IMPORTANT MESSAGE - at the risk of sounding overly strident, this is a story and NOT a role play. If you have comments to make, then make them on the A Word Aside thread for this tale. Under no circumstances post them in this thread. I abhor blood shed. Nearly impossible to get the stains out. I love comments and discussion. Everything in its place and a place for everything. REPEAT - no comments in this thread EVER.
Next important message - this is a collaborative story, being progressively shaped by Snowdog and myself. It is fiercely revisionist. So, yes, it may trample on some canonical concepts from time to time. You will find this tale on Tolkien Forums, The One Ring and an adults only version on Henneth-Annun.
Fallen - Of Naiore Dannan (Second Age to Fourth Age)
Naiore was born into a time of peace within Gil-Galad’s court in the fourth year of the Second Age. From the outset, she was known to be different. She was a singularly beautiful child, with the fair hair of Finarfin's folk and eyes of living emerald. Naiore was quiet and self possessed from birth. She seldom smiled, and laughter was rarer still, yet she was not a sad or angry child. To her mother, Naiore seemed merely far older than her years. Beautiful as her eyes were, they looked on a world about which she seemed to know too much. Naiore was but two years old when her kinswoman, Galadriel, warned her parents and Gil-Galad to approach Naiore with caution. Though she could not see all ends, Galadriel sensed a powerful shadow lay over the child’s future.
Naiore’s childhood was thereafter spent under the ever watchful gaze of her parents. No one, not even Galadriel, could have known what they had set in motion. Naiore was born with an unusual gift that grew as she did. She was highly sensitive to the emotional states of others. As a child, she sensed the distance of her parent’s love though they strove to overcome that within themselves. She sensed how different this was for other children. Naiore’s young mind drew the most logical conclusion. She was loved less because of some flaw within herself. It is no small wonder that it became true.
Naiore turned ever inward. She sought no childhood friends and held herself apart, fearing somehow that the thing that flawed her so would be discovered, her sensitivity to the emotional landscapes around her. Naiore found it extraordinarily difficult to withstand the pressure of other’s emotions. She began erecting barriers behind which she could shelter. To those around her, Naiore seemed aloof. This withdrawal came to be seen as arrogance as she matured into a woman accounted beautiful by lofty Noldorin standards. Many of Gil-Galad's court could not help but observe her beauty and mystery and vied for her attentions. Naiore found this intolerable, for she knew that those that sought her had no concept of who they were attempting to win. The entire social façade of Gil-Galad’s court was something Naiore began to build a great store of contempt for.
The High King’s court was a happy one in those days, but a court all the same. Individuals vied for position, rank and advantage all the while. Naiore abandoned her parents and Gil-Galad’s court in II – 936, seeking the peace and solace of lands less populated. Naiore eschewed all others for a great while, however in II - 1004, she did permit the Lord of Eriador to espy her as she rode through his realm. Celebrimbor was utterly fascinated by her from the outset. Naiore was similarly transfixed by the grandson of Feanor.
Celebrimbor found a woman of equal intellect and keen perception. He found her quietness refreshing and her mystery alluring. He did not conceal these things from her and he did not flatter her to attempt to beguile her with artiface. Naiore found a man of utter honesty. He was the first and only to truly understand who she was and he loved her deeply for her gifts, seeing her abilities as something to be nurtured and tended rather than a flaw to be concealed and eradicated. Despite his brilliance as a smith, Celebrimbor sought humility, a rare trait in the Noldorin, as a measure of atonement for the pride of his forbearers. Naiore delighted in Celebrimbor and to him gave her heart when it was yet whole, unblemished and hers to give.
In II – 1249 Celebrimbor and Naiore both found themselves drawn to the mysterious Annatar. His lore was deep, his ways charming and the lovers were irresistibly gathered to him. Annatar delighted in the teaching of two such as Celebrimbor and Naiore. For Celebrimbor and his smiths, Annatar instructed them on the forging of rings and devices of power. For Naiore, Annatar stoked the temporarily banked turmoil of her upbringing and deepened her gifts so that she could not only sense the emotional states of others, but influence them them. Annatar's teaching combined with Celebrimbor’s unflagging love saw Naiore come to view something she had considered a flaw as a gift. In time, Naiore came to resent those who had attempted to shape her in the past. She started to feel how deeply wronged she had been. She loved her parents too much to blame them but the same could not be said for Galadriel and Gil-Galad.
By the time Sauron’s true identity and purpose had been unveiled, Celebrimbor were enmeshed beyond all saving in his webs. Celebrimbor managed, at least, to save the West through the secret forging of the Elven rings. He could not, however, elude Sauron's wrath. War spread across Eriador, obliterating his people. Sauron let it be known that none other than Naiore, beloved of Celebrimbor, was responsible for the smith’s capture and death in II – 1697. Galadriel, who had forseen something of the shadow that lay of Naiore, had no reason to suspect Sauron lied.
Naiore was disavowed by her people. They refused to offer her aid and accounted her complicit in the tragedy that had befallen Celebrimbor’s people. Her voice had been one of the strongest arguing in Annatar’s favour and Sauron’s lies about her involvement in Celebrimbor’s capture only proved what had been feared for so long. Utterly betrayed, Naiore’s rage at her people only propelled her toward the harbour that Sauron offered her. Though she knew something of his malice, for her the betrayal of her people scored her all the deeper. It pleased Sauron greatly to have seduced a Noldorin Elf. However, Sauron never enjoyed Naiore’s full loyalty. Naiore turned to Sauron for one purpose – to retrieve her beloved Celebrimbor, who lingered in his dungeon. She could not countenance leaving her beloved to his fate. She now had nowhere else to go.
The first hint of the difficulty Sauron faced with Naiore came when she secreted Celebrimbor from his dungeon and hid him. Naiore was forced to return to Sauron, there was no succour elsewhere and a price had been set upon her head by Gil-Galad for her alleged treachery. Survive she had to, for Celebrimbor now depended on her entirely in his broken state. Sauron exacted a terrible vengeance for her disobedience. On the rare occasions that she was permitted to escape her terrible master, it was to Celebrimbor that she went.
Now freed from his guise as Annatar, Sauron no longer had to hide his hand. His power reigned free over Naiore and ultimately shaped her into the terror she would become, only confirming his position as Middle Earth's new Dark Lord. As Melkor had corrupted Maiar to form Balrogs and the Avari Elves to form orcs, Sauron shaped Naiore. Sauron was not given to recording his acts, and Naiore never spoke of it. We can only guess at what she endured in this time. Not once, however, did she give up the location of her beloved or his three Elven Rings. Not once did she permit her master to sense that last remaining warmth that is true love within her. Not once did Naiore openly disobey or refuse her master again. There was but one road left for her to walk and it led into the heart of evil. She took it freely in the end.
It was through Naiore that Sauron seduced the nine Black Numenoreans into his servitude. Sauron used Naiore to quell and press three realms of lesser men into his service: Harad, Rhûn and the exterior fringes of Khand. Though mortals held no interest for Naiore, she found them easy to bend to her will. Their fear of death, their desire for glory, their lust for power provided the Elf with easy thing to manipulate. Such tasks also provided Naiore with the opportunity to go to Celebrimbor. Despite her efforts, however, she could not heal the smith. Celebrimbor died in her arms in II – 3434. The death of her beloved robbed Naiore of any last vestige of hope.
The depth of her grief and ensuing despair was demonstrated in the terrible slaughter of the Silvan Elves of Greenwood and the forces of Lorien in what would become known thereafter as the Dead Marches. Word of the event and its architect came inevitably to Elendil and Gil-Galad: an elven woman. Noldorin and perilously fair; cold as northern ice. The Battle of Dagorlad endured over several months. Naiore was rarely sighted in this time. However rumour of her eddied through the Last Alliance until Gil-Galad was left with no option but to conclude that this horror was none other than Naiore Dannan – the woman held responsible for the fall of a Eriador and treachery of the man who loved her beyond all reason. Gil-Galad tripled the price on her head for any who needed such motivation.
Open battle was never to Naiore’s taste. She found such excesses as distasteful. She considered common violence as beneath her. Such acts she left to Sauron’s lesser forces of orcs and men. Naiore continued to prey insidiously upon the Last Alliance, in particular Gil-Galad’s forces, across the seven year siege of Barad – Dûr. The infamous deadliness of the siege arose in no small part to Naiore’s activities. It was a simple thing for her to manipulate the emotions of those arrayed against her master. War grinds the most noble, the most loyal, the brightest of men and Elves down. She could easily inspire them to fall on their own weapons in the night, or to fall on each other in fits of sheer madness. However, it had to be said that Naiore did not take any overt act to break the Last Alliance though it remained in her grasp to do so. Her abilities by this time were fearsome and prodigious.
Sauron’s fear of Numenor’s remnants grew, amusing her greatly. It was only Cirdan’s presence that kept her at bay in Barad – Dûr across the seven year span of the siege. Why the mariner inspired fear in her is unknown. In desperation, Sauron offered combat against Gil-Galad and Elendil on the slopes of Mount Doom to bring the impasse to an end. Naiore’s hand was in that, counselling Sauron softly, manipulating her master with the skills he had taught her. This was not idle entertainment on her behalf. Naiore held her master as accountable for Celebrimbor’s death as she did her own people. If they slaughtered each other, so much the better to her.
As Sauron went to meet with his defeat and the end of the Second Age, Naiore went to the dungeons of Barad – Dûr. She easily installed herself amongst the many prisoners Sauron had taken during the siege. In the turmoil of their victory and the death of Gil-Galad and Elendil, the Last Alliance flung the dungeons of Barad – Dûr open and Naiore was freed. She fled and was lost to those of the West that later thought to look for her. It was easier to consider her extinguished and any pursuit of her was soon given up.
Sauron did not return to Dol Guldur alone in III – 1100. Naiore met him there and reunited they set about re-establishing his work. Why she did so is of some mystery. Clearly she had no love for Sauron. Perhaps, however, some path is better than none at all. Naiore had sporadically kept the Nine in some control, during Sauron’s absence, along with the servitude of the southern realms. Gandalf secreted himself into Dol Guldur twice, but Naiore was seeing to matters elsewhere and was not seen by the Wizard
Sauron had plans for Dunland and Rohan, and in particular with the palantíri of Numenor. Conflict between Dunland and Rohan spilled over on more than one occasion due to Naiore’s activities, but her chief work was in subverting the palantíri of Minas Ithil that had been captured in III – 2002. By the time Sauron returned to Mordor, Naiore had suborned the Ithil palantíri and sowed the seeds to destabilise the White Council and Minas Tirith both.
Naiore’s tangible role in the War of the Rings was, thankfully for the West, minor. Sauron used her cautiously, in this time, and Naiore had never claimed any interest in the realms of Men. An eternity of nothingness stretched before Naiore and into that maw vanished all meaning. She was becoming increasingly unreliable, but she was too valuable to cast aside. Sauron had started to comprehend how dangerous the tool he had created could truly be. It was Naiore that stole Gollum from Mirkwood for interrogation. It was Naiore who interrogated the pitiful creature. By this time she was capable of instilling indescribable pain that transcended physical boundaries. She made short work of Gollum. The wretch was weak before she got to him, stretched so thinly by her master's Ring. It was Naiore that gathered the wraiths to be sent north in pursuit of Baggins.
Mistrustful of Saruman, Sauron reluctantly dispatched Naiore to Rohan to seek the ring directly. Sauruman’s orcs however had raised the hackles of a nation already fighting a war with itself and its eastern neighbour. She narrowly escaped detection by the Rohirrim by taking flight into Fangorn. Her presence in Fangorn did not go un-noted and it was this which so roused the terrible Huons of Fangorn, to Saruman’s regret and Helms Deep’s relief. When Gandalf revealed himself as the White Wizard, Naiore retreated to the far north, utterly forsaking Sauron to his destruction. The mistakes that were made at the end of the Second Age were not repeated at the end of the Third. Her body was not found in the ruins of Mordor. This time her fallen master’s enemies actively sought for her. The surviving peoples of Middle-Earth faced an unprecedented possibility of eliminating all Shadow. They would not let one so dark as Naiore survive.
Naiore’s future as a fugitive was a bleak one. She could not return to Valinor, where her parents had fled long ago. She would slowly fade on mortal shores, an ignominious end. She was bereft of purpose, people and place. Galadriel’s departure from mortal shores robbed Naiore even of vengeance for the long list of sorrows she had lain at her kinswoman’s feet. Naiore had nothing but the dark memories of her life and she started to wish for death. She resolved to journey a final time to Celebrimbor’s cairn. This required Naiore to venture south, to Eriador. In a rare instance of carelessness Naiore was sighted by a Ranger of the North, Hanasian, and pursued. She eluded the Ranger but did no more than that, intent only on reaching her beloved’s grave. Her path crossed men of Khand that were well acquainted with her: the Khats. With Hanasian closing on her, Naiore saw an opportunity to buy necessary time and a desired death. She agreed to assist the Khats in their bid.
The Khats travelled north, there waylaying Hanasian and his men and drawing the Ranger into their net. Naiore, meanwhile, ventured to Celebrimbor’s cairn. What passed there, what was said to the silent stones no one can tell, but when Naiore went south to Pelagir the final piece of her tale had fallen into place. She knew that the Khats were targeting a Khand general, one of the few who had allied themselves with the West, through the capture of his daughter and an informant. Naiore ensured the general was lured to Pelagir to save his daughter, knowing the instruction she had issued to the Khats would seem them rendezvous there. The Khats, the general and his men nor Hanasian and his Rangers could guess at her machinations.
Naiore’s final act in Pelagir was a contradiction. She intervened to spare the Khat captive further torment and eased Simra’s final moments into death with a tenderness perhaps only seen meted out to one other before, Celebrimbor. She pushed the Khat leader into a precarious, intolerable position, setting the man up to fall to the combined might of the general’s men and the Rangers of the North. Lastly, Naiore invited her execution by the Ranger that had picked up her trail in the north, Hanasian.
It is this last encounter with Naiore Dannan of which a tale survives in the most complete detail, due to Hanasian’s habit of recording his experiences. This is what he said:
quote: It was a bright day on which terrible deeds unfolded. I know not what hand she had in any of them, but suspect she had some involvement in all of it. I was surprised to see her reveal herself on that morning. She simply removed her cowl and stood on the dock. She made no move to defend herself. She could have hidden. She could have used her terrible powers to force us to undo ourselves. She did none of these things. She merely revealed to us that Simra had been foully murdered, taunting us to strike at her, and then turned her back. I hesitated, for it seemed to me that something else was afoot.
General Arghet fired the first arrow in his grief over his daughter. His son followed and then so too did my men before I could put a stop to it. By that time the feathered shafts of many arrows quivered from her back. I confess I was uneasy. We had attacked a woman while her back was turned. I knew we would enjoy no measure of honour from her, but I was troubled that we had lost that part of ourselves in this act.
She fell to her knees then. I thought it some trick or treachery of hers and so I was careful in my approach. Despite her evil, she was fair beyond any measure. She watched me approach and said nothing. She felt pain. It showed in her eyes, but she seemed relieved also. Some of the arrows had pierced her through. I could the bloody red points where they emerged from her chest and stomach. I did not know how it was that she was still alive, though Elf she be. ”’Ware,” she warned.
I did not understand until the first wave hit me. It is difficult to describe, but I will attempt it. Emotions as strong as any flooding sea spilled out of her, like a sea wall that had been breached. Oceans of torment, pain, sorrow, despair, loneliness and, unbelievably, love. By the time my head cleared, I was lying on the ground. So too were my men and the Elf. By the third such wave, we had learned how to withstand it. The same could not be said for the Khats and they were easily overcome as a result. Some had been driven mad. I realised then that for each and every act she was responsible for, she also paid the price that she had locked within her across the centuries.
The walls she had built about herself were failing as she was dying. There was an image of a male Elf in my head. I don’t know why, but I asked her who it was. She told me that it was Celebrimbor. I thought to try to save her so that she could stand to answer for her crimes. But there were many arrows and she was weakening fast, losing blood. She did not beg or speak or whimper. She went in silence, smiled at the last and went wherever it is that Elves go.
Once her spirit had fled her body, it was difficult to believe she had been responsible for so much evil. Even in death, bloodied and pierced, she was beautiful. I had her buried, unmarked and unnamed. I did not wish to create a place to draw other darkness to, nor create a beacon for those who may wish to despoil her remains. Anyone who felt her death understood the price she had paid already. I took her garrotte and Noldorin sword as proof of her death, the others of my company took her daggers, but I will not claim the reward that has sat on her head since the Second Age.
Long was Naiore's time in the Halls of Mandos. Great indeed had her evil been. She had fallen far, but she had not done so unassisted. By mortal count, it was many thousands of years before she emerged into the gardens of Lorien and there reunited with her beloved.
And now - to begin...
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
A fair country of green hills and glens within the Enedhwaith was Dunland. Its beauty was fiercely defended by the Dunlendings, who dwelt in scattered villages as a wary, secretive and hostile people. People who had for two Ages endured persecution from the descendants of the Three Houses of the Edain despite their Aduanic descent from the House of Haldor of the First Age. The beauty of the land and was lost on the small band that now pressed north in the quiet hours before dawn.
Away from the villages stood a small farm. It was simple, a humble cottage and a barn that the riders nervously pulled up to. One horse bore an empty saddle. A woman, tall and beautiful with the stamp of Numenor upon her features slipped into the barn. Her hair was pale and her eyes were the blue of a northern winter sky. She carried a basket that she clutched protectively to her chest. She had foreseen this, as was her gift, and yet been unable to dissuade her proud husband from his path. In the nearby cottage a man, his wife and three year old son slept undisturbed. Their son dreamt of catching frogs and of swimming in the nearby spring.
The woman entered the barn on quiet yet weary feet. Within plough horses whickered and chickens fretfully circled on the floor. The woman passed them all by, finding a clean stall. The hay within still held the sweet, clean scent of a bountiful summer. She knelt and laid the basket carefully down, taking care to disturb nothing. Tears traced shining paths down her proud cheeks. By the doors, a man hissed a warning to hurry. The woman bent and whispered to the basket, "I will come for you." Her heart had already died with her lord and husband, Bereth. Verawyn left her hope in the basket.
The heavy sound of racing hooves roused the farmer from his sleep. He peered out the window into the pre-dawn murk. A man of Rohan, he knew the sound of a war party. Dunlendings rode by and the man released a breath he did not recall holding that on this night, they hunted something or someone other than himself. He returned to the warmth of his bed and his wife, unaware of how the lives of all within had veered.
Nine days later a weary and mourning band of men made Imladris at dusk. With them were two horses with empty saddles. The Dunedain of Cardolan carried yet another sorrowful tale. Their lord, his wife and baby heir had been lost on the road to Minas Tirith, under unrelenting Dunlending attack. Cardolan had no other.
Dunland, Fourth Age, Year 18
"Not too far, and look after your sister," Lochared's mother called after him. Loch scowled as his sister grinned triumphantly up at him. The imp had followed him and she was going to ruin his day.
"You do that on purpose," he groused petulantly at her. Rin screwed up her face and blew a raspberry at him and then giggled, delighted with the sound. She clapped, sunlight dancing on pale silken hair and spun about, intent on becoming a bird. Always fascinated with birds. It made absolutely no sense to Loch. He heaved a sigh, collected his sister and set off.
"I'm going to catch it anyway," he muttered resolutely. Rin chirped at him and flapped her make believe wings.
The sandy haired boy trod a well worn path down the gentle slope of the hill his home perched atop. At the bottom gurgled a contented stream, fed by the mountain springs further to the east. The annual melt had passed and the stream was lazy and gleaming with promise for a six year boy. He set Rin down on the far bank and looked about. Where to begin, he wondered. He was going to catch the two legged monsters that his father sat up late talking to his mother about when they thought he was asleep. Rin darted away, pealing laughter as she chased a lazy summer butterfly.
"Shhhh, you'll scare it," Loch admonished her. Da always said that you had to be very quiet when hunting.
"Shhhh," Rin echoed at him, smiled and then darted gleefully behind a flowering shrub with another object, this time a moth, in her sights. He rolled his eyes at the sound of her bird talk.
"Silly girl! That's not even a bird," he shouted after her, pulling his sling out of his back pocket.
When Rin blew another raspberry and giggled, Loch decided he'd had enough of girlish foolishness and set out on his quest. He carefully stalked along the edge of the gurgling stream, following its curve and on the look out for the two legged monster he was intent on catching because it made his mother cry. Maybe, in a few years, his sister would more fun. Right now, he had grown up work to do that a three year old couldn't possibly understand.
Rin danced happily after moths, flying between the flowers and chattering to no one but herself. A break in the trees overhead permitted a particularly glorious golden shaft to strike a luminously flowered shrub. It's bright blue flowers shimmered at her, enticing.
"Ooooooh," she said with genuine appreciation and pretend flew all the way over to inspect it more closely. The child sat in the sun and began picking flowers.
Elladan held his breath and crept for a closer look at the child. She was intently focused on the flower with the raw curiosity of the very young. Three summers, Elladan judged. Elf or mortal, children were largely the same so early on, with the delicate golden hair of her mother. Rin held the flower up to catch the sun and make it gleam. She giggled, a liquid sound of untempered delight. Elladan had a moment to study her face. Her mother was there, Elladan realized with growing joy. The same winter blue eyes stared at the flower. After two years of careful searching, she had been found!
The child very nearly ate the bright blue flower right before Elladan's eyes.
"No," he said firmly as she placed it in her mouth. Forced to reveal himself, Elladan stepped forward.
Rin stubbornly closed her mouth, thinking her brother was again telling her what to do. She stared at boots, big boots, and her eyes followed them up, getting wider as they went until she looked square into Elladan's face. Then her face crumpled as the unpleasant taste of the flower hit her tongue. Rin spat it out, wiping at her tongue and spitting blue flower petals in disgust.
"Charming," Elrohir said. Rin clapped at his appearance, plucked a flower and held it up to him.
"Do they all do that, you suppose," Elladan asked his brother. Elrohir shrugged, and it became evident to Rin far below that she would have to take stronger measures to give the pretty man a flower. She got to her feet, crumpling the flower she had plucked and frowned at it in consternation.
"Is it her?" Elladan asked and Elrohir studied the girl closely. She was engrossed in selecting a new flower.
"She looks uncannily like the Lady Verawyn, she doesn't have the look of Dunland, and she's the right age." Elrohir replied. "It's her."
She was also well fed, well clothed and clearly well cared for. Someone had taken her in as a fosterling. Rin chose the new flower and plucked it.
"Don't let her eat that," Elladan warned. Rin had no such intentions. It belonged to the pretty man to eat.
She ran to him, flower held aloft in front of her. Elrohir bent and accepted it.
"I think she likes you better than I," Elladan said. Rin blinked at Elladan and returned to the bush, that was starting to look particularly denunded.
"What now, brother? We can't just take her," Elrohir said. Rin presented Elladan with his very own flower, stood back looking very pleased with herself and dusted off her hands like her mother and father did after they finished a job.
Elladan shook his head, "No, and for now she has been kept safe. We will send word to Aragorn. This is a matter for him."
Rin's sharp squeal of displeasure and the sound of her crying elicited a rude curse that Loch had overheard his father say when he dropped the firewood on his foot.
"You do that on purpose," he shouted in frustration, turned and followed the sound his sister was making in ever increasing gales. He found her sitting on the grass next to a bush she had stripped nearly bare of flowers, sobbing wretchedly. Petals were stuck to the front of her tunic and in her hair.
"Don't eat them! Why must you always eat everything?" Loch shoved his sling in his back pocket, picked his sister up and trudged back up the hill to return her to his mother so that he could get some proper work taken care of.
Dunland, Fourth Age, Year 20
The men milled about outside. "Come out Strawhead! Come out and play! Do you fear us, Strawhead? Do you hide behind your woman's skirts," they chanted. There were six of them and they broke into rough laughter.
"Don't," Romil pleaded with him. "Don't go out there!" Frochard could hear the dread in his wife's voice.
He glanced over to where his children sat huddled together, quiet and pale, and then out the window again.
"I must," he said, "Or they'll be back again for their sport. Perhaps when I am not here." His wife's hands grabbed his arm hard as she peered outside again. Fear made her usually warm brown eyes cold and flat.
"Does the Strawhead think he can hide," the men called.
"Hide the children, block the door with the table and do not come out unless they have gone and I call you out. Do you hear me, woman?" Romil nodded and clung to him.
Frochard gathered his children up in one armful and pressed his face to their hair, breathing them in. Loch watched his father kiss his mother before opening the door and striding out, noting that his father went to meet the men empty handed. His mother slammed it behind him, bolted it and pushed the table against then.
"Help me," Romil said to her children, who stood in the centre of the cottage like frightened deer. "Tip everything over! Make a mess, a big mess. It's a game! Help me play the game." Rin shoved a chair and looked to her mother for approval.
"Yes, good girl, that's it. You too Loch…" The wood pile, the pots and pans, the beds and bedding, the shelves and the food, all the chairs tumbled around the cottage until it was transformed into a melee of utter confusion.
"Now for the next part! Tuck yourself down very small there and no matter what, no matter, stay very very quiet. Can you do that?"
"Yup," Rin affirmed brightly.
Eager to please her mother and earn a smile to lighten the sudden grimness, she hopped into the tiny niche by the hearth. Her mother leaned in and pressed a hard kiss to her foundling daughter's cheek. Loch warily climbed in after her and she kissed him too.
"Remember, Loch, quiet. You must both be quiet. Not a peep, not a whisper, not a single sound."
Loch nodded solemnly and made himself as small as he could next to his sister, who wriggled to give him room. Loch wrapped his arm around her and placed his hand over her mouth. Outside the men had stopped laughing. Their father's voice fallen away to silence.
The sound of breaking glass made Loch jump and Rin began to quietly cry. He tightened his grip and swallowed hard. Wildmen tumbled through and their mother stumbled back with a startled gasp. One sheathed his sword in his belt, charged forward and dealt Romil a cracking blow that sent her to her knees. He smiled down at her, picked up her arm and dealt her another. The other man cleared the mess blocking the door, jerked it open and the others strode in. Not a single word was spoken through what happened in that cottage.
Romil did not beg or plead for quarter that would not be given. This hatred was ancient and ran deeply. The men tormented her cruelly in grim silence and united purpose: to punish her for taking in a Strawhead and betraying her people. The men used every punishment at their disposal against the woman in that cottage. Rin and Loch saw it all, hidden away in the corner by the hearth. It took the men hours to sate their blood lust and tire. The man that had broken through the window first spat on Romil as she lay naked and broken on the floor, battered beyond recognition and struggling to breathe. Her lungs gurgled with each breath she fought for.
He bent over her, and slashed at her throat in a final attack that ended her battle for life. The men stood back, staring at her body.
"The whelps," one said, raking the tattered cottage with his coal dark eyes. "Stream at the bottom of the hill," said the man as he re-sheathed his knife. "The boy and girl are always there somewhere. We'll flush the half-breeds out. " The sound of their horses making their way down the hill was the sound of thunder to Loch.
After what seemed like an eternity, Loch stood up in the ruin of his life. At his feet, his sister had curled into a tight ball. The two legged monster he'd been hunting had found him instead. It was time to run, Loch knew. He pulled his sister up and settled her on his hip. She clung to him. Loch edged past his mother, trying not to step in her blood too much. His eyes were dry and they stung, but he couldn't find the tears. Loch ran quickly away from the cottage and the stream in the direction his Da had always told him not to go. He ran until he couldn't hold his sister any more in his aching arms.
"Come Rin, run," he urged as he put her down. They would have to quiet and cleverer than ever before. This time it wasn't Loch doing the hunting. The two legged monsters were hunting them and now he understood why his parents feared them so. It would be three years before Rin would utter another word.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
"Please," Loch said. Desperation made his voice quiver.
The woman looked over her shoulder through the doorway she stood in to the warmth inside and then back to the small, pinched face of the boy that peered up at her. He looked to be of age with her own son, who was fat, warm and sated inside. This waif seemed to hover in the darkness and despite his sandy hair, she could not stop the ache of her heart.
"Close the damn door, woman," her husband growled from within.
The woman reached for something before she stepped out and closed the door. She passed the bread, still warm, to Loch. Loch clutched it his thin chest. The woman ignored the ache of her back and knees and knelt to bring herself level with the child. Winter was already riding in the winds. It would throw it's chill cloak over Dunland soon.
"Child, if my husband finds you it will mean your end. Do you understand me?" The boy nodded. He understood only too well how his blended heritage was so loathed. Around his legs, a small face of a girl appeared. She was little more than a babe, the woman realised. The child looked up at her before being drawn to the scent of the bread her older brother held.
The woman sighed, "Ah, where are your parents, eh?" The boy blinked sudden tears that started to crowd his dark eyes. The girl however simply stared at the woman anew, with eyes too old and sad for one of such tender years.
"I know you're living under the common room floor boards," she said as her heart relented. "Go further in and you'll find the warmth of the hearth and the worst of the winds will not be able to reach you. But do not be found in Spring. Do you understand, boy. Do not be found!" Loch nodded.
"Thank you," he said, collected his sister and walked away from the inn's back kitchen door.
The woman watched them disappear around the corner, there to wriggle back under the boards. Her heart ached but there was little else she could do for them. If her husband didn't kill them outright, others soon would if they were discovered. She could not place her own children in such danger. She straightened slowly and walked back into the kitchen as her husband barrelled in from the common room. He set down a tray laden with empty crocks and tankards and fixed her with a glare that she was entirely equipped to ignore.
"What's doing out there," he demanded and flung a ragged towel sodden with ale over his shoulder with a damp slap.
"Barking dogs," she replied blithely. She collected an empty tray and pushed past him to continue clearing the crowded tables.
Fifty miles to the north, three Rangers stood outside an abandoned farm cottage. Nearby, the eerie moonlit gleam of a skull and bones scattered by scavengers boded ill for those that had once lived within. The cottage gaped, windows smashed and door hanging absently by one hinge. The absence of life already marked the building with disrepair and neglect.
Inside the cottage, a fourth Ranger and two Elves looked about. One held a torch, as they looked about the ruin within. More scattered bones, a woman's by their size, and old blood daubed the floor and walls. The torch was doused and the trio inside returned to the three standing outside. The faces of Elrohir and Elladan were visibly pale. The fourth Ranger, Hanasian, walked behind the twins and shook his head to his brethren that waited by the horses.
"Anything," Mecarnil asked. Elrohir gathered the reins of his mount. "Nothing you'd care to see," he replied heavily.
The woman's bones and the blood had told a terrible tale. Hanasian glanced again to the skull, a man's, that gleamed under moonlight.
"A man and woman," he added quietly and grimaced. "Their deaths were not easy."
"We should have taken her with us when we found her," Elladan said. Elrohir already sat ahorse. In the darkness he could still see the child in the summer sun, smiling up at him as she pressed a flower into his hands. The others mounted up.
"Then Cardolan is indeed lost," Mecarnil said: equal parts of question and statement. Hanasian shrugged.
"There is no sign of any child to be had, alive or dead," he replied. Elrohir blinked. Had they not before thought Cardolan extinguished, only to have this child emerge?
"It may yet be too early to say," he softly mused.
Hanasian informed his king directly, his path taking him to Minas Tirith as he pursued another quarry. It was winter when he reached King Elessar. They sat on a stone bench in the early morning, staring at the winter dormant white tree and discussing the disappearance of Cardolan's child queen. It remained uncertain if the child would ever emerge, and likely that she would not. Even had she been found, what then? Arnor could ill stand the divisions that had seen the realm falter before.
The King folded the report and stood. There were many unanswered questions in his realm. Some of them required answers today. This was not one.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Small Mercies - Westfold, Rohan, Fourth Age, Year 26
"Frea, for the love of all that is good in this world, would you just go to sleep?!"
Frea squinted out at the darkness and ignored his twin who lay comfortably stretched out on the other side of their fire. They had camped in the westfold and it was a glorious summer night. The twin's were, perhaps, three days ride from their home and it was a time of peace. They came to experience such a wonder, so long at war with the Black Company… Folca studied his brother's back. Frea's shoulders were wound tighter than a spring. Watching, always watching for attack unlooked for. Folca had hoped time away with their family would help to ease his twin's frame of mind. Each day since they had set out on leave, Folca had nursed that hope. Each night, before he went to sleep, Folca marked another day had passed without so much as a faint smile from Frea. Aside from the crackle of their fire, their camp grew silent.
"What do you watch for, brother?" Folca asked. Again Frea made no answer. With a sigh, Folca rolled to his side.
"Good night, Frea," he said as his eyes drifted shut.
"Good night, Folca," Frea answered in his mind, eyes roaming the far horizon and anything that moved between them and that distant perimeter.
The following morning unfolded like those before it since they had set out. Folca awoke to find the fire had been coaxed through the night and Frea was awake and cooking breakfast. Again, Folca wondered when his twin slept.
"Good morning, Frea," Folca said, stretching.
"Is it?" Frea snapped, jiggling the fry pan so hard that their breakfast fell out of the pan and into the fire. Folca wondered if he was about to meet the same fate. Had the unrelenting strain finally caught up with his twin?
"Aught amiss?" Folca asked warily.
"Robbed…. Here in the westfold! Robbed!"
"How? Were they invisible? You were watching."
"Not the whole night, if you must know."
"Yes," Folca said firmly, "Good. You cannot continue without sleep indefinitely. I see our horses and tack are still here, so what did our bandits make off with aside from your sunny disposition?"
"A whole side of bacon and the rest of the eggs," Frea growled, poking at the sausages he had dropped into the fire with a blackened stick. Folca's good mood dampened somewhat.
"So, I take it that the last of our breakfast is what you're currently attempting to stab to death with a pointy stick?"
Frea left off poking at the sausages and straightened to peer about them. There was only plains, undulating and punctuated by rocky gatherings of boulders, as far as the eye could see.
"I'll find you, you filthy scavenging thieves and when I do…" he shouted.
Folca stood, rolling up his bedroll and crossing to an unplundered saddle bag. No, he amended as he opened it and saw that someone had been through it. There was simply nothing to compete with a side of bacon and eggs. He didn't blame them, whoever they were. If he had a choice, he would chose boiled grass over hardtack. Folca fished the hardtack out and returned, handing Frea a piece to gnaw on.
Chewing on his own piece of leather, Folca left Frea to his brooding and started to perform an inventory. Horses, tact and weapons were all accounted for. Hardtack, unfortunately, was still in abundant supply. But Folca noted that they were missing other things… apples and cheese… and a spare water skin that he carried just in case, along with a spare pair of simple hide shoes he also carried in case of emergency. He summoned up a mental image of the perpetrators… hungry, barefoot, thirsty… Folca stowed this knowledge away. His twin was already frothing to pick up the pursuit and hunt them down.
When they pulled in for another night, Frea was positively quivering with frustration. Another meal of hardtack only made matters worse.
"Faugh! If they come back tonight, I'll skin them alive," he snarled between tearing at the hardtack.
"In that case, they had better steal your knives," Folca said loudly. Frea's eyes narrowed at his twin.
"Oh brother… all they've taken is food, water and some shoes… these are hardly bandits. They left the money untouched and left the most valuable things in camp," Folca remonstrated.
"They'd better not lay a finger on my spear."
"I was referring to the horses."
"All the same, Folca. Thieving is thieving. They get caught in Edoras, they'd swing for it… maybe the gibbet if Eomer were in a particularly foul mood. I'll not withhold the King's justice and neither should you."
"Well then… all you need to do is find some trees, knock up a gibbet and wait," Folca sarcastically intoned as he gestured at the treeless plain they were situated upon. His patience with his brother's rigid thinking had evaporated.
Frea was a good man. One the best he knew, truth be told, but woe betide anyone that slights his pride or sense or right and wrong.
"Starved of bacon, eggs and rational conversation, only thing left is sleep" Folca grumbled.
He wrapped his bedroll around him and left Frea to squint in the darkness after desperate thieves. He woke with a start much later at a signal all in the Black Company knew. Frea made the bird call again and a third time. Years of deployment together soon had Folca up and moving silently with his spear and bow in hand towards where his brother waited.
The moon had already started to set. By the light of its rays, Frea hand signed his twin. Folca almost slapped his forehead for him. Frea had woken him up from a perfectly fine dream of a certain northern maid for this? Folca didn't need hand signals to convey his response. Frea signed again and Folca resigned himself to the current situation. One thief sighted around a nearby boulder. They were to split up and circle around to apprehend the rascal. Folca laid down his spear in the long grass and partially nocked an arrow to his bow. Frea did the same. The twins then headed off, keeping below the grass-line and moving with the experience stealth of men accustomed to covert activity in the name of the Reunited Realm.
They hit the boulder at the same time and different positions. What they found brought both up short. Their thief was a thin slip of a girl, barely more than a child. She huddled against the stone trying to shield herself from the wind and peered from time to time around in the direction of the camp. Folca looked across to where his brother had stationed himself and was relieved to see the arrow sagged. Folca studied the girl. Ten summers or younger, if he had to guess. Her hair was a startling pale gossamer that drifted in the wind like spun silk. It was hard to make out her face in the darkness. Moon light danced over her skin. Thin legs and arms, too thin… and more holes than dress was what she was clad in. She looked to have outgrown it. A more forlorn, heartbreaking sight could not be contrived.
Folca and Frea froze. She was anxious, agitated. If they emerged, she'd fly into the grasses. She was waiting for someone too. It wasn't long before a slightly older boy emerged, displaying remarkable stealth for one so young. The girl flitted to him like a frail bird and they spoke. It was hard to make out what was said, but it was clear from the shaking of the boy's head that there would be no thieving tonight. He was in little better shape that the girl, his own hair sandy and his own clothing in poor condition. Still, he wrapped a protective arm around the girl's shoulders and they slunk away. Once Frea and Folca were sure that they had gone, they too returned to camp. Both men sat there, staring at the fires.
"Children," Folca said. He did not think he would ever forget what he had just seen. They were so frail as to resemble unearthly spectres.
"Robbed by children," Frea observed, "Starving children." The gibbet suddenly seemed ghoulish now that he knew the truth.
"Where are their parents?" Frea asked.
"Dead and buried is my guess, like so many others," Folca replied softly.
Frea nodded at the truth of this. Few had survived the War without death touching them. Some felt the touch harder than others. No parent would permit their children to wander the westfold alone at night, even in these times of contented peace.
"They'll freeze come winter," Frea said, voice bleak as the first blizzard of the year.
Both men fell silent and wrapped themselves in their bedrolls. It took both men some time before sleep claimed them. When Frea and Folca woke, the hardtack for breakfast did not taste so bitter. Neither twin spoke to each other about what they did next. Rather, each man implicitly understood what they were doing.
Each evening they would stop early, set up camp and leave. When they returned at nightfall, invariably something had been taken. First to be left out for the children were blankets. It went on from there. Each night, the boy and sometimes the girl, would steal hesitantly into camp. Each night, the twins would watch. Frea's smile would flicker as he studied them turn things over with the curiosity innate to all children. Without fail, they passed over weapons, tack, horses and even money. Coins could not be eaten. They learned the children's names… Loch for the boy who was perhaps fourteen, and Rin for the girl. Loch would linger wistfully around the weapons until Rin scolded him away from them. She would linger around the various medical supplied they carried with them until Loch scolded her away from them.
It took Frea and Folca a little longer to reach their home, but when they did they were both considerably lighter of heart. Their little thieves were not so bold as follow them that far. Too many people about, Folca surmised. When it came time to leave, the twins ensured they were well supplied for the journey north… very well supplied indeed. No more than a days ride out, did their young thieves reappear. They continued this all the way through Rohan and even into Dunland. Frea did not once complain about the delay their slower pace caused. On the outskirts of Bree, the twins spoke briefly.
"No one can ever know that we were robbed by children… and let ourselves be," Frea said as they neared Bree's south gate. Folca agreed entirely.
"Absolutely. We have reputations to uphold after all," he replied and after a brief pause, "Do you think they fare well?"
"I hope so, Folca. I hope so."
Many years would passed before the twins sighted their thieves again. They rode late at night through the East Gate of Bree to find the girl was a girl no longer. She stood, a woman flowered, with their captain. Her gaze flickered over the party the twins rode with, partly curious and partly concerned, never hesitating on Frea or Folca. The twins exchanged quiet grins with each other as they rode for the Prancing Pony. There they found the other thief, a man in his own right, with the same tangle of sandy hair. He too did not recognise their benefactors from long ago. Indeed, how could they given the care both had taken to avoid contact with Frea and Folca at the time. As the twins climbed the stairs for their beds, Folca could not help himself.
"Can it be them, do you think?" he asked Frea.
"Lock up your hardtack," Frea responded, drawing puzzled glances from the other men. Who would want to lock up hardtack?
The wind was biting, gnawing with cruel icy teeth. It was a clear night. The sky was jewelled velvet stretched overhead. The white shards of the mountains glittered like diamonds under star and moon. Below, far below, the plains sprawled beneath a swaying, sighing coverlet of the last grasses of the season. The crops had been brought in, stores laid down for the winter ahead. Its approach clutched at her with gnarled, bony fingers. The two of them stood on the very edge, the foundation stones of Meduseld cold and hard where they pressed against their backs. They peered down into the murk. The northern escarpment had made sense at the time. No one would expect the thieves to escape this way.
"Always easier to get in than out," Loch rumbled beside her. Rin peered at the small bundle she clutched. Ridiculously small, considering the circumstances they now faced.
"Why is it that reason and good sense reassert themselves now?" she asked the night. Hesitation was brought to a close by the shout men and the sound of guard boots. They had to find cover, and quickly. Either that, or try their luck on the escarpment.
"You know where we could lay low?" Loch asked. Rin's mind turned swiftly.
"Ordinarily yes, but the hall is filled with guests for the feast. There's neither nook or cranny to be spared."
"Well then," Loch reluctantly replied, peering down again. "This cheese had better be worth a broken neck," he muttered.
"It's cheese, Loch," Rin replied, as if explaining the concept to an idiot.
"My point exactly. A broken neck for cheese..."
All she heard was a grunt as he levered himself over the edge. The guards were closing fast. Around the corners in both directions, torchlight was getting brighter. She waited as long as her hammering heart permitted, then she slung the sack with the cheese over one arm and followed Loch. Their luck held long enough for Loch to reach the ground and for Rin to get six feet from it. Loch flattened himself against the base of the escarpment as guards held torches out and peered down. Rin froze, like a spider on websilk... A spider carrying cheese. The wind gusted the guard's voices away from him. However, the taut rope went slack and panic galloped through Rin anew. Far above, a guard straightened, sheathing his knife whilst his fellows continued to peer down.
Rin fell like a stone, twisting midair to avoid landing on the cheese. She fell past where Loch stood with his face contorted into a horrified mask and landed face first with a jarring thud on the ground. Loch peered at her unmoving form sprawled in the grass. He peered upwards and saw guards lean back in. Heart racing, he edged out to where Rin lay and crouched by her. Even as he reached to roll her over and see if she was still alive, he hesitated as his panicked mind dredged up some memory of a scolding from Rin about moving people with severe injuries. After several heartbeats thundered by at a gallop, he heard her spit out grass and dirt to moan.
"What should I do, Rin?"
"Are my toes wriggling?"
He peered at her bare feet.
"Yes... That's a good sign, right?"
"How about my fingers?" Loch peered at both hands and started to confirm that they were until he caught a particularly crude gesture that made his cheeks flush with embarrassment.
"That was uncalled for," he protested as his sister gingerly adjusted the sack and rolled over.
"Oh? Whose bright idea was this, brother mine?"
"Well, no one forced you to tag along."
"One: there was cheese involved, so what do you imagine I would do? Two: you've never set foot in Meduseld and so you have no idea where the larder would be. Three: it was kept under lock and key and you're the worst lock pick this side of the Misty Mountains," Loch's rumble of injured pride was resoundingly ignored by his sister and she pressed on. "Four: you would have been arrested, empty handed, and we lack sufficient funds for me to get you out. Five: our lack of funds is what prompted you to take this stupid job in the first place."
"I liked you better when your mouth was filled with dirt. Are you quite done lounging around? I do believe I hear the sound of patrolling soldiers approaching..."
Loch was careful to stifle a gleeful grin as his sister leapt to her feet with a startled oath. There was nothing that frightened his usually composed sister more than the prospect of soldiers.
"Where?" she asked, turning stiffly about to spot the impending threat.
Then she slowed and set a searing blue glare loose on her brother. The effect was hampered by her current state. Her entire front, from head to foot was smeared in dirt and grass stuck out from her ragged, snarled hair. Loch grinned wildly at her, his teeth gleaming under moonlight in the darkness. Rin scowled and clutched the sack tightly to herself.
"What's so damn funny?" Rin snapped. Loch kept grinning at her.
"You look like a raggedy scarecrow that's been dragged forty miles through the mud behind a horse," he replied, ignoring her deepening scowl. Laughter bubbled up from his belly. He clamped a hand over his mouth. Rin crossed her muddy arms, tapped muddy fingers on them and jiggled one bare foot. It only made him laugh harder and he doubled over, trying to swallow it.
"And what do you call that dismount? The Rosmarin Special?" Loch gasped as he struggled to master himself. When he had straightened, Rin was already marching away in disgust. He was forced to jog to catch her up. She ignored him as they slipped into the now quiet streets of Edoras. The passing of a patrol forced them to duck into an alley way. Rin watched the mouth of the alley as Loch scanned for ways to the roof if the patrol followed them in. The patrol didn't even blink sideways and moved past. Of course, Loch and Rin had been slipping past patrols of various sorts since their childhood, so that was unsurprising.
Still, Loch liked to have an escape route and experience had taught that aerial ones were best. Armored men carrying weapons found it hard to clamber to rooftops, whilst the pair of them were virtual squirrels that cold scarper about without hesitation. Well, one squirrel and one muddy scarecrow. Loch's mouth curved into a grin, quieter now that the panic and fear that had fueled his relief at the escarpment had washed from him. They remained hunkered down, patiently waiting for the patrol to round the corner. Rin slid down the wall of a building, fatigue pounding at her.
"You want to finish this tonight, deliver it?" he asked as her eyes fluttered closed.
"No... I just want to wash up and go to sleep. Can't face dickering with Sturn tonight," she replied, voice weak. Adrenalin had soured and left her feeling queasy and shaky.
"Come on then, Rin. Let's go home," Loch said gently. He pulled her to her feet and this time singed pride did not preclude her from accepting his arm as they made the rest of the way home.
In a tiny room, under a sloping roof, Rin barely stayed awake long enough to dislodge the dirt and sweat and most of the grass. She sprawled on one of the two narrow cots, deeply asleep. The room was so small that the two cots precluded the presence any other furnishings or belongings. Still, to Loch and Rin it was home and the best besides since they had been forced away from the farm. It had four mostly weatherproof walls and the roof only leaked when the rain was particularly heavy. Loch lay back; arm stretched beneath his head and studied the timbers of the roof. The rhythmic breathing of his sister soothed him. Had they done it? Had they finally cracked some good fortune? For some bizarre reason, the cheese they had stolen was worth twenty gold marks. Twenty! That meant that they'd get four gold marks if the fence stayed good to his word. And if his sister didn't eat half of it. He had to stay awake to guard their precious haul.
Four gold marks was more money than they had ever seen. One gold mark was. Four gold marks would buy them both apprenticeships. Four gold marks would leave enough left to cover clothing and even shoes. Winter was coming. Of course, the fact the fee was so high had worried them, but then it was only cheese. How bad could a job get when it concerned cheese?
Four gold marks if the fence had to stay true to his word and fences, as a rule, do not. Sturn was worse than most. Loch pondered their next move to freedom, utterly unaware of sleep's ambush. When he woke, sunlight was trying to shoulder its way through the grime on their window and Rin was up and peering at their ill-gotten gains.
"If you eat that, Rosmarin..." Loch rumbled at her. Rin's nose crinkled and she set the cheese down.
"Why would I want to?"
"It's cheese. You're Rin."
"It's mouldy cheese... Like spider webs all over it and through it as well from what I can see. And it SMELLS, As a general rule, I try to not eat mouldy, smelly food unless we have to, cheese or not. I can't figure why rich people would want to..."
"Great.... you snatched the wrong cheese!"
"I did NOT Lochared. It's the right cheese. It was exactly where it was supposed to be, under lock and key. Why would they keep mouldy cheese under lock and key? Why would mouldy cheese be worth twenty gold marks? Why would anyone want to steal this cheese this badly as to steal it from beneath Eomer's nose... Aside from me, obviously," Rin amended as her brother levelled a withering stare at her.
Loch heaved a deep, philosophical sigh from his cot.
"Who knows, Rin. I gave up trying to understand how nobles think years ago. Besides, it is entirely too late to start asking questions about the job now."
Rin opened her mouth to say something that was interrupted by a series of loud knocks on their rickety door. Rin shoved the cheese into the sack and under her cot as Loch got to his feet and tugged the door open. In the hall was the owner of the building. She was a large woman, tall with earthy curves that she made no effort to conceal. Her hair was black as ink, with strands of silver gray starting to appear like moonbeams. She wore it loosely braided, for it was too early for patrons. Her eyes were a deep, coal brown that scanned Loch's face and then Rin, who peered around her brother's shoulder. Her gaze swung back to Loch and there sizzled. Loch swallowed thickly. He ran his hand through his mop of sandy hair in the self-conscious way all young men do around confident, self assured and sensuous creatures such as the woman in the hall.
"Good morning manling," she purred, contented in his reaction and ignoring the roll of his sister's eyes behind him.
"G-Goo-Good morning," Loch stammered, cursing his suddenly thick tongue and dry mouth. Indulgent amusement flickered in her eyes. She was toying with him.
"Goo? Hardly seems pleasant," she drawled, winking at Rin who just remained impassive as a statue. Too serious by half, for one so young, the woman returned her attention to the older brother.
"What can we do for you Mistress Brianne?" Loch inquired, recovering his equilibrium. Brianne straightened from her lean against the doorframe, suddenly all business.
"Word is that some bold fool robbed Meduseld last night. Anyone fool enough to toss Meduseld will surely come sniffing after the next richest business in town. See to our security, manling.... And you'll need to stand watch tonight... Wouldn't put it past the cunning sot to make his way in as a client. Any strange faces come calling on my girls, you let me know immediately."
Loch nodded and then something dawned upon him. All of the warmth that he had been basking in vanished.
"Problem manling?" Brianne inquired, noting Loch's change in demeanour. Loch cleared his throat and spoke up.
"Tonight? Rin and I have an appointment to make tonight."
"Now you listen close, boy. Tonight is the biggest business day of the year. Tonight is feast night. They'll be here making merry from across Gondor and Rohan. All those soldiers in town with nothing to do but eat, drink and make merry. Tonight is when that thief will strike, if he'll strike. If you can't earn your keep tonight, then I'll find another way to recover the expense of your room and board..." Brianne's calculating gaze slid to Rin in a way that sent a chill skating down Loch's spine.
"She'd fetch a handsome price, manling, moreso if she's... "
"Fine... Tonight," Loch tersely said, the matter decided. The cheese will have to wait. He'd sooner hand Rin over to orcs than Brianne. Rin was tugging on his shirt. It meant his clever sister had an idea. Mollified, Brianne sheathed her claws and she was all spiced honey again. It was truly terrifying to watch the woman switch masks as rapidly as she did.
"Shame..." she sighed and smiled. She showed too many teeth, and her eyes remained cold as ice. Brianne turned to go and then paused.
"It will be a busy night. I'll expect innocent Rosmarin will be able to keep my girls in working order to see it through?" Rin shuddered.
"Of course, Mistress Brianne," Loch obediently replied. Loch waited until she was well down the hall, studying her swaying back before he closed the door again. When he turned to face Rin, he discovered her expression was distraught.
"What? I thought you had an idea?"
"I was going to take it to the fence tonight, but I can't now.... I hate this place, Loch! Hate it! What her 'clients' do to her 'girls'.... She doesn't care one flying damn about those women!" Rin turned away, wrapping her arms around her slight frame and muttering to herself. Loch scratched at his beard, his optimism now crumbling.
"The deal was that we get it to the fence by tonight," he ruminated out loud, prompting the idea from his sister.
"We're both working tonight... But I could see if I could negotiate an extension," Rin suggested tentatively, for they both knew she was not the most diplomatic of people and negotiation was an artform lost on her entirely. Still, their options were notable for their absence.
"Don't push past tomorrow morning. Depending on business tonight, we could slip away before dawn and finish the deal. We'd want to in any case. If Brianne already knows, then it won't be long before Meduseld makes it public. The feast is tonight, the kitchen will notice it is gone. By dawn tomorrow, Edoras will be crawling with guards and the roads will be under watch."
"You think so? It's mouldy cheese!"
"Mouldy cheese worth twenty gold marks, Rin..." Loch replied, tapping the side of his nose in a manner that he imagined made him look devious and cunning even if Rin wouldn't have a bar of it. She though it made him look like an idiot, but he knew better.
Breakfast consisted of whatever was leftover from the night before, split between the staff at Mistress Brianne's establishment. Her 'girls' emerged, twenty weary women hailing from lands all across the re-united Realms, excepting Harad. They aged from a scandalous fourteen to their late forties and each in their own right was eye catching. Brianne's reputation catered to refined palates. Brianne's girls gathered around a long, heavy oak table in the kitchen along with the cook, ostler, Loch and Rin. Mistress Brianne was nowhere in sight. She took her meals privately, and never leftovers from the night before. Typically, little was discussed at breakfast.
Rin noted a black eye on one woman from Rhun, Khadre, and resolved to look in on the woman a little later. Given her descent and the origins of Mistress Brianne's clients, Khadre frequently arrived at breakfast injured one way or the other. Rin could mend the physical injuries... Somehow that never seemed enough. The clients last night had been hungry men, so there was little food to spare the next morning. What food there was went to Brianne's girls first. The cook and ostler drew a wage, so they could afford to buy in their meals. Loch and Rin usually managed to snag something, but never enough to feed the hunger of a twenty-one year man and an eighteen year old woman. Still, neither begrudged the food that went to the girls.
They left breakfast still hungry, as per usual, and set off on their respective days. It would take most of the day to see to Brianne's security arrangements in a manner that met with Brianne's satisfaction. It would take most of the day to locate the fence and negotiate an extension on delivery. Fences didn't stay in business being easily found. Loch and Rin took their leave of each other, and Loch sent a warning to Rin to be careful. She could look after herself, he knew, but the fence had a reputation. Rin stowed the makeshift knife Loch had fashioned from broken glass in one pocket of her slightly dirt and grass stained dress, gave him a wave and trotted off into the morning. Rin returned by midday, wearing a decidedly worried expression. By that time, Loch was tipping a bucket of water over his head out the front of the stables. Upon sight of his sister, he called out to her and waved the empty bucket in her general direction.
"You could do with a wash yourself, Rin. Come here and hold still!" he shouted at her. The ostler chortled as he went inside the stables to have his lunch in the cool.
"Loch, we're in trouble...don't you dare horse about! Put that bucket down and put your shirt on!"
Loch grounded the bucket and ducked into what masqueraded as his shirt.
"No.... Do you not understand the word trouble?"
"No? What are you doing here, Rin? Get back out there and find him."
"I know where he is, Loch, and I'm not going to find him no matter how you snap at me. He's been rounded up with the morning patrol. They want the streets tidy for the feast tonight. I nearly got picked up myself! But that's not the worst of it."
"No? We have a sack of smelly cheese, our buyer is in prison and that's not the worst of it?"
"No, we need to get that cheese back quick before anyone realizes it has been stolen or we're good as dead."
"Over cheese? You want us to un-steal cheese?"
"That cheese is worth between 100 and 200 gold marks, Loch, on count of its rarity. Something to do with sheep, and pastures or grass or something... And then there's the humiliation. The king has important people coming from all round, kings and lords, on account of that cheese alone. What do you think they'll do to two thieves who stole something that valuable and humiliated the King of Rohan in the process?"
"How on earth are we going to put it back?"
"I haven't figured that part out yet... "
Loch threw his arms up at his sides. "This just gets better and better..." he growled.
"Don't you snap at me, Lochared. It was your idea to take the job, a job we were going to get shorted on I might add. Four marks for something worth that much? We should have been up for twenty at least. Next time, I do the talking when it comes to jobs, right? You going to stand there all day? By my guess, we have maybe two hours before they realize what was taken last night."
It took them half an hour to retrieve the cheese and make their way to Meduseld's front entrance. They squatted in the shade of an empty wagon and sized it up. Guards wearing the usual green and gold livery of Rohan moved about. They made Rin shiver just watching them. Their numbers were added by guards in black and silver, with shining helms that gleamed in the sun. Over the golden hall, several pennants caught the breeze. Two of them meant nothing to Loch or Rin. One was a silver swan on a black field and the other was a golden tree on a green field. Nobles of some sort, the pair presumed, and dismissing the thought soon thereafter. What made Rin's stomach sink was a black flag with a white tree and seven glittering silver stars.
"Stones!" she swore, "See that?"
"High King... That means Knights. There are Knights in there, and probably those Grey Rangers too," Loch said quietly. Further study revealed Meduseld was a veritable ant hill of serving staff bustling about with final preparations. Rin had one idea and only one idea. She glanced at Loch.
"Do you think you could comb your hair?" she asked, weighing up her opening line and their odds of getting out of this in one piece... Knights and Rangers!
"You're a fine one to talk," he muttered as he raked his fingers through it.
"You try finger combing hair this long," Rin retorted.
She protectively clutched her rapidly unravelling braid of pale gold. Even tangled and unkempt, it caught the light like spun gold. It just wasn't fair, Loch ruminated as he considered his own sandy hair and then halted himself as he realised he was wanting hair like his sister... a girl.... decidedly unmanly.
"Can fix that easily, like I said before," he offered.
"You cut my hair off and I'll cut something equally precious off you, you hear?"
"So what's the plan?" Loch said, redirecting his sister.
"They're bound to be short handed. I'll just get my job back and we'll be back inside."
Loch snorted with laughter until he realized she was serious.
"Just how do you propose to do that? You pretty much burnt that bridge last time."
"Well, I didn't steal her bracelet... And I could have if I wanted to... And I did not burn that bridge, was she that said all those terrible things..." Loch made a quiet exploding noise and added hand gestures to match. Rin's denial came to a halt, but she was still frowning at him.
"And here you are, having stolen something infinitely worse," he said, glancing meaningfully at the sack.
"Well, I just won't ask Aranne for my job back. You got a better idea? No? Then quit chipping at me and let's get this over with."
Getting her job back was not nearly as difficult as Loch feared it would be. Rin was not known for her tact and Aranne's false accusations had certainly wriggled under his sister's skin. However, Rin's guess proved correct. Meduseld was woefully short handed with so many extra guests in residence and a feast to prepare for. Rich and Loch were hurried inside and hustled straight to the laundries where they were left in the care of a red faced, sweating woman who surveyed each of them with a skeptical eye. She eyed Loch first, in particular the broad spread of his shoulders.
"You, lad, can head over there and lift the wet things up and into the rinsing tank. Don't touch them, mind you, or I'll scrub your hide."
The woman squinted at Rin a moment. "You could do with a scrubbing yourself, lassie, so you ain't handling none of my washed work. Fetch that cart and go collect the things that what want washing and bring 'em back here. Understand?"
Loch and Rin nodded as yet more steam was added to the air. The woman clapped two massive hands together, making both jump.
"Then set to it!" she commanded and turned back to her work secure in the knowledge that everyone did what she told them to do.
"I'll find the kitchen and drop it off, then I'll come back here and fetch you," Rin whispered to Loch. One of the nearby workers hissed a warning.
"Don't let her catch you dawdling," she said.
That sent both scurrying. Rin flung the sack in the cart and pushed it back out the doors. She had a reasonable sense of confidence now. There was no reason why this couldn't work. All she needed to do was find the kitchen, drop the cheese there, collect Loch and leave again. As she walked, fellow workers nodded amiably and she kept her eyes suitably lowered whenever someone well dressed happened past. It was as she was watching her bare feet that a voice shouted from the doorway she was passing.
"Hie, it's about time!" a woman shouted crossly. Rin had two choices, run or play along. She opted to play along and pushed her cart into the large room. It was strewn with sleeping pallets, fur and dirty clothing. The owner of the voice was a young woman, perhaps a year or two older than Rin. She took in Rin's disheveled state and clucked her tongue.
"They must really be short handed... Are your feet bare?" she asked, scandalised as her gaze travelled down to Rin's feet.
"As I'm not washing the laundry with my feet, does it matter? Do you want my help or not? Will shoes make me more helpful or less? " Rin replied more sharply than she had intended, a little stung by the scathing assessment of her presentation. All things considered, Rin would like to see the other woman do better in her circumstances. The other woman flushed, angry and caught uncomfortably by the rapid fire answer the rumpled laundry girl had tossed in her face. The girl was too clever by half.
"Oh, I do beg your pardon your majesty. Yes, I do humbly crave your assistance. You should have been here half an hour ago. If we don't have this room cleared out by the time they get back, we'll both have our backs switched. Is that cart empty?"
Rin flinched at the prospect of being switched. It was a particularly unpleasant punishment. The other woman noted her reaction and continued on, "Then hand it here and go take those to the laundry."
"Give the damn cart to me, you simpleton, and take this full cart back to the laundry... What is that smell? Oh... Half an hour of dawdling about and you've collected one smelly old rag. When this is done, I'm going to have a word to the Steward about you. What's your name?"
Rin grabbed the full cart and pushed it out of the door at speed. She needed to get the cart back to the laundry and then back to this room to collect the one with the cheese on it, without handing over her name. The cart was piled so high that it was hard to stop once at speed and Rin was pushing it as fast as she could, skating around corners as she retraced her path to the laundry. The sound of the cart colliding with a person jolted both cart and Rin to a sudden standstill. Laundry toppled over onto her victim, adding insult to injury.
"Oh!" Rin squeaked and peered around the base of the cart to find a set of polished boots poking out from a pile of soiled laundry.
"Now, that's charming, just charming," a male voice wheezed from beneath the pile. Eyes wide, Rin fell to her knees and began madly throwing laundry aside.
"Oh... Oh no.... Are you hurt? I am so very sorry.... I didn't know you were there! Are you-" The man's hand wrapped around her wrist as she plucked a piece of laundry up from his face. He was wincing, more from the smell of dirty laundry than anything else she hoped. He opened eyes as clear as a summer sky.
"Well met," he murmured and then winced again.
"Are you hurt?" Rin asked again.
"Pride, dignity mayhaps... And my sense of smell... But everything else seems to be in working order, including my eyes. Who, may I ask, are you?"
With his question, he smiled faintly and released her wrist. Rin sat back on her heels and took in the gravity of the situation. She had knocked some lordling off his feet with a cart full of laundry... and she was running out of time.
"No one," she replied cautiously, eyes darting away, and started to gather up the laundry that was now strewn about. The young man cautiously sat up, shook his head.
"No one... I come here fairly regularly and I've never seen you before... I'm sure I would remember if I had seen you before..."
"I'm sorry, Sir," Rin said, inwardly cringing as the man's gaze settled on her.
"Now, this is entirely my fault. I can see you're troubled by it, so I'll tell you what... How about I explain to the laundry mistress what happened. I couldn't bear to know that lovely back of yours got striped on account of my clumsiness. What do you say, young mistress No One?"
"Oh, that's not necessary, Sir. I wouldn't wish to trouble you further and I really must be off if you're sure you're not injured."
"Nonsense.... The matter is settled. I'll even push that cart of yours for the trouble I've caused. Which way to the laundry?"
Rin opened her mouth and closed it again, unaware that she was twirling the end of her tangled braid around her fingers. Despite his noble origins, he was a decidedly charming young man... Rin pointed in the direction of the laundry and they set off together. The young man carried most of the conversation at first. He said nothing of her bare feet or her stained and threadbare dress. Once he had his first shy smile from the nameless young woman at his side, he knew he was making progress. They made a curious pair and they were certainly noted by other guests familiar with the young man.
"I thought he declared himself above tumbling the household staff," one man said once the pair passed.
"Oh, you know how it goes... He'll be married off before this time next year if his father has any say and she's certainly a pleasing distraction for all of the dirt and grass stains," the other replied with a chortle, "Let him pursue his wild hunt for this untamed waif."
As it turned out, Rin was not the only lady charmed. Upon reaching the laundry, he had Rin and the laundry mistress eating out of his hand. On the hoist, Loch scowled as the young man bent over Rin's hand extravagantly, all courtly flourish and a grin that meant only one thing. Laundry mistress and thief alike watched the young man leave, each with a wistful sigh. Still slightly dazed, Rin turned to sight Loch. The thunderous look on his face was a bucket of cold water. Rin grabbed the nearest empty cart and raced back, carefully, for the room. She skidded to a halt as a full cart was pushed out and had to back up to let the cart pass.
"Took your sweet time again. Go on to the next room," the woman snapped at her. Rin studied the crest of the laundry pile. There was a queue...hopefully she could ditch the cart and double back, locate the cart and retrieve the cheese. This time, she had to get it back to the kitchen, no distractions. Rin darted into the next room and threw whatever was immediately to hand into the cart. By the time she got back to the laundry, her stomach sank like a stone. In the steamy murk, it would take her hours to locate the right cart. As another one was added to the growing queue, Rin darted to the far side of them and started as best she could.
The cheese was at the bottom of one of them. She dove head first into the first cart and found nothing but laundry. Rin wriggled her way out again, took a deep breathe and re-evaluated something. Best to start at the front of the queue and work her way back. She virtually crawled to the head of the queue, one cart back from the big steaming tanks and dove in. It was at this point that Loch spotted her by the waving of her bare feet.
"I'm going to swing for this for certain," he moaned and heaved another heavy steaming pile of laundry up and out of the tanks. His arms and back were screaming. Wet laundry was brutally heavy and he had to clear the tank at a demanding pace to keep the entire washing process going smoothly. By the time he turned back for another lift, Rin was diving into the next cart. It only confirmed that she'd lost the cheese. He swore as he hoisted the next batch of steaming laundry clear of the washing tanks and pivoted for the cooler rinse tanks. He was going to hang because she had gotten all tangled over some pretty boy lording and lost the damn cheese.
Diving into carts filled with dirty washing was vastly unpleasant. Doing so in the close, humid environment of the laundry whilst attempting to evade detection only made it more miserable. From cart to cart, with rising panic, Rin took a deep breath and dove to search for cheese. She'd never hated cheese before now. Another fruitless search had her wriggling back out again. The heat was terrible and it made her head spin. Suddenly, quite unbidden, came the vision of summery eyes and a charming smile to her mind. Rin slapped her forehead to clear her thoughts and dove into the next cart. She was a third of the way down the line.... No, by the time she had re-emerged more carts had been added and she was only a quarter of the way down the line. Each time she moved onto the next cart, she peered at the crest of the pile. She wasn't sure if she knew what she was looking for after all this time. Another deep breathe and in she went.
Rin was seeing double by the time she found the thrice blighted round of cheese. Loch heard her hoot with joy and caught her dancing through the steam, sack held high overhead. He dropped his pole and ignored the oaths as hot water gushed. He marched over to where his sister capered as though she was drunk. She was giggling when he reached her, something that she rarely did.
"FOUND IT," she all but shouted. Loch clapped a water logged hand across her mouth.
"Right, let's go return the wretched thing and get out of here," he growled, dragging her arm down, "Quietly and without any fuss. Got it?"
Rin nodded behind his hand, eyes twinkling in the poor light. She clutched the sack close and let Loch escort her from the laundry.
"Which way is the kitchen?" he asked. Rin pointed and he headed off towing her behind him. He attempted to release Rin but soon found she was prone to wandering off untended, giggling. He had to retrieve her on several occasions, one of which he was horrified to discover her waving coquettishly at a cluster of young Gondorian nobles. They were studying her with open, undisguised interest. His sister was the sort of women men noticed, much to his consternation over the past three years in particular.
"Are you drunk?" Loch snarled and then paused. He leaned closer and caught the unmistakeable scent of ale and wine... All that laundry... She'd gotten drunk on fumes diving into the carts. Rin giggled and Loch cast his eyes upwards, beseeching the heavens for aid. As per usual, they weren't listening and he was in this mess with his drunk sister and an appallingly smelly, expensive piece of cheese. Not much to work with.
"Come on then, let's get this disaster over and done with," he sighed "You sure the kitchens are this way?"
Rin nodded earnestly and he continued on hoping she was not so drunk as to be beyond all reasoning and recall. At the next pause, Rin threw her arms around Loch's neck and hugged him fiercely.
"S'arright Loch," she slurred in a way that was supposed to be reassuring, immediately followed by "The hall is spinning." Loch's last vestiges of hope crumbled.
Another few twists and turns, Rin becoming increasingly inebriated as the fumes permeated her blood stream, and they found the kitchen. If the laundry had been busy, kitchen was a hive of frenetic activity. Loch deposited Rin in an alcove and left her there with strict instructions to stay there. He wasn't sure if she heard him, humming that barroom tune like she was. He snatched up the sack for the first time and edged into the kitchen cautiously.
Loch sighted a corner of a table and made for that, thrusting his hand into the sack as he went. He fished out an old shoe and the entire world came to a sudden, crashing halt as he realized what he was brandishing in the air. A strangled cry of abject misery and frustration tore free of him he realized the whole of the kitchen stared at him as he clutched a shoe.
"Get that out of here at once, you fool," a chef cried. Loch stumbed back over his heels, the shoe still aloft. A sea of amazed faces surrounded him. He turned and fled, throwing Rin over his shoulder on his way. How he got out of Meduseld in one piece was a blur, but he did. He got them both back to their tiny room and dropped Rin onto her cot. She was soundly, blissfully asleep. Loch knelt and reached under her cot to find the other sack, the one with the cheese. Were he in a rational frame of mind he would have noted how similar the two sacks smelled. He sank onto the edge of his cot, anger and despair lapping at him.
By dawn the next day, the uproar was all through Meduseld. King Eomer had been publicly humiliated at his own feast, in front of his vassals and friends. Rumor was already rife that a rival faction of his own court that had been agitating for occupation of Rhun was responsible for this oh so subtle slap to the king's face. Rin, for her part, kept wisely silent as she walked west with Loch, towards the southern cusp of the Misty Mountains and away from Edoras. The cheese was a millstone Loch insisted she carry. He had been disturbingly quiet since they set out, brooding. That evening, sheltering behind some boulders to gain respite from the wind, Loch demanded that she bring forth the cheese.
"Eat it," he said flatly.
"It's mouldy and it smells," she protested.
"Eat. It. Rosmarin. Now."
Her stomach had been far from easy all day as a result of her unwitting inebriation from the day before. It twisted within her. Still, there was something dangerous about Loch's demeanour. She gouged out a small morsel, closed her eyes and placed it on her tongue. She nearly spat it back out again.
"More," Loch ground out. Rin repeated the process.
"You know, this whole job was not my idea Loch," she said after the second mouthful.
"How was I to know you had your smelly old shoe in a sack under my bed anyway? Who keeps one shoe? In a sack? Under his sister's bed?" she asked after the fourth. Her questions were falling on deaf ears.
By the time she reached the sixth mouthful, Rin started to appreciate a certain earthy complexity to the cheese Loch was forcing her to eat. She was careful to keep her face blank. It would take Rin four days to consume all their ill-gotten gains. Not once did she let a hint that she had come to rather enjoy the smelly, moldy cheese... Just like she carefully guarded the recollections of a pair of summer blue eyes. She rather enjoyed those too…
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
The past week had been bad, even by their standards. Loch and Rin knew it. They'd had more than their share of hard times, and this one was up there with some of the worst.
"We should go back," Rin said again. Loch stood at the cusp of the rocky overhung they'd sheltered under when the rain became too heavy. He stared out at the forest beyond. His sister sat farther in, huddled against the cold. She was too thin. They both were.
"Be my guest," he grumbled. If she said that one more time, he'd take her back himself. And to think he'd spent three years hoping that she'd say anything at all. Oh for such silence, such peace now.
The rain eased and then abated. The forest remained still, too silent, as if holding its breath. It had been three days since they'd last set out. As far as Loch saw, they'd had no choice. If he hadn't returned for more nails, the farmer would have ensured that his sister left missing more than her clothes. That fact seemed utterly lost on her now, though. Now she kept saying they should go back. He knew she was hungry, cold and frightened. So was he. But if he went back to that place then he'd snap something he shouldn't and then things would be a whole lot worse.
Rin stared at her brother's back and adjusted the rags she now wore. In their mad dash, she'd managed to snag a sheet drying outside. It was better than nothing, but only marginally so. Loch stood staring at the forest outside and then turned to face her.
"We can't stay here forever, Loch. We'll starve," she said. Her brother scratched at the straggly beard on his chin and crouched.
"Tharbad's another two days by foot," he replied. It was three days back to that farm and any chance to steal some food. What she'd do for a chicken!
"That's closer," she admitted. Her head had been aching for days and she rubbed at it. She needed some Lamb's Tongue, she reminded herself.
"I don't think I can walk another two days, Loch." That's when he started to smile.
"We might not have to."
Rin stared at him, because if it was a joke it was not funny. Loch kept smiling, and her temper snapped.
"Oh well, why don't you go and ride your invisible horse there instead. While you're at it, perhaps you can muster up an imaginary feast too!"
"Calm down, Rin! I'm not joking. If we can get down to the trail, we might be able to get a ride to Tharbad and perhaps food," Loch said. Rin looked at him skeptically. Ever the optimist was her brother.
"From whom," she demanded. Loch knew to give up that nugget was to ensure that they did starve under this rocky ledge. His sister's fear of soldiers was as irrational as it was strong.
"Travellers," he said with his affable, lop sided grin. It wasn't entirely a lie. "I'll hide myself away so they don't think us bandits. They won't be able to go past you, Rin. "
Rin looked uncomfortable and he understood why. The fact people found it difficult to not notice Rin had caused a number of unpleasant situations in the past. But, they had no food, no shelter, and Rin had no clothes. It was this, or die out here somewhere. At least they wouldn't need to worry about the orc sign he'd been noticing increasingly over the past three days. Orcs wouldn't trouble with such little meat they presented.
"Come on. While the rain's stopped. We need to get down to that trail," he chivvied.
Grumbling, Rin stood and followed Loch out and the pair walked down the slope to the trail at the foot of it. Loch positioned his sister in the most visible spot he could locate. Unfortunately, that meant it was out in the open and not on the side of the track that had tree cover. Loch scrambled back up the muddy embankment behind her and hid himself in the tangled vines that marched along its rim. Then, they waited.
Rin scrunched up her eyes and peered at the deluge from beneath it. She sighed heavily, already sodden to her bones. Cold water would have pooled in her boots, if they'd been whole. She peered down and wriggled toes that had turned a distinct shade of blue, visible even if she could not feel them. She twisted back to the scrub behind her and tried to make out her brother.
"This is not going to work, Loch," she again announced. Loch made no response, and Rin turned back to peer up the track she was standing by. She made a truly pitiful figure, which was exactly what her slightly elder brother was counting on. Rin kept wriggling her toes in the ragged remains of her 'boots' and sighed again for good measure. The numbness, she mused, meant that she no longer shivered quite so badly. It also hinted at exposure and a host of other unfortunate things.
Rin stared across the track at the bank of trees on the other side. Truth be told, her mind wandered. Abject hunger did not bode well for alertness or concentration. Rin's stomach twisted sharply, sending stabbing pain shooting through her. She gritted her teeth and wrapped arms too thin around her middle and waited.
"They're not coming, Loch. Maybe they turned off or found somewhere dry...or-"
Rin scowled at the trees at her brother's imperious tone. They were both tired, frozen, starved and soaked. He needn't get so uppity with her. If they didn't show up soon, she was going to go back and get her damn clothes whether he liked it or not, right after she found some Lamb's Tongue and dealt with the fever that was lapping at her bones.
"Is she dead?" A stranger's voice startled Rin from her brooding and she struggled to pull her blurry eyes into focus.
A soldier, a hard bitten one, stared at her. He was a giant, dark skinned man. Sudden dread made her feel sick to her stomach. It was just as well nothing was in it.
Rin collected her wits and put on her best damsel voice, "Please sir... some bread?" Another soldier joined the one standing before her. He was smaller and no less coolly professional than the giant. Both had their hands on their sword belts, restless eyes.
"Not quite," the first soldier mused, studying her hard for a long moment. Rin thought her heart would rip out of her chest it was thudding so loudly. A shout behind her ensured she was spared their further scrutiny. Swords snapped out and she was forgotten as suddenly as they had seemed to appear to her. Rin had no idea why she did it. Her fingers seemed to move of their own accord. They moved past her to investigate the commotion on the embankment without their purses. Rin blinked at what she now held in her hands in astonishment. She had stolen from soldiers. She stumbled in disbelief across the track to the other tree-lined side.
Above on the embankment, another two soldiers grappled with Loch. Properly fed, her brother was a match for three. In his current state, it was the fact that he was largely covered in slippery mud that made it difficult for the men to pin him down. The two soldiers she had robbed clambered up the muddy slope. Rin drifted backwards into the trees she's spent the large part of the afternoon staring at. She tucked the purses into her rags. Loch and the four soldiers grunted and cursed at each other.
"Rin," he gasped, throwing the Easterling off him. "RUN!" Three soldiers leapt on her brother in tandem as the fourth one picked himself up. "RUN," Loch bellowed again and went down hard. A bolt of fear propelled her deeper into the trees and she ran, careening on unsteady legs.
She ran erratically, darting this way and that, her chest burning. Her mind was racing too. How was she supposed to stop the soldiers from killing her brother? That's what they did, soldiers. They killed people. Distracted and hurtling headlong through the forest, Rin ran straight into a man that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. She bounced off him with a surprised squeak and lost her footing. She managed, somehow to twist about and landed on her hands and knees into the rain soft forest floor. The man she had collided with picked her up easily. She dangled from his grip on the rags that covered her back.
"Ho there, I think that's far enough," he said from beneath a deep cowl.
Sharp eyes, bright grey pierced her as she hung from his hand. His stare was returned by a pair of wide, fever glazed wintry blue eyes. Rin knew how fragile the rags wrapping her were. She had but to twist hard enough and she'd be on the ground again and free to dart away, even if did mean doing so naked. She flailed, but her energy had largely been exhausted in her desperate flight to this juncture. It was more a display of wilful determination than an actual escape. The Ranger studied her a moment. She whimpered through rain darkened pale hair, arms and legs dangling. He gave her a light shake. Two pouches tumbled out and thumped onto the wet earth in front of where the Ranger stood.
"You should have gone for their rations, woman," the Ranger chided. She weighed no more than a child, even if she clearly was no such thing any longer. The Ranger set her down and scooped up the pouches. He gestured at the trees behind him. More soldiers, a whole company, Rin realised with a sinking stomach. The mad rush through the trees had gotten blood flowing enough to let her shiver in fear and cold.
"On your feet," Hanasian said. She crouched, resembling a started rabbit. He pulled her up firmly by an arm that seemed so slight as to be breakable. He was swift to let her go before such a thing occurred, startled by such fragility a moment. Then the Ranger turned towards the track she had fled from.
"Come on then," said one of the soldiers. His expression was cold, relentless, and he pushed her forward to follow the Ranger. When the Company and Rin stepped through the trees, Loch stared at her and then sagged.
"Hope it was worth it," said the soldier that had ensured she marched with them. Rin fixed a gaze of such bleakness he recoiled in surprise. With Loch subdued, the four muddied soldiers had stepped back. Three looked irritated but the black giant seemed to be enjoying himself. Loch slowly picked himself up from the ground. Rin managed to teeter over to her brother. Her entire body was shaking with exhaustion. Her vision spun and her lips had started to turn a startling shade of blue.
"You should have run, Rin," Loch said to his younger sister. She hadn't the strength to argue with him, to tell him that she had. Rin nodded automatically and sat suddenly on the muddy track, unable to trust her legs anymore. It didn't matter what happened anymore. She felt like she was melting under the rains onslaught. Her eyelids fell, heavy. They could not conceal the dangerous brightness of fever. It would be the death of her in her current state. Rin sagged against Loch's leg and closed her eyes proper in defeat. She had nothing left to give.
"If you're to make your lives as bandits, they'll assuredly be short careers," Hanasian said. He tossed the stolen purses back to their owners.
Khule caught his with an oath. Molguv merely smiled all the wider. The girl was good, he had to admit. Loch stared a moment, clearly astonished, and then looked down at his sister.
"Why'd you do it, Rin? Rin?" he asked.
Rin made no answer, for fever had stolen her awareness.
"What have you say before the King's justice is served," asked one of the nearest soldiers. Loch made no reply at first, bending to stretch Rin out on the ground and tucking what passed as her clothing against her body. Her skin was simultaneously icy and yet burnt with fever's ferocity. Her paleness made her resemble some sort of icy statue, remote. It frightened Loch.
"All we wanted was food," Loch replied, "I don't think she knew what she was doing." He smoothed back hair far paler than his own. She shivered beneath his touch and seemed to stir again, struggling to consciousness by sheer desperation alone.
"This wasn't the plan," he murmured. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."
Khule objected, "She knew her business. I never even felt her take the damn purse!"
Beside him, Molguv had to agree. "Real professional. Give the street toughs in Umbar a run for their money," he said with open admiration.
Hanasian stared at the pair in front of him. From their dealings, they seemed obviously to have a sibling bond, even though they looked nothing alike. Perhaps thirty years on the man, a few less on his sister, they were clearly starving. Even at full speed, she'd weighed scarcely more than a child when she'd collided with him. A dozen well armed men is not a mark one would take lightly unless they're desperate. Hanasian looked at his men.
"What say you men," the Ranger asked. "What shall the King's Justice mete to these two vagabonds?"
Mulgov said something about keeping them as pets, which got a chuckle from some of the others. Khule said nothing at all. He just fingered the sword that should take their thieving hands off. Hanasian waved his hand for silence.
"We will break here, for these trees offer a little surcease from the chill wind, though the rain has worked its way through them. They look as though they could use a bit of a meal. We'll rest cold. Everyone give up a bit of saddle fare for the kids to eat. And Khule, toss the girl that old cloak of yours. It will give her some protection from the elements along with some warmth, not to mention allowing her some decency from the eyes of you lot."
Those still ahorse dismounted and they moved to the treelined side of the road. Loch managed to rouse his sister. It was that or have Mulgov carry her. The way their luck was turning, she'd wake, discover a soldier had a hold of her and then things would really go downhill. Mulgov along with Khule the Easterling kept a close watch on the two. Nothing was going to go missing while they rested and ate. The girl blankly accepted the cloak, even though it stunk and could use a wash, and the bits of bread and dried meat were gladly accepted. Loch placed an arm around his sister, who seemed to lapse in and out of consciousness against him. She was awake, barely, when the Ranger quizzed them. After they hungrily took part on what was offered, Hanasian questioned them.
"So, since we had the opportunity to meet, I can guess your names from your words to each other. Now tell me where is it you came from, and where is it you go?"
He stared at Loch, seeing a possible future prospect in him. That will have to wait though, for much will be determined by their words and deeds this day. Where from and where to were mighty questions indeed for the unfortunate pair. Loch felt her stiffen, despite her relentless shivering, with the irrational suspicion that she had harboured for soldiers since they'd been forced from their home.
"Don't tell them," Rin tried to say. Her shivering made it hard to get the words out.
"Less talk from you and more eating would be a fine idea, girl," growled the big Haradian with a wide smile. Loch sensed there was no malice in it, but Rin had no such faith.
She all but crawled across her brother to the other side, and perched there to peer back at the large man from across Loch's shoulders. For his part, the man laughed and took another powerful bite at some hardened meat. Half dead, half conscious, half terrified, the girl had spit and he liked that. He demonstrated by waving the jerkey at her. Rin only clutched at her brother closer, cloak slipping from around her shoulders. The others grinned, mostly, though some saw the entire affair as all too familiar and all too sad. They ate and watched in silence.
"Don't trust them, Loch! Don't!" Loch reached and pulled the cloak back up her shoulders. As far Rin was concerned, there wasn't a single soldier to be trusted. After what they had seen he could hardly fault her for that. But it didn't have to be that way, Loch knew, if you were on the other end of the sword. What had happened to their parents didn't if you were on the right end of the sword.
"Eat, Rin, slowly or you'll get sick remember?" he gently chided her.
Rin never took her eyes off the Haradian, who had given up with his peace offering and resumed eating it. She set her teeth at the corner of the bread and tore a piece off, slowly chewing and calculating how best to extricate them from their current mess. Just thinking about it made her head spin sickeningly. She resolutely took another bite, trying to keep her eyes on as many soldiers at one time as she possibly could. Meanwhile, Loch picked up on an old habit and ignored her counsel.
"The Borderlands," he answered Hanasian, trusting to his instincts. Rin fought to keep consciousness beside him and dug a sharp elbow into his ribs. Loch stifled a wince and continued, "And we're going anywhere that's safe." Rin elbowed him again, harder.
"They'll have a hard time finding that with their manners," Khule announced. Men grunted their agreement around them. Hanasian waved silence again and probed closer, watching the young woman with mounting concern.
"Which border," he quizzed and noted Loch hesitate for the first time. Years of bitter experience had taught him caution. Still, in for a penny was what their Da used to sat each morning long ago.
"Dunland," Khule said with a glance to Wulgof, "That's what I'd wager." Beside him, Rin hissed a warning at Loch and then toppled face first into the grass, half eaten bread rolling from one out stretched and limp hand. "Aye, Dunland, and what of it," Loch snapped, unsure if he now need to defend himself from the usual prejudice and somehow tend his sister.
"Now you've done it, Khule," Mulgov said, waving at the newly unconscious Rin. Loch knelt to lift his sister up. "Ah! She's burning!"
"And she wasted perfectly edible stale bread," Mulgov said, shaking his head. He liked the girl, but she sure was hard to keep awake. The boy, though, a good feed and he had promise.
"Don't get too close," Khule warned. "I made that mistake and it nearly cost me a month's pay!" Loch chafed Rin's cheeks in a bid to rouse her. Her shivering started to become violent, and her eyes moved beneath pale lids, but she did not wake.
Mulgov stood, retrieved the bread and studied the scene below. "If it's an act, it's a damn good one," he rumbled.
Hanasian sighed heavily and reached under his tightly drawn cloak to fetch out a pouch that did not contain money. He pushed Loch aside, pulled open Rin's mouth and crumbled a dark powder between her lips that he washed down with a quick swig from his water bag. A long moment passed and the shivering abated to more normal levels.
"How long have you been out here," the Ranger asked, studying the young woman sprawled on the ground before them both. "Forever," Loch groaned. One way or another, it had been.
"And you were heading for Tharbad," Hanasian stated, the conclusion foregone. Loch nodded, staring hard at his sister.
"I still think we should keep them," Mulgov said, "Even if they are trouble."
Khule grunted, clearly unimpressed with the idea. Hanasian scooped up the girl and handed her across to Mulgov.
"Mount up men," he ordered. Grumbling, the men did as bidden. Loch was assigned to ride behind Khule. Hanasian took the girl himself, hoping the added warmth of the horse would be enough to get her through to Tharbad, a roof and four weatherproof walls.
Rin, perhaps fortunately, was entirely insensate for all of this. Oblivious to being handed about soldiers, she wandered fever fueled dreams of a place long ago and a woman whose voice still haunted her memories. Loch, though desperately worried for his sister still marveled at the day's turn. He was in a waking dream long clutched to his heart across the years of his childhood: a soldier at last.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
"Worry not missy," Hanasian said as the company started to ride.
"None here will harm or take advantage of you. They are rather foul in appearance, but they all mean well and serve King Elessar." Rin showed no response, and Hanasian hoped she wouldn't add insult to injury and fall off the horse. A hand went up and fingers moved, and they set out at a fair gallop. They hoped to make Tharbad by nightfall.
The rain intensified as they went on, and the grey skies darkened with heaviness and the onset of evening. They weren't going to make it. Hanasian had to make a decision to either push on in the cold wet darkness or stop and make a cold camp. Too many leagues yet to go, and with things uncertain in the city, he decided to take them off the road to a thicket of trees by some rock outcroppings about a half mile east of the road. He sent Wulgof the Dunlanding and Amira of Dale up to scout the high ground while the rest tried to settle for some rest as best they could. But it wasn't long before Wulgof and Amira returned.
"We found orc-sign, and it is at the most a day old. We should be wary here."
Hanasian talked to the two scouts further, noting that Loch had drifted close by and lingered with open curiosity. Nothing they were saying required guard, so so Hanasian though to get a further measure of the young man.
"You... Loch, come here." Instinct made Loch start in the other direction. Every time he'd been summoned to step forward, it had been to receive a generous helping of cruel intolerance and prejudice. Loch paused, steeled himself, and returned to where the Ranger and soldiers stood.
Hanasian said to Wulgof and Amira, "We should ask this man, for I have a feeling he has been around here quite a bit of late. Loch, have you seen any orcs or sign they have been in your travels?" Loch looked like he was thinking, surprised that his opinion had been sought on the matter.
Hanasian went on, "We just want to know what you have seen since I'm sure you and the girl had your eyes out for anyone moving through these parts. Speak freely man."
Hanasian had already made up his mind that they would go forth to Tharbad in the dark, taking their chances with the city watch than being waylaid in the night by orcs, but he wanted to engage this boy. Perhaps it was what he saw at their meeting or a gut feeling he had, or both, but Hanasian was thinking there may be more to this boy. Loch turned to where the aforementioned 'girl' lay. If she were awake, she'd be glaring at him hard enough to set his hair on fire. He knew why that would be, but he also knew his own mind. He turned back to where the Ranger and the two scouts stood, chewed it over some more and decided to cast the die whilst Rin was oblivious.
"Aye, sporadic and old at first," he confirmed. "But it got fresher and thicker as we closed on Tharbad. All the game vanished too." Loch gestured at his own spare frame and then scratched at his chin. Rin would have his hide for consorting with soldiers, but Rin was plain wrong headed about it and he knew that for certain.
"How long since you've found game," Amira asked the young man. Loch shrugged one shoulder laconically. "Three days, this would be the fourth I suppose."
Hanasian studied Loch carefully as he spoke. Aside from his sandy hair, Rohan at a guess, the lad had similar features to Wulgof, confirming the lad's earlier tale about his origins. His sister, however, was entirely another matter. There was neither Dunland or Rohan in her features. All it took was once glance over to where she now sat, blinking blearily at the men and horses around her. The woman, Hanasian could not help but conclude, had the look of a people long scattered by the inexorable predations of war – his own northern kin.
But that was not all Hanasian thought of. Loch's statement confirmed several other things about the young man. He was, it would seem, a skilled tracker and reasonable hunter. There was no other way for the pair to be in such reasonably good condition. They had the look of those perpetually wandering, and clearly had been able to survive. Where their family was now there was no telling, but Loch was keen to belong. It was stamped all over him. He soaked up the company of the men around him like the desert did rain. Lastly, Loch had demonstrated a fierce loyalty to his sister. That they'd clung together and not gone their separate ways said much. The boy would find it much easier to survive if he did not have a younger sister to care for. His sister would have easily found a comfortable situation in the way that attractive women can if she did not have an older brother to consider.
Rin had her bearings once again and had begun to glare at her brother as Loch had known she would. He ignored her, which prompted the young woman to stand.
"We ride, then," Hanasian said as he noticed Rin was on her feet and conscious again, "Hard as we can." Khule, who had drifted over muttered, "Not as hard as we could."
He flicked a dark gaze at Loch and then his sister. Stung, Loch unwisely replied "I can too ride as hard as you." The men chuckled knowingly around him.
"Well and good," Hanasian said after a moment's further thought. "We'll see in five or so minutes." Dismissed, the men peeled away to tend to their horses and themselves before they again had to mount up.
Loch strolled over to where Rin stood, fidgeting with her slipping cloak. Molguv loomed over the pair and plucked up the cloak with a grin. He produced a wickedly curved dagger, carved a head sized hole in the middle of it and then dropped it back over Rin's frozen, shocked face.
"That," Khule cried, "is MY CLOAK!" Molguv winked at the Easterner and sauntered away. Khule turned back to his horse, muttering thick curses in his own tongue. Hanasian meanwhile had plucked out two apples from his own saddle bags and brought them to the siblings.
"Eat," he said sternly. "You'll need to be able to hang on to keep up." With that, he left the pair to it. Rin stared at the apple in her hand, overwhelmed by the wealth it represented. Loch took a large bite, chewing hard and ignoring the renewed glare she turned back on him.
"What do you think you're doing, Loch," she demanded, taking a bite out of her own apple and closing her eyes momentarily as the sweet rush of it permeated her.
"I'm helping, Rin. It's not so hard. Even you could do it if you wanted to," he teased around another mouthful of apple. Rin's scowl returned deeper than before and Loch threw his arms up in exasperation. This was an argument that had been brewing all day, from when Rin had discovered that Loch had deliberately set them in the path of the people she feared the most.
"What, Rin? What's the big problem?"
Rin rolled her eyes, lowered her apple and hissed a response, "I've said it before, Loch. They're soldiers."
Loch pointed at the apple in her hand, "Mmmm, evil soldiers who give you food." He pointed again at her makeshift poncho. "And that, whatever it is." Rin waved his arguments aside with a shake of her pale hair and an increasingly stubborn set to her chin.
"It doesn't matter which army, they're all the same, Loch and you're mad if you let all this fool you!"
Loch looked up, his own jaw bunching as he stared hard over his sister's head. Then he took a bite of his apple and chewed it carefully.
"Well, Rosmarin," he said heavily, invoking her full name and sparking a growl from her at his tone, "We'll do it your way. Let's say that those men were soldiers. Even though I know they weren't and you weren't old enough to remember. If that is true, then I'll tell you this little sister. If Da had known his way around a sword, maybe he and mother would be alive today! Maybe if Da had been a soldier, we'd still-"
Rin's slap broke the rest of what her brother had been about to say off.
It shocked the both of them. Loch straightened, fists closing at his side and then took a careful step back with narrowed eyes. Rin stared at her own hand, shaken, and then to her brother's face.
"No Loch. It wasn't not their fault. That's not right," she said urgently. Hanasian, like the others, had watched the argument spring to life with some interest. He strode over between the pair.
"Enough, I think. Mount up, men!" He pointed Loch over to Wulgof, and took Rosmarin's upper arm through the cloak. "I'd finish that apple in a hurry, were I you," Hanasian said. Rin's apple had turned to ashes as far as she was concerned, but she lifted it to her mouth all the same, unable to take her eyes off her brother.
"If I'm wrong, Rin, then so are we both," Loch said in parting, turned his back and walked away. "Make sure Wulgof gives you a weapon of some sort," Hanasian said to hurry Loch along.
Hanasian looked down at the young woman he had in hand, sorely tempted to question her further but lacking the opportunity to do so. Yes, most definitely of the Dunedain was this one. "Ready?" he instead asked. Rin tossed the apple core away.
"Nearly," she said, tugging her arm. Hanasian let her go and she took a few steps to the side, plucked a grey green plant from a rock and chewed some leaves. Hanasian blinked his surprise and pointed to his horse. Subdued and still chewing Rin complied. He mounted and stretched down to pull her up.
"If anything happens, you get down low against the horse's neck and hang on," he instructed. Rin nodded and swallowed, shoulders slumped. "What," he started to ask as he kicked his horse into a trot and then a canter.
"Lamb's Tongue," came Rin's reply, "for fever." It wasn't what he had been going to ask. He had been going to ask what the confrontation between her and her brother had been about. Not that it was likely she'd answer him with the same freedom her brother seemed to. Still, her response did provide him with further information that confirmed there was yet more to pursue with the pair.
As night fell, Hanasian's company rode as fast as they dared towards Tharbad, scouts ranging around seeking further sign of impending attack. As he rode, Rin before him, he couldn't help but wonder about her origins. She looked of northern stock and, if he guessed aright, possessed abilities of a similar origin. As Rin rode through the night, she closed her eyes and hung on. The Lamb's Tongue broke her fever as she had known it would, but it couldn't stop what she kept seeing in her mind's eye. Her mother's blood spread in a growing pool across the floor of their cottage, a remorselessly hungry tide that had stolen everything from her.
They had set off riding hard toward the old city, but Wulgof could sense trouble. Apparently in his years of absence, wayward gangs of renegade orcs had gathered in the hills and would raid the road and the Dunlanding settlements. He didn't like this latest hardship on his people, but what was this old soldier, a veteran of the Orthanc Legion, first of the young strong Dunlandings recruited by Sarumann to fight his war against Rohan, to do? He survived Helms Deep, and captivity under the horsemen of Rohan wasn't too bad. It was where he met Folcrum, one of his guards. They had become friends, which was no small feat considering the long-standing differences between the Rohirrim and the Dunlandings, and up to just a short time earlier they were trying to kill each other. The peace allowed Wulgof to return home where he tried to eek out a living trying to grow crops in the rocky land of the foothills. He didn't stay long, for the trauma of battle haunted him and he had no peace. He had gone north and worked odd jobs in Bree and drank at the Prancing Pony. It was there his life changed forever.
A familiar looking blonde man came in and talked to several men about joining the King's Company. He recognised the man as Folcrum. Folcrum recognised him. Few words were said by either, for Wulgof's eyes said that he would gladly become a prospect to join the company...
Wulgof realised they would likely be attacked and had his axe, sword, and daggers at ready if needed. Wasn't sure how he would be able to do battle with this hanger-on boy with him, but he showed good ability in the brief exchange he had with company men. Still, the night was dark and the rain made visibility even harder. A few of the men rode wide and would make a bird sound every few minutes to signal all was clear.
Hanasian's hand raised and signalled quickly, sensing their approach. With the bird-calls coming in with a different pitch, they slowed and drew close as they rode. A faint glow of torchlight could be seen ahead in the mist, so they were drawing close to the city's outer watch. But the hiss, thud, and cry of pain from a horse to their right was the start of the attack. Belgon, a soldier of Minas Tirith who fought in the Pelennor, hit the ground with a grunt and was hacked to death even before he stopped rolling. The fight was on.
The attack, when it came, was swift and with little warning that Rin or Loch could discern. Loch heard the hiss and whine of arrows around him. In front, Wulgof shouted "Attack!" The group put on new speed, moving into a tight formation that pushed Hanasian's horse inwards and the one Loch rode with Wulgof out.
"Hope you're ready for this," the Dunlander grunted to Loch. Loch gripped the shortsword uncertainly and nodded, voice vanished. With a terrible scream, the orcs closed and the forces were enjoined.
The orcs were brazen, attacking so close to New Tharbad. The glow of the settlement's torches lights beckoned tantalisingly close on the trail ahead. Archers on the external horses continued their volley, Loch ducking beneath Wulgof's bow and swinging with his short sword as best he could manage. Closer in, Hanasian drew his own blade and circled his horse about to take stock.
"Remember," he growled in Rin's ear as his gaze raked the trail ahead and the distance to Tharbad's safety, "Head low and hang on." Rin clutched at the pommel. The Ranger slid off his mount.
Hanasian sent the horse charging with Rin ahead to Tharbad. He jumped atop Khule's horse and the pair moved to close the gap Hanasian's horse had made. Nearby another horse screamed as a pike pierced it's hind legs and severed its hamstrings. Loch was surrounded in a bewildering, sweaty, terrifying and electrifying nexus of hand to hand combat. He'd never been so close to such creatures before in his life. Three surged Wulgof's horse, causing it to shy abruptly. Loch tumbled off its rump, rolled and came to his feet where a number of other un-horsed soldiers now gathered.
A large hand closed on what passed for Loch's collar and hauled him backwards. Molguv grinned at him madly in the night and savagely laid into the orcs that boiled towards them. It was chaos. It made his stomach churn when he later had the time to think back on it. It shocked him when he found himself laughing and swinging beside the Haradian giant.
Hanasian's horse surged, leaping over the orcs in a graceful arc of horseflesh. The scent of orcs drove it hard towards Tharbad and Rin clung to the pommel for dear hope. Behind her, the cries of men in battle froze her bones. Ahead of her, Tharbad and safety glistened. Behind her was her brother. Rin sawed at the reins with all her scant strength, managing only to bring the horse back around. She applied her heels and it started cantering forward, gathering speed. Only the training of Hanasian's horse saved Rin's life. The horse tacked sharply to avoid another orc pike, tumbling Rin from the saddle and bringing her rolling along the track until she collided with a heavy object that groaned when she hit it.
Rin shook her head to clear it and peered at what had ceased her rolling. It was a man, a grizzled and grey veteran that Rin had heard the others call "Bear." He was breathing hard and shallow through his mouth and opened his eyes as she bent over him. "Thought you was long gone, lass," he ground out. Khule, meanwhile spotted Hanasian's horse speeding by. "Your horse," he grunted, thrusting through another orc and flicking it off his blade. Hanasian slashed viciously, watched it ghost by with its empty saddle. He cursed what it surely meant.
It was hard for her to see, but Bear was clearly in pain. "Where," Rin asked as she started to search about. "Gut," Bear said as Rin discovered for herself the sticky warmth of a blow that would likely kill him. She felt about, carefully, and realised that instinct had prompted Bear to try to hold himself in. She was an entirely different person to the young woman they'd met that afternoon.
"Move your hands when I say so," she said urgently. Bear grunted, "Duck," and a sword slashed the air over where her head had been. Rin looked up to see Wulgof move past her, slashing and weaving and screaming something incomprehensible to her. She returned her attention to Bear.
"Move," she said and began the difficult and delicate task of repacking the parts of his upper stomach that had escaped. She worked quickly, focused, and instructed the man to hold himself together again. Re-pack, close, clean, she recalled Calerous chanting to the group that watched him perform this technique in the far more civilised setting of an infirmary some months ago. She could do one, some of the second, but none of the third step of his technique. Rin reached under the makeshift poncho to unravel some of the rags she had been wearing. She pulled them out hurriedly and then shifted to try to leverage Bear slightly up. He was too heavy for her to manage. Wulgof fought hard around her and when a momentary lull was won he turned back to woman. "What the hell are you doing here," he snarled, ducking as another pike was thrown.
"Help me lift him," Rin demanded, none of the fear they'd seen in her evident now. Wulgof peered at her, swore and then complied. Rin, meanwhile darted hands around Bear to start wrapping him up.
"Waste of time," Bear gasped. "It might be," she said through gritted teeth and tied the bandaging off. "Now what," Wulgof asked, eyes scanning the fray. He had no idea why he was asking her. The men had managed to form a circle, she saw and she pointed.
"Help me get him in there," she demanded. Together, they dragged Bear, towards the safety. "You," Wulgof panted, "Are going to be the death of me."
Rin just closed her eyes and dragged. Her heart lurched into her throat and then they were through. "That's it," Wulgof said, "No more crazy stuff." He shook his head and spun away.
Bear was still panting. He needed to stay warm, given the blood he had surely lost. She pulled the cloak from over her head without further thought and laid it over him. It was the best she could do under the circumstances. Within the circle, Rin found others fallen. Some dead, some human, and some alive. She raided whatever she could lay her hands on – water, a dagger, cloth and set about continuing what she had done for Bear. Time lost any grip on her until an orc grabbed her ankle. She panicked, grasping for anything within reach. She found a stone and pounded at the creature, already mostly dead, until it's grip failed. The call of horns broke through the night.
A ripple of unease shimmied through those orcs that remained at the sound. Their heads swivelled this way and that and they hesitated. For Rin, it made no difference to her. She was fighting her own battle. Another blast of horns and the orcs broke with a piercing howl. They ran, gibbering, into the night. The screams of horses and the groans of men lingered in their wake. Some of Hanasian's company that still stood walked the scene, putting down horses and ensuring fallen orcs were truly dead. Others dragged orc carcasses away. Rin continued her work, washing orc blood out of a fallen man's face. She didn't know his name. Someone pulled her to her feet, a man's hand tugging her upwards, and enfolded her in an embrace that pushed the breath from her body. "You just can't help yourself, can you Rin?"
Loch's face swum into view. He was gabbling, asking her if she was unharmed and peering at her with growing concern as he took in her bloodied state.
"Where is that cloak," he asked. Rin pointed to where Bear lay, unable to respond further. Everywhere she looked in the rain, there was more to do.
"What did you think you were doing," Hanasian demanded, looking about in astonishment and then squarely at her. Rin pointed looked over at Bear, who was an alarming shade pale grey.
"If you don't get him to Tharbad within the hour, he'll be dead no matter what I think I am doing," she declared, her reticence to speak vanished now. Wulgof, doubled over to catch his breath said between gasps, "She's crazy, Hanasian."
Tharbad's Watch thundered around them and reined in, it's commander dismounting and seeking Hanasian out to exchange words. Hanasian dealt with the man, passing on information and requesting assistance to get several of his fallen to Tharbad quickly. The watch quickly fell out and to their tasks. Rin pointed particular men out, steering them this way and that. In the torchlight, she made an incongruous figure, covered in blood and wearing rags and dilapidated boots. It was Khule again to the rescue, donating the only other cloak he had left to his name and wrapping it around her shoulders. The Easterling shook his head as he did so, not sure what he had more difficulty understanding: her actions or his.
"I didn't know you travelled with a healer," the Watch officer said. Hanasian made a non committal sound, cleaning and sheathing his own sword. "Neither did I," he muttered, and turned to round up his remaining men.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Hanasian's mind was a whir of activity. If the orcs were so brazen this far south, then it boded ill for Arnor where the King's men were more thinly spread. He had lost two men in this encounter, and could little afford to lose more. He mounted, pulling Rin up without so much as a word and set off for Tharbad. The healer stood on the steps to the infirmary, blinking owlishly beneath a wavering lantern in the rain.
"Which one first," Hanasian asked Rin. She looked back over her shoulder, trying to understand. "Which one should I tell him needs aid first?"
Rin blinked. "I can tell him that," she replied. Hanasian snorted. "I doubt he'll listen to a woman clad in more blood than rags on such matters." Rin opened her mouth to retort, closed it and chose a wiser option. "Bear," she said, an admission that the Ranger at her back was correct, "Though I'm not sure if speed will save him."
Hanasian relayed the instructions to the healer. The man on the steps peered at those that were brought in, assessing what he saw with a clinical distance that Hanasian's company had witnessed in Rin back on the track.
"You're staying?" the healer asked. Hanasian shook his head and behind him seven of his men still fit to ride groaned softly. "I fear not. Tell them to make all speed for Bree when they're fit to ride." The healer nodded and hastily withdrew from the rain to set about what would be a very long night. Hanasian signalled the men to ride out and they crossed Tharbad and thundered through what remained of the night towards distant Bree.
Hanasian pushed them hard, but fatigue is as much a foe as any orc. The fight had been hard on Hanasian. Though many fights in far flung lands he and these men had been through, this one here in the midst of the kingdom hit hard. Two good men who were originals were dead, another was wounded and would be doing good to live, let alone rejoin their ranks. Hanasian reigned them in at dawn. It was a rare dawn that spring, unusually clear and bright. The men gratefully eased out of their saddles. They settled in a grassy field in the land just west of the road. Rin was already asleep. Hanasian had felt her weight settle back against him an hour before dawn. Hanasian stretched her out, propping a saddle bag with few enough valuable items to be counted a loss if her earlier inclinations emerged once again Seeing that everyone was in order, and Rin was sleeping, he set out to scout and look for sign.
The men unsaddled the horses and set them out on pickets to rest. Loch sidled over and begged some leather from Molguv. The Haradian happily supplied him a length. Loch settled in by the fire to work at it, glancing occasionally over to where his sister lay sleeping.
"What happened to her clothes," Molguv asked. Loch shrugged, not looking up from his task. "Gave that cloak to Bear, I think," he replied, distracted. Molguv shook his head. "No, before that," he prompted. That brought Loch's activity to a halt for a moment. His jaw clenched, face darkened and he glanced at Rin.
"Farm three days walk from Tharbad. He was ex-Minas Tirith, a soldier," he said, voice low with anger. "Took work there in exchange for food and lodgings in the barn. I ran out of nails for the fence and came back to the barn. The farmer…" Loch's voice failed him a moment as the ugly scene surfaced again. His hands started their work again and after a moment he resumed.
"He'd ripped the dress from her. I wanted to kill the man, but Rin just wanted out. We stole a bed sheet. It was all we could find." Loch sounded weary beyond his years. Molguv's habitual grin had vanished. Khule and Wulgof had overheard as well. All three looked at Rin's sleeping form. She had curled into a tight ball beneath Khule's drying cloak.
Loch stood abruptly, disturbing their thoughts. "Going hunting," he brusquely said, forcing the conversation away from that particularly dark incident. "Don't think that's wise," Molguv said. "I need food, and there should be pheasant here if they've not scattered. Besides, I'm not going anywhere far without her."
Loch cast about, selected stones and trotted down the gentle slope towards a stream that curved at its base. The men watched him go thoughtfully. Once Loch was out of sight, they delved into their saddle bags, unspoken agreement between all three. Molguv fished out his only clean shirt, Wulgof and Khule other things that would be useful on the road north, a spare cup and plate, a serviceable belt knife. They gathered the items up, carefully approached the woman that slept and left them nearby for her. Then they settled back by the small fire to see to their weapons and equipment. Repairs and maintenance only became more onerous the longer they were delayed.
It was inevitable that talk between Wulgof, Khule and Molgov turned to the day before. "Lost two good men last night," Wulgof solemnly observed.
Amira of Dale had been a steadfast soldier and able scout, with a ready grin and decided black twist to his humour. Belgon had been an enduring pillar, staunch in a scrap and unflappable after the Pelennor.
"Unusual for them to attack so close to settlements," Wulgof added. "Something's amiss, but Hanasian will determine if it's ours to solve," Khule replied. All three knew that they were headed for Bree, and until that was changed by the Ranger that commanded their company, they were headed for Bree. As simple as that. A companionable silence sprang up for several heartbeats before their conversation turned again.
"Saw you had to lift Loch out, Molguv" Khule stated. Molguv grunted, working off a nasty jagged spar on one of his long curved knives. "Just as well I did. Fought like a bull. Very handy. Did you hear him laughing?"
Khule nodded, "Berserker, I'd wager, if the conditions were right. They can be mad dogs, but a mad dog can be useful in a tight spot. He seems level headed enough otherwise."
Wulgof shook out the bridle he'd been repairing and set it down for a moment. "Mad? Try that sister of his. She's insane," Wulgof confided. "Thought Hanasian sent her off," Khule queried.
"Aye, well no matter what our Cap wanted, she came back. Nearly lost her head for her trouble. Made me drag Bear in. Insanity," Wulgof replied heavily.
"Did you see her brain that orc? I tell you, lads, that one has spit," Molguv announced with approval. "That much 'spit' can get a man killed," Wulgof observed. Khule sighed, regretting already what he was about to say.
"We'd have lost Bear, perhaps a few more, without her though. Can't see Hanasian letting that go. She'd need some training, she can't bludgeon every foe that decides she's an easy mark. Still, how many times have we wanted a healer on the road, eh? Hanasian'll want Loch to replace Amria as scout. He'll need training too," Khule said.
Wulgof nodded, "Aye, he'll want both of them," he agreed, "Perhaps in more ways than one." Mulgov smiled widely and barked a laugh that made the other two look up from their work.
"Well, she's a damn sight better to look at than any of us," Molguv declared, "These pets will last longer than the last one."
Wulgof shrugged, "The last one was a frog. I warned you it would freeze." Khule smiled in recollection, "But it sure tasted good!"
Wulgof looked back at Rin, who had shifted again. Her hair, now dry, spread over the ground like sun on snow. The Dunlander muttered something about women and trouble.
"She sure doesn't like us, though," he observed after a short silence. Molguv nodded sagely. "That's the problem with so much spit," he added.
The conversation veered onto the various wagers each had running on the multitude of things soldiers enjoy wagering on. It was perhaps an hour before Loch was sighted walking back up the slope. He had a brace of pheasants and it was a welcome sight. Pheasants meant that orcs were not present. The feathers could be used to re-fletch arrows and the meat would be a delight after so long on cold rations. Exhausted as she was, Rin's empty stomach ensured she did not sleep through the feast. She blinked awake mid morning, initially disorientated until she recalled her current predicament – surrounded by soldiers that her brother had purposefully set them in the path of the day before. The aroma of roasting pheasant tickled her nose and she peeked over the edge of the cloak that had been spread over her. Soldiers came and went, ambling and at their ease aside from those that sat watch. Loch sat with three men, chatting amicably. Such was her brother. He chose to lock his demons deep down and sail over the top on smooth waters.
Rin carefully sat up and realised that a small pile of belongings had been left near the saddlebag she had been sleeping on. She peered at them, uncertain of why they were there. Loch noticed his sister sitting and he gestured at the bundle she was cautiously staring at.
"Yours," he called over with a grin. He waved his hand at the stream at the bottom of the hill. "Go wash up, Rin. Food'll be ready soon." Rin stared at her brother, but he said nothing further and turned back to resume the conversation he'd been holding with Khule, Wulgof and Molgov.
"Is she doing it?" he asked the other men, not daring to look around to check.
"I think so," Khule replied, studying Rin from the corner of his eye as she picked up a shirt almost large enough to fit two of her in. He winced and looked away.
"She's going to tan your hide," he said to Loch. Loch shrugged and grinned.
"She always has to catch me first, though," he said with a wink.
Rin collected the cloak and huge shirt. It smelt clean, which was more than could be said for herself. She scanned about her. No one seemed to care overly much what she did. Rin cautiously picked her way through camp. Those that glanced in her direction merely nodded their head amicably, some greeted her. It was utterly disconcerting. But then, these had only been men and not monsters to her hours ago. Shaking her head, she trotted down to the stream, found sufficient tree cover and divested herself of the mud and blood and various detritus left in her hair from her sprint through the forest yesterday.
The water was cold, and after the initial shock she could feel the fatigue sluicing away from her. The shirt was made of a pale and worn fabric. She sat in the sun to dry before putting it on. Not a single soul ventured to disrupt her. She recalled Hanasian's comment from yesterday afternoon only distantly. No one would bother her, he had said. It seemed laughable then, but she'd been too unwell to voice her doubts. Soldiers were soldiers and she'd seen what they could do for herself. It was this chilling awareness that prevented the music of the water to completely unravel her caution. Loch may have relaxed, but she for one would not relent.
Rin dried quickly under the spring sun and she soon ducked into the giant shirt. It fell to her knees and the neck was so large that it kept slipping off one shoulder. Still, it was a large improvement on the torn bed sheet, some of which she had lost the night before treating fallen men. Hanasian caught the bright flash of her hair through the trees as she dressed. Rin didn't notice him, and he gave her privacy in hopes of gaining her trust. She stood wondering what to do next for some moments. The idea of rejoining her brother and the soldiers up the slope was not an appealing or particularly wise one, but nor could she skulk about in the bushes on her own for goodness knows how long. Her choices were few. She could press on without Loch for the time being and hope good sense eventually caught up with him before misfortune did...and it would, considering the company he kept. Or she could venture back into the fire to rejoin him. Rin heaved a deep sigh. Perhaps, after she had managed to find some food, she could slip away again.
Unable to overrule her empty stomach, Rin started back up the hill with her misgivings persistently circling in her head. She was initially startled when Hanasian emerged from cover elsewhere. Instinct saw her pause and it was only then that she noted the fatigue stamped on his face. He moved stiffly, she noted and glimpsed a tell tale tattoo of blood over his left ribs. "You're injured," she said. He nodded distantly but said nothing further. She followed him back to the camp.
"Something's drawing the orcs to New Tharbad. Don't know what. No sign of them here," Hanasian said, eyeing the pheasants with interest. Loch scratched at his beard, considered his sister and grinned. She had an expression he was familiar with and she was intently studying the Ranger. Loch hadn't been certain the promise of food would be enough to lure her back. The emergence of a patient had sealed the deal.
"We'll stay the day, move tonight. We face lands unfriendly," Hanasian continued, glancing to Wulgof and Loch who both bore the stamp of Dunland in their features, unlike Rin. The men nodded and Hanasian turned to sort out his own gear before settling down for rest. He sat, knowing Rin stood at his back. Rin shifted her weight, tucking mostly dry hair behind her ears.
"You're injured," she repeated.
"And what do you plan to do about it?" Hanasian asked, mind busily turning, as he looked through his saddlebag. It was the one he'd propped under her head earlier. It was clear that this one was a healer, unable to help herself no matter how difficult the situation or patient may be.
"I could wait until you're asleep," she replied. He heard the mule-headed note to her statement clearly and hid his grin at it.
It was that stubbornness that had enabled her to overcome her fear, aversion to soldiers and his horse last night. Hanasian looked up at her with a carefully blank expression. If she thought she was being manipulated, he sensed she'd bolt and this was not the sort of place a lone, underfed woman should wander in unarmed. The sun stood behind her, illuminating her. She shrugged half an apology and smiled shyly down at him. The Ranger sat back on his heels, his inspection of the saddle bag he'd left under her head completed.
"Nothing missing, so why not," he said dryly. Rin crouched to his left and eased back clothing. The blood had dried and stuck his shirt to his flank.
"Nothing missing yet," she corrected, wetting down the fabric to free it. "You'll need more water and kingsfoil by the time I'm done."
Hanasian blinked in surprise, for such things he carried on his belt and not in his saddle back. She had lifted both without so much as a snag. Healer and thief, both useful for a Company such as his. "How," he paused to let pain pass as she worked , "Did you know that was there?"
Rin was bent, cleaning out the one slash that an orc had landed through his guard last night. She looked up into his face and smiled openly.
"You think I can't smell kingsfoil?" she asked rhetorically before returning to her work. So close, it was impossible to miss the presence of Numenor in the delicate structure of her face.
"Athelas," Hanasian murmured. Rin muttered something about names being meaningless and the importance of holding still. She seemed unaware of the heritage he saw in her appearance, and indeed in her healing skills. Rin finished cleaning the wound, muttering about orcs as she worked, and started to wrap his torso in now washed lengths of bed sheet. Hanasian looked across to her brother as she worked.
The men seemed to have recruited him already. They have picked a scout, it appeared. He smiled faintly and studied next Rin's bowed head. Her hands were deft, sure and gentle. There was much more to this woman than what meets the eye... it was then that a thought of a day some years ago passed through his mind. But he let it pass without much consideration at this point. She tied off the bandaging once she was convinced it was secure, trying to ignore the closeness of the Ranger she worked upon.
"Thank you, Rosmarin," Hanasian said quietly once she was done. The sound of his voice wrapped around her name did curious and unexpected things to her thoughts. Rin put it down to lingering disorientation from fever, because rangers and soldiers were men to fear and deal with accordingly. She sat back on her heels, reached for her composure and nodded.
"You are welcome, Hanasian. Keep that clean or it will inflame," she said calmly. As well he knew. Having worked wounds in battlefields, cleanliness he knew was important. Many a man who could have lived, wouldn't for lack of clean environment to heal in. While it wasn't always possible to have, one could do what they could to try. Healers, as a rule, were particularly insistent on this score.
"Hey Rin, you want this leg," Loch shouted from the fire. That snapped her head about and she was off to retrieve the food on offer. Khule looked across to Hanasian, who had lowered his shirt and was now smiling into the distance. He caught the Easterling's meaningful look and nodded at the man. Hanasian watched the siblings again, as if checking his own thoughts and decisions a final time. They had settled in around the first of the pheasants that had been roasting over the flames. It would be good to get some real food them both, particularly Rin. The fever seemed to have burnt most of her strength away. It was a chance to go talk to the men too. He left the paid huddled together and called the men a short distance away to their own huddle. Hanasian had only a couple things to say really, and it seemed they knew the answers.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
"Sign him up already. We saw and knew less of Berlas over there than we do now of Loch," said Khule.
Berlas was a quiet one, new to the company while they were in Minas Tirith. A young Ranger of Ithilien during the lead-up to the war, he was dismissed by Faramir recently for "indescretions". He would not say what and nobody asked. Each man's business was his own as long as it didn't interfere with their commission to the King. With Faramir's discussion with Hanasian and signed approval, the dismissal was sent to the King as one who "volunteered" for the company. Berlas was satisfied with it, needing to get somewhere else.
Mulgov agreed, saying, "Yeah, we like the kid. Has grit him. He'll do alright with us."
Wulgof nodded, adding, "We kinda adopted him. We can teach him some finer skills of soldiering, and maybe help him gain a bit of discipline. Besides, we'll more than likely to be in need of a thief at some point in the future."
"How true that," Hanasian thought as he pondered about his days of pursuit of the elf Naiore. "Yes, Rin comes with us too. We need her healing hands... but you knew that already. Treat them as company members, just don't say anything right yet to either of them. I want to have words with Loch first." They seemed pleased with this turn of events.
Before he could head of to set things in motion, Molguv asked a question of his own.
"Cap, what of these orcs? Got us good, and here in King's country too!" Hanasian turned back to the men as Loch trotted up with some bird for the men.
"They were bold, and it says that bands are roving in the Mistys still. Messengers have been sent from Tharbad to King Eomer and in turn to King Aragorn about this, and surely the Rohirrim will ride in force to rout them out. They seemed to be only on the south side of the river, as there is no sign of them on this side. Still, we will be wary on our ride north to Bree," Hanasian replied and looked up at the edge of the hill where Berlas kept watch. His Ithilien Ranger attire made him most suitable for concealment in green lands. Berlas signaled all was well and Hanasian nodded and turned to Loch.
"The bird smells good. I'm glad to see your sister is eating her fill. Walk with me to the far ridge."
"Why? Where are we going," Loch asked. Hanasian didn't reply and instead started to walk up toward the lip opposite Berlas. Loch followed, aware that one thing soldiers do is what they are told by their commanders. A good commander can keep his men in line. A bad one won't bother. At the top of the hill, the grass rolled away down toward the west into scrub and a few young trees.
Rin was little impressed by the sight of her brother headed off with the Ranger, leaving her in the company of soldiers with a leg of a pheasant as her sole means of defence. Loch ignored the itch between his shoulder blades as he walked away with Hanasian. Rin gave up glaring at her brother and turned her attention to those in her immediate surrounds. They were met with a wall of silence, which Kule opted to broach. If they were going to be part of the Company, someone had to try it.
"Why don't you like soldiers?" he asked. Rin considered not answering. She glanced over at where the Easterling sat. It seemed a genuine question, and he wasn't the only one interested. Others seemed to be waiting for a response.
"I've seen what they can do," she warily replied.
"Not all soldiers are the same," quietly countered Wulgof.
"Possibly… but tell me what makes one better than the other?" she responded. Molguv listed several attributes, honour, bravery, loyalty and skill. The others nodded as he spoke.
"And I suppose, depending on which side of the dispute you stand on, you'd think your side had those things and the other did not," she said. Wulgof grunted at that, surprised at how ably she had caught that peculiar quirk of human nature.
"And so, if you're caught in the middle, and no one is on your side so to speak, how then must it seem?" Rin continued. She did not have the slightest idea what possessed her to do this. Perhaps this brashness was also the fever's handiwork. Arguing military ethics with soldiers whilst armed only with a pheasant drumstick was not her wisest decision, she reflected. Molguv appeared thoughtful at her question.
"Some things are absolute, regardless of your allegiances," Khule persisted. Rin shrugged at that, wisdom again cast to one side.
"Yes," Rin said quietly said, bringing her eyes squarely to the Easterling. "Some things are, including the stark reality that the strongest or fastest or cleverest wins, regardless of whether they are honourable or not."
There wasn't a man there who had not seen what she described. Wulgof seemed uncomfortable and looked away, recalling his earlier years. Molguv and Khule studied the woman with new interest. It was the first actual conversation they'd had with their pet and she had showed some potential, though was clearly misguided. Rin's jaw firmed as she resolved to opt for silence now, safer by far.
Above on the ridge, Hanasian eyeballed the first of his prospective recruits a moment.
"You know what's out there over those far hills? The sea. I wanted to go there, to a port of old called Lond Daer. Was hoping it would happen this time, but alas, it must wait. I have to make for Bree. You and your sister will ride along with us." He looked north and squinted. Nothing to see this clear crisp morning.
Hanasian continued, "When we get there, we will get you and your sister outfitted with proper company attire. You two are joining, if you so wish of course. I'll need your advice on how to broach this with your sister." Loch looked genuinely dumbfounded by this. He'd seen the same look on the young man's face when he had discovered what Rin had done to Khule and Molguv yesterday.
Could it actually be that he had managed to turn their lives around, Loch wondered. He had thought it would be Rin who would do that, given that she was plainly the smarter of them - most of the time. Loch could not possibly comprehend the true reality of military service. However, Loch could appreciate more than most the value of having a legitimate position in life and regular income. The world could be cruel to those that drifted like flotsam and jetsam on its currents. It was getting harder and harder to protect Rin too. One of these days, he'd be too late. He'd long believed that what happened to his parents didn't if you knew how to handle a sword.
"Just a few things you will need to know before deciding to join. First, is you will honour our commission. That is to our King Aragorn. You will at all times try to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of a soldier of the King. My core of veterans will train you in all that." Hanasian looked into Loch's eyes and read him. Loch did not turn away, but gazed back.
Hanasian said, "The life of a soldier, especially one in this company, can be, and usually is, short-lived. Take Amira and Belgon…. They been through tough times with the war, and they rode far and had battled in the east by the Sea of Rhun where Khule's people are from, and they were overrun by Far Haradians when we were away south, and they lived to tell about it against all odds. Yet here in the King's own country, they are slain by a mob of orcs. Bear too could perished but for your sister."
Despite Hanasian's warnings, Loch's opinion did not waver. Better to be holding the sword at the correct end by far. He had discussed this option with his sister and invariably she disagreed with him, passionately. The risks were many, but the food and pay were mostly regular and it was an honourable living...to accept the King's coin. Yet discussions with Rin on this topic always ended in argument. Rin had failed to appreciate his perspective and he knew just how hard headed his sister could be. She just refused to see reason, no matter how he presented it. Loch understood only too well where her fear sprang from. He had witnessed what she had.
What he could not understand was how she would let that fear stand in the way of a better life. Loch sighed heavily. The simple fact was that if he told Rin outright of Hanasian's offer, she'd take flight and a whole army would not be able to stop her once that happened. On this occasion, Loch concluded, he would have to act on her behalf in their combined best interests. He was her brother. He owed her at least this much. Hanasian's offer was a generous one, and Loch accepted it gratefully.
"I won't make you regret it," Loch assured the Ranger.
Hanasian paused, "At least you're entering with your eyes open. All I ask of you is your best. We've made it official, but won't say anything until we get to Bree. Now let's get back down there and eat some more bird before the others have it all." With a signal to Berlas, they started back for the main camp below. Hanasian could see Rin was watching them intently, brooding. As they walked back, Loch turned over how best to handle his sister.
"Rin's stubborn. Push her hard she's unmovable." Loch's voice held a rueful note that told the tale of many failed attempts over the years. He thought further as they walked back down the slope. He knew she'd not go far without him for now. So that meant that she'd stay if he did, under normal circumstances. They were all the other had had for so long, anything else was inconceivable. Provided she was not spooked or things didn't get too much to bear, she might just stick around. An idea itched in his mind.
Loch paused, then asked, "How far is it to Bree?"
"Seven days ride, give or take," Hanasian replied.
Loch nodded at that and sighed, "Well, if in seven days my clever sister doesn't realise how wrong she is about some things; I've got bigger problems than I imagined. Provided no one sprouts horns or fangs, she'll see sense. She'll have to. She won't be able to help herself."
Loch's hopeful tone was not lost on Hanasian. The Ranger nodded imperceptibly at the men upon returning to camp. Rin knew something was afoot just by looking at her brother's expression. She shot to her feet upon his return, a storm brewing already. Fast talking was needed, Loch knew, and it was needed now. He kept walking towards her, grabbed the back of the oversized shirt she wore and towed her backwards to a reasonably safe distance without so much as a hitch in his step. Khule winced from behind a pheasant leg, Molguv chuckled. He did not need his company hearing him getting his ears burnt by his younger sister. Loch, like any man, had his pride. Hanasian sat with the others, let the pair sort things out and made the most of the remaining pheasants.
"Lochared, quit that!" Loch released his sister's collar and she spun about on her heel to face him, clearly angry now. " You had that same look when you told me of your plan to intercept some 'travellers' only yesterday," she declared.
"They were travellers, " he insisted. "And if you hit me again, Rosmarin, there'll be trouble you don't want," he added for good measure. Rin flushed at the memory. Not her proudest moment. It took some of the wind out of her sails, which is what Loch had been counting on.
"I know what you think, Rin," he continued in a gentler tone. He didn't like manipulating her so, but she gave him such little else to work with sometimes.
"Hanasian has offered to take us both as far as Bree. It's a good offer, a generous one, and I've accepted it." Rin threw her arms up in disgust, relentlessly quashing a traitorous spark of delight at spending longer in one particular person's company. Loch stared at his sister, catching something not quite as he expected in her face. Was she pleased, he wondered, looking closer. Of course not, he dourly realised a moment later.
"Loch, how could you do such a thing? Since WHEN did you start making my decisions for ME! These men are… dangerous!" Loch stared down at the ground between them. At least she'd stopped shouting after her second sentence.
"Yes," he replied slowly, honestly. "They can be… but not to us, Rin. Look at yourself! You're wearing the clothes off their backs! No one's laid a finger on you or me, despite the fact that you robbed them. They could have just left us to fend for ourselves at any moment. They could have had you hanged for theft! They've protected us, fed us, clothed you and more! They've done more for us in one day than anyone since our parents."
Loch took a breath, astonished that Rin hadn't interrupted him. She stood, arms crossed, frowning at him. There was an uncomfortable truth in what he had said and she didn't like it one bit. She was quiet because she was trying to think a way around those truths. Loch placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Rin, I'm going with them. You're more than welcome to come as well, if that is what you wish to do. I'm not making your decision for you. That's all there is to it. Rosmarin… I… I know you can be smart about this. Please? For both our sakes?" Rin searched her brother's face and realised Loch meant it. He would go with or without her.
He wouldn't say that. He hadn't the heart to be so cruel, she knew. But that was what he had meant, and he had asked her not to force him to go without her. Loch squeezed her shoulder, dropped his hand and walked back to the other men. He didn't feel so good about the half truths. He had concealed the fact that he had joined the Company and he'd made no mention of Hanasian's offer to her. Still, he had to handle this one hurdle at a time. He couldn't bear to think about what he would do if she forced him to make a choice between her and the future Hanasian had just offered him with. He had given his word to Hanasian, but she was his sister. Rin remained where she had been towed to by Loch. She stared at the ground as her thoughts careened about her head.
All of this had not been missed by the men. Khule and Molguv had started wagers on who would throw the first swing and who would win if it came down to that. Wagering had intensified Rin had shouted at her brother. It died down again as Loch had evidently talked his way out of an argument with her. Their banter drifted away discretely as Loch rejoined them. He sat with a heavy sigh, threw a glance in Hanasian's direction a moment. The Ranger read much in his expression. Loch nodded, the gate was open but the whole horse had not yet left the stable. Loch looked back to where his sister stood. She was thinking, he knew, and there was no telling what she'd come up with once she started thinking. All he knew was that he was tired and there was little else he could for now. Loch stretched himself out on the ground and plunged headlong into sleep. Hope, wrapped around a newly forming sense of achievement and place in the world, sped him to rest.
After a while, Rin sat with her back to the camp. She tucked her legs up under the giant shirt, wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. Things were changing and she needed to decide what she thought or felt about them. Loch was probably right, but it didn't make it any easier for her. Was she going to be one those people that always hid, cringing through their entire lives? How could she just forget what had happened? Why did she keep thinking of that damn Ranger? If Loch went with them and she didn't, then what? If she did go too, then what? Through it all, the conversation she had unwisely had with three of the soldiers circled around and around. Rin's fingers played with some loose fabric of the shirt she wore as a dress. Clothes off their backs... yes, they had been uncommonly generous, honourable too if she had to admit it, but how long until that ran out? Two tag alongs would wear out even that sort of welcome... unless...
Rin sighed with the realisation and her chin lifted from her knees. Loch had enlisted! That's the only way he wouldn't wear out his welcome. Loch would earn his place among their number. So now she had to look to herself. Rin pulled up a handful of grass from beside her. What sort of position did that leave her in now? She twisted around to peer back at her brother. He was snoring, as were a number of others. Rin straightened and threw the grass away from her. She put her chin back to her knees, re-wrapped her arms about her legs. She needed to think, not cry or wail or shout. She stared at the horizon with a steely determination.
To Hanasian, it looked like the day was going to get warm. Maybe a sign of the summer to come? Possibly. Most of the men took the opportunity to stretch out and take a nap while the ground was reasonably soft and the sun warming away the chill of the wet days before. Hanasian let then rest, and even rested his own eyes, though his ears were attuned to the sounds around him. Molguv had relieved Berlas. After some jocular bantering about he not being the newb anymore, making Lock a bit nervous. Berlas took a rest as well. Hanasian squinted open an eye and looked at each one in his company as his thoughts turned.
Too many new faces in the last couple years. Most didn't last, and too few he could find since returning from the south worthy of joining their number. The war veterans who couldn't settle either joined long ago and are now dead, or they haven't and managed to make peace with their demons. None of us are getting any younger. For men, Dunedain blood or no, time takes his toll. The future of the company lies with younger blood. Is that why Loch appeals to him? Only time will tell...
He watched some of their movements in slumber, but stopped his squinting gaze on Rin who sat some distance away with her back to them. He had no doubt that she knew Loch had signed on, and what she would do was a mystery to all. Hanasian stood and walked toward her. She didn't seem to notice his drawing near, so he cleared his throat to warn her of his approach.
"Do you mind if I intrude on your thoughts?" Maybe she did sense him. She seemed unconcerned with his presence, didn't say anything. She just motioned her for him to sit. He did so, sitting in front of her so that he could get a clear look at her and she him.
"I know you don't care for the company of soldiers, and this lot can be a bit harsher than most, but my offer to you is the same as that offered your brother... to join this company. Knowing your disdain, I still hope that you will consider it as you ride with us to Bree. It will likely take us a week to get there. That should be sufficient time to really get to know what we're all about. Once there, you can decide whether to take up this offer, or go freely your own way. "
Rin's thoughts bumped into each other, tangling in her head. The realisation that he thought her disdainful made her flush. How could she possibly look down her nose at anyone given she was a penniless, homeless thief. Still, despite his assessment of her, he still offered her a place within his company. It was extraordinary to her and clearly caught her off guard. A silence drew about them, and after a few moments Hanasian stood.
"Think about it until then. Right now, we will ride before the noon hour. Rest now and be ready to go."
He looked at his shadow and judged they would rest one more hour. The breeze tugged Molguv's shirt relentlessly off one of her shoulders. Rin looked up at Hanasian as he stood in front of her. He could see the thoughts leaping behind her blue eyes.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
"I am no soldier. What possible use could you have for me?" she asked.
"My company needs many skills, including those of a healer," Hanasian replied. Just like that, Rin knew what Loch must have felt in his own turn. A place, a place long hoped for on cold, lonely, dark nights. A dream, foolish but ever present, at times cruel in its mockery and at times respite against despair. A path forward, a future. Could she countenance becoming one of the very people she loathed? Could she countenance not at least considering it? Hanasian saw something shift and fall into place in her mind. He extended his hand down to where she sat. Rin looked at it, took a deep breath and placed her own within it.
Hanasian easily towed her up to her feet and then released her hand a moment later. Her fingers tingled. She flexed them as she studied the camp. Hanasian started to walk back. She followed a little way behind, still cautious. Rin returned to the cloak that Khule had given her a second time on the preceding night. It was dry. It was warm. She sat on it and studied her brother for a long moment. He was still snoring. Then she looked down at the cloak she sat on. It was like an island. She had a week to find out if the sea that surrounded her truly was inhabited by monsters.
Loch woke with the general movement of the camp around him. Khule's application of his boot against Loch's own feet saw to that. He sat, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hand and saw that Rin was nearby, in the camp, still present and her hair braided. That meant that she meant business.
"I'm glad, Rin," he observed, a relieved grin on his face. She set a steady blue gaze on him by way of reply. He wasn't sure what precisely she was angry about. There was no telling what she had figured out by now. His conscience suggested that perhaps she'd figured out the whole truth of the enlistment and resented his duplicity. Now wasn't the time to get into it, he resolved. Being a man of some wisdom, Loch elected to go scare up a ride rather than risk further comment. He honed in on Molguv. The Haradian had a large horse to accommodate his bulk.
Rin stood, collected the cloak and shook it out. She folded it and considered it a moment, squared her jaw and searched out Khule. Her heart was hammering in her ears when she found him adjusting the girth strap of his own mount. Khule straightened, caught a glimpse of her and jumped.
"Where did you come from," he exclaimed, looking about to see if anyone else had noticed him startled by the woman that stood with his cloak in his arms.
"I want to give this back to you," she said and held it forward.
"No holes this time," Khule observed, tossing a dark glare back over his horse towards where Molguv had mounted with the other of the company's newest pets. He turned back to face Rin, surveyed her a moment. She had only the Haradian's shirt between her and the wide world. He wasn't sure why, but she reminded him of his sisters. He would not want his sisters wondering about in such a fashion.
"Keep it, for now," he said, perhaps more gruffly than he'd intended. He was perturbed by the turn of his thoughts. Why should this woman remind him of his sisters? He saw her flinch, startled though she tried to contain it. Her arms lowered and she frowned at the cloak.
"Scat! Go find a horse, woman! It's a long walk to Bree!" The last thing he needed was her trailing him about. This, he reminded himself, was the woman that had robbed him. There was no cause for him to start feeling all...protective. He checked to ensure he was still in possession of his purse, shook his head and swung into the saddle muttering to himself in his own tongue. Rin saw that all around her, men had mounted up.
"Are you coming," Hanasian asked from his own horse. She looked back up at the Ranger and nodded, settling the cloak back around her shoulders. Hanasian fetched out yet another apple and tossed it down to her.
"Eat it on the way," Hanasian said and kicked his horse closer. Again, he held out a hand down to her. She gripped his forearm let herself be swung up behind him. Hanasian turned his horse about once, checking that they were ready to move out. Rin's right arm snaked around him to hang on as she settled in behind him. They rode out at noon, striking north for Bree. Everyone knew they had two new recruits, although it hadn't been officially announced. They also had the queen of the land they travelled through, a fact no one was aware of, including the woman in their midst.
"If I joined, I wouldn't be a soldier would I?" Hanasian smiled faintly at the query delivered quietly from behind his right shoulder half an hour after they had started riding.
"King's service, sworn to uphold your duty to the crown. But a healer, who can properly fend for herself on the battle ground," he replied. He felt her sigh behind him, weighing this up with a mind that he was fast concluding was rarely ever still.
"OW!" Loch cried ahead. An apple core bounced off the back of his head. "What was that for?" he asked, turning an injured look on his sister.
"You know," she said enigmatically from Hanasian's right elbow, peering around the Ranger at her brother. Loch scowled at and straightened around again.
"Of course I do. I can read minds," he grumbled to Molguv's broad back, rubbing his scalp and picking bits of apple out of his hair.
Through the afternoon and twilight they rode. Rin was silent behind Hanasian for the most part, observing the men around her. They maintained a steady pace, watchful and alert. As Loch had predicted, Rin found it increasingly difficult to maintain her idea that monsters surrounded her. All she saw were men. When they reigned in for the night, Loch earned his training drill and first watch assignment. Rin was left in their midst in the darkness. Nothing untoward happened, only proving that these were also honourable men even when they could get away without being so.
The next morning saw yet another training drill for Loch, this one with Khule. Loch was fast recovering his strength with regular food. With it came his reach and a growing stamina. He was a broad shouldered man, of a good height yet reluctant to employ it against those he squared off against in training. Training was different to the previous scuffles, fights and clashes of his past. There was no grubby alley. There was no tavern common room that had exploded into a brawling, violent morass. He also needed to learn how to handle his feet and to fight man purely because he was told his opponent was his opponent and not for any personal reason.
They rode through the next day, stopping periodically and camping through the night. On the third morning, silver laughter bubbled out Loch's sister as he tumbled and sprawled. It was the first time they had heard her laugh. Some of the men smiled themselves. Loch scowled at her and she looked away, a smile of particular mischief still in place, and back the task of fletching arrows given to her by Wulgof the previous day.
"I think she enjoys it when I get hurt," Loch said, turning back to Khule.
"Likely, she's a woman," Khule observed as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and took up position to resume the session.
There was another training session at lunch. They were working Loch hard. Rin, busy with her own task, let the sound of the men around her fade. The sound of men chuckling, the ringing of swords all melted away as she intently worked. Distantly, only distantly, she heard some men mutter dark disapproval at some jibe or comment she'd paid no attention to. Then her brother roared and ice shivered down her spine. She stood and turned, arrows tumbling from her lap as she did so. She snatched the canteen Wulgof had been about to drink from out of his hands.
"I'm being robbed!" he cried in outrage. Rin paid him no heed and pushed through a knot of men that had tightened at first and then fell back as they sought to clear the area between themselves and Loch. Loch's enraged roar had brought Hanasian running hard towards the camp. He spotted the clear indication of a fight emerging, and noted the pale golden head of his would be healer weaving through the press of men.
"Get out of my way," she hissed, shoving past Berlas and finally stumbling into the cleared space that contained Loch and Khule. Khule had backed away and Loch kept him on the back foot with a flurry of wild, swinging blows. Loch's sword lay out of reach. The Easterling was trying to preserve his own life without taking another. No one, oddly, seemed inclined to assist him. Khule's eyes widened a fraction as he saw Rin all but tumble out from the men and into the cleared space behind her brother.
"Get that woman out of there! He'll tear her to pieces!" Hanasian's bellowed command rolled through the gathered men.
Rin threw herself hard at her brother's back. They went down in a tangle of limbs and her hair. Loch threw her off. She hit the ground hard. Her vision whited out and she was slower this time in getting to her feet. Loch had already clawed back to his feet and was blindly bearing down on his latest assailant, no idea of who she was. Wulgof grabbed at her from behind to try to yank her out of harm's way. Loch reached her first. Wulgof later would swear that she stepped towards him, despite the lunacy such an act surely demonstrated. She instinctually raised an arm to fend off a blow. She knew he had no understanding now of who she was or where he was.
Loch grabbed her lifted arm and lifted her off her feet. Pain arced through her upper body as her weight was suspended. Cracked rib, she dully noted. She landed a kick as hard as she dared against his kidney. He dropped her, rocking back several steps with the pain she'd caused him. Now on her feet and with a moment to her advantage, she flung the contents of Wulgof's canteen in her brother's face.
Loch took a ragged gasp as water filled his eyes, nose and mouth. He shook his head groggily. Berlas threw her another canteen and she repeated the process. Another canteen and another until finally Loch was on his knees, lungs working like bellows. Empty canteens littered the ground. Molguv pulled her firmly back, his large hand a weight on her shoulder. The Haradian peered at her a moment and then moved onto her brother. Her head was spinning. Some one else collected the empty canteen that still dangled limply from her hand.
"Crazy," Wulgof said to her as he considered the empty canteen.
"No he's not," she replied and Wulgof shook his head at her.
"I wasn't talking about Loch."
Someone, Berlas she realised, grabbed her other shoulder and steered her away from the gathering men. Hanasian pushed through to where Loch still sat. Wulgof crouched nearby and was muttering to the recruit, his dark eyes flashing angrily. Khule stood a distance away and was in quiet but urgent conversation with Molguv. The Easterling looked… cowed. Molguv shuffled away, as Hanasian arrived.
"What happened?" Hanasian demanded and Khule's jaw bunched.
"Pushed him too hard. He wasn't engaging… should have known better," the Easterling replied.
Khule washed a hand over his face. He was ashamed, Hanasian realised. "I said some things… to get under his skin…I went for something that I knew would get a reaction."
Khule's eyes had drifted from Loch to where Rin stood unsteadily between Berlas and Molguv. Molguv was offering her his special canteen. Hanasian stared hard at Khule.
"I should have known better, cap."
"What would you have done if Loch had been talking that way about your sisters?" Khule glanced back to Loch. They both knew that there'd be a dead man to bury if the boot had been on the other foot.
"I'll make it right, cap," Khule said.
"See that you do," Hanasian replied and looked about. He had to deal with Loch next and the new recruit looked up as Hanasian approached. His face was one of a man sick to his stomach.
"Is she hurt?" he asked as Hanasian looked down at him. "I'm sorry," Loch said hoarsely.
"This sort of thing cannot be tolerated against your own company," Hanasian said.
"Yeah, I know. Am I out?" he mumbled, his head bowed and unable to see Wulgof subtly shake his head at Hanasian.
"I'll let you know," Hanasian replied, turning to look for the other recruit. Molguv was re-stoppering his canteen and Berlas was shaking his head at him, steadying Rin with one arm. Her eyes opened Hanasian's arrival, slightly glazed. He didn't know if it was pain or drunkenness or both. Regardless, he was strangely furious with the woman in front of him despite not knowing quite why that should be.
"Again, I find myself wondering what the hell you were thinking," Hanasian growled. Rin blinked, gathering her scattered thoughts.
"Healer, you said. I can't heal the dead. Prevention's better than cure … " Rin's voice trailed away as she measured her breathing, aware that her words made more sense in her head than outside of it.
"Are you injured," he asked.
"It's nothing…" she said after a long pause, closed her eyes and smoothed her breathing again.
"She hit the ground pretty hard, cap" Berlas said from nearby, having tried to get a similar answer from her earlier.
"I can still ride," she insisted. Her words slurred, Molguv's special reserve sending warmth eddying through mind and body.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Molguv chuckled as she was eased down by Hanasian to sleep on the ground. Out cold was the best thing for her, and he tended her the best he could with what means he had. Khule and Wulgof went over to where some birch saplings were growing and cut a couple to make a travios with. The trunks would suffice and the stripped bark made ties for a wool blanket Hanasian used for his bedroll. It would suffice for the rest of the day. They still had a league or two to ride before the twilight closed in.
Before they set out, Hanasian turned and looked into each company member's eyes, and a nod here, a twitch there, and a turn of a head gave him the answers he looked for. Of the two remaining originals, Videgavia, a Northman who had managed to survive growing up in the rough north Rhovanian during the dark days just before the war when Khule's Easterlings rode un-challenged through those lands, moved his fingers in sign. It was said he never learned to talk, but some of the old company begged to differ. Trouble was all save one have been laid to rest in fields near and far. Only Belegost of Gondor maintained Videgavia could talk. What Hanasian got was an affirmation of what he was going to do anyway.
Hanasian turned to Loch and said, "You're not out. That would be too easy for you. Instead, you're way in. in over your head in dung. Now I'm guessing you just need some practice getting along and taking some ****. The last thing you should have done was let Khule get under your nails. He was just giving you a bit of what an Easterling renegade would do with Rin. Here in the company, it don't mean nothing. You remember that. When Khule, and any of the guys hand you ****, you hand it right back. But you respect the company. We are family, and you will understand that soon enough. Now, let's not have that happen again."
He beamed a hard stare at Loch who at first held defiance in his gaze, but it gave way and he turned, mumbling, "Yes."
"Now you get ready to ride. Since you care the most about your sister, you will ride Berlas's horse with Rin on the travios. You may have noted that Berlas has disappeared since shortly after your little disagreement. He will meet us shortly and will want his horse back. Now get ready for we ride in another couple inches of the shadow."
He then went over to Rin on the travios and checked to see that she would be secure. He would ride behind, keeping watch on her. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, and a slight stir she made. They were ready to go.
The way was well marked but little used, and the growth of the grass was fast with the recent spring rain and the last couple days of sun. But as they went north, the chill ar of the winter past still had some grip on the clear night air. It would be colder this night. Hanasian was hoping to reach the 'Y' in the road where the Greenway curved north from the road to Sarn Ford.
The shadows grew long and a chill northerly breeze was in their faces. Hanasian directed them to go up passed the 'Y' and camp in the grass between the split of the roads. Far enough away to not be easily seen, but close enough to see any who may come from any of the three directions.
"We camp cold tonight. Besides, there isn't anything to burn here anyway. A couple more days and we may reach Andrath, which is a gap in the South Downs. We will be able to camp more comfortable, heat-wise anyway, when we get there. Here, enjoy the grass, for the rocks of the downs can be unforgiving."
He went to see how Rin was doing.
Soft words in her ear, words that did and did not make sense. They drifted through the fingers of Rin’s mind like smoke on the wind. Sun drenched blue flowers, the music of water leaping past river rocks, the sound of wind singing through the trees. The rhythmic thunder of horses under moonlight. Dim silhouettes and a woman who wept. She looked like her and yet she was not. The voices of her parents, the shattering of glass and the stillness of her mother when it was done. The flat, brittle gleam of their eyes. Desperate, drunk on blood-lust, some of them sickened yet hiding it. Fear, they stank of fear and none of them resembled the men that surrounded her. Rin woke with a start into the darkness, disorientated. Her head throbbed counter point to her ribs and her mouth was dry. Hanasian’s face swam into view and he was speaking to her.
Molguv appeared then and peered at her hard.
”More," he asked her. It took her a moment to grasp what he meant.
”Water, I think,” Hanasian said, and lifted a canteen for her to drink from. The effort sent a greasy tide of pain through her. She sank back, biting off a moan. The vaguely coherent part of her mind, a small island, made a mental note to determine what Molguv had put in his canteen as a matter of purely professional interest. The rest of her mind found the notion of professionalism in connection with herself vastly amusing. This culminated in a burst of laughter that only drove more pain through her ribs. She stifled it with effort and pinched the bridge of her nose to try to clear her thoughts.
”Thank you,” she managed.
Molguv ambled away with a nod and a grin, his teeth white in the darkness. Men were setting up camp around her. She knew the sounds by now.
”How long?” she asked. She had no idea how much time had passed.
”The afternoon only,” Hanasian replied.
”So, healer, since you have now acquired my bedroll,” he plucked at the wool beneath her, ”Perhaps you’ll return me the truth this time. Are you injured?”
Rin would have sighed if her ribs permitted her. She could not know if he was still angry. The man was nearly impossible to read when he chose to be.
[i}"It’s not bad. Nothing broken,”[/I] she replied.
Under her cloak, her fingers probed the curving bones of her ribs. The swelling made it difficult, but she could feel no jagged edges beneath the skin. Still, they were likely cracked and if she did not bind them, could easily break with an incautious movement.
”Well then, on your feet and let’s have my bedroll back,” Hanasian lightly said, calling her bluff.
Rin knew that if she rolled to her right, there was a reasonable chance that she’d make it to her feet before she passed out. The Ranger shook his head as he watched a woman too stubborn for her own good attempt to meet his challenge. She did manage to sit up, and she was shaking by the time she got that far.
“Down you go,” he declared as he eased her back.
”I can,” she insisted.
”You could sooner fly,” he replied.
”They’re cracked. Don’t bother,” he said as her mouth opened. She closed it again. ”Rin, do you trust me?”
The question surprised her, but not as much as her answer did.
Hanasian stood and vanished into the darkness. He returned with the rolled lengths of the bed sheet she had stowed in one of his saddlebags, and crouched again by her.
”Ready yourself, this will hurt,” he told her.
Rin clenched her jaw, swallowed and nodded. Spit, he recalled Molguv had said of her. Far too much of it, Wulgof had added. The darkness and cloak afforded as much privacy as could be had. Hanasian started to wind the fabric around her and heard her breathing become markedly shallow. Still, not a single whimper as he worked.
”How often does this sort of thing happen to Loch,” he asked. Distraction would give her something to focus on.
”Not often, only enough so that...“ She broke off for a moment before continuing, ”I know how to stop him before things go bad.”
”Does it happen at every threat, ” Hanasian asked.
”No – just… the ones that remind him of – home.” She paused again, breathing hard through her nose.
”I think he blames himself… doesn’t want...“
He was tightening the bindings and she fell silent.
”... doesn’t want it to happen again.” Hanasian said, finishing for her. She nodded.
Hanasian tied off the bindings, eased down the shirt and pulled the cloak back over her shoulders. Shivering would be murder for her tonight. Unbidden, the image of that shattered farm over twenty years ago floated across his mind. He’d seen for himself what had driven so many from their homes in the border regions of Dunland.
Fatigue tugged relentlessly at her. She’d need more water, food and rest, Hanasian knew, but by morning she may indeed be able to ride. As he saw to that, the Company saw to setting a watch. Loch drew first watch. He hunched his shoulders against the chill and stared out at the dark landscape, pushing images of past and present down, far below, down and away where they belonged.
”Don’t take your eyes off the watch,” said Khule quietly. Loch nodded once, Hanasian’s hard words circling his mind along with the sickening thump that Rin had hit the ground with.
”I owe you and your sister an apology. My words were dishonourable, but there was no intent and no malice behind them. I would never do such a thing.”
Loch clenched his jaw. The Ranger had been right.
”You’re wrong,” he said hoarsely. ”I should have known better, I do know better… She’s all I have left, but that’s no excuse for what I did.” Loch’s gaze never wavered from his watch, but his expression hardened.
”Loch, what do you fear?”
Khule’s question startled him. The Easterling crouched beside him and waited patiently.
”It’s happened before. Too young to do anything then, but what if I fail now? Or what if I become like them? Either way, I lose her.”
Khule considered the man that stood watch beside him for a long moment.
”Two things I know. We can breathe life into our own fears if we hold them tightly and long enough.”
”And the other?” Khule smiled at that question.
”I don’t think you’d ever manage to scare your sister off.”
Loch smiled at that bitter-sweet truth. ”You still prepared to train me?”
Khule clapped a hand onto Loch’s shoulders.
”Lad, you need it more now than ever. Tomorrow we’ll start again.”
Loch nodded in the darkness, relief making it hard to speak and Khule retreated back to camp. Family, Hanasian had said and Loch’s had wondered if he knew what such a concept was anymore. Khule had just shown him, he suspected.
Wulgof relieved him several hours later.
”She’s fine, boy. Don’t chew yourself into a mess over it,” Wulgof said as he took up Loch’s post. Loch returned in the darkness and found that it was so. The saplings that had formed the travois frame had been removed and she slept soundly. Hanasian slept on the other side of the blanket, his back to his sister’s. Loch studied her for a long moment. Moonlight caught her braid as it trailed over her left shoulder. He saw her shiver and her breathing caught. Loch stretched out on the other side of her and dove headlong into black, featureless sleep.
The morning arrived with a chill breeze that tried to cut through everyone and everything.
”Did I hurt you?"
Rin’s question sliced into Loch’s sleep. A bruise the size of her foot had formed over his kidney.
”Nothing I didn’t deserve,” he told her and pushed her fingers away. ”What of you?”
Hanasian replied for her, his voice drowsy. ”It’s not bad, nothing broken.”
Rin nodded, looking relieved. ”That’s right,” she affirmed.
Loch peered at her a while and then got to his feet to find some food.
”Thank you,” she said to Hanasian after her brother had walked away. She didn’t want Loch to know, or his conscience would eat him alive. Hanasian waved a hand, eyes still closed.
Rin got to her feet with some effort, the bindings on her torso giving her support. She tugged Khule’s cloak around her and followed her brother in search of food. Hanasian pulled the vacated part of his bedroll over him. It still bore her warmth. ”You’re robbing the cap now?” he heard Molguv ask. Hanasian cracked one eye to see her fish out an apple.
”He’s got a whole orchard in here,” she replied and then eyed the Haradian speculatively.
”What do you use to make that ‘special reserve’?”
Molguv chortled at the question.
”You’re bold enough to rob me, then the cap and now you want me to divulge all my secrets? Oh ho!”
Hanasian watched the Haradian amble off, followed doggedly by Rin who had started to list possible ingredients around the stolen apple she now had. Hanasian closed his eyes again and smiled faintly.
”How long are you going to keep this up, woman?” Molguv asked.
”How long have you got?” she replied.
Molguv rolled his eyes and groaned.
”I think I like you better when you’re unconscious,” he said.
”Was you that wanted pets that could talk. Told you the frog was a better idea,” Khule drawled.
Rin resumed her list of possible ingredients until Molguv shooed her away. By that time she had narrowed it down considerably… which meant that all she needed to do was experiment.
”Whatever you do, don’t drink anything that she offers you,” Loch whispered to Molguv. ”I know that look. Now she’s really dangerous.”
The men started to mount up again.
"The truth this time." Hanasian said to Rin. She had the grace to flush at his words. "Are you fit to ride?"
Rin nodded, "Yes?"
Hanasian heard the question in her voice.
"Then prove it. Give me your hand."
Rin clenched the apple between her teeth and set her left hand in his. Hanasian swung her up behind him again. Rin's head swum a little, but she settled into place. She wrapped her right arm around him smoothed out her breathing. Another day, another ride.
"Ready?" he asked her.
"Giddy up..." she replied dryly.
The chill morning had left dew on everything. The near-freezing dampness cut through any cloak with the slightest of wind, and riding at a fair speed kept the breeze square in their faces.
"May as well had rained..." muttered Molguv. "I ain't used to this cold.'
He made an attempt to draw his wool cloak tighter around him.
"I'd say you'd welcome the sun if it can climb over those clouded Mistys." Khule remarked offhandedly.
Khule, having grown up in the Easterling Sagath clan from north of Rhun, was used to the stiff chill winds blowing down from the frozen north. His cloak hung loosely about him and he was quite content with the Haradian's discomfort. Videgavia, from Rhovavion, grinned at Mulgov's colorful whinging. Hanasian lived his young life in the north and handled the chill without thought. Wulgof the Dunlanding tolerated it, the Gondorian Belegost wrapped himself as if he were going on a trek up into the White Mountains. If Berlas was with them, He'd snug himself up and deal with it too. But Molguv was truly intolerant of cold. Of course, when the tables were turned a few years back and they were deep in the south searching out an insurgent tribe of Far Haradians in the steamy jungle of Horsta, most of the company had a hard time staying hydrated while Mulgov hardly even broke a sweat. Guess he was getting some payback.
Silently they rode. As much as Hanasian felt the chill hitting his front, his back was exceedingly warm. Rin found that if she kept herself pressed against him, the movement of the horse didn't bounce her ribs too bad. He didn't mind it so much either.
Mid-day and the green grasses started to slowly fade to a stringy taller sort that rustled in the breeze. Lush and green now, it would soon dry and turn brown. The ground was getting ever so slightly rockier as the fertile till thinned. Ahead, the escarpments of the South Downs could be seen when they crested a rise, still a day and a half away.
They never managed to get into the sun until near the noon hour. The northerly winds had turned northeasterly and the clouds blew out from the north Mistys. Spits of mist kept them damp and the enclosing low cloud and fog slowed them somewhat. When the sun looked like it would burn through, the skies darkened into a deeper grey. It never did rain, but it was none too cheerful. When the sun did finally chase the cloud away, its warmth struggled against the damp chill of the breeze. A shiver from Rin behind him told Hanasian it was time for a rest.
A knoll with a worn down ridge about a foot high offered some protection from the wind while allowing then to rest in the full sun. Loch quickly dismounted, looking a bit sore, but hurried over to assist Rin down from Hanasian's horse.
"Make rest for awhile men. Loch, you tend the horses, then you can have some food. We'll ride again all to soon. Tonight will be another cold camp, the night after there is shelter that I know of. The road will narrow as it winds through the Downs, and has been known in years passed as a place of finding friends. We will see how it is these days."
He watched Loch as he led the horses away to where the grass looked the thickest. No complaints having to do the job. It usually fell on the newb. dug into his dwindling supply of fruit, seeing that what was left was getting a bit long in the tooth. It will be good to rest in Bree for a time. He hoped to get word from Berlas there not long after. And what other news would await them there? And what of Rin. Would she decide to stay with the company, or take her leave. He watched as she went after Loch.. probably to have one of those brother-sister talks. It had been a long time since he had one with his sister....
Hanasian sat down with his back to the rock-side. Belegost without prompting had went over and set himself on suitable high ground to keep watch. The others stretched in the sun trying to warm themselves. Mulgov should be glad they are coming north in spring, not in autumn. He'd hate winter up here.
Loch looked up at the sound of someone approaching. It was Rin and he noted that she moved cautiously as she walked.
"Do you want some help," she asked. He shook his head and turned back to what he had been doing.
"No, this task was given to me and I should be the one to do it. I'm in enough trouble as it is." Rin stood next to him and pushed a strand of hair that had come free from her braid behind one ear.
"You didn't come here for that anyway," Loch said.
"That's true," she admitted. Loch glanced at her and moved to the next horse. She seemed far too calm. It troubled him.
"Look, Rin. I'm sorry. I know you're hurt and…"[/I] Rin placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
[I]"It's not so bad as that, Loch. Worse this than what was shaping. Berlas was getting ready to bring you down with an arrow and Khule was running out of time. I know you didn't know it was me."
Loch straightened from his task and turned to face her. "Then why are you here, Rin?"
Rin studied him for a moment. "When are you going to tell me that you enlisted, Loch?"
Loch sighed heavily. "Really? You want to talk about this? I knew you figured it out already, Rin. Have you followed me here to tell me how wrong I am?" Rin cocked her head to one side and let Loch's combativeness sail past her.
"No," she said.
"This is not funny, Rin. I'm in no mood for it. Say your piece and have done with it." Rin smiled faintly and looked at the horses Loch had picketed out.
"I'm not joking, Loch. I think you made a good choice." Loch gaped at her a moment and then closed his jaw with an audible click.
"Are you sure you didn't hit your head, Rin?" Rin laughed at that and bit it off. Too early for laughter yet.
A blast of damp wind made her pull her cloak, Khule's, tighter around her and wish yet again that she had something more than an oversized shirt and a borrowed cloak for warmth.
"Did Hanasian tell you that his offer extended to you too?"
Rin nodded. "Gave me until Bree to decide what to do."
Loch peered at his sister. Her calmness was unsettling him. So she knew it all, already.
"Do you know yet what you'll do?" Loch watched his sister smile mysteriously. Rin was distracted, thinking of a certain warmth.
"You do know," he said. Rin shifted her eyes back to her brother.
"Come on, before all the food is gone," she evaded.
"You know, your footwork… think of it like a dance," she said as they walked back. Loch rolled his eyes.
"I am not taking fighting classes from my little sister," he declared.
Rosmarin's expression was one of pure feminine satisfaction as they headed back to the main camp. Lochared's was one of utter male flummox. He managed to get some food into him before the session with Khule began. Rin settled down by the rock-slide not far from where Hanasian sat. Hanasian raised a querying eyebrow at her. Rin's winked at him, eyes glimmering with mirth. Wulgof passed her some dried and untwisted gut used to make bow strings. He showed her how to twist it and she turned her deft fingers to that, still smiling to herself. Khule's instructions to Loch sounded at regular intervals.
"Look, I have to ask. Are you… insane?" Wulgof's question made her fingers pause and Rin looked up and Hanasian coughed, covering his mouth and quickly looking away.
"I'm sane enough to do this for you," she replied, lips twitching in a smile. She resumed her twisting. "What does it matter to you anyway?"
"It doesn't, I suppose… unless it falls to one of us to pull you out of whatever mess you get yourself into." Rin set down the line she had been twisting and regarded Wulgof steadily.
"Very well, how do you propose we resolve this?" she replied. Wulgof returned her gaze.
"You could learn how to look after yourself," he said. He saw a flash of triumph flare in her eyes.
"Let's begin now."
"I don't have a sword weighted for a woman."
Wulgof had a sense that she was up to something. He just didn't know what.
"Let's test your aim first, before we start throwing steel about."
Wulgof passed her a handful of stones. There were plenty lying about on the ground to be had. The Dunlending pointed out a boulder, perhaps ten paces distant. Rin tossed a stone in her hand once and then threw it. The action made her ribs pull and she winced. Still, the stone made a satisfying plinking sound as it bounced off the boulder. Wulgof set her another challenge, a boulder further away. She hit that too. Another challenge, another hit. Wulgof started to increase the difficulty. She had to hit high, mid and low, and she did. Hanasian signalled that it was time to move on. Rin rose, dropped the remaining stones and flashed Wulgof a smile as she dusted her hands on the cloak she wore. Her head was spinning with the pain of all that effort, but she'd pulled it off. During the afternoon's ride, Wulgof had the growing sense that Loch's sister had pulled one over him.
"Rin's got a good eye and a good arm," he grudgingly admitted. Loch barked laughter from Berlas' horse.
"She's better with a sling than I am. You should see how she is with a knife!"
"Pleased with yourself," Hanasian asked her as they continued riding north. He'd not missed a thing. All Hanasian heard from behind him was muted laughter that thrummed against his back. They camped cold again that night. Back to back, for warmth, they each told themselves. The morning unfolded as it was wont to do, another cold and early start.
They set camp near Andrath at midday, five days out from Tharbad. Hanasian's thoughts turned to those left there to heal, and knowing that the company was in their blood, should they live, they would meet again. It also appeared that Loch and Rin had settled in reasonably well over the last few days. Unsure of what Rin would decide in Bree, Hanasian remained prepared to be the main healer of the company. But with one who has such a natural gift, it would be a blessing from Varda should she decide to stay on.
Seeing that everyone was getting into their routine, Hanasian slipped off with only word to Videgavia. He was hoping beyond hope to find news from brethren long parted. He set off through the rocky escarpment that is the South Downs east of the road.
This time, Wulgof was ready for Rin. He handed her two daggers, hilt first, and pointed at a petrified tree stump.
"Why would I want to throw these away," she asked, turning them over and studying them. "They look perfectly fine to me."
Loch thumped down a brace of rabbits and Rin put the knives to a far better use. Wulgof and Khule both watched her work, deft and efficient movements, swift and steady, as she skinned and trimmed the rabbits. Loch grinned up at Wulgof and winked. Molguv, meanwhile, had chopped up the travois birch frame and gotten a fire going. The rabbits were soon sizzling over the flames. Khule handed Rin his own canteen to wash her hands with. Rin rubbed them dry once she was done, returned the canteen with a nod. Khule traded glances with Wulgof.
"Want to hope she don't find no cause to take those things to us," Wulgof said, inspecting his long knives with a new appreciation. Both men were reassessing their evaluation of the woman in their midst.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
The cave wasn't too hard to find, about an hour or so away from their camp. It would be good to move camp there, but Hanasian really wanted to get to Bree, where he could properly clothe Rin. She had to be freezing in just an oversized shirt and cloak. Hanasian settled in the quiet of the cave and pulled out a parchment and quill, and worked the black ink a bit and began to write. He was behind in recording all that has happened since they were in Ithilien.
Five members of the company had set out north from Osgiliath under the command of Frea of Rohan. He and his twin brother, veterans of the war who had been at the Fords of Isen battles, Helms Deep, and Pelennor Fields, were to go north to meet a party from Dale at the Old Ford, then they would try and cross west over the Mistys by the High Pass in spring. A near impossible feat with the winter just passed, but Hanasian held hope that they would arrive. He would wait in Bree for at least two weeks for their arrival. They themselves had gone to Minas Tirith and held council with King Elessar. Ill reports had come from Tharbad, and that was what they had set out to see. Little did he knew they would lose two of their own and suffer with the loss of two more to wounds.
Hanasian pondered a moment as he dipped his quill again. The company was young, yet its members were ageing. The commission the King gave him was a free-standing one, and work would never cease. Yet men of fair training, in armies of battle were becoming ever fewer. Whether they were trained in arms by Saruman, Mordor, Gondor, Dale, Rohan, or Imladris for the war, all were diminishing. The new company would be made of those such as Loch. The children of the hardships the war had put on all peoples. They would have to put into practice a training regimen for those who show promise but have no military training or background. Khule, Wolgof, Mulgov, and Berlas would do that. Videgavia didn't have the patience for it, and left it to the others. Frea was an excellent bowman, and his twin brother Folca a legendary spearman. Both were good with swords. They will be of great assistance with Loch when they re-join the company.
Hanasian was interrupted by a slightest of noise, and with a bird call, knew it was someone friendly.
"Berlas! You are a sight unexpected! How was it you arrived here so soon?"
"Good fortune Cap." he said as he came into the cave.
"I managed to snag me a wild horse not far from where I left the party. Swift was the ride, but I managed it alright. Should of had one of the Rohirrim brothers here to tame the beast, but maybe it would not have been so fast. I've been to Bree, traded the green broke animal for three others, and came south to seek the company. Yet I find you here alone?"
Hanasian put his writing materials away, and stood.
"Yes, I needed to think a bit. Times are changing for the company. Its no longer going to be a world of old army vets seeking refuge in a brotherhood from their demons. For the first time, someone too young to have fought in the war has been accepted, and his sister has been given the opportunity to join. We had never had one without formal military training, and surely we have not counted a woman as one of our ranks. Yes, interesting times await us. I have to ask Berlas, was there any word from Frea in Bree?"
"No," he said, looking concerned. "But it will be a hard road to ride the pass so early in the season."
Hanasian nodded. He walked with Berlas out of the cave.
"Let us go back to where the Company camps. It will be good that the two newcomers will not have to share a horse from here to Bree."
They set out for the camp in the moonlit twilight walking at a calm pace.
Frea pushed his men hard. He knew the news he received from both King Bard II and King Elessar needed to get west to Bree and to Hanasian's ears, so they ventured the High Pass even as the snows still fell in the early spring. It was hard going. It was good fortune that the weather remained below freezing while they trudged the track over the High Pass, for any warming would have surely caused slides that would have ended their trek. But that didn't happen until they were in the west side. Even though the rains that pushed south over Hanasian as they neared Tharbad were blinding snows in the high country, Frea used his memories of being caught out hunting in the White Mountains to good use. They holed up in a snow-cave for a day, and got down quickly thereafter when the sun came out. The rumbles of snowslides in the warming air could be heard behind them in the valleys of the Mistys.
A day's rest was all they could afford at Imladris, and the sons of Elrond were nowhere to be seen. Few now remained there of the Elven folk. Frea himself rode forth with speed on a fresh horse, leaving Folca in command of the remaining fingers of men. They would make haste for Bree, with Frea hoping to arrive a day earlier in hopes of finding Hanasian.
Rin was utterly speechless when she discovered that one of the three horses was to be Loch's and another her own. She simply was astonished.
"Well, that's good to know," Molguv wryly observed as she followed Loch to picket her mount. Molguv had been relentlessly questioned about his 'special reserve' for days now.
"All you have to do to quieten her down is give her a horse, or some other sufficiently kingly gift."
Rin returned carrying the saddle which was heavy in the first place. Cracked ribs made it even more of a struggle. Still, she persisted and finally managed to set it down where she planned to sleep the night. She sat beside it for a moment, managing her breathing so that it wasn't obvious to those around her that she was struggling with something they did without a second thought. Rin had no idea why that mattered to her. She just knew that it did.
"Hey, Rin, are you cooking these rabbits or burning them," Wulgof called.
"Since when did I become the camp cook?" she replied.
"If you're not the cook, not a soldier and not a camp follower, then what are you?"
"Healer," she tersely said. Wulgof looked about, exaggerating the movement and spread his arms wide.
"Don't see no one here needing healing," he replied, a lazy grin on his face.
[I}"Hand me one of those knives and I can fix that,"[/I] she darkly muttered. She got to her feet and returned to the rabbits roasting in the fire. Men were drawn by the scent. She fetched one out and held her hand out for a knife. Wulgof's smile faded as he handed one to her. She quickly broke it down and men dived in, hungry. The rest of the meat soon went the same way of the first and night had rolled over them fully. Wulgof got his knife back, hilt first to his relief. Loch had, again, drawn first watch. He loped off to take up a suitable position, carrying his portion with him.
Rin returned to the saddle she had set down earlier and settled in front of it. With the night, the temperature had dropped further. She'd spent most of her life outside, but she was not immune. Rin pulled the cloak tighter and tucked herself tighter within its folds. Her hands drifted to the lower lengths of her braid. She unravelled it and started to slowly re-braid her hair. The movement of her fingers helped her mind. It was filled with confusing thoughts. A horse! What business had she in possessing a horse? Why was she bantering with men that had only days before terrified her stiff? Men…. That was the answer. Just as Loch and Hanasian had said. After five straight days in their midst, it was clear that they were not monsters.
Bree was, perhaps, two days off. In two days, she needed to make a decision. Loch thought she already knew. Sometimes she thought she did. It would be a hard road, if she accepted the offer. However, it would be a difficult road of her choosing – vastly different to her current lot in life. If she declined, then she'd have to make her own way. She could do that, she knew she could. There were no easy paths in life, not for people like her. She'd long given up waiting for that to change. Rin sighed and then remembered her ribs. The cold made it seem, somehow, worse. She could move back to the fire, but that meant getting up again and all positions around the fire were occupied by the men.
Men…. If she saw them as men after five days, then it would be inevitable that she would start to care for them. It would also be inevitable that she would, at some point, fail to save one. How would she manage the sense of failure along with the sense of loss? Alternatively, how would she live with herself if her fear meant that she was not there when needed. What if Loch needed her and she wasn't there because, and only because, she was scared?
"Did you mean what you said?" Rin jumped, startled by Hanasian's question. She hadn't heard him approach in the darkness.
"Apologies," he said, her reaction noted.
"Distracted," she explained and waved him to sit. "What did I say?" she asked once he was seated again.
A particularly chill blast rocketed through the camp. Rin shivered, despite the cloak and then frowned at the pain that washed through after it. At least it was getting easier, she told herself.
"You told Wulgof that you were our healer," Hanasian clarified.
"So I did," she said, half smiling at herself. She'd spent the good part of the night rethinking something she had already figured out. As Loch would delight in pointing out, how very typical.
"And?" Hanasian prompted.
"I meant it..." Rin's voice trailed off as Hanasian turned an open smile lose into the night. She'd seen him grin, but never this before. She liked it a great deal.
"Why," he asked, testing her resolve. Rin shrugged, smiling herself. "Why else? The food of course," she replied.
"It won't be easy, Rosmarin," he warned.
"Oh, well, when you put it like that and I think I'll return to the wonderfully comfortable existence I am so well acquainted with," she quipped dryly and they smiled. Rin sobered before continuing.
"I know it will be hard. It nearly always is, I think. But it will be something I choose. Whatever may come, I chose it. That… matters. It's the right thing to do," she finished. Hanasian reached for one of her hands and clasped it for a long moment. When he let go and stood, both were left to consider the fact that the feel of the other's hand lingered on their skin.
Another night passed, back to back. When Rin went to sleep, she had a saddle beneath her head. When she woke, she had a Ranger's shoulder. His arm was stretched out beneath her and he was breathing deeply. No longer sharing horses, the company was able to move even faster. It meant that they were able to cover far more ground than before. This was a good thing, even if it meant that there were no more quiet and warm moments to share.
They made Bree in the early afternoon of the following day. The streets were crowded, Big People and Small. It had been so long since Hanasian had been there. Despite that, little had changed aside from some names of businesses and the number of men and halflings. Trade was booming as a result of the reconstruction of Annuminas and thought being given to the raising of Fornost from the dead. A fair trade with the halflings of the Shire seemed to keep the town supplied with good ale and produce. Rin found herself fidgeting with her cloak, the press of people's eyes weighing on her. No matter how she adjusted, she couldn't hide the fact that she was clad only in an oversized shirt and little else. People shook their heads and averted their gazes, or stared outright.
"What's wrong with you?" Loch asked. Rin just fixed a slightly resentful glare on her brother. It was easy for him to ask. He had pants.
Hanasian was pleased to reach Bree, and to do so with two new recruits. In all appearances, he had gained a healer for the Company. Getting them all to the door that stood below the sign of the Prancing Pony was no small feat, with southern and eastern members curious about life in this northern town. It was fortunate they arrived in daylight so as to not have to be quizzed by the gatekeepers. The world here was much safer than years passed, but it was a town custom to question new arrivals after dark. Memories of the chill days of the war had failed to fade, and indeed were amplified in children's minds with each of their varied tellings. Yes, they were at the Pony, and it looked like everyone would settle in for an afternoon and evening of relaxation and revelry.
A team of stable hands emerged for horses, and the men were happy to hand to care of their mounts over to someone else for a change. Rin did her utmost to remain in their midst. That worked well enough until they were indoors. Men peeled off, some headed for the bar and others for a table. Loch tagged along with those that made for the table. That left Rin standing on her own, staring at the floorboards in a bid to have them swallow her whole by sheer force of will alone. She would be disappointed.
Hanasian saw to the rooms. The annex to the old inn built on the south side allowed the regular guests new rooms and left the old rooms to their party. Loch and Rin would have each a semi-private sleeping room, with a common room in the middle. The rest either had a place in the parlour room, or if they paid for it, their own room. Hanasian saw to it that Rin was attended to by the innkeeper's wife, and seeing all was well in hand, slipped out unseen. Outside, he met Videgavia and the two headed off into the crowds.
"You know we're taking a chance here. Leaving them all alone at the Pony, and with what we know of Loch, and his sister Rin likely to be looking quite womanly in short order with Anis, we should not be gone long." Videgavia said as they walked.
Hanasian shrugged, saying, "Well there are too few of us originals, and even old veterans of the west remain. We have to trust in the abilities of Khule in this. He may not know it, but he has the making of being a good leader. He obviously held his own while in his Easterling army legion. Besides, I'm hoping I won't need to be gone long."
They came to the blacksmith, and though hard at work he sensed their arrival. "What... you again?" he said as he worked the rings of the mail he was making.
"Its been years Jarod, and I paid you in full, so why the attitude? Any word of Frea? I heard he was in town." Hanasian traded jibes with the blacksmith.
"You're mistaken. Haven't seen him since you left with that exotic eastern girl some twenty years ago... or more."
Hanasian hesitated for a bit, remembering Simra. He then said, "Long ago through days that were much darker than they should have been so long after the war. But this is ill news... I will return in three days. If Frea should arrive, send him immediately to the Pony."
A nod was all he got before the hammer started tapping out another ring. Hanasian turned to Videgavia, and said, "Ride east. You will arrive at the Forsaken well after dark but if Frea is there, it will be worth the trouble."
Videgavia nodded and was off. He was quiet enough and stayed in the background enough that few of the company would notice his absence. Hanasian headed back to the Pony. As Hanasian saw to his business, the innkeeper's wife saw to hers.
"Oh dear," a woman said. Rin glanced up to see an older woman, wider than she was tall, shake her head and cluck her tongue. Her eyes seemed kind, but Rin would have preferred it if they didn't travel over her from head to foot to head again.
"Well, come along. We can't have you standing there and scaring off decent customers," the woman said. She latched a hand onto the cloak Rin had pulled taut around her and towed her away.
Rin found herself abducted by the innkeeper's wife, a woman named Anis. Anis missed her own daughters, Rin was told, all women grown settled with families of their own. Rin soon grasped that all she need do is comply with Anis' instructions, smile and nod at key junctures. Anis was perfectly content to chatter away under such arrangements and she did so amiably. Anis' talked to Rin about this, that and the other until finally, Anis was done. Rin rubbed steam away from the mirror and stared at a complete stranger. Hot water and soap could do a lot of things, but this? Behind her, Anis looked particularly pleased with herself.
"Well no sense hiding in here all day, lassie. Let's get you back out to that common room before they come a-looking for you." Rin obediently followed Anis back to where she had left the company. In this time they had convened around a long table that was bedecked with food and ale. Most had washed up. Even Loch looked a little less rumpled than was his usual wont. Rin fingered the soft cotton of her dress skirt. It wasn't an ornate dress, but to Rin it was simply the most wonderful thing.
What was more, Anis had said she had another one which she would get to Rin now that she knew the dresses would fit. Well made, unpatched, soft cotton. Unable to resist, Rin turned about so that the skirt flared. She'd not had something to wear this whole, this clean and as well fitted since home. Distracted, Rin failed to notice that she twirled just as she re-entered the common room. The buzz of masculine voices stilled as Rin looked up. Anis grinned with open victory at the reaction she saw. Rin, however, found the sudden silence unsettling.
What the company saw was a woman dressed in a deep shade of blue that turned her skin translucent perfection and set her eyes alight. The fact that her hair hung in an artfully smooth fall down her back, an arrangement that was all Anis' handiwork, only added to the over image. It was a far cry from the muddied, bedraggled and thieving waif they'd encountered at Tharbad.
"Well now," someone said thoughtfully. It was Khule that got to his feet first, followed by the others and last of all Loch who wanted to know why they were standing. Rin wanted to know too, but beside her Anis clapped her hands. She winked at Rin and bustled on with matters to see to.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
"I'm sorry to have intruded," Rin said into the sudden silence. "I'll go," mistaking the fact that they stood as an indication that they were leaving. She dropped her eyes and tried to determine which was the faster route for escape: stairs or front door.
"Hey Rin, who'd you rob," Loch called as she started for the front door, breaking the sudden tension. Her eyes narrowed and she turned back to fix them on her brother.
"Why you, brother dear. I know how much you favour women's clothing," she retorted. Wulgof snorted.
"Why is she leaving?" Berlas whispered to her brother. It was then that Loch realised that they'd both misunderstood. Rin was nearly to the door when he seized on the one thing to retrieve her.
"What? You're going to leave us alone... with all this cheese?"
Loch knew his sister well. Rin halted and turned back to study the table. A glorious golden wedge beckoned from atop it. She couldn't count the number of times they'd been chased out of somewhere on account of cheese. Edoras, for example, took a particularly dim view of cheese thieves. The cheese was irresistable and it drew her back, towards the table. The men still stood. Her eyes moved from them to the cheese and back again. Khule moved to one side to create a space for her. She drew closer still.
"Will you just sit down already, woman," Wulgof growled. His ale was getting warm. Rin sat, wide eyed, and the men followed. Their healer had most definitely arrived.
Hanasian reached the door of the Prancing Pony without anyone noticing, and surprise of all surprises, they weren't fighting with each other or the locals. Most were at a table with Khule walking back with fists of tankards of a rather aromatic ale. A quick count had all accounted for, except... wait, who was the woman at the table? Rosmarin? ... he seemed lost for a moment, and as if his eyes touched her, she looked over toward the door. Hanasian, still road weary, leaned against the doorframe and their eyes locked for a brief moment... a moment that seemed to stretch out. A smile graced her face, and she turned back to pick another piece of cheese and bread. He made his way over to the table and grabbed one of the tankards from Khule. Silent talk asked how Loch was holding up with it all, and if they were keeping out of trouble. Maybe it was the long road, but nobody seemed determined to get themselves kicked out their first night in town.
Rin resolved that she would, if it was the last thing she did, determine what all those finger signals actually meant. As for what happened to her when she saw the Ranger, there was nothing she could do about that aside from hope that no one else noticed. She glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. If they had, they schooled their expressions well. Loch was utterly oblivious to it, having secured himself another tankard of ale. She'd have to keep an eye on him. Loch and ale made for an interesting combination. Hanasian settled at the table nearby. He flicked another glance her way which made her smile again. Damn, she had to stop doing that, she remonstrated with herself. Across the table, Molguv was demonstrating his dexterity by making a copper coin dance across his fingers. He slapped the coin down and set her a challenge that she utterly missed, distracted by a certain Ranger.
"You want me to better that," she asked, confused. She knew by now that the Haradian would wager on anything.
"I think you just got lucky back there at Tharbad and caught me unawares," he challenged. Rin raised one eyebrow.
"Is that so?" she replied mildly, goading him on. Molguv nodded, knowing he was being baited and playing along nonetheless.
"I think if you're as nimble fingered as your brother claims you are, you can best me." Loch raised his tankard and grinned at her. Rin considered the copper coin on the table.
"Why would I want to best you, Molguv?"
"Because I was the best cut purse Umbar had ever seen and Umbar is the capital of thieves, the professional kind that is."
"I see… so if I'm to prove myself better, professionally, I'll have to surpass that pretty little finger trick of yours. I'll need more than one coin to prove that."
Men slapped coins down, telling her just who else was in on the wager. Rin collected them up, six in all, and set them on the back of her hand. Molguv saw a faint smile flicker. She flexed her fingers to toss the coins up, turned over her hand so that they fell into her palm and closed her fingers around them.
"I thank you gents. I believe we're out of cheese."
Rin stood and sauntered to the kitchen, enjoying how it made her skirts sway.
"I think we've been robbed… again," Molguv said as five frowning men stared hard at him.
"Don't blame me, the wager was all his idea!" Loch's grin remained in place as Molguv pointed the blame in his direction.
"I keep telling you not to underestimate her," Loch said. Rin returned with another board of cheese and bread that she set down on the table, along with five coppers of change. Everyone aside from Molguv retrieved their coins back. Having drained a tankard of ale, Hanasian rose to wash the road from him. He left them once more in Khule's hands, and again silent finger signals conveyed some sort of message between the Ranger and the Easterling. Rin watched Hanasian leave for a long moment, her attention only dragged back when she heard Loch ask what sort of drink Dwarven spirits were. A troubling development, that.
More and more people filtered into the common room as evening approached. Rin found herself watching them, particularly the small ones that some of the men called Halflings. She'd never seen their like before. In the far corner, one group was particularly merry. Someone pulled out a fiddle and soon there was frenetic stomping on table and floor boards alike as his fellows took to dancing. Rin was utterly entranced. Khule had to tug on her sleeve to get her attention.
"Hanasian will want to see you, Rin. He needs to know what you have decided," the Easterling said. He gave her directions as to where to find him.
Rin had to carefully navigate the common room to avoid puddles of ale and darting hobbits. Behind her, men were finalising their wagers about whether she'd accept or not and who'd get to train her. Loch was in it up to his neck, using the coin of the usual chores associated with company life as his wager. The way things were going, Loch would be pulling all night watches for the rest of his natural life if he lost half of the wagers he'd ventured into.
Rin located the room Khule had indicated, the hubbub of the common room only distantly heard from where she stood. She stared at the door for a moment, pulse thundering in her ears. This was it. Rin took a deep breath, raised her hand and knocked. She heard Hanasian's voice bid her enter. Rin cracked the door and peeked around with some trepidation. The Ranger was seated by a window with a quill, ink and paper. He'd washed up and changed. It was quite a sight, she had to admit, and her mouth was suddenly quite dry. At least there was no one to witness this lapse in composure.
It was well into the night when Frea reached the old inn east of Bree. He watered his horse at the trough out front, and was going to enter when he heard a rider approach from the west. He waited outside to see who it was.
"Videgavia! Well met on this night! But I have to ask how it is you are here?"
"I came seeking you my friend. But I am tired. hungry, and thirsty. Let us go inside and we will share news over an ale."
Videgavia thought a tankard was well overdue, being the rest of the company has probably done some serious damage to a keg at the Pony by this time.
"Yes... I myself am on point from the rest of my men. My brother follows and will likely arrive here tomorrow. Let us go see what this place is about..."
"I would hope you knew by now that I don't bite," Hanasian said to her. Rin permitted the rest of herself to enter the room, fingers locked before her.
Hanasian waved her to another chair at the table. She crossed the room and seated herself. Silence bloomed between them for a moment and then they both started talking at once. Rin leant back in the chair and smiled out the window. The sky was painted with the blush of sunset, a riot of oranges, reds and deep indigos. The light caught in Hanasian's hair, which he'd not fully tied back. Brown and gold strands gleamed under sunset's touch.
"Rosmarin, I sense that you've decided something. I simply need to know what it is," he said to her. Rin dragged her attention back to the matter of hand.
"Are you sure about your offer, Hanasian," she asked. No matter how one looked at it, she would be the odd one out in the company. The persistent exception to a number of rules made for and by military men. She could appreciate how valuable cohesion was in a group such as this one. Unlike Loch, she'd not exactly fit right in and had, in fact, taken pains to keep certain safe distances. Women in her station in life did not survive long if they failed to do this. It was a slippery slope for a woman to be caught on, and she'd rather slit her own wrists than be caught in the trap that had forced so many before her to earn their living on their backs.
"I have become more certain of it with each day, Rin," he replied steadily. Rin nodded, closed her eyes and looked deeply within one more time. There it was. The same mad answer. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes.
"As have I, Hanasian," she replied and shifted her eyes back to his face. "If there's a place for the likes of me, then I will gladly take it." Her voice was quiet, solemn. He could see she meant every word. It was not something she did lightly. Hanasian passed her a piece of paper, very official looking to her eye. He had no idea if she could read, given her circumstances. He watched her study the paper, eyes scanning through the text.
"A commission," she murmured as she read. The language was highly formal, like some of the texts she had "borrowed" on the practice of surgery a few years ago. It set out her obligations to the crown in no uncertain words and in return, what would occur if she served faithfully. It even had heraldry, a tree with stars over the top. She could only presume that meant Minas Tirith and their king... the one called.... oh yes, there it was written down. The one called Elessar.
"Do you understand it," he asked. Rin nodded, yet re-read it to be certain.
"I do. I presume you want me to sign it?" Hanasian passed her the quill and ink, and watched her sign. Her hand was flowing, movements precise.
"Do we all sign these?"
"Yes. Loch signed his earlier in the week," Hanasian replied. She set down the quill and looked at the paper identical to the one she had just set her name to that sat under Hanasian's elbow. She could see Loch's name scrawled at the bottom and it made her smile. She knew Loch's attitude to trivialities such as reading and writing, had battled them for many years as she tried to drum the basics into him. Loch would signed anything to get into this company, including a bill of sale on his own soul. Hanasian retrieved the commission she had just signed and blew on the ink to dry it.
"Now what happens to them," she asked, curious about this particular custom.
"They'll go south on the next horse to Minas Tirith," he replied, matter-of-factly. The sound of a heavy crash reached them and brought them both to their feet.
"That didn't sound good," Rin observed. Hanasian shook his head.
"Welcome to the Black Company of Arnor, Rosmarin. There's always something," he replied, a wry quirk to his lips. Rin turned for the door, feeling curiously light headed. Her instincts, always unusually strong, told her that this moment was momentous in more ways than the could know. Rin left, looking back over her shoulder once at the door at the smile on his face, before rushing to the common room. She really liked that smile.
Loch was sprawled on the floor, men were laughing and Molguv was standing over him. The Haradian sighted her as soon as she emerged. It wasn't difficult, there were few women in the common room of the Prancing Pony.
"Ah… My next victim," the Haradian declared. Loch staggered to his feet and shook his head. The common room spun a little before he realised his sister was steaming towards him.
"Hey, Rin! You should try that, it's fun," he called to her, overly loud. It took some wrestling and ultimately the assistance of Hanasian, who had followed her out, to get Loch seated again. Hanasian let his fingers signal to the rest of the company that there was business to attend to. Rin had to lean against her brother's back to stop him from toppling backwards to the floor again. She shot a questioning look across to Khule, who shrugged and mouthed Dwarves at her. Hanasian took up position at the end of the table.
"Men, we've ridden hard and have earned ourselves a night of reprieve. I shall not burden you with formalities overly long. It will come as no surprise to learn that we have acquired a new recruit in the form of Lochared." Hanasian was forced to pause as a cheer went around the table, aided and abetted by Wulgof. Rin leant against Loch to stop him from upending himself as he heartily joined in.
"Shorry," Loch said, peering up at her. She rolled her eyes and Hanasian pressed on.
"It may, however, come as a surprise to learn that we have also acquired a healer," Hanasian was again interrupted, this time by Molguv.
"And professional thief," the Haradian shouted. That earned Rin a number of hard glances from neighbouring tables. She found herself wondering again why the floor refused to swallow her whole.
"A healer," Hanasian continued, "Rosmarin has also agreed to join our number."
"Valar protect us," Wulgof drawled. Rin didn't have the chance to respond. Loch somehow managed to sieze his sister and succeeded in wrestling both of them to the floor boards.
"Get off me, Loch!"
"Ha! I GOT THIS ONE RIGHT!" he crowed, squeezing the breath out of her and doing his best to recrack her ribs. Molguv slapped the table in victory.
"Told you!" Wulgof and Berlas both grumbled about the whimsical nature of a woman's mind as they handed over their wagers. Molguv swept up his winnings, stood and collected Rin by the waist. He hoisted her up under one arm, strode around the table and plonked her in the space she had earlier occupied next to Khule. The Haradian patted her on the top of her head and returned to his own position. Loch had managed to crawl back into place himself. Rin sat still a moment, her face obscured by pale golden hair. She pushed it back. A table full of men held their breath.
"Soldiers," said, expelling her breath like it was a foul word. She shook her head, collected up Loch's tankard and drained it. It was going to be a wild night.
The food arrived shortly and the Prancing Pony proved that it had not lost its reputation of skill in the kitchen. Night drew on and with it more people arrived. After the initial excitement, the table had returned to its business for the evening. Rin was convinced her brother would pickle himself by the time the night was done. She found herself studying the dancing in the corner. She'd never seen it's like before. With so few women in the room, even a phalanx of soldiers didn't stop some of the braver souls from venturing to their table. She turned each of them away.
"That was the eighth one," Khule exclaimed. "What was wrong with him?" Rin shrugged her shoulders.
"Nothing. I just don't know how to dance that way," she replied.
"She dances all the time, when she thinks I ain't watching," Loch slurred from across the table. Rin threw an ale soaked heel of bread at her brother and got to her feet. The air of the common room felt soupy. She needed to get out
The moon had risen and the streets at this hour were largely empty. Behind her, the rumour of laughter and music curled around her. Rin took a deep breath into her lungs to clear her head. It was as cool outside as it was warm inside. Her cheeks felt flushed and she pressed her cooler fingers to them in a bid to claw back some composure. Inside, the fiddler wove melody in and out and around. Rin peered up both ends of the street to be certain she was alone and then tried her hand at the steps she had seen them do inside.
"Running away so soon," Hanasian asked, as she was half way around a turn. Rin dropped her skirts and blushed. The Ranger walked the rest of the way out.
"I just needed some air," she dissembled. He could see the thread of her pulse at the base of her throat. Rin saw him smile faintly and then step forward. He held out his hands.
"Do you want to learn," he asked. Rin set her hands in his, by way of answer. Together, slowly, they marked a few turns. It took only three for Rin to grasp it. Hanasian increased the tempo to match that of the music within and heard her laugh in sheer delight.
"What is it called" she asked, voice close and soft in his ear.
"It's name is long forgotten," he replied. It had been danced here in the northern realm for at least an Age, but the woman he danced with clearly had no grasp of the history of the people she so closely resembled. The reel sped faster and faster and they danced under moon and star matching time with it.
Hanasian didn't think any of the company would have any objection to Loch, but he wasn't so sure about Rin. Possibly his judgement could have been clouded had it been this moment he had considered it. But it was at Tharbad that he decided he wanted Rin in their company, for skill in healing such that she had shown there in that fight was skill highly prized in the field. He was glad she decided to stay with them. He would have to keep his feelings in check though, for he couldn't afford to allow any sort of favouritism be shown to her. Yet he could not deny that strange, light, almost queasy feeling in his gut as they danced. She picked it up easy... almost too easy it seemed, and it was then looking at her face in the moonlight that he had a thought pass through him. A memory of the words of the brothers Elladan and Elrohir had said years ago about a girl they had seen. Spinning her away as they ended the dance, Hanasian was smiling as they finished in the customary bow and curtsy. Could it be...? The moment stretched until they both realised that they still held the other's hand.
Inside, a familiar face was pressed to a pane of glass. He pulled back from the window as the couple ceased dancing and returned to the table.
"Men, I have a new wager," Wulgof announced. There was nothing dearer to soldiers than ale, coin and gossip.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
"We have an audience it seems," Hanasian said as they both turned to the light of the window.
He knew they were wagering and he could guess at the substance of the wagers. He would have to watch himself in this, for both their sakes. A breeze came up from the north, chill with ill-words. Both Rin and Hanasian shivered at it’s icy breath.
Rin let Hanasian’s hand drop, and said, ”Let’s go back inside.”
Hanasian agreed and with a step toward the door, his hand gently set against Rin’s back as he looked about in the darkness. Something didn’t feel right.
Coming inside, the revelry at their table didn’t seem to have abated but for everyone stumbling over each other to try and take the places they had at the table as is none had gone to the window to watch. It was well late into the evening pushing the midnight hour, and the common room had emptied of most locals and guests. The few that remained he deemed harmless, and they were well away from where they loitered at the bar. Hanasian finished his tankard, set it on another table, and took to being captain of the company again. Standing up on the table, he said,
”Men… and lady, make it a last call, finish up the bread and cheese, and I call your attention for this impromptu meeting of the Black Company of the East. A couple things I have to say and now is the best time to say it. While in Minas Tirith, our King Elessar had granted me some freedoms to allow me to commission members into the company without his specific approval. At the time of our founding, it had worried many in his court about granting this to me outright. So it was always held that he himself would personally approve any and all members who joined. Also, our specific commission was to man the realm’s frontiers well to the south and east, and to uh.. deal… with insurrections in the realms that swore fealty to the King. This we have done, and we returned rather victorious in this quest.
"Yet, in my talks with my old friend, Chieftain, and King, it seems things closer to home are not without their challenges. This we have seen first hand south of Tharbad. Anyway… what I want to say to you all who have signed on since Rhun is this. You are officially no longer prospects and are now full members of this company. Your names, and the names of all why had joined with us but have since fallen, have been recorded in the records of the King. So for you who are not original members, but have been with us for many years, like you Khule, it is now official. So too is it official for Loch, and Rosmarin too. For I have been granted the title of ‘Scribe of the King’, so it is official as penned by me. Much trust our King has put in me, and I hope I am worthy of its honour.”
Everyone was rather silent when they realized Hanasian was all together serious in what he had to say, and he went on after a pause. Most everyone had taken the offer of a last round and were quietly sipping away, and Hanasian continued.
”So as of now we are to be known as the Black Company of Arnor, and we will adopt a form of the banner of Elessar, seven silver stars on a black field, surrounding one rayed silver star based on the Rangers brooch as our standard. The smith here in town is working on them and I’ll hand them out when they are ready.”
Rin had noticed that that Hanasian wore a rayed star brooch on his cloak.
”I hoped we would find the rest of our company here before us, those who left from Osgiliath north when we went to Minas Tirith, but it seems we had made better time than they. You may have noted that Videgavia is not with us. He had ridden on east to try and find word of our brethren. I am hopeful he has found them, and will return to us here shortly.
"Now, the ride here this day was long and the evening I hope was relaxing. But too much of a good thing can cause much disruption to ones mind and body. We will retire to sleep on the finest of straw beds this night. What lay in store for us tomorrow will keep itself until the morning light. Sleep as long as you wish, and we will all gather here the next day at the noon hour.”
Hanasian stepped down, and taking a bit of cheese and bread, he ate it and waited for everyone to retire for the night.
Videgavia and Frea stood at the bar of the Forsaken talking and drinking and eating. It was soon clear to Videgavia that Frea had word for Hanasian from the King. Aragorn had sent runners both north and west to find both parties. The one who went north had managed to catch the party on their slow trek up the east side of the Mistys. He now rode with the rest of Frea’s company. The other sent west to find Hanasian had not yet arrived, and may have fallen to the same renegade orcs they had run across. Apparently there was trouble in the south, but all that the King had gotten word of remained with the two riders. One would be arriving here at the Forsaken the next day. The other it remained unknown. The two stayed up late, and slept only until breakfast. They were up and awaiting the arrival of Folca and the company. They were ready to ride west to Bree as soon as they had a moment to rest and were ready to go. They should arrive back at Bree by nightfall of the next day.
Hanasian slept little that night. Too much on his mind. Feelings for Rin, and the possibility that her lineage was of that suspected by the sons of Elrond, the chill feeling of the night before, and wondering of Videgavia had found the rest of the men. Nothing he could do about that except wait, and he grew restless. He arose and went out to the courtyard to look at the stars and spoke Sindarin to them. He always found it soothing, as if Varda herself listened to him. A shooting star streaked from the northern sky and disappeared south, a hissing sound followed by a pop when it broke apart. Hanasian had the gut feeling he and the company would be again venturing south. But that would remain to be seen. Right now, Bree was where they were, and there they would stay until word called them elsewhere. He sat and watched the sky to the east slowly turn to deep blue, extinguishing the fainter stars before it.
"The King's emblem, Rin," Loch mumbled from where he was to sleep, across the room between them. He was snoring soon afterwards. Rin pulled the covers up and stared into the blackness. Beds were supposed to be comfortable things, but she could only gather that was so if you had practice using them. She tried, she really did, and met only with limited success in sleeping. Much of her difficulty she placed at the feet of the moon and that Ranger. If they were seen, then what would the others think of her? It was only dancing, she told herself as Loch's snoring deepened. Rin placed a pillow over her head.
Only dancing, and he was soon all business afterwards. Best not to get carried away with herself. When all was said and done she was nothing more than a penniless thief and he was friends with a King! He had said so himself. Hanasian had shown her charity and kindness and that was all there was to it. Rin sighed heavily into the pillow and closed her eyes. All she could see was him. She tossed, irritable with herself. This way only lay sorrow, and she'd look a fool too, she remonstrated with her wilful self. It took an hour for sleep to come and when it did it was a half starved, flimsy thing. She dreamt of Hanasian, she dreamt of Kings and stars… and then she Dreamt.
She stared at the ash she stood on. Drifts of it rose in a surly, warm wind. It coated everything, shattered rocks and a desolate landscape that drifted resentfully as far as she could see. She was coated in it too, a thick layer that seeped into every pore of her skin. She was leaning against something with all her might. Every muscle in her body strained at the exertion she was applying. She did not want to look at what she had her back against, but nor could she bear not to. She glanced to her left and saw a towering wall of bones. They clacked against each other, as if they were laughing at her attempt to hold them back. Skulls mocked her, some human and others not. Some new and others ancient. A desperate sob was torn from a dried, ash choked throat. Her own throat, she realised and she leant back against the wall with the sick certainty that it would drown her no matter what she did.
She heard a crack and felt the barren ground beneath her booted feet rumble. The wall moved behind her. A skeletal hand crawled over her outstretched arm. The wall was moving, and she couldn't stop it! She wasn't enough! Rin sat up with a broken wail on her lips. She bit down on it before she woke anyone. Dawn had not yet come, but it was not far off. She covered in a thin layer of cold sweat that made her shift stick to her skin. Across the way, Loch snored. Rin climbed out of bed and stood in the chill pre-dawn half light, shivering. Her skin crawled. What did it mean? She considered waking Loch. He was often able to intuit meaning from these Dreams. Odds were, however, that he would still be intoxicated when she woke him. Rin's eyes adjusted to the murky light. Stars were overhead. Her mind was a jumble, swimming. She'd never determine anything meaningful from her Dream at this rate. She needed to clear her mind and she knew only one way to do that.
Rin threw on the other dress. It took her a while to figure out how it was supposed to be worn. Eventually, she figured out that the fitted cream dress with the flared skirt went under the ruby hued tunic. The tunic was heavier, better suited for the early chill, even if the sides of it were open. She laced them as tightly as she could, collected her shoes and picked her way carefully out to the kitchen on bare feet. To her surprise, Anis was already awake and working on breakfast. She clapped one eye on Rin's rumpled appearance and smiled knowingly.
"Can't sleep, lassie?" she asked. Anis had raised and married off three daughters. She knew what she saw when she looked at Rin.
"No," Rin admitted, sat and put on her shoes. "I thought I would go for a walk, clear my mind," she added.
Anis nodded, knowing better than to tell Rin that no amount of walking would cure what ailed her. Instead, she passed Rin a shawl, gave her strict instructions to wear it and closed the kitchen door after her. Outside, Rin shivered and pulled the shawl tight around her shoulders. She stared at the ground she stood on. Not ash, she noted with relief, missing the fact that another sat in the inn's courtyard.
Rin recalled from yesterday that the Prancing Pony was not too far from the gate. She needed open ground to stretch herself on. It was in this direction she walked, sleep tousled hair spreading in her wake as she walked. She walked fast, to throw off the chill of the air and her dream. As she warmed, her traitorous mind drifted back to the warmth she had felt beneath the moon. Curse that moon! That way lay pain. She had seen the questions, the hesitation in his face as he had come to the same realisation last night.
Hanasian found that she was utterly wrapped in her own world. He drifted along behind her, cautiously at first. Bree sat next to the Chetwood, and it was one of the few remaining wild places in the North. He told himself that it was not safe for a woman to wander alone and unarmed and it was for this very proper reason that he followed her now.
With dawn so close, the gate was not watched. Rin was able to slip through it without delay. She stood on the other side and drew in a deep breath. Her thoughts were still tangled. She cursed herself under her breath and headed for the trees. Dew covered everything, like a jewelled web that glittered in the half light. She gained the trees and passed between them, pressing deeper. She did not know where she was going. Her mind was elsewhere as her feet wandered on. As she walked deeper into the woods, she let her thoughts take voice. There was no one to hear her here.
"What does it mean? What does it all mean? I know it means something… Literal or symbolic… Damn it all, I can't think of him now!" Rin paused to press her hand and then forehead against the bole of a tree. She needed to focus on that dream, the other dream, not Hanasian. Rin heaved a sigh and then jumped back as the tree literally shuddered beneath her touch. Her heart skidded in her chest and her eyes were wide. She backed away, cautious now. Did the tree move?
"I must be losing my mind," she said out loud.
"I couldn't agree more," said a man behind her. Rin whirled around to find Hanasian standing in the steadily lifting dawn. The sight of him only made her heart threaten to launch itself right out of her chest for entirely different reasons.
"This is not a safe place, Rosmarin," he chided her, advancing the final distance. Focus, Rin told herself.
"That tree moved, Hanasian!" Yes, excellent start, confirm you're insane her traitorous self observed. She waited for him to laugh, scoff or run screaming from the mad woman. He did none of these things. He nodded, taking her at her word. Damn the confounding man! Rin took a deep breath and tried to gather herself. What was that word? Oh yes, professional.
"I take it you could not sleep either," she said. The concerned healer. Better, professional. Hanasian shook his head, glanced about warily and then settled his eyes on her again.
"Perhaps we should talk," he suggested to her. Rin closed her eyes and braced herself.
"No need, Hanasian. I understand, I truly do," she replied as steadily as she could. She uncurled her fingers from their grip in her skirts.
"Really? What is it that you understand, Rosmarin," he said, head cocked to one side.
"We each have our places in life. You're my commanding officer and a friend to a monarch of two realms, no less. I know," Rin's composure broke a little. She had not anticipated this to be so difficult! "I know that you have a duty and a reputation to uphold. I will not dishonour it." Ah, there is the pain… damn… she'd let herself get too far down that road to avoid it now.
Rin dropped her head lest he see it and doubt her ability to do what was the right thing. He had closed the distance between them. She had but to reach out and she would be able to touch him. She wanted to. The effort to keep her arms by her side made them tremble.
"And what is your place in life, Rin? You seem to know so much about mine, what of yours?"
Rin swallowed. Yes, he had to ask, had to be certain, she told herself.
"I'm nothing… a thief you took pity on and gave the chance to redeem herself," she whispered as dawn's early rays pierced the trees. " I will not throw that in your face. I'll not give you reason to regret it. You owe me nothing."
The fierce resolution, a quiet pride, and the unmistakable note of a yearning heart being reined in all turned in her voice. He watched her wrap her arms around herself. Hanasian recalled hesitating before, many years ago. In that decision, he had lost any chance to find out what might have been. Ancient malice in the form of Naiore Dannan had taken Simra from him all too soon. And now, here, would he make the same decision again? The dawn painted her pale hair a delicate rose. It tangled around a face she was hiding from him. He reached and lifted her chin, lifting her face to his.
"Rosmarin, open your eyes, please?" He could feel her tremble. He could see that her heart was racing. When she opened her eyes, he could see a formidable determination and a piercing pain and there, a flash of hope that endured despite all of this. Rin had that sensation again of his gazing searching right into her, as they had that very first day. She felt as helpless now, as revealed and vulnerable now, as she had on that rain soaked day.
"Rosmarin, this will not be easy. We will need to be careful. You are, at least, right in that we both have our duties to uphold and we cannot shirk them. But, " Hanasian hesitated, uncertain of how to say this. Ultimately, it was the fading light of hope in her eyes that decided that matter. He said nothing, and instead brought his lips to hers. She stiffened in surprise at first, but did not pull away. Rather, she melted softly, sweetly against him. He felt her hands; those sure, gentle hands of hers tighten against his chest. When he pulled back a long moment later, his heart too was pounding. Rin felt his hands cradle her face.
"But you will never be nothing to me, Rosmarin," Hanasian said to her. "I want to do this correctly, for us and for the Company. Do you understand?" Her eyes searched his face intently. He could her mind dancing behind them.
"Yes, Hanasian," Rin replied. Then she stood on her toes to kiss him in her own turn. By midday they needed to resume their duty, but that was then and this? This was now. He remembered what his friend had said of meeting the woman that would become his wife. Like straying into a waking dream, his friend had said. Hanasian understood. Yes, he understood.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Amongst the quiet of the early morn, the dawn ate the stars and the air grew ever colder, yet Hanasian and Rin seemed to share an inner warmth.
"Come, let us go back. We can't let this get the better of our senses."
He took her hand and led her back to the inn. Returning the the common room, Anis paused and said, "Didn't see you leave sir, but its good to have early risers. Here is some fresh tea for you."
A steaming pot of fragrant tea was set on the bar, and two cups followed. Hanasian noted the only other in the common room was the innkeeper tending the fire to help stave off the morning chill. Hanasian was silent, his mind delving into the feeling he had outside the night before. No such feeling was there this morning. Yet, his senses told him this time in the north would be short-lived.
"I think we will be leaving Bree soon." He said to Rin, "I think news and orders ride the winds of the south and east, approaching as we rest here for a time. Later today we will work on securing provision for our ride. If Videgavia finds Frea and his men, I suspect they will be here in a day's time, if not a little more. They will have to rest and re-fit as we must, and depending on the news that arrives with them, I am willing to guess we will set out by this day next week, if not earlier."
Rin gulped some tea and it seemed she was not used to it as it may have burned a bit going down. Hanasian smiled at her as she tried to hold back a cough.
"Try it in tiny sips when it's hot, Rin. Gulping it is best saved for the last in the cup."
She blushed a bit and let out a couple muted coughs and whispered, "I'm sorry, I'm just... *cough* not ..."
"Not used to having much food and drink available? Worry not about that any more. There may be times when in the field and rations get short and we scavenge what we can to eat, but here we will be well nourished. You will be paid a sum worthy of a healer, which is a bit more than men-in-arms. However, I am keeping most of your first pay so we can get you outfitted properly.
"The fine dresses that Anis gave you will be worth much, but we will have to get you something a bit more practical for the road. I know a tanner who can set you with a few changes of leathers, both light and heavy. We will go see her today so she can get on to making them. Also, some other clothes that will be both comfortable and concealing. No more old cloaks for you."
So much had unfolded in mere hours, Rin's mind was hard pressed to keep up. The warmth of time spent with Hanasian held the cold chill of her earlier dream at bay. It was not forgotten, only held back for another time. She was fast learning that opportunities such as the one they had shared in the woods and then back at the inn, were fleeting and rare. She'd not let her dreams steal them from her. As Hanasian turned to the more practical matters that faced them, Rin started to make a mental list of things she would need if she was going to do this Company justice as its healer. Fine gut, *hook needles, antiseptic, bandages that had been bleached and then boiled, bottles she could decant various things into, bags for drying herbs in, a book to keep proper notes in, pencils to write with, a small very sharp knife, perhaps several as those but hopefully not a saw. Doing an amputation in the field was a horror she hoped to never to have to enterprise. She could gather the rest on the road. She'd just need to keep her eyes peeled for the usual plants that could be gathered, and a supply of various splints. Oh yes, she'd want some of those plaster imbued bandages that go hard once they dry. The idea that anyone would get paid was a novelty to her. Rin had presumed that service was in return for things like food, horses and the like. But once she started tallying a list of healing supplies in her head, she started to wonder just how far that pay would stretch. Rin had a strong sense that stealing, no matter the reason in this instance, would not be a good idea. How many items of clothing did one person required, she wondered. Perhaps she could negotiate less clothing and more supplies. Rin had to admit that she would feel a great deal more comfortable if she were decently clothed. None of the men had said or done anything inappropriate, but she would need their respect and regard if they were to trust her and let her truly be effective.
Properly sipping the hot tea, some bread and fresh fruit was set out, and Rin eased herself into some. Hanasian buttered a slice and ate it, dipping it in his tea now and again.
Hanasian asked her as they ate, "What do you know of the history of Arnor, the Northern Kingdom?" He was guessing not all that much considering, but what sort of education she had gotten as a child he did not rightly know. Unconventional, he guessed, at best.
"I know little, just tales I've heard," she said, seeming to be interested. "Do tell me of yourself Ranger Hanasian... if you wish to. " She looked at him while munching some buttered bread.
"Maybe a little, since I opened this jar." He finished his bread and took a sip of tea, then said, "I was curious of what you knew, for it was well ingrained in my teaching, both by my mother, and by the elves of Rivendell. Of me, I was born north of here in the abandoned city of Annuminas (pronounced anoo'minnas) many years ago. My father was a Ranger of the Grey Company, and I know he rode with the company when Arathorn, our King Aragorn's father, was slain by an orc arrow in the rough lands of the Weather Hills. Little else has been told to me of him, and all that I have learned of him on my own until recently only has added to the mystery."
He gulped down his tea, and poured more from the pot.
"My father took my mother and I to Rivendell to dwell there. My mother was with child, my sister Halcwyn, and for reasons unknown to me, my father was not permitted to enter. There he said goodbye to my mother and me, and bowed down to whisper to my unborn sister, and the only memory of him I had was him walking away, turning one last time to gaze at us before disappearing around the bend in the track.
"After a few months in the company of the elves, he was only a distant memory. It was there I grew up learning the history of Arnor, the great Numenorean kingdom in exile that Elendil founded. His sons founded the great southern Numenorean kingdom in Exile, which we know as Gondor. But the years were not kind to my ancestors of the north. Never many, the great war of the Last Alliance brought death and suffering, and the people declined slowly until Annuminas, the city of Elendil was abandoned. The kingdom then ruled from Fornost, a fortress city on the edge of the North Downs.
"There they held their own for awhile until disagreements between the sons of Arnor's tenth king, King Eärendur fractured the kingdom into three. Of the eastern part, Rhuadur, little was recorded, except the Dunedain soon fled or were killed fighting for their homes against the wild hillmen of the mountains north. Of the southern part, Cardolan, more is known but its end came in a shroud of mystery. It is said the last Prince of Cardolan was slain in a war with Angmar and Rhuadur near Amon Sul, Weathertop as its ruins have come to be known. The remaining people were scattered and lived mostly to the west and the south, but plague soon wiped them out and they became only memory to most."
He paused and watched Rin's face. There seemed to be a stir at the mention of this part, but it was obvious that she had no clue about the tales of the elves. Still... the likeness of features, the difference between she and her brother Loch, and her untaught natural abilities in healing and herbal knowledge pointed at the possibility that she was, at least in part, royal and of Dunedain lineage, though not of the same line as that of his chief. Cardolan, he wondered? The mysteries of the words of the sons of Elrond back some years came to mind. He would keep it in mind, and would watch carefully. Sipping more tea and noticing that Rin was attending closely, he decided he should continue.
"The other part, Arthedain remained long and strove against Angmar and the Hillmen for centuries in a long and slow defeat. The end came quickly though when Fornost was overrun and sacked, and though Gondor came with a great army in ships to the north, it was too late for the last king. Though the witch king was defeated, his work was done, destroying for the most part the northern kingdom. Only the sons of Arvedui, the last king carry on in the shadows, waging war against the evil that wrought destruction on the west. It is amongst them the line of Elendil survived, and I, Hanasian of mixed blood, had the privilege to ride far on dark roads to battle beside him when he was our Chieftain."
He paused and fell into thought. It was interrupted by Rin asking, "You mention an unborn sister. What happened to her? And what of mixed blood?"
Hanasian looked at her and said, "My sister is alive and well, living in the west of Rohan where my mother's people had dwelt for many years. So much like our mother Halcwyn is, with a touch of our father Halasian. It is said I am so much like my father, with enough of my mother to keep me sane and steady. We had an older brother too, Hayna. I didn't know him until we met at last during the war in Lebennin. Too short was our time together, for he was slain in Pelargir by an arrow from a Corsair ship when we attacked with the dead."
She seemed saddened by it, but knew much more of the man who had kissed her. Rin was more than content to listen to Hanasian. She soaked him up, still tingling with surprise and then thrumming of her heart that had awoken with the dawn. Hanasian was generous with her, she knew. He told her so much of himself, unfolding his life piece by piece. It was a handsome gift and she had such little to offer in her own turn. She learnt of his family and genuinely felt his sorrow for the loss of his loved ones.
She could not begin to imagine not knowing Loch, or of losing him. She learned of the northern realm, a sweeping history that staggered the mind. So much war, so much sorrow, that her own trials seemed so very small against. Entire realms lost and only one remained, one that Hanasian was so deeply part of. And yes, he spent time with Elves. Elves! She'd never seen one, but the tales she had heard! It occurred to her that she must seem so terribly rustic, unschooled and wild in comparison to all he had seen, met and done. She couldn't even handle tea properly.
"I think you will make a fine Annalist," she told Hanasian when he stopped speaking of his family and his history. She wanted to ask him more, but the company had started to emerge. No time to ask of his own doings in a war so cataclysmic that it had ended an Age. She needed to get to a library, she concluded. Yes, a library where she could better inform herself on such matters and one day hold an intelligent conversation on these topics with the man who sat with her.
Voices came in with some banter, it was Wulgof, Molguv, and Khule. They started making remarks about some wager, and Hanasian raised his voice at them, Rin didn't hear clearly what they were talking about. However, upon sighting Hanasian and Rin sitting in the common room, Wulgof seemed particularly interested. Molguv and Khule looked positively devious. She'd wasn't sure she wanted to know why that was. Loch was the last to materialise and he looked distinctly green around the gills when he did. However that did not stop him from making the most of a hot, cooked breakfast.
"Knock it off. Is everyone coming down? I have some serious news to tell, and it will not wait."
They quieted quickly for they knew when Hanasian was serious into company business.
"Listen up! As it turns out, we don't have that much time to rest and relax here. We will get ready to ride a long road, and so I need everyone to secure provision for such. We will have a fresh horse for packing, and once we're set, we'll then relax and wait for our comrades. I'm suspecting they will be here within a day, and they will have to rest and provision, so any extras you happen to get a deal on, get for their sake.
"Loch, you and Rin will accompany me and we'll get you fitted proper. Now, Anis has been working hard to get some hearty breakfast to serve, and I believe it's ready, so have a seat in the private dining room, and you will be served as much as you like."
Anis had been busy, as had the innkeeper. The company staying there represented a fair sum of money for them, and they worked to please and hoped too much wouldn't get broken up. As they entered the room, the table was set out with a feast of braised pig, bacon, sausages, Anis's own Cat-tail flour pancakes, honey, bread, fruit, jam, .... there was plenty to eat. They all set in. Rin hoped Loch could keep it down once the afternoon's work began. The innkeeper stuck his head in and waved to Hanasian in desperation. Hanasian took some sausages and went toward the door.
"You not joining us Cap?" Wulgof said with his mouth full.
"In a moment, I have to see what Butterbar wants."
He left the room and Mr Butterbar said, "A bedraggled rider from foreign lands just arrived at the city west-gate. Says he's from Gondor with urgent messages for you. He then fell off his horse. So the gatekeeper carried him in and lay him in the guardhouse, and sent word here. Not sure what is wrong with him, but the hobbit Goatleaf, who is on morning watch, thinks he's just exhausted."
Hanasian wasted no time, munching a sausage, he headed out the door. It was at that point that Loch turned to his sister with a question. "You were up early this morning, Rin. Couldn't sleep?"
Wulgof, Khule and Molguv all seemed to lean in a bit closer. Rin shot them a queer look before she answered.
"No, what with your snoring and all. I gave up and went for a walk instead," she replied.
"I bet," Wulgof said.
"What's that supposed to mean," she demanded. Molguv's grin widened at that and he switched allegiances.
"Yeah, tell her what it means," the Haradian said.
"I don't think that is a good idea," Berlas said and earned himself a long, steadily heating blue glare that threatened to penetrate several of the upper layers of his skin by way of thanks.
"Just leave it, Wulgof," Khule said.
"You better not be picking on my sister," Loch rumbled around a piece of pork large enough to shelter a hobbit family. "That's my privilege."
"Leave it Loch," [/I]Rin said, letting the matter drop. Talk around the table turned down a different road and Rin was content to let it go. Her mind was busy with other things.
Hanasian was at the gate quickly. The man was well worn from the road, and his horse was the same. They had put on some hard miles quickly with little rest. He was awake and sitting up, drinking water like it was mead.
He asked, [I]"You are Hanasian?"
"Yes, I am. I'm told you have word from the King?" He flashed his brooch to show the man he was who he says he was, and he dug in a satchel for some parchments with the King's seal.
"I had hoped to catch you sooner, but the road was hard, and I was held up in Tharbad for a day or so. I am to give you word that your men are healing and will be going to Minas Tirith on the next wagon. They are likely en-route by now."
Hanasian looked somewhat surprised, "Minas Tirith? Why? I thought they would come north once able."
"It will make more sense after you read this..." He handed Hanasian one of the parchments. Opening it, he read it and not a sign was given away by his face. Finishing, he rolled it up and put it inside his vest.
"So my gut feeling was not too far off," he said more to himself. " So what else do you have for me?" He handed over the other parchments. Hanasian would wait to read them.
He told the gatekeeper and the watch halfling, "This man is a messenger of the King. See to it that he and his horse get the utmost care. You sir..." He looked at the messenger... "Darian of Belfalas," he broke in. "... Darian of Befalas, try and rest here a bit and when you are able, join our company at the Prancing Pony. I think some of this news will be better received coming from you."
"Hanasian?" Darian called out, Hanasian turned outside the guardhouse and looked back in. "Another of my brethren, my little brother actually, is also a King's messenger. He set out earlier with messages to catch Frea and Folca's party. Has there been any word from them?"
Hanasian only shook his head, saying, "We will talk more of that when you join us."
Hanasian walked back to the Prancing Pony, letting the early morning sun warm him. It was going to be a warm sunny day weather-wise, if it isn't with the news he had. He stowed the other parchments in his vest with the first one and vane strolling back in to the Inn and to their dining room.
Seeing Loch sneakily stashing a slab of pork in a cloth, Hanasian said, "Whoa boy! This is for eating, not provisioning. Eat what you have taken, and there will be more for us, properly cured, to take."
Loch flushed at being spotted. Sometime old habits are hard to break when one has been going so long with little. Hanasian picked at some bacon and lay some on some buttered bread. Slices of tomato and lettuce and cheese accompanied it, and he stood and ate it. Breakfast this morning was good. It was toward the end when Darian arrived, and he too set into cleaning up what was left.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
After all were filled to their satisfaction, Hanasian called them all to the parlour where they could talk privately. Loch didn't entirely abandon the pork he was planning on setting aside for later. Rather, he followed the Company to the parlour still gnawing on it. Rin shook her head and sat. She'd still not untangled her hair and it was only then that the earlier innuendo dawned upon her. Rin started to furiously pull her fingers through the pale lengths of her hair. She was relieved to find she hadn't brought back any leaves with her.
"You'll have to be more careful," Berlas said quietly and her cheeks heated.
"But I really did go for a walk," she replied, fingers moving fast as she untangled her hair. Hanasian called for quiet and she complied. Berlas shot her a sympathetic smile and turned his attention to the forthcoming announcement. They all gathered in there, and after getting everyone quiet, he introduced Darian the King's Messenger, handing the first parchment back to him to read.
The morning was well lighted when Videgavia and Frea awoke at the Forsaken. They had managed to find some food there and were eating when the sound of horse footfall could be heard. The two went out into the early sun to see a party of five ride up.
"Hail and well met brethren!" Videgavia called out, and they stopped, dismounted and led their horses to the water trough. Stretching to work the muscles some, they looked tired.
But Folca said, "We rested little in the wild, and one of our horses has come up lame. Yet we should make our way to Bree with the utmost speed. We will rest here until that shadow of the inn has retreated across the road."
"I agree brother, for Hanasian and the rest of the company await us there, and we have news that must get through. Our messenger Darlios tells us his brother set out in pursuit of Hanasian's party, but we have no way of knowing if they have met. Come inside, there is warm tea and some bread to be had."
They quickly ate and drank, and after giving the horses some grazing time in the tall spring grass by the road, they set out for Bree. Hoping to make it by nightfall, it would be another day of hard riding.
Hanasian took a moment to read a small scroll while the messenger got ready to read.
quote:To my old friend Hanasian,
It is with greatest sorrow that I again call your service and the service of your company in an hour of need. I only got word of developments in the far south shortly after you left, and hoped Darian would catch you before too long. Nonetheless, I trust you will join us as soon as time permits
Your friend, Aragorn
Even after becoming High King he still talks as though a common Ranger. Hanasian shook his head as Darian began to read.
"To The Black Company of the East, you should no doubt be renamed as the Company of Arnor by now, and it is my hope to meet each of you when we come together. Your service has been exemplary and I have no doubt you will be here as quick as you can.
"The situation is such that Harad has been attacked in force by renegade tribes of the far south. I know you had been there in recent years and had subdued their raids, but it seems they only reserved themselves for a massive attack. Old tribal hatreds combined with evil leadership from some who served in the army of Mordor has brought us to a crisis. The Haradian frontier guards have been overrun, and what men we have there are fighting a valiant rear guard delaying action. We don't know how long they will be able to hold back the onslaught.
"So with your service, you will join all who I muster to ride south to put an end to the troubles once and for all. Even now as I write, armies of Gondor are setting sail to Umbar to reinforce our line. Prince Elfwine is riding forth with his mounted forces, and our mounted army is readying to ride. I think it will be sufficient to hold, and maybe gain back the initiative. We just have to get there first. Your mission is such…"
Darian paused to clear his throat. Hanasian looked out the door to make sure nobody was nearby, and he continued…
"Your mission is such. You are to proceed west with speed to the old Elven Havens. I have provided a writ of passage that will allow you to cross the Shire, for any other way would cost much valuable time. A ship will be waiting there to take you, your horses, and any provisions you will need, and will be well provisioned for the journey. You will make your way south directly toward Umbar, or if the seas and winds are favourable, to Pelargir to meet us. I am hoping this will be the case, for details of your specific mission will be given to you then. Should you not have favourable conditions, then open the parchment with the blue seal when you are three days out from Umbar. May the Valar be with you."
Hanasian looked at the blue seal on one of the parchments and wondered what it was. He guessed the gold seal was the writ of passage and will be given to the Thain of the Shire. Menfolk had been forbidden to enter the Shire since the war, when some of the renegade men of the wizard Saruman had made a good deal of trouble. They would be allowed to enter, and they will have to make haste through to the Tower Hills while there.
He said, "I thank thee Darian for your service. You are welcome to stay with us until we return to Gondor. As for the rest of you, its best we be ready when our friends arrive, for we will have to make haste west."
Everyone knew what to do. Loch and Rin waited as the others scattered. Hanasian interrupted Molguv as he was leaving.
"My friend, you will have to recall all knowledge of the south again. And it looks like you wont freeze up here in the north this coming winter."
Molguv grunted and left, clearly perturbed by new violence in his home. Hanasian waved Loch and Rin out and they too left the Inn.
"We'll get you two fitted for a decent Black Company uniform, which is black leathers. An extra pair of boots and some cloaks. In your cases, two pair of boots since you two have none. We will go have the clothes fitted first, then I want you Rin to acquire whatever you need for matters of healing, sickness, and battle wounds. Also, later, Molguv will fill you in on some of the illnesses that had beset us when we were in the far south the last time. There are things we can take that will help alleviate symptoms, but we couldn't get when we were already down there. As for weapons, I think I can resolve that easily enough."
Coming to the tannery, Mrs Bea took Rin aside and started measuring. Hanasian gave her instruction to make one set heavy, and one set light. Loch did the same with Mr Bea. Hanasian collected the boots he had made the last time he was there, but left before they were finished. Gladly, they still fit perfectly.Khule and Wulgof were buying up all the dried meats and fruits they could find. It wasn't the right time of year for the fruits, but they knew they had to have it to compliment the meats when on the road. They would of course pack fresh but they would not last. Wulgof was hoping they would be able to buy some beer from the Shirefolk, remembering how good it was when Saruman was procuring it. By the time the shadows stretched out from the westering sun, a fair stock was gathered, and they started to filter back to the Inn.
Loch was an owner of a fair blade, said to have been freed from one of the Barrows to the west. An ornate Arnorian vintage, it was well made and would serve well. Rin had procured a collection of things, and a leather bag to carry most of it in from the tanner just by merely smiling prettily. Hanasian thought the day went well, and hoped that their comrades would arrive from the east soon.
The company detachment set out from the Forsaken before noon, and with the speed their tired horses could safely make, knew they would arrive near the midnight hour. Hopefully Hanasian will have sent word to the South Gate to expect their arrival.
"Hey, Rin, what're you doing?"
Rin glanced up at her brother's question. She set down her pencil and closed the book. She had set up a page for each member, re-organised supplies and re-wrapped bandages so that it all fit properly into the bag she had obtained. She'd also jotted down several notes from her discussion with Molguv. Different conditions, most of then related to insects, moisture and heat, his suggestions for remedies and descriptions of several plants known to be effective filled pages already.
"Preparations, Loch. How about you?" she asked. He sat beside her and grinned at her.
"I was just thinking how we've never seen the sea before Rin, and soon we'll be sailing on it. And Elves too…. There's Elves at the Havens. And the king wants to meet us! Imagine that!"
Rin couldn't help but share some of his excitement, but she was inwardly checking to see that she had what she needed should anyone experience sea sickness. Dehydration could kill a man, a strong man in the prime of his health.
"Mmmmm, imagine, Loch. Do you think we'll be ready when we get there? It sounds big, this thing. Bigger than Tharbad and this time against men, not orcs." Her question was a serious one, and it certainly sobered Loch.
"I'm not sure how someone gets ready for something like that, Rin. I think that there'll be more training and all we can do is our best," he replied, voice thoughtful and then he glanced at her.
"How come you really couldn't sleep," he asked her. Rin glanced around the parlour. Everyone was off somewhere else.
"I had a Dream, Loch," she said. Loch's eyes widened. He lowered his head towards hers and she told quietly him what she had seen.
"Hmmmm, you think it's about this, don't you," he asked a moment later. Rin nodded and sighed.
"I think it was Loch. I can find no other way to make sense of it," she replied heavily. Loch clasped his hands atop the table and thought about it for a while longer.
"Well, there's no knowing for certain. But it could just be something simpler. Rin, Company Healer. You're standing face to face with death. If you fail, people will blame you. You have to know that you will fail to win sometimes. Maybe the dream was about understanding that." Rin breathed a measure of some relief. That was far better tidings than certain doom and disaster. Loch was good at these things. She hadn't even considered that.
"You're probably right. Thanks, Loch," she said, grateful. Loch got to his feet.
"You think too much, Rin. You always do. I'm going to get some training in before dark."
"Don't forget to move your feet," she called after him.
"Yeah, I know! Dancing!" Loch didn't let the gentle jibe slow him down. He headed out of the parlour, nodding at Hanasian as they passed in the hall. Hanasian watched the man head out and then looked down at what he was carrying. He'd not yet unwrapped it. He had the argument in his head again.
The sword was not cursed. The one it had been made for was another matter, but the sword was one the finest works of one of the finest Elven Smiths known in mortal lands: Celebrimbor. Hanasian resumed his path and located Rin in the parlour. She was staring off into nowhere, clearly thinking about something with that ever busy mind of hers. Hanasian cleared his throat and her smile warmed her eyes in response.
Rin got to her feet as Hanasian lifted out the wrapped bundle he was carrying. She stepped forward, curious, and took it from his hands at his bidding. She unwrapped it to reveal a sword. It was, in a word, extraordinary. It was very different to the blades that the other's carried. It was finer, smaller, and slightly and ever so delicately curved. Even the pommel seemed perfectly fitted to the smaller hands of a woman. It still did sit any easier with Hanasian to see Rin lift that sword.
"We'll not have enough time to have a sword properly weighted for you made, Rosmarin, and they are not in ready supply," he said.
"I never thought I would say this about a sword, but it is beautiful," she said. Rin looked from the sword back to Hanasian. He seemed quite torn.
"Who did it belong to," she asked.
"An Elven woman," Hanasian replied, unwilling to invoke that particular name.
"What happened to her," Rin persisted, curiosity roused.
"She died," he said tersely. That brought her questions to an end.
"It's a fate I would like you to avoid for as long as possible. We will need to commence your training as soon as we can, Rin."
Rin blinked, looking down at the sword in her hands and back to Hanasian.
"Now?" she asked, reluctant. Hanasian nodded and together they walked out of the inn and around to the side of the building. Loch was there already, working with Khule. At a safe distance, Molguv and Wulgof were watching and calling out correction. All of that activity ceased as they noted the arrival of Hanasian and Rin. Hanasian paid them no heed and instead issued Rin with a stream of rapid instructions about stance and how best to grip the pommel. When Hanasian turned to face Rin, she was in the position he'd told her to adopt and she was holding the sword correctly. However, she'd not been able to unsheathe the sword. She stared at it, and then at him. Hanasian raised a single brow at her.
"Hey, healer! The pointy end only works if you take the cover off!" Molguv's chortle was the chorus to Wulgof's comment. Rin sighed heavily and unsheathed the sword. Hanasian drew his own, a fine blade of Westernesse with a blue stone embedded in it's pommel.
"I'll look past that, Rin. How much of Loch's training have you been watching?"
"Some of it," she said. Loch and Khule had ceased training and had joined the other two audience members.
"We'll start slow then, defensive blocks. I want two low, three high, then four low. Understand?" Rin nodded uncertainly.
"This should be good," Khule said, settling back against the side of the inn. As he had said, they did start slow. However, as per the previous night, tempo picked up. Rin did not have Loch's height, strength or reach. Nor did she have his desire to become a warrior. However, she once again proved that she was agile. More than that, remarkably fleet footed. She was also a rapid learner.
"You know something," Molguv said. Wulgof shook his head, not quite believing what he was about to say.
"Yeah, I know, I know. She's not that bad, and the cap ain't exactly taking it easy on her," said Wulgof.
Hanasian called out another combination. Rin clenched her jaw against the ache of her ribs and set to it with bloody minded determination. She was not going to ask for quarter. She'd get none on the field and she had an audience here just waiting for her to pull some sort of stunt. She knew it by force of sheer instinct. The weight of the sword she carried dragged at her ribs and she had to watch her skirts too, but she was not going to give up.
"You know what else? I think we should cancel that wager, " Khule said.
"But it's a sure thing," Wulgof protested.
"What is," Loch asked, looking at each in turn for an answer.
"If you can't tell him, then it's not right," Molguv observed. Wulgof grunted at that observation. It really was a sure thing. He'd seen them under the moon… and Hanasian's hand had rested so familiarly on her back when they'd come back in. Not to mention the past week. It had been written all over the both of them. Hanasian's reaction to her when she had been injured spoke volumes. Still, the Haradian had a point. It wasn't right if they had to keep it from a member of their company and it was likely at the expense of another. Nor would the captain be happy about it. They were headed to war. They didn't need division.
"I'll let it go, hand back the money tonight," Wulgof said.
Wulgof had a point, Hanasian realised. She would need time to work on most of this. Still, she would likely find a need in times coming, so he didn't relent even when she seemed frustrated or concerned with other things. She was a healer after all, not a killer. But in the heat of battle, those you are fighting usually don't take the time to see if you are a serious threat. Hanasian hoped she would do well and hold her own when the steel was pushed to the grindstone.The old hands... well, what he considered old hands these days.
Men who had been in more than a few scrapes with him in the past several years... were talking over soldier secrets and Loch was doing his best to try and figure out what was on with them, to no avail. Spirits were high, even though they all knew that they were to be soon off on a company adventure.The evening came and they had gathered at their table in the Prancing Pony, and the food was prime and little was left. Loch and Rin seemed to have that hungry gut that still wondered if the meal in front of them would be their last for some time, and so made the most of it. Hanasian was glad to see that since talking about the upcoming mission, the consumption of ale had lessened and the eating increased. Even the old hands knew that food of this quality would be hard to come by for the most part. Not on the road, or a ship, and who knows what will be found in Gondor's southern reaches. Yes, it was a good thing to see everyone working well together and getting their fill. This time will too soon be a fond memory that happened once in their lives in a far away place from where they are remembering it. Hanasian didn't join them this night.
Instead, he found a quiet place in his room and wrote in his journal. He also penned a letter that he would leave with the innkeeper to be sent to his sister in Rohan.
quote:Beloved sister Halcwyn,
I write to you in the comfort of the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree. It has been too many years since I have been able to visit you. Events conspired in recent days that had me ride direct to Tharbad, then to the north. Though my hope was that I would be able to see you on my return, it will not be. So until I am able, I hope this finds you well.
I am as good as can be. I stay busy doing the King's deeds of which I will not speak of until I see you. Know that though we have spent little time of our lives together, the innocent days of our youth playing in Rivendell remain the fondest of memories for me. That magical feeling we had among the elves then seemed so fleeting. Yet I have to tell you that I have felt it again. Yes, I have met a girl. I'm not sure what our relationship is outside if the fact I am her commanding officer, but we have shared some moments that to me seemed magical, even if they too were fleeting. Her name is Rosmarin, and I have to say I haven't met anyone quite like her. I walk the thread from tree to tree with this, and do not want to ruin lives or cause any grief, but I cannot deny my gut. I hope to tell more the next time I write. May the Vala be watching over you, and you have a blessed life.
Love, your brother Hanasian
He set down his quill, let the inks dry, and carefully rolled the parchment before going out to join the others.
"Hey Cap! Good to see you come down to join us grunts!" Khule called out, followed by agreeing murmurs and laughs.
"I had to come see if you were staying in line. Didn't have to worry about any serious arguments between you and Videgavia this night. Darian, good to see you settling in with our company banter. " He smiled and Rin smiled back. She got up and went to the bar, and Hanasian said, "We hope the rest of the company arrives soon. Don't get too hammered, for we'll be having a company moot as soon as they get here. They will be tired."
He turned and started for the door, saying, "I'm going to head out and see if there has been any activity at the gates."
Most knew that Rin would join him, and surely, not long after he went out the door, she did also. A few coins exchanged hands, but it seemed the odds weren't running as high as earlier.
Outside, the cool breeze of the night felt good after the warm day. Rin came out the door to find Hanasian leaning against the post watching a dog walk down the other side of the street.
He turned to her as the door closed, "Hello Rin. Would you like to accompany me on a walk to the South Gate? That will be where our company will be coming in, and I would rather meet them there."
"You well know I would love to accompany you," she said as she took his hand and they set out. The walk was not quite a mile, and it seemed to be the shabbier side of town, but it was well worth the walk, for as they arrived at the guardhouse, the gatekeeper was just letting in the company.
"Hail and well met!" Hanasian said to Videgavia, Frea, and Folca. The latter two, along with the other men, looked worse for wear from too many hard miles on the road.
"Ride through to the Prancing Pony and rest. We'll walk back, and by the time we arrive you should be well into your first ale."
Greetings were quiet, and everyone who set out was there. But Hanasian noticed that Mecarnil watched Rin from the side of his eye. He only saw her by the flickering light of the gate torches. He was tired, hungry, thirsty and aching. It had been a long road. Still the sight of the woman's face had Mecarnil convinced that a ghost from twenty seven years ago had returned to haunt him. It was Verawyn, and though she had died to a Dunlending arrow in the southern reaches of that land, she stood as vibrant as ever beside Mecarnil's captain. The sight of her raised the hair on the back of his neck and forearms. His hand went of its own bidding to a well worn pouch he had carried since the unmitigated disaster brought on by Verawyn's proud and ambitious husband, Bereth. Through the leather, Mecarnil could feel the outline of vellum and a mithril ring. The ring was beautiful, shaped into Cardolan's rose with a sapphire at its heart. The feel of it steadied Menarnil and he gathered enough of his wits to flash Hanasian an urgent request.
A few finger movements told Hanasian that he was curious about the woman at his side. That would have to wait for a moment when the two could talk. Right now, Hanasian hoped to have a relaxing walk with Rin back to the inn.
Frea kicked his mount forward at Hanasian's instruction and Menarnil had to content himself to wait. What would a few more hours or days be when compared to twenty seven years, he mused. He turned once to study the woman again. The very image of Verawyn. Another name, this one belonging to an infant he had last seen as her mother carried her into a barn on a desperate night. Not a ghost, but rather Verawyn's daughter Erían, now the uncrowned queen Cardolan and owner of the items he had carried all these years.
"Yet more men," Rin mused as she watched them ride towards the Pony.
"That's all of them," Hanasian replied. This time, it was his hand that sought her own. He laced his fingers through hers and they fell into step on the walk back to the inn. Neither was in any hurry. Hanasian used the opportunity to query Rin on her own past. He trod lightly around the events that had forced her from her home and rather asked of what she recalled of her parents.
"Sensations rather than memories for the most part," she replied. A chill in the night made her shiver slightly. Hanasian's arm rose to wrap around her shoulders and pull her closer for warmth. It certainly made her warm. Her arm settled around his waist.
"Tell me of them, if you will," he prompted her. Rin looked up at him. The moon lit his face and played havoc with her heart once again. She had expected to see polite forbearance. Instead, she saw genuine interest. That surprised her.
"I remember the sound of my mother's laughter… and songs. She liked to sing. My father told stories. It would make the nights warmer in winter. I remember how my father would smell after he came in from the harvest: earth and hay and of the sun. He was always chasing me out of the barn. I loved that place. So much to explore."
Rin fell silent again, caught in the recollections. Hanasian felt her rest her head against his shoulder a moment, thinking before she pressed on. The scent of her hair drifted past him.
"Sometimes I worry that I will lose even that. I have already forgotten their faces. I know they are simple things, these memories. Nothing glorious, no battles or Elves. But they are all I have, aside from Loch."
Hanasian could hear the wistful note in her voice. He stopped walking and turned to press a soft kiss to her forehead. "You cannot lose what is part of you," he assured her, before he kissed her lips.
She studied him by light of moon and then nodded. They resumed their slow walk towards the Prancing Pony, slowing inexorably as they neared their destination. Hanasian asked Rin next of her discovery of her healing skills. She unfolded the frightening experience she had as a nine year old girl with Loch during a particularly harsh winter in northern Rohan.
"I was convinced he was going to die. I have never seen him so ill. He was on his last legs. I don't how I knew, but I knew that he'd not survive the day if I did not do something. It…was as though a door I did not know was there opened. I was clumsy, but somehow we made it through.
"Once I taught myself how to read and write, I was able to learn the various techniques along the way. Loch gave me plenty of practical opportunities, as did those unable to afford to pay a healer. There are many such people, and Loch's adventurous reckless spirit provided well for a healer learning her trade."
The buzz of the inn was clearly discernible now.
"We're here," Hanasian observed. Rin thought it gone entirely too rapidly. She glanced up at him and found herself quickly whisked to the privacy afforded by the wall of the stables. The warmth that unfurled earlier in the day under dawn's embrace reignited.
While Hanasian and Rin made the most of available time, Mecarnil and his companions were soon at the Prancing Pony. They'd thrown down in whatever spare room was left, avoiding the dining room because as a general rule it was not a good idea to sleep where you ate. Loch was more than happy to bunk with his fellow soldiers. He was not so sure about his sister though. Khule elected to deposit her belongings and bedding in the only room left in the original wing of the inn: Hanasian's. That took all of five minutes and soon the reunited company settled in to catch up on the gossip.
"Who's the greenie," Frea asked, indicating Loch with a toss of his head.
[iI"One of the new recruits. Scout, hunter,"[/I] Khule replied, "And shaping up to be a passable swordsman."
Loch snorted at the damning faint praise of Khule's assessment. "I'm better than my sister," he objected.
"Is that the woman we saw at the gate with the Cap?" Folca asked. Wulgof nodded confirmation.
"Aye, and the only reason you're better is that you've had a week's more practice," the Dunlending baited Loch with a provocative grin.
"A woman soldier…" Mecarnil observed, "Not unheard of..."
"Healer… natural born, and don't let her catch you calling her a soldier," Videgavia clarified. Frea and Folca nodded their understanding. So this was the woman Videgavia had mentioned back at the Forsaken.
"How'd we pick up these two," Mecarnil asked. Wulgof was only too happy to outline the tale of the robbery at Tharbad and all that had unfolded since. He brought the tale to a speedy close as Hanasian and Rin walked into the common room. Both seemed… lively and once again, Hanasian had that familiar hand against her back, steering the woman through the tables and ensuring no reaching hands helped themselves on their way through.
"… and under no circumstances give her your knife," Wulgof finished.
Rin opened her mouth to inquire further but Hanasian forestalled the inevitable argument by intervening first.
"Lodgings," he began.
"Arranged, cap… though we weren't sure what to do about Rin here," Khule advised, nodding his head politely in her direction. After his comment of a few days ago, he had been the very soul of decorum with respect to the company healer particularly whilst in the hearing of her brother.
"I can sleep anywhere really," Rin replied and Folca choked on his ale.
" I bet," Wulgof quipped. Rin's eyes dangerously narrowed, which produced and anticipatory chuckle from Molguv.
"This should be good," the Haradian announced, rubbing his hands together. Loch leant back to ensure he stayed out of the way of his sister's response.
"I see now why you wouldn't want to give her a knife," Frea observed.
"Appropriate arrangements will be made," Hanasian said, intervening for a second time. He steered the company to the private dining room and quickly had the recently returned members of the group brought up to speed on their new mission and deployment. Mecarnil found his attention dragged to this new duty but soon returned his thoughts to the one that had been his nearly thirty years prior. Mecarnil watched carefully indeed for the remainder of the night. Verawyn's daughter, with her father's strong will moderated by her mother's temperance. Bereth had been a strong man, but not a likeable one. His daughter was every inch as stubborn as Bereth. However she lacked his proud and imperious inclination and she was certainly not as cold as her father had been. As it turned out, the suitable arrangements made it exceptionally difficult for Mecarnil to obtain private time with Hanasian. The lack of space resulted in Rin bunking in the captain's room, with the door open - mostly.
The preparations associated with their deployment along with the training required of both recruits kept people busy. The final provisions, repairs, maintenance, weaponry and outfitting all occurred from dawn to dusk. Most free time, what little there was of it, saw Hanasian and Rin in each other's company and the bond between the two flourished as those around them had expected.
On the occasions Mecarnil managed to get Hanasian on his own, Mecarnil was only able to discover snippets of information regarding the backgrounds of their two newest recruits. He tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain details from Loch. The man proved highly intractable when it came to talking of his home. Rin, his supposed sister, seemed cautious of him. She was polite, but reserved in her answers. Mecarnil was an observant, perceptive man and it was open knowledge that the relationship between his captain and their healer was deeper than a professional one. Nothing improper occurred and neither were negligent in their duties. It was simply there in how they were with each other. Mecarnil was reasonably certain that somehow, beyond all odds, his captain had at last located the uncrowned queen of Cardolan and recruited her. How he was going to tell his captain that he was courting a queen was a matter Mecarnil had yet to resolve.
Blades sharpened, supplies stored, attire repaired and new aquired, meat smoked and wrapped, fruit dried and wrapped, fresh fruit stored away. They were putting a burden on the local supply and prices showed that. Still the men and halflings that ran businesses there appreciated the commerce. Khule and Molgov seemed to have some venture they were planning on, trying to profit on the locals, but usually it turned out it backfired. They thought the Bree Hill dark was a fine drop, but they would be sorry to discover the keg they stowed away would bring less in Hobbiton than what they were charged for it. Hanasian removed it and gave it to some hobbit hands that helped them, and used the space to stow more dried meat. They would thank him soon enough. It wasn't until the night before they were to leave Bree that they again sat and celebrated some, having prepared as best as they could for their months ahead. The brother messengers got a bit more comfortable with the company, and the other company members bought them both several hop-strong ales to try and squeeze any further news from them.
All they gleaned was bits about the goings on in Minas Tirith, some King's palace gossip that was likely mostly half-truths, and the complete description of a certain woman bar maid at the White Tree Inn just inside the gates of Minas Tirith. It seemed the two brothers both fancied her at different times, and and hinted that they may have shared her on more than one occasion. This of course got the attention of Wulgof, Mulgov, and Khule. Frea and Folca chuckled but remained silent, eyeing each other with a knowing glance of something similar taking place at the Meduseld Mead Hall. They knew to keep their mouths shut with this crowd though. The King's messengers did not. Loch grinned and chuckled to fit in, but was puzzling out what it all meant.
The evening grew late, and Hanasian finally banged a tankard on the table to get everyone quiet.
"Right men... and lady. If you got em, smoke em. Its come to my attention that some of you from the south and east have discovered the joys of the local ale and pipeweed. You have taken up much space with kegs of the stuff. I suggest you smoke some of the good stuff, and get rid of the average stuff. We'll be getting a good supply from the Halflings to carry us through into our journey to the south. Word has gotten out there in the Shire that we were coming so some are looking to supply us. Their pipeweed, and beer, is leagues better than what you get here in Bree, so I myself will be stocking up there.
"Now, we have some business to tend to that has gone unaddressed since our arrival in Bree. With our losses in Tharbad, it has come to my attention that we have no stendardbearer. Both our standardbearer and his second fell. Videgavia took it from Tharbad, and agreed to take it on, but I need a volunteer to be his second...."
"I'll do it," Loch called out. Obviously nobody had told him about volunteering.
Hanasian hesitated and looked at him. He finally said, "Good Loch. Now the rest of you know we have a couple new folk with us, and it seems Loch is eager to move up in the ranks. However, I will have to consider this request at this time. Is there anybody who has any objection to me assigning Loch this task?"
Nobody said a word, and Loch looked around, proud to have put his hand up, and wondering what it is he stepped into.
It was Wulgof that spoke up, "I object. He's our new recruit. Weeks. Now I like the kid, but if he gets assigned, then who will be taking care of our animals and all. I think Berlas would be more in line for it."
"Or maybe you Wulgof. Thanks for volunteering. The kid will be your understudy, and should you or Videgavia bite it, he'll have the position." Hanasian looked around and saw no further objections. Wulgof realized he stepped into it by opening his mouth, and accepted his lot as second bearer. Loch was still unsure of what just happened.
"Now, drink up and hit the hay. Tomorrow we're on the road early. I want to make the Barrows the first day, Well be camping on the grass south of the road. Mecarnil knows the lands quite well there." A nod was all that could be seen from Mercarnil. They all quietly took to finishing up the fine dinner and drink before heading to their respective quarters. It was shortly after dawn on the fourth day in Bree that Rin pulled open the door of the room she had shared with Hanasian.
"Is this right," she asked the Ranger outside. Hanasian studied her a moment and considered his options. She wore the company uniform, black leathers, emblem, cloak and boots, but she certainly didn't look like any of the men.
"I think so, " he replied after a long pause. "Ready?"
Rin turned to collect her kit. She slung it over her right shoulder, sword already hung at her left hip and nodded.
"Giddy up," she dryly replied to the man that now had a thorough grasp on her heart, whether he knew it or not. Evidently he did, for he stepped forward and kissed her soundly. It broke the tension and brought a genuine smile that lit her eyes. Anis had prepared a breakfast that they could eat in the saddle and that is what they would do. In the early morning, the Company of Arnor rode out of Bree for the Grey Havens to deploy to Harad. Mecarnil positioned himself carefully. He'd lost Erían once before. He was not about to do so again.
The morning brought a cloudy day, cooler than it had been the last few days. Didn't look or feel like rain, but the air was damp and chill. Hanasian gave Rin a kiss before they emerged for their last solid breakfast. It was good to see her smile. Everyone gathered and they ate quickly without much talk. They were going forth to their next deployment. It won't be as relaxed as the ride from Minas Tirith to Bree was. They should have been this prepared then, if they were, they may not have lost anybody on the way. Going into the south once again. It will be a week or more before they arrive in Mithlond, and then the ship ride will add its own challenges and adventures. Hanasian was ready. But how would he be with Rin there? This time it would be different, whether he wanted it to be or not.
After setting out, only a brief drizzle made their ride chill. It soon passed and the day slowly grew lighter until the sun managed to break through around the noon hour. They set a fair pace, but weren't breaking sweat. The road was in good repair and some few traveling hobbits headed for Bree to sell their wares. Friendly folk the hobbits. Hanasian had never set foot in their lands before, though they little realized he had rode all around it in the days before the war. It was always an unspoken insistence that the Dunedain kept a watch on the Shire, allowing the little folk to remain in peace and enjoy their lives. It will be interesting to pass through the Shire.
Rin caught up with Loch and looked like they were deep into discussion, so Mecarnil dropped back to where Hanasian rode and they dropped back from the group a few paces. They finally had a chance to talk some without others around.
"Cap, you realize this woman is not Dunlanding or Rohirrim, but is indeed wholly Dunedain, right?"
"I suspected..." Hanasian replied, thinking of those eyes that could blue one moment and grey the next like stormy winter skies. "I from day one knew there was something about her that didn't quite fit into what she and Loch had told me, but surely it was true what they said about themselves. But I suspect more, and may be in denial of a nagging thought, but I know there is more."
"Oh, there's more ... more than I thought possible. I have to say that it appears you two have become very close," Mecarnil said, unsure how exactly to tell Hanasian about Rin.
"Yes... have to say I have been deeply touched by Rin. Never really felt that way about anyone, so its new territory for me here." Hanasian replied,
Mecarnil muttered, "You can say that again..." Mecarnil couldn't yet tell Hanasian of the royal lineage he was involved with. It was, is and will be a delicate situation.
"What are you not saying Mecarnil?" Hanasian asked, quizzing him, "If you have something to say to me about Rin, I expect you to say it. You said in sign you had questions about the girl as soon as you rode into Bree. Yet you have not come and told me anything about what it is you are thinking..."
"...I'm thinking she's the heir apparent of Cardolan" Mecarnil blurted. "There, I said it. Do with it what you will. Eventually I will have to talk to her about this..."
He pulled out a leather pouch but kept it well hid from any of the company who would happen to look back. Though he didn't open it, Hanasian knew what it was Mecarnil held. Mecarnil went on...
"You know what happened as well as I, and you know what the sons of Elrond reported. I knew her parents, and she is a mirror image of her mother Verawyn. It is why I was surprised at the gate. Then I hear about her healing hands, and no question remained in my mind. If you had ever seen her mother you would know...."
They talked deeply for some time until the shadows drew long.
"All I can suggest is remain close, but not too close..."
Mecarnil was saying when they noticed both Loch and Rin starting to drop back toward them. They straightened up and rode forth toward them. It appeared they had questions about the formations to the south on the hills, and the stone wall along the road. Mecarnil said to them,
"It's funny you should ask... We'll camp soon, and when we get settled I'll tell you some of the kingdom of Cardolan..."
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
”A standard bearer? Do you even know what that is, Loch?”
Her brother glanced at her sidelong and grinned that rakish, affable way that was his. Then, he shrugged one shoulder.
”I’ll find out from Wulgof… or Videgavia, if the man talks,” Loch replied. Rin shook her head but was smiling. Loch looked about them for a moment and then had a question of his own.
”Did you ever see this coming, Rin?”
She knew what he was referring to. They were currently riding through what appeared to be a pleasant land in the midst of a military unit on the way to a small war. More than that, she had managed to fall head over heels for their commanding officer, a Ranger no less. It was, if she thought about it, utterly baffling.
”Didn’t even Dream it, Loch,” she replied. Loch peered at his sister a moment.
”And?” he prompted.
”And what?” she replied.
”And I’ve never seen you happier, Rin… and who’s idea was this?”
Rin sighed dramatically and flicked a length of reins at her brother’s knee.
”Oh, so that’s why you’re here talking to the lowly company healer, oh mighty trainee standard bearer. You’re here to score points. Well, fine. You were right, Loch,” she replied, humour dancing through her words. Loch nodded his head with self satisfaction, looking very much like the cat that got the proverbial cream.
”Write that down in that book of yours Rin. A notable day when you openly admit I was right,” he drawled. Rin pushed at his shoulder, laughing. A companionable, easy silence arose between the siblings and they were content to simply ride. This Shire was a pleasant land. Loch could see why its people were so keen to preserve it way it was. He twisted in the saddle to peer back at Mecarnil and Hanasian. The two rangers were deep in discussion and it looked to be a rather grim matter from their expressions. Loch turned back to regard his sister. He’d really never seen her quite so content before. There had been that one moment in Edoras, when she’d had all that cheese intended for Meduseld’s feast. However, that had been a passing joy. This, he concluded, was something far deeper, permanent.
”Rin… what’s going on with you and Hanasian,” he asked, genuinely curious. He knew the talk amongst the others. There was, in fact, hardly any. Loch knew what that meant. Whatever was going on between his sister and his commanding officer was entirely different to that tale between the two messengers from Minas Tirth about that bar maid. No one jested or made light of it. No one complained. There was nothing fleeting about it. That meant it was serious, and they all knew it. Rin, for her part shrugged.
”Presently, he’s riding a horse and I am riding a horse,” she evasively replied.
”You know what I mean, Rin. I think you love him. Plain as day to me,” Loch said, batting her ploy to one side easily. Rin could be an incredibly private woman when it came to such things. The fact that her brother took his responsibility to protect his sister from unwelcome interest a little too seriously on several occasions in previous years had only inspired greater privacy in her. She still felt bad about that last young man. He’d only gotten so far as to offer her a flower and inquire as to her name.
”If you know what’s going on, why bother asking me about it. Love... hah, what would you know of it?” she replied, temper heating. ”And if you’re thinking about making trouble on this, think again! I won’t stand for it, Loch,” she added. Loch held up his hands in a gesture of peace, palms out.
”Hey! You know what I think of Hanasian, Rin! Lay down your weapons!” Rin subsided at that and returned her attention to the road. Loch’s shoulders eased.
”I just wondered if you knew where it was going, is all,” Loch said. He watched his sister smile wistfully and flick the reins from side to side.
”We’re trying to figure that out, Loch. It isn’t easy, you know. There’s the Company to consider, and by extension the king. Hanasian has responsibilities to the crown, as do I now. We can’t just drop everything and dance off into happily ever after. It takes time to figure out how best to make it work and frankly, we have this matter of Harad to turn our attention to. There is not a lot of time to think of ourselves. We will figure it out, though.”
Loch was surprised by the insight his sister permitted him, but what she said made sense. Still, it wasn’t what he had been asking. As per usual, she had thought too much.
”Rin, all I really wanted to know is whether he feels the same as you do,” Loch said. Rin expelled a breath. Yes, her brother came from the school of thought that she named Fate. If it was to be, it was to be and no amount of thinking will change that.
”We’re not betrothed or anything, Loch. If you want to know how he feels, ask him. I think he does, but that’s just my opinion and I think too much, so you can’t count on my opinion,” she sighed at him. Loch rolled his eyes but let the matter rest for the moment. He twisted back to peer at Hanasian again. No, perhaps he wouldn’t boldly question his commanding officer on his intentions towards his sister just yet. Mecarnil looked particularly animated at that particular point. He nodded towards where Loch rode with Rin ahead. Loch straightened in his saddle.
”Hey, Rin,” he started. Rin threw up one leather clad arm.
”What? Another question? Why don’t you go pester your new friends?” She was clearly becoming mildly exasperated. Perhaps his earlier questions had not been as sensitive and diplomatic as he thought. Loch glanced at the knots of men ahead.
”They got tired of my questions and sent me back here to you,” he confessed. Rin shot a glare aimed directly between Wulgof’s shoulder blades. The Dunlending twitched and turned his head and then grinned before turning back to say something to Khule. The Easterling laughed, which prompted Molguv to inquire and soon all three were chortling up ahead.
”Rin, have noticed how that Mecarnil is always watching you,” Loch asked. Rin realised that this was the real heart of her brother’s concerns.
”Of course I have. There’s no harm in it, Loch. Hanasian holds him in high esteem. Just leave it for now, Loch, please? No trouble on that score on my account.” Loch was clearly uncomfortable with Mecarnil.
”He’s been asking me questions, you know,” Loch said.
”He’s probably just trying to get a measure of the cloth we’re made from Loch. We’re new recruits and he likely wants to know who he’s working with. Perhaps that is just his way, ” Rin replied steadily. Loch rolled his shoulders, not entirely as sure.
”Well, alright Rin… never thought I’d hear you defending a soldier,” [/I]Loch observed. Rin flashed him a smile.
[I]”Mecarnil’s a Ranger and they’re different to soldiers,” she replied. Loch snorted at that and Rin turned to study the stones that ran into the middle distance. They were old and they drunkenly leaned in a haphazard clumps around green swards. The stones were pitted and daubed with lichen and moss. They clearly had been placed there, but by who and for what purpose was a mystery. Loch and Rin weren’t the only ones intrigued. Molguv turned back to glance at Rin. Rin and Loch drew back to ask Hanasian and Mecarnil what the stones were. That was how they came to be camped for the evening on the cusp of the barrow downs.
Hanasian gave instructions for a secure camp, which seemed odd in what had been a gentle land. Rin, along with several others, were dispatched to gather fire wood. Apparently they would need a lot of light tonight. Again, that didn’t make a lot of sense to her. Rin wandered about, gathering up wood, unable to stop herself from peering at the tumble down stones. Like grinning teeth, she thought at first and then stopped herself. No, like a broken stone crown that ringed the green mounds. Some of the stones around the entrance were carved with glyphs of some sort. It was still daylight, but it all seemed a bit eerie and utterly fascinating to her. By the time she got back, Mecarnil was starting with tales of Cardolan.
Cardolan… a fallen realm that Hanasian had spoken briefly of several days ago. For a fallen realm, it sure seemed popular.
”We’re camped on the northern reaches of that realm, where it met Arthedain. Those are barrows, graves, where the princes and kings of this land were laid to rest. First of Arnor, then of Cardolan. The Last Prince of Cardolan was laid to rest there.”
”Why did they stop? Cardolan fell, but the other realms continued did they not?”
Rin had no idea why she asked that question. Loch blinked at her and she shrugged. It was just out of her mouth before she had a moment to think about it – highly uncharacteristic.
”The people of Cardolan scattered, went into hiding. The Dark Lord set an evil in many of these barrows that lingers still. It was no longer safe to lay their rulers to rest here,” Mecarnil replied steadily. He watched the woman he believed to be a queen study the stones again.
”Seems…. A petty thing for one so powerful to haunt the graves of the dead,” she observed.
”Perhaps, but it destroyed a realm that had posed a significant threat to the Dark Lord’s realm of Rhuadaur. Cardolan was unable to continue. It had no seat of power, it had no towns or ports, its people were largely killed by a terrible plague and it did not even have graves for its dead. They scattered, like autumn leaves on a winter wind and when that happened, Cardolan was considered fallen.”
Rin shivered at the ice that ran down her spine, her questions vanished. She knew now why Hanasian had called for such caution tonight, and the reason for the fire.
”So where did they go? The ones that survived,” Molguv asked. His own lands had felt the terrible hand of Sauron, but he had had no idea that these soft lands of the north had suffered a similar fate.
”The old squabbles were forgotten. Cardolan, Arthedain and Rhuadaur only arose due to the dispute between the sons of the last king of Arnor,” Hanasian replied.
”In the face of such utter devastation, they paled to insignificance. The Dunedain of Rhuadaur had already fled, to Arthedain. So too did the Dundedain of Cardolan and the old divisions became meaningless as Arthedain too was largely unmade by the Dark Lord. Men had divided Arnor, ironically the Dark Lord united it. But Arnor was a shadow realm, it’s people wandering and sheltering in the wildnerness, ever hunted. That is where the Rangers arose from,” Mecarnil said.
Loch glanced over at Videgavia, who was quietly standing and listening as he stared at the ground. A silence spread over the Company for a moment and the wind whistled through the stones around the barrows.
”We’ll stand a watch this night,” Hanasian ordered, ”Though much diminished, evil lingers here still. Get that fire started.”
Rin unpacked what she would need for the night and set her own horse out on picket. She dropped off her bedroll and a saddle bag with basic supplies for any particular emergency during the night and turned to study the stones again. A stone wall hemmed the downs off. It wasn’t nearly as ancient as the barrows, but it was old. Rin collected up her book and a pencil and wandered over to the wall in the twilight. It was thick, perhaps three foot deep. It was easy to climb up and sit on the wall. She crossed her legs, her cloak hung down her back and the wall, opened up her book and flicked to a blank page. Then she started to draw in the remaining light.
Behind her, camp unfolded, the watch was begun. Hanasian and Mecarnil both noted the healer’s position on the wall, staring out over the barrows of her ancestors. Her head was bent and the last rays of light caught her pale hair and turned it to a burnished gleaming gold braid that broke the darkness of her garb.
Rin worked fast, knowing that light would fail at any moment. She chose the closest barrow and quickly it took shape on her paper. The wind still keened through the stones as she sketched. Soon it too fell away from her attention, along with the sound of the camp behind her. She squinted at the page. The glyphs. She needed the glyphs but it was now too dark to make them out from the wall she sat on.
The wind sang plaintive, mournful notes, a dirge as she studied the barrow. It looked to be the most recent. Perhaps it was the grave of the Last Prince of Cardolan, she mused. Rin set her book aside and slipped from the wall. All she needed to do was run her fingers over the markings and then she could sketch them out. It was take a moment, just a moment.
As she neared, she could feel her heart roar in her ears. The wind was singing still, but there was a new sound. People wept. It got louder as she approached the nearest lintel stone. A trick of the wind she told herself. As she got closer, the stones reared to dizzying heights above her head. She steadied herself, frowning to clear her thoughts and closed the final steps. Rin pulled the glove off one hand and let her fingers graze the marked stone.
It sent a shock of bone numbing chill shooting into one arm. It stole her breath and she snatched her fingers back sharply. Then, drawn as inexorably as the tide was, she placed the palm of her hand against the stone. Her mind exploded with images, none of them bright things. A face, a young man’s face. A battle, ferocious and savage. The keening of the women as they readied him for burial.
The memories were palpable, strong, and as real as the stone she touched. She could taste the bitter metallic taste of blood and death on her tongue. It weakened her knees. She knew it not, but she was on her knees panting by the time Hanasian and Mecarnil had realised she was no longer sitting on the wall and had located her amongst the barrows.
Voices, loud and frightening sounded. The connection to the stone severed, her awareness careened sickenly. Someone was calling her name. Rin dragged herself, clawed her way back. It was Hanasian. She clambered to her feet, heart pounded and backed away from the barrow. Hanasian reached for her as she gained the wall physically lifted her back over it. For Rin it seemed as though hours had passed. For everyone else, it was mere moments.
”What part of evil do you not comprehend, woman,” Hanasian asked her, clearly startled. She was shaking from head to foot with a bone deep weariness and her heart still thundered in her ears. Her throat was dry. She picked up the book she had left on the wall. Rin closed her ungloved hand around it, more to quell the shaking than to secure the book. The images she had seen still crowded her.
”The stones weep,” she said, blinking in surprise at her words as much as the two Rangers she stood with. She started again.
”I apologise. It won’t happen again,” she said. Hanasian released her. She only swayed a little bit, she noted, and she made for her bed roll.
”We got there before any wight did, ” Mecarnil said to Hanasian. Hanasian nodded. He knew this was true. Whatever was amiss with their healer, it was not wights. Mecarnil rubbed his jaw.
”The dead spoke to her mother almost as strongly as the future,” Mecarnil observed. ”And Rin chose the most recent barrow – one of Cardolan presumably.”
Rin cocooned herself in the bedroll. She re-opened the book and traced the glyphs in it on the page next to her sketch. Then she started on the face she had seen beneath the sigils.
”No one, under any circumstances, is to set foot near those barrows. Clear?” Men murmured assent to Hanasian’s instructions. Hanasian considered Rin, withdrawn and silent as she sketched by firelight. There was no telling what lure the barrows may hold over her. He flashed a signal to the man that stood first watch, Frea, concerning keeping a watch on their healer lest she wander again. Strictly speaking, she had not disobeyed any direct order. He let her be for a while and all that time she drew. She stopped only to use a dagger to sharpen her pencil.
It was late and she was still working when he eventually settled his bed roll beside hers. Mecarnil’s suggestion from earlier circled his mind: close, but not too close. How on earth was he meant to achieve that with the woman that was beside him now? Rin heard Hanasian sigh beside her and she paused to look at him.
”I really am sorry. You must be angry with me,” she said at length. He looked at her by the light of the fire. How, he asked himself again. Rin saw him search her face. She put down her pencil and reached for his hand. She felt his fingers close around hers and then slip away again. Her breath caught in her throat and she looked away and back to her page as she retracted her hand. Hanasian missed none of this, but had no way to explain to her. Rin nodded once and closed her book.
”I’m tired,” he said. It wasn’t untrue. After what Mecarnil had said today, he truly did feel weary. Hanasian rolled himself up and stretched out beside her. Rin studied the flames a long while, Mecarnil was nearby. Their eyes met. He was struck anew by her resemblance to her mother, but there was something else there now that hadn’t been there before tonight.
He watched her set her book aside and lie down herself. Verawyn’s daughter had seemed truly content when he had first seen her at Bree’s gates. Now there was a sorrow there, a new sorrow that likely had everything to do with the man that was sleeping beside her and what he had learned today. Mecarnil once again set that new sorrow at the feet of a dead man, her father: Lord Bereth.
Hanasian’s eyes were closed but he was not asleep as Rin stretched out nearby. Close but not too close, Mecarnil had said. This was going to devastate her.
”Are you asleep,” he heard her whisper to him.
”No,” he whispered back. She had rolled to face him.
”Have I done something very wrong, Hanasian? If I have, will you please tell me?” Hanasian opened his eyes at her question. Close but not too close be damned. He’d not torture her like this. He reached for her hand and wound his fingers through hers to bring them to his lips. That brought her closer. Her head nestled against his chest, under his chin. Hanasian pressed his cheek against her hair, closed his eyes and breathed her in. The road to love was never easy, he supposed, but how were they to find their way through this?
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Hanasian shook his head and tried best to reply to her question.
"You have done nothing wrong. I on the other hand need to keep my senses about me if I am to lead this company into battle in the south. Also, Mecarnil and I have been talking, and there is much afoot that is much larger than you and I. Until we know for sure all aspects of what we suspect, have found out, and unseen possibilities that we may yet to know, I have to keep our relationship on an even keel. I love you Rin, and I wish to make no secret of it, but there are things that will guide our hands in this world that may indeed see such a relationship as ours suspect. I wish I could tell you more, but I cannot now with complete certainty say that what is suspected is true.
"My apologies for talking riddles to you, but I have to ask you to trust me in this. If I don't show that which I feel for you, it means not that I don't feel that way. Yet I think in due time, it will be made clear to you and I, and we will have to choose our fate at that time. Now, we must rest, and I will hold you close. I do hope you can sleep even a little with so much on your mind. Me too... I will welcome just a brief moment of time in the nether world of dreams."
Hanasian drew Rin close, awaiting the questions she would have about all this. But there was none right now. It was probably too much to comprehend, and they spent the night in a cuddle of warmth from the cool night. Dreams of kings and princes, and war and death overtook Hanasian. It was quite possible that the long dead spirits of Cardolan called out to Rin when she touched the stone, and he didn't know what she may have dreamed, but he could see her in silver silken raiment with the glitter of the stars all through. Standing there as queen of a realm that had always struggled to exist. She was giving homage and swearing subservience to the High King Aragorn, and he was recognising her position as Queen of Cardolan from a line thought lost. Related they were in the long lines reaching into the past. Of royal blood and skill, what claim could a mixed blood ranger have on her love?
Yet it would be hers to freely give, but what will Rin feel when she comes to know the truth and understand her rank, position and title? Close, but not too close ... how could he deny his love, or not stand close to the woman he loved? He couldn't allow it to drift away from him, yet, he did not want to cause ill will in the highest of courts. He would have to talk to his old friend, former chieftain, and now High King of Arnor and Gondor, Aragorn. Until that day, he would have to maintain an even keel... He woke up with a start. Sat up and looked about. Loch diligently if sleepily held the third watch that was bringing them to sunrise. Rin lay asleep, seemingly undisturbed by his abrupt awakening. He arose and took a walk to where Loch was sitting.
"How fares the watch?" he asked Loch, who seemed surprised that Hanasian was up and awake.
"All is well Captain, Kept the fire ablaze, and the horses are at ease, and no sign of movement outside a few night creatures scurrying in the shadows."
Hanasian nodded, then said, "Right.. good. You go and catch what rest remains in the next hour. I'll take the watch, and will prepare some food for the sunrise."
"But nothing. I'll make it an order if you wish."
Loch didn't reply. He learned that opening one's mouth too soon to the captain could land you volunteering for something. He nodded and went to find his cold bedroll. Hanasian sat and poked a stick at the fire, sending sparks skyward. He drew out a pan and dug out the sausages he had aquired in Bree. They wouldn't last to long, and this morning was as good as any to cook them up for everyone. The next day they would be in the Shire, and the day after too. Food won't be an issue there. He set to cooking the sausage, and the scent started to awaken the others... It was only a short time later with the skies blue with a rising sun that most everyone was awake and enjoying some sausage and tomatoes cooked on the open fire. Hanasian made sure everyone got some, even Loch who managed to fll into a deep slumber after being relieved. Khule's boot pushing him in the ribs woke him with a start.
"You want your breakfast or do I get seconds?"
"Yeah yeah yeah... I'm getting up..." A yawn chased his words. The rest left him alone. Loch noted Hanasian and Rin sitting together eating, but there seemed to be a distance between them.
"Get set to ride. We should make the gates of Buckland by tonight." Hanasian said to the company, seeming a bit more grim than in days passed. "Be on your best behaviour while in the Shire, for we are their guests should they allow us in. The King has given us a note of passage, but that still has to be initialed by the Lord Mayor of the Shire. So, we may be held up at the gates until official clearance is granted. Or they may just let us in. Still, I do not want any trouble."
Hanasian started to get his gear together and ready his mount for the ride. He watched Rin do the same. She was obviously pondering all that had been said earlier last night, and the days and weeks past. Hanasian couldn't just let it go. He walked over to her and let his arm slide around her. He kissed her neck and whispered, "I hope you are ready for all that is to come."
Rin found herself leaning into Hanasian. Her thoughts still tumbled about her mind like an avalanche, but two things were certain. She loved him and she trusted him. No matter what lay ahead, that would not alter. Rin's fingers grazed Hanasian's cheek, tracing the line of his jaw, before she returned his embrace with one of her own.
"Whatever may come, I will follow you. Of that have no doubt. My heart, my service, are yours, and I intend to do my best whatever happens," she whispered in return. They lingered long enough for their lips to meet and then it was away. The travelling conditions were excellent and they did indeed make Buckland by nightfall. Their admittance, however, could not occur until the following day as the Lord Mayor was otherwise engaged in a matter of high import: dinner. The Company settled in for another night. Rin again wandered about for firewood. Khule and Molguv, who had plans for the healer concerning the ale they wanted to sell at Hobbiton, accompanied her. A fair woman, both soldiers agreed, would be far more likely to close the deal with the hobbits than two foreign looking soldiers. All they needed to do was convince her to assist.
"Fifteen percent," she insisted, bent and added another piece of wood to the growing pile she had assigned to Molguv.
"Fifteen!" Khule rolled his eyes at the Haradian's protest.
"What did you expect? She's a thief," he pointed out.
"She's the only woman here," Molguv said dispirited.
"She's standing right in front of you," Rin said, shoving another piece of firewood at Molguv. "She's decided that twenty percent is more suitable," Rin added, smiling. It was clear that the negotiations would take some time, which enabled Hanasian to seek out Mecarnil.
"I know you need to speak to her about it, Mecarnil. You'll need to ease her into it if this isn't to blow up in all our faces. Go gently, will you. Don't push her, don't spring it on her… and you'll need proof," Hanasian said quietly. Mecarnil's brows shot up.
"Aye… think about it man. What you're claiming means that her entire concept of who she is, right down to her name, isn't true. This will take everything from her, again. She'll fight it to her last breath, if she can. You'll get nowhere if you make an enemy of her," Hanasian pointed out.
"I don't doubt you and I have no wish to cause her yet more pain. I knew her father… once his mind was set there was no shaking it. What sort of proof can combat that, " Mecarnil asked. Hanasian had spent the day considering this very thing. Each time his thoughts came back to idea. In the absence of Elladan and Elrohir, who had met both Rin's alleged parents and subsequently tracked their daughter down, the lynch pin came in the form of Lochared. Hanasian's attention focused on the man, who was peppering Wulgof with questions about standard bearing, much to Videgavia's quiet amusement.
"You know where the child was left. We both know where we went to retrieve her. If we have a map, and if Loch can recall where his home was, it will be impossible for her to dismiss it as fantasy. I expect Mithlond's archives will have maps. You have until the Grey Havens to ease her into it, Mecarnil," Hanasian said. All Mecarnil needed was a way to introduce the concepts to Rin. In the end, Khule gave him his opening.
"Last King of Arnor, Last Prince of Cardolan, fond of naming people last up here… and the Last King of Arnor wasn't, as it turned out," the Easterling observed by the fire. "First this, last that, what is the point," Khule asked rhetorically.
"Throws the Enemy off the scent," Molguv pointed out, waving piece of bread at the Easterling as he did so. "If you're being hunted, and you fall, then the hunt drops away, yes?" Khule nodded at that.
"Neither was the Last Prince the last," Mecarnil said. That earned him pointed glances from several members of the company, Berlas and Videgavia in particular. Still, Mecarnil pushed on with the first part of his tale. He spoke carefully that night and told the tale of how Bereth had arrived with Verawyn and his unborn child at Imladris to there have his claim confirmed.
"This is all very good," Molguv said as the night wheeled overhead.
"I'm not so sure of that," Rin said. It was the first thing she had said all night and faces turned to her. "Well, so far… all we know is that this Bereth is the sort of man who would load his heavily pregnant wife onto a horse and cart her somewhere all in the interests of establishing his ambitious claim for the extinguished throne of a fallen land .
"A land that, I might add, had a real chance of some peace now that the High King had taken the throne in Gondor. A land reunified the way that it was supposed to be. The only person to benefit from that would be this Bereth," Rin said. She frowned, surprised at the depth of her contempt for this supposed king.
"I apologise if I have offended you, Mecarnil," she added. Mecarnil considered her a long moment and then nodded at her. He was not offended, for she had only said what he had himself thought those years ago. Dare he, though, hope that Bereth's daughter would prove wiser than her father? It was that he considered.
"What happened next," Molguv asked.
"Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after," Hanasian said. Rin stood, stretched and walked away from the fire. She found a nearby tree and leant against it to consider the stars wheeling overhead.
"That got under your skin," Loch observed, coming to stand beside her. Rin sighed and shrugged.
"I guess I expect better of the Bereth's of the world," she replied at length. "There's a difference between what is right and what is rightful. Our father knew that, a farmer, so why not a king or a prince or whatever he was. Do you think I've offended Mecarnil?"
Loch looked back to the fire. "No…" he replied.
"Good," she said, relieved.
"Rin, is everything… well between you and Hanasian?"
Rin glanced at her brother sidelong. "Only yesterday you were telling me how happy I was, now this? Everything is well, Loch. It's complicated… Ranger business and kings and such," she said. It was about as much as she understood.
"Kings… makes you glad to be a commoner, don't it?" Rin chuckled at her brother's question and she wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"Never been so happy to be dirt poor, Loch!"
The following day saw them admitted to the Shire proper, papers checked and notated and noted and such. They continued onto Hobbiton, which was abuzz with a wedding between one Faramir and a local lass. Berlas kept his mouth shut with moderate difficulty. Clearly, this Faramir was not his own Prince. For starters, this Faramir was a good deal shorter, considerably younger and lacked shoes of any description. With the hubbub of the wedding, there was no further discussion of Mecarnil's unfolding tale that night. They left Hobbiton the next day, slightly hung over from the evening's festivites, several caskets heavier of pipe-weed. Khule, Molguv and Wulgof were several coppers lighter than they had expected too. Rin had honoured their arrangement and closed a deal. After she took her cut, fifteen percent, they could only conclude that they had made a crashing loss. They made Michel Delving that evening, subdued. Loch was dispatched to the first two watches. He had drawn both owing to a certain incident involving too much ale and Frea's boots the night before.
Mecarnil picked up the tale again, speaking of the birth of Erían, her father's plans regarding claiming Cardolan's throne and her mother's ignore dire warnings against it. Rin was fast painting a picture of how difficult it could be to serve a man like Bereth. The next day they pushed hard and long, and reached the White Towers of "Emyn Beraid". They camped at the base of one of the three slender structures that night. Rin had no appetite for fire side tales of greedy, grasping lordlings. Instead, she was drawn to the towers themselves. She had never seen their like before and if she looked past them to the western horizon, a ribbon of sea glimmered beneath stars and moon.
It was simply breathtaking and she stood by the tower gazing at it. It filled with a sense of joy and mystery akin to a certain Ranger she loved. He had grown preoccupied over the days, as he had said he would, but each night his warmth was there and there were brief whispers, glances, a brushing of fingers. It was enough. She knew he loved her. So close to the coast, there was a tang in the air that she breathed deep into her lungs. Rin undid the braid of her hair and let it fall free. There was something cleansing and whole about this place, she thought.
"Wandering off again," Hanasian said from behind her. She turned her head and smiled at him over one shoulder. He came to stand next to her.
"I've never seen the sea before," she said softly, "It's beautiful."
Hanasian knew it was. It was a beautiful part of the country. Not since he was a young ranger before the war had he stood beside the White Towers … Emyn Beraid …. Long too had been the scent of the salty sea air, and the sound of seagulls in the distance. He knew he didn't need to fear any evil here, but Rin and her touch of stone may bring new and stranger visions.These towers were older than old in men's reckoning.
"Wait until you are next to it, standing in its edge," Hanasian said, losing himself into thought of the sea and all it meant to him. In his first encounter it meant joy and curiosity, and brought to him an infatuation that usually is called a first love. But it was fleeting and was heartbreaking, and vague words of his father came ringing from some of his earliest memories. Hanasian realized much later that it was then he had started to steel his heart in mail. And it was that very mail that seemed to try and warn him of the consequences of getting too close too fast to Rosemarin… Yet, he freely lifted the mail to her, and wanted it to somehow protect her from the storm that was coming.
The sea would bring them to Mithlond, where the truth would out. If Mecarnil was right, and that seemed likely, the sea would bring the woman he loved to the High King and there, their paths may diverge forever and a day. Hanasian's arm wove around her and she settled against him. There, they stood beneath stars, simply soaking each other in and whispering soft words of comfort to each other. He took the moment to enjoy her close company, and for some reason the fact that she was the heir apparent queen of Cardolan didn't seem to matter to him. It was nice standing there close with her. Yet fleeting the time was, and they returned to where the others sat, near a fire and enjoying some more sausages that Loch had managed to stow away. Just as Rin set off to look about, Frea and Folca too took a walk as in the opposite direction. They had concerns to discuss.
"Hey brother," Frea said, "You seen our captain? He is seriously smitten with this woman. I can understand the attraction, but he is really holding the wood to the flame when he doesn't seem to relent even with the knowledge of her likely being this Queen of Cardolan comes evermore into focus."
"Well, Mecaranil seems to have no doubt, and as he's the only one here who has actually seen the girl, and her parents, so I'll take his word on it as fact," Folca said before popping a piece of dried fruit into his mouth.
Frea spoke with some concern, "Yea, that may be so, but my worry is with the cap. He isn't the same, and hasn't been quite right since the Poros Crossing incident."
Folca let a thought interrupt… "Why is the Fords of Poros hold such grief for our people? Granted, we twins are of small stature as opposed to the twin princes Fastred and Folcred who fell there in battle so long ago, but to have our own company be affected by such a betrayal at that same place … "
"… it's disconcerting. Shouldn't of happened as it did. Shouldn't of happened at all." Frea finished, "Which is why I have concerns for our cap now. He was distracted then, and he is surely distracted now. We need to keep an eye on him. I mean, he is the cap, and all. But should we find ourselves in a sweat in the jungles of Harad again… well, I think we need to watch out.
"I believe our kinsman from afar Videgavia would agree with us. Maybe even Berlas, who I suspect has more Northman blood in him than he is willing to confess. As for the triumvirate of clowns from the dark reaches of this world, they would likely as not think it all a joke. And the new recruit…"
Folca interjected, "Hey, the kid is alright. He just don't know what he's stepped in yet. So far company life for him has been lounging at an inn and taking merry rides. He isn't going hungry and that he sees is good. But I think he will do well when the fur starts to fly."
"I ain't dissing the kid, brother," Frea interrupted. "I just was going to say that he would side with his sister… no matter what. Anyway, we should get back, before some conspiracy is suspected by the Dunlending."
Frea and Folca silently made their way back to the fire, arriving about the time Rin and Hanasian did.
"Well, healer, I never thought I'd agree with you, but you were right about that Bereth," Wulgof said as they returned.
"Only an ambitious man would drag his wife and baby across Dunland in those years, as you and Loch can attest to," the Dunlending said.
"Pride, greed, power… All I can say is that he must have been an extraordinarily difficult man to serve, Mecarnil," she said, settling by the fire.
"What happened to the child," Khule asked.
"We do not know. With Bereth and Verawyn, most of our party also perished. Only three of us survived to tell of the disaster. The Sons of Elrond managed to trace the child to the farm some years later and the High King sent me along with Hanasian to retrieve the child. As you have said, Wulgof, it was a dangerous land then. By the time we got there, the farm had been attacked and there was no trace of survivors," Mecarnil said.
"That doesn't mean she's dead, though. I mean, look at us. Rin and I survived an attack on our home. It's not impossible," Loch chimed in.
Mecarnil sat back. There was nothing more to said on this until Mithlond, which if he guessed aright they would make by nightfall tomorrow. Others around the fire murmured amongst themselves, calculating the odds that an heir survived still and what reward might be offered if she were to be discovered alive.
"I think it would be handsome indeed," Molguv said. "No king wants heirs running secretly about their lands."
"You'd be likely to be locked up as a lunatic if you walked into Minas Tirith claiming to have found the queen of Cardolan, " Berlas laconically observed. Videgavia, who had said nothing and missed nothing, studied his captain. Hanasian's jaw was clenched and he was in up to his ears in whatever Mecarnil was up to. Videgavia's gaze slid to the woman sitting next to his captain. She was shaping splints, curls of shaved wood clinging to the hair that fell around her shoulders. Videgavia looked across at Loch, who was soaking up how much money could be made if they found this missing queen. Then Videgavia's gaze narrowed and returned to Rin. He realised then what a tightrope his captain walked. As for the two brothers from Minas Tirith, they could only ponder how fanciful soldier's minds could be between wars.*The evening was a bit more tense than most nights before. They all knew something was brewing and was unsaid, but most were figuring it out.
The night was restful for Hanasian as he held Rin close. He managed to sleep, and Rin too seemed to sleep. She was obviously dreaming, with fast-spoken words mumbled at times, and a series of twitches and jumps in her sleep. Hanasian just brushed his fingers through her hair and went back to sleep. Both seemed to be rested at sunrise. They broke camp as early as possible, for Hanasian seemed determined to press fate in the face and wanted to get to Mithlond as soon as possible. There was much he wanted answers for, and likely more questions to be asked. But maybe one of the few remaining elvan loremasters that remained in Middle Earth that was in Mithlond could shed some light on the facts and fictions of the heir of Cardolan. Hanasian wanted to get to the root of the possibility of Rin being the heir, but his heart had already decided that it would not matter to him. He just had to hold it together for the sake of the company, and his friend and King.
They rode toward the havens through the sunny day, and it seemed appropriate that as they neared the port, storm clouds built over the Tower Hills. The sound of thunder in the warm air echoed down past them and pushed ever darkening clouds towards the west. Manwe's breath kept then just barely at bay, not letting the rains fall on the party, but it helped stir and build the storms evermore. It was not long after reaching Mithlond and their horses were tended and they were put up in a small inn that the rain and lightning and thunder enclosed them. Hanasian had set out for the quay to see about the ship that was to bear them south. As it turned out, it had just arrived the night before. They would have three days before they were ready to set out. It was not long before a soaked Hanasian returned to the inn. Unlike Bree where the mood was relaxed and jovial, here it was quiet. The sombre resignation of the elves remaining in Middle Earth seemed to keep a damper on much jocularity. The Easterling, Haradian, and Dunlanding were outright spooked by it and were quite uncomfortable. The rest seemed to take it all in.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Loch was in awe of the place, and Rin seemed to be deep in thought but relaxed. Few of the Teleri and Noldorin remained in Mithlond, yet Rin was struck by a realisation that she had seen elves before. The memory of blue flowers, beautiful to see and bitter to taste, shimmered in her thoughts along with the faces of two elves that had joined her that day. It was a rare memory from her early childhood, its joy undiminished by the sorrow of the later years. She had thought them exceptionally pretty men as a small child. As an adult, that concept amused her. As they settled into their lodgings for the night, Rin permitted herself to study the Company. There were still faces that seemed new to her, unknown, but she knew she had preparations for each. She might not know all their names, but she knew their habits by now. Each had his own particular rhythm. Each were in good health. Careful observation of their patterns now would assist her to serve them well as healer. She knew she still had a lot to prove. Rin hoped she did not have too many opportunities to achieve that. She would not wish harm or misadventure to befall those men in her charge simply to acquit herself well to others.
Hanasian took the opportunity to say a couple things.
"Company listen up! We are here as guests of the elves and the Shipwright Cirdan. We'll have a few days here, as the ship's captain tells me they will be ready to sail on the morning of the fourth day if favourable winds are forthcoming. So relax and enjoy the place, use the time to build readiness, and have a good mind for our mission when we set out. I myself have a lot of things I need to see to. I will see you all in the morning."
He then walked off, and back out the door where only the dripping of the rain could be heard under the now mostly clear skies. He hoped Rin would follow, and they could take some time to be alone. Rin let some moments pass before she followed him out. When she joined him, Hanasian was watching the now clear skies.
"Am I disturbing you," she asked as the door closed behind her. Hanasian turned and reached for her. She came to him willingly.
"Would you like to see the sea," he asked her by way of response. Her answer was to take his hand and tow him forward. He easily observed her eagerness to do exactly that. Mithlond was not a large place and they soon came the water's edge. The pale stone, shaped by elven hands and will, gleamed in a fashion that seemed otherworldly and fey to Rin. The water was calm, a rippled mirror to the night sky in all its glory. "Oh, Hanasian," she exclaimed, entranced. She drifted ahead of him, speechless, to stand at the edge. She danced a few steps upon the stone cusp and then turned to look at Hanasian.
"This place is a wonder," she breathed, eyes dancing as she smiled beneath the moonlight. It made her heart sing. He made her heart sing. She felt suffused with a rare, serene joy that threatened to overflow her boundaries.
"Is Imladris like this," she asked, curious about the place Hanasian had spent his childhood in.
"In a fashion, Rosmarin. Mithlond is a place of the Teleri. Imladris is of the Noldorin and Sindarin peoples. They are kindred, but not the same."
Hanasian could see her thoughts flickering in the depths of her eyes. Her mouth opened for another question and he placed a finger over her lips with a faint smile.
"Now is no time for a history lesson, love," he assured her.
"What is it time for then," she asked against his finger.
"Us," he replied. Hanasian took her hand and led her along the shore. The pale stones gave way to a pine forest that hugged the coast. Pine needles carpeted the ground in a soft embrace and a breeze from the ocean rippled through the boughs above to make them sigh over head. It was a quiet place, filled with the music of sea and wind and trees and soon, them. Cirdan knew enough to not follow the lovers into the trees. He turned away from the water's edge.
"Welcome, Daughter of Elendil," he murmured softly. How well he recalled that mighty mortal spirit. It was not difficult to see echoes and sparks of it even now, in his descendants. This Company of Arnor would prove interesting, Cirdan mused. Mortals usually did.
Back at the inn, Molguv, Khule and Wulgof were in a heated speculation conducted very quietly lest others, Loch in particular, overhear.
"I say you're crazy. There is no way she's royal. She's a thief," Wulgof persisted.
"Clearly, you've never heard of taxation," Khule replied dryly.
"Well if she is, she's my pet and I claim the reward for locating her," Molguv stated. That only sparked further debate.
"You would be wise to watch your tongues," Berlas observed. All three men flinched, having not noticed the Ithilien Ranger's arrival.
"Talk like this can loose a man's head from his shoulders, particularly if he is found supporting a rival for a contested throne," Berlas finished.
"Ah look at you! You, Frea, Folca, Videgavia, you all look like you've discovered that all the pipe-weed has vanished. This is not nearly as grim as you believe. Think, man! There will be a reward for finding her, and we'd have our very own pet monarch… that's got to be an advantage over the other units. Think of the food we'd get rationed to us, amongst other things!" Molguv's exhortations demonstrated that the Haradian clearly had been thinking about this carefully. All he saw was up. Videgavia slapped the Haradian on the back of his bald head.
"Nothing good comes from politics," he said dourly. "Why would she stay with us anyway? And who wants to be caught in the middle of a civil war? With the captain and the other recruit pretty much out of action." Realising now was not the time to push the issue, Khule, Mulgov and Wulgof chose silence. They had plenty of time on the ship to arrange suitable wagering arrangements, and to further establish*themselves into advantageous positions. Berlas and Videgavia, confident foolish and dangerous talk had been silenced, rejoined the twins from Rohan.
"She's trouble, pure and simple. The beautiful ones always are," Frea said. Loch was trying his best to engage an elf in conversation on the other side of the inn, so Frea added, "He might be alright, but can't see any good coming from her." Videgavia said nothing at that, but Berlas had a sardonic smile.
"Spoken like a true Rohirrim… Lucky for us all that Eowyn Dernhelm didn't let such opinion hold her back," Berlas pointed out. Frea grunted at that, nonplussed. Videgavia wasn't entirely pleased either. This evening was forcing him to talk.
"She's not cost us any lives yet, but has saved a couple. Could be your hide she saves next," Videgavia said. All those words took some effort. Videgavia lifted a tankard to his mouth and slaked his thirst, clamping his lips shut.
"Well and good, Videgavia," Folca replied. "But that doesn't change how distracted the cap is. We know what that means. And tell me our foes won't immediately spot her and see her as the weakness in our defences. If we're not spending all our time sorting out this Cardolan business, we'll have our hands full keeping her in one piece every engagement. Can you imagine what would happen if it emerged that the Black Company failed to defend the ruler of Cardolan?"
A deflated Loch joined them, slumping into a seat and crossing his arms over his chest.
"These Elves sure are a strange lot," he dejectedly observed before he noted how the talk around him had hushed. Loch rolled his eyes.
"You're all complaining about Rin. I know you are," Loch said. "It's no secret. You're not going to listen to what I have to say, which is only fair I suppose."
"We don't have a problem with Rin necessarily," Berlas said. Loch shrugged the comment off.
"No, but you wonder who she really is. Or you wonder whether she's really up to the task. Or both. Nothing I say will change what you think. I'm not going to waste my breath trying. In the end, though, she'll show you. She usually does, whether you like it or not." Loch drained his ale and shook his head, feeling suddenly tired. The talk about his sister, the prospect of deploying and all that came with it was overwhelming. As he stretched out, he wondered if he'd still have a sister when he woke up. It was far from a comforting thought.
Between the boughs of trees, Rin and Hanasian stared up at the moon peeking back at them. Rin's head was propped on Hanasian's chest and his heart drummed steadily in one ear. She felt like she was floating. Her fingers played a strand of his dark hair, winding it around them.
"We should go back. It's late," Hanasian said reluctantly.
"Hum," she absently replied, thinking again.
"Unless of course you've already wandered off," he remarked. Rin stirred and pressed a kiss to his lips.
"You know, I think I have seen elves before… once… a long time ago," she said. Hanasian closed his eyes. So it had come to this already. He tightened his arms around her.
"Blue flowers," he asked. He felt Rin shift against him in surprise.
"Well, yes… but how did you know that? Have I been talking in my sleep?"
"No matter what comes, know that I truly love you Rosmarin."
"As I love you, Hanasian. You're starting to worry me now. What is happening?" With a deep sigh, Hanasian sat up.
"Elladan told me of the day that they met you," he said gently. He could see her frown faintly in the moonlight.
"Elladan and Elrohir, sons of Elrond. They found you. You gave them flowers. You were but a child at that time. You tried to eat one."
The sons of Elrond had been sent to find that poor lost girl, in Mecarnil's tale. Loch's statement from the night before haunted her then: "She could have survived. We did." A cascade of realisations made the night lurch around her. Hanasian was still there when the sensation passed. He was holding her, comforting her. She was breathing hard, fear, shock, sorrow, confusion swirling. Rin buried her face against him and clung fiercely. He felt her quivering, shaking against him.
She whispered, "How much more can be taken? My brother, my parents, my home, my name – but not you. Please tell me not you!" [/I}
The rhythmic stroking of Hanasian's fingers in her hair ceased and he pulled her back to cradle her stricken face between his palms.
[I]"Not me… you cannot lose that which is part of you," he urgently said. Her eyes swept over his face.
"You are part of me… so is Loch and my- his -my parents," she said, drawing a measure of strength from that certain truth. He could feel her quivering diminish and he pressed a soft kiss to her brow.
"Now what, Hanasian?" Her question was a good one. The path ahead was anything but certain, but it could only be taken one step at a time, he knew.
"Now we return to the inn. Tomorrow, love, we will speak with Mecarnil," Rin nodded and closed another fierce embrace around him. Then, slowly, they traced the path back to the inn. They arrived late, with most of the Company turned in for the night. Videgavia was still up, though. He watched Hanasian and Rin return, clinging to each other as though they were weathering a storm. Rin's face was wan and her eyes glittered with unshed tears. Hanasian too had the grim look of a man preparing for battle. He noted Videgavia's study and flashed a brief signal to him. It was clear the truth had caught up with them both. Videgavia nodded at his captain's instructions. Safely back at the inn, after the lights had been doused, Hanasian felt Rin unleash her sorrow.
Rin was up and pacing like a restless cat, back and forth, when Hanasian woke the following morning. He watched her prowl back and forth, with a mind that had to be careening over a thousand things all at once.
"Did I wake you," she asked, pausing her patrol.
"How long have you been up," he asked in return, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed.
"It's the same damn dream! Days now… I can't stand it any more."
"Get dressed then," he replied. "We'll start with Mecarnil."
"I'm going to sort this mess out once and for all," she declared as she threw on the rest of her uniform and tugged on her boots. Rin shot out of the room like a cannonball.
"How do you propose to do that," Hanasian asked as he trotted warily along in her wake.
"Common sense… something lordlings seem to lack if my father is any indication," she growled. Mecarnil, was, of course up. Videgavia had paid him a visit the night before. He turned as Rin darted into the common room like an arrow… an angry arrow, he noted. Hanasian followed, somewhat perplexed himself.
"I've about enough of this Cardolan nonsense- what are you DOING!?" Mecarnil glanced up from the knee he had bent, startled by her cry.
"Up! Quick, before anyone sees you!" Rin did her best to physically pull Mecarnil back to his feet by his sleeve. She glanced about the common room as she did so.
"This is nonsense! A big, messy, pointless pile of nonsense all kicked up by that fool…what is that?" Mecarnil was holding out a worn leather pouch.
"They are yours now, Lady Ería- I mean Rin," Mecarnil hastily amended at her thunderous expression. Rin picked up the pouch like it was a poisonous snake. She upended it onto the closest table. A mithril ring rolled out first, sapphire flashing in the morning light. Folded vellum landed on the table with a slap. Rin picked up the ring and turned it over in her hand.
"Well that explains it," she said, recognising the rose from her dreams.
"This isn't mine. It belongs to the king, not me. He's the rightful ruler." Rin dropped the ring back into the pouch, Mecarnil's jaw slightly ajar.
"I think I need a drink," he hoarsely murmured. Hanasian, watching closely, could sympathise. Neither Ranger was sure what to make of what seemed to be afoot in the common room. Rin turned her attention next to the vellum. She opened it up and read quickly. If she was angry before, she became truly incensed as she read.
"Have you read this?" she demanded of them both. Mecarnil said that he had. Hanasian had not. Rin thrust the vellum at him.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Hanasian's eyebrows rose as he read the contents of Bereth's claim to the High King. What had been set down on the vellum was ambitious, and had all the potential to trigger an outbreak in hostilities in the north once again. In particularly, Hanasian stumbled over the last piece of Bereth's petition to Aragorn. Bereth had actually offered his infant daughter for a politically arranged marriage to strengthen his claim on the throne. State marriages were not unusual, but to arrange one for an infant was frankly nauseating. Hanasian closed the vellum and handed it back to Rin without a word to say.
"That man… he… he," she was speechless.
"He had a rightful claim," Mecarnil said heavily. It left a nasty taste to do so, but it had to be said.
"Rightful is NOT RIGHT! Anyone knows that! If a farmer from Rohan knew that, what is Bereth's excuse?" she demanded, shaking the vellum in her grip as if she would tear it to pieces at any moment.
"Nonetheless, Rosmarin, the petition is legal and it now falls to you, as Bereth's heir, to settle it," Hanasian said, intervening. Rin stared at Hanasian a moment, expression softening as an idea materialised.
"Settle it? FINE!" Rin marched to the hearth and flung the vellum onto the fire. She stood there to watch it blacken and curl.
"Settled," she announced after several moments, dusted off her hands and turned back to face Hanasian and Mecarnil. Both men stared at her.
"There is no petition. Cardolan has a king. Cardolan is reunited with the north, the way it should have been were it not for petty, squabbling princes like Bereth and his ilk. No petition now exists and we can just get on with our lives. Back to normal, back to work."
"Did she just abdicate… just like that," Mecarnil asked.
"I think you have to take the throne to abdicate," Hanasian dryly observed.
He could see what she was trying to do. She was trying to do what she thought was right and she was trying to minimise the changes the truth had made to her life. Rin was fighting to preserve her very identity. Still, it would not be as simple as that. Regardless of what she wanted, the fact was that she was hereditary ruler of a realm uncrowned and rediscovered. Her very existence would require the king's attention. He would, most likely concur with her intentions but it would need to be done in accordance with law and custom if reunification had a chance of sticking over the long term. Without that, she and her heirs would continue to be a loose end, a thorn in the side of the orderly succession of thrones. Such loose ends cause trouble and unrest. This had to be dealt with properly.
All this Hanasian said. Rin heard him out, chin stubbornly raised and arms crossed beneath her breasts. When he had finished speaking, she pounced with a challenge.
"As far as the king is concerned, there is no surviving heir, no loose ends. This heir has been lost for over thirty years and it's in everyone's best interests if it stays that way."
Mecarnil made an exasperated sound before he turned away. Hanasian shook his head. It would take time to her see that she could not hide. At the top of the stairs, though, Videgavia smiled. Through unorthodox measures, a civil war was being averted and an old folly corrected. He didn't envy Mecarnil or Hanasian, but he was really warming to their healer. Provided they could convince her to deal with the king, this had every likelihood of resolving itself calmly and without blood shed.
"Do you have any idea what you are doing," Hanasian asked her and watched Rin openly smile at the question.
"No, not a clue. And that is precisely my point! Even if, and it is a big if, the grounds for the claim are valid, I'm not someone you'd want ruling a land. Cardolan has had enough strife. Let her rest, I say. Give her peace. Now who's hungry? Is breakfast ready yet?"
Loch shouldered past Videgavia and thumped down the stairs, throwing off the Ranger's attempt to slow his arrival in the common room. He reached the bottom of the stairs and looked at the three already there. It had been a long, painful night and it showed. Mecarnil and Hanasian were both met with the flat flick of his brown eyes before they settled on the woman that had, until recently, been his sister. There was an ache inside of him at the sight of her now, standing there. But, blood was blood and nothing he felt or said or did would change that reality. Just as his mixed blood had earned him a lifetime of rejection, hers would take her onto a life far better than any he may have been able to provide to her. Painful as it was, if he stepped back now this would be easier for her.
"Loch," she said, stepping towards him.
"M'lady," he replied as neutrally as he could, voice roughed with pain. He clenched his jaw and pushed out of the door to the too bright streets outside. Rin stood, stunned, in the middle of the common room for a moment. It felt like he'd just thrown her to the ground again. To be treated like a stranger by her own brother. Rin's head bowed and her hands slowly curled into fists at her sides.
"Oh, you fool," she snarled. Rin pushed the door open so hard that it crashed against the wall. She startled an Elf, who took one look at her and then pointed in the direction of the last mortal he had seen. Rin took off after Loch at a run.
"Get back here, Lochared," she shouted at his back. Hanasian was silent as the two stormed out.
"This is going to be a long day," Mecarnil observed behind him.
Loch heard her running after him. He had no interest in a confrontation with Rin. The night had been hard enough. He had hoped to slip out of the inn before the others, to walk and clear his mind and steel himself for what he believed was the best thing to do. This was Rin's chance for a life so much better than the one Loch could have imagined for her. He'd not have her hold herself back and sacrifice that opportunity on some misguided sense of familial obligation, especially since it was clear now that they were not blood. He did not have a sister. That though jarred through him and left him feeling hollow. No, he could not face Rin now. Not yet. She was calling after him, pursuing him with the single minded intensity that he knew lay at the heart of her character. He had to lose her. Loch pressed into the quay, slipping between those there. Men and elves, it was a busy place with a ship to ready for voyage. Loch had no idea how he would withstand that voyage with Rin. Perhaps he could numb himself sufficiently before they boarded. Loch had no idea how to achieve that, but it was the only hope he had. He slipped through people until one of the crew spotted him, or rather spotted his broad shoulders. Years of heavy labour had ensured Loch was a strong man.
"Hie, you there! Yes you, solider! Might ye give us some aid?" a sailor called from the deck.
Loch glanced up and saw they were hauling cargo. He climbed the gangplank and was lost in a knot of sailors by the time Rin made it to the quay. She looked wildly about, this way and that. From his vantage on deck, Loch could see the stricken expression on her face. Her face, so different to his own. They had explained the differences between them away over the years. At first, he had thought she took more after their, or his, father. But when they got to Rohan, it was clear that wasn't true. Loch had asked her about it once, and she'd dismissed it out of hand. Lots of siblings didn't look like each other, she had assured him with that sweet smile of hers. They had no way of explaining how she came to be in his family aside from the usual way and those who could have told them were long passed. That had been that. Until now. All of them seemed certain that Mecarnil was correct. Even Hanasian, apparently. Loch felt like a fool. He hauled on the line, losing himself in the exertion of the work. When he next looked to the quay, Rin was gone. He heard the shout to pull and he pulled again. So many faces, none of them Loch's, flowed past her. Rin wanted to shout, howl and break something all at once. Instead, she reigned herself in. Some of the faces seemed curious. Some seemed surprised, genuinely puzzled or perturbed. Rin lifted a shaking hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. She was a member of the Company of Arnor. She needed to comport herself with whatever scrap of dignity remained to her after her headlong sprint pell mell through Mithlond.
At the inn, the rest of the Company had been drawn downstairs by the commotion that unfolded in the common room. They were silent at first, but their heads and eyes started turning to Hanasian and Mecarnil. It was Khule who broke the silence.
"Well…. I can see why Arnor fragmented and disintegrated… "
"Up yours" Mecarnil retorted, obviously distressed and in no mood for it.
"He does kinda have a point," Berlas interjected followed by murmured agreement from most of the others.
Hanasian took control of the moment and said, "That may be all fine and dandy, but for the most part, it all adds up to petty squabbles among comrades but for the enormity of what has been discovered with Rin. Still, in the end, there is really no solid claim, and even less so considering how the person at the heart of it seems to feel about it. Mecarnil, you may be the only one here who really gives a damn about it, being you were close in on it, and being Cardolanian Dunedain and all. But me, I'm likely as mixed blood as the rest of these guys. Having a strong Arthedainian heritage but being half Rohirrim, and there is more than enough survived writings that suggest that I have a bit of Lossoth blood.
"So I really don't care to see this cause any undue grief to anyone. I do have a vested interest, for as you all have obviously observed I am in love with Rosemarin. I don't know anything about claims to ancient thrones and if she's heir to Cardolan under a different name. To me she is Rosemarin, and will be. It is the person that her lot in life has made, not some ill-conceived desire of her natural father. Now, it will all be heard out in the King's Court when we see him, whether our relationship can continue from there remains to be seen, but until then, we all have a duty to said king. Now, everyone eat breakfast! We have a long and busy day ahead. "
They were mercifully silent from that point on. In that silence over breakfast, many of their number realised that they had become the crew that sat together in Minas Tirith not all that long ago, before Frea and some of the company rode north, and before they rode west toward Tharbad. But everyone felt the absence of their two newest acquisitions. It was not surprising that Loch had been absorbed into the Company. However Rin had been taken in, despite everything, also. Almost to a man, this Company had accepted both as their own. Hanasian finished his breakfast first, and stood up.
He said loudly, "Commander is done, you're done. Now get out there and make preparations to leave. See the animals are tended and all necessary supplies are stowed in the ship. Khule, Wulgof, Molguv, you three get down to the docks and get the stuff loaded.
"Frea, Folca, Berlas, you two go scavenge this port for anything that will be useful and can be easily acquired for our journey. See if you can find any of that elven waybread ...lembas... for us to take along. It tastes like dry leaves sometimes when its all you can get, but it is sweet and has invigorating properties, and doesn't add too much weight and take up too much space.
"Vid, you and I will go visit the loremasters of the library. I want to find anything they have about the lands south. I doubt it will have much, but one never knows what the immortals have learned. I also want to find out any and all information on Cardolan and the line as I can. The King may want to know when we see him. I'm hoping Rin will see the wisdom of talking this through with him.
"We'll meet back here just before sunset. If any of you see Rin and Loch, remind them they have duties to the company and that their attendance is required. NOW GO! "
Hanasian had enough of the laxity that had overtaken them. It was one thing to be relaxed when not heading toward battle but a supposed time of rest. It is quite another when one was setting out for battle. He had to put the screws of discipline down on them, and that meant everyone. He would have to keep himself and Rin on top of it as well. From now on, it would be as if the enemy combatants were right next to them. It would be tough to do while on board the ship, but the time here he would do what he could. The others emptied out quickly. They didn't like to stick around when the cap started barking orders. Best get the job done. And that is what they did. Hanasian and Videgavia were the only ones remaining and soon they headed out as well.
"Standing around gawking when there's work to be done," remarked a familiar voice. Rin lowered her hand and glanced over to Frea. He stood with his arms crossed and clear disapproval on his face. She'd seen that expression before. He wore it a lot around her. Frea strode over to where she stood and examined her critically. She probably looked like she'd been dragged backwards out of a hedge. Another black mark for him to chalk up against her name.
"Have you oiled your gear," he demanded after his inspection. The fact that she had no idea what he was talking about was clear in her face. Frea shook his head in contempt.
"All this salt," he said, gesturing to the air around him. "What do you think you'll have left at the end of the voyage? That sword will be useless, and anything leather will be all dried and cracked and weakened."
Frea launched into a dressing down about the folly of ignorance and poor preparation. Rin said nothing, jaw locked tight, and stared straight ahead. He circled her as he spoke.
"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" he finished with, bristling in front of her. They were roughly of the same height, so their gazes locked and sizzled with mutual anger.
"Who appointed you captain, Frea? " she replied. They stood that way, toe to toe for a long moment before Frea snarled and pulled away. Rin swallowed hard at his back and braced herself for his next onslaught. A few weeks ago, she would have curled up into a ball and hoped a soldier like Frea would not glance sideways at her. Instead, Frea simply moved off and Rin was left with a spinning head, knotted stomach and troubled heart on the crowded dock. Loch was still nowhere to be seen. Rin trudged back to the inn, deflated and worried. She used the coppers she had gotten from the Hobbiton deal to purchase oil and a suitable cloth on her way. When she got to the inn, she found everyone had scattered. Rin collected up the gear in Hanasian's room, hers and his.
Metal and steel all had to be oiled, according to Frea's patronising lecture. One of the soldiers, a man she had yet to put a name to, saw her at work. He wasted no time gathering up all the other gear he could find. Oiling was a wretched chore ill-liked by all and often avoided. Soon, she was barricaded by a wall of leather, boots, bags, uniforms, sheaths, and steel blades of all descriptions. She thanked her stars that the saddles and tack were still with the horses. For all of the miserableness, the oiling was a repetitive action and it was somewhat soothing. It allowed her to sort through her tangled thoughts. There was no way she was going to go before the king with some fanciful half baked claim of a man she had never met. No way. There was no way she was going to give up on Loch either. She hadn't spent all of her life putting up with him to give up on him now, the idiot. And, most of all, there was no way she was going to cost a single man in the Company his life.
The dirty three set out toward the docks, and Wulgov managed to pick up some supplies of miruvore along with a couple packs of lembas. It seemed the elven merchants knew the mortals would be in the market for some of their wares. They paused when they thought the saw Loch. It was then one of the shiphands spotted them and called for further assistance.
"It seems Loch knew our orders before we did. I'm sure the cap would have sent him with us anyway. Let's go." Khule said as they sauntered down to start work.
They would let Loch take his first load and be below decks before they arrived. They would act like they were there all along. That was how things would go as a general rule for their Company. When Loch discovered their arrival, he found them full of talk about how Rin had burnt her one ticket to freedom and how Loch needed to talk her out of throwing their fortune away. The more the trio chattered, something dawned on Loch that made him uneasy. He had become exactly the very thing he loathed. He had turned his back on his family due to blood, just like his extended family had turned their backs on them due to blood. As children, they had sought them out in Dunland and Rohan. As children, they had been turned away as either having too much of Rohan or Dunland in them. This realisation was a sobering thought for Loch.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Hanasian made his way toward the docks and looked down the street to where the ship rested. Several men worked frantically to load supply. It appeared that more miruvore was in the cargo than the manifest called for, thanks to Mulgov and Khule. He could see them, along with Mulgov lifting heavy items up the gangplank. Loch stood onboard, taking all that was handed him. Those men will be tired this night. It will be a good thing. No sign of Rin though. What he did see was the Captain of the ship coming up his way. This would be a good opportunity. As he approached, Hanasian stepped out and hailed the man.
”Again well met Captain Harlas of the good ship Fidelity! May I buy you some mead and we have a talk?”
“Why, of course Captain Hanasian of the Company of Arnor. I was just heading in here for an afternoon drink, ” Harlas said. The two Captains disappeared into a doorway.
Hanasian said to Harlas, ”You and I know our orders, but if it would not be too much for me to say, I will be most happy if we should find the way slow going and we have to port in Pelargir.”
You know Captain…” Harlas replied, ”… I cannot predict the seas or winds anymore than you. Manwe and Ulmo tend to conspire together or against each other as each see fit. Very unpredictable you know.”
“Yes it is, and a good captain of the seas knows this, and does his best to work through it. I’m sure you will get us to where we are to go in good order. You have a good day Captain.”
Harlas fiddled with his cup and said just before Hanasian was to go out, ”Look west Captain, and if there is cloud, then we will set out tomorrow night. If not, then the morning after. I think the conditions will be of benefit to us both. Let your men know the new timetable. The tides will be favourable.”
Hanasian nodded and left. Fate will play its hand. After checking on the men at the dock briefly, he walked back to the inn.
Rin set down the cloth and flexed her hands. Her fingers ached from the day of polishing and rubbing. The oil seemed to have seeped into her skin. Still, all the gear and all the weapons she had found or had been found for her had been treated. It had taken all day, but it was done. It still wouldn't be enough for the Frea's of the world, she mused, still bruised from their dockside clash of the morning. Men started to filter back to the inn, nodding as they passed her. Mecarnil paused, surprised to find her simply waiting, and then started for her. Rin wearily watched him approach. He wore the expression of a man that wanted to urgently speak with her. She could guess what it was about. Rin had no stomach for further confrontation and began to entertain various escape options, including the window at her back. Loch's arrival saved her.
"Rin? Can we, ah, talk... front?" Loch asked. Rin stood so suddenly that her chair was nearly upended behind her. She stretched, side stepped Mecarnil and followed her brother back outside, leaving a table heaped with the Company's gear.
"No, you look, Loch. I don't know what sort of nonsense you've cooked up for me today. You better be paying attention now, Lochared, or I'll box your ears until you do. It doesn't matter what or whose blood runs through our veins. Not one whit!
"All those years we spent together, all the rough times because of the way ignorant people treated you on the basis of your blood. I really thought you knew better. You're my brother, Loch. You were my brother yesterday, you're my brother today and you'll be my brother tomorrow no matter what you or anyone else has to say about it. It's as simple as that and don't you be standing there and thinking that I'm going to tolerate you telling me any different, Lochared. Don't you dare!"
"You done yet?" Loch asked when he was able to get a word in edgewise. Rin pushed out a long breath and nodded. She eyed him warily, ready for further argument. Instead, Loch wrapped his arms around his sister.
"I'm sorry, Rin. I was wrong and I'm sorry." Loch picked her up and hugged her tightly.
In the street, Hanasian paused at the sight of them. The fact that Rin was even there came as a relief to him. The fact that she appeared to somehow have reconciled with her brother, by blood or fostering, was further salve for Hanasian's troubled mind.
"Come on, we both need to wash up," Rin said to Loch. He shot a bashful grin at her, nodded, and they both headed back inside. She had expected to find some gear left, hers and Hanasian's. However, it was missing. She found it had been replaced in their room. The simple thoughtfulness made her smile. Relieved to find that the oil did indeed wash off, Rin returned downstairs to discover that Hanasian had arrived and was revising their departure orders.
"I hope you're ready! Our timing has changed. Dependant on weather, we head out either tomorrow night or the night after. I'll have your reports now."
Rin and Loch glanced at each other at this new development: reports. Rin caught a smugly victorious glance from Frea as they took their seats. Frea had warned her and he had expected her pride to get the better of her judgement after their confrontation. he already knew her to be stubborn. They went around the table, each reporting back on their progress for the day. At the end of each report, Hanasian nodded. Loch, she discovered, had been loading cargo all day with his usual three friends. Frea gave his report, outlining the supplies rounded up. So it went on until it was her turn.
"I oiled the gear," she reported. It seemed insignificant, in comparison to what others had said, but it was all she had.
"Just hers," Frea muttered quietly to Folca.
"All of it?" Hanasian asked, catching the comment and pursuing it further.
"Yes, excluding the saddles and tack. That was still with the horses."
Frea's triumph seemed to diminish and Loch's cleared his throat. Rin caught him nodding at Frea, as if he was telling the other that he had been proven correct in something. It was baffling conduct, to say the least, to the woman observing this.
"Good. Keep yourselves in line tonight. Remember who we are and where we are. You know what I expect of you." Hanasian glanced at the door as if he expected someone to arrive.
"Thanks Rin. Dog of a job. Surprised you have fingers left," Khule said quietly to her. She produced her hands and wiggled her fingers, unwilling to make any comment until she got to the bottom of some things. Hanasian and Mecarnil moved away to another table and spread a map over its surface. Rin watched Mecarnil bend over it and trace parts of it with a finger. He was speaking to Hanasian, but she couldn't determine what was being said. A tap at her shoulder brought Rin's attention to Videgavia. He had also collected Loch and he beckoned the pair of them to join Hanasian and Mecarnil. All three Rangers sat around the table and considered the two that stood before them a moment.
"Loch, can you recall where your home was in Dunland?" Hanasian asked and the siblings traded gazes. Rin firmly shook her head at her brother. Loch hesitated, then finally shrugged and nodded at his captain.
"Sure," he replied, scanning the map. There were notations all over it, in a script he could not understand. The place was already marked with a rose. He tapped it with his index finger several times. "There… on the southern cusp of the Misty's," he said, glancing up at Hanasian. Mecarnil nodded and sat back, relieved to have not been mistaken in broaching this entire difficult matter.
"Rin, you'd better sit down," Hanasian advised, "Our thanks, Loch."
Loch nodded and took himself to be dismissed. Mecarnil leant forward after Loch had found a seat next to Khule. He considered the woman seated across the table. Her arms were crossed again and her expression was sealed off, remote and guarded.
"Rosmarin, I understand your reluctance. All is ask is that you consider the wisest course. No one will force you to accept a throne or pursue a claim you do not chose to. But neither can you hide. If you want to resolve this, and I believe that you do, you need to do it properly," Mecarnil urged.
"How can I resolve what does not exist? You're asking the impossible of me. I have nothing further to say on the matter."
Mecarnil stared at her hard and looked to press the matter further. Hanasian intervened, giving Mecarnil a signal that made the man sit back and reconsider. Rin watched the Ranger push back from the table and depart. Would be as simple as this, she wondered. Her eyes found Hanasian after a moment. It seemed like a lifetime had passed since she seen properly. Something within her eased.
"I wasn't sure if I'd see you here tonight," Hanasian said to her.
"Where else would I go, Hanasian? I've made my choice. First in Bree and again this morning. I'm not changing my mind, love." She couldn't help the stubborn note to her reply. Still, she offered a heartfelt smile to him. Hanasian collected her hand a pressed a kiss against her fingers. It was at that point that Elladan walked into the common room.
He saw Hanasian sitting with a woman that stole the Elf's breath; such was her resemblance to her mother. Elladan leant by the door and watched in his quiet way. It was her, fully grown, hale and well and every inch as fair and beautiful as her doomed mother. To see her now, after all that had befallen, was a rare delight. Elladan had seen much woe, hardship and sorrow befall elves and men alike over his long years. He felt a sense of peace slip over this unfinished strand.
A quick flick of fingers and Elladan disappeared. Hanasian knew there was no doubt. Still, he thought about how to approach the King. It would be a delicate balancing act for him in this. He wasn't sure who all saw the elf come and go, but it appeared that Rin didn't. Elladan could be stealthy even when not trying.
All that had to be pushed aside for now though. Should they come to Pelargir, then much will be worked out. Should they go afield, then it would be much longer before it was resolved. But until then, it was secondary to their preparations.
"Right company, listen up. You all had a long hard day and it was great to see you all tended to your duties despite the issues some had. As I've said to most of you before, but will repeat it for our newest members... not everyone in this company will, or has to like everyone else. But even though you may despise another company member, they need to know you have their back in the fight. Likewise they have yours. There can be no doubt in any one member's minds about this. The Rohirrim hates the Dunlandings who hates the Dunedan who hate the Easterlings who hate the Northmen, and they all hate the Haradrim. It don't mean nothing. We're all company members who have signed on to do a job. Like any family there will be squabbles, but it cannot, and will not interfere with unit cohesion."
He went and slapped the pipe from Khule's mouth as he started to light up.
"I didn't give you permission to smoke. You Khule, of all people here, should know!"
Khule mumbled in apologetic surprise. Hanasian went on,
"I'll replace your load with some of mine after we're done here. Now, I will want solid attention at these meetings from now until we're done and coming back. I want you all to be ready and alert, and to come back alive."
He walked around the room a bit, everyone silent and watching him. He went on,
"Since I can't say where we will set foot on land again after leaving here, I can't say what we will need and don't need. We had stocked pretty well in Bree, and got some additional supply from the hobbits, but if there is anything else we can acquire and fit aboard ship, let us do so. Rin, you make sure you scour this place for its wealth of medical supply and wisdom. One cannot be too ready. Now, let us have some dinner and rest. We'll be up at sunrise."
He tossed Khule's pipe back to him, fully loaded with Southfarthing Gold. He lit it up quickly. Most shuffled out to have a seat at a table that was set with a fine feast. They would be well fed when they left Mithlond.
They were quiet for the most part, letting talk be about their readiness and what they would do through tomorrow. With the ship's hold quite full with supply for men and horse, there was not much more bulky items they could load. Everyone wanted to rest after the long, intense, eventful day. Rin came into the room to find Hanasian already there, lying back on the bed as she closed the door. She seemed to have a full mind, with thoughts turning this way and that.
Hanasian stood and said to her, "Let the cares of the day fall away for a time. They will be there again."
He gave her a hug and let her rest against him. He then whispered, "I got something for you today."
There hanging by the wall was a flowing white silken layered gown. Light lace with golden embroidery ringed the collar and sleeves, and also around the hem. He didn't know if she would like it. It looked like it may fit her when he got it, being for lithe elvan women, He wasn't sure. Rin stepped over to it and pinched it between her finger and thumb and felt it.
She whispered to him, "I am not a queen..."
"... and I don't wish to make you a queen..." Hanasian interjected,
"... you are Rin, the company healer, who also is a beautiful woman the company captain happens to be in love with. I got it for the woman I love, not for the Queen of Cardolan. Rest now and try to put thoughts of this new revelation aside, and I will leave you for a moment, for I have to check on something downstairs."
Hanasian left the room in silence, and made his way to the proprietor. He settled the company account, and took a look around to make sure nobody was loitering about. They all had retired early. Hanasian nodded to himself and made his way back to the room.
Opening the door, he saw that the balcony doors were open. Out by the rail stood Rin silhouetted against the waning twilight, the gown fluttering around her in the soft breeze. Looking out over the bay, she appeared as if she were an elvan woman longing to sail west. No woman was more beautiful, queen or otherwise. She turned to look at him as he shut the door. Though his sights were on Rin, he couldn't help but notice the clouds building in the far west over the sea.
The next morning brought cooler temperatures and a light drizzle from the still grey. Hanasian was refreshed and seemed rather excited. He went to check with Captain Harlas and came back with the company gathered for breakfast. Rin was there in her leathers, looking the most professional of soldiers. He did note that she had customised the nightdress into a soft underlining, with the gold trim showing at the sleeves and collar. Hanasian smiled slightly as did Rin.
"Right company, the day has come. We will be setting out this evening as the tide goes out. The moon is waning so it will be dark when we round to open sea. Captain Harlas tells me the winds will be most favorable then, and the receding tides will help us along. Though the day will be calm and gray, and misty, he expects a storm the next day and wants to be out to sea and southward by then. So, head out through the city, search and find any last minute supply we can carry, and we will meet at the quay before the skies start to darken. The animals will be loaded by then, and we'll board. I wish our time here wasn't coming to an end, and we were here on other business, but so it goes.Say your farewells to Mithlond and the northwest of Middle Earth, for I believe it will be a long time before we ever return. Now enjoy breakfast, smoke if you wish, but no alcohol. I will see you at the quay."
Hanasian left for he was to have a last meet with Elladan. Rin considered of following him, but instead went a different way into the city. There were some herb and tool shops in the market she wanted to visit.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Rin studied Hanasian for a long moment, smiling despite her resolve to maintain a professional façade. There was no hiding her heart in her expression. As Hanasian disappeared into Mithlond's streets, Loch sidled up next to her and elbowed her with a conspiratorial grin. Her musings sharply ended.
"What are you looking so happy about?" she asked.
"Nice uniform. Could ask you the same thing, but that would be purely rhetorical."
Rin blinked at her brother's choice of words. Since when had he started using rhetorical?
"Rhetorical? Have you been reading lately?" Rin's curiosity showed.
"Pfffft… who has time for such nonsense? Rin… you still got any coin left?"
"Ah, now it all becomes clear to me. I have a little. Why?"
"Why? Does it matter why? Really? Why? Why not, I ask."
"Oh, just take them. You're up to something. No trouble, you hear. You better show up tonight on time or you'll be considered a deserter or something and that will be a whole bag of trouble… where are you going?"
"Off to find no trouble, before you lecture this fine day away!" Loch waved his hand and jogged off with most of her remaining coin. She had just enough left to buy a sample of that miruvor Molguv had mentioned last night.
Rin headed off with her own mission in mind. She was going to discover the secret of miruvor and any other secrets she might uncover in the library Videgavia had told her about. The miruvor was not difficult to obtain. In fact, it was widely available, as were a fine array of devices for healers. Rin was soon in possession of a control sample of miruvor and several finely made and exceptionally sharp knives. She then made for the library Videgavia had mentioned last night. Rin had never seen so much knowledge crammed into one place. Her amazement showed clearly on her face. So many books and only one day. Was the famed library of Minas Tirith as large as this? Rin was soon lost in the shelves and pages. Time flew past. Rin remained at her study throughout the day and her notes grew rapidly with observations, sketches, ideas and comments that she would later assimilate into something approaching a logical order. Rin was most of her way through a rare treatise on how broken bones may be repaired by a sufficiently gifted healer when someone cleared his throat behind her. It was Videgavia. He nodded to a high window. The unique amber light of sunset illuminated it. Rin's eyes widened and a curse she had acquired from Molguv tumbled out of her mouth as she frantically started gathering papers. Videgavia, smirking, assisted where he may.
"Have I missed it?"
"Am I late?"
And this after admonishing her brother to be on time. Loch would be unbearable! Rin took off at a run, Videgavia jogging behind. Leaves of paper floated in her wake. Videgavia harvested each to tuck into a growing sheaf beneath one arm. Back at the inn, Videgavia found himself further appropriated by the frantic healer as pack horse for the captain's gear. Her own she flung over both shoulders, an impressive array of satchels and packs filled with Eru only knew what, complete with the hilt of an elven sword bobbing at her left shoulder. The pair arrived at the quay with papers crammed every which way into Rin's packs until they fairly bristled. Videgavia was still carrying some under his arm. At a standstill, Rin relieved Videgavia of his remaining bundle and attempted to pack them as well. After a brief, snarling tussle with several of her packs, Rin opted for retreat and simply clasped them to her chest to prevent the building evening breeze from stealing them.
"She's here," Loch called from the deck as she finally jogged up the gang plank. As she boarded, he looked to the sky and then looked back at her. His meaning was plain and it set Rin muttering in a way that made her brother grin victoriously.
"Wonderful," Wulgof said with a sarcastic drawl as she reached the deck. Frea muttered something to his twin.
The company had assembling on the deck to await their captain. Rin fell into line, papers still clutched to her chest as she stared overhead at the cloth of the vast sails and the leagues of rope that ran like webs in every direction. The sails were being hoisted and the setting sun remade them in bronze and gold. A flag, black with a white tree and seven white stars, fluttered bravely overhead. The sun had sunk beneath the clouds that had been gathering since the night before. Its rays set the cloudy ceiling and watery floor of the Gulf of Lune ablaze. Fidelity's crew swarmed everywhere over the boat in final checks and preparations for departure. Below, the squeal of a horse still unsettled from its stowing could be heard through the timbers of the deck. Hanasian appeared on the quay, walking side by side with an Elf that Rin thought she recognised. In the soft light, it was hard to be certain, but she as studied further she realised she was correct. She had seen his face before… and his boots. They had seemed very large to her at the time, given her vantage. Hanasian and Elladan made their farewells and Elladan glanced up to the deck of the ship as his friend boarded.
His gaze found Rin's and he smiled, inclining his head gracefully by way of acknowledgement. Yes, she'd seen him before with the blue flowers. She smiled in return, transported to that golden morning all of a sudden. To those around her, Rin looked like she had been regurgitated by a book and was particularly pleased by that fact judging by the beatific smile on her face. The moment ended when Rin had to stamp a booted foot down on an errant page of notes, and then another.* While Rin seemed utterly at home on the ship, Loch had started to feel the gentle swaying of the deck and was suddenly gripped by uncertainty. He glanced at his sister. There was the tell tale light of exhilaration in her eyes and it made them dance and sparkle. The idea of putting to sea made her heart dance even if she had no clear understanding of why that was. Mecarnil glanced sidelong at Loch and then back to Rin. The sea had always called to Numenor and it beckoned her now.
Hanasian cast his eyes over the assembled company. Every member was accounted for and stood at the ready. He looked over to where Captain Harlas stood on the forecastle of the ship and nodded. Harlas emitted a series of unusual whistles, which appeared to be commands that his crew responded to. The anchor had already been raised. The signal had the gangplank stowed and the remaining lines that connected them to Mithlond released. The wind grabbed them and pushed them forward, slowly at first and then with gathering speed. A small number of elves, Elladan and Cirdan included, stood on the quay and lifted their hand in silent farewell. Some of the Company and crew responded in kind. The shouts of sailors to each other diminished as their ship pressed forward. * The company fell out and Mithlond fell behind as the ship pushed for the mouth of the harbour and open sea. It seemed as though they were flying into the very sun itself to Rin. Loch seemed unsteady as he walked below deck. He was looking pale and slightly green. Rin picked up the escaped piece of paper beneath her foot and fell into step. Hanasian followed, having collected his gear from Videgavia.
"You've been busy," he observed from behind her. Her pack looked set to explode. He fervently hoped she hadn't decided to take a few with her. That would be difficult to explain.
"There were so many books, Hanasian! I couldn't read all of them… but I think I cracked miruvor…. I'll have to trial it to know, and then there was this book on bones and another one on distillation of plants and I think I may have found a way to make our blood unpalatable to all those insects in Harad, which will prevent a host of illnesses…"
"She better not be bunking with us! She talks too much," Wulgof shouted from ahead.
The Dunlending needn't have worried on that score. The majority of the company were to bunk in a long space below deck that was strung up with hammocks. They would share the space with crew. Captain Harlas of course had his own cabin and there was one other, allocated to the Company's Captain and their healer. It was to this that Rin went.
"I think I'll test the first batch on Wulgof," she muttered as she walked into the cabin and stowed her gear. She had no time for much else, though, as Hanasian summonsed them all to the mess and gave them the run down on how things would be ordered on the ship. There were, after all, two Captains now. There was to be no drunkenness, no brawling or disorderly conduct, no pranks, no disobedience of a direct order from either captain. There would be rations of food and potable water. There would be training and there would be preparation for how the company would function in the field with a non soldier in their midst. The clouds that had gathered through the day closed in behind the ship that night and seemed to give chase. The cabin allocated to them had windows that opened to the aft of the ship. She pushed them open, allowing storm tossed air in, to watch the flickering of lighting on their tail. The waves of the sea were capped in white foam that seemed to glow in the darkness. Rin heard Hanasian duck through the door behind her and she turned to face him. Yes, exhilarating, she mused.
"Anyone ill yet," she asked. Hanasian nodded, ruefully.
"Frea, Wulgof, Khule, Loch…" he listed. Rin left her study of the storm that chased them and retrieved a kit she had prepared back in Bree.
"Time to earn my keep," she said. She pressed a kiss to his lips, drinking him in, and set about her duties. Hanasian had no idea what time it was when she returned. He barely stirred as she settled in beside him. It was late, perhaps so late that it was morning. She was deeply asleep next to him when dawn woke Hanasian. Usually an early riser, Rin showed no sign of wakefulness. Hanasian disentangled himself from her and rose. He splashed water on his face and then opened the cabin windows to study the northern horizon. Sunlight stretched out, alighting on the sea and settling it to dazzle like diamonds. Hanasian turned back to the bed. All that could be seen of Rin was one bare feminine foot and a long fall of pale hair. He ran a finger down her foot and she wriggled her toes.
"That had better be you, love, and not some stowaway mouse," she said, face first in the pillow. "Is it morning already?" she asked.
"It is, sweet one."
"Then I must be up."
Hanasian left her yawning and stretching and headed for the mess. Some of Rin's charges sat there, looking tender, but up and about and already considering food. Rin arrived, dressed in her uniform and braiding her hair as she went. She cast an assessing eye over Frea, Molguv and Loch and then at the food before them.
"Do you honestly think it's worth it? It's only going to come back up again," she asked them. The trio eyed their plates blearily. Rin collected them and headed for the galley. She returned with bowls of something far kinder to their stomachs than what they had initially selected.
"Soup for breakfast," Frea objected, half heartedly.
"No sharp edges. Easier on you, down and up," she assured him. The Rohirim sighed and collected his spoon.
"You're enjoying this," he accused, catching her expression. He was partially correct, but she was also pleased to see them well enough to be at the table.
"If you can pick a fight, you must be recovering," she said as Folca joined them. He shot her an apologetic grimace on behalf of his twin. She turned away for her own breakfast, grinning all the wider as she caught Hanasian's eye. He could see that Rin was fully enjoying her solid stomach on the rocking ship. Loch didn't seem to like it much, but was determined to master the seasickness, with or without Rin's potions. The rest tried to take it in stride, but some gave in to accepting Rin's concoctions, Wulgof first and foremost. He could not get the feel of the sea to settle. Frea was bad at first, but eventually mastered it. His brother didn't have any trouble at all.
That is, until three days in when Captain Harlas tried to skirt the edge of a storm that grew out of the west. Then Folca let it all out over the side. Sounded and looked like death would be a welcome rest for him at that point, but when he was done, he acted as if nothing happened. Videgavia was as quiet and stoic as ever, though Hanasian thought he may have succumbed in the wee hours of the morning when he suddenly "volunteered" to go topside and "keep watch".
For the most part the days passed without event but for the banter between the men. Mecarnil, Folca, and Videgavia kept the training and workouts going, and most took it in stride. It helped keep their mind off their troubles with the movement. It was the night after the storm that Hanasian found Loch and Rin sitting topside under the stars. It sort of surprised him, and he hoped the two may be breaking the chill that came over Loch when he discovered his sister's true origins. While Hanasian didn't know if they had further broached that matter, he was pleased to see them talking together. Hanasian didn't want to intrude, but he was seen by both, and so he that he asked to join them.
"A nice night to watch the stars. So many more of them when out to sea," Hanasian said to them. Loch didn't say anything, but he stood to go when Hanasian motioned him to stay. "Please stay Loch. I wish to talk to you both. It concerns what lies ahead of us." Loch sat back down on the deck, and Hanasian squatted down before them.
"I don't know what sort of death and hardship you may have witnessed in your days. Know that when we go into battle, there will be death and hardship. The others are veterans of war and insurrections, and have long since managed to deal with the demons that come with it. But every one of them has had their first kill in battle, and every one of them have lost good friends and comrades.
"Most don't intend to get close to another, but it happens none-the-less. When it comes, the death of a close mate in arms, it is at that moment that you find what you're made of and if you have the stomach for it. It's when the demons come. We will face these demons in the days coming."
"Do you have such demons Hanasian?" Loch asked, seeming intrigued by it all.
Rin remained silent. She stared at the hilt of the blade Hanasian had given to her at Bree. It sat in one hand, and her other hand wove the ends of her braid through her fingers as her mind worked. She looked at Hanasian when he spoke again after a bit of a pause.
"Yes, I have them. I remember the first day each one came to reside with me too. The first time someone I knew and was dear to me fell, it still comes to me sometimes in my dreams. It was my first commander when I first started riding as a Ranger before the war. His name was Elendur. He had lived through so many close scrapes with death, some with my father. He had been wounded many times, but he always seemed to manage to beat it. When it came it was sudden and in surprise. Should have never happened. But it did..."
Loch was going to say something, but Rin placed a cautionary hand on his forearm as she studied Hanasian's expression. This tale was not yet done, she sensed. After another pause, Hanasian continued on.
"We were flushing out some stray raiding orcs in the Ettenmoors. We had wiped out a camp of theirs and were feeling pretty good. There had been no more orc spoor and we stopped at some falls to refresh and set camp. Nobody saw it coming.
"Arlinas, our watch at the top of the falls was taken by surprise. Hit by three arrows, he silently fell to the pool below. Elendur saw him fall and turned to look, and he too was felled by three arrows. He crashed into me and said only one word... 'Damn' and was dead. The rest of us scrambled and was soon ready, but the attackers never were seen."
He coughed and his hand lifted for a second.
"The demon of my lost mentor climbed on my back then and there. It was only a short time later that my first kill in battle came to me, and another demon joined the first. It was not until the great war that I lost another commander. His name was Halbarad, slain on the Pelonner Fields outside Minas Tirith.
"This was a little more expected, but hurt no less. He was a serious man with a dour hand, and great were his deeds though few were ever spoken of or found their way into song. Ever having the trust of our Chieftain, he was often left in command of the northern Rangers when our Chieftain was away. No less was his death remembered than that of the King of Rohan, but he would have preferred it be seen as nothing more than the deaths of many soldiers who fell that day. Such was his nature. Sadly.
"He never returned to the north to his wife and son and daughter. Others in the Grey Company were either slain or wounded, or suffered wound that could not be seen. And several men of this company that had marched and fell under its banner, some close and some only newly recruited, each and every one had a tale of life to tell.
"But I have tried to remember them, each and every one, and tell about them in my writings. It is the demons of war and death that come to me, and through my pen I tell of them, and I have learned to live with them, and they did not master me. I have to hope that for you two, when the time comes, they do not master you, that you find ways to turn them."
Hanasian stood and stretched his legs. "My apologies, I am rambling on too much. It's not all it seems. That encounter at Tharbad was only a brief taste of what it's like. What I witnessed there of you both gives me hope that you both will do well when faced with a hair's moment of decision. All I want is for you to be ready for what is to come. I just don't know how to say it."
He turned and looked out toward the west. The wind was steady in his face, and it was then Captain Harlas approached.
"Looks like you get your wish Captain Hanasian. The winds are contrary to getting the ship far enough west to catch the current south. The storm pushed bach toward the shore that I had to work not to run aground on the shoals off the cape. But me crew and some help from your lads... especially you young master Loch, that kept us out.
"But we will have to port at Pelargir for one of the sails suffered and is in need repair. If the current winds continue, we should make port in about four days, no more than six in the worst of conditions."
"Can't say I'm sorry Captain Harlas. I was hoping to stop even for a short time in Pelargir," Hanasian replied, seeming satisfied with this turn of events.
He would have to hope for Strider being at the usual place. If not, he hoped word would reach him by other means concerning the woman nearby. Loch looked surprised he had been singled out by the captain of the ship. He didn't know he was helping anchor the line, he was just hanging on tight while his stomach turned itself inside out. The captain walked off, inviting Loch to come with him. Loch was quickly up to walk beside him.
"Lad, you ever consider life as a seaman?" Captain Harlas asked him. Loch seemed surprised at the question. The captain went on, "I just ask because you seemed to have a knack for doing the right thing."
Loch paused then said, "Well, I signed on with the Company of Arnor, and without them I would never have been on this ship, so no I hadn't. I didn't know what I was doing, I was just sick."
Harlas nodded and said, "Well of course, but the way you did it spoke much. Should you ever tire of battle in lands far and wide, you come see me in Pelargir. We'll likely port there, and you will see and enjoy the Passage Tavern. I'm sure the company will like the place. It's a blending of cultures from the north and south, east and west. Which, I must say lad, makes it rather odd, but quite dynamic. Anyway, you will find me there, or you can leave word for me there. Give my offer a consider when your commission ends."
Loch didn't know what to think of all that. He enjoyed the company, but he would likely enjoy the seas if he could get his stomach right. Still, he felt that he was a company man, even if they called him boy.
"I will, but it may be some years off. Thank you Captain Harlas!" The captain nodded and went to his quarters. Loch thought about doing the same… well, at least find his bunk. The gentle rocking of the ship was making him queasy.
Hanasian leaned on the deck-rail, quiet again and lost in his thoughts. Rin came to stand beside him. He turned to her and ran his hand past her ear and brushed her hair with his fingers.
"Do well healer" he said, and kissed her lips. "I feel time will come when your skill will be tested." Rin wrapped an arm around him. Hanasian knew she would do well, for he was amazed at how she handled herself at Tharbad. It surprised many, and the men in the company had made this clear. It was those who had not witnessed that clash that had their questions.
"I will do what I can" she said, "I do not fear battle, and though I have demons of my own from childhood, they will not have the best of me come what may."
"I know you will Rosmarin. In battle and in diplomacy."
'Great…' she thought. 'Here comes more of this heir to the throne of Cardolan rot.' She braced for it.
"Diplomacy?" she said in that sarcastic way of hers.
It made Hanasian smirk. The woman in his arms was a direct woman who was more than inclined to say what was on her mind than dissemble it. Her sarcasm was her brand of diplomacy. Still, he knew she would have a difficult road ahead and this stilled his mirth.
Hanasian kissed her hair and said, "I know you wish that none of this had come to light. Mecarnil is a good and honorable man, and he only wants what is best for the Kingdom. I have no doubt in his loyalty to the King, but he holds dear his oaths of service Cardolan.
"You know you will have to face the reality of this. Know that I will be evermore in love with you Rosmarin, ever and always. We will deal with this together. When we get to Pelargir, I want you to come with me to meet a friend of mine. I think you will like him. His name is Strider…"
"An unusual name, but I will be only too happy to meet any friend of yours, Hanasian."
Her lips made the words automatically as her mind reeled.
Ever and always, he had said. What notion had she of such a thing? The only constant person in her life had been her brother. Hanasian's words created a future to live for. First he had given her a path from a dissolute life to something with meaning and now this. It stunned her. She'd never had anything so precious before and he had just given it her, just like that. Rin gripped the rail of the ship, pressing her fingers against the weathered grain of the timber. Her vision blurred, and her breath hitched softly. It made Hanasian glance at her and he saw the bright glitter of tears in her eyes.
"What is running through that busy mind of yours," he asked gently. Rin blinked and tried to restore her equilibrium. At her current rate, she'd start swooning and that would be utterly unseemly for a healer of a military unit.
"You do not know what you have done," she whispered back and reached to caress his cheek.
"You do not know what you have given to me, Hanasian. Ever and always? Oh my love! Truly?"
The wonder in her expression rivalled the stars for brightness. The ship and those on it fell away in that moment that stretched around them. Her arms tightened around him and he pressed his palm over her heart. He gazed at her a long moment, smiled tenderly and kissed her again.
"Truly," he whispered to her.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
"Together. We will work this out together. Ever and always," she echoed.
Mecarnil, maintaining his watch over his rediscovered charge, breathed a deep sigh of relief and pleasure that was marked by a sailor who stood coiling a line beneath the main mast. Rin had been steadfastly stonewalling Mecarnil since they boarded. He'd tried to reason with her but she would have none of it. The case was clear to him.
The realm was poised on a state of high alert with the rebellion in the south. If word came of a potential rival for a northern throne hiding in Pelagir, they would react swiftly to eliminate the threat in their midst. And word would come. The Company knew who she was, the crew of the Fidelity had surely heard of their discussions and speculations and there were few women who looked like Rin. She'd be identified quickly once they made port, located and that pretty head of hers whisked from her shoulders before she could utter the words to renounce the throne. In the end, Mecarnil had turned to Loch for guidance. Her brother had shown a devious streak in his counsel.
"If you drag her before the king it won't go well. She wouldn't go quietly. No good asking me to talk her round either. She's an expert at ignoring me, has been for years now. But I reckon I know who might be able to handle her: the captain. He has cards up his sleeves we lack. One, he's her commanding officer and two… he's her… well you know how it is between them."
Mecarnil had taken up Loch's advice shortly before the storm broke. He'd taken the opportunity whilst Rin was training and found that his captain and friend had been remarkably open to the idea of assisting. Mecarnil had to hand it to Hanasian. When it came to handling the headstrong, stubborn woman he certainly had a way about it. Strider she would go to see. Aragorn, High King of the Reunited Realm… well he'd heard how hospitable she had been when caught near Tharbad. Half starved, half frozen, suffering exposure and a fever, she had been a formidable creature then despite her terror of the men she found herself surrounded by. Yes, Mecarnil was pleased and relieved and he wandered below deck to thank a pale looking Loch. Her brother had, once again, likely kept his sister alive. For services to the crown of Cardolan, no monarch had ever stood in such debt as Rin did to Loch in Mecarnil's estimation. It was for this reason that Mecarnil had been forging a growing alliance with the young man.
Their voyage carried them south and then east as they approached the Bay of Belfalas. The weather steadily warmed. Drills continued and Loch tested his hand at the spear. Rin did not, only confirming in Frea's estimation that she was a liability to them all. Hanasian watched his Company take shape in this time. Loch was proving to be naturally gifted as a soldier. Years of fighting a way through the world were being honed. He suspected the young man was not without his own battle experience. Rin demonstrated that she had means of protecting herself. Yes, the pair of them had likely been confronted before with the need to fight for their survival against some foe or the other. Dunland was not an easy place to live. Rin proved better with a knife than most of the men, and Loch hinted that she was better again with a bow. The sword was something she had to persist with, but with her effort she was rewarded and it finally started to move as an extension of her arm. The Company started to consider how to operate with her in their midst. It was all falling into place.
Hanasian and Rin continued to draw ever closer, letting each other past carefully guarded corners of memories and revelling in what they discovered of each other. Rin quizzed Hanasian about Strider, his friend, and Hanasian answered her truthfully. She never asked if he was the high king. He never mentioned it. It would go better if he did not. In that time, Rin discovered more of the previous owner of the sword she carried. She learnt of Simra and Naiore Dannan and understood why sometimes, at night, Hanasian spoke those names. It only heightened Rin's resolve to improve at swordplay. She would not become another demon to haunt the man she loved and she told him so. All this brought them to their last night at sea. At some point in the following day, they would dock. It was none too soon for some. Rin thought she would miss this time. The days under the sun with the wind in her hair and her love by her side, or the nights, working and talking and discovering him and him her already sparkled with the sheen of memory that would endure for the rest of her days.
The men had started to talk of inns they knew of at the port, and Loch was clearly absorbing all of this. Some were mindful of what had occurred at Pelagir before with the death of Simra, the fall of the Khand rebels and the final end of Naiore Dannan. Rin sat at the prow of the ship, legs dangling through the rails and watching the water roll and split to either side as Fidelity cleaved through the Anduin. In the heat of a southern spring, she had abandoned her cloak and jacket and sat in her shirt sleeves. Cooling salty spray misted over her. Rin rested her head against a supporting timber post of the railing. Pelagir… they would set out to war from there. Pelagir… she would have to face who she was there but with Hanasian by her side no matter what, perhaps she could.
"Rin?" Rin opened her eyes and glanced up at Loch. She smiled and he sat as she closed her eyes again.
"Rin… I've been thinking…"
"I'm worried, Rin." That opened her eyes again. Loch was not one for worrying after things.
"Whatever about, Loch?"
"We'll reach Pelagir tomorrow, the others say."
"And you're worried about running out of tavern money?"
"No… I'm worried for you."
"Me? Loch, I have you and I have Hanasian and there is nothing to worry about because Hanasian has this friend called Strider and there's Mecarnil to consider. Really, I've been giving it a lot of thought. It should be fine…"
"You've been so busy thinking about that, I think you've forgotten something and I don't want it to come as a shock. Knowing you, you could throw yourself overboard if you don't prepare yourself."
"What? What could be more of a shock than has already happened?"
"Soldiers, Rin. Pelagir will be crawling with them. Are you ready for that?"
"Mmmmm, I thought so. I know you can do it, Rin. I do. Look how far you've come with us. You're arguing with Frea, arguing! You don't bat an eyelash at them any more. Not even Molguv and he frightened you the most, remember?"
"Well, just remember that all those other soldiers are probably no different to us… and we're a long way from those dogs that attacked us back at home. Worlds apart, Rin. You can see that now, can't you?"
"Good…I haven't upset you, have I?"
"Good…You can do it, Rin. I know you can. You're the bravest person I know." Loch squeezed her shoulder. He had been doing that since they were kids. The gesture could mean lots of different things. This time it meant that everything would be fine. He stood again and ambled back for the mess. The last night meant that rations would be more generous than before.
Rin sat for a while longer, turning what Loch had said this way and that in her head. With a sigh, she got to her feet and went below to the cabin. Hanasian was there at the desk they had been sharing, writing. He looked up at her as she walked in, set down his quill and pushed back from the desk. Rin was wordless as she bent and wrapped her arms around him. He stood and she clung to him closer. Her skin was damp with spray and she smelt of the ocean.
"Something amiss," he asked after a moment.
"Ghosts, beloved… just wrestling old ghosts."
Hanasian said nothing, for he could understand ghosts. He drew her close and rested his face in her hair. He was enjoying this time with her, and not having too much to worry about while on the water. A part of him wished they were making for Umbar or regions south just so this time would last a bit longer. But it would come to an end tomorrow likely. He hoped that all would be well. As Rin and Hanasian lay together, she fell into a deep sleep, and he lay awake thinking and pondering the days ahead. He remembered back to when they left Mithlond, and his words to Elladan…
quote:My friend, I need you to try and do something for me. I know that elvenkind have ways to get word afar. I need you to let King Elessar know that I need to speak with Strider when I come south. It is of the utmost importance. I feel that Rosmarin would better accept meeting him that way. I feel he will sense from you what it will be about, and in this I hope it does not go awry.
Elladan did not reply that he would attempt it, but did not say he wouldn't either. Hanasian in as much as he's known him since his youth, trusted Elladan's judgement in this. As for what reception they would get in Pelargir, that remained to be seen. Gentle waves beat against the bow of the boat as it worked against the river current. The water wasn't as salty and the wind wasn't cooperating enough to please Captain Harlas. The night's headway was less than he had hoped. The morning sun found them barely in sight of the city, and it seemed they were standing still in the mighty Anduin's current. But gusts of southerly air filled the sails and the incoming tide pushed them forth so they didn't have to resort to oars. They docked in mid-afternoon.
It was warm, almost hot here. The same heat that had found them on their ride west had come from here, and though it cooled in places north, here it remained hot. The sea air filled the place, mixing with the smell of wood smoke from cook fires and smithies. The city was abuzz with activity. Soldiers marched toward the ferries that would take them across the river and the long shoremen worked at loading and unloading ships. Hanasian had the company gather on deck dressed in uniform and full gear. For their motley mix they looked rather sharp after more than a week at sea.
A dozen strong, the company was close to its smallest size. That technically would have been after Tharbad when two of their number was slain, and two of their number had to be left to recover from their injuries. Hanasian found his thoughts were pre-occupied by his last visit to Pelargir and the last time he had led the Company south into Harad after that fateful day. They had been much stronger then, their numbers swelled by recruits had joined them in Pelargir after the deaths of Simra and Naiore had passed. Those men had served well. But to a man, all who joined during the days in this city had met their fate along the way. Once again, Hanasian decided to keep his eye out for any who may be worthy of joining the company. Only a dozen strong. No matter how stalwart, how faithful in service each, they would benefit from more.
Hanasian walked the line to review the members of his company. First was Rosmarin whom he was in love with. In the weeks since meeting, she had signed on as the company physician and healer. In the days since it was revealed she was of the line of the Dunedain of Cardolan, and likely heir apparent of the line of Cäontar, son of Eärendur, last King of Arnor. Some of the company who didn't take kindly to sea voyaging took to calling her 'Doc'. She looked as much a company soldier as any, but her pouches and satchels of the trade were much different than the others. Still she was armed, and he had no doubts she was a lethal element of the company.
To think she had a fearful loathing of men at arms only weeks ago seemed strange now. Still, he could see she was a tightly coiled as any spring, warily watching the soldiers come and go on the dock as she might a horde of orcs. Her jaw was tight and no doubt, various plans and half cooked ideas concerning escape were this minute leaping like silvered fish through the rapid torrent of her thoughts. That she remained in place and did not yield to such fears now spoke much of how far she had come and he found himself fiercely proud of her. Still, with the revelation of her heritage, the true test was yet to come. It would start this day with their arrival in Pelargir. Hanasian moved to the next man, Mulgov. The black man of Far Harad was the biggest and tallest of the company. His position next to Rin, the slightest of their company, made this even more noticeable. He truly was a mountain of a giant of a man. He joined the company at the Oasis Rest on their first march south and he had been invaluable in finding ways and knowing the people and language in the far south. Still, he had a knack for mischief and in particular in leading other members astray. If there profit to be made, or fun to be had, Molguv was rarely far away.
For all of his propensity for discipline lapses, Molguv was dedicated to the company. Indeed, this fearsome looking man called it home, for he was orphaned when his father went off to war in answer to Sauron's first call of men. His mother died of an illness not long after, the very day his father was slain by the arrows of Ithilien Rangers on their northward march. Mulgov himself joined an army that went north later, and was one of the few Haradrim who had survived Pelennor and fled into the river. Most who did drowned, but Mulgov managed to make it to the east shore well downstream. He drifted the south for the years before that fateful day in the desert.
Then Hanasian passed Frea and Floca, twin brothers, and his cousins. They were the sons of Erkenbor, his mother's brother. They were young, raw infantry soldiers in Erkenbrand's army of the Westfold when they were sent to the Fords of Isen. There they fought gallantly even though their commander Prince Theodred fell. Later they were routed by attacks from both sides of the river. They were cut off and did not make it to Helms Deep in time before it was besieged, so instead made their way with other stragglers to Edoras to do what they could to defend the seat of the King. They later rode and fought on the Pelennor Fields, and were in King Eomer's Palace Guard for a few years before resigning to join their cousin when they heard he had formed a new company. Though company men, they still wore the badge of the Rohirrim beside the Company badge. Both were undisputedly proud men, fiercely loyal and possessed of a softer streak that both were careful to conceal as far as possible beneath the hauteur of the Rohirrim. The other members of the company tell them apart by their demeanour, Grouchy (Frea) and Smiley (Folca). Hanasian trusted them both implicitly.*
Berlas was one of the newer members and until Loch had joined, had been their most recent recruit. But Berlas was no youth. He was an Ithilien Ranger until recently, he joined the company when they were last in Minas Tirith. Though good accounting was given to his abilities in battle, he had yet to be tested with the company, and he remained an unknown quantity as far as the company battle veterans were concerned. Still, he showed promise and kept largely to himself. Videgavia, the rugged northman of Rhovanion. Joined the company a few years after its formation when they were marching east to help settle disputes among clans of the Easterlings of Rhun. First fuelled by a sense of vengeance toward the Easterlings and thinking the Company would be his means of doing so, he soon found out otherwise. But having been homeless for so long, he found a home in the company, and have proven his worth many times in many lands. Videgavia was ever watchful, rarely smiled and keenly intelligent. He was, in terms of sheer ferocity in battle, matched only by Khule. However, if Loch's berserker tendencies were true, the recruit would outstrip both.
Khule the Easterling. Of the Sagath clan of the forests north of the Sea of Rhun, he was a veteran of the Easterling army that assailed Dale. After losing the battle, he pulled his men back into a defensive position contrary to order from Mordor, and found himself fighting the orcs sent to enforce the orders. A rebel then, it had made little difference to Videgavia and their initial dealings with other had been tense and fraught with difficulties. After the fall of Sauron, Khule led his men home. He joined the company after a settlement of claims by clans broke down and battle erupted between his clan and another. The company got caught in the middle, and Khule managed to turn his people toward the real enemy, the Hargoth clan. The company sat that out, but saw the worth of Khule in battle, and in his cunning. He was eager to join and now he too calls the company home. Hanasian knew the man wondered after the fate of his sisters.
Wulgof, the Dunlending who fought at Helms Deep and spent time as a prisoner, he joined not long after one of his former guards, Frea, told him about the company. He has been a stalwart core of the company since. Surprisingly, despite the animosity between their peoples, Wulgof and the Rohirrim twins managed to co-exist peacefully. It had taken Wulgof longer to set aside the racial tensions between his people and the Dunedain of the company. He was a man of sarcasm, and often in the company of Khule and Molguv. Somehow, the three men of peoples that in the past had stood against the West, for good or ill, gravitated together. If Molguv was the source of mischief, Wulgof was assuredly his right hand man.
Loch, the young face in the line. Recently joined, foster brother to Rin and largely unproven in battle with the company. Still, events at Tharbad had demonstrated he was an asset. His hunting and tracking skills rendered him a formidable scout and was fast proving a talented soldier in the arts of fighting. He was affable, somewhat reckless and easily led, and eager to help. His mind had a tactical bent to it. Regular food was filling out his frame and he stood tall and broad shouldered, a man of Rohan and Dunland both. His hidden potential lay, however, in his berserker tendencies. All they needed to do was harness them, control them. The veterans of the company seemed to like him and call him 'kid'. They saw the company's future in men such as Loch.
Mecarnil, Dunedain Ranger of the north, one who with Hanasian rode south with Halbarad to join their Chieftain. Of Cardolanian lineage, he is a proud man who loves his king and considers his oaths of service to Aragorn and Cardolan paramount to all other concerns. Mecarnil inclined his head in the elven way as Hanasian passed as a sign of honor and respect for his leader. Very professional and always a gentleman, though he had become grim since after the war and his departure from Minas Tirith, to the time he joined the company. Belegost, a younger soldier of Gondor, joined when the company was on their way south in pursuit of Simra and her captors. He thought he would get to "see some action" since he was just a bit too young to be of service in the war. Much like Boromir son of Denethor in demeanour, he has a steady hand and a stable mind, and kept to himself.
Anras of Gondor too joined when the company was in pursuit of Simra and her captors. Dedicated to the company, he fights well in close situations. He had proven Rin's ability with a knife in close combat on the ship at several junctures. It had been a close match on each one. Anras was a worthy man to have your back. Hanasian always did this before they went into battle. He wanted to know the men he commanded, to see their faces and assess their service. For he knew all too well that some, many, or none may fall in battle, and there was no way of knowing who or when. He walked back again looking at each. Then took his place in line.
He faced them looking down the line and said, "Company, listen well. We are about to tie off in the great city of Pelargir. We are commissioned to be in service of the King, and we will conduct ourselves accordingly. We will have two days here, maybe three at the most before we set out again. I will have our final orders tonight.
"In the meantime, you may have some time on land. Don't drink too much, and respect the cultures that blend here. This city is a focal point of commerce among the many cultures, and acceptance is the forte. Enjoy, but be careful. We will meet at the Passage Tavern at sunset. Captain Harlas will show you where the place is. Now, stand ready to disembark!"
The lines were tied off and the gangplank set. Captain Harlas walked off as is custom, and stood to farewell each one. Hanasian led the company off in single file, looking professional in step as they came to ground. This was no small feat for they were used to the sea and movement, the ground seemed for a bit foreign. They formed rank and halted in line.
"Remember, The Passage Tavern at sunset," Hanasian reminded them, "Looks like we have some few hours before that happens. Company dismissed." Hanasian watched as they started to wander off. Hopefully they wont get lost or in trouble. He watched Molguv and Khule set off with Loch under their wings. He was glad they didn't get paid yet, for he had to see to that. After a moment, it was just Rin and him standing there.
He took her hand and asked, "Rin, I need to go see if Strider has arrived and find out when we can see him. I also need to see about the company pay. I wish for you to accompany me." She smiled, and they walked off down the street in the opposite direction everyone else went.
"Draw your hood down over your forehead. You do not wish to be burned by the sun, and it is best we try and keep our identities vague."
Everywhere there was music of some sort being played by street musicians. The scent of foods common and exotic cooked floated here and there, and the merchants all tried to hawk their wares. It was amidst one such market that they came to a tent where a man in plain a plain grey weather-worn cloak stood. His hood was down over his forehead and his pipe glowed when he drew on it. Hanasian and Rin stepped inside, and another man drew the door shut.
The man in grey said, "My friend Hanasian, it is good you have come. I believe you know my friend from Ithilien?" Hanasian turned to the man who had closed the door, and he was dressed in a faded green, weather-worn cloak with his hood down over his forehead as well.
"I do indeed. Mae govannen to you both. It is a serious day when the commanders of the Green, Grey, and Black Companies meet in relative obscurity."
A whisper from an unseen man outside to the man in green was heard, and he turned and said, "This place is secure. What we speak of will remain among us here."
Hanasian then looked at the man in grey and green and said, "Gentlemen, I wish you to meet one of our newest company recruits. Lady Rosmarin of Dunland. She is our company physician, and has proven her worth beyond any expectations in the weeks she has been a part of our company."
Each man gave a polite bow, and Hanasian went on, "We call her Rin, or Doc. Rosmarin, meet my friends Strider of many lands, and Frastelth, a Ranger of Ithilien." He watched Rin for any reaction, but she was silent and her face was a carefully neutral mask that gave no hint as to her true thoughts. Still, she acknowledged both men with a cautious, slight curtsey and inclination of her head. Her eyes were keenly focussed with the intensity she usually displayed when working. It was Hanasian's only clue as to the turn of her thoughts. Her formidable mind was far from blank, despite her carefully controlled expression.
Hanasian pushed back his hood, and Rin slowly followed suit. A braid tumbled down her back, freed from the restraint of her cowl.
"I gather that you got my message from our elven brethren. Of what all he may have communicated to you I do not know. But there is something I have to talk about that is of utmost importance, " Hanasian gravely said. Both men pushed their hoods back, and it was then that Hanasian knew they had an idea what was about to be discussed. Strider looked very much the rugged ranger of old. Frastelth was equally the rugged Ranger of Ithilien, yet Hanasian knew him as Prince Faramir. He was unexpected, but was one of Aragorn's closest councillors. They kept their disguises up well, which allowed them to move about amongst the people. A detachment of Faramir's Green Company, commanded by Mardoc of Ithilien were their stealth guard. They continued to keep their persona hidden for Rin's sake, but that would not last too long. How would Rin react? Will she think he had betrayed her?
With only a brief eye signal, Strider spoke. "I know why you wished to see me so, and I took the liberty of talking to my friend from Ithilien about it."
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |
Both men looked once more at Rin, this time with greater intensity and then they bowed once more, deeper still. Rin's neutral expression betrayed her realisation that something was afoot. Still, she had no idea what therefore no idea of the best course to take. The mask reasserted control over her features. She wanted to cling to Hanasian, but such an act would be far from professional.
Strider went on, "Welcome to Pelargir Lady of Cardolan! I an Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and this is Prince Faramir. Of this day I had hoped for and feared most its coming."
They treated her as royalty. It was Hanasian that felt like he was in over his head truly now. He was the only man of non noble descent in the tent. He really belonged outside with the stealth guards. By Aragorn's adaptation of Strider, Hanasian understood it mean that his chief and friend harboured no ill will toward her. Whether Rin understood this was another matter entirely. Was she ready to deal with this here and now? He took her hand and squeezed.
Elladan's message had been clear. Arwen had ensured that it was so. The woman they bowed to was the sole descendant to Cardolan's throne. Elladan had also discerned the true nature of the bond between Rin and Hanasian. The love between the two had been inescapable to his observation, a palpable and living thing. The squeeze of hands between the two and way she looked forlornly to Hanasian only confirmed that. Aragorn and Faramir also noted the way colour drained from her face and how she pressed back suddenly against Hanasian. She was alarmed, to say the least.
"Oh," she exclaimed. Hanasian had heard that sound before. She had dangled from his grip on a rain drenched day outside of Tharbad, half wild and half mad and half inclined to take his head off. He felt her press against him and he steadied her and tried to lend her strength.
"We mean you no harm," Aragorn said.
Again she looked to Hanasian. Clearly she was startled. He studied his distant cousin with no small amount of interest. Faramir did the same. After Aragorn's young son, the woman before them stood second in line to the high throne and would do so until Eldarion himself had heirs. The neutrality of her expression was fading. She looked for all the world like a startled doe, wide eyed and cornered and clearly considering her options.
Rin's mind exploded with ideas, none of them wise ones. Run. Hide. Fight. Flee. Faint. No, she would not swoon. Absolutely not. Rin fidgeted at her pouches, searching for something with fingers that seemed suddenly rebellious and clumsy. Given that she was armed, all three men readied themselves for what she might decide to draw forth. Mecarnil had insisted that she take that ring as they neared Pelagir and she'd run out of energy to argue with him over it. It was this she produced now and pressed it towards Aragorn with an earnest expression and wide blue eyes.
"Take it! It's not mine, not really. Take it, please, and let's have done with this disaster!" Aragorn had no choice but to accept what she pressed towards him. Her hands shook with tightly controlled tremors. He uncurled his palm and upon it mithril gleamed around a deep blue sapphire. He glanced to Faramir, who was in his own turn surprised. This was the seal of Cardolan she had just tossed away. It was not what either king or prince had expected.
"Disaster?" Faramir inquired as Aragorn studied the ring.
"Aye, a load of codswallop," she emphatically affirmed. It was at that point that Aragorn smiled faintly. Codswallop was not a term readily employed in diplomatic circles. Rin had a grip on Hanasian's hand, holding him there for he was her anchor and haven. She would falter without him. She knew it.
"I had anticipated your father's petition, Lady Rosmarin," Aragorn said truthfully. He lifted his eyes to study her mien. He saw no artifice there. This was no machinating political threat. Instead, he saw a woman confronted with her fears and fighting her way to a clear course. He could see the steel of her will there. He could see what had ensnared his friend there. She was a remarkable woman to say the least.
"Ah… I burnt it," Rin confessed. Spots of shame at her hastiness marked her cheeks. Faramir coughed and then covered his mouth. He had to look away for a moment.
"Burnt it?" Aragorn echoed.
"It was… It seemed the best course at the time," Rin stubbornly said. It was burnt and that was that and if such an act cost her life, then so be it. What did she know about treason anyway? She was a thief!
"Indeed," Faramir said warmly, winking at Aragorn. Aragorn considered the rose shaped ring in his hand and then his cousin. It was strange indeed to realise that after all the years of being alone and bereft of kin, here she stood despite the perils that had beset them both.
"Why was that, Lady Rosmarin?" Aragorn tested. He could ill afford to overlook any threat to the stability of his realm. Word of her father's petition had reached his court even if Bereth had not and the results were incendiary. That was close to thirty years ago. Now, the threat was only more tangible.
"Why? You mean you don't know?" She was truly astonished. Hanasian squeezed her hand again and she took a deep breath.
"I… it was yet another episode of the foolishness of the past. Cardolan fell. What remained of its people accepted your forebears as their lord. Now, it is reunited as it should always have been bar the grasping silliness of squabbling men. Bereth's claims may have been possibly rightful, but they were not right. Cardolan has earned it's rest, it's peace. I have no claim to press, no desire to make her bones dance at my whim! I don't care what Bereth thought he was entitled to. I am not him. I refuse to be! I refuse his ambition, his greed, his arrogance! You rule Cardolan well. Let it continue."
"Am I to understand you have no interest in taking up your heritage? Mistake me not, my lady. Cardolan's throne is yours and yours alone by right of umarred descent. I do not stand in your way."
"None, not one scrap of one piece of one skerrick! No… I'll not take a hand in the sorrows of the past. I'll not create a new age of folly. Do her people cry out for partition? Cardolan only came into existence through the quarreling of brothers. I see no reason to perpetuate this. I see no cause to reverse the decision Cardolan's survivors made when they took refuge in Arnor all those centuries ago. I see no reason to divide Arnor anew. Let the past lie at rest. Let Cardolan know peace and prosperity under her ruler, under you. Please!"
Aragorn was surprised, to say the least. He had anticipated a protracted negotiation to ensure the unification of the north remained intact. He had not expected his cousin to disavow herself of her lineage. Faramir too was surprised.
"I think I need to sit down," Rin muttered. The heat, the press of soldiers and shock of her meeting was catching up with her fast. Hanasian held her upright, a rock against her unsteadiness.
"You're not alone in that, Lady," Faramir replied. He slipped out to his men stationed without and they were soon on their way with brief exchange of signals. They progressed to a tavern and upstairs to a private room. Refreshments were soon brought and Rin was relieved to take a seat. In the intervening time, Aragorn had opportunity to consider what he had learnt. He waited for Rin to assuage her thirst before picking up the thread further.
"So, my lady, to recap… you're enlisted in Hanasian's Company as physician and healer. You're the ancestral heir to a throne you have no desire to take up. Moreover, you wish for any claim to such throne to be extinguished. Am I correct?" Rin nodded, seated next to Hanasian and leaning towards him for shelter.
"Then what indeed do you seek from me?" Aragorn asked.
"Truly? You would surrender a realm, its wealth and power for nothing?"
"I only want what I have always desired: my life. My freedom! My path! I have made my choice in enlisting in the Captain's company. I ask no more and no less than that. Is that too much? It seems like a lot, now that I say it..."
"You give up a realm for a life of war and you ask if that is too much? You unite a sundered realm in a way I never could and you ask if that is too much? You emerge, alive and very much well, proving a family I had long believed lost to exists and you ask if that is too much?"
"You seem to be sceptical…I have spent my life thus far wondering where my next meal will come from, and where I might find shelter for the night, and whether I would live to see the next dawn or next sunset. Against this, what may seem the humblest or meanest of things to you seems to be a treasure beyond all reckoning to me. I already have so much more than I ever believed possible!" Aragorn could hear the full measure of her meaning in her words. He and Faramir both saw Rin glance once more to the man she clearly loved. Aragorn's eyes drifted to Hanasian and he nodded, slowly.
"And so, you prove wiser than many a prince before you," Faramir observed to Aragorn's side.
"I see, my lady, that you are a healer indeed. I will admit that I feared you carried your father's intentions at your heart but it is clear now that I am mistaken. You seek to be free, yet I cannot remove that which is your descent. No… let me speak… I can no more remove your lineage than I can remove the sun from the sky. Such a precedent would prove… intemperate. It could plunge the peace we both seek for the realm into doubt."
Faramir nodded at Aragorn's words. Stripping Rin of her descent and lineage would create a double edged sword that some hothead at some point could and would use against Aragorn's line. So had been Faramir's counsel.
"Yet, there is a way forward if you will it. If you wish, it is possible to renounce the throne and cede it to me. It must be a decision you take fre-"
"Oh I do! Please! Yes," Rin declared. Aragorn sat back at her affirmation.
"Then it shall be so. I will have the papers drawn up and we can finalise this on the morrow."
"Permanently? This won't raise its head again at some untoward point in the future?"
"Into perpetuity, for you and your heirs, any that you may have with Hanasian," Aragorn steadily replied.
Rin flushed again at his words. Aragorn and Faramir traded a knowing glance. Strider then stood and walked around the table. Hanasian and Faramir took to their feet, Rin following afterwards. The king nodded at Hanasian as he passed and placed his hands on Rin's shoulders.
"Well met, cousin. I have waited a long time for this day," Aragorn said warmly. He placed a light kiss on either cheek and then turned to take up Hanasian's hand.
"Well done, captain. Long have you searched for her, my friend. May your road together be long."
"And so, Hanasian, how indeed did you find her," Faramir inquired. Hanasian caught the playful tone to the question.
"Prince, Sire, it was the darnedest thing. She was fleeing through the wilds outside of Tharbad having robbed two of my men. Quite literally, she collided with me. So, it would seem she found me instead of me her. It was almost as if she fell out of a tree," Hanasian reported. Faramir again covered his mouth and frowned into the middle distance.
"You robbed two soldiers," Aragorn mildly inquired.
"That too seemed like a good idea at the time," Rin muttered uncomfortably as more refreshments were delivered up.
Faramir observed lightly, "Some of the finest rulers I know of have been adept at the creation of wealth from the unlikeliest of places." At that Aragorn cleared his throat and re-lit his pipe.
"You may wish to have a care, my friend. If trees around Tharbad are known for rendering up such as my cousin here, they are libel to be besieged," he mused, drawing deep on his pipe as he met Hanasian's eyes.
Elsewhere, Loch followed Molguv and Khule into the most fantastical of places, a melange of east and west. All three wore wide grins as they greeted the pastimes within. They had the whole day to pass until they needed to rendezvous at the Passage Tavern.
Hanasian was both eased and troubled by this meeting. It seemed too smooth to be true, yet there it was, King Aragorn and Prince Faramir taking the news of the arrival of the uncrowned queen of Cardolan all too calmly. The stream of aromatic smoke cast out by Strider made a thick swirl between them. Strider watched it and broke the brief moment of silence.
"I have to warn you that there are many who counsel that should any heir be discovered, making claims or no, should be imprisoned and even a few recommend death. But I fear not any who are my kin from the years afar.
"Still, I must say that you must take care in this. Surely if any in your company know of this, the word will likely spread as fast as fire caused by lightning in the dry grass of late summer. So, I will have to change your orders some."
Change of orders? Hanasian was aware of no orders other than the vague words of the messengers when they were in the north, and that of Captain Harlas on the ship.
"Orders, my friend? If the seas and winds were right, we would be on our way south to Umbar and beyond. What orders do you have for this company?" Hanasian said as he tried to wrap his thoughts around all that was happening.
"Yes, my friend. So it was when I gave word to them when I sent them to find you. But much has changed since those days. With lady Rosmarin arriving as the healer of your company, and all that was discussed here, surely there will be some in this city that will seek her out. Therefore I must send you south without delay."
Hanasian could see the concern on both Aragorn's and Faramir's faces. Yet even so, it seemed they were at ease. Strider went on, "Tomorrow the King will gather his armies and address them. I want most of your company to be there in formation under Mecarnil's command. But I want you, and Rosmarin, and Folca, and Videgavia to stand with me as guards on the podium. Everyone will see where the company stands, and know they have my support.
"They will also see that Lady Rosmarin stands there as well, in company attire, for all to see. There will be no doubt that you Rosmarin show no threat to this realm in the north, and that you stand by your King. I trust from all that you have said here that you do stand my me."
His eyes beamed into Rin's reading her thoughts. What he found satisfied him, but Rin seemed a bit shaken. Strider then spoke to Hanasian, "You will then leave by two ways. Half the company will depart on the ship 'Night Explorer', and the other half via the bridge to South Gondor. Of which detachment you will command will remain a secret even from you until the hour has come. Mecarnil and Folca will be in command of the other detachment. You will meet up near Umbar. Any questions?"
Of course there were questions. Hanasian thought the only bright part of this was Rin would be going with him. But Hanasian had the thought that maybe it would be a good decoy if they separate and go in different detachments. Hanasian didn't like that thought, and wasn't sure he should put it out there.
"Worry not my friends. We will talk on an official level tomorrow after I address the armies. But for now this gathering grows long... too long to keep secret. Namarie, " Aragorn said, turned and was gone out the back. Prince Faramir drew his hood and disappeared out the front. A moment passed and Rosmarin and Hanasian stepped out into the daylight. Hanasian's mind seemed too filled with confusion to think straight. It was then he noted a small rolled scroll was in his pocket. He left it there and they walked the markets again, heading for the Passage Tavern.
Voromir turned the gold mark over in his hand. The sailor that had returned it to him seemed anxious. He was a simple man, a man loyal to his king. However, this business made him feel inexplicably nervous. The sailor knew his duty. It was this knowledge that had dragged him from home to the navy. It was this knowledge that had prompted him to accept the task and mark from Voromir all those years ago. He'd never imagined he'd trip over a missing queen on the high seas, and yet, beyond all reckoning, he had.
"You're certain it's her, it's Erían," Voromir inquired. His was a face of lines, sharp angles, like a shattered pane of glass, only colder. The sailor ducked his head.
"Aye, lord, though she goes by a different name now - Rosmarin. The talk of her company was that it was proven beyond doubt in Mithlond by none other than one 'o Elrond's sons…. Not Elrohir, but the other one, lord."
"The Black Company of Arnor, led by one o' those Rangers… Hanasian, Captain Hanasian. Only a dozen men, lord. They seem to 'ave signed her on, like, with her foster brother. The captain is her… paramour, I suppose. And there's this other Ranger who watches her like a hawk, like she was his own. His name is Mecarnil."
Voromir's mouth twisted in a cold smile. It had to be Bereth's whelp, then and she was proving herself to be as clever and treacherous as her father. She'd suborned a company held in high esteem with the king, wrapped Rangers around her treacherous fingers, and now she was in Pelargir when the south was erupting into open rebellion. Voromir did not believe in coincidences. It was almost certain she was in league with that other traitor responsible for whipping the tribes of the far south into a frenzy. He could guess at their plan, even if their means remained a mystery. Attack from both sides, watch the kingdom's shatter under the strain, divide the spoils between them. He had to admit, were he not a loyal man, it would seem a very good plan indeed. A plan worthy of one born of high noble blood.
"Where are they staying," Voromir inquired, turning the mark over in his hand. A gold crown mark was worth close to ten year's wages for the sailor before him.
"Passage Tavern. They'll meet there at the end o' the day, lord."
"And Erían, where is she now?"
"She headed off with her captain, lord. I don't rightly know where she might be now. I came right here to seek you out, as I were told to do when you gave me that there mark, lord."
Voromir flicked the mark into the air and towards the sailor. He lifted a hand to the guard at the door. The guard admitted a soldier, a ranking officer. Guard and soldier alike bore a leaping stag in gold on a green field across their tabards. The officer glanced to the sailor, who clutched his gold mark, and dismissed him from his thoughts without further consideration. He saluted Voromir smartly.
"The Passage Tavern, you know it Captain?"
"Take a small number of men, your best, there. Bring me back the woman that the sailor identifies for you. Do it quietly. She may be accompanied by members of the Black Company whom she has corrupted. I do not want a scene."
"Captain, let me make myself clear. I want that woman, alive and in a condition to permit putting her to question. She's a treacherous one. She already has two Rangers, Hanasian and Mecarnil, wrapped around her fingers. Bring her to me and only me. Understand?"
A flick of Voromir's wrist set in motion what had been waiting nearly thirty years. Lenvis marched at a quick clip to the barracks. A covert extraction in a public place at a time when the port was crawling with soldiers was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because military men like him would blend right in. A curse because his quarry could easily find aid from the armed, capable men around her. The sailor bumbled along in his wake, uncomfortable on dry land. It showed in his gait. The Passage Tavern did not bode particularly bad or good for his job. The Black Company of Arnor, though, had a fearsome reputation. Hanasian was highly regarded, Mecarnil too. Word was that Hanasian had been taking on any man he deemed suitable, broadening his ranks with men of the East and South. This made it unpredictable force to be reckoned with. Lenvis knew the three men he wanted for this task. If this woman could be fetched without a scene, they'd do it.
Lenvis and his small team were at the Passage Tavern before sunset, garbed as many in Pelargir were: infantry uniform. The appearance of a tall Ranger accompanied by a fair haired beauty in Black Company uniform was sufficient for Lenvis.
"Her name?" he asked the sailor.
"She goes by Rin… short for Rosmarin, now sir."
Lenvis grunted dismissal and the sailor shot out of the inn eager to be back to his ship and quit of this business about traitors and thrones. Made his skin crawl just thinking about it. Lenvis felt for Hanasian. It was easy to see how she'd managed to compromise him. She was a truly beautiful woman, for all of her perfidy. It was sorrowful that such proud service could be so corrupted. It only hardened his own heart against the woman on the Ranger's arm. The piper always had to be paid. Every soldier knew it. He hoped he could remove her without exacting too harsh a price from Hanasian and his men.
At the Sighing Sands, Loch was receiving instruction on the cultural nuances of Khand. It had all started with a shriek from a wild, dark eyed beauty called Farah. No one had told Loch that the renowned Khandese dancers could be watched, cheered and applauded but never ever touched. He'd only meant to assist the dancer to her feet after a truly spectacular performance. Gallantry was ever a path to the kind graces of a woman in his experience. Unfortunately, the men whose task it was to defend Farah's honour in these uncivilised lands did not suffer from the same prohibitions. They made short work of the inebriated recruit and they knew their business well. Loch was ejected into a back alley, minus his uniform, for the City Watch to collect. He'd spend a night in the prisons and wake with several more bruises and abrasions than he had before, and he would never ever attempt to dishonour a Khandese dancer again. Molguv shrugged as he was handed Loch's uniform.
"Ah well, could be worse," he observed to Khule.
Khule nodded sagely. "Aye, the dancer could have been Haradrim… they'd have had his hands and head for setting so much as his eyes on her. Should we bail him out?"
"I have no more coin left."
"Nor I…. you have his uniform, you can tell the cap where he is," Khule replied as they headed out. They argued the toss over who would have that joy on the walk back to their lodgings.
From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002
| IP: Logged |