Aragorn was silent for a long moment and then he said, ”Oh my friend, what have you done?”

The sorrow in Aragorn’s voice was palpable and Massuil softly closed the door on Hanasian’s reply.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The land between Fornost and Imladris was treacherous in winter. Snow and ice lay thick over the land and even the wariest, canniest traveller could be caught unawares by the ravenous elements and the creatures that dwelled within them. Wolf attacks had become rare since the fall of Sauron, but they still occurred on occasion. The long, harsh winter of 57 had seen their numbers swell and now, in 58, the cubs of yesteryear were grown and hungry. Lambs, children, even Westernesse kings had fallen to these hunters.

Alone in the wilds, the ranger bearing urgent tidings to Imladris, never even heard the wolves close. Such had been the shrieking of the wind that the ominous howls had been snatched away from the ranger’s ears before he could heed them. It was a lonely death, filled with the terror of claw and tooth and the dank musty smell of fetid fur. By the time the wolves were finished, ranger was barely recognisable as a man. As for the message he bore, it was lost too.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


There was one last thing he had to do before he left. Hanasian strode into the inn searching for Caila. He had to tell her he was leaving Fornost even if he was itching to get to the road and fly east to his wife. There was a group of Arnor rangers, provided by Aragorn to speed his path, ready outside. He could not wait another day.

But for Caila, he’d have gone already. He’d not seen her since the day they had arrived but he’d heard she’d been asking after him as best she could. He’d not given her his name. In fact, he’d withheld a lot from Caila even as he had demanded her life from her. She was only in Fornost because of him. She knew no one here, even if the rangers would care for her. He felt accountable for her and he could not just leave her behind, forgotten and discarded.

Caila saw him as soon as Hanasian walked into the inn. She planted her fists on her hips and scowled at him.

”I’ve been looking for you!” she declared, angry, ”Do you have any idea how hard it is to find someone when you don’t even know their name?”

Hanasian replied, which was entirely the point of not giving his name to her.

Caila squinted at him suspiciously, ”You look different. Not so… old.”

“Fresh clothes,”
Hanasian said, which was partially true.

The chief reason, though, was the fact that Aragorn had been tending to his many injuries, old and new, for weeks now.

”Caila, I don’t have long.”

“Where have you been?”

“That doesn’t matter. I’ve come to tell you that I’m going.”


“I’m leaving Fornost.”

“But what about me?!”

“You can’t-“

“Why not? Too dangerous? You said that last time and we got here.”

“This is different.”


“Because I am going to find my wife!”

Caila’s jaw swung open, ”You have a wife? How come you never mentioned her? How come I had to tell you everything there is about me and I know nothing at all about you? I suppose you have children too!”

“I have six.”

Caila’s jaw closed with an audible click, ”You must really like your wife.”

“I love her with all my heart and soul.”

Caila tilted her head to one side, ”You know, I think that’s the first truly honest thing you’ve said to me.”

Strictly speaking, that wasn’t true but the fact Caila saw it that way was sobering. She squinted past him to the common room windows.

”All those rangers out there, are they going with you?”

Hanasian said, already seeing where this was going.

”Then why can’t I? I don’t know anyone in Fornost! I only know you and you won’t even tell me your miserable name! What am I supposed to do here anyway?”

“You can’t just follow me around like a lost puppy, Caila. I am not your father. I have children of my own.”

“But you know I won’t be any trouble. I have my own horse. I could just tag along until I find something a bit bigger than Fornost. Are you going anywhere near Bree?”

Hanasian sighed heavily and his expression prompted Caila to beam at him in victory.

”I won’t be long!” she declared, ”I don’t have very much to pack anyway!”

And that, right there, was the first problem. Suitable clothing for Caila had to be found otherwise she’d perish. As a result, they did not get underway until the afternoon and Caila’s appetite for information about Hanasian had been whetted.

”Tell me about your wife. Is she like you or does she have a name?”

Hanasian said.

”You have a real problem with names, don’t you?”

“My name is Hanasian. My wife is called Rin.”

“Is she pretty?”

“Do you know what Eldawen means?”

Caila admitted.

”It was a name given to her mother before it was given to her. It is Elvish for elf maid.”

Caila was silent for a moment, ”So she’s pretty, then.”


“Was she supposed to be in Fornost? Is that why you had to get there?”

“I thought she was in Annuminas,”
Hanasian stated, ”But I have since learned that my wife is at Imladris…the Last Homely House of the Elves.”

“Is your wife an Elf?”
Caila asked and Hanasian wasn’t the only one to smile at Caila’s question.

“No,” and that was the end of the discussion for that day.

The thick snow upon the ground and the brevity of sunlight meant that the journey proceeded far slower than Hanasian wished it to. Nor could Caila spend hours in the saddle on end. Two weeks passed before they were even close to Bree and in that time Caila’s curiosity about Hanasian and his family only sharpened. Each time she attempted to broach the subject with Hanasian he swiftly brought it to a close. As a result, Caila decided to turn to the rangers that travelled with them.

After several attempts, Caila finally cornered an Arnor ranger one evening as they made camp.

”Ordinary folk don’t usually live with Elves,” Caila declared, ”So why does Hanasian’s wife?”

“For protection,”
the ranger said and, at Caila’s frown, ”From the Moricani’s malice.”

Caila’s frown deepened, ”But the Moricarni threatened everyone, didn’t they?”

The ranger’s brow furrowed and he glanced to one of his brethren for a long moment. When the ranger looked back to Caila, she had no inkling of just how much she was going to learn. As the ranger spoke, Caila’s eyes centred on the secretive man currently trying to get a fire alight. He was still shepherding the fire along when Caila descended, fists on her hips.

”Lord Consort of Cardolan?!” she accused, kicking his foot as he knelt over the fledgling fire, ”And your wife’s a princess! The kind that people go about calling your grace, m’lady and your highness!”

Hanasian straightened at Caila’s onslaught and peered up at her in the weakening sunlight, ”This offends you?”

“I thought you were a ranger!”

“I am a ranger,”
Hanasian replied.

”You’re someone that people like me have to call m’Lord!”

“That does not make me any the less a ranger. I’ll tell you what else I am: puzzled at why this upsets you so. What difference does this make to you?”
Hanasian asked, peering past her to where two Arnor rangers were watched on.

Caila stared at him hard for a moment and then deflated, ”I thought I knew you. Just a little…and now I don’t seem to know anyone. Dauremir’s gone, my parents too. I don’t know where my sister is and…”

Hanasian could tell from the way Caila’s lower lip trembled that she was about to burst into tears. Exasperated, he ran his fingers through his hair as he considered what to do now. She began to sniffle as Hanasian shifted to sit on his heels. He watched the new fire’s tentative flames and then flicked his eyes up to where Caila stood, arms now crossed.

”Alright, then,” he muttered.

”Alright what?” she snapped back.

”I was a ranger before I met my wife. Served in the War with the king. Formed the Black Company of Arnor, now the Free Company of Arnor. Was its captain for a good while. In the king’s service we went to many far lands.”

Caila sniffled again and Hanasian looked up at her as he shifted to sit, ”You’ll be standing a long time unless you sit now.”

Warily, Caila sat and Hanasian continued on, ”I will not go into Cardolan’s sad history now. Suffice it to say that it was widely held that the line of kings had fallen in that land and its people scattered centuries before the War. When it emerged after the War that a royal heir had somehow managed to endure, the king sent me to locate Cardolan’s heir but it could not be achieved. We came too late and could not tarry. We were already hunting another foe: the predecessors of the Moricarni.”

Caila sat in silence, listening to all Hanasian divulged. He spoke of the seeds of the Moricarni’s malice and of how his path came to finally cross that of Cardolan’s heir. He spoke of Anvikela and her efforts to defend him and his family from the Moricarni. He spoke of the ambush in Bree that had nearly claimed his life. He recounted what he had learned after weeks spent with Aragorn and Massuil, melding together what had occurred within the campaign in Eriador with the efforts he had been involved in. When he finished, it was dark proper and Caila was chasing a nugget of potato around her plate of stew.

”So Rin…am I allowed to call her that?”

“She rather loathes the formal titles.”

“Rin has spent the past two years, longer, thinking you are dead.”


“But you are not.”

“No…although how long that remains the case depends rather on Rosmarin’s disposition. While necessary, the ruse has exacted a cruel price upon my wife and children.”

“You think she will be angry with you?”

“I left her heavy with my child and I gave her no token to cling to that I might yet live. I sent no message. I left no sign. The peril to her and the children came because of me and she has lost a man she thought of as a father to it. Her brother has been at war because of me. Her home has been uprooted not once but twice, Annuminas first and now Imladris, because of me. And through that all have been five children, for my youngest has yet to meet me, wanting to know where I was, why I left, why I haven’t come back, when I might return. Can you imagine it, Caila? I can not.”

Caila was silent for a long moment before she set her half eaten dinner down.

She quietly asked, ”What will you do?”

“Return to her,”
Hanasian said, eyes on the pallid flames, ”Seek her mercy and forgiveness.”

“And if that does not come?”

He’d been wondering the same thing himself. His wife had endured much sorrow in her life. Robbed of two sets of parents, then the Wolf, the loss of an infant daughter and the supposed death of her husband. Aragorn had told him that his wife had become cold as a winter’s morn – as beautiful and as frozen. What joy she had she gave to their children, the king had said. She reserved none for herself. Her smile was rare and fleeting. She did not laugh, nor dance, nor sing. Massuil had warned him that while Rosmarin was finely tempered steel such steel might still shatter under the right conditions.

”I accept my fate, Caila, whatever it may be,” Hanasian solemnly answered and he said no more that night.

In fact, he spoke no further on this matter to anyone. All the same, his thoughts rarely strayed from it. He rehearsed what he might say when he saw Rosmarin next but could not settle on anything that seemed right. He wondered at how she might react. Elation, shock, anger and betrayal all came to mind and probably more still. He knew her to be unpredictable in such moments. In fact, what Aragorn had told him led Hanasian to wonder if he still knew his wife at all.

She had changed greatly from the woman that had haunted his dreams. She had risen to the demands of her circumstances and demonstrated considerable skill in both the stewardship of Arnor as Aragorn’s envoy and the leadership of the Rhuadar military campaign. Aragorn had cautioned him to tread warily. Rosmarin’s power and influence was now considerable. It stretched beyond the rangers of Cardolan and beyond the Free Company of Arnor to the hearts of Arnor’s people, including those of Arnor’s rangers. Hanasian’s own brethren would understand, the king said, but would harbour little liking for the toll Hanasian’s ruse had exacted.

Aragorn had told him of his wife’s injuries and he wondered at the extent of her recovery. It had been nearly six months since she had been located in Rhuadar. The king had said Rosmarin was showing signs of becoming restless in her confinement at Imladris. Massuil had sent word the day Hanasian had arrived with Caila in Fornost. It was entirely likely that he would meet Rosmarin as she makes her way to Fornost for surely tidings such as Massuil had sent would draw her out from Imladris. Try as he might, though, Hanasian had no idea where he might even begin with reuniting and reconciling with his wife.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


”Hayna! Hayna!”

There was not so much as a giggle to be heard in response to Rin’s call and the closer she neared to the river bank the heavier the stone of dread in her stomach became. Hayna was fond of running off and hiding, delighting in leaping out to surprise those who went searching for the ebullient child. At two years of age, the rascal could scamper away with surprising swiftness and fit into the tiniest of nooks and crannies. Imladris was filled with such places, and Rosmarin had gone to some length to warn Hayna away from the banks of the Bruinen for his own safety.

But a mother’s instinct drew her towards the river now whilst her rangers combed Imladris’ grounds. As she searched, she sternly lectured her thoughts. Hayna knew better, she told herself. He’d never gone to the river bank alone before. The swift water made him anxious. One of the rangers, Caeros or her new Wolf, would find him tucked away under a bed, safe, warm and dry. She was being unnecessarily grim and maudlin coming this way. It was only because Hayna’s birthday coincided with a particularly terrible moment in her life that she came here now. She would not find her son floating down the river or washed up upon the shore. She would not! Surely life had been cruel enough as to spare her that horror.

Still, while she attempted to steel her nerves and keep her wits, Rin could help but scan the shores and churning waters for her son’s tiny body. When she did not see any such nightmare, she was lightheaded with relief. She set the palm of her hand upon her chest, steadied her thoughts, and began combing the banks for a muddy, sodden, mischievously grinning toddler pleased at having outwitted his elders yet again.

”Hayna, you come out right this instant young man! If you do, you’ll get some of Elrohir’s pudding. Your favourite! Quickly now…before I change my mind!”

Still there was neither giggle nor rustle of movement. Nothing surpassed Elrohir’s pudding as far as Hayna was concerned. Not even his mother’s embrace could hope to match such a delight as that. This had to mean that Hayna was not here, Rin told herself, but still she could not bring herself to abandon her search.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Bruinen ford was empty. Neither Elf nor ranger were in sight. Puzzled, Hanasian paused on the banks. Rosmarin had not met him on the road and now with the ford empty Hanasian wondered if his wife would refuse to meet him entirely. Everything he had envisaged had not included this. How could he hope to reconcile with his wife if she to see him? What was he to do then? Set a one man siege of Imladris and wait her out? While he paused, Caila had wandered off. Hanasian had noticed that she had decided to stay with them all the way to Imladris but he’d been too preoccupied to worry about what that might mean. Her path in life was her own to choose in any case.

Hanasian stared up at the path ahead. It sloped gently upwards from the Bruinen and curved around to the left. Higher still he could see the graceful sweep of Imladris’ rooves. The rangers loosely scattered around him were silent, waiting patiently with him. He was considering sending a party of them ahead when Caila wandered back. She was not alone. A child with bright auburn hair was upon her hip and, when he saw the rangers, his happy face broke into an even wider smile.

The little lad stretched out his hands towards the nearest ranger, hands open and grasping. He began to squirm upon Caila’s hip and so she surrendered him before he wriggled out of her grip all together. As Hanasian took this in, the weak winter sunlight became impossibly, searingly bright. The bright auburn hair, the shape of the lad’s face, and his apparent age all fitted a drawing Videgavia had brought to him. This was the son Hanasian had never met, the child named for his brother, and just as he realised this they heard a voice calling for the lad.

Hanasian would recognise his wife’s voice anywhere. It was lower than usual for a woman and now he heard threads of anxiety as she called her son’s name. At the sound of his mother’s voice, Hayna stuffed his fingers in his mouth all at once and grinned devilishly, well pleased with himself. The ranger holding the child brought him across to Hanasian. Hayna studied him, wide grey eyes filled with curiousity. Thoughts reeling and heart racing so fast that it was skipping beats, Hanasian took his son into his arms. Hayna wriggled at this change of circumstance, clearly familiar with and fond of rangers, but when his mother called again the lad giggled and peered over Hanasian’s shoulder in the direction of his mother’s voice.

Hanasian felt his son lean into him, so sure that this strange man would securely hang onto him that he practically hung over his father’s shoulder to watch for his mother’s arrival. And if that wasn’t too much, his mother rounded a boulder on the bank and came to a sudden halt, half way through Hayna’s name.

Hanasian whipped about to face her as Hayna lisped, ”Boo Amme!”

The morning light fell over her face, startled at first but now slipping into shock. The colour the chill air had brought to Rin’s cheeks was fading now. Aragorn had not been exaggerating when he had said even the delicate golden warmth of her hair had fled her. It fell in a river of silver now, gathered up into a thick braid that spilled over her shoulder and fell like a rope to her hip. The ruby velvet of her gown was stark behind it, the colour so deep as to be almost black. She had her skirts clutched in hands gloved against the cold and her eyes were wide as oceans. A man could drown in their stormy blue depths. He had happily done so many times over.

Rosmarin drew back instinctively, her eyes moving swiftly from the rangers that stood at their ease to the man that held her youngest child. Hanasian’s voice had died in his throat. She was more beautiful than he had recalled, tall and fey. His mouth was dry and his heart was in his throat. He could see from the rapid fluttering of her pulse at the base of her throat that Rosmarin’s heart was galloping. Hanasian watched her take in Caila, weighing the young woman up and then move back to him. Even from here, he could see that her finely drawn jaw was locked. She was confused and alarmed both and Hayna’s good cheer started to leech away as he perceived his mother’s distress. He restlessly squirmed upon Hanasian’s hip and so he set his son down upon the river rocks, took Hayna’s little hand in his own, and slowly approached Rosmarin.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Why were the rangers just standing there, doing nothing? Who was this man with her son? Who was that woman? Rin’s thoughts scattered like a flock of starlings before a hawk. Never once did they coalesce in the same pattern. Why did that man look familiar? She had seen him before? If so, why did she not know his name and why did he look like he was about to have an apoplexy now? Rosmarin scrutinised the man who held her son by the hand. He bore no weapon, but then he had her son.

His clothing, whilst travel stained, was in good repair. His hair was iron now, and short as if shorn recently, but she could see it had once been dark. The line of his nose and jaw was familiar and his eyes were those of the Dunedain. There was a compelling quality to his features, something more than merely handsome. She did not know if it was comforting or threatening and once again she looked to the rangers and saw they were still doing nothing.

Aragorn had completed his review of the Arnor rangers, or so Eldarion had told her when the crown prince was last at Imladris. Surely, if this many traitors were to hand then the king would have uncovered them? Why had she come without anything beyond the meagre knife she kept in her right pocket. Still the man advanced and she found that all of a sudden the boulder she had just rounded pressed into her back. She had nowhere else to go unless it was into the river, and in any case, this man had her son! She could no more flee than she could throw herself at him and attack. And then, almost shyly, the man smiled at her.

Her heart lurched as if it had fallen out of the bottom of her chest. She began to tremble immediately. She knew that smile! She had dreamt of that smile and the man who owned it only last night. He had worn it as he ran his fingers through her hair. He had so loved to do that, she thought, and as she did so breathing became something Rosmarin forgot to do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hanasian released Hayna’s hand and sprang forward. River rocks, worn and smooth, skittered beneath his boots as he closed the distance. He caught Rosmarin by the narrowest of margins. As he laid her down gently, Caila caught him up.

”That was close! Those rocks would have dashed-“

Hanasian said swiftly before Caila could finish her statement, ”I know.”

Hayna climbed onto his mother and laid himself out to listen, ”Amme sleep.”

“You said she was pretty,”
Caila continued, studying Rosmarin from her vantage above Hanasian's shoulder .

”Amme sleep!” Hayna insisted more forcefully.

Hanasian paid Caila scant regard as he felt for his wife’s pulse and found it racing along.

”She isn’t. She’s…beautiful!” Caila exclaimed, astonished.

Hayna gave Caila a reproachful glare and placed a chubby finger to his lips, ”Shhhhhh! Amme sleep!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The light that prised through Rin’s lashes was faint, as if the hour was late or the curtains drawn. When she opened her eyes, she saw not the open sky but the ceiling of her room in Imladris. Over the past six months, she had studied it very well indeed. There was not a carving, whorl or motif that she had not explored whilst recuperating or during the many long, sleepless nights that were her lot. The nightmares had stopped suddenly but they had been replaced by jarring dreams of a different sort. The kind that left her breathless and filled with aching sorrow for a man she would never again hold in her arms. She had thought herself reconciled for the long years ahead alone. She had though she had come to accept the empty bed, the empty chair at the table, and all the many moments that would not be shared as their children grew up over the years. But her dreams had said otherwise and now…this.

She had discounted Loch’s tales of his own dreams as exactly that, tales. Could what she thought she had seen on the river bank really be? Soft movement nearby altered Rin to the fact that she was not alone. Then came the sound of water being poured. Rose soon came into view, dark eyes concerned and a glass of water in hand.

”You must be thirsty. I always am after a terrible shock,” her brother’s wife told her.

Rin pushed herself up to sit, still a little dizzy, and accepted the water. Both she and Rose watched the glass shake in Rin’s hand for a moment. It was an effort to drink without spilling it onto the bed. Rin set the glass down in her lap and stared at her feet. They were bare. Someone, Rose probably, had removed her shoes and covered her in the light yet incredibly warm blankets the Elves of Imladris wove. She was determined to uncover their secret for blankets such as these would work wonders all over Arnor. Rin blinked at her thoughts. Why was she even thinking of that now?

”You’re still quite pale,” Rose said as she sat on the edge of the bed.

”That’s normal, then,” Rin replied and at that Rose reached for a hand mirror and held it up.

”You’re white as a sheet. And see your pupils? They’re so wide that your eyes might as well be black,” Rose stated sternly and then lowered the mirror.

Rin stared at the mound her feet made and tried another mouthful of water. Her hands still shook like Hayna’s favourite pudding.

Rose asked, ”Do you remember anything from the river?”

Try as she might, Rin was not sure what she remembered. Her thoughts kept skittering away every time she attempted to piece it together.

”I was searching for Hayna,” she said and frowned at her feet, ”There were rangers, Arnor, and a girl.”

Rose supplied, ”She’s been quite cooperative. Very eager to help.”

Rin frowned at Rose’s statement, ”Caila?”

“Yes. You won’t know her. She’s never met you before today. She knows your husband, though, through a Rhuadarian ranger you’re unlikely to know.”

“How do you know this?”

“Camaroth has both Caila and Hanasian in his keeping. Your new Wolf has had a busy day of it.”

Rin echoed, belatedly.

Everything about Rosmarin’s demeanour suggested the woman was in shock as far was Rose was concerned: her pallor, the glassiness of her eyes, her disorganised thoughts and strangely flat reactions.

”You were on the river bank, looking for Hayna, when you saw Caila and the rangers,” Rose prompted.

”Hayna had wandered off,” Rin said, veering off, ”He’s been doing that more and more of late. I wonder-“

“Rosmarin, your husband was on the river bank,”
Rose said bluntly, ”You know that, don’t you? You recognised him?”

“He smiled. He had my son,”
Rin whispered, staring at her toes, and took a faltering sip of water.

Rose eased out of the room a while later to find Camaroth waiting beyond the door in the hall. The woman shook her head at the new Wolf of Cardolan.

”She’s in shock,” Rose told him, ”It’s hard to get anything coherent out of her. I think, though, she knows it is Hanasian. There is no explanation for her reaction otherwise.”

Camaroth was a difficult man to read. Of average height, the Wolf of Cardolan had a nondescript appearance that meant he could blend in most anywhere and a skill for masking his thoughts matched only by his mistress. That, and his ability to speak Dunlendic, ideally suited him to his new position. Right now, however, Rose could not ascertain what was happening inside the Wolf of Cardolan’s head.

”Both Sons of Elrond and the Arnor Rangers say as much,” Camaroth said, ”I see no reason to doubt their word.”

“What else do they say?”
Rose asked at which Camaroth shrugged.

”You were there.”

Indeed Rose had been. She had watched both Slippery and Camaroth quiz the girl named Caila and Hanasian but Rose had left early to ensure that Rin did not wake to find herself alone. Of course, the Wolf would be aware of that, which led Rose to wonder why he was being obtuse now.

”If I were to look in on Hanasian, in what state would I find the Lord Consort of Cardolan?”

Camaroth looked at her flatly and then dismissed the question, ”The same state, perhaps a little warmer, than he arrived in.”

Rose’s brows rose and she gazed at the ranger for a long while.

”You want more, speak to the Sons of Elrond,” he told her.

Naturally Rose did precisely that. She found the Lords of Imladris with their heads bent, a rapid discussion in Sindarin well underway. She could not understand Sindarin properly yet, found the language difficult and slippery, but even so their discourse fell away.

”Lady Rose, I trust-“

“Her grace is in shock, naturally, but otherwise well,”
Rose interjected, cutting off Elladan’s question impatiently, ”But you knew that well enough. What of her husband?”

“Quite well,”
Elrohir told her, ”Is there any reason he would not be?”

“I encountered the Wolf of Cardolan on my way to see you,”
Rose told them and at that the brothers exchanged a coded glance.

”Ah…yes…there has been some tension but that is behind us now, the matter closed.”

“What tension?”
Rose inquired.

Elladan smiled politely, ”Nothing to worry over, m’Lady.”

Thus Rose was fuming by the time she found Slippery. The small Gondorian woman had kicked her boots off and was staring into the hearth with a glass of wine in her hand when Rose pushed into her room.

”Oh, I could do with one of those,” Rose sighed wistfully, at which Slippery waved at a sidetable.

”There’s more than one glass. Help yourself. Don’t drink it all, though. I fancy Doc could do with some herself. How is she?”

“Rattled. I’m not sure wine, even this stuff, will help,”
Rose said as she poured a second glass.

”It’s Elvish …lifted it from the kitchen yesterday,” Slippery said as Rose sank into an empty armchair with a sigh.

”Not even Elvish stuff,” Rose said, sipped at the glass and then held it up thoughtfully, ”Though, it’s probably worth a try.”

Slippery snorted at that, ”If it’s that bad, best to wait a day or so. Doc’s dangerous enough right now without being drunk as well.”

“Speaking of dangerous, what happened with Camaroth today?”

“The Wolf?”
Slippery exclaimed and Rose could tell the Gondorian was getting ready to fob her off.

”Look, I just want to know what happened after I left. Is it really so difficult a question? Did Camaroth kill Hanasian or something?”

Slippery’s eyes darted to the fire and she sipped nervously.

”No…no…ah…Well…” she fumbled and then she sipped again, ”Things got a little…hot shall we say? Yes, definitely heated…But everyone is still alive and well and it’s all behind us.”

Rose growled, ”Just. Tell. Me. What. Happened!”

Slippery pushed out a sigh, ”Look…put simply, Camaroth wasn’t sure that he was getting the truth.”

“I know…I was there when the Sons of Elrond told him that Hanasian was who Hanasian said he was! You came in from speaking with the Arnor Rangers and said the same thing. I want to know what I don’t know, not what I have already seen for myself!”

“Alright! It’s been a busy day and I’m tired. You left not long after that and that’s when the Wolf decided that if Hanasian was who he said he was then Hanasian was guilty of treason against Cardolan.”


“I know…on account of Hanasian being Consort….offical role, that. The Wolf said that he had abandoned his position and misled Cardolan’s crown – Doc – and that amounted to treason. And, at one point, the Wolf went so far as to suggest Caila’s child did not have a Rhuadarian father…if you know what I mean…”
Slippery sucked in a breath, ”Hanasian kept insisting if that was true then he’d not come back with Caila in tow, much less allow word to be sent in advance of his arrival.”

“We didn’t receive any word,”
Rose said.

”Precisely,” Slippery said and washed a hand over her face, ”It was a mess and do you think the Sons of Elrond could be found then? Of course not!”

“Where were they?”

“Speaking to the rangers of Arnor that arrived with Hanasian and Caila, as it turned out. They affirmed Hanasian’s story as the truth. Finally showed up – but not before Camaroth had drawn his sword. He’s been a ranger of Cardolan for a long time but I’ve never seen him that angry before.”

“Hanasian’s unharmed?”

“Yes, thankfully. You know the ironic thing…if Elrohir had not intervened when he did, treason would have been committed – by Camaroth.”

Rose stared at Slippery and then at the glass of wine she held in her hand, ”And now where are they – Hanasian and Caila?”

“Hanasian is awaiting his wife. Caila was off exploring Imladris last I saw and the rangers of Arnor are keeping to themselves doing whatever it is rangers – Arnor or Cardolan – do at Imladris. Thinking ranger thoughts and doing ranger deeds.”

“What a mess,”
Rose said and then sat up in her chair, ”The children!”

“Caeros has them in hand. They’re none the wiser for now. Not sure how long that can last but for now, I’ll take whatever peace I can find no matter how transitory it might be.”

Rose lifted her glass and drained it, ”I think you might need to acquire another bottle if you intend to use it for Rin.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hanasian was unable to sleep but he was stretched out upon his bed all the same. The sun was fast sinking and his thoughts were ablaze just as his hearth was. His son’s face repeatedly returned to his mind’s eye, open and curious and filled with innocent wonder. The little fellow was clearly a happy spirit, possessed of confidence that the world was a safe place that was his to explore. It was a marvel that such innocence was possible given the upheaval of his life and it was a testament to the efforts made by his mother. A ferocious pride swelled in his breast each time he thought of that but it was followed by other creatures soon thereafter.

Hayna’s innocence was something his mother had held but briefly in her early years. She had been only five years old when her foster parents had been slaughtered and since that time, her years had been filled with more hardship, privation and danger than they had been peace. He recalled clearly his promise to her. He’d made it the night they had wed. She had looked into his eyes with such yearning as he had sworn to bring her happiness and peace. She had trusted him. He did not know if she could ever do so again.

But if his wife was going to mistrust him, then it would be for his deeds and they were not what others had said this day. Camaroth’s insinuations stung deeply still. They called up everything Hanasian had sworn to himself he would not be. They represented everything his father had been – treacherous, duplicitious. Halasian had abandoned his wife and family and foresworn every oath he had ever made, including his marriage vows but his son had not.

He had returned to his family and kept faith with oaths given to king and his beloved wife. He was not his father and, on a day like today, the suggestion otherwise had struck him deeply. Still, even now, Hanasian detected an unwelcome, grudging admiration for the new Wolf of Cardolan. The man would serve Rosmarin well indeed even if he could never replace all Farbarad had meant to her. As for his wife, he had not seen her since she was carried up into Imladris. All he could now was wait.

A soft tap at his door turned his head towards it and he saw Caila peek through the crack. With a sigh, Hanasian sat and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He’d not given Caila a second thought and he only guess at how overwhelmed she must be. She was, after all, quite young and already bearing the heavy burden of grief and the knowledge that she was with child. She opened the door wider and slipped into the breach reluctant to enter the room properly.

”Either come in or don’t Caila. Whichever it is, decide quickly for the nights are cold even in Imladris.”

“I think it best that I stay here so no one misconstrues,”
she told him and Hanasian sighed wearily.

He had hoped Camaroth’s accusations had remained between the Wolf and those in the room at the time.

”I am sorry, Caila,” he apologised but she shook her head and waved it off.

”Oh it’s not your fault! I think it’s just silly. Why on earth would they think that anyway? Have they not seen your wife?”

Caila, of course, did not know about Halasian. Had she, as any Arnor or Cardolan ranger did, then perhaps she would not have trusted him as readily. Hanasian was in no mind to explain his father to her now.

”Have you been treated well?”

“Yes! First a lady called Rose came to speak with me. Then I met Elves! They’re wonderfully strange. They spoke with me and I’ve been wandering around…this place is huge! So many rooms…so many books! I wish I could read.”

“Ask and they might well teach you,”
Hanasian said.

”Really?” Caila asked, eyes widening and Hanasian nodded.

”So…that little boy, your son?”


“Hayna…he’s a happy fellow. Very strong willed! Have you seen your other children yet?”


“Why not?”

“I am waiting to see their mother first.”


“There are matters to se-“
Hanasian’s voice fell away as Rosmarin appeared behind Caila.

”Settle,” Rosmarin said softly from the hall, ”There indeed are.”

Caila whipped about, ”Oh! I didn’t know! I…um…I-“

Caila fumbled into a curtsy, clearly unfamiliar with the movement. Rin caught her before it progressed too far.

”Sorry,” Caila muttered, flustered now, ”I don’t know how to curtsy properly.“

“And I hope you do not have to learn. My name is Rin.”

“Yes, I know! Hana-“
Caila flushed, ”Your husband told me so.”

Hanasian watched his wife arch a brow at Caila and realised that the reaction was familiar to him. Perhaps she was not a stranger entirely.

”You are speaking with Caila, Eldawen,” Hanasian said as he rose to his feet.

Rin cocked a brow a second time, noting that he had heard of the latest name she had collected. His wife seemed to have a knack for collecting names. It was something he would tease her about but he could not do so now.

”Yes, yes my name is Caila…Um…your husband…um…”

“I had hoped that I might speak with my husband,”
Rin said smoothly to the flustered girl.

”Oh! Of course you would! How silly of me!” Caila exclaimed and nearly collided with the door and then Rin in her rush to get out of the way.

Rin turned as Caila hurried off to call after her, ”If you take the right turn, you will find the Great Hall. There is food and company a plenty. You will be most welcome there, Caila, I expect.”

“Thank you!”

“And I hope we might speak later, if you like.”

“Oh, yes. That would be lovely! Thank you!”
said Caila, every farther away than before.

Rin turned back and shook her head and muttered, ”She’d rather have her teeth pulled through her nose.”

“Caila’s excitable but she’ll settle down soon enough,”
Hanasian said and his wife considered him a moment before she stepped through the door and, unlike Caila, closed it.

”Does Camaroth know you are here?” Hanasian asked warily.

He did not want the Wolf of Cardolan to knock down his door and accuse him of anything untoward.

”Today little escapes the new Wolf of Cardolan and I am not equal to the task of eluding him. We spoke, briefly.”

“Then you know,”
Hanasian stated solemnly.

Rosmarin nodded and looked to the hearth a moment, watched the tongues of flame dance there, ”Camaroth is newly elevated to his role. He will…find his way in time.”

"He will serve you well,”
Hanasian said honestly and Rosmarin’s eyes moved to him and stayed there.

Still, she did not move from her position just inside his door.

”It is you,” she said, voice barely a whisper now as she searched his face, ”And this is no dream.”

Rosmarin paused and he could not say what ran through her thoughts now. Was she angry, hurt or happy? Was she confused, overwhelmed or bewildered? Did he repulse her? More to the point, how did he go about becoming a husband and father again?

”How do we do this?” Hanasian asked, surprised to find the question turned into actual sound.

Rin pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. It was then he saw she wore his rings still. She had been wearing gloves when last he saw her. The revelation struck him hard.

”The rings, did you take them off?” he asked, not sure why it mattered – only that it did.

Rosmarin lowered her hands and studied them. Her long, agile fingers spread before her in the air. Then she shook her head.

”Not when they told me you were dead. Not when I came to believe them.”

“How, then, do we do this?”
he asked a second time and watched her lower her eyes to her rings.

”As we did this before,” she said, though it sounded more like a question than a statement to Hanasian.

When Rosmarin looked up at him again Hanasian asked, ”And how was that?”

What happened next was a blur. He was standing, heart in his mouth, one moment and then next he was falling in a tangle of limbs, utterly unable to stop himself. Heat flashed through him as her mouth found his. No soon had they fallen back onto the bed was she gone again. Reeling, Hanasian levered himself onto his elbows to find her face suspended in front of his. There was no question now as to what she thought or felt. The anger and dire warning in her eyes was as tangible to him as a knife across his throat.

”Never again, Hanasian. Swear it. On your mother’s grave. You will never do this again, or so help me….”

It was the first time he’d heard her say his name and it made his blood shiver in his veins.

”I swear it, Rosmarin of Cardolan. I swear it upon my mother’s grave. I swear it upon our children’s heads. I swear it upon sweet Míriel’s grave,” she gasped as he named their infant daughter, ”I will never leave your side again, beloved.”

Hanasian hoped that he had not changed so very much that she could not tell when he was speaking the truth. She stared at him hard, her gaze raking through his very soul and whatever she saw Rosmarin would never say. Whatever it was caused her to kiss him again, deeply.

”Admit it,” she murmured against his lips.

”Admit what?” he asked as he closed his arms around her and brought her close.

”It was a bad idea to go to Bree.”

Two years and longer still they’d been parted, Hanasian thought, and what Rosmarin wanted from him now was an admission that she had been right. All things considered, including the way she was nibbling his ear, he decided that she had probably earned that.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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Rosmarin’s proximity was overwhelming. He felt like he was in a dilapidated, tiny boat that was tossed here and there upon the waves her endless sea.

His voice was barely a whisper in response to her statement, ”Yes, you were right. If ever I venture to Bree again, it will be with you or not at all.”

In fact he had no desire to return to Bree. Too many times had his duty taken him from those he loved. He had thought it necessary this last time but, now that he knew what he did now, Hanasian could not shake the sense that he should have remained. He should have stood with Rosmarin against the dangers that had found them. Regrets that he suspected he might never shake free of gnawed at him anew. Before they could claim him entirely, something he had discovered on the snowy trail to Imladris they were wont to do, Rosmarin shifted against him. His thoughts landed hard into the present and once again he was jarred by his wife’s closeness. He could barely look at her.

His fingers grazed over the lacing of her gown and habit carried his hands lower. Before he knew it, he had begun to unravel the silken cords. A sudden doubt pierced him then. He spent years putting this woman from his thoughts, or trying to at the least. Years. He had shed his skin as a husband and father. It was not something he could just put back on again. It was not as simple as that. Or was it? That last question sprang up as the shoulders of her gown slid away to reveal her bare skin beneath.

Hanasian swallowed hard, suddenly nervous, and lowered his hands from Rosmarin’s shoulders. He closed his eyes as her breathing caught in her throat. She knew something was wrong, he realised. Even now, her mind would be racing, determined to unravel whatever it was. He drew in a deep breath.

”How do we do this?" he asked of Rosmarin, ”I have a memory of my life with you, but these last years have been hard. Look at me Rosmarin. I am scarred by blade and flame. I walk with a limp. My strength has begun to fail me. My hair is grey where the burns-”

Rosmarin placed a long finger across his lips and then he was startled by a gesture familiar and strange all at once. She gently clasped his chin in her fingers and lifted it so that he had no choice but to meet her eyes. He had tipped her chin just so many times over their years together but never had she returned the favour. Until now. Hanasian felt his eyes begin to water. She was so fair, so bright to him, that this alone was sweet agony. Rosmarin released her hold on his chin to spread her hands along his jaw, cradling his face before her.

“These things,” she said very quietly, ”Matter not to me.”

She gazed at him intently, as if she were examining him for the first time. The memory of their first moment, outside Tharbad, jolted through him. He’d not even known what she was until he had plucked her up from the muddy ground. He’d be startled, to say the least, by the bedraggled creature that had squirmed from his grip. Half starved, the glossy madness of fever in her eyes, she had glared at him through the mud and gloom and rain so hard that he suspected she would have bitten him if he gave her half the chance. As they had peered indignantly at each other, he had known she was assessing him. He had felt her attention sweep through him and he had shaken her mostly to make her stop. The fact two purses fell out of her clothing and into the mud was entirely by the by.

She was assessing him anew now, here. Gone was the desperation and starvation and fever. Gone, too, was the fear. Mostly. He thought he saw some uncertainty still, but he could not be sure.

”We are none of us unchanged by the events of recent years,” Rosmarin added.

At her words, Hanasian’s attention was drawn to the small scar near her left eye. It ran almost vertically from beneath her lower lashes to the high precipice of her cheek. A very sharp blade, likely a dagger, had done that. He could tell from the precision of the scar. Aragorn had informed him of the attack upon her in recent months. A renegade Ranger of Arnor, forced to the biding of the Moricarni. His actions had revealed the first clue in Eriador that Hanasian still lived. The Ranger had been either very careful or very fortunate to not take her eye with his sharp knife and, in the end, he had paid for his treason with his life.

The small scar beneath Rosmarin’s left eye would endure: a reminder of the need for vigilance and a testament to his wife’s resilience and strength. Hanasian noticed, then, the growing flush to her cheeks. He blinked and then set the palm of his hand over her heart. Its steady, vital thud was unchanged and as strong as ever it had been. In turn, her hand settled over his chest.

”For as long as these hearts toll, will I love you husband. That much is unchanged,” she whispered and lifted her eyes to gaze at him through her long lashes.

Hanasian hesitation shattered then and he was no longer worried he could not show Rosmarin how badly he needed her. Now he was fighting for control. He pulled her into his arms with a soft groan and sucked in a breath as he buried his face against her neck. The intoxicating scent of her hair and skin was a memory no longer. This scent had returned to him time and again, despite his efforts to put Rosmarin from his mind. It had tormented him even as it had sustained him across the years. He had made the biggest mistake of his life and it had very nearly cost him everything he had loved.

But here, now, that was done. She was the rain to his bleak, desolate, merciless desert. Hanasian’s hands slid over the smooth silk of her bare shoulders as he kissed her long and hard. His world, his awareness shrunk smaller and smaller until there was only them, there, then. He did not want for anything else. Hanasian abandoned the oars of his rickety, leaking boat and surrendered to a sea he called Rosmarin.

The candles were close to failing by the time he surfaced again. There was no way to know how much time had passed. The sea was peaceful now and warm. Rosmarin lay beside him, on her stomach, head turned away. She was warm and she was still now, her dreams passed. But she had not forgotten him all the same.

One by one the candles failed until only the hearth lit the room. The soft light danced over an arm, hers, draped across his stomach. Lower down, she had a leg partially hooked over his. Hanasian was reminded of their time at Henneth Annûn together all those years ago. He smiled to himself, delighted by the unexpected happiness of this moment.

Rosmarin shifted and her arm over his abdomen tightened. He gently curved his hand around her forearm.

”I am here, beloved,” he murmured, ”Fret not.”

At that she mumbled something unintelligible into a cloud of hair they had worked together to tangle earlier in the evening by various means. Hanasian drew in a deep breath and let sleep take him as well.

With morning came a soft tap at the door that neither Hanasian nor Rosmarin head. It was followed by a pounding slap of a little hand. That too went unmarked by the two people within. The hour was still quite early but the door did not hold very long. Adanel and Hayna soon slipped through and hurried to the bed within. Adanel pounced onto the bed without delay but Hayna was not yet tall enough to accomplish such a feat without his sister’s assistance. By the time she had helped Hayna to climb onto the bed, both their parents had begun to wake. Rin grabbed at the slipping covers as Hayna gained the bed proper and this prompted Adanel to raise a dark eyebrow at Hanasian.

It was, he noted, precisely the same expression Rin was wont to use on him when questioning something he said or done. After that, though, Adanel gave him a coy smile and came closer to embrace him. Hayna, meanwhile, had proceeded directly to his mother’s lap to reclaim it as exclusively his. It was bound to be his favourite place to be, given his age. From that vantage, utterly secure, Hayna eyed Hanasian boldly while his sister bounced on his lap.

Adanel set to studying his hands next. She set her own against her father’s and observing how much bigger her hands had grown. Then she started to turn his hands over, inspecting them carefully.

Hanasian said to Rin, ”I have missed too much. Never again."

At that Adanel looked up at him sharply. Her grey eyes framed by her dark hair were solemn but there was no recrimination there. She looked over to her mother for reassurance and Hanasian saw Adanel’s mouth curve into a small smile. He kissed her soft, plump cheek and smiled back at her. He gave Adanel a kiss on the cheek and could not deny how relieved he was to receive such welcomes as he had. But even as Hanasian marveled at this, he knew that his older children may not be so forgiving.

The day was still young when Hanasian kissed Rosmarin at the breakfast table and set out to locate his elder children. Once outdoors he paused to look over the snowy landscape of Imladris. He’d barely taken a thing in yesterday. The grey morning offered a pale, trembling light. Lazy snowflakes wandered through it. Everything seemed still, as if waiting for something and soon enough he heard it too. Two lads, bundled up against the cold, came around banging wooden swords together. To Hanasian’s eye, it seemed equal parts play and training.

The boys eventually noticed his presence. Reluctantly, each muttering behind the woollen scarves that swathed their lower faces, they lowered their wooden swords and peered up at the windows and balconies of Imladris behind Hanasian as if looking for someone. One lad shrugged and then elbowed his compain and the pair bowed reluctantly. Hanasian could guess they were doing so only to escape a tongue lashing should someone be above watching. One boy clenched his wooden sword to his side with his arm as he fidgeted with a mitten. The other peered at Hanasian closely. Hanasian watched the lad’s eyes narrow. Sandy brows shot skyward and his pale eyes popped wide open then. He dropped his sword in the snow to slap the coat of the lad beside him. That made his friend drop his sword and the boy protested irritably, frowning at the other boy.

”You’ll get in trouble,” the frowning boy warned as his companion yanked his scarf down, ”Amme said to-“

“It’s Adda!”
interrupted his companion, eyes shining locked on Hanasian’s face.

Worlin continued to gaze at him but Dorlith was a little slower. His frown deepened and the glance he cast to his father was sparing, intended only to satisfy his twin that he had looked before he set about telling Worlin he was mistaken.

”No, it isn’t,” Dorlith said to him but Worlin batted at his brother’s thick wool coat a second time.

”It is!” he declared loudly, pointing at Hanasian, ”Just look!”

“I did look-“

“It’s him!”
Worlin insisted urgently but Dorlith bent to retrieve his wooden sword from the snow.

Worlin edged closer to Hanasian to peer at him anew, his own wooden sword forgotten behind him.

”Amme says we’re not to bother-“ Dorlith began to chide his brother but Hanasian cleared his throat in hopes that his voice might be familiar to them both.

”It is good to see you, boys. You have grown so much!”

Worlin squealed with recognition and shot towards him. Dorlith eyes widened for a moment before he hastened to follow his brother. Hanasian knelt to embrace them both. Dorlith arrived still with his sword and so Hanasian had to be careful indeed to avoid his son’s flailing wooden sword.

The boys squirmed against him, overjoyed and overexcited both. Once Dorlith dropped his sword again, Hanasian was able to embrace both sons properly. After a moment, they pulled back and eyed each other in the way the twins had almost from the outset. He recalled them swaddled in their cradle, eyeing each other even as infants.

As per usual, Worlin broke the silence first. Second to be born, Worlin had been working to catch his twin brother up ever since.

Worlin excitedly demanded, ”Tell us about the war, Adda!”

“We are going to be brave soldiers in the King’s Army! We’re practicing!”
Dorlith added, determined as ever to outshine his slightly younger twin.

Hanasian hesitated as he thought and this only sharpened the twins’ anticipation.

Finally Hanasian said, ”War is not all glory and bravery. In fact, very little of it is. That is how most wars start, I think. These things aglow in the eyes of young soldiers.”

His sons gave him a quizzical look. Already Worlin’s nose was turning red.

Hanasian reached out to pull his scarf back up and continued, ”Have you heard of Folcred and Fastred? They were twin princes of King Foldwine of Rohan, where your grandmother Forcwyn was from.”

Dorlith and Worlin shook their heads and so Hanasian explained, ”They upheld the oath of Eorl of the Northmen and Cirion of Gondor in the founding days of Rohan, and they rode away with many men and spears with their father’s blessing. They were young and proud and strong, and went to a far away land to fight. For honour and glory. They were very brave.

“They held the Ford of Poros in South Gondor, but they both were lost, slain in their stand. They achieved glory that day for after the battle their deeds were spoken of with great reverence. But glory did them little good. It came only after they had perished and it lived only in their memory. Glory offers little comfort to the loved ones that mourned them.

"They sleep now in a barrow by the ford called Haudh in Gwanur. The glory they won was mingled in the grief of their father, sister and brother, and the people of Rohan.

“Glory is fleeting, lads, and it is nothing to lay your life down for.”

Both lads gazed back at him thoughtfully. Hanasian paused to study his twin sons. If they would pursue such a path then he would have them do so with their eyes open and a head clear of deceits like glory. He nodded, took up Dorlith’s wooden sword and stood. Hanasian peered down its edge and then moved it through the air. This was no toy sword. Someone, likely an Elf by the look of it, had carefully carved this to serve as a training sword.

Hanasian handed it back to Dorlith and noted that the lad took it up properly. Yes, he thought, definitely being tutored here in Imladris. Likely an Elf, for the Rangers here would be kept busy with other tasks. It was entirely possible that the Elf training his twins was the very Elf that had trained him in the years he had spent here at Imladris as a boy.

He considered his sons, both of whom looked quite solemn now as he had chastened them. In way, he supposed, he had.

”There is nothing wrong with the desire to serve your King and realm, lads. Practice hard, be diligent. Learn all you can of strategy and tactics. Blessed is such knowledge in times of need. Luckier still are those who never need call upon it. War always takes more than it can return.”

Hanasian considered the time he had spent away from them. It was a decision he had not taken lightly. The evil that had demanded it of him had taken away years he could never reclaim with his children and wife. It had changed them all in ways they could not yet understand. As his sons watched him closely, Hanasian realised now that perhaps he understood the grief his mother had held within her. He shook his head and smiled at his sons. There had been darkness enough in their young lives.

He said, ”We will talk more again later. You should begin your lessons for the day. Do you know where your sister Elian is?”

Dorlith was quick to answer, ”Off dreaming somewhere, most like.”

“Probably with a book in hand. We could go find her for you!”
Worlin volunteered, ever eager to avoid lessons.

”No need, lads. I can find her myself,” Hanasian assured them and for a moment Worlin appeared crestfallen.

Then Dorlith eyed him and, in unison, both lads obediently chirruped, "Yes sir!”

When Hanasian had left, such obedience usually was the harbinger of future mischief but the twins were older now. They bowed, the very picture of politeness. Someone, Hanasian concluded, had spent a lot of time teaching his irrepressible sons aspects of decorum. Then the pair dutifully headed off just as bidden. Unfortunately, neither lad was aware that their father knew Imladris better then they did. Hanasian watched the boys run not to lessons but the training rings, oblivious to the fact that their father was well aware of what they were up to.

He shook his head as they vanished out of view around a corner. For the life of him, Hanasian could not remember being that excited to train at their age. But, then, there was a great deal he did not care to remember of those days. Hanasian turned his thoughts to Elian next. There were many places in and around Imladris where one could be alone even on cold winter days such as this. Which of them, though, would Elian choose? One in particular sprang to mind. It was quite dear to him precisely because it wasn’t easy to get to. In winter, it was even more difficult for the slopes could be very slippery. Guaranteed solitude. He set out for it.

At their estate in Cardolan, Hanasian had shown Adanel a place to make her very own. Elian, however, had found this one all on her own. It was a rocky outlook, the roof of which proving difficult but not impossible to cross in winter. Sure enough, he found Elian seated there. She was bundled in a thick cloak and furs to ward off the winter winds. If she heard his arrival, she gave no sign of it.

”A beautiful place is this: quiet and out of the way.”

From her height alone he could see that his eldest daughter had sprung up while he had been away. He suspected she would be as her mother, tall even for a Dunédain. Her head turned at his words. Elian looked at him briefly before she turned to look out over the valley again. He was struck by her uncanny resemblance to Rosmarin.

Elian said, ”We have missed you Adda… all of us. I didn’t think you would come back.”

Hanasian ventured closer to sit beside her and for a time he was silent as he looked out over Imladris with his daughter.

Then he whispered, ”I missed you all so much…”

Words seemed so inadequate and yet what could he say? He could tell her what had drawn him away and kept him there. He could talk about the Moricarni and what they had done. But, then, Elian probably knew about the Moricarni already. She did not need to be burdened by his reasons or his deeds. The faces that would haunt him to the end of his days were his ghosts, not hers.

Elian looked at him a second time, her expression hard . Hanasian sighed heavily, turned to his eldest daughter and held her eyes in his. He had to say something, he knew, but she spoke before he could.

”Adanel can’t see you like this. She perceives things. It will give her nightmares.”

Taken aback, Hanasian replied, ”Adanel and Hayna have seen me already. We had breakfast together, as a matter of fact.”

At that Elian rolled her eyes, ”Yes, but that was after…you had reunited with Amme. You are always happier then.”

Elian’s brash candour rattled him. Then it occurred to him that he knew whose daughter she was and really he should not be surprised. Hanasian nodded and held his peace at first. In a way, his daughter was right. He needed to take hold of himself. He needed to ensure his past remained there. It could sneak up on them again to steal irreplaceable time from them. Not ever again. And while he had been gone, Elian’s life had been turned on its head. She would be old enough to know that everything that had happened to her, her family and her mother had been a direct consequence of his past. Decisions he had taken long ago. His actions. And there was nothing he, nor anyone, could do to change that.

”You are right daughter. How could I not be happy? All I need do is look upon you, my children, and your mother in all her beauty. How could I not be happy? You give me such joy! I will do my best to show it.”

A little smile showed on Elian’s face as she nodded, seemingly content with his undertaking. She shifted a little closer and embraced her father. After that, they sat for a while taking in the view in companionable silence, Elian’s shoulder leaning against her father’s. After a time, they climbed down together to seek out lunch.

At the bottom, Elian asked ”Will you let me read your journals, Adda?”

Hanasian was silent for a few steps as he thought, ”In time, when you are older. Have you been reading the histories here in Imladris?”

“Yes, all of them! But the elves have a certain distant aloofness to their records. There is so much not said. Perhaps because they live so long?”
Elian replied.

”Perhaps, but it that longevity that enables them to preserve so much. Many Dunédain records have been destroyed over the years, yet the Elves remember much.”

Elian nodded, ”Hanavia has been teaching me since we came here. He showed me the archive room at the library. He spends a lot of time there.”

“You and Hanavia are getting along better these days?”
Hanasian asked, intrigued. The pair had always been close, but that closeness had spawned more than its fair share of arguments.

”Yes. He is different now. More agreeable. I like him much better. Better, at least, than those monsters Dorlith and Worlin.”

Hanasian smiled inwardly and strove to keep his voice level when he replied, ”Your brothers are not monsters but, I will grant you they have a certain demeanor. It’s entirely possible that the blood of their grandfather runs heavier in them. Still, if that is true, the blood of their mother will keep them true.”

Elian made no reply to that statement. Had Hanasian looked hard at his daughter’s face, he would have seen a secretive smirk there. Instead, he was watching where he put his feet in the snow.

When Elian turned to her father, the smirk had vanished, ”I’m going to find Amme now.”

She hugged him and set off, leaving her father to a landscape that twinkled whenever a ray of sunlight escaped the grey clouds overhead. Hanasian stood for a time before he decided that he would seek the library and hope to find his eldest son.


The small gates opened in the winter night for two horsemen. Beragil and Scout dismounted and shook off the snow from their cloaks. The gate sergeant looked them over. Once he had nodded, the two men made their way to the Varda’s Shroud Inn. The place was abuzz with talk of Hanasian and some girl. Beragil said nothing should any there discover he or Scout had known Hanasian was alive and not reported it, there would be questions to chew on instead of a meal.

They sat quietly in the shadowed corner and ordered ales, bread, and butter. Where was Videgavia? If Hanasian is here alive, where is Dauremir? They would have to report in soon. As for the girl, that was neither here nor there. Gossip, most like, of the sort small towns like Fornost were susceptible to. As they considered how best to proceed, Deuma the innkeeper walked across the common room with a weatherworn old man, dressed similar to them.

The innkeeper gesture showed the old man to a chair at their table. Once that was done, Deuma proceeded to draw some curtains before them. He moved some empty tables and set them by the curtains, making a new wall. Behind the curtains the three men sat in silence. The old man drew back his hood and pinned both younger rangers with a rheumy pair of eyes still sharp as tacks.

Massuil said in a muffled voice, ”It has been a long time since I saw you two. I know you were with Videgavia in Bree when you set off to on the King’s business there. I know you were with Videgavia when you drove off the Lady’s assailant this summer passed. That was well done, lads, by the by. Don’t think we’d have caught her up in Rhuadar’s wide expanse in time had you not tripped over her. “

“Still, good as it is to see you here, well and mostly hale, we have a problem. You see, you both seem to be tardy with reporting in.”

Beragil and Scout glanced at each other briefly and Beragil said, "We had unfinished business-”

“Shhh…. I don’t want to know your business! My best guess it was something stealthy Videgavia put you up to and that there is only a curtain!”

“We did report in to the Lady,”
Scout objected, ”In Rhuadar. She was the campaign commander at the time, was she not?”

The old man grimaced at that, ”Videgavia’s report precedes you. Based on what he’s had to say, the Lady was in no fit condition for any such thing. Had she of been, I daresay you’d have both been questioned for your failure to report earlier. She’d been looking for you for nearly a year, did you know?”

The two rangers glanced at each other uncomfortably and Massuil shook his head, "Your commander doesn’t know yet that you’ve arrived, so let’s get to business while we still can. Hanasian came riding in here in much less stealth. He left here for Imladris only three days ago. Dauremir’s wife was with him.”

Beragil and Scout both looked surprised for a moment and then Scout cut in, ”Wife? I suspected he was married, but he said nothing of it. What of Dauremir?”

“He fell in Rhuadar. The Moricarni’s final victim, or so it would seem.”

Beragil and Scout nodded solemnly at the tidings and then Bergail asked, ”Final victim? It is done?”

“Hanasian was thorough in his report. The King and I both believe the Moricarni are defeated. Orders to stand down the Company have already been sent to Rhuadar.”

First Dauremir was dead, then the momentous news that their foes were defeated. In the bittersweet tidings, though, neither ranger could fail to be concerned at what else Hanasian might have divulged.

Massuil stood up and took their leave, ”Enjoy your food and ale this night, lads. Come the morrow you will report at sunrise to the local barracks. And if I were you, I’d not be late this time. You don’t want to be listed as deserters.”

Massuil pushed the curtain aside and gave Deuma a nod as he left.

Beragil leaned back in his chair as he took in Massuil’s tidings and then considered Scout.

He shrugged, ”So we report in sunrise tomorrow. Might as well make the best of tonight. It will last until then.”

A bucket of ale was ordered, and they ate as well as they could with the limited food that was available this winter. By the time the inn’s common room closed, they were far from sober. They wove their way together through Fornost’s frozen streets to the barracks. Dawn the following day found them huddled together under their cloaks, the flakes of the morning’s light snow dusting their hoods and shoulders.

”Rangers to me!” a gruff voice barked at them.

They rose, wavering, to their feet and blinked at the overly bright world around them. Heads pounding, Beragil and Scout spent the following three days accounting for themselves from the moment they had been assigned to Hanasian to now. Neither could conceal the fact that they had agreed to aid Hanasian to seek the Moricarni and neither could adequately explain why they had neglected to report Hanasian’s whereabouts to their commanders.

The local commander was not the sort of man to ignore such lapses. A failure to report coupled with the failure to report adequately were serious concerns in his book. Still, the King had given clear instructions on this matter. A number of pardons were to be issued, including to Beragil and Runner. Neither ranger received an official reprimand but neither did they escape the most unpopular duties and watches for some time to come.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

posted      Profile for Elora Starsong   Email Elora Starsong   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
Hanasian walked slowly into the great library of Imladris. It was little changed from his recollection from his youth. The Elves were fewer in number than before but aside from that, scant else had altered since he was a boy. Certainly, the Keeper of Records greeted Hanasian as if he had never left.

”Young Master Hanasian! I am pleased to see you in my halls once more! I am told that you have been vigilant in your writing!”

Hanasian looked about as if wakened from a dream. For a moment, when first he heard the Keeper’s voice, he felt as though he were eleven years old again.

”Aye, honoured Keeper. I have written much. And much I have not.”

“Such is the way of the Edain. So little time you have, and so much of what you gain is lost with your passing. I fear this has become the way of the Eldar too, for those that yet remain in mortal lands.”

The Keeper’s voice faded into melancholy and in that moment Hanasian stole another look around the library. No sign of Hanavia.

The Keeper bestirred himself from his recollections, ”I have found some of the items you had asked me about some seasons ago. I suspect you were the age your son is now at the time you made your request. It wasn’t until Hanavia asked me the same question did I remember that I had put them aside. I had quite forgotten.”

He stood and turned to look over the shelf behind his great desk.

”I asked so much of you when I was boy. I cannot now remember what these particular items might be. Are they the historical records of Arnor?”

The Keeper sighed as he sat down ”Indeed. Very little that we had not recorded ourselves was saved here, or so it has been explained to me. This is particularly the case when the realms established by King Earendur’s younger sons are concerned: Cardolan and Rhuadur. Of Arthedain we were fortunate to receive some records from Fornost, those that survived the sacking. You would read what I had repeatedly, as if searching for answers. You were convinced there had to be more.”

“Yes, I remember now!”
Hanasian exclaimed, “Is there more?”

The Keeper nodded, ”There are entire vaults of books, parchments, letters, and maps that had never been organized. I have only been the Keeper for a mere three hundred and five years.

“My mentor had been Keeper since Imladris was first established. He had served in a similar capacity in the House Celebrimbor before. He saved all he could from the sacking of Eregion. My mentor despised war, yet he marched with Master Elrond in answer to Gil-Galad’s call: the Last Alliance.

“When he returned he was much changed. He kept the library still, but organised little of the information we stored. He took me aside before the long hard winter and handed me the keys. Elrond watched from afar, grim that he had chosen to sail west. He had spent thousands of years wrestling with himself, and was never in peace. I hope he found it in Valinor.”

The present Keeper paused then, as if lost in his tale and distant memories. He paused for a moment and then blinked as returned to the present.

”Yes, I’ve only had a few hundred years as Keeper. In so short a time, I cannot say that I know all of what is kept here. I should have had you assist me when you were a boy. Now, with our waning, we all will soon go and all this will all be handed over to the keeping of Men. It will fall to those like you, and your son, to preserve it all.”

“Yes, about my son,”
Hanasian cut in swiftly as he recalled the Keeper could and would talk through the night if left unchecked, “Is he here?”

Hanasian recalled discovering the vaults as a child. He’d only been able to get in there on occasion. Nothing was catalogued, and the records were stored in a way that offered no order or organisation that his young eyes had been able to discern. As a result, he’d found little of interest and once the door had been fixed, he’d not been able to get into the vaults at all. Still, if the Keeper had recruited Hanavia to assist him, Hanasian was willing to bet his son was down there even now.

The Keeper said, ”Yes, yes. He is helping me. He should be up here soon.”

Hanasian was silent as he debated whether to wait for Hanavia or go down to him. As he was wrestling with this, he heard faint footsteps approach behind him.

”Hello Father,” his son said in a voice that was both familiar and changed.

There was a chill to it that Hanasian turned to face, ”Hanavia my son! I haven’t yet seen you since I got here.”

“I have been busy,”
Hanavia coldly reproached, “I have my work here, my studies and training.”

Hanavia walked passed his father to the Keeper’s desk where he set down dusty parchments he’d held in his arms. In this he was his mother’s son, from the icy breath of his anger to his formidable capacity to focus on the task at hand through it. His son would and could dismiss his father’s presence from mind if he so desired and, as Hanavia addressed the Keeper, that seemed very much to be what the boy wished.

”I found these in the first hall. They’re in what seems to be a mannish hand and there are more. I didn’t risk bringing them up as they are quite brittle.”

The Keeper closely reviewed the proffered records, ”My thanks, boy. You were wise to leave the fragile items in place. We will tend to the first hall, together, another time. For now, you are discharged from your duties here today.”

Hanavia nodded at that, robbed of his ploy to avoid his father for the present. He’d had most of yesterday, all of last night and half of today to consider what he thought and felt about his father’s return from beyond the grave. It had been a shock, and he could not help but compare it to another shock that came two years ago. Hanavia’s desire to be pleased by his father’s return unlooked for warred with a rapidly growing anger that he found difficult to put into words. Hanavia had managed to unravel that he was angry with his father’s sudden, cruel departure and inability to send word at any point that he yet lived. Yet how could he reconcile that against the man that stood before him now. He loved this man, idolised him. His father had been his greatest hero. Until now.

Hanavia drew a shaking breath and walked past Hanasian.

”Where are you going, son?”

“I am behind in my training,”
Hanavia replied as he left the library, reasonably certain that if he just kept busy and kept moving that all this other difficult, painful and unpleasant business would resolve itself.

Hanasian sighed unhappily and looked to the Keeper. He found the Elf buried in the records Hanavia had retrieved. Such struggles would be something the Keeper would deem none of his concern. Hanasian nodded and followed his son out of the library. Hanavia could run, but he could not hide. Not in a place like Imladris.

A light snow fell as Hanavia walked out onto the practice ground. The clouds his breath made enfolded his head as he fell into a stance. His movements were clean and precise. As crisp as the crunching ground he moved over. That was what both his trainer and his mother had emphasised. Precision, economy, power.

Yet, as Hanasian quietly approached from behind, it was evident that Hanavia was not behind in his training at all. His son had lied to his face rather than confront his father. It was sobering thought indeed, for the boy Hanasian knew prized honesty above all else. The dull ring of his sword as he freed it alerted Hanavia to his presence and the boy turned to face him. He wore his mother’s inscrutable expression, his thoughts wrapped tightly and squeezed away. For a moment Hanasian was sure his son would wave him away or abandon the grounds as he had the library. Instead, Hanavia waved him in.

Hanasian slowly walked around him, stopped and turned to face Hanavia, ”You gave up your first advantage. When it snows it is best to have your back to the wind no matter how slight that wind is. You don’t want your vision obscured by snow.”

The criticism, warranted or not, stung Hanavia into moving and their swords rang as Hanasian lifted his to counter his son’s swing. Hanavia came at him fast. Relentless as he was, his technique flawless, Hanasian turned every thrust and swing. Hanavia was wasting his strength. Any feint Hanasian made was met with a block whether it was necessary or not. Still, it was evident to Hanasian just how far his son had progressed in this aspect of his studies at Imladris.

Harder and harder Hanavia pressed, with all the vigour of youth until at last he caught the back of his father’s hand. His blade cut through Hanasian’s glove and drew some blood. While it was first blood, it was not a serious injury. The cold made it hurt more than usual and it was not enough to disable an opponent. Still, Hanasian caught the ferocious grin that suddenly lit Hanavia’s expressionless face. This, Hanasian realised, was more than practice for the lad.

Hanasian saluted his son with his sword and they pressed on a second time. This time, though, Hanasian fought him as he might a grown man. Hanavia did not shrink from the challenge and this proved as brave as it was foolhardly. It was not long before he was bereft of his sword entirely. His father caught his hilt easily and ripped it from his hand. It landed on the snowy ground with a thud and, at that, Hanasian stepped back and sheathed his own blade. Panting, Hanavia stared at him as if he would pierce his father by his gaze instead of his sword. His cheeks were flushed with exertion and anger.

”I cannot forgive you! You did it for us, you said, but I do not understand! The pain…my brothers and sisters,” Hanavia shuddered with visceral emotion, “Mother…I won’t forgive you!”

Hanavia stiffly moved to retrieve his sword and Hanasian was sure his son would press the fight anew, charged as he was with the desire to inflict the pain he had felt and seen in those he loved. Instead Hanavia cleaned off his sword and, back to his father, sheathed it.

”I will see you at dinner this night,” Hanasian said, anything to prompt his son into speaking further.

Hanavia held his silence, determined to not give his father the satisfaction of an answer until he noted the presence of his trainer nearby. While not a word passed between teacher and pupil, Hanavia knew that he had been observed from the outset. At that, his righteous anger was shaken by a sudden seed of doubt.

He straightened his spine and half turned towards his father, ”Yes, sir.”

Hanasian inclined his head and at that his son stalked away, sword clutched tightly in his hand.

Well, Hanasian mused to himself as he considered his injured hand, that could have been a great deal worse.

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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”The king had no right to act as he did!”

The statement was as bald as it was calm and the man responsible for it met Rosmarin’s eyes squarely. Without compunction. Cammaroth waited for Rin to respond but she couldn’t. She was breathless and her pulse was hammering.

”Challenge it,” Cammaroth said next.

”The king’s pardon is his alone to issue! On what possible grounds might it be challenged?”

“Did he consult you before he granted the Consort his pardon?”
Cammaroth asked, knowing well that Aragorn had not, ”The Consort’s actions affected Cardolan, and you, most keenly of all.”

Rin blinked rapidly, aware that things were fast unravelling around her. She had to act, swift and decisive.

”I do not make the laws,” she reminded the Wolf of Cardolan, ”They belong to the king. A man, I am compelled to remind you, that I have sworn my fealty to. And through me are you too bound. All rangers of Cardolan are bound by the king’s law and my oath. Repudiate that, then renounce me for I will not tread this merry path of treason you are set upon, Wolf. I will not!”

Cammaroth’s jaw bunched but he continued to stare at her. Rosmarin drew a deep breath and tried to steady her whirling head.

”I swore to uphold Aragorn’s laws and abide by his will. The king’s laws. The king’s pardon. It is issued and that, Cammaroth, is that.”

“Do you deny, then, that the bond of friendship between the king and your husband is one that is both long and deep?”

“Do you suggest,”
Rin countered in return, ”That the king twisted his own laws for the sake of friendship? Is that the man you think our king to be?”

Cammaroth hooked his thumbs through his belt and considered her coolly, ”I suggest, your grace, that the king is keenly aware of the difficulty that would arise should you decide to put your husband away. If you should banish the Consort of Cardolan for his crimes against you, your heirs and the realm, fresh discord within Arnor’s largest realm would spring up. And the Free Company of Arnor is returning, is it not, fresh from the fight in Rhuadar?”

Rin sat heavily at that and something akin to compassion crossed Cammaroth’s face.

”I do not criticise you for so readily accepting the king’s pardon. But to let it go unchallenged…that would be a mistake,” he finished.

Rin closed her eyes and wiped a hand over her face, ”And if I refuse to challenge it?”

There was a rustle in the study that made her open her eyes. When she did, she saw that Cammaroth had bent his knee to her. One hand rested on the hilt of his sword and the other upon his bent knee.

”We will not abandon you, your grace. Our oaths, mine, hold true.”

So, not open mutiny amongst her rangers then. For now. Her skirts whispered as she rose and came out from behind her desk. Cammaroth lifted his head as she reached him and kissed the ring she wore upon her right hand. Her father’s ring. She’d refused to establish a council of her own, breaking with her father on that score, but she had one anyways. Of a sort. The Wolf of Cardolan rose to his feet.

”I know this places you in a difficult position, m’lady,” he admitted and Rin could not help but cock a brow at his choice of words.

Difficult? She was neatly caught between her husband, her king and her rangers and this the Wolf of Cardolan described as difficult.

”And we are grateful that you would hear our concerns,” he added.

Anything further was forestalled by her eldest son’s sudden arrival. Hanavia hurtled across the threshold of her study and collided with her hard. She swayed but managed to keep her feet by merit of the fact that the eldest prince of Cardolan wound his thin yet wiry arms around her. Hanavia shuddered with emotion that was already soaking through her dress where his head was buried.

Snow was fresh on the shoulders of his thick woollen jacket and his boots had left a muddy trail in his wake. Cammaroth lifted his brows in silent query and Rin nodded at the door. They’d need privacy for this and the Wolf of Cardolan gave it to them without delay. As the doorlatch softly clicked, Rin closed her eyes and tried to assemble her wits in a new direction.

By the time she stumbled towards her own room to change for dinner, Rosmarin was exhausted. Slippery had already laid out her dress. It was a simple matter of putting it on. Nothing more than that. And yet when Rin sat down on the edge of her bed to catch her breath, even simple things were proven to be too much. When Slippery tapped on her door and peeked within, she found the Lady of Cardolan sprawled across her bed and sound asleep.

When Rin awoke she immediately knew that hearth had been stoked and her shoes had been removed. A pillow had been placed under her head. She knew all of this precisely because she woke face down in the pillow and her bare toes were wriggling in the warmth of the room. As she lifted her head she heard a page being turned nearby. It was properly night, she saw through her rumpled hair. Candles and tapers had been lit throughout the room.

”The children have been fed and bathed. I told them that they could bid you a good evening if you woke in time,” Hanasian said from somewhere in her room.

Hanasian was in her room. Her room. Rin twisted about until she could see him. He had taken an armchair by the hearth and had a book upon his lap. Her husband was in her room. It felt…she did not know how it felt. Rin scrambled about to sit up upon her bed.

”What are you reading?” she asked, really for just for the sake of saying something vaguely coherent.

Hanasian closed the book. It had wide pages, like an atlas of some sort.

”I wasn’t reading,” he answered.

Rin had no idea what to make of that and before she could unravel it, Hanasian asked her, ”How are you?”

She smoothed her skirts out over her crossed legs, ”Well. I’m quite well. How was your day?”

Hanasian cocked his head to one side and considered her for a moment, ”Illuminating.”

“Things will get better with Hanavia,”
she assured him and he smiled quietly.

”I know. They already have. Dinner was altogether pleasant, all things considered.”

She recalled then what Hanavia had admitted to her earlier, ”How’s your hand?”

Hanasian glanced at the back of his right hand as if he had forgotten, ”Naught but a scratch. The lad’s technique, though…”

“He’s been working very hard at it,”
Rin said, ”Though not for any love of war, unlike his younger brothers.”

Hanasian nodded thoughtfully at that and then ran a hand over the cover of the book still on his lap, ”We will have ample time to discuss the children. Are you hungry? Rose tells me you missed lunch today.”

Rosmarin sighed, ”I was busy.”

“She told me you would say that too,”
Hanasian informed her and set the book aside, ”It’s quite the bone of contention, I am advised.”

“Who else have you been speaking to?”
Rin demanded, the question slipping out of her.

”Oh I’ve had a long conversation with Lords Elladan and Elrohir both today.”

“Was that before or after you interrogated Rose!”

Hanasian gave her no reply and Rin was left to ponder for a moment just what to make of everything. He walked to the door, opened it and spoke briefly through it. That done, the door was closed again and Hanasian returned to his armchair.

”Dinner should be along presently,” he said.

Rin sniffed at that, still unsure of what to make of their conversation. She fidgeted with the bed covers she sat on and tried to work out where to go next.

Ultimately, she decided upon, ”What else did Rose tell you?”

When Hanasian did not answer straight away she looked up and found he was studying her.

”She helped me understand what it was like. For you,” he said.

”Why couldn’t you ask me?”

“Would you have told me?”
Hanasian asked in return.

Rin chewed on the inside of her lower lip and then shook her head, honestly.

”Doesn’t matter,” she replied, ”Done is done. You did as you thought best. As did I.”

“Then it doesn’t matter if I know or not, does it?”
Hanasian challenged.

Rin sighed at the question but dinner arrived before she could work out a way through or around it. Hanasian set the tray down on the table and beckoned her to it.

”Please, Rosmarin. You need your strength at times like this.”

“And what of you?”

“I ate with the children at dinner,”
he said reasonably and so she really had no option other to comply.

She crossed from the bed to the other armchair, settled within it and then selected leg of roasted chicken. Only then, as it was in her hand, did she recall something else of the day.

”The twins,” she started, staring at the drumstick.

”I know. I’ve spoken to the pair of them about today’s kitchen incursion. I suspect they were overexcited today. Understandable perhaps.”

“The two chickens they lifted today are but the latest in a procession of purloined treats. They were banned from the kitchens, by the head cook himself, only last month!”

“I also spoke with the Elf in question before dinner. Consider the matter addressed.”

“Addressed how?”
Rin pressed, ”I’ve been trying to smooth those feathers over for-“

“I have addressed it. There will be no more stolen chickens or-“

“The Elf has a list, Hanasian. A list of every morsel of food those two have lifted since we’ve been here. I’ve seen it. It’s quite long!”

“Eat your dinner.”

Eat her dinner? Eat her dinner!? For two years, two long, aching fraught years she had managed all on her own and now he was here, in her bedroom, telling her to eat her dinner. She opened her mouth to voice her thoughts on the matter only to find her stomach growled loudly for her. Cheeks flushing, she dropped the drumstick back onto the plate and sat back in her chair to glare at the fire.

After a while, Hanasian said, ”At least the apple. Surely, so much has not changed that you no longer like apples.”

She heard a plaintive note to his voice that cut across her brooding. Rin reached for the apple upon the tray and her eyes finally recognised the book Hanasian had been reading.

Rin shot to her feet in immediate dismay, ”That’s mine!”

“I know,”
Hanasian said, ”You’ve never been one to keep journals. Drawings were always your preference.”

“Who gave it to you?”

“Rose said it would help me understand.”

“She had no RIGHT!”

Hanasian asked, ”Have you read my journals?”

“Yes! Of course I have! But it’s different!”


Short of throwing herself at her husband and tearing her sketching book from his hands, Rin really wasn’t sure what to do. And even if she did that, what would it achieve? He’d seen the drawings already, like as not. Rin sat again, deflated but no less unsettled.

”How?” Hanasian asked a second time and she blinked.

”They were pertinent to the campaign, of course,” she replied, ”And you were dead.”

“Except I wasn’t,”
he pointed out and her eyes narrowed.

”So, then, only fair that I read the journals you kept whilst you were dead. The real ones, mind you. Not the edited versions.”

Hanasian said plainly.

Rin gaped at him and then pointed at her drawings, ”You’ve seen those. You’ve questioned those around me!”

Hanasian repeated.

”Why?” Rin pressed but Hanasian sealed his lips together and she knew what that meant.

He’d be drawn on the subject no further. Rin could not help but wonder what her husband was hiding. Nor could she understand why he’d hide anything from her at a time like this. She felt as though he was lying to her, again. She felt as though he had invaded her privacy, aided by those she trusted. She felt overwhelmed, confused and hurt and angry all at once. Thus, when Hanasian bade her good night and left a short while later, she did not ask him to stay. It was much later when Slippery came back for the tray. By then Rin was back on her bed, knees drawn up to her chest and brooding up a storm.

”You’ve barely touched it,” Slippery exclaimed and then, when she looked at Rin properly forgot all about dinner and came to sit on the side of the bed, ”What’s wrong? Did you quarrel with Hanasian? Only natural that you might.”

Rin shook her head, closed her eyes but felt tears press against her lashes all the same.

”I made a mistake yesterday,” she whispered, ”A very big mistake.”

“Shhhhh, now,”
Slippery said softly as she wound an arm around Rin’s shoulders.

Rin continued a little firmer, ”My children see it. My rangers see it. You do too, don’t you?”

“Don’t you go putting words in my mouth now,”
Slippery replied, ”It’s late. I daresay you didn’t get much sleep last night and, from what I know, today has been awful. You’re tired, Rin. The pressure you are under now must be terrible.”

The words spilled out of Rin, ”Hanavia hates him! Elian’s angry with him! The rangers want me to challenge the king and banish him! He spoke to the Sons of Elrond about me today, Rose too. She gave him my drawings!”

Slippery clucked her tongue at that, ”She was probably trying to help.”

“She had no right! None!”

“No, she’d didn’t,”
Slippery said, ”But for now, you’re best served by getting some sleep. Come tomorrow, things will make more sense. They always do.”

Some time later, with Rin’s sketchbook under her arm, she found Rose as the woman slipped from Hayna’s room. Rose started at Slippery’s sudden appearance in the hall and then her eyes fell onto the sketchbook under the Gondorian woman’s arms.

”Oh,” Rose said unhappily.

”Oh indeed. Have you seen these?” Slippery asked in a low voice.

Rose nodded, ”Yes.”

“And you thought handing over the bare soul of your brother’s wife to her husband without her consent or knowledge was a good thing to do?”

“He was trying to make sense of what had happened. He’s trying to understand his wife! It’s not like she’ll tell him. You know that as well as I. He has to understand if they’re to reunite. And that’s clearly what she wants.”

“Is it? Because right now, she has no idea what she wants. She was in tears, Rose. Tears.”

Rose’s head lowered at that, ”Truly?”

Slippery growled a curse under her breath, ”Look, just stop helping. At least until she’s made up her mind. And make sure Cammaroth doesn’t see her tonight. I don’t want to have to deal with what he’d do if he saw her in the state she’s in.”

“Of course,”
Rose said meekly.

Slippery shoved the sketchbook at the other woman, ”And put that back where you found it!”

She left Rose behind then and set off anew. This door she found ajar and, coming from within, the sound of a woman’s voice. Slippery leaned against the doorframe and considered the scene within for a moment.

”And there you are, Mistress Caila,” Slippery observed as the young woman’s voice fell silent, ”Did you know I’ve been looking for you all day?”

Caila attempted to lie through her back teeth, ”Why?”

“Lady Rosmarin is keen to have a word with you. I believe she’s made mention of that before.”

“But I haven’t done anything to her. I told those rangers that. It isn’t what they said it was. The only child I carry is my husband and if here were here, he’d hold you all to account for the terrible things you’ve been saying!”

“We only have your word for it, Caila…and if we’re to take you at your word then I struggle to understand why you’re so reluctant to speak with the Lady Rosmarin. You have nothing to hide, after all.”

“None of this, Slippery, is Caila’s fault. None of it,”
Hanasian said quietly.

”True enough, or we’ll soon see if it isn’t. Tomorrow, Caila, I expect you to attend the Lady Rosmarin before lunch,” Slippery stated.

“What if I’m busy?”[/I] Caila asked, lifting her chin, ”What if I decide to leave tomorrow.”

“You really do not want to make me chase you more than you already have,”
Slippery said and then looked past her to Hanasian, ”Now, if you please, your friend here and I have business to discuss.”

Rebellion flashed in Caila’s eyes and she looked to Hanasian next, ”He is my friend. My only friend here. And, some might say, I’m his only friend too. Maybe he doesn’t want me to leave. Maybe he doesn’t want to discuss this business. Maybe-“

“Maybe you should-“
Slippery started but broke off as Hanasian held up a hand to forestall whatever glib and terrifying threat was about to arrive.

”Caila, I appreciate your help but I think I best if-“

“You’re not alone, here, Hanasian,”
Caila interjected.

”I rather think that I am…and it is a prison of my own making. Please, Caila.”

Slippery waited until Caila had flounced her way unhappily out of the room and then slowly shook her head from side to side.

”You heard what Cammaroth thinks of you. You were there when he levelled his accusations. And here I find you, cosied up in your room with her? After, I might add, you’ve quarrelled badly with your wife!”

“I did not invite Caila here. I did not invite her in.”

“You did not send her away either.”

“She’s alone, Slippery. Widowed, with child and alone in a strange place where people she doesn’t know whisper nasty things about her.”

“Well, given what you’ve discovered about your wife’s experience in the aftermath of your supposed death, I suppose you can see for yourself what that’s like,”
Slippery snapped.

”Are you here to berate me?” Hanasian asked wearily.

”Tempting. Sorely tempting. But no,” Slippery admitted with a sigh and then took stock of the man she saw before her, ”You’ve had a right day of it, haven’t you?”

Hanasian nodded and asked, ”How is she?”

“Confused. Distraught,”
Slippery paused, ”Tears, even.”

“My wife never cries,”
Hanasian said quietly.

Slippery shrugged, ”Never used to, you mean. The pressure she’s under at the moment is immense. The children, the rangers, the king and you, all pulling her in different directions. How much do you think the woman can bear?”

“I’m not trying to pull Rosmarin in any direction. Don’t you think I know how much she has on her shoulders? I can scarcely believe she managed to hold it all up on her own all this time. And with the campaign and envoy on top as well?”
Hanasian shook his head slowly from side to side.

”I haven’t the right, yet or perhaps ever now, to assist her with the king or her rangers,” he continued, ”But I thought that I could at least be a husband and father to our children.”

Slippery let out a pent up breath, ”I know you spoke to Rose today. I know about the sketchbook too.”

he said flatly, ”Was a mistake.”

“She’s hurt and she’s angry and she’s every damn right to be, Hanasian. She has to learn to trust you again. Give her time. Show her patience. Be gentle. Do those things and you just might be surprised at what the extraordinary woman you married is capable of. She just might forgive you.”

“If you were her, would you?”

“I’d mount your head over my mantelpiece,”
Slippery replied without hesitation, ”Then, perhaps, I’d consider forgiveness.”

The following day unfolded such that Rin saw very little indeed of Hanasian and that, on the whole, was a good thing. At least, she thought that was how she felt about it. She did succeed in finally sitting down with Caila before lunch for a talk. In fact, Caila had arrived almost immediately after breakfast, anxious to get it ‘over and done with’ as she said. When it became clear that she was not about to be accused of all manner of unsavoury things but, in point of fact, offered a position and a safe place to live, Caila left stunned speechless for all of half an hour. That ended when she informed Hanasian of the surprising turn in her circumstances that would result in the young woman being placed in the staff of his wife’s Annuminas residence.

”My own room and one for the babe too,” Caila said excitedly, eyes shining, ”And all I need do is help in the kitchens. No laundry. I hate laundry! Awful work! No taverns and wandering hands neither! Aside from that, my life and my time is my own, to do with as I please!”

“Consider, Caila, my wife’s retinue is sizeable and, when we’re in Annuminas, keeping everyone fed is no small task. Then there are her guests to consider.”

“Oh, I know! But I won’t be in the kitchens all on my own,”
Caila answered, ”Why are you trying to talk me out of it?”

“I’m not. Your life is yours to lead as you see fit,”
Hanasian replied.

The younger woman sniffed at his answer, ”It’s much better than some inn or tavern, I can tell you. You don’t get board there, for starters. And mopping up stale ale and all the other things that end up on the floors isn’t much fun either. I’ve a roof over my head, food in our bellies, a way to support myself and somewhere safe for the babe. I think Dauremir would be pleased.”

“I think so too,”
Hanasian answered and that was that. Caila was now a part of his wife’s Annuminas household.

He went in search of her but found that Rin had already been subsumed by yet more work. A messenger with a fresh and apparently important missive from Eldarion had arrived and as a consequence, the Lady of Cardolan was not to be disturbed for any reason. Still, Hanasian did not want for anything to do. His children provided ample entertainment. Hayna, Adanel and the twins all wanted as much of him as they could get. Elian hovered nearby, watching but nothing more than that initially. Hanavia was like his mother, busy elsewhere and unable to be interrupted.

Thus the days passed, one leading into the next and in that time Rosmarin neither drew closer nor moved further away. Slippery had counselled patience. She had said that the right path would show itself to her and so Rosmarin waited. While she was waiting, the Free Company of Arnor were officially withdrawn from Rhuadar and provisions for their payroll, leave and the likely wave of retirement that would enure were made. Transport for those returning to Edhellond had to be organised.

Then there was the matter of her own household to consider. With the Rhuadar campaign ended and the threat of the Moricarni lifted, there was no reason for them to not return to their home in Cardolan. The head cook of Imladris’ kitchens would certainly agree. Yet, their estate had not been their home for a good two years. Most of her staff had come to her in Annuminas from Cardolan. As a result, she needed to make the estate ready for them again and she needed to establish an independent household in Annuminas.

In the midst of all of that she had her rangers to manage. While Cammaroth’s declaration of ongoing loyalty had not been untrue, the depth of their displeasure had intensified until she drew them all together and heard from each of them directly. Then she set about making her mind clear. It was a simple matter of law. The pardon, she told them, would stand unchallenged. On that very day did Hanavia finally relent in his enmity towards his father. It was a subtle thawing but perceptible all the same.

Spring found Imladris and through an open window did the sound of laughter float up and into Rin’s study. She rose from her desk and went to her window. Below, amongst garden beds that were emerging from winter’s long sleep, a game was underway. She could pick out the sound of her children’s laughter as they merrily skipped after a bouncing ball kicked this way and that. Slippery was down there too, Rose as well. So was her husband. All had their hands tied loosely behind their backs.

Rin paused for a moment to watch them and then considered the work that waited for her. All the shelves were emptied, their contents already being ferried back to Cardolan by those she had sent ahead to make it ready for them. What remained was on the desk. Broken mills and village drains that did not work properly. Bridges that got washed away in the spring floods. A boundary dispute between two farmers. An argument over who owned the local woodland. The usual fare. It never stopped and it was always important to those who wrote to her asking for her aid. She’d not done a progress this year and so all they had were their letters to her.

Still, somewhere between that horrible argument with Hanasian and this bright morning, months had passed. Her whole life could, and would she had discovered, pass with her at her desk. Or she could go outside and join her children. Her brother’s wife. They’d mended their fences. Her old friend. Her husband. She pushed the wedding rings around on her finger as she thought.

Patience, Slippery had said. Just wait and see. And here she was, watching her children laugh as they gambolled around their father. Was not this exactly what she had feared had been robbed from them. The ball went shooting across the lawn and splashed into a fountain. Imladris was full of the tinkling things. Dorlith scampered blithely after it, moving swiftly despite the fact his hands were pinned behind his back. He was in the fountain in short order, the reason for his volunteering in the first place. The cavorting and tomfoolery that ensued had them in uproarious laughter below and, to her immense surprise she found the sound of her husband’s laughter wondrous to behold. Then a bubble of merriment popped out of her.

She slapped her fingers across her mouth, startled. Rin had not laughed for years now. It was then that her path emerged before her, bright and straight and true as if it had been there all along. Shortly thereafter Rin found herself hurrying down to the garden. When she reached them, Dorlith and the ball had been retrieved from the fountain and stood, dripping, in a cluster of children and adults. Hayna spotted her arrival first and toddled towards her without delay. The others, though, paused as if wondering why she was there.

”We were just playing, Amme,” Worlin assured her.

”I know,” she replied, ”I could hear you from up there.”

Elian said immediately.

”We’ll be quieter,” Hanavia promised and at that Rin wondered how indeed her children viewed her.

She nodded at that and realised that telling them that she didn’t want them to be quieter would only make it worse. Clearly, her arrival had disrupted their fun.

”Well,” she instead offered as brightly as she could, ”Enjoy yourselves.”

Her children murmured assent, and exchanged baffled glances with each other whilst she set Hayna down again. Rin flicked a brief glance at the three adults there and turned away. She resolved that she’d not hurry no matter how badly she wished to scurry away and so she mapped out a steady, slow path back towards her office. She was so intent on this that she scarcely heard the approach of someone after her.

”Goodness you’re fast when you want to be,” Hanasian puffed as he reached for her arm.

”I wasn’t running,” Rin objected.

”Stay,” he said, ignoring her statement.

”I have work to do and-“

“Stay. Just for a while?”

Rin let herself be turned back and she could see the others peering after them. The twins elbowed each other and began whispering as soon as they noticed she was looking at them.

”I’ll only spoil things,” she sighed, ”And you need this time with them.”

“So do you,”
Hanasian countered, ”And I’m not asking for them. I’m asking for me. Do you have to argue everything with everyone?”

“I don’t!”

“Oh, so it’s just me then,”
he observed with a quiet smile, ”Fair enough, all things considered.”

Rin frowned at that, uncertain of how to respond, and Hanasian sobered.

”I’m sorry, Rosmarin. I am truly, honestly, sorry. I didn’t just break your heart, I shattered it. I understand that now. I nearly broke your very-“

Rin said urgently.

”I’m sorry.”

“Stop! You cannot apologise for the rest of your life. No one can. You did what you thought best. It was a mistake. That’s all there is to it.”

“Then stay,”
he wheedled.

”I can’t. Honestly, I-“

“If you honestly meant what you just said, you’d stay. I want you to. So do they,”
he said and she chewed the inside of her lower lip as he asked, ”When was the last time you just stopped? And I don’t mean fall asleep at your desk, or into your meal, but just stopped? When did you last breathe, Rosmarin of Cardolan?”

She opened her mouth to answer but Hanasian was swifter, ”So help me, if you say you’re breathing right now….”

Rin closed her mouth for that was exactly what she had been about to say. Hanasian pushed a strand of silver hair back behind her ear, ”You know what I mean. Please don’t pretend otherwise. Just stop. Stay. Breathe.”

He tugged on her hand again and this time she let him tow her back towards her children. The twins cheered at that.

”Amme’s on our team,” Dorlith announced to the others.

”How come?” Hanavia challenged his younger brothers.

”’Cause she’s mean and we called it first,” Worlin answered, grinning.

”That’s fine,” Elian said, ”We get Adda.”

The way Elian smiled, just like her mother, made the twins wonder if their elder sister had not pulled the rug out from beneath them. Then Worlin nudged his brother with his elbow.

”That’s fine. You get Hayna too!” he declared.

Hayna gave them a smile brighter than the sun, ”Hooray!”

Meanwhile, Hanavia crouched to look his youngest sister in the eye, ”You’re with them, Adanel. You know what to do.”

“Not fair!”
Dorlith howled in protest as Adanel strolled towards him with a devious grin mirrored on Hanavia’s face.

”You work with the cards you get dealt, kid,” Slippery informed the lad and bent to check everyone’s hands were still tied – especially the twins, ”You know the rules.”

“There are no rules,”
Rin said as she held her hands out for Rose to tie back.

The two former Cats considered each other for a moment and then exchanged a nod. They split then, each with their teams, and the game kicked off anew. Though it was still spring, it did not take long for the heat to rise. This was particularly so for the one player that had taken the field in the multiple layers of clothing required of nobility. Even so, that did not mean that Rin welcomed the discovery that Hanasian had not only untied his hands at some point in the game but set them to ferrying her bodily to the very fountain Dorlith had been cavorting in earlier.

”Fountains,” she exclaimed as she squirmed in Hanasian’s grip, ”Are not made for games.”

“Why do they make fountains,”
Hanasian thought aloud as he carried his wife closer, ”What actual purpose do they serve?”

“No! Hanasian, no! This is against the rules.”

“There are no rules. You said so yourself. And no,”
he said finally as he paused at the fountain, ”It is not different when you say so.”

And just like he dumped her into the cool water. It was not deep and when she surfaced again, the water came only to her knees. But behind Hanasian her children were cheering. Hanasian was laughing and, to her enduring amazement, so too was she.

”Brigand! Lout!” she called him.

“Thief!” he replied, climbed into the fountain himself and kissed her, hard, right there in the lapping water.

”Are you breathing yet,” he asked against her lips as he unravelled the loose bonds at her wrists.

”No,” Rin replied as she used her newly freed hands to pull him back to her, ”Better try again. Only properly this time.”

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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