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Minas Tirith Forums » The Green Dragon » STORY - Legacy (RFP) (Page 2)
Author Topic: STORY - Legacy (RFP)
Elora Starsong
Guard of the Citadel
Citizen # 2099

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It was Berlas who sensed something amiss. It also was Berlas who was approached by an old comrade in arms while he was heading for the Passage Tavern.

"Berlas, old friend. How are you?"

"I am well… Anbor, right?"
Berlas said as he paused.

Some of the others noted this and continued on. It was obviously someone he had served with before his company days. Videgavia made a note of the man's face and his insignia. He was obviously a highly regarded soldier of the realm. Duly noted, Videgavia turned his thought to how to get Loch out of lock-up. Surely, the kid would be found there if the usual way of things occurred whilst he was with Molguv.

Anbor replied to Berlas, "I see you're part of the Black Company now! I wondered where you'd gotten off to."

"Yes, an opportunity opened up, and I took it. Sorry I didn't leave word for you and the others,"
Berlas said, looking past Anbor to a figure that he thought he had seen shadowing them.

"Well, I left the Green company of Ithilien right after you. An opportunity came to be in the King's Guard. And so here I am," Anbor said, and Berlas noted he was a bit on edge to just be having an old comrade reunited chat.

Berlas didn't want to say anything with shadows around, so motioned that they step into a nearby doorway. It turned out to be a spice merchant, and Berlas used the opportunity to buy some food seasoning as cover. He spoke in a low voice to Anbor.

"So what is troubling you Anbor? I can sense there is something."

Anbor fidgeted, and took a sample of the seasoned dried meat the merchant offered.

"I have to warn you… a snitch from that ship you arrived on has been about. He's been carrying on to my commander about some royal heir to the north kingdom had arrived with you. He plans on killing her I think, or at least imprisoning her. All I know is they are concerned for the King. I trust the King knows what he's doing, and all, so I don't know what he's on about, but he has chosen a few of us to try and take her."

Berlas looked at him, trying some of the dried meat himself, and said, "Well, I'm not sure about royal heirs, but some seem to think our healer is." Berlas paused, concerned that in doing so he risked too much. He pressed on, seeking to protect their healer against unwarranted speculation, "To me, she is just a thief that got caught, and now is paying the price with an enlistment."

Anbor nodded, and whispered, "I am thinking I would like to be a part of your company. This King's Guard detail is nice, but it has its drawbacks. Maybe you can put a good word in for me?"

Berlas replied, relieved that Anbor didn't seem too preoccupied with Rin. The seasoned meat delivered a heat to Berlas' tongue which he attempted to blow the heat off. After this necessary pause, he took up their discussion once more.

"But maybe that will depend on whether what you say is accurate. If I go to my captain saying a plot is in the works, I need to be sure, or we'll both look the fools. What do you actually know?"

"I know that we'll be watching your healer. A handful of us, picked by my commander Voromir. We got word you'll be meeting at the Passage Tavern from sailor informant. You will likely see me there. I'm only out here on an errand for Voromir, otherwise I'd be there staking the place out along with my comrades. Since Voromir is rather close to the King, very little escapes his attention. Though I'm sure he is oblivious to the fact the king manages to defy his guard on several occasions. You just keep watch for anything, and especially keep watch on this healer of yours. If their plan is a go, I'll stretch both arms at the same time. If not, I'll stretch one at a time."

Anbor bought some of the meats and stowed them. It was what Voromir sent him to get. He slapped his old comrade Berlas on the back and left. Berlas waited a few moments before heading out himself. He needed to get to the Passage and quickly.

Rin and Hanasian were quiet as they made their way to the tavern. Both had heads filled with thoughts. They were the first to arrive that afternoon and so it fell to them to see to accommodations. Berlas had arrived before some of the others. Both Hanasian and Rin were there, enjoying strong tea and watching for the others. Molguv, Khule and Loch were not there yet. Wugof was there, surprisingly, and seemed to be talking to Frea about something. Berlas could see there must have been a bit of trouble happening. He looked around and quickly noted Videgavia by the door. Ever alert, that northman seemed to never take a break. Berlas went over and stood by him.

"See that man over by the long table? Note his insignia. I have it on good authority that he and a couple of his cohorts will be here to try and find an opportunity to take Rin. They know about the whole Cardolan thing and seek to prevent any trouble she may bring."

"Ah, well, personally, I like Doc. Will be good to have in a scrape. Ups our chances of living I think. About the whole north realm business, well, it don't mean nothing to me. Still, she is a member of this company, and we look out for our own, "
Videgavia ominously said to Berlas as he surveyed the gathering evening crowd.

"It's good you got this information, Berlas. I believe you'll do well in this company. You need to tell the cap."

Berlas nodded and with a look around, started walking toward Hanasian and Rin. He got there about the time Mulgov and Khule arrived. Apparently Loch was locked up for some undue indiscretions toward an eastern dancer. Berlas couldn't tell of what he knew just this moment. He stood and listened as the two reported on Loch. Molguv was carrying a uniform. Wulgof's grin widened as he deduced whom it belonged to.

"How bad," he asked the pair.

"Could have been worse," Khule replied.

"Where is he," Folca inquired. Molguv glanced to the window to guage the position of the sun.

"Oh, he'd be in a cell by now, don't you think Khule?"

"Aye, the best place for him. An… education, if you will,"
Khule said with half a grin.

"If that is the case, then you can collect him tomorrow morning," Hanasian said, ill pleased at losing a member on some misadventure mere hours after making port. This despite his instructions for them to keep their heads down.

"I expect greater discipline from you, from all of you. The next man that finds himself incarcerated can make his own way out. You two, since you helped the recruit into the mess, can help clean it up.

"As it seems not all of us yet understand what it means to comport ourselves with dignity, no one is to step foot outside of this tavern unless I give you direct leave to do so. Tomorrow, we will present ourselves to the king with the rest of his troops. That means full dress uniform. You'd best be ready."

In the Pelargir City lock-up Loch was a bit disorientated. His head hurt from the working over he had gotten, and from the stiff ale served at the Sighing Sands. Reailzing he was in a cell, he started to yell.

"Hey! Hey you! What do you think you're doing? Don't you know who I am?" 

The guard walked over, smiled and said, "Aye, yet another kid soldier that doesn't know how to keep his mouth shut!"

Loch blinked, realizing he shouldn't have stood up so quick.

"Yeah, well I have friends… in high places that…" 

Loch caught his tongue before saying what he was thinking. Sure his sister, at least the woman he treated as such, was Queen of Cardolan. Even in his current state. Loch had enough sense to keep quiet about that. The guard picked up on it though.

"High places eh? You mean that band of mercenaries the King hired?"

Loch swallowed and tried to formulate his thoughts.

"Uh, yeah, the Black Company of Arnor. We look out for our own. You'll see…" 

Good decoy. He was glad he wasn't pressed. The guard took this as a challenge.

"Settle down now…" the guard replied. He bellied up to the the bars and pushed Loch back.

"You'll likely be fined and turned over to your company commander in the morning. I guess it will depend on where you touched the girl."

Loch sat back down on the stone floor, hoping the company he called his own would look out for him.

Hanasian's statement at the tavern earned a collection of scowls and grumbling, but no open disobedience. Lenvis had heard it all and he chewed his lower lip as he thought. They'd not winnow the traitor out any time soon whilst the entire Company was in effect under house arrest. This was becoming increasingly difficult. The prospect of returning to Voromir empty handed was fast becoming a strong likelihood.

"Recruits! They're more trouble than they're worth," Frea growled, fixing Rin with a resentful stare in lieu of her brother. Rin was of half a mind to agree with Frea. One was in lock up and the other, her, was a whole other bag of trouble.

She made no response, to the surprise of several.

Were it not for her presence, the Company would be spared this entire mess. It pained her to think it, but perhaps it would have been best if she stayed at Mithlond… or Bree. One look at Hanasian confirmed this weighed on him heavily. Guilt was pressing down on her. He had not asked for any of this. The king had been in her head, that experience startling enough in its own right. He had warned her that the port was crawling with soldiers, all of whom sworn to defend him against her. He had warned her against fleeing and again urged her to caution. Any sense of ease she had won in the presence of soldiers had vanished into thin air at that. Imprisonment, death… both seemed likely. If that was not concern enough, she also feared who else may be dragged into this mess if any such loyal men decided their duty forced them to take action against her. Who else would pay the wages for her her father's ambitions? Would the Company stand back and let events unfold? What if they fell attempting to intervene? Yet more blood added to the price of Cardolan. Around her, the conversation moved on.

"Everyone knows you don't touch the dancers… everyone except Kid… and now he knows," Molguv said and Berlas winced. Khule noticed this, as did his sister who seemed to sit straighter and acquire that particularly sharp focus of hers that indicated Doc was working.

"It's not that bad. He was already pretty drunk… he rolled with the punches… literally," Khule added, for her benefit. It was small comfort to the healer.

Full dress uniform did not prepare itself. The chores resulted in an early night, much to the disappointment of several men who had been eagerly anticipating their first night in Pelargir. Lenvis watched the Black Company move off to see to its tasks. He needed to extract the traitor before they presented to the king for review tomorrow. Or… or he could return to Voromir and tell him that the traitor would present herself for justice on the following day. Smiling, he and his men rose to do exactly that.

"I will give her this, she has temerity, to present herself thus," Voromir mused at his captain's report. 

Bereth's daughter was proving a formidable adversary and one that would likely need to be executed for the good of all. An adversary like this was one you could not turn your back on. An adversary like this was one you needed to deal with, preferably once and with finality. Were she left alive, imprisoned or married off as some had counselled, she would rise up again and again. He would take her head from her shoulders himself rather than allow that.

"Very well. Ready your men. We'll have an end to this once and for all tomorrow. If she so much as takes a step towards the king, or the prince, take her down," he ordered.

"In full view of her Company?"

"If she is so brazen as to mount an attack before the assembled troops, on her head be it."

"And if she does not?"

"Then we will ensure she is available for questioning, captain."

Rin shivered and she looked out the window. It was still warm and the window was ajar to admit what breeze could be wrung from the air.

"Are you cold? Shut the window if you are," Hanasian said. He could see the hair on her forearms stand on end from where he sat. Distracted, they'd said little to each other since the meeting. Rin rubbed at her arms and sighed before she turned her attention back to the boot she was polishing. As Loch was incarcerated, she'd elected to prepare his kit for him.

"Hanasian… I am sorry for all of this," she said as she polished, glancing up at him.

"You've done nothing wrong."

"Still, none of this would be any concern of the Black Company were it not for me. I feel… responsible for this… You didn't ask for this, Hanasian. Neither did I. Maybe it was for the better that I was lost. Perhaps I should lose myself again."

"I found you before. I could find you again. I would find you again. In any case, you've been ordered to remain here until given leave to depart and I do not give you such leave, Rosmarin."

"Yes sir."

"Now come here."

"Yes sir."

They'd been aching to do this since they had landed. Each wound their arms around the other and breathed in the scent of the one they held.

"Together… we will see this through, Rin."

"Ever and always, love.

It was quite late when Berlas came to Hanasian and Rin's room to tell of the pending plot to kill Rin. Anbor had arrived, and it seemed the company was too tight around the place. Videgavia's diligence had the men watch every angle. Nobody would be getting in or out, let alone taking anybody against their will, or killing anybody either. And true enough, Anbor had given the sign that it was not going to proceed this night. In the end it was a calm evening. Despite this, tensions were high.

The night passed uneasily for them both, restless with their respective thoughts and fears. They clung to each other, taking what comfort they may in each other's presence. The following day dawned ominously red. *Somehow, Wulgof and Khule managed to slip away in the early hours of the morning, joined by Berlas. They proceeded to the lock-up in the premise of breaking Loch out. They were well and truly surprised when they ran across a man approaching them on the street.

"Hi guys. Didn't know if you were coming."

The three were surprised to see Loch walking towards them. He somehow managed to get free. They didn't ask him any questions, but did slap him about in joy before grabbing him by the collar and leading him back to the tavern. Finally, their curiosity became too much. As they approached the tavern, Khule just had to know.

"So kid, how you get out?"

Loch said with his lopsided, affable grin.

"I relieved the guard of his keys without him knowing. Rin's not the only pickpocket, you know. Then I just waited until he went to sleep, unlocked the cell and let myself out. Hooked the keys back on his belt before I walked out the door. He'll have a hard time explaining that."

Wulgof slapped the kid on the back, knocking him forward a bit. 
]"I like this kid more and more each day! Now, you're late for muster. Should have been here hours ago!"[/I]

Morning came too soon, but Hanasian arose and set to working on looking his best. Rin lay sleeping just a bit longer. It would be a long day. He took out the scroll Strider had given him, and read it. He looked at Rin and wondered how she would take it. He went over and kissed her.

"Wake up my love."

She stirred, but didn't want the night to end. She knew clearly what Strider had told her. And now Hanasian was re-affirming it.

"You know you must speak to the assembled soldiers. The King will expect you to. May you do well in this, and know I am standing with you."

Rin inwardly cringed at the thought. Perhaps she could contrive to hide under the bed. Speaking publicly was never a thought to her. Doing it in front of massed armies even less a possibility. Yet today she would be there with the King, renouncing any and all claim, to fade away as merely the healer of the Black Company. She arose reluctantly to prepare herself. What would she say? 

Each of the company got ready. They would be ever on the alert. Videgavia, Mecarnil, Hanasian, and Rosmarin looked extra polished. Hanasian reviewed the company, and took extra note of Loch standing there in line. He paused in front of him, scowling fiercely at the recruit.

"You're late."

"It won't happen again,"
Loch mumbled. Hanasian cut him off.

"Damn right it won't. Any time you are let loose in a city, you will be with the twins, or Mecarnil, or Videgavia, or myself. You won't be going off with the less responsible elements of this company for some time. Now… I have a special assignment for you.

"You will be polished to perfection and stand front and center of the company line. Keep your eyes and ears open for any and all signs of discontent, note who and what their unit insignia is, and report to me at the end. Its very important you do this well, for in this, a plot against the king may be prevented."

Loch was excited to be singled out for special duty. Hanasian thought it good to keep the kid's mind focused on duty, and this was a good task. Who knows what he may notice. Chances were good that Loch would see something directed at Rin, being she was to be by him this day.

It came time to assemble. The sun pushed up over the sea. It would be another hot spring day. A slight wind blew from the east, hot and dry. The stench of Mordor no longer held sway over these summer easterlies, but they still could be rather unpleasant. Hanasian formed the company into position in front and center of the King, and left Frea in charge. Every one was aware of what Berlas had reported, and they were on watch. Loch was stoic and alert, true to company form once more. His gaze gaze flickered with concern to his sister, though he kept his mouth shut.

Hanasian, Rosmarin, Videgavia, and Mecarnil marched off in step, and walked out on the balcony that the King would address the soldiers. Hanasian noted one of the line guards watching him. It would have to be this Anbor that Berlas had spoken about. Too many of these men were around. Hanasian gave him a slight movement of his eye. Should Anbor be alert, he would know what it meant. Hanasian let the other three know to be on the fullest alert without appearing so. They were in place, and the King had arrived.

Rin stared out at the men gathered below, eyes slightly glazed as she took it all in. This was the day she would die. She knew it. Soldiers and knights stood under banners that leapt in the breeze. Boars, horses, stags, archers, mountains, swords, axes, swans, stars and trees all flew there, including the banner that marked her Company. Atop the wall flew four banners already. One was the king's, black and silver stars and trees fluttering higher than the other three. The second belonged to Ithilien, green tree on a delicate golden field. The third belong to Rohan, Elfwine's cavalry was gathered below it. The fourth was the swan of Dol Amroth. As the king had arrived a fifth was been added, this one a silver rose on a blue field. Rin swallowed hard at the sight and fought yet another insane urge to bolt that had been persistently gripping her since she woke up. A ripple swept through the assembled forces and she had swallowed hard. This was very, very public. A very, very public death, she thought, feeling dizzy and sick. Hanasian steadied her to one side and she took another deep breath which she slowly blew out in a bid to calm herself.

Though Aragorn had warned her of this yesterday, in that silent exchange, it did not make this easier. Her eyes scanned for archers in high places. There were too many shadows. Signals were being given around her by Hanasian, Videgavia and Folca. She still had yet to learn what they meant, but she could guess and her conclusions were not pretty. There was a guard staring at her. Would he be the one that took her life? Rin mentally slapped herself before outright panic set in. If she was going to die today, it may as well be for something constructive. At least she wasn't going die on account of cheese, like she had thought she would seven years ago in Edoras. Videgavia's brows shot up as he heard the woman in their midst mutter about cheese. She had not the slightest idea that she did so. Videgavia peered at her. Could she possibly be daydreaming at a time like this or was she about to pass out? Her face was wan and her eyes glittered all the more intensely for it.

"Arisen from discord, Cardolan ultimately proved herself our ally in centuries and Ages past. Once more, on this day, she rises to do so again."

Aragorn's voice carried well, his experience at such things showing. He paused and looked back to where she stood. Then, with a faint smile of encouragement, he beckoned her forward. Her blood roared in her ears. Somewhere, under the banner of the leaping stag, there was a disturbance. Loch noted it well. They were muttering at the rise of his sister's banner. They weren't the only ones. Boar and mountain too were restless too. Loch noted it all. The swan was curious and the horse was fascinated. Elfwine, prince of Rohan, stared up at the balcony in open amazement. For the main, the Rohirrim merely watched the soldiers of Gondor with distant interest.

Rin took another deep breath and the last step out from any chance of hiding at the same time. Her feet itched with the urge to flee and she swayed with this imperative.

"Are you ready for this, cousin," Aragorn asked quietly.

"No," she replied honestly, "But now that we've come to it, let's get this over before my instincts get the better of me." 

"Men, I give you the Lady Rosmarin, heir to the throne of Cardolan and sworn member of the Black Company of Arnor, commanded by Captain Hanasian, formerly of the Grey."

In the wake of his announcement, a stunned silence hung heavily over the assembled forces. Then she heard her brother give out a whoop. She could see his face from where she stood, his familiar crooked smile below.

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

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"Why is she here? Why does she come forth now, on the eve of battle?" demanded a cold, imperious voice.

Voromir stepped forward, hand on the hilt of his sword. Aragorn looked to her. His message was clear. She needed to confront such men head on. Direct was something she knew how to do well.

"I am here to put a stop to divisions that weaken our realm. I am here to give Cardolan her peace."

"Even as our ally, Cardolan not once offered up what true peace required: her throne. Not once, including your father."

"I cannot stand here and answer for the folly of those that went before me, my father included. I cannot undo the past, any more than you can, Lord. Would that I could."

"Perhaps we see the treachery of women in your honeyed words!"

"And perhaps we see now how proud men, lords and nobles, brought us to this sorry state of affairs! We can stand here and squabble some more. We can whisper poisonous accusations of treachery, exchanging suspicion for pointless suspicion all while those knights over there broil in their armour under the sun. Or you can shut up and let me sign this damn piece of paper here. Do you want unification and peace? If so, close your mouth. If not, speak on! Which is it to be?"

"I think you have your answer, Voromir. There was no honey in that,"
dryly called another from beneath a swan banner. Imrahil hooked his thumbs through his sword belt and grinned at the incensed noble openly.

The intervention gave Rin the opportunity to leash her snapped patience. Voromir grappled with himself and then stepped back into ranks. Rin looked back to where Hanasian stood, silently pleading for him to get her the hell out of here. Aragorn stepped forward once more.

"Lady Rosmarin has braved considerable peril to stand before your scrutiny today. Cousin, will you tell them of what it is you endeavour this day?"

"Today I mean to set to rights the follies of the past. I mean to surrender my title and claim to Cardolan's throne into perpetuity to the rightful ruler of Cardolan, long ago accepted by those few that endured the war and plague that beset the realm. I set aside the claim and petition fashioned by my father. Indeed, I reject it outright."

"Do you swear that you do this freely, without duress or haste but after the fullness of consideration."

"I do so swear, sire."

"And, finally, Lady Rosmarin, so there can be no doubt, where do your loyalties lie?"

"In that, despite what some may say my blood means, I am no different to any member of the Black. My service, my loyalty, is sworn to you, under the command of the Captain of the Black Company."

At a gesture from Aragorn, Faramir stepped forward with a sheaf of papers. A functionary came with him, bearing that cursed ring on a blue velvet cushion. For all of her initial trepidation, it was a straightforward thing when it came to making history formal. She signed page after page. So too did Aragorn. There was wax applied to both and she was handed back the ring to affix to royal seal of Cardolan onto the orders of succession. When it was done, Aragorn closed her hand around it before she could give it back.

"Keep it, Rin. I have no need for it and it is a piece of you. If not for your father, keep it for your mother. Now we come to the final part: they must see you kneel."

Those assembled watched a queen kneel in homage to her chosen liege-lord, and successor to her throne. As she pressed her lips to the Ring of Barahir, it was formally done. Cardolan's throne and title was ceded to Aragorn and his heirs. In the company, Loch never felt prouder of his sister. Mecarnil felt something similar. He knew her mother would have wept with joy to behold this day. He felt her spirit shimmer briefly as the sun caught her daughter's hair.

"At last it is done," he whispered.

Aragorn lifted Rin to her feet, queen no longer. Just her, a healer, and still alive for the time being. They considered each other a long moment and then both smiled at some private thought exchanged.

"Mark my words well. Any man that considers him loyal to the realm or I will recognise that what has passed here today was the act of an ally and of kin, not a foe or a traitor."

Aragorn's gaze swept across the vista below. Any rumbling fell silent. Rin found herself released to step back into position again. She took to it gladly, and her hand found Hanasian's and tightly gripped it.

"You have seen with your own eyes what can be achieved between allies, without the sorrow of war and blood spilt. Sadly, I cannot say that things will proceed so smoothly in the south. Since Castimir first took refuge in Umbar after the Kin Strife, Gondor and her allies have yet to enjoy enduring peace with Harad.

"Your commanders will relay your orders to you directly. I will say only this: this rebellion in the far south must be put down before it takes yet more lives. Umbar cannot be besieged. There are not enough ships to remove the civilian population of that port.

"The uprising must be arrested before the havens are besieged, or untold suffering will unfold. It will not be easy. I know I ask of you no small thing. But you serve not only me and the united realms of north and south in this, but every woman and child who calls Umbar home. Think of your own families. What would you not do to protect them?"

Aragorn paused as the reality of this campaign hit home.

"Illuvtator guide you and Valar speed you. Companies, dismissed!"

Aragorn stood at the balcony as each company filed away. The Black remained and Folca dispatched Loch to report his findings above. On the balcony, the guards started to file within. Hanasian heard Anbor command several away on other duties. Anbor nodded at the Black rangers as he sent the men on a goose chase that would ensure no last minute foul play could unfold. Voromir was not a malevolent man and not a traitor. But he was a proud one and one unaccustomed to being defeated, publicly, by a woman he believed to be contemplating high treason.

When Loch reached the royal rooms, he found Mecarnil and Videgavia on the door. Inside, Rin was seated with her head in her hands. Hanasian stood in the door between the room and the balcony. Aragorn was at the balcony still, studying the units that he had deployed as they set out. Rin looked through her fingers as her brother approached.

"You look like you decided to wrestle a stampeding herd of cattle," she said, studying his bruised face and lowering her hands. He grinned at her and focussed his attention on his captain.

"Boar and Stag, cap. Plenty were interested, real curious, but those two just weren't happy."

"Rejoin your company, Loch. Videgavia will go with you,"
Hanasian said.

"Stag we knew about, Boar is new," Mecarnil said. Rin stood at that and started pacing.

"This should all be moot now, right? Right?"Her gaze bounced from Hanasian to Mecarnil and back to Hanasian again. She moved towards him.

"Perhaps, love, but it would be unwise to assume," he said gently as she approached. He felt her press her brow against his shoulder, and wrap her hands around his arm.

"Neither Boar nor Stag are… anything less than loyal men. But caution is indeed wise at this juncture. After three decades, it may be difficult for them to view you any differently for some time and they are proud lords," Aragorn said as he walked into the room.

"My favourite kind," Rin sighed sardonically. Aragorn watched her square her shoulders. He glanced to Mecarnil, the ranger sworn to defend her bloodline and to Hanasian, the one she so clearly loved. It was time to discuss their next move.

Aragorn gestured that all should seat themselves. They did so, though tension remained. Rin was clearly agitated. Perhaps that was understandable, given what had unfolded. She sat tensely, coiled and wary, glancing to the balcony and thoughts darting like silvery fish in the rapid flows of spring melts. Beside her, Hanasian was himself pre-occupied. Mecarnil was intensely curious, knowing that there had been some discussion as to what would now occur held yesterday. Aragorn broke the silence.

"When we spoke yesterday, Hanasian, I advised you that the Company would split and depart Pelargir in two ways. You would lead one column, Mecarnil here and Folca the other. One would venture by sea and the other by land. It is time to speak of what prompts this change to your earlier instructions."

Hanasian nodded slowly, focusing himself and bracing himself for what may follow. He glanced to Rin, who was listening despite being wrapped in her own thoughts. The idea of parting from her was as welcome and as painful as parting from his right arm. But, duty was duty and this is what they had both chosen. They would be faced with this again and again in their lives. If they were to have a life together, then they would each need to shoulder their duty and not have it pull them to pieces. They had to embrace their duty and not let it divide them. Mecarnil took the news of the change to orders in his stride. He had his own thoughts as to the reasons why, and really the reasons why did not matter. Orders were orders. One did not question one's king as to the reasoning behind it. He hoped the woman in their number could see the wisdom and reality of this life she had chosen so publicly moments before.

"The Black's ability at covert operations is unsurpassed. I hope to avoid open battle by calling on your Company. I need the Black in two places at once. I need the Black in Umbar swiftly. I need to know if this rebel has any support in Umbar, what is known of him and the men he has pressed to his cause and the Black will need to be ready to move swiftly deeper into Harad. Umbar will be the final place for preparations. There are supplies you will need in Harad that can not be gotten elsewhere.

"I also need the Black to shield the advance contingents of the main force, scouting to ensure that should open battle eventuate, the force is at least intact upon arrival. The land between Pelargir and Umbar is neither openly hostile, nor friendly. It poses a risk to any and all that cross it. I will bolster your number with Faramir's Rangers. You'll reach Umbar the fastest of all traveling by land. You'll scout and reconnoitre for Elfwine's cavalry and Gondor's Knights. They will shield the larger infantry that follows. Imrahil and I will lead the army. We cannot cover the advance, mounted units without the Black."

Again, this made sense. Both Mecarnil and Hanasian nodded. Hanasian noted, however, that Aragorn had not indicated who would take which route, nor which party would accompany Rin. If it was based on risk and where her skills would best be used, it would be with the land contingent rather than sea.

"Hanasian, I will need you in Umbar fast. My friend, you'll be needed there most to guide the gathering of intelligence and ensure preparations for further covert action are made. Therefore, you will lead the half traveling by ship, if you will."

The fact that a king made an order a request said much to Hanasian of his chieftain's and friend's character. He could be regal, but preferred this approach, the approach of the Rangers where he could make it work.

"Of course, sire. We serve proudly as you see fit," he replied gravely.

"I will lead the land group. Hanasian, I think you'd find Molguv useful in Umbar. He speaks the language. He may be able to get information that you'll be seeking," Mecarnil said.

"If you're scouting, you'll need someone who can understand the language yourself," Hanasian replied.

"Khule does," Rin said between them. She caught their glances.

"He understands enough… may not be as fluent, but can understand and communicate to some degree. I've heard him and Molguv speaking. Molguv ribs him for his clumsiness in Common, which is how I figured out what they were up to. Did it a lot on the voyage down," she added.

"Seems your Company has been preparing itself in more ways than one," Aragorn observed.

"Yes…. Very well, I'll take Molguv with me, Loch too. He's got a head for this sort of thing," Hanasian agreed.

"Just keep him away from..." Rin's voice trailed off. She needn't say it. Hanasian knew what a reckless fool her brother could be…. Him and ale, him and women… she sighed and shook her head. He looked like he'd been trampled by the oliphaunts that are said to inhabit the lands they were to venture into.

"And I'll take Khule," Mecarnil said as Rin's thoughts turned again. She swallowed, chewed her lower lip. What had to come next, she thought, would not be easy. Rin glanced at Hanasian a long moment.

"I think I should go with… Mecarnil. If catastrophe strikes at sea, a wizard is what is needed. If disaster strikes on land, a wizard might also be handy, but there is more I can do of use…" She glanced to Hanasian, a silent apology. He could see how pained she was to say it.

"I couldn't agree more," Aragorn said. "In any case, most will assume you'd accompany Hanasian. It will throw people off your scent for a while, give the dust a chance to settle."

Her response had told Hanasian a great deal. This was a woman who, like him, understood duty. She was not about to tug him against it. Her words, her actions, it all added up to one inescapable conclusion, one he had been considering carefully for some time now.

"We can dispose the rest of the Company fairly evenly from there, my friend," Hanasian said. His hand reached and squeezed Rin's and his heart was pounding. He knew what he needed to do before they set out.

"Then it is done. Both will depart on the morrow. The land forces will start to ride out in the morning. 'Night Explorer' will set out later. Captain Caritas is already provisioning. Harlas has split your supplies from'Fidelity' between Caritas' ship and the staging ground for the land contingent of the Black."

Aragorn's word sealed it. She would be parted from Loch and Hanasian. Her heart felt like a stone, even if it was the right thing to do. She braced her shoulders. She was not going to wilt at the first hint of difficulty. The road would be a lot harder before this Harad thing was done and she would be equal to it. She was going to prove good to her word. She was. No two ways about it. Damn it.

"One final matter, cousin," Aragorn said. He found her gaze focused on him, startling in its intensity. A brief touch of minds revealed a turmoil storming in her own. She frowned and told him to quit rummaging around in her head in no uncertain terms. So this, Aragorn concluded, was family. He withdrew and held his palms out by way of apology.

"You have surrendered your throne, but your lineage remains undiminished. You are of royal descent. You remain part of the royal house of the Reunited Kingdoms. In rank, you are now similar to Dol Amroth and Ithilien. This I cannot undo. The records at Minas Tirith are already being altered to reflect this. You have inherited a right to a place at court regardless of whether you intend to take it up."

"Surely all of that is now much of a muchness."

"Perhaps… the stark reality is this: you are one of the few unmarried highly ranking female nobles in the combined realms. We have had a surfeit of sons over the years. Moreover, given our mutual descent, you stand second in line to the high throne until Eldarion has heirs of his own. Your position is lofty, cousin. There is no other way to say it. There will be others who see advantage to be gained in this. Your life is your own, Rin. You needn't worry about being pushed in any direction. However, there will be offers and you need to ensure that in declining them you do not step on their pride. It can be a prickly thing at such junctures and I can ill afford a dispute in my own court over offense between nobles."

Rin sat back in the chair. Polite? How was she supposed to be polite and diplomatic to men such as Voromir? These were men that had thought to incarcerate or execute her, and now they'd seek what? To form an alliance of some sort? To wed, surely not! It was contemptible, absurd and she had no patience for any of it. Mecarnil was perhaps most familiar with the way in which Rin's mind worked with political matters. She was ascerbic to say the least. How was he supposed to prevent a dispute cropping up on the way to Umbar? He had a sinking feeling already and they hadn't even left yet. Rin glanced over the Mecarnil. The look on her face was frank.

"You'd better keep me out on patrol, Mecarnil, or find some other way to keep them distant. It's the best chance of me remembering my manners if some benighted lord crosses my path. Why anyone would bother with nobles is a mystery to me."

"And me, some days,"
Aragorn said softly.

"Time is short and there are preparations, payroll and farewells to make. I will see you all on the morrow. I have some paperwork to do," he added, glancing to where the succession documents still sat on a table. They stood, Mecarnil bowed and Rin curtsied. Hanasian merely stood. A signal to Aragorn communicated something that Mecarnil understood and Rin, still, did not.

"We will meet you below, Captain," Mecarnil said. Hanasian nodded and Rin looked at him in askance. He seemed nervous, or unsettled, in a way she could not put her finger on.

"Oh, cousin… Under no circumstances sell that ring," Aragorn admonished her.

"Melt it down? Give it away?"


Rin heaved a sigh and Mecarnil ushered her through the door.

"What's going on back there," she asked him. "Something's afoot… again."

"You'll see, methinks, and soon."

"Rangers and their secrets, "
she grumbled. After the night and this day, and what was shaping up tomorrow, she was not in the least a happy soul.

Aragorn studied Hanasian openly.

"Well, out with it my friend," Aragorn said.

Hanasian cleared his throat. He knew what he wanted. It shimmered just within reach. He had no idea if he would be permitted it. It was a lot to ask, given his common blood.

"If you do not, someone will…. And you'll be tortured by that knowledge throughout the voyage and waiting in Umbar. For your own sake, out with it," Aragorn said.


"So formal?"

"I think it must be… for this…"

"Very well, continue, formally."

"Sire, I seek your leave to marry,"
Hanasian said in a rush, his heart pounding and his head spinning with what had just left his mouth.

"You don't need my consent, my friend. Even if you did, I stand so deeply in your debt for so much how could I withhold it? But, I suspect you seek my blessing and so you have both, gladly. What do you intend to do? You haven't much time."

"Betrothal I think, if she'll have me.”

"Yes, that makes sense. Hurry… before she offends someone,"
Aragorn said, smiling. There was no need in inquire whose hand Hanasain sought.

It would make the parting easier for all and after 'rummaging around in her head' Aragorn had no doubt of the response Hanasian would receive. Hanasian, however, did not look nearly so certain. Such was the way of things. He watched his friend depart, approaching a precipice he recalled facing with similar trepidation himself. Aragorn's smile deepened at that, thoughts returning to his queen. She'd like his cousin. Yes, she would… although he'd have to drag her kicking to Minas Tirith…. But then Arwen was very good at getting what she set her mind to.

Hanasian found the Company waiting below. Mecarnil glanced at him, flashed a signal.

"About time," he muttered to Hanasian. The scene Hanasian found was a tableaux of how Rin managed to be polite to people she'd rather shorten a notch or two. A messenger stood nearby, bemused, as Rin shredded a piece of paper into tiny pieces with the strong, dexterous fingers of a healer. He watched paper snow to the ground. Behind her, men seemed fascinated and some amused, even Videgavia and Frea.

"Is my answer clear?" Rin inquired in a dangerously soft voice, arching one eyebrow. The messenger glanced up from the ground to her face.

"Oh, ah, yes, quite… m'lady," he said, trying not to look too startled. She scowled at him.

"Don't you m'lady me… I'm not fooled by it. Not for one moment!" The messenger departed at speed, leaving Rin to growl to herself. She set her sights on her brother and decided to set his ears on fire next.

"She's in a fine frame of mind, friend," Mecarnil sympathised as she dressed Loch thoroughly down. Hanasian nodded, sighing. Still, he was going to do it tonight, give them some hope to cling to for the time ahead. He would ask her to marry him. A light to guide their way home. He gave the signal and the Company formed ranks and moved out. The day had been long, and after they parted with Aragorn, they set to work. Part of the plan was to look busy like they were leaving that night, but when morning light would come, there would still be company men around. Rin would be in slightly different attire in hopes to disguise her departure with the company over land. It would be a difficult task.

Hanasian tried to take his mind off what he wished to do, but realized he would have to do so quickly. Yet there were still so many tasks to be handled during the remainder of this day. One being to review possible new members of the company who had volunteered. A difficult thing to do especially since the knowledge that Rin was among the company came to light. Of the several dozen that wanted to join, he rejected most. But a handful appeared to be good prospects. One was Anbor. Aragorn granted him leave should he make the cut. He had once already given good intelligence, and seemed eager. Almost too eager. Hanasian decided to take him, and two others. They were brothers who seemed to have a knack of finding things, and making things work. Their skills could be useful when some ingenious engineering was needed. He sent two more to Mecarnil to accompany the other detachment.

The shipboard detachment consisted of himself, Mulgov, Loch, Wulgof, and the three new members, Anbor of Minas Tirith, and Daius, and Donius of Anfalas. Those going by land consisted of Mecarnil, Rin, Khule, Videgavia, Frea, Folca, Berlas, and two new guys, Farbarad, a northern Dunedain kinsman, and Elcarlas, from Dale. Also, a surprise member arrived and found the company in the night.

"I heard the company was looking for some new men. How about an old one?"

It was a battered and bruised Bear, moving stiffly. Still bandaged up, but looking much better than when they left him in Tharbad, he was a welcome sight.

"Bear!" Hanasian cried. "Good to see you! You do look rough though."

"I'm on the mend, and am able to do light duty for awhile, until things get heavy again. I also brought Foldine and Gian too. They are in a bit better shape than when you last saw them in Tharbad."

They came walking in, smiles on their faces. It was good to get some old hands back.

"Don't have time to fill you in completely, but know that we are leaving in two groups to the south. Bear, you will take ship with me, as you could use the time to continue recovery. You too Foldine. Gian you will go with Mecarnil. We'll be heading to Umbar, and we need to make ready now!" Hanasian said to them.

Hanasian saw the urgency of the time. The ship would leave the next night after midnight, and the other party will be across the bridge and heading south by sunrise. There was this day and night left. He went in search of Rin. He found her checking her stores and securing them. Hanasian leaned over her shoulder and whispered to her. He wanted to see her alone. She got up and took his hand, and they slipped out the doorway. A long embrace followed by a lingering kiss, Hanasian seemed nervous.

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

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"My beloved Rosmarin, I know this may be something I should have thought out more than I have, but with things as they are, and our impending departure and separation looming, I feel I have to do this now. I ask for your hand in marriage."

He held out a gold ring with a sapphire stone embedded amidst leaf designs.

"This is something that has been in my family for some time. My mother had it but rarely wore it, choosing instead to wear a simple inscribed gold ring that my father had given her before they were married. She gave this to me when I first rode out with the Rangers, and I've worn it on my little finger ever since. But now I wish you to accept it as a token of my undying love and commitment to you."

Rin was speechless, utterly stunned. Hanasian slid the ring onto her finger where it was way too loose. He retracted it and slid it on her middle finger. She parted her lips to speak, but Hanasian forestalled her by setting his finger gently to her lips.

"You need not answer now. Maybe you wish to consider this a while?" he suggested.

It didn't seem so to them, they stood gazing at each other for a long moment, lost to all and everything but each other. Despite his common ancestry and her noble heritage, Hanasian hoped she would accept him.

There was a bit of commotion inside the large room where the company had gathered. Foldine introduced his sister Fraefoc, who had accompanied him to Pelargir. Expecting the worst, she was ready to return any comment that would come her way. Instead, the company was on their best behaviour toward her. Mecarnil went to talk with her and Foldine while the men were catching up with their old comrades who were wounded in Tharbad. The new men watched and listened, trying to settle into all the banter being made. Loch came to the realization that he was no longer the newbie, and would be happy to pass on those duties. The thought of taking ship again gave his stomach a whirl, but he seemed resigned to it. He did not like the idea of separating with his sister though, leaving her in the company of soldiers. Maybe he could convince the cap to let him go with the land party…. No, won't happen. He goes where Wulgof goes, having to keep an eye on the standard.

Darian, the King's messenger, arrived with further word that the Night Explorer would depart that very night. It was yet another way to keep any untoward plots off kilter. Mecarnil secured agreement with Foldine and Fraefoc to an idea and went to search out Hanasian and Rosmarin. He stepped out to find them in an embrace.

"Pardon my intrusion cap, but the hour has come. Word has come the ship will depart this night as the waxing moon sinks into the west. We have a plan to cover for Rin as well. Foldine's sister who had come with him to Pelargir has agreed to dress the part and board ship. She looks close enough like Rin that she will make a fair decoy boarding the ship in the dark. Come, for time is short."

"Yes…. shorter than expected. We will be there shortly,"
Hanasian replied softly.

Mecarnil left and Hanasian wiped a tear away from Rin's cheek.

"So it has come sooner than we thought. Joy will fill my heart when I see you again in Umbar. I had hoped we would have this night together, but it is not to be. Say you will be my wife, for I will love no other ever again.”

It was just as well that Hanasian repeated himself once more. Rin was light headed and convinced she had imagined what he had said, or misheard some how. It was all so… so… He was staring at her, forlorn hope and a startling vulnerability revealed in his expression that prompted her put him out of his misery.

"Beloved! Yes! Oh yes! I want to be your wife more than words can say!"

She was shaking, a bittersweet joy was flooding through her. She kissed him urgently even as another rebel tear formed. Rin could feel his heart racing against her own.

"We will have other nights, and days," she whispered after a long while, a finger tracing the strong line of his jaw tenderly. Foresight's chill eddied along the wake of her words.

"But not this night, love," Hanasian said sadly. He caught her fingers and kissed their tips before he reluctantly released them. By the light of the half moon, Rin soaked in the sight of him amidst the whirlwind they were caught in. This sight would light her way back to him. Her hands drifted to her belt and fetched something out. Compared to what gleamed on her hand, it seemed a ridiculously paltry thing. Still… Rin pressed a length of her hair, braided and secured at both ends by white silk embroidered with gold. He recognised it immediately.

"It is not much, I know," she started to say. He closed his hand around it, and used his other hand to close around the nape of her neck and pull her lips to his once more. They were both light headed and weak kneed as the moments passed. Hanasian groaned and straightened. Rin pressed her fingers to her flushed cheeks and they returned inside with feet that seemed heavy.

"Fifteen days? Twenty? Not so long. Not so long," she said to herself in a bid to convince herself that it was true. Hanasian sighed as he shouldered his gear. Rin bent to her own, fishing out what she needed to send with his detatchment. On their return to the common area, the keen eyed paused. Something was different. Videgavia spotted it first and broke into a rare smile.

"What brought that on?" Molguv wondered aloud.

"Rin have you been thieving again?" Loch inquired, spotting the gold that now suddenly gleamed from her hand. Rin's gaze dropped as Videgavia lightly cuffed her brother about the ear.

"Oh… OH!" Loch exclaimed as his mind kicked into gear. Then, the gig was up. Loch was the first to reach his sister and he nearly crushed the tiny bottles she was carrying in his enthusiasm. Mecarnil was the first to reach Hanasian. Word spread like wildfire amongst the expanded group. There was enough time for an ale, celebration and farewell, only barely. Rin distributed the small bottles of stomach settling potion to those she knew would need it on their voyage. It was done discreetly. Bear, Gian and Foldine were happy to reintroduce themselves.

"You look better," she said, scrutinising each and not saying anything further.

"So do you, lass," Bear replied, mussing the top of her head fondly.

"No lifting, no pulling, no throwing, no exertions…. Do you get sea sick?"

"No, and before you harrumph at me you should know we've already been accepted back in by the Cap."

"I don't harrumph,"
Rin replied, eyeing Foldine's sister. The decoy. Guilt panged through her anew at the thought. Fraefoc eyed her back.

"I'm sorry about this," Rin said.

"When Foldine said how terrified you were of them, I couldn't understand it. Now that I've seen them with my own eyes…"

"Oh, their bark is worse than their bite… mostly… except for the frowning twin and you won't have to worry about him. He'll be my joy. They won't give you any trouble. They're good men, essentially. Just ignore Wulgof. He likes to bait people for his entertainment."

"We should talk further,"
Fraefoc said. So it was that the two women settled down as the ale was being shared around in close discussion.

"That's not good. That's never good," Khule observed glumly as the two women's heads pressed together. Foldine, who was listening to frank assessment of his fellow Company members from a woman's perspective chortled on several occasions until Fraefoc applied her elbow and he moved out of reach.

"Thanks, Rin. That's really helpful. Please don't worry about this. You helped my brother when you didn't have to and could be forgiven for not wanting to. Consider this my way of repaying you."

"It still isn't right… but if that's the way you want to look at it."

"It is."

"Very well… do you want that cheese?"

"Hate the stuff. Take it."

Rin bent to address her next statement to Foldine around Fraefoc. "I like your sister," she said with a grin.

The hours were short, painfully short. Loch had only left her once before, when she was a mute, traumatised six year old child. The result of that had been so horrifying to him that he had never left her again. She never spoke of it. He secretly hoped that she did not recall it. He would never forget it. This, though, was different. She was not six anymore. He was not leaving her. The people around her were not the smiling demons he had left her with before. These were people that were Company, family. These were people that could be trusted. It seemed like only minutes passed before they had to be on the move.

"You sure about this, Rin?" Loch asked.

"Hanasian? Are you kidding? Absolutely!"

"No, I mean, this… staying."

"Oh, well… it's the best option of a bad set, Loch. And I'll be fine. We all will be. I'll see you in Umbar. You, on the other hand, will not be fine unless you do what you're told and stay away from bars, ale, and women."

"Hah! You're a fine one to talk! You're the one getting married!"

"And you're the one that earned himself a night in jail. I bet you can't even remember her name."

"Farah… it means quicksilver in Khandese and the way that she- OW!"
he protested as she tugged sharply on his ear.

"Focus, Loch. No funny stuff. This is serious. You hear me?"

Loch quit rubbing at his ear and grinned down at her faint frown. She was worrying at him.

"I'll miss you too, Rin," he said, embracing her.

They started to move out. Fraefoc was wearing a Company cloak and pin over her clothing. She and Rin were of the same height. Fraefoc had braided her hair and pulled it to one side so that it would show when she drew up her cowl. In the darkness, they would see the hair and the pin and her height and assume it was Rin. The idea made Rin uneasy.

"Here," Anbor handed her a faded green cloak. It was his own, from his Ithilien days. She put it on over her own Company cloak, stuffed her hair underneath both and pulled up the green cowl.

"Now just try to walk like a man," Wulgof advised.

"Helpful. That's really useful," Rin observed, edgy. She had been dreading this moment since she knew it was coming. They all moved out, some moving ahead to ensure nothing lay in wait for Hanasian and Fraefoc. Rin was at the back, keeping a low profile. The closer they got to the docks, the more agitated she became. Caritas had the gang plank down and they had already unfurled the mainsails. The "Night Explorer' was tugging at her moorings, eager to be away.

Those taking the ship, excluding Hanasian and Fraefoc, hurriedly boarded. Fraefoc chose a place that was well shielded. Hanasian and Rin stood behind a stack of wooden crates.

"Now it will be my turn to find you, beloved," Rin said, trying to put a brave face on.

"The Desert Moon, by the central bazaar. Mecarnil knows it well."

"Fitting, for it will be by moon and stars that I shall find you each night we are apart."

"Travel safely, my love."

"And you, and you."
They wrung all they could from this final embrace and then it was time for Hanasian to board. Fraefoc walked up first and he followed, glancing about. With a cry, the final mooring lines were freed and the ship ghosted away from Pelagir's docks.

Rin could see Hanasian standing by the rail, Fraefoc had removed her cowl and stood by his side. Rin stepped out from the crates into an open space and raised one hand, the left one that bore his ring. She saw him raise his own arm in response, the length of braid she had given to him dangling from his hand. She wanted to chase along and it took all her restraint to stay where she was. She could not prevent the tears then. A hand, Mecarnil's, gripped her right shoulder. Hanasian had left them with his bride. No greater trust had his friend shown than in this act.

"Come… we should go," he said. Slowly she lowered her arm. It was a quiet, subdued return to the Passage Tavern. They had scant hours before they had to set out themselves. Khule knocked on the door to the room she had shared with Hanasian. At her weary murmur, he cracked it open and deposited the clothing he'd managed to secure for her. It was strange, to say the least. Wan, somewhat deflated and somewhat forlorn, Rin examined what Khule had dropped onto the table.

"It's too long at the back, and the front is missing the top half," she observed. It seemed to be a sleeveless coat that fastened like a vest in front far too low and only to the hips... or rather like a girdle given the brevity of the front. It was the oddest and brightest coloured garment she had ever beheld.

"That's how they wear them," Khule steadily replied. Rin sighed and turned her attention to a long swathe of bright red fabric.

"And what do I do with this?"

"Wrap it around your head and shoulders."

"In this heat?"


"The women of the south must be extraordinarily bad tempered and who could blame them?"
Rin paused and clucked her tongue. "Ah, Khule. I must sound ungrateful. I'm sorry."

"Forget about it, Doc. I understand. I have sisters."

"I do appreciate this. Really... Well, I'll try very hard to."

"It'll only be for the first few days anyway,"
he replied and then took his leave.

Rin arrived downstairs before dawn garbed as a southron woman. She wore the brightly hued sleeveless coat over her white company shirt. The lacings ensured it encased her torso tightly. She had exchanged her customary leather trews for wide breeches tucked into boots. The veil was wrapped around her head and her hands were concealed with gloves. Whilst the coat left no doubt as to her gender, she was barely visible. Certainly, she did not resemble in the least the former queen of Cardolan. Frea stared openly at her.

"Something wrong? Have I got it wrong?" she asked, twisting about. It was impossible to see properly once the veil was on. She wore a chain around her neck. It was gold and it bore Hanasian's ring as she could not wear it with gloves. This she tucked down into the low top of her coat that shielded her rib cage. The other ring, the seal of Cardolan, was safely secured in a pouch. Frea shook his head, unwilling to give voice to what was passing through his head at that point. Some things a man did not say, particularly not to the woman betrothed to his cousin and one that he had to serve next to. One thing was certain, Khule had her hiding in plain sight. Brightly coloured plain sight.

There was no time wasted on small talk. They were mounted and across that bridge, accompanied apparently by a woman of the South, prior to dawn. Gondor's knights had already assembled, two hundred strong. Elfwine's Rohirrm were following, all five hundred of them. The presence of a southron woman was both notable and not surprising. The Black had a reputation for its unusual recruitment practices. Faramir squinted at her speculatively from his own horse.

"I thought Aragorn's cousin was joining us," Gimli said nearby from his perch behind Legolas. Faramir said nothing and Legolas shrugged with typical elven fluid grace.

"Mortals change their minds. It's a long and dusty road to Umbar," he replied.

By dawn's light, the advance contingent of Aragorn's land forces moved south along the Harad Road toward the Poros Crossing. By mutual agreement Mecarnil took command by day of the Black, and Folca by night. It suited both men well. The Black fell into a familiar pattern of scouting patrols that circled about them as they moved. As for the southron woman, presumed by most to be their guide or informant or some such, she rode quietly amid a contingent of Ithilien Rangers.

Around mid afternoon, Faramir's horse drew up along side.

"Congratulations," he said, catching the ring that dangled from her neck. Rin fidgeted with the veil wrapped around her head.

"Thanks," she replied, drained, heart sore, frustrated and surrounded by soldiers as far as her eyes could see. She felt worse than useless. She was unable to ride patrol like this. There was no call on her for her core duty. She was brightly coloured excess baggage as far as she could tell and the lack of something to do just made the pain of separation from Hanasian and Loch bite all the harder.

"It'll only be a couple of days, just to be on the safe side," Faramir said, reading the slump of her shoulders clearly. Rin mumbled something not fit for ears into her veil. The exchange was overheard by one very attentive Elf. Legolas smiled with the discovery but kept it to himself. Clearly, they were concealing her identity for a good reason...and he liked that coat very much for all of its bright colours.

By the light of the waxing moon that night, Rin found that she could, at least, cook. She sat by the campfire, writing in her journal of her first day without Hanasian or Loch in the Company. Folca had, thankfully given her a turn at watch to sit later on. Not completely useless baggage, then. How did he fare, her beloved? Did they have favourable winds and current? What of the new recruits? How was Loch doing? Was Fraefoc safe? How was Bear recovering? That gut wound had been a serious one.

As she stared out during her watch later over an unfamiliar land, her thoughts and heart drifted to the sea and those on it. Her gloved hand closed around the ring around her neck. One day down, fourteen to go. She could not wait to ditch the cover and get back to her usual self. She could not wait to reach Umbar!

Aboard the "Night Explorer”

The Desert Moon... Hanasian remembered the place. Indifferent thoughts passed through his head as he watched the shore grow farther away, attempting to watch Rin to the last. But to everyone, Rin was beside him. This strange woman was taking her place. He looked again to the shore, and his wary eyes watched the movement of the people as they drifted into the night. He was at the same time filled with joy that Rin wished to have him as her husband, and saddened that they will be apart for a time. He had to hold it in, and he sucked it up and was once again the captain of the company.

He allowed everyone try and rest before sunrise, but he got little. The new day brought with it a loneliness he never thought he would have, but he held hope that the time would pass quickly. He set to work with the newest members of the company to try and take away his thoughts. The brothers of Anfalas were already hard at work making sure their blades were sharp, and Anbor joined them. Loch came by and tossed them some oil to keep them from the salt air, and set to work in helping sail the ship. Unlike the voyage down from Mithlond, this one was more sombre. They were unsure of their reception in Umbar, and prepared to go in as hostiles. Mulgov quizzed and explained the ways of the south to those that had not been there. Wulgov made a good sergeant, breaking in the newbies with drills and sword work. They seemed to take it all in stride.

The day passed and the night saw the moon a bit farther up in the sky at sunset. Hanasian wrote the names of the new recruits in his journal, and noted that Bear and Foldine were not yet in a condition to battle freely. Bear especially. Any harsh moves on his part could set him back. Yet he seemed in a jovial mood. Wulgov spent his free time trying to gain Freafoc's favour and interest. But she despised Dunlandings, and was instead interested in Mulgov who seemed to her exotic. In a few days time she would be in a city of exotic men. She would likely turn and head back north when the ship set sail home.

Hanasian prepared plans for their landing at Umbar. He would come in flying the banner, letting the city know that the Black Company had arrived. He would seek out a couple people he had known and employed the past time he was there, and Mulgov would call on his contacts. They would march through the city and set up camp on the east side. It would be easiest to keep watch on the roads that go south and northeast from there. Depending on what they find out there would decide his next moves. He had an idea what was involved with this insurrection, but not knowing how deep and how far it has progressed until they got there mean that they would be going in essentially blind. Of course, the northern and eastern paths would provide him with his earliest glimpse of Rin.

He watched the moon sink away before he put away his pen. He had closed the night with some prose while thinking of his bride.

Gentle breeze, dances with your hair. I see you, but when I reach for you, you are not there. Yet I feel your warmth, inside me, and I know that we dance together, in our hearts and dreams.
He flicked a dry leaf he had picked up over the railing and it drifted down into the dark sea.

"Goodnight Rosmarin," he whispered, and turned to go to his bunk.

Tomorrow would come too soon, and it would be much like today. He just had to make sure everyone was ready. Hanasian was wishing he had five of his best men with him, but he had three, no four, and a couple good, but disabled hands, along with three of unknown quality or quantity. Things could be worse. Things can always get worse.

On the Harad Road

The further they pushed along the Harad road, the greater their watchfulness became. The additional men provided by Faramir were welcome. It was a difficult task they had to fulfill. Seven hundred mounted men had to be shielded so that, in turn, those on foot could be shielded. The army of the Reunited Realms and Rohan was a southward thrusting spear and its tip was Black and Green. Southern Gondor had long been a disputed territory. Successive tides of war, from south, east and west, had ensured that the population was now sparse. Gone were the agents that had once served Sauron. Their descendants now remained, and they were not welcoming to any force. At best, the patrols of the Black and Green were met with thin tolerance. The tension, therefore, steadily ratcheted up as they neared the Poros. That place, for the Black, had an unhappy history.

Despite this, the companies worked well together on the whole. Patrols swept about and any hostiles intercepted well before they reached the seven hundred men behind them. Contact with the forces behind them was maintained as far as was necessary. If the combined cavalries of Rohan and Gondor had to slow, then so too did the spear's tip. Some days they moved far. Other days seemed to crawl by. For Rin, it was a largely tedious affair. There was little call for her skills, and under her present cover that was just as well. Had a significant incident passed, she would not have been able to sustain her cover as someone who is not a healer.

Rin's bright disguise prevented her from riding patrol on the basis of Mecarnil's strong, unrelenting opposition to the prospect. She had suggested that she could assume her usual garb to ride out and resume her costume upon return. Still Mecarnil opposed her. Rin found herself relegated to simple tasks. She could cook, repair equipment, gather firewood, stand watch, sleep, eat and ride – provided that veil remained in place at all times. This, she had been informed by Mecarnil and Folca both, was how things had to be at least until the Poros. Of the Green, Faramir was the only one who had guessed her identity and he kept that to himself. Rin found herself ill at ease amongst the Green. They were strangers to her, soldiers, and she found herself struggling once more against that bone deep fear. The suspicion was mutual. To the Green, she was a Southron turncoat now acting as guide. They tolerated her because they had to.

The Black was determined to prevent any ambush at the Poros. History would not be permitted to repeat. On the night before they would cross the Poros, Rin realised that every member of the Black, including Mecarnil's latest best friend, was out on patrol along with most of the Green, including Faramir. That left her alone with three Green rangers, all unfamiliar to her. Neither Rin or the rangers were well pleased with this state of affairs. They sat at a safe distance. Rin maintained a silent vigil until she had to face a simple reality. If she did not sleep now, she'd fall off her horse tomorrow. She resigned herself to an uneasy night, a keen longing ache for Hanasian, her brother and indeed any familiar man of the company echoing through her.

Rin wrapped her bedroll around her as a thin shield against the three strangers nearby. Her thoughts slowed and returned to Hanasian. Rin sighed, picturing his face, hearing his voice, recalling his scent and the solid feel of his presence. A thrill eddied through her as she recalled his proposal. She slid into sleep on that memory, searching for Hanasian in her dreams. What she found was something else entirely.

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

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The landscape was unfamiliar and strange to her. It was thick, damp, cloying, drowning out ground and sky, claustrophobic. It was hot. It was a jungle. The jungle was silent, unnaturally so. In the midst of a small clearing, only recently made it seemed, stood a monster and a man. He was tall, and wore armour that had clearly been fashioned with a clear purpose: to inspire fear. It was an effective contrivance. What little clothing that could be seen through the armour was coloured the dusty red of dried blood. He wore a coronet of cruel iron spikes. Worst of all were his eyes: pale grey, lifeless eyes like all the hope, humanity and kindness possible within a person had fled long ago. He had a predator's eyes to prove it. He was a man and a monster all at once.

Around him there were soldiers. They wore armour too, but it was scavenged piecemeal stuff. They held loaded crossbows that they pointed towards the spongey earth. She stood in front of the monster with three other men. They had no armour and no weapons. They stood wearing defeat and the ragged remnants of a uniform, but not fear. They had pale skin that had been tanned and weathered by the sun. Their faces were hollowed by resignation and privation. Their shoulders were slumped. These three, however, did not cower or quiver. The monster spoke in a harsh language that was incomprehensible to her. The officers around him then raised crossbows and she realised to her horror an execution was underway. Rin drew breath to scream. The man next to her lifted his head and glanced through her.

"Verawyn?" he asked, startled. She could not answer him in time.

An instant later there was the sickening sound of the quarrels meeting flesh and bone. The men around her, including the one who had spoken her mother's name, crumpled to the muddy floor of the jungle. The monster started speaking again, this time it was a fell chant that turned her blood to ice. She could smell death, new and old, and a perversion of life force and power. It mingled with fear, viscera, decay, mud, water and new growth. She was pulled out of this horror by a ranger. He wore a green cloak and a terrified face and he shook her hard.

"That was Haradi. You'll not ensorcell us, witch! Fetch rope!"

She was disorientated and stunned at first, conditions that did not last long. A dark memory surfaced from Dunland and Rin realised that history was set to repeat. It all happened so fast. A fist and a sharply applied knee had the first ranger howling and down. A second closed faster than the first and her dagger was in her hand before she knew it. He swung for her, the same blow that had levelled her foster mother all those years ago and begun the nightmare she'd witnessed as a child. Rin lashed out in sheer desperation. The second man grunted in pain, his forearm opened in a long gash. Then an arm, like an iron band, closed around her throat from behind. She knew panic as she struggled for air and then darkness collapsed upon her from all sides. It was fast and effective. The witch was subdued. She sagged like a rag doll, dagger falling from nerveless fingers. Mardoc had her stretched out on the ground in moments.

"Hands and feet both… and we'll need to gag her. Faramir can deal with the viper in our midst," he said dispassionately. The other two, one bleeding badly, set to binding her as instructed. Mardoc set to unwinding the veil so as to gag the witch. When a pale fall of tangled hair emerged in the firelit camp, Mardoc frowned. He'd seen that hair before. He unwound the veil faster, stomach twisting.

"Something wrong," the bleeding ranger asked.

 Mardoc uncovered a fair face that was not the face he wanted to see.

"Isn't that-"

"Sauron's balls!"

The bleeding ranger's exclamation was punctuated by a spear that had been hurled into their midst. Its shaft shivered with the force used. The the man who had thrown it wore a black cloak and an enraged expression. Frea was not alone. Khule had his sword out and he was running, face a cold mask. Mardoc rose with the other two and wisely stepped back as soon as they could.

"Ambushed again," Frea snarled, "This time from within!"

"We didn't know! We thought she was a haradi witch. She was chanting something in their tongue, the words had a fell power. When we sought to restrain her she became maddened!"
The ranger that spoke first was truly shaken and confused. He had a black eye rapidly forming.

"You'd better start explaining yourself before Mecarnil gets back in, or he'll have your heads." Khule said.

Frea knelt by the unconscious healer and swiftly sliced through the rope at her wrists and ankles. He collected Rin up, bitterly angry, and returned to their fire. Khule sheathed his sword. Mardoc took up the explanation, setting out events for Khule in a dispassionate, unadorned tone that spoke of the truth. Khule returned to the fire with a clear understanding of what had happened from their perspectives.

"They got more than they bargained for. Mardoc's stealth is the only reason she didn't do more damage. They really believed her a haradi witch," Khule said. He could guess what had provoked such a response from Rin too, based on what Loch had let slip.

"A genuine error then," Frea grudgingly allowed, squinting over at the three rangers in deep conversation with each other.

"So it appears…. Though how Doc knows haradi is beyond me."

A soft hitch in Rin's breathing ended their speculation.

"Easy, Rin. We've got you now," Frea said as her eyes flew open and she recoiled. Both men could see her searching for her assailants. She saw only them. Relief was in her expression then.

"What happened, Doc?" Khule asked. Frea helped her to sit. Her head throbbed viciously.

"Asleep… dreaming," she replied, cautious to not emphasise the second word lest she again be accused of witchcraft. "Then… I don't know. It was a blur, fast. I thought they-"[/I] Rin's words shut off suddenly.

[I]"Like Dunland, Doc?"
Khule guessed. Rin rounded her shoulders protectively and nodded, silent again.

"Mistaken identities all round then," Frea said. Inexplicably, Rin climbed to her feet.

"Now what?" he asked, mystified, as she walked to her gear and retrieved her pack and then started for the three rangers. Khule and Frea both stood and followed her. One man had been bandaging his own arm.

"I think I may have sliced one of you open," Rin said as three faces stared at her apprehensively.

"Come to finish the job? Wouldn't blame you if you did," he said, eyeing the two men that appeared at her shoulder. Rin shook her head and studied the growing blood stain that spread on his self applied bandages.

"No… if I wanted that then I'd leave you to your own devices. Blood loss, infection, muscle damage… all I'd have to do is wait."

The ranger considered the matter. He and his two rangers had set upon a woman in her sleep and assaulted her. That woman was a member of the Black. She was of royal descent and thus a member of nobility and if that wasn't enough she was related distantly to their High King. He held out his arm, a veritable olive branch, and she set to work. It was at this point, Mecarnil rode in. Frea peeled away to intercept him. Rin was busy stitching and Khule was keeping an eye on things.

"What happened?" Mecarnil asked as he swung out of the saddle.

"She had to ditch her cover. Training mishap," Frea replied. No member of the Green would pull Rin out of her bedroll again before thinking twice. Yes, they'd definitely learned something. The thought made his mouth twitch in a grim smile a moment before he sobered.

"Would Rin know haradi?" Frea inquired.

"Not as far as I know… but there's no telling what roads she's travelled before us or what she sees and hears at times, like her mother that way is my guess. Remember the downs?" Frea nodded and Mecarnil continued, "All those years left to her own devices, there's no telling what she's learned along the way. Her education, I can only presume, has been unusual at best.

"I think she may have dreamed something, like the downs, again. It could be important for our mission, if you can get it out of her. She's tight lipped about it, as usual."

Mecarnil grinned at the challenge. He had just the man in mind for that.

In the end, Mecarnil didn't need his perfect man. Farbarad was finding it difficult going in any case. Since her identity had been revealed on the banks of the Poros, Rin was difficult to catch alone. Mostly, she was dealing with the needs of the Black and Green companies. Then word spread that they had a healer in their midst and she was dealing with the needs of the seven hundred men that followed. One healer, seven hundred men: it meant that she was scarcely idling time away for him to approach her for a friendly discussion. Like most healers, Rin did not take kindly to interruptions to her work. On the occasions when she wasn't working, she was usually eating or sleeping. 

It took another three days to reach the River Harnen. In all, this column of the Black had been on the march for a week before they reached and Near Harad proper. Rin had no one to rotate her duties with. Naturally, she put the needs of her company first without prompting or conscious thought. These men were the nearest thing to family for her, aside from Loch. Rarely Rin managed to slip away in search of fresh supplies. Farbarad tried for these times, but invariably someone found her before him. He saw her deal with these in her usual direct manner. She was not interested in alliances of any sort and lacked any political ambition with the same singular intensity that her father had when it came to entertaining political ambition. He saw her chase away one envoy with a small branch.

Mecarnil had selected Farbarad as his number one man for Rin in the absence of Hanasian or her brother for one simple reason. Farbarad had known Rin since her birth. Indeed, he'd been assigned to her prior to her birth. She'd quickly wrapped the Ranger around her infant fingers. He had no family of his own and took his duty seriously. Bereth was a distant man at the best of times, particularly when he realised his heir had the temerity to be a girl. Farbarad was the adult male Rin spent most of her time with in that first year. When she had been lost, Farbarad had been hit hard. He'd returned to Pelargir seeking his last chance at redemption and found a great deal more than he had ever dared anticipate. This was the child for whom he had fashioned toys. This was the child whose forlorn cries had stalked his dark moments and dreams since she was abandoned in Dunland and lost.

There was so much to say, and Farbarad had yet to find a way to broach the matter. So, he waited and watched and wondered at the twists and turns of his life. On the far banks of the Harnen, Rin's curiosity finally got the better of her. She sought out Mecarnil, unaware of Farbarad's connection to her past. She caught Mecarnil on his way back in from patrol.

"What happened to the other two Rangers?" she asked as he reigned in. He was momentarily surprised by her question.

"The other two that survived Dunland with you. What happened to them?" she expanded.

"We went our separate ways. I sought out Hanasian's company. Durfinin went south, I think. Last I heard he had signed on with Aragorn's men in Gondor. Where he is now I do not know. Farb-"

"Durfinin? Could he have been sent south? Could he be there down in Harad, part of that rearguard action?"

"Possibly, why?"
Mecarnil asked, thinking that it was just the sort of assignment that appealed to a man intent on punishing himself for his transgressions. Durfinin had taken Verawyn's death hard. He doubted that the ranger could ever forgive himself.

Rin chewed her lower lip. It was for good reason she never spoke of her Dreams. She'd seen what happened to women accused of witchcraft. Mecarnil watched her wrestle with herself. He kept his peace. Hanasian was quite successful when he waited her out. When she spoke again, Mecarnil felt a flash of victory. At last, she'd decided to cooperate with him. However, as Rin spoke of what she had dreamt, his good cheer faded.

"Was that him?" she finished with.

"Durfinin knew your mother better than all of us. He'd been assigned to her since she first was betrothed to your father. It's him, I think. You've seen the rebel, Rin."

"How do you know it was Durfinin? Could be the other one."

"No. It wasn't."

"Why not?"

"Because he's here, Rin. He's Farbarad."

"There's two of you with the Black now?"
Rin asked, startled by this revelation.

"Yes. In any case, it would seem that you've seen Durfinin perish, or how he will. Terrible as that may be, what you've learnt of the rebel is important. Aragorn must be informed."

"Won't he ask questions about how we know this?"

"Naturally… is that a problem?"

"Not for you, I suppose. It'll be me at the stake when they find out."

"No one will do that, Rin."

"Easy for you to be confident. Easy for you to say."

"Firstly, no one would be foolish enough to mistake you for a witch. Rin, this is in your blood as much as healing is. It's not sorcery or witchcraft or any such nonsense. Secondly, they'd have to go through us to get to you. As Frea and Khule have already demonstrated, that's no mean feat."

Rin absorbed all of this without further comment. Believing the matter to be resolved, Mecarnil set his heels to his horse to seek out Aragorn. The fragile note of Rin's next question made him hesitate. Intensely private and familiar with how the world can exploit any hint of weakness, she'd always hidden such vulnerability from most of them. Mecarnil could think of two she had permitted past that inner wall of hers: Loch and then Hanasian.

"Do I look like my mother?"

"So much so that I thought you were Verawyn's ghost when I first saw you at Bree. It's no wonder Durfinin mistook you for her. I hope that in sighting her, he may have died with some measure of peace. When you're assigned to someone and they perish while you live, it is difficult to bear. It haunts you."

"Who were you assigned to?"
Rin intuited her question from Mecarnil's tone. He spoke from experience.

"Your father. When Cardolan first began to teeter, royal heirs were assigned Rangers to safeguard them. It was this practice that enabled them to survive in some way after the fall of the Last Prince. You, however, managed without us."

"The healing and the… dreams… is that from my mother or my father?"

"Both. Your healing comes from your father, although you are unusually strong. Stronger than him, certainly, and likely strongest of your line. The dreams comes from your mother. The future and past spoke to her frequently, almost daily. This doesn't seem to be as strong in you."

"Thank you,"
Rin said, meekly.

Mecarnil could only wonder how many questions she had. Like as not they had mounted over the years and no one had been able to answer them. She likely did not know even when she had been born, or what her first word had been. Farbarad did, and if she let him she might learn. If she let him. It was clear she was struggling with the reality of who she was and it would take time to sink in. Rin turned away and Mecarnil was free to press on. He did so, pausing only to pass one simple message on to Farbarad.

“She knows," he said to the Ranger.

Ultimately, Aragorn found the tidings confirmed his chosen course. In a counsel of all commanders, and his cousin, it was decided that the rebel was indeed of Black Numenorean descent and likely practising his forbearer's arts. It had been unlikely, to Aragorn and Faramir's thinking, that greed and glory would have been sufficient to rouse the tribesmen of the south into open rebellion after two Ages of war under Sauron's yoke. Fear, sorcery, necromancy would be a powerful goad. Taking an army to face such a man would be a disaster. Through attrition alone, their opponent would gain sufficient numbers to overwhelm them if he could marshal the dead. No amount of training could induce soldiers to fight their own dead comrades. It would be a rout with atrocious consequences.

The best course was to defensively ring Umbar and send their finest covert operatives south with all haste. The rebel had to be brought down and the tribesmen sent home well before he reached Umbar and the ample supply of fodder for his necromantic perversions. This resulted in another change to orders. The Black was to ride hard for Umbar and get south with all haste. Last reports had the rebels following the coast to avoid the arid interior of Harad. Elfwine's riders would pick up the slack left by the withdrawal of the Black.

"One sorcerer we can take, Sire, but the tribesmen are another matter. We do not have enough men," Mecarnil observed. Rin, who had fallen silent, found herself under renewed scrutiny. She hoped she was not being sized up for a pyre.

"Still have that ring," Aragorn asked her. She nodded.

"No big concessions. Be guided by Hanasian and Mecarnil. Do what you think is right. Sue for peace on my behalf."

Rin added her voice to those protesting in the tent around a detailed map of Harad. Faramir, however, was quiet as he cocked his head and studied Rin carefully. That sealed it, as far as Aragorn was concerned. They rode out hard through the next dawn, a Black arrow for Umbar. In their midst was an increasingly worried woman. She was no diplomat. She had no experience or grounding with this. If she failed, how many of the men of the Black would perish due to her ignorance and incompetence? She wasn't fit for this and she was surely only be a liability.

"Stop thinking so hard. You're giving me a headache," Frea observed in his own dour way. "Besides, I thought you'd be happier now we'll reach Umbar faster and there's less work to do."

"Now who's thinking?"
she replied. Her heart did indeed soar at the prospect of reaching Hanasian sooner. It had been eight days already. He'd have made Umbar now. But how long would he love her if she failed in this and cost him his men? The thought made her quail within but she kept that firmly to herself.

Aboard the Night Explorer

The days on the ship were passed with drills. More than usual. Going into Umbar with the unknowns too many to count, Hanasian wanted his small detachment to be ready. The weather cooperated for the most part, only becoming choppy one morning with contrary winds. But everyone managed to hold it together… even Loch. The kid had the making of becoming a good sergeant leading the new men through their paces.

Each night, Hanasian sat alone writing. He made sure all was recorded, and hoped Mecarnil kept note of what their party has done these days. He would incorporate it sometime in future days if given a chance. Maybe Rosmarin will have her own words to add? … Rosmarin…. He missed her more than he could say. The only thing he could do was to keep his mind focused on the task at hand. But before turning for the night, he would go to the rail and look out over the sea towards the north, as if he could somehow catch sight of her as she rode towards Umbar.

My Love, I talk with you as I see your face in the reflection of the moon off the water. May it be that all is well with you, and the days pass without incident till the day we meet again.
They were now two days out, and Hanasian ordered drills in full battle dress. The heat of the sun grew in its intensity as they pushed further south. He was relentless, and made sure they men had enough water. The grumbling of the old hands, contrasted with the quiet determination of the new hands to not disappoint. They all gave everything they had. Even Bear worked at some moves. He was ready in mind, but his body healed on its own time. Still, the days seemed to bring a renewed vigour to him. As they days passed and they drew closer to their destination, a grimness overtook the men. Wulgof and Mulgov both became serious and quiet. Jokes were all but non existent these last days. Loch drew close to them and took to heart their demeanour. He too took on a quiet seriousness that was rather unlike him. Hanasian noted it all, and seemed pleased that the mix of new and old have come together in good cohesion. They were as ready as they were going to get.

The favourable winds pushed them forth, and the captain said they would port a day early.

"Captain Hanasian, you will be ready to disembark come sunrise?"

"Yes, we'll be ready. I'll need the two-wide gangway. We'll disembark in formation."

The captain nodded and slipped away. That evening Hanasian told each member of the company that he wished them health and long life, and made sure they took rest early, for they would be up and ready before sunrise the next day.

The sun pushed its first signs of dark blue up in the eastern sky. The faint light found the nine men in two lines of four with Hanasian out front. They had been called to alert, and watched the dim lights of the haven of Umbar approach. They were coming in quiet and fast, and the captain of the ship picked his landing so that they could get off quick. Few on the docks stirred, and when the ship tied off, the gangplanks were thrown and Hanasian led the men off.

"Company, ready yourselves. Be alert, keep eyes, ears, noses, and any other sense you may have alert. We'll go forth with weapons in hand but sheathed. Mulgov will take the point as soon as we clear to the wider street. Ready … go… double time!"

They set off in step, rapidly coming to ground. Loch and the new recruits looked every bit as grim as the veterans. Hanasian led them down a tight alley from the quay, and anyone who was out this early stepped back in surprise. Seeing armed men was nothing new in this city of the Corsairs, but seeing one as intense seemed to take them off guard. Hanasian paused as the men went by. Mulgov took up the point and kept them going, and Hanasian fell in at the back of the line next to Wulgof. Hanasian smiled as he realized that Wulgof put Loch in charge of the Standard. The kid did not fail in looking impressive following Mulgov. The Haradian wasted no time moving them through the city. Everyone would know that the Black Company had arrived.

Past the center of town, they were joined by a unit of the local guard. Men of mixed race in red and black attire tried to impress the newcomers of their ability. Yet they seemed more suited for a parade than a fight, and Hanasian saluted their commander but did not pause. They fell in behind the company. Molguv wanted to get them outside the city where they could watch the approaches. Another unit of locals joined the first, and Hanasian for a brief moment became concerned about their numbers. Even a poorly trained and organised army can still win on numbers, if they got inside their opponent's minds. It was up to Hanasian to keep the grimness and intensity up, and so far the new men showed no sign of fatigue.

As Hanasian planned, Mulgov led them out to the east of the city proper where they set up camp by a clump of trees. It was then that Hanasian and Mulgov met with the commanders of the locals who had followed them. Also, some grim soldiers of Gondor joined them. Their captain briefed them on the situation.

"It is good tidings that the Black Company have arrived in such haste. Your presence will make a difference I know. Yet I hoped there would be more of you."

Hanasian said nothing of the rest of the company, and he let the local commander continue.

"As it stands, the rebel have a strong base in the south, and seems to push north into areas where they enjoy some popular local support. But this support is fleeting, and in a couple instances we have managed to halt and cause them to pull back. But that is unfortunately farther in the east. It seems the southern coastlands are more apt to join the rebel. They are primarily families of the old Numenorean order who still despise Gondor. Most of the common people are indifferent, having lost too many sons in wars far away. It is here that we are faltering."

Maps were brought out, and Hanasian asked about certain aspects of the methods of attack the rebel used. Too familiar… they should have been more vigilant when they were down here before. This time it would be taken care of. Hanasian made some suggestions on defensive tactics, and in parting the commander of the army of Gondor spoke to him in Sindarin, "These people cannot be trusted. Their local guard will look impressive and make the right moves, and individually or in small groups they can be good fighters. But they don't have the stomach for the ill deeds, and there are surely spies amongst them. Your presence will be reported as soon as possible."

Hanasian nodded. He knew. All too well. Still, he would try and use them and engage them. Best have close to keep an eye on them.

The day ended with little drama. The locals drifted away at sunset, and the company along with about fifty of the Gondorian garrison camped and kept watch. He sent the men out on night patrol to get a feel for the terrain. The next day they pushed out a bit farther, setting up a defensive perimeter each time. It could come in handy should they find themselves falling back to the city. The third day after arriving, the company had their first engagement. It wasn't really much, a shower of arrows fell on them from behind as they rode back to camp. They never saw the rebel, and no casualties were taken. It was just a signal of their awareness of the patrol's presence, and freely available arrows that they had in store presumably.

Little else happened as they held their line. Hanasian got a feel for the locals and which ones were trustworthy enough to assign a part of the line. Finally, word had come that mounted riders were approaching.

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

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On the road to Umbar

Hard riding in battle gear was gruelling work for horse and rider both. When the heat and the length of their ride south from the River Harnen was added, it was bone numbing. They paused only to spell their horses. During their first pause, they found themselves suddenly caught in an ambush that had startled their most eagle eyed. Videgavia had not even seen them coming. Mecarnil had insisted on full battle dress from that point onwards. There was no distinction between soldier and non soldier. There was simply alive or dead. The choice was as much Rin's as anyone else's. She chose alive. She started counting the steps to Umbar as a way to keep herself awake and alert.

The intensity of opposition increased as they drew towards Umbar and the coast. Frea found himself privy to the basis for Loch's claims about Rin and her ability with a bow. Once she knew what to look for, she was keen eyed, swift and uncannily accurate. Rin had never used a bow on anything other than game before. She felt decidedly queasy about the use she put it to. It settled over her like a greasy blanket, just below the layer of dust and grime from the road. Better the bow than the knife, though. She could not bear to belly through the night searching for targets with a knife between her teeth like Videgavia and the others could. She was a healer. She had to draw the line somewhere. Her conscience drew it there, for now.

"First kill?" Frea had asked her. Rin shook her head, re-braiding her hair, lips firmly sealed together. It wasn't, yet she wasn't about to get into that grim tale at this point. What troubled her is the ease with which she had sighted and gotten off that shot. She'd sunk three arrows into him to be certain, each one a kill shot. He had been young. Not a boar, not a stag, not a bird… a young man. Thankfully, there hadn't been enough time to think further on it.

They had paused after the moon had set on that last night. Folca and Mecarnil agreed that one last, solid thrust should see them through to Umbar's Dawn Gate on the eastern side of the city in the next day. The air already held the unmistakeable salty tang of the sea. Umbar… Umbar meant Hanasian and Loch. Videgavia and Berlas had already set off with their knives between their teeth. Rin didn't mean to fall asleep. True, they'd barely slept for three days such had been the peril. She started awake and nearly sunk a left hook into Frea's jaw for his trouble.

"My fault. Should know better by now," he grumbled as he jerked himself backwards out of reach. "We're riding out, Doc. You good?"

She stood, nodded and retrieved her horse. Gian too had taken the time to close his eyes and squeeze some rest out of the pause. Videgavia and Berlas had returned to report. There was still resistance out there, but not as thick for some reason. There had been sign of their camp sites, nothing else. They pulled up just past dawn. Mecarnil dug out a second Black Company Standard. Frea and Folca adorned their spear hafts with pennants of a similar design. Rin was directed to unbraid her hair.

"I want them to know we've arrived," Mecarnil said mysteriously. So it was that they rode the last leg. Cloaks flying black beneath the sun, plate and mail gleaming silver, standards, pennants and hair dancing in their wake. Ahead, a defensive line was sighted and there was the sister standard amid Gondor's men. The Black was reunited by late morning. The line parted to let them plunge through at speed, closing after them. Mecarnil signaled for a halt, slid from his saddle and approached Hanasian with Folca. Both men formally saluted before Mecarnil clasped Hanasian's forearm in greeting.

"All present, all well, Captain," he reported without delay. What he did not speak of, but did covertly indicate, is that orders had changed. Loch passed the standard to Wulgof unceremoniously and literally pulled Rin the rest of the way out of the saddle when he decided she was taking too long to dismount. The anxiety had had been carrying around within him broke. She was safe after all. Relief flooded through him.

"You smell like horse," he observed, a ghost of his grin returned as he squeezed her as much as her battle dress permitted. She was all chain mail and leather.

"So do you…. But I have an excuse. What's yours?" she replied as he set her back on her feet and resumed the Standard.

He walked away, grinning to himself, and followed Wulgof, Khule and Molguv. Mecarnil, Folca and Hanasian were already approaching where the rest of the newly returned Black stood. Rin watched him walk towards her, transfixed and feasting on the sight. She had ached for this moment. In her dreams, she had not been wearing mail, nor a thick layer of dust from the road and her hair had not been wildly tangled. Nor had there been fifty of Gondor's soldiers for an audience.

"Captain,"[/I[ she said, as he neared, and echoed Mecarnil's formal salute. Her heart drummed beneath her mail and leather.

he replied, returning the gesture. She wasn't sure, looking back, who broke first. All she knew is that one minute she was standing by her horse and the next minute she had her arms wrapped around the man she had just saluted.

"Found you, my love," she whispered, cheek pressed to his jaw, and breathing his scent deep into her lungs. But this was not the place for a lover's reunion. Both gathered themselves and stepped back. For Rin, it was as though a missing limb had reappeared again.

"Cap, is it safe to take counsel here," Mecarnil inquired once the pair had separated. Hanasian glanced about. There were locals about, studying what was unfolding with close interest.

"Time and place, Mec," Hanasian replied in Sindarin and Mecarnil nodded his understanding. It took another twenty minutes to secure the line and permit key Black personnel to pull back.

"Hope you've got that ship still, Cap," Mecarnil said once this was done, "For we'll need it or another as can be gotten."

His report halted as a Gondorian captain arrived. Hanasian waved him to continue and so they did, in Sindarin. Rin stood quietly, watching and listening to what was clearly an elvish language dance around her. She studied faces and men, and watched those of the Black move about. Bear and Foldine both appear to have further recovered, though Bear still moved stiffly. That was to be expected. The new recruits seemed to have settled in remarkably well. The two brothers Hanasian had taken with him were working on something they had scrounged up.

Though she stood in the middle of a knot of armed, highly capable men, shoulder to shoulder with her captain, Farbarad was hovering as closely as protocol permitted. Videgavia was hovering too, habitually watchful. He was scrutinising the local men that supplemented the forces, face an unreadable mask. Mecarnil updated Hanasian in typical brusque style. He didn't go into detail. That could wait for later. He did mention that the king had sent them ahead, further was known of the enemy and that Faramir's Rangers, Elfwine's Riddermark and Gondor's Knights were hot on their heels. They'd faced increasingly sturdy opposition that had recently melted away. Gondor's captain looked well pleased with such tidings.

Details on necromancy, foretellings, urgent deployment south to assassinate the rebel and the use of whatever means, diplomatic or otherwise, to press peace back on the southern tribesmen of Harad remained unspoken.

"There's more to this than can be said, Cap, just at this moment," Mecarnil finished with.

Hanasian nodded and considered the best path to take. They'd need to fall back once the defensive lines around Umbar were established. That would take a day or so to dig in, now that the Black was reunited.

"Fall out along the lines. We'll need them dug in. Mecarnil, take the left flank. Folca, take the right. I'll take the centre here with the good captain."

"Forgive my impertinence, but what of the woman?"
the Gondorian captain asked, nodding in Rin's direction and somewhat confused by her presence in military garb.

"Have you any healers?" Hanasian inquired. The captain shook his head, weighing up the wild haired woman in a new light. Hanasian switched to Westron to announce the disposition of this element of his company.

"Doc will be located with us centrally," he said. This Rin understood and it brought her attention back to the men she stood with.

"I can patrol outlying positions if necessary," she suggested and both captains nodded.

Just like that it was back to business. There were no windswept embraces, nor showering of rose petals, nor the swelling of sweet music. She simply fell in step, pulling her gloves back on and collecting her weary horse, to follow Hanasian and those men who were bolstering the men already assigned there. Loch was there, with Wulgof. Farbarad had managed to wriggle in. She frowned faintly at that. She didn't need a watcher nearly as much as the Black needed a soldier and he'd signed on to serve the Black, not her. Frea, Folca and Gian headed off to the right. Rin marked the direction the men moved off in for future reference. Mecarnil, Khule and Berlas headed off to the left.

"It's like they just went home all of a sudden," one of the men at the central position said.

"We need intelligence… but we have to grab one of them first," his fellow observed.

As it turned out, finding one to question was easier said than done. For the experienced hands, the sudden quiet after days of escalating tension only suggested something bigger brewed. It was a case of waiting for the other boot to drop. For the inexperienced, it was either a welcome respite or utterly dull.

Wagers of raids, in overwhelming numbers, sprung up along the lines. This helped while away the time through the rest of the day, the night and the following morning. Not everyone needed to find something to occupy themselves. Rin, for example, found herself dealing with the usual influx. Word of a healer spread and like magic, she was wading in people who needed her services immediately. Some of them were genuine. Most were curious. She managed to winnow through the chaff by sunset and deal with the genuine cases by midnight.

By that point she was so fatigued she felt drunk. The fact that she couldn't walk a straight line hampered her further. Her battle gear started to weight more and more until it threatened to topple her outright. It was Farbarad who noticed how she weaved between patients, struggling to walk or stand. Unlike Mecarnil, Farbarad didn't waste time attempting to reason with her. He went straight over her head. Hanasian ordered her to down for ten minutes. Fatigue did the rest.

Loch found her slumped face first over her packs, so deeply asleep that no amount of shaking would rouse her. He managed to roll her over and dropped her cloak atop her. At some point Hanasian found her during the night. She wasn't aware of this. All Rin knew is that when she woke, his arm was flung over her and she felt like she had slept well for the first time in weeks.

Shortly after daybreak, fresh troops arrived from Umbar and this provided Hanasian with an opportunity to fall back to Umbar. Clearly, there were further tidings afoot and in any case half of the Black company were exhausted from their headlong race to reach them. Such fatigue would kill them, one way or the other. The signal went out to those securing the left and right flanks and the Black pulled back with the defensive lines in as good a shape as possible.

They made for the Dawn Gate, and once through the city's walls pressed without delay for the "Desert Moon". Umbar had a rhythm that was vastly different to northern and western cities. Early mornings, late afternoons and evenings were busy times. For those new to Umbar, the presence of so many on the streets so early was a surprise. Rin could see the flicker of pickpockets weaving through the crowds. Hawkers cried for custom, and the smells and sounds were both familiar and utterly alien. Traces of Numenor survived in the buildings and in some of the faces visible. However, Harad, Khand and even Rhun held sway here.

Umbar was a port divided into quarters, according to the four heritages found in the city. Where the quarters converged was a large open space, the main market where everything imaginable and many things that were not were available for sale. If it had value, if it could be bought or sold, it could be found here in Umbar's central bazaar.

What struck Rin most was the number of male faces. She didn't realise it at first. It wasn't until they really hit the morning crowds that she noticed how so many of the visible faces were men and boys. Then, she spotted the serene passage of a person veiled from head to foot. A woman, she guessed, from the height and build. Was it liberating to be so invisible, so protected from the scrutiny of others or was it claustrophobic. She couldn't decide which.

The Desert Moon sat like so many inns and taverns at the eastern cusp of the grand bazaar. Molguv was first to dismount and he disappeared inside. He re-emerged with several stable hands, arrangements made. Though it was not yet midday, the heat and humidity was already building rapidly. A storm was expected to blow in from the sea by mid afternoon.

The company dismounted, retrieved their gear and found the cooler dark interior of the tavern a welcome change from the dazzling brightness and colour of the bazaar outside.

"One hour and we'll meet - Company moot," Hanasian directed. Men rumbled assent. A whole glorious hour. Rin followed Hanasian to their room. He'd barely gotten inside and set his gear down when he heard her curse in passable Haradi. Hanasian turned to discover she had already managed to discard any plate and was trapped midway in removing her mail corsolet. Her entire upper body had vanished within its depths and she hopped up and down trying to dislodge it.

With a faint smile, Hanasian stepped forward and pulled the mail the rest of the way up and over her head.

"I've been itching to do that for days," she said with a rueful smile and rolled shoulders now free of the weight of steel.

"Oh how I have missed you, my love," she confessed as he set the mail aside.

"And I you," he returned, cupping his hand over one soft, dusty cheek.

Now that her hands were ungloved, Rin removed the ring that she had kept around her neck and settled it home once more. Time to rest and relax and enjoy one's company would be fleeting. One hour was all they had. They intended to make the most of the first hour they had alone since Pelargir and their betrothal.

A tapping followed by a whisper was all Hanasian heard. It had not been an hour yet. In fact it was barely a half of one. Like a shooting star, the intensity of their reunion had burned bright for some few moments before they slid into a light slumber in each other's arms. It was probably a good thing this interruption came, though Hanasian was ill pleased. It was entirely possible Hanasian and Rin would continue to sleep without it.

"What Mulgov? This better be good!" Hanasian growled as he got himself together.

"Oh, it is. There is someone you need to talk to, Cap."

With a quick kiss on Rin's cheek, they headed to the depths of the Desert Moon's cellars. Upon arrival, Mulgov introduced a young Haradian named Morcul. He seemed on edge and kept looking around as if someone was looking for him. Mulgov talked to him in Haradian and then turned to Hanasian.

"We said we needed to grab one of them, but what do we say to one who wants to freely join us?"

"He could be a plant, and is a turncoat at best."
Hanasian replied, eyeing Morcul suspiciously. Mulgov was insistent though.

"If I was told the company history right, didn't Khule get involved with the company in a similar fashion?"

"Sort of, but different. I take your point, however. What is it he offers us?"

Mulgov went over what Morcal had told him.

"He says he can get us to where the rebel leader is encamped. It is well south of here, and says that the rebel forces here at the front are a well-trained cadre led by a trusted lieutenant. But outside this core, most of the line troops are second-rate conscripts picked up along the way," he finished and waited for Hanasian to absorb this information.

"That would explain why their push to Umbar had slowed, given that their good men are being spread thinner to keep the morale and backbone of the main army from breaking. I'm thinking once the bulk of the men get here, they will have little trouble holding against such a force. It would explain why our orders have changed," Hanasian analysed.

It was then that the local police commander of Umbar broke in with some men and seized Morcal. Mulgov began to take exception but Hanasian held his hand up for him to pause.

The commander turned to Hanasian and said, "This man is a known rebel and is wanted for questioning. We take him to our lock hole."

The men led Morcal out, and Hansian again restrained Mulgov.

"We don't interfere with the local authorities. That man took his chance coming into the city, and he was obviously spotted or someone tipped off the locals. Either way, we will have to decide whether what he said is true," Hanasian counselled.

Khule saw the locals leaving with a man who looked similar to Mulgov if not as big, and took the opportunity to follow them. They went to the watch house where it seemed some high-ranking Gondorians had gathered. Interesting. He watched until it was time to gather at the Desert Moon. Hanasian was the last to arrive. He'd had gone back to find Rin, who was getting prepared to go to the moot.

"Sorry about the interruption my love. One day soon we'll time to spend in each others company without any interruption. But it is not this day I'm afraid."

He gave her a kiss and she pressed into him as she passed out the door. Hanasian grabbed his writing kit and soon followed Rin into the secure underground room they had rented from the proprietor of the Desert Moon. It wasn't comfortable, but would suit their purpose well. After they all had their say and grumble about not being able to enjoy the sights, Hanasian gathered their attention.

"Right men, it's been a tough road for most of us. Still we have come here in better strength than we have been in some time. Every one of you here bring something to the table, and each of you make the company as a whole stronger. Now some have been wondering why we were taken off the line and sent here. I believe Mecarnil could tell us more."

Mecarnil stood, holding a rolled parchment with the King's broken seal on it.

"Our trek down overland was a hard road, but much had been gained in our knowledge of what we are up against. Coupled with additional information obtained today, it has become the utmost importance that we set out by sea this night. Our company, along with a select few men the King has attached to us, will be setting off on a small ship to land at a point well south down the coast. It is a variation on the original plan we had when we set out from the north. However, our intelligence is much better now."

Mecarnil paused and there was some murmurs in the cluster of men. Hanasian studied the side of Rin's face as he listened to Mecarnil for some clue. He was aware that some of their information had come from her. However, she remained carefully guarded.

"We will have a fast ship to get us there, but it will not wait around. Once ashore, we will be on our own and will have to work our way back north after the rebel threat has been removed," Hanasian summed up.

In short, they were to locate and disable this warlord rebel of Sauron's. Hanasian had hoped to be able to stay there one more night, but it wasn't to be. Briefing on the intelligence their orders were founded upon continued for some time. Runners from the king came and went, and the preparation was carried out with remarkable precision. So well was things done in secret that nobody had a clue the old river cargo ship they would be taking was loaded with provision. In the night, the company slipped out of the Desert Moon by way of an ancient tunnel, and came unseen to the wharf where they boarded. Another midnight sailing. At least he was here with Rin this time. It was not long before they were away, and the little ship steered south hugging the coastline. It was now that they were away from Umbar that more emerged of their mission. There was little chance of being overheard now.

The small ship was made for river transport of people and cargo. The majority of the vessel was given over to cargo storage. Just above the belly of the ship was a long open area strewn with hammocks. At the stern, where it was wider, was the galley on one side and a small cabin for paying passengers. On the deck stood the cabin's quarters. With the arrival of the Company, the crew took to sleeping on the deck. They wanted the soldiers below deck, out from under foot. Even if they clung to the coast, they were still taking a river boat onto the sea and that would make for tricky sailing as the late spring storm season hit.

They cleared Umbar's immediate harbour easily, but the promised storm found them as they hugged the southern coast of the greater inlet. It made for an uneasy and busy night for anyone able to sail. Thankfully, the storm found them in relatively protected waters. Mercifully, no one was lost, even if they all were soaked to the skin. Blessedly, Rin had yet more of those little vials for unruly stomachs. The storm was a powerful but brief demonstration of Osse's power. Once the storm had passed, there were a few broken limbs that needed tending. She was becoming quite adept at fusing snapped bones, even if she did say so herself.

But the time the storm had passed, even the most sea sick were exhausted enough to sleep. Hanasian and Rin dragged themselves to the small cabin below decks through the hammocks were filled with snoring lumps of men. They were so tired, they said not a word as they too collapsed into sleep. Rin's last conscious thoughts ran in several directions. She needed to dry out that shirt she had left on the floor. She needed to get into the galley to make up more sea sickness vials and get started on that repellent. She was bone deep grateful for the fact that once again, the steady warmth of the man she loved was at her side.

Molguv and Khule stood together in the cargo hold. Khule held a lantern up high. It was dawn, just, but it was always dark down there. Molguv was crouched. They were wedged between stacks of cargo.

"I'm telling you, either you go get Doc or he'll die down here. He might die anyway, by the sound of him. I can hear gurgling every time he breathes. They worked him over good."

"If we get Doc, this whole thing is blown wide open,"
Molguv said.

"Shoulda thought of that before you smuggled him on board. If he survives, and if he's worth the risk, you might get out of this in one piece. If he doesn't pull through, or if he proves the turncoat Cap thinks he could be, then your number is up."

"I didn't interfere in local politics. I didn't go against orders."

"No, but you don't do the enlisting. And, this man is officially a stowaway. Don't rightly know what the ship's captain will say about that, either."

"I still think we can use him, Khule, criminal or not."

"Then go get Doc. I'll keep an eye on him. Does he speak Westron?"


"Well, there's that, at least. Remember to tell Videgavia and Frea that when they're stringing you up for compromising our mission."

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

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Khule watched the large Haradian climb the ladder to the higher level. Molguv emerged to find the men still slept in their bunks. The sun had yet rise still. They'd only gotten to bed some two hours earlier. He heaved a sigh and then walked carefully between the hammocks to avoid disturbing anyone. He paused at the closed door between him and Doc. Molguv cracked the door open and found both Hanasian and Rin were soundly asleep. He could move with surprising stealth despite his bulk. Molguv felt desperately uncomfortable about sneaking up on them like this. He paused, noting the vulnerable, relaxed expression of deep sleep on the company healer's face. She was rarely this relaxed when awake.

He shook his head, realised that he was prying, and tried to wake her. It took more than he thought. Eventually her eyes flared open and then widened again as she caught sight of him leaning over her. He held his finger up to his lip and pointed at the door. She frowned at him and glanced to the sleeping man at her side, debating with herself. Molguv was convinced his luck had ended when she shooed him away so that she could grab a dry shirt to throw on. He retreated, powerfully relieved. She emerged shortly afterwards, kit slung over one shoulder and still lacing the upper ties of her shirt. She favoured Molguv with a scowl, hair still sleep tousled. He took her unspoken protest in his stride and led her back down into the cargo hold. Khule's lantern was the only light in the dark space.

"This had better be good," she growled as she followed Molguv through the inky hold. Khule's expression was grim and she soon found why.

"Who is he?" Rin breathed as she took in the state of the man on the floor of the hold.

"Informant – Far Harad tribesman. Said his name was Morcal," Molguv supplied, wary of giving too much away.

"He's been beaten half to death, or more," Rin said, crouched by the prone man. The swaying light Khule held made it difficult, but after a quick examination Rin was convinced that there were numerous injuries, many of them internal. Any one of them enough to kill a man in their own right. She looked up at Khule, who shrugged, and then to Molguv.

"Well?" she asked.

"City Watch took him at Umbar. This is their work, not ours."

"And you want me to heal him."

"If you can."

"Why should I?"

"Because he could be useful to us. Because you're a healer and you don't like unnecessary suffering. Because you know what it's like to be alone and on the wrong side of the law."

"Does Hanasian know he's here?"


"Does Hanasian know about him at all?"

Molguv hedged, "Are you going to help him?"

Rin peered at Molguv steadily. He was putting her in a difficult situation.

"Help him, Rin, if you can. Molguv knows you'll have to tell the Cap in any case, " Khule said with a cautionary glance to the Haradian. Molguv nodded unhappily and Rin*began.

Neither Khule nor Molguv had seen a healer work. Morcal needed more than patching up, he needed more than field medicine. He needed healing and this would need to be done in stages. She began, logically, with the most imminent risks to his life. His lung was punctured, his kidneys were barely functioning and his heart was labouring. If Khule or Molguv expected to sense anything, they would have been disappointed.

There was no sound or light or chanting or waving. As far as they could tell, she simply laid her hands on Morcal's chest and closed her eyes. Her breathing shifted, as did his. They could see the colour wash from her face. Morcal's eyes flew open and he stared in shock at the pale haired woman that had her hands on him. His eyes rolled wildly until they settled on Molguv and then he uttered something that sounded desperate in Haradrim. Molguv rumbled something by way of reply and the man looked with renewed shock at Rin, whose eyes were still closed. Then his own rolled back in his head and he was out again. Rin had not paused her work.

"What was that about?" Khule asked Molguv in the ensuing silence.

"He wanted to know why some strange unveiled woman had her hands on him. I told him she was a djinn. Easiest way around it."

Rin moved to the next stage as she sensed Morcal was unconscious again. This would be painful for them both. She worked by instinct and learning, blending and weaving the two together in a way that would be difficult for her to articulate. It was exhausting. She opened her eyes after what felt like a day had passed. A wave of dizziness gripped her, as she had expected. She waited it out and then reached for her kit with clumsy, tired hands. It was time now to see to the final, peripheral things. She needed to marshal her focus for this too. A poorly cleaned or bandaged wound could kill him as certainly as a punctured lung could, more slowly and with infinitely more pain. By the time she was done, Rin's clammy skin was awash with sweat and Morcal's blood. She was alarmingly pale and her eyes were fever bright in the hold. Molguv had to help her stand.

"Done what I can. He'll need watching for the next few hours. Each hour he breathes, the better his chances become. Still, he could slip through my fingers anyway," Rin said in voice that sagged with weariness.

"Molguv will watch him," Khule assured her.

"He'll need to be brought up. He can't stay in this hold. Another storm could topple these stacks on him and crush him," Rin warned, voice tired and breathy. "I'll not be able to do a damn thing should that happen."

"You go report, Doc. We'll bring him up,"
Khule replied steadily, concern mounting as he studied her.

He helped Rin over to the ladder and then watched her disappear through the hole to the above level. Some men were up by now and most of those were in the galley. Farbarad, however, noted, her wan and bloodied appearance. She waved him away as she weaved a crooked path to the cabin door. She didn't knock, just pushed it open to find Hanasian was up and Mecarnil was there. Hanasian was holding the scroll Mecarnil had brought from Aragorn. It held the full details of necromancers, assassinations and the fool's mission of peace negotiations to follow.

"No big concessions, what a joke! What would I know about big? Three goats seems big to me!" she growled irritably as she pushed shut the door behind her.

Mecarnil's jaw was half open and Hanasian climbed to his feet, scroll forgotten, at the sight of her bloodied appearance.

"If this is secret ranger business, I won't be long. Need a new shirt… damn… that one's still wet… damn, blood in my hair…" Rin knew she was rambling as she peered at her reflection.

"What the hell happened to you?" Hanasian asked pointedly.

"Stowaway… some Haradian… Morcal… Khule's helping Molguv bring him up from the hold. Probably going to die anyway…"

Hanasian swore and strode from the cabin with a thunderous expression on his face, the door swinging wide, as Molguv and Khule manoeuvred Morcal into a spare bunk.

"Was all my fault, Cap. Khule didn't have nothing to do with this. Umbar's Watch worked him over, dropped him on the street. I figured he might still be useful so I used my initiative," Molguv reported in a rush.

"Told him to go get Doc when he showed me Morcal. The rest, I guess, you know Cap," Khule said as Rin emerged from the cabin in a damp shirt and now with damp hair. He had no idea how she managed to still be on her feet.

"He don't speak Westron, so he can't understand what we've been saying even if he was awake," Molguv added.

"That man is not conscious now and will not be conscious for a number of hours should he survive," Rin said.

"Oh he will, Doc," Bear affirmed. He knew personally how skilled their healer was.

"You brought on board an unauthorised man in what is a sensitive and highly covert operation, and your defence is that he can't understand what we say?" Videgavia asked Molguv, astonished. Frea looked ready to tear the Haradian to pieces.

"He has good information! He knows about this rebel! He knows the disposition of his men and materiel!"

"He knows that we'll be vulnerable, well beyond the lines and unable to call for back up if he leads us astray,"
Wulgof said heavily.

"This is a man that was pressed unwillingly into service by a man he describes as some kind of monster. No one wants this rebel dead more. We help him free his people… we'll be in good standing when it comes to the negotiations to send his people back home again. I know these people. They are my people. I know how they think. They don't want more war. They don't more would be wraiths and Dark Lords. Ain't anyone one of you here that has paid more of a price than his people, my people, over the Ages."

"Molguv, do you know this man?"
Gian asked on a hunch. Molguv expelled a telltale heavy breath.

"I didn't realise it straight away, Cap. Honest. I got so many cousins, no way I can keep track of them all and it's been years since I was last home."

Men rumbled over that until Hanasian held up a hand for silence.

"He'll be under constant watch. Soon as I sniff that he's a traitor, he'll go over the side and I don't care if he's your cousin or your brother and I don't care if he can swim or not. Soon as he comes to, he'll be questioned. Rin… where's Doc?" Hanasian looked about.

"She's here, getting my hammock all damp, out cold," Wulgof observed as he glanced down. It had to be his hammock, of course.

Rin had sat down while the debate raged and it had proved to be a slippery slope after that. With only an hour's rest the day before and then two hours of extensive healing, she was soon unconscious herself. She'd simply gone to sleep where she sat, slumping down with her legs still dangling over the side of Wulgof's hammock.

"Right… well, that's that for now, I suppose," Hanasian said as he eyed Rin's dangling legs a moment. Very distracting. He collected himself and pressed on.

"Molguv, you are officially on report. Stowaways are a serious matter. The Captain of this ship is well within his rights to take whatever measure he sees fit. You'd better hope that our Company doesn't have need of a healer in the next day or so, because by this action you've effectively stripped us of that resource. On your head be the consequences," Hanasian grimly said.

"That long?" Khule queried, genuinely surprised. Had he of known, he would have counselled Molguv differently.

"She's mortal, and has a mortal's limits. Don't let her skill or strength deceive you," Farbarad replied. "In any case, healers can burn out. It's not a pretty sight. You don't want to see that happen."

Farbarad gave up startling some sense into the men as he tried to lever Rin out of Wulgof's hammock. He managed to roll her like a sack of grain onto his shoulder. She was a dead weight, completely limp. Hanasian followed Farbarad back to the cabin. Farbarad deposited her on the bed, nodded at his captain and withdrew. Hanasian managed to pull the damp shirt from her. She didn't stir. Molguv's cousin must have been very badly injured indeed to inspire this degree of catatonia. He sat on the edge of the bed and studied the scroll that Mecarnil had given him. It lay on the floor.

If Morcal was not a traitor, a plant, and if the man lived then Molguv may have handed them the tool they needed to pull this off. They'd have four days a-ship before they put to shore. Beside him, he heard Rin murmur his name. He glanced at her and saw her smiling in her sleep. Necromancers, politics, informants or traitors… and there she was smiling in her sleep. Somehow, it made the many things that sat on his shoulders sit a little lighter and provided some soothing respite to his churning thoughts.

Hanasian made sure she wasn't bothered by men curious as to her status as she slept, and she slept and slept, then slept some more. The pitching of the boat didn't seem to affect her at all. Hanasian himself took a bit of a nap while with her, but since she showed no sign of waking, he had left her to tend to some business.

Mulgov was convincing that his cousin would be of great assistance in the south, especially since the 'plan' as put forth by Aragorn was to go in on foot and without a rendezvous ship to wait for them. They would be left to find the rebel leader, hopefully capture him, and make their way north by whatever means at their disposal to meet up with the main forces pushing south. It was a tall order. Hanasian was still unsure about Morcal. The working over he got in Umbar was pretty tough. He was fortunate to be alive and that showed considerable strength. Hanasian decided to put it to the company this night as to what to make of Morcal. He went down to where most of the men were still gathered.

"How is Morcal?" he asked Mulgov.

"He will live. Will be a bit sore for awhile. Where is Rin?" Mulguv replied, feeling decidedly guilty.

"She is sleeping. Seriously exhausted. I will awaken her later when we discuss our mission. I will put the issue of Morcal up for a vote of the company, so you all best decide if you think he is trustworthy enough to have as one of us.

"You say he's alright, but he has been fighting on the side of the rebels. So, anything that has to do with what we're actually going to do down here will not be spoken with him in earshot. I know he said he could get us in, but we will have to test that. So everyone get rest now, for later I will call everyone in, and a few hours after that we'll go ashore."

Hanasian turned to go, and the others grumbled a bit but decided that a bit of sleep would be good, for there may not be another chance for it in some time. Slipping back into the cabin, Hanasian saw that Rin had not so much as moved. He settled in a chair next to her and took her hand, and as he brushed her fingers, he fell asleep. It was dusk before Rin stirred. The coast was an inky smudge through the open cabin windows and Hanasian was sleeping in chair, a hand wrapped around her own. The evening breeze caught his hair. Someone had lit a lantern in their cabin. She lay quietly, enjoying the swaying of the boat and the sight of Hanasian until she could not lay still any longer. They had business of their own, interrupted at Umbar, to attend to. Hanasian sensed her move and he woke. A relieved smile curved his mouth.

"There you are," he said and she bent to kiss him.

It was a while later before the pair emerged from the cabin. Both were dressed ready for immediate deployment, yet despite that both seemed in excellent spirits. The Company was distributed around the open area below decks. Loch looked up from a game he was playing with Wulgof.

"Ha, told you she wasn't out of the game," he smugly announced.

Wulgof and several others grumbled as they handed over coins. Rin shook her head and continued on to the hammock that contained the stowaway. He was guarded by Videgavia and Frea on either side. Both men wore grim faces that softened a fraction as they made eye contact with the healer. The fact that she was up again had allayed a growing concern that perhaps Molguv's stowaway might rob them of their healer more than a day. Only Loch, familiar with Rin over the many years they spent together, had been confident that she'd bounce back sooner than they expected. She may look delicate, but she was made of steel and he had the bruises to prove it.

"Awake?" Rin inquired and Videgavia nodded.

She peered over the edge of the hammock. Morcal was still in residual pain, yet he was in considerably better shape than when she had last set eyes on him. Her idea had worked. It had worked! She felt a thrill of discovery and success. Even if he were a traitor, he'd just done the Company a considerable service. The realisation painted a smile on her face that removed any lingering vestiges of fatigue from her expression.

"Djinn! Djinn!" he croaked at her as he watched her smile over him. It brought Rin back to reality with a solid thump.

"You know what that means?" Rin asked Frea and Videgavia and both men shrugged noncommittally. They knew they were not going to be the men who enlightened her.

"What are you looking so pleased about?" Frea inquired, unable to help his curiosity.

"Hard to explain," she said.

"We're not idiots, if you please," Frea countered sullenly. He suspected she was patronising him.

"Fine… don't say I did not warn you. You may be familiar with the elven technique of re-knitting bones. I manipulated that concept to apply to things other than bones: organs, muscles, sinew, flesh and the like. All you need is a sufficiently detailed knowledge of anatomy and preferably more than one healer on complex cases. You know how meat if pounded loses it's structure and becomes tender, which is why we pound it? When someone is that badly beaten, the same thing happens. His kidneys were nearly jelly..." Rin paused as Frea started to turn green, "Didn't pick you as having a delicate constitution, Frea."

he stammered and Rin shrugged. She had warned him, after all. She returned to the business at hand.

"Has he had any water?"

"No, Doc,"
Videgavia answered.

"He'll need it if he's to answer questions."

Morcal croaked, illustrating her point.

It was Khule who brought water to Morcal in a battered tin mug. Rin observed the man drink, straightened and nodded to Hanasian, who had been watching closely himself. Morcal would live, which meant the Company had a decision to make. Hanasian sent Loch above deck to secure a couple of hands to watch their stowaway and then motioned the company to the galley. It was the furthest point from Morcal and it was there the Company settled to finalise matters pertaining to their mission and the stowaway.

The galley was a small and soon crowded place. Hanasian scanned the faces. An unlikely collection of men, some of them old hands and some of them new hires and in their midst a woman who was not a soldier, the woman he would wed when this was done. She had his ring around her neck again and she elbowing Loch to get him off her braid. Any man with sisters suspected that Loch had sat on his sister's hair on purpose. Loch's crooked grin made it clear to all, Rin included.

"Right, the rest of the details. The rebel leader has been identified as Black Numenorean and he's using some of their usual tricks," Hanasian said.

"Such as?" Khule inquired.

"Necromancy," Mecarnil said and Rin shivered despite the warmth of the evening air in the crowded galley.

"We'll go in fast and sharp, take him out. Idea is that once he's out of the picture, those supporting him will want to go home. We're to do what we can to make that happen fast and permanently."

"Any ideas on how to go about that, Cap?"
Foldine asked, scratching his head like several others, Loch included. "It's not like we're an army."

"Persuasion, incentive, diplomacy,"
Hanasian answered.

"Insane," Rin muttered before clenching her jaw again.

"What...Doc? Is that it? Because if that's it, then it's a very bad idea. She's one of the least diplomatic person I've met. She chased the last envoy off with a small tree!" Berlas frankly observed.

"She won't be doing it on her own," Mecarnil countered.

"I have a name, you know, and I'm sitting right here! If anyone refers to me by her or she one more time in this discussion, I'll add another her to our number. I can promise you that. And, for the record, it was not a tree it was a branch and that man had it coming because you should have heard what he said about Rangers. I'm not the least bit sorry about it. I only wish I could have really caught the ass with it, " Rin growled.

"See?" Berlas said.

"Enough… ideally, we want this would be sorcerer-king captured alive. We'll aim to bring him back to face the High King. Any that survive of the rear guard are to be pulled back with us. We'll not have this boat, so we'll need to secure transport to return over land."

"How many of the rear guard are likely to survive?"
Anbor asked.

"Not many," Rin muttered, shivering again.

"How good is this information? I mean no disrespect to the King, but for something this risky the basis should be solid or we're just committing suicide the hard way. Did you already question that stowaway in Umbar, Cap?" Bear asked like any veteran might.

Hanasian rubbed at his chin and Rin closed her eyes. She'd been dreading this. The only person who knew about her dreams sat squished next to her. Loch sensed her sudden coiling and glanced at his sister. It was his advice as children that had started her secret. They'd both just seen a woman who had such glimpses burnt for witchcraft. Never tell anyone, Loch had said to her after that. Now, here she was, jammed into a galley of soldiers who felt increasingly more like family and the nasty truth was about to spill out. Would they burn her or drown her? Videgavia spotted Loch and Hanasian both glance at Rin and her jaw was locked tight.

"We all know, Doc. We were there, most of us, at the Barrow Downs. We saw it again near the Poros. It's no secret," Folca said.

"Worst kept secret I ever heard. She talks in her sleep! The things we heard on the way to Umbar..." Frea added.

"I am NOT a witch!"

“Obviously… or Frea and I would be toads by now,"
Wulgof said.

"Or perhaps Doc is an exceptionally poor witch, of no concern or threat even to herself," Khule pointed out.

"I told you there'd be no burnings," Mecarnil said. Loch closed his gaping mouth with an audible click of his teeth. Loch heard his sister sigh beside him and he saw her close her eyes again. Was she really going to admit it after all these years and if she did, how was he going to keep all these soldiers from her once she did? They seemed calm now, but that could change in an instant once she owned up to witchcraft.

"Fine, I Dreamt it and I was questioned by every commander in the combined armies of Rohan and the Reunited Realms and they thought it stacked up. I'm still not convinced. I think we need to question Morcal to confirm things. Just ask Loch how difficult it is to interpret Dreams."

Heads swivelled to study Loch and his eyes widened as his sister neatly implicated him in witchcraft. He crossed his arms, shook his sandy head.

"I have no idea what you're talking about and I am not saying a word on the matter," Loch replied and pressed his lips into a thin, unhappy line.

"So, in summary: we're off to capture a sorcerer-king who practices dark arts and once we've done that, we're to use our silver tongued and politically astute healer to sue for peace with the tribes of Far Harad and then we're to fetch ourselves back to Umbar with captive in tow," Foldine said.

"I say we bring Molguv's cousin with us," Bear said, surprising them all.

"Why?" Frea asked.

"Well… because even if we don't listen to a word he says, we can use him with the tribes people… a hostage…"

"He's too much of a risk, and this job has too many of those as it is. Besides, hostages have to be valuable,"
Gian said, speaking up for the first time.

"We can watch him. No way anything will get past us," Khule said.

"Not like my sister did at Tharbad," Loch said.

"That's different!" Khule replied, pride stung.

"Don't see how. Morcal's in about as good a shape as she was," Gian observed and then hurriedly corrected himself, "Sorry Doc… didn't mean to she you."

"Morcal don't look so good in a wet sheet as she did, and I'm not apologising for that Doc so you're wasting a perfectly good glare on me,"
Molguv countered.

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

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The discussion circled about the merits of bring Morcal with them or tossing him overboard. Rin was the last member of the Company to cast her vote.

"He could be useful getting us in, he could be useful in arrangements with the tribe, he could be a thorn in our side. All I know is that he's helping me perfect a new technique and I'd like to have him around for a bit longer, just to see how that pans out if nothing else."

The vote was a narrow one in favour of bringing Morcal with them.

"If he proves a liability, Molguv, you know what will happen," Hanasian warned the Haradian.

It was done just in time. The boat's captain appeared in the galley doorway with news that if they did not put to shore now, the approaching storm would push them too far from the coast to do so again until the following dawn. A night landing was clearly preferrable. It took three long boats to ferry the Company ashore. Then they scurried up over the beach to the thick jungle canopy for cover. As a matter of course, scouts spread out. Molguv questioned his cousin and determined a general direction, north east. Rin worked a touch further on Morcal once Molguv was done, nudging things along and exploring her technique while they waited for the scouts to return.

"Careful, Rosmarin. Can't have you going down now," Farbarad murmured over her shoulder.

Mecarnil watched with interest. Had he or indeed any of the others save, perhaps, Hanasian, made such an observation Rin would have kicked back. However, as Mecarnil suspected, the old bond between Farbarad and his former charge was there still and she simply nodded and stood. Mecarnil stowed his discovery away under the things good to know when it came to getting the Company Healer to comply with unpalatable instructions. Rin approached Hanasian. He stood watching the sea just inside the tree line. The little boat was trying to tack about quickly. She could smell the approaching storm in the air, metallic. Rin slipped her hand through Hanasian's.

"We can do this, can't we," she asked quietly.

"Absolutely. I believe we are ready, my love."

Rin nodded, reassured by that statement of belief. The scouts returned and it was time to move. They needed to be off the coast before the storm hit and pinned them down. It would be a wild one in the jungle tonight.

They headed inland some in hopes the overgrowth would offer shelter from the storm. There was rain, lots of it. Lightning too, every handful of seconds it seemed. Thunder chased each bolt that lit the darkness, and for a time it seemed instantaneous. For all of this, the wind did not follow. The air hung thick with humidity and it couldn't be stirred. The only good thing about the rain was it was cooler than they were and it washed the sweat off some. The heat of the close air and jungle evaporated the rain almost as quickly as it fell, making the air even more steamy and nearly impossible to breathe.

The company buckled down and took it in stride. Full battle dress, packing their provisions with them, and making time. It could sap their strength quickly, and Hanasian was concerned about the returning wounded. Bear was getting better, but didn't really need this strain. Most of the northern boys who recently joined didn't like it one bit. Neither did the old hands who had been here before. They just knew about it enough to expect it. Only Molguv, Morcal and to a lesser extent Khule appeared unaffected. It was a relief when the storm front finally passed them over, cutting the rain back some and permit a cool breeze off the sea. Despite the conditions, they had come far and had met no resistance. In fact, their surprise was complete. It was time to allow a rest.

An hour passed and most sat and slept with an eye and an ear open. Hanasian and Loch stood watch. The kid seemed to be taking it all in well, and was showing what he had in him. So too was Rin. She checked feet for blisters and treated them as best she could, and only after tending to everyone did she rest her eyes. Hanasian made a few notes to write into his journals later. The company as it stands now is a good one. It wasn't the hardened veterans one and all that he had led into the south or east in years passed, but a new breed. A mix of those old aging war horses and young adventurous youth. Some only heard tales of the great War of the Ring, and sat by the fires while their folks told of kin who fell before the gates of Minas Tirith or battled before the gates of Mordor, or under Mirkwood's eaves. Yet the discipline he asked for and knew would be needed to get these men through to a new day had paid off already. Hanasian was proud of these men, and proud of his bride to be. She was full of grit, and surprises as well. Yes, he was a very fortunate man.

Hanasian drifted into a waking dream of life with Rin without the duty of the Company. It was a nice break from the reality of their situation. He shook it off when a blast of wind rattled the water from the trees and onto them. They had gotten used to the rain, and they didn't seem to notice it gradually tapering off to almost nothing, being replaced by a chorus of steady but diminishing drips from the tree leaves. Hanasian signaled Loch, who was starting to pick up some of the hand-sign, and he also got the attention of Wulgof. He also got Bear's attention, and he came to take Loch's place on watch. Hanasian drew the other three close and whispered, "Wulgof, you take Loch and go ahead about half a league to make sure the track is clear. Take Farbarad and Anbor with you. Go."

Hanasian had Frea's attention, and he, Khule, and Videgavia arose without word and faded into the bush to the southeast of the track. The rest remained in slumber, with Mecarnil keeping note. Hanasian remained at his watch, ad silence fell all around them. Hanasian wanted eyes and ears out before and beside his approach. Though they managed to gain good distance under cover of that storm, things would be quieter this following day, and they would have to be quieter as well.

It was just before dawn when Loch, Wulgof, Anbor and Farbarad arrived back at camp. They reported to Mecarnil and Hanasian they had come across a camp of smugglers, determined the threat as minimal and slipped around them without trouble. Anbor stayed to keep an eye on them while the others went farther down the track, and when the others returned to him, he reported they moved west toward the sea. They were likely off to meet a smuggler ship. They would have to beware of them when they moved north.

The rest of the company quietly emerged from their slumber. The cold camp only offered the dried meat and fruits for breakfast. Though it was not raining, the skies were thick with it and the air and humidity had returned to its unmoving self. They set out with Wulgof in the lead, Mecarnil following, and Loch with the standard following next. Hanasian checked each one as they passed, and let Farbarad bring up the rear as he slipped in behind Rin. He squeezed her hand, gave her a nod and a smile as they pushed forth after the others.

They all were silent, with barely a noise from the leaves brushing against them as they went forth. A slight pause when Wulgof reached where they had sighted the merchants earlier, and the way was undisturbed since they had been there last. Two men, Berlas and Bear, split off down the track the merchants had used and set watch while the rest passed. They fell in as rearguard as Farbarad passed. It was some time before Hanasian broke noise discipline and whispered to Rin ahead of him.

"Feet. This will be hard on their feet, especially if it doesn't dry soon."

Rin nodded as she studied the feet of the man in front of her. Miles and miles loaded down in wet boots will take its toll. They will have to rest again around the noon hour, but with the uniform grey and sticky air, it was hard to determine time. Hanasian would have to give it his best guess.

He was getting ready to pause for an hour when word come from Loch that a small village was in front of them. They all took position on the track with a ten step spread between them, and every third man faded into the jungle to form a defensive buffer. Hanasian came forward with Rin to have a look-see. A few people, a couple armed men, and all quite unsuspecting. Mulgov and Morcal came forward and said that it was a settlement well south of a bigger town that was where they suspected the rebel leader was at. Hanasian gave word that they would pull back several hundred yards and fade into the jungle to rest. He would set out a few men to scout ways around, and be ready to move shortly after they get back. It should be about an hour. The rest proved to be tough, for the rains started again.

Rin hunched her shoulders against the rain and felt it sluice beneath mail, leather and her shirt. Everything was damp, save the stuff she had tightly wrapped to keep the water out. She resisted the urge to check on it. Opening the pack and peeling back the wrapping would not be a good idea in the midst of a deluge. The rain came in large, fat drops that seemed to fall like stones and slap down on everything and everyone one. It was cool, yes. It provided noise cover for their passing. But she chewed over the impact it would have on the health of the Company like she was gnawing at an old bone.

She cast a glance to Hanasian, who had drawn up his cowl and curled beneath it to take some rest. He hadn't rested since they came ashore, along with a number of other key men of the Company and she wasn't happy about that. Feet… she'd passed out little jars of salve. They needed a barrier between their feet and the incessant water. They needed sunshine and a place to dry out more. However, Rin was a realist. In this place, they were not about to find a idyllic clearing on a balmy summer day to sunbathe feet and clothing until they were nicely dried out. So, it had to be the salve. She already had her eye on a number that were limping. At least she'd sorted out the insect problem. That additive to their water had proved effective so far.

Rin stared down at her own feet. She had her knees drawn to her chest with her arms wrapped around them. Only her boots peeked out from the hem of her sodden cloak. They were caked in mud. Mud could be useful, if it were the right kind. The re-appearance of the scouts broke through her silent musings. They were back early and they were missing two of their number. Elcarlas and Foldine slipped back into camp and made for Hanasian, who had woken at their return. They said not a word in their report and once more Rin cursed the fact that she hadn't cracked enough of the hand signals to understand what was being reported. After a brief exchange, Hanasian signaled that they would move out and Rin stood. Another river of water gushed down her spine as she did so. Foldine edged towards her and peered at her intently for a moment. Then he beckoned. She followed him as he re-traced a path back the way he had come. The Company was following.

After ten minutes of trudging through sodden jungle in the rain, Rin discovered what Foldine was leading her towards. She saw the other two scouts standing around a third figure that was propped against some unrecognisable tree. Gian and Dias stepped to one side and Foldine took up position behind her as she crouched by the fallen man. One of the rearguard if she judged the remnants of his uniform correctly. He was close to death, pierced with crossbow bolts she had seen herself on that chaotic night by the Poros. His eyes were closed and his breathing was shallow and fragile. She had no idea how he had hung on. At a guess, he'd been like this for more than a day. The bolts were deeply embedded and she had a sinking sense that there was scant assistance she could offer. He'd lost too much blood, was too weak, and if she removed those bolts, she'd kill him outright with a haemorrhage.

He barely stirred as she checked him over. The barest whisper of undergrowth told her that the rest of the Company had caught up. His eyes opened then. He was neither a young nor an old man. He caught at her hand with surprising strength and then glanced over her shoulder to men that stood behind. Rin felt a hand on her shoulder and she looked up into Hanasian's face. He could see that this was a soldier fallen beyond her reach. The man tried to say something that was difficult to discern. Blood bubbled on his lips and his voice was weak and soft. She could sense the unshakeable stillness of death hovering. Hanasian knelt closer to the man's face and bent to listen closer.

Rin felt the soldier gather his failing strength for one last effort. All she could do was to push down the pain. She heard his breathing and voice ease a measure as she did so. Then, she felt the wrench as he lost his battle with death. Most healers disengaged prior to this, as it was a truly horrible sensation. She did not, for he had still been talking right until the last. She stared at the hand that had caught hers. Bloodied and muddied, it no longer held the tension of life. His eyes were vacant, open, sightless and Hanasian leaned back. The rain continued to fall. Molguv had crept up by now and she heard him whisper that the jungle would care for him. They could not afford to delay and bury him.

She reached and closed the soldier's eyes. She did not know his name. She always knew the names of the people she came to, but not this man. For a reason she could not define, this angered her. Rin removed her hand from his limp one and washed it over her face to gather her wits. Foldine and Gian moved the man away from sight. She saw Gian mark the tree for later. They would return to bury this man when this was done if they could, no matter what the Haradian had said. Another signal from Hanasian and they were on their way once more. The rain intensified as the day washed towards night.

The frequency of patrols was increased as visibility diminished. The afternoon melted around them. Time itself was becoming a slippery creature. Morcal continued to point them north east. They met no one as they pushed their way forward. The further they pushed north east, a leaden weight grew at the back of Rin's skull… death that was not death, many non deaths lay ahead of them. After the soldier on the track, the taste of it was fresh in her mind. She was not the only one to sense it. One glance around confirmed that those of the Company with Dunedain descent also sensed it to varying degrees. It made them edgy, jumpy. This only worsened until they found the town Molguv and Morcal had mentioned.

The rain had beaten at them through the night, drumming on their heads until an hour before dawn. The jungle had become quiet then, like it was holding its breath. They had slowed, cautious, and crept the final way until Wulgof at the lead signaled for a halt. The town was teeming with armed men even at this hour. But that was not all. It was surrounded with undead men who had been left to ring the town. They did not need food or water or sleep. They did not need protection from sun, heat or rain. Their presence hit Rin like an anvil dropped from a great height. She doubled over beneath its weight and felt her anger coalesce into a cold rage. It made her want to retch and her skin crawled in disgust. Even the non Dunedain of their number could sense it now.

The town was girt in horror. Morcal and Molguv were pale despite their dark skin. The undead were tribesmen who had refused the call to arms. Some of them were kin. They stood in formation, condemned to this nightmare existence, their families slain to the last child for their disobedience. So many men, the numbers of the slain in their wake beggared comprehension. Hanasian signaled to move back and spread out. By the time dawn arrived to dance in clear skies, the Company were again hunkered down. Loch, Videgavia and Molguv bellied off, knives between their teeth, like snakes through the jungle floor. Anbor, Berlas and Elcarlas climbed trees to set watch from a higher vantage.

Hanasian moved through the line, checking on men. They were grim, angry, tired and worried. This was as much a test of their discipline as any battle would be. Rin too made the rounds to do what she could. Even Mecarnil looked as miserable as he must have felt. Farbarad had lost his warmth. He pressed something into her hand before she moved on to check on Hanasian, who had at last settled into position. She paused to study the object. It was a small, wooden bird that had once been brightly painted and now was worn and faded. The wood had a smooth, glasslike sheen, for much handling and there seemed to be small tooth marks, as though some child had chewed on it. It made her want to cry. She did not know that she was holding a piece of her childhood.

Rin looked askance to Farbarad. He merely closed her hand around it and nodded at her, before he returned his gaze to his sector of the watch. It had a reassuring weight in her grasp. Rin tucked it into a pouch and moved on to check on Hanasian. She concluded her rounds by pressing her lips to his brow and then settled in to position. Rin pulled the small bird back out again. She turned it around and around in her hand and realised that this had been how the wood had become so polished and worn. Rin wrapped her fingers around the bird's shape and stared out at the town's fell guard. She still had that cold rage burning within, but somehow the undead's effect was lessened on her. Rin glanced to Hanasian, and considered asking him if they really had to take the rebel alive. She was not the only member of the Company considering disobeying that part of their orders as they waited for the three scouts to return.

Hanasian watched and pondered the available courses of action. Not many of then offered much comfort. The only thing comfortable was the fact it was cooler and dryer, with the sun giving its warmth in just the right intensity. When it started to feel too hot, a racing cloud would pass in front of it offering a few minutes of shade. It was an opportunity to dry the feet though, and Hanasian ordered those who managed to keep their boots dry with leather wraps around their tops to keep watch while the others took the time to seek a moment of comfort. It was tricky, for one did not want to get caught out of their boots in a surprise attack.

They had been so successful on their infiltration that they still held full surprise. As yet they had not had to slay a single rebel, so none of their number had gone missing. Things had gone so good in fact, Hanasian had a brief moment to ponder what it was he was overlooking. Sooner or later they would have to ante up. Until then, he worked out a plan. He called together Mecarnil, Videgavia, Folca, and Khule to put it forth.

"Here's our situation... the town has a considerable number of armed men who appear to be some elite guard. They all have an old Numenorean insignia that I last saw when we took the ships sailing from Umbar. So this is no pressed mob of conscripts. They will not be easily fooled, and if they are surprised, it will be short-lived. As yet, knowledge of our whereabouts is unknown, and so we will have that in our favour for our initial move. Here is what I propose we do."

Hanasian squatted down to a patch of wet dirt by their feet, and the other three did likewise. He had to quell any rash movements that may be spurred on by the obvious massacre that had occurred. The sun and the cooler winds from the north east did nothing to assist him. The stench was starting to rise from the dead and this further agitated his company. Hanasian used his finger to show their line of movement. He guessed two ways to get into the town could be used, and they would use both.

"I'll need one of you to volunteer to take some of the hardiest with them to infiltrate through the dung gate. You will have to make your way over to our left and through some of those ditches that hold some of the slain, and crawl under the wall where the sewage runs. I will do it if nobody wishes this detail."

"I will go,"
came words from one who had walked up quietly. It was Wulgof. Maybe he is starting to think more like a sarge. Hanasian paused as he looked up. Wulgof made it easy and squatted down with the others.

”Good, you will lead. Take Berlas, Anbor, Farbarad, Foldine, and Belegost. By the time you get done crawling through all that mud & dung, nobody will be able to tell you are northern whiteys. Of the three groups, you will likely be the first in."

Hanasian calculated the timing, nodded to himself, then went on.

"Mecarnil, you will take Frea, Folca, the brothers Daius and Donius, Anras, and Gian, and will move around to the east and find the water source. You should be able to enter that way, and if not, you can disrupt its flow while the brothers figure out a way to get you in.

"I'll take Loch, Videgavia, Khule, Mulgov, and Morcal and we'll work our way straight in on the track. The jungle is thick enough to offer cover, and the last hundred yards we'll work at appearing like merchants. Mulgov and Morcal will go in first, followed by Khule, then us three. Not sure what scrutiny we'll get, but we'll hope for the best.

"Rin, Bear, and the rest will come with us as far as the edge of the bush, and will wait there as our reserve. Any questions, observations, comments, changes, better ideas any of you have to offer? If not, this goes to the rest of the company."

A few comments were offered up, and it was agreed that only Mulgov, Morcal, and Khule would go to the gate, for they would get little questioning if they appeared as merchants. It would be a stretch for the rest of them. Also, it was suggested that Rin go in with them. Though her appearance would be exotic for these parts, a demonstration her skills along with an explanation from Mulgov would easily get them in. Healing hands were a lost art among the Black Numenoreans, and they are considered sacred by the Haradrim. With the blending of the two cultures throughout the last two ages, some strange beliefs and superstitions have emerged.

The evening came upon them, and they gathered for a cold meal. Hanasian laid out the plan and reluctantly agreed to Rin's going in with the gate infiltrators. With their assignments given, it was Wulgof who set out first. Mecarnil set out shortly thereafter. They had the farthest to go. The rest worked the mud and dirt on to offer as much cover as possible. If the plan worked, then Hanasian and the reserves would be able to walk into the city by the gate without raising any alarms. That was ... IF everything went according to plan. It was all now in motion.

Timing at night was not an exact science, especially when there were no clues from the sky. The sunset brought with it something they hadn't considered this far south at this time of year.... cold. Apparently an unseasonable chill wind had blasted its way south, and it had brought freezing temperatures and frosts as far south as Anfalas, Befalas, and the southern reaches of Ithilien. The air had lost it's freezing temperatures by the time it had gotten down to where they were, but the fact it got that far south was indeed a rarity. What it did was create a ground fog to rise after dark, with all the warm rain that had fallen there recently.

As the hours passed, it grew thicker, and visibility was almost non-existent. That wouldn't be too much of a problem for those going up the track, but for the two groups flanking the town to the east and west, it became very tricky. Wulgof, having dealt with fogs in Dunland and Rohan, knew his way through it. In fact, it helped keep them concealed from any watch on the walls. What it did do though was slow their going. Mecarnil too knew fog from the north, but unlike Wulgof, they were moving through thick bush and tree, and had no high landmark of a watchtower to use. Mecarnil guessed his way and turned to the town when he thought he had gone far enough.

Hanasian sent forth Mulgov, Morcal, Khule, and Rin, giving her a quick kiss and a squeeze of her hand as she left. How did it come to be that he was sending his lady in a most dangerous mission? She was company, and she was who he loved. The turmoil inside of him as these two battled each other within was a hard pill to swallow. He watched them go into the mists and out of sight, wondering if he would see her again.

Things, naturally, did not go according to plan. Wulgof had not found the dung gate, but had missed it and bypassed it. He had come around to the north of the town. Realising his error and the fact that none of the de-facto company leaders were with him, he let a wave of panic pass through him. Saruman's army was not one for individual innovation. Wulgof over his head here now without anyone, even the grouchy horse-lord Frea, there to tell him what to do. Those with him were not really leaders. As Wulgof pondered his options, he grasped realised now, too late, that this was a test Hanasian was putting to him. It meant much to have the trust and responsibility handed to him, but he didn't have to like it. When Belegost asked what they were going to do now, Wulgof mumbled something to himself about knowing better than to volunteer for anything.

"We'll cut down this slope so as to come to the town wall more to the north. We'll try and find a way in."

Belegost nodded and waved the others forward. Wulgof hoped he could salvage this in some way.

Mecarnil too missed his mark and had cut toward the town too soon. As they approached the town in the lighter jungle growth, Donius tripped and fell.

"What the... who put this trip line in the way?" he mumbled as his brother helped him to his feet.

Daius reached down and pulled at a small log. It pulled against the brush and grass, and revealed that it was a scaling ladder. It wasn't as old as it appeared and had been obscured well. If Donius hadn't caught it with his foot, they likely would have passed it by entirely.

"Interesting," Mecarnil said when he came back to have a look. "If everyone is well, let's go. We're late."

They moved forth. The brothers each took an end of the ladder and carried it along with them. All seemed quiet when they reached a clearing before the wall. Obviously nobody had set off an alert, but they were well off their mark of the water inlet. Mecarnil looked about and contemplated a move farther around through the thick bush where no track lay. His thoughts turned to the recently acquired ladder and the faint track they had found in the mist. Donius pointed up the wall to a barely discernible door. It appeared to be a disused waste door of some sort.

Daius whispered, "Think we should give it a go?"

Mecarnil nodded and the brothers were off across the clearing with their ladder. Anras followed as their cover. It was a perfect fit. The ladder reached the door. Donius rapidly ascended and opened the door slowly. A store room of some sort. Maybe a larder near kitchen. It was empty. Donius waved down to Mecarnil and the signal was given to go in. Donius disappeared through the door, followed by Anras. Daius held the ladder secure as each man went in and was the last up himself. The men collectively held their breaths as the ladder was pulled up and the door shut. No alarm. They were in unseen. Now to work out where they are, and where they needed to go.

As these events transpired, Morcal waved at the guard they approached. One seemed interested at the figures that approached from the fog, but the other didn't seem to pay any mind. Mulgov smiled and waved too, and they stopped when the curious guard walked out to them.

In Haradian he asked, "What is your business here at this time?"

Morcal said without prompting, "We are merchants. We bear food and medicine required by the freedom fighters. We were slowed by the storm as we should have been here in the afternoon."

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

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The guard looked him over, giving only a glance to Mulgov, Khule, and Rin, all heavily wrapped and hooded against the 'cold'. The bored guard, obviously the senior, waved them through, not interested in moving away from the fire he was by. It was an advantage that this cold snap had given them. Haradians didn't like it one bit.

Her lips still felt the warmth of Hanasian's even as she stood in a situation beyond her wildest imaginings. She was far to the south, infiltrating a hostile town, in the company of soldiers in whom she had placed trust for her life just as they trusted theirs to her. The hostile town was the only part of the scenario with which she was acquainted. Homeless vagabonds were rarely welcome anywhere. She recalled her promise on the ship to Pelargir. She would not become a ghost to haunt him. Not this night. When they slipped through the main gate unchallenged, an instinct honed across her life told her that their luck was about to shift. The man on the other side of the gates represented that fork in the road. Would she see Hanasian, Loch or any of the others again? The guard pressed a wax seal to a parchment that Morcal had produced. They were in with allowance of free traders. They got in easier than they had thought.

A man scowled at the four figures before him. His was the unlucky lot to find space for these late arrivals in a town already overcrowded. He frowned at the paper Morcal thrust at him and held up a torch. Damn wind would freeze his fingers from his hand thanks to this lot of stragglers. The first two were tribesmen. Not like they needed more unwilling. The town was already ensnared in men like these. From that region that had proved most unwilling too. Well, talk was that the king's grip on the undead was far from certain. More fell inanimate each day. Probably they'd need to top up the troops. The man shouldered through the first two to look closer at the other two. Smaller in stature, different tribe. He flicked past Khule without hesitation. Dark eyes wrapped in a cowl bore no further inspection. The other though, deep blue eyes and pale skin no matter how thickly he wrapped himself.

"No tribesman is this!" the man said in haradi.

"Djinn," Molguv replied steadily.

Rin resolved to get to bottom of this djinn matter if it was the last thing she ever did. The man squinted at Molguv and then spat to one side. Rin did not know it was an instinctual warding against bad spirits. Nor did she know that the Haradrim considered healers to be amongst a pantheon of spirits loosely gathered under the collective term of djinn. Rin did know to not say anything about bad manners.

"Enough trouble as there is. Don't need no djinn," the man growled, backing away as Khule drew closer to Rin. His hands closed on the pommel of swords beneath his wrappings.

"Healer," Morcal insisted and this made the man hesitate before he reached and ever so cautiously yanked back the cowl that covered Rin's head to see for himself.

Reactions were instantaneous. His eyes widened at the revealed pale skin and hair. She scowled fiercely and yanked the cowl back into place. He spat, a warding sign, for good measure. No one wanted to upset a djinn.

"That way! She will be tested," the man said as he jabbed a finger at a largish and unlit building towards the centre of the town. Morcal and Molguv nodded and they led the other two away. The man spat to one side once again and then went to organise the testing. If they lied, they committed a grievous sacrilege that could not go unpunished. He hoped they lied, for if they did not then the king would be healed and no one wanted that. Better that they lied and they were executed for their heresy than the alternative.

Wulgof came to the north gate some time later. There was nobody there. No guards, no watch on the wall. Stranger yet, the gate was unbolted. Wulgof gave it a pull and it opened. There seemed to be nobody inside either, it was early morning before dawn, but it was an odd thing. He decided to take press his luck and he waved the others forward. They simply walked in.

Some time had passed before Hanasian and the rest of the company moved forth beside the road. The hour before dawn saw them ready to take the gate if need be. The two guards seemed to paying little attention. As they studied the gate, Hanasian saw a sign from the wall above. It was Mecarnil. His signing motioned them to go around to where the door was, and one of them would drop the ladder for them. Hanasian motioned for Loch to take point and skirt away from the guards to the east. By first light they were up the ladder. The town was beginning to stir in the foggy morn, and somehow, the company was inside without detection. Their luck still held.

The large, unlit building was quickly found to be unoccupied. As Morcal lit candles, it was revealed to be some sort of temple. Rin's jaw dropped behind her veil as she took in the scale of it. The roof was lost in shadow. Everything seemed made of stone and huge. There was writing of some description ringing a large open space. A stone table seemed to sit at the apex of some sort of plinth and columns stalked the plinth, the inner and outer walls. Khule crouched to watch at the door as Rin took in their surrounds.

"What is this place?"

Even though she whispered, her voice carried well enough to Molguv. He was prowling columns and shadows. Word of a djinn, particularly a healing one, would spread fast in the town. It was entirely possible it had lured people to the temple before they themselves arrived.

"It's a temple, of sorts," Molguv replied.

"Temple?" There was a particularly sharp note to Rin's question. "You better tell me what a djinn is, Molguv."

"There's a crowd gathering,"[/I] Khule warned. It was the infant hours of the day and yet people milled outside.

[I]"A djinn is… a collective term,"
Molguv started and hesitated as Rin placed her hands on her hips.

"For what, precisely?"

"For… healers… all you need to do is prove you're a healer. Since you are a healer, that should present no difficulty for you, yes?"

"Why would do put healers in temples, Molguv?"

Damn, Molguv thought. Women with spit were fun. Intelligent women with spit were hard work. Hanasian was welcome to her. This, of course, did not come out of his mouth.

"Can you just get ready, Doc? You need to be ready because if you can't prove you're a healer, things will go real bad."

"How bad?"

"Ever seen a haradi ritual execution? No? Well, be ready and you won't have to."

Rin approached the large stone table and started to set out her gear. She was well aware Molguv hadn't given her a straight answer, but he was right. Now was not the time to quibble. Outside, the press grew. In its midst were Hanasian's and Mecarnil's men. Word of a djinn was plunging headlong through the crowd. A healing djinn. Many were not happy about it. Vidgavia's signal told Hanasian that Wulgof and his men had been sighted also. Their luck had stretched this far, but would it hold for those inside, behind the massive stone ediface the townspeople clustered before?

A deep bass thrumming shifted the press from behind. It came from men beating a complex rhythm on large, goblet shaped drums. Grumbling, but not openly, people cleared a path that was soon flanked by men who were far more than conscripts. Everyone bowed their heads as they passed, meaning that the Black in their midst continued to blend in. The phalanx of elite troops shielded a veiled palanquin that was carried towards the temple. Khule's eyes widened as he took in the approaching scene.

"Show's on!" he called and narrowly stepped into shadow before the leading guards thrust the door wide open.

"Djinn! Attend!" they boomed in haradi. Rin understood the djinn part of the command and swallowed thickly through a suddenly dry throat. Morcal and Molguv traded glances and then looked back at Rin. Molguv reached and pulled back her cowl.

"More different you look, the better," he told her.

Molguv walked out with Morcal and took up position on either side of the large stone table. They bowed from the waist.

"Who calls on our sacred mistress?" Morcal replied in haradi.

"Lord of the South, High King of the Drowned Lands, Master of the Singing Sands," came the ritual response.

None of it made any sense to Rin, who waited in the shadows. Morcal and Molguv understood who they were referring to. Rin's test would be none other than the very man they had been sent to capture. Morcal made the ritual gesture of welcome and the official party entered the temple outright. Rin's glance of the palanquin had her heart pounding. That looked official, very official. Surely she would not have to heal the very man she wanted to kill.

Once the royal guard was through, the crowd filled in behind them. The Black entered the temple as they laid out the king on the stone table. Rin stepped out and a combination of torch light and the pale light of dawn cast her hair in shades of rose and fire. In the setting, even those who knew Rin to be mortal found it a fey, otherwordly sight. She wore a remote expression, a mask to hide the turmoil and uncertainty of her thoughts. Rin looked out over the gathered people and then wrenched her eyes to her test. Could she heal him? Could she marshal her will and heal him? He lay in his dreadful armour, but seemed much diminished from the monster of her dream. Blood, dried and old, was caked in his ears and traced down his neck. A bad sign. A sign of mortality. Perhaps that stole the nightmare from his presence and yet the stench of the dead wafted through the high narrow windows. Mortal and yet terrible. She should never forget that.

"State your desire and we shall convey it to our mistress," Molguv said as Rin stood in silence and stared at the figure on the table.

"Insolence! I shall speak to her myself," the most ornately armoured man bellowed. His voice careened off the surface of the wide space and it drew Rin's attention to him. This man she had seen before too, in her dream. A gaze of endless winter ice met his pride. Rin's cold rage surged to life once more and it showed in her uncanny eyes. The officer licked his lips uncertainly.

"If you insist, though I warn you that our mistress has little patience for the unschooled utterings of mortals," Molguv replied calmly.

"Healer! What shall she do if displeased?"

"Refuse to heal, and only that if fortune shines on us this day."

"Then you shall be executed, all of you."

"Tell me, friend, have you heard of a mortal who bested a djinn? You know you can do her no harm. Do you think she will care if we fall?"
Morcal said to the other side. Khule edged around the cusp of the crowd, difficult for it spilled out of the temple. He could see the senior soldier consider whatever it was Molguv and Morcal had countered him with. Then, after great length, the man nodded and Molguv bowed before turning to convene a mystical discussion with their mistress.

"Your test is our target, Doc… and do you think you could do something fancy? Not lights or anything… maybe wave your hands and chant something so you appear… mystical?"

Khule heard her expel a sharp breath shortly before she stepped towards the table. Wave her hands… How could she wave her hands if she was throttling the monster? In the temple, the talk of the crowd simmered so very quietly.

"Haven't had a djinn here for generations."

"I heard the djinn left us at the end of the Great War."

"Why would they return now?"

"Why here?"

"Perhaps he really is our rightful king."

"Perhaps she is bored. You know how djinn are."

"Unpredictable, untrustworthy, unreliable and cruel."

"Hush, she is starting."

"More of the dead fall each day. His hold fails. I hope it fails..."

As Rin laid her hands on the cruelly armoured chest, the rebel's guard surged forward. She glared at them fiercely as sensations swamped her awareness. He was a dying man. The bleeding from the ears was only the beginning. Rin withdrew her hands and glanced to Molguv.

"I don't know if I can do this," she said, her words carrying to the fellow members of the Black that shared her language.

"Just close your eyes and imagine it is one of us," Molguv unhelpfully replied.

"I need more information. I need to know what caused this."

Molguv conferred with the senior soldier, who in turn reluctantly conveyed the source of their leader's malaise. It rested in the very power he was using to corrupt life and death. When this was relayed to her, a wild idea leapt into her mind. She didn't need to heal him outright at all! An absolutely reckless smile came to her lips. Loch, in the crowd had seen it before, in Edoras shortly before all that cheese had gone missing. She didn't often smile like that, but when she did.

"Oh no," Loch lamented.

Rin delved, not the least bit concerned about being delicate. She did not set out intentionally to cause pain. No, that would be in defiance of everything she was. However, she felt not the least bit of remorse when this man she worked on felt pain. Healing was painful and she did little shield him from it. Only the worst of it. He wouldn't thank her, for he didn't know what she buffered him from. It was a juggling act of the highest order. She needed to heal some things but leave other things untouched. Just enough to get him on his feet again, perhaps capable of speech. It was far from certain. His power had wrought true devastation upon him. When she had thought she had done enough, she waved her hands and stepped back. A collective murmur rippled through the crowd.

Though she had not done everything she could, it had still taken its measure from her strength. Rebuilding a brain and heart was hard work and she was still fine tuning her technique. It was possible that she had failed. The rebel's guard pressed close again. Then the sorcerer drew a sharp breath and moaned. The senior soldier closed on the table, suddenly deferential and fearful. He seemed, to Rin's eye, to barely conceal anger and disappointment. The rebel opened eyes that long ago been stripped of all humanity and peered at the ceiling shadows. Morcal and Molguv suppressed their relief. It would be unseemly if they appeared uncertain of their mistress' abilities. Many in the crowd suppressed moans of bitter disappointment.

"He wakes," the soldier cried as he assisted the rebel to sit.

"A djinn has returned in our hour of need! Glorious shall her welcome be, so that she may stay amongst us."

"She will abide a moment yet, if certain provisions are met,"
Molguv said with artful skill.

"Name them," the senior soldier commanded and the haradian stood his full height. He had not missed the dark cowls in the stunned crowd.

"She will select her acolytes herself and she will abide in this place for as long as it pleases her. She has no need of sustenance, but her attendants shall be provided with such food and drink and other needs as satisfies their wants."

"A high price in these times!"

"Then you had soon find yourself another djinn."

"This will be provided, but she will attend me upon my command and her accolytes cannot be drawn from my men. This proviso only, and a deal shall be struck,"
the rebel said, his voice dusty.

Molguv instructed Rin to nod, which she did.

"The bargain is struck."

With that, it was done. The rebel was aided back into his palanquin and vanished behind its veils. The crowd parted, it's curiosity now answered. There was a dejected pall over those assembled. Morcal, Molguv and Khule pushed through them, tagging Black Company men and pushing any others out. It took nearly half an hour to clear the temple and shut the doors. No sooner was it shut did the men race about to locate surveillance positions and examine the temple's offensive and defensive qualities. Rin came down the steps to the floor of the temple and those who gathered there. Had she done the right thing? Daylight was starting to send shooting liquid shafts into the belly of the temple already.

"How'd you fare, Mecarnil?" Wulgof asked.

"Found a ladder and climbed in. You?"

"Missed the dung gate and walked in through the north gate… unlocked and unmanned."

"Hmmm, they're low on stores. We found our way through a storeroom next to what looked to be a large kitchen that was empty. No supplies."

"I heard what that crowd was saying,"
Khule added, coming down the stairs. "They want this rebel gone. Most were hoping Doc would prove false. Maybe they're hoping someone will attack and take him out."

"If someone doesn't tell me straight what a djinn is…"
Rin's threat was left dangling as she wrapped her arms around Hanasian and held him for a brief, tight moment.

"If we round up local support we could do this easier than we think," Molguv said.

"Or we wait… that man is dying. Won't be long," Rin said ominously and heads swiveled sharply to her.

"What did you do?" Loch asked fearfully.

"I healed. I was just selective about what I healed is all. I'm not a monster. Orders are to take him alive if possible. I made it marginally more possible, but probably not possible enough."

Loch rubbed at the back of his neck, relieved.

"What's killing him?" Hanasian inquired.

"Himself," Rin said unable to hide her satisfaction at the justice of that. Morcal edged closer to his cousin and said something in soft haradi, eyes downcast.

"Morcal says we can expect visitors, with offerings and requests for intercession from the djinn," Molguv said.

"I think we are best to prepare for a summons," Khule said. "They made it clear. Molguv's demands were granted on two conditions: she attends upon command and her 'accolytes', which I guess is us, are not taken from his men. Seems to me that they'll call for their djinn again," Khule explained.

"Then us accolytes go with the djinn. Could be the chance we need to get close," Frea suggested.

"Any way of knowing how long the wait will be, Molguv?" Berlas inquired. As Molguv shook his head, Rin spoke up.

"Soon, I think... day or so. He'll need healing to perform the next... rite and if things are poised on the knife edge we think they are, he will not want to be seen to fail."

"This is too much like a siege to my taste,"
Foldine said as he glanced around the temple’s shadowy interior. Helm's Deep was the sort of situation he never wanted to experience again and this was cutting a little too close to the mark.

"Don't think he'd let us wait anyway. Did you see the way he looked at Doc?" Folca observed and men nodded.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Rin demanded, looking about. Wulgof rolled his eyes.

"Is she serious?" he asked Loch, who shrugged an affirmative.

"So our target is besotted with Doc, and he thinks she's some sort of local Maiar. I think he'll let her get real close, if you know what I mean," Wulgof drawled.

"WHAT?!?!!" Rin exploded, voice ringing through the temple.

"That's not all bad, provided she looks the part," Berlas suggested and men nodded at that.

"She'll be able to get us close, like Frea and Wulgof said," Foldine said.

"Now just wait a damn moment! I am not masquerading as Maiar. No. No way. Absolutely not. Nor am I cozening that, that...monster!"

"Too late, after that display this morning,"
Molguv told her smugly. Rin spun on her heel and stalked away, muttering.

"It could work…" Khule said to murmured agreement.

Not everyone was happy with the idea. Farbarad was one who thought it too risky. Hanasian had yet to reconcile himself to the conflict between his heart and his head also. Discussion was ended by a whistle from Videgavia. Men scattered to shadow and Rin was hustled back up the stairs and shoved unceremoniously into an alcove at the back of the dais. Her gear was tossed in after her. Morcal and Molguv stood, again cowled, around stone table and Khule unbarred and drew back one door to admit a local official.

The man blinked into the depths of the temple, momentarily sun blinded and then cautiously edged in. He was clearly none too happy about his mission. Still, he clung tenaciously to it and once he had left again, the Black Company's opportunity was secured.

"Tonight at sunset," Molguv relayed in Common Tongue once Khule had barred the door again.

"Our djinn has been summonsed to attend our sorcerer. We'll have to make sure she looks the part."

"We'll have to get her to agree to do it. Such a reasonable woman, always amenable to changing her mind. Shouldn't be a problem,"
Wulgof drawled in response to Molguv.

Hanasian sent Khule off with the Anfalas brothers to scrounge up whatever was needed for the deception. They returned with interesting tidings along with brightly coloured drifts of silk.

"Word has gone out that he'll try another rite tonight and it's about tipped them over. Don't know if they're at the point of open rebellion, but they're close. Could be that we'll need to fight our way through to reach our target. We may find ourselves in the middle of a civil insurrection," Khule reported as he passed the silk to Hanasian. Mecarnil read his friend's face and stepped forward.

"Leave that to us, Cap. None of this will work if Rin won't play ball. If anyone can talk her round, it's you. Where is she anyway?"

At that, Molguv grinned a moment and then raced up the stairs again. At the foot of the stairs, all they heard was a heated exchange between the healer and the haradian. The expression on her face was not that of a woman in a reasonable frame of mind.

"Good luck," Mecarnil and Loch said in unison to Hanasian. Hanasian stared at the silk in his hands, took a deep breath and started up the stairs.

"Rin… need to talk," he said and she regarded him warily.

Hanasian disappeared with Rin, shepherding her along to a secluded area for a discussion about the task ahead of them. In his wake, men considered themselves fortunate that their captain was tackling this matter and not them. No one knew what passed between the two. It took quite some time, indeed the rest of the day, before either was sighted again. Hanasian emerged without the silk. Rin was a few steps behind him, her cloak pulled tightly closed. Wulgof spotted that her feet were bare and let out a victorious shout. This was one wager the contrary woman had not cost him.

"We have our djinn," Hanasian said.

"We have our plan, Cap," Mecarnil responded.

"This will only work if she looks the part," Khule warned.

"I am NOT removing this cloak before I absolutely have to. Understand?" There were no small number of disappointed expressions at Rin's edict.

"I can assure you she…. Looks the part," Hanasian dryly said. 

"And we'll do ours," Molguv said. The odds were remote, but not hopeless. These were conditions the Black thrived in.

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

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As sunset burnished the sky in a glorious riot of colour, a djinn was revealed on the top step of the temple. Her attendants flanked her, each cowled and cloaked in black, which made the colours of her garb burn all the brighter.* Silk caught on the breeze. On the street, out the front of the temple, all had been made ready. Indeed, a veiled palanquin had been sent empty to ferry the djinn despite the proximity of the destination. Once within it, heart skidding in her chest, she had only the vague shape of men visible through the opaque fabric as reassurance. When the palanquin stopped, the curtain was drawn back and an "acolyte" reached in with a hand she knew and loved well. Her eyes met Hanasian's, hers large and simmering with worry and his silvered with his own concern. He knew, she did this because she wished to serve well, for him. His fingers pressed on her own and then she was out and released.

A carpet had been lain down and gilded lanterns sat atop plinths. It was opulent, and made obscene by the rank stench of the dead and the silent throngs of hungry, angry townspeople. This unholy path she trod with bare feet. Firelight flickered over exotic pale skin that seemed like marble, satiny marble to those that waited. She emerged to find a table laden with a wasteful excess of food. One man stood by it, terrible armour now burnished. She did not miss that he held onto the table to steady himself and she could not suppress a flash of pleasure at his weakness. It curved her lips into a cold smile matched only by the ice of unusual blue eyes. Overhead, the silk fabric of the pavilion sighed as the evening breeze rippled through it.

Her attendants fanned out, matching the configuration of the elite guards that stood at regular intervals around the table. On the far side, down a slope, more guards hemmed in a large group of tribesmen. They lived, for now. Their target held out a gauntleted hand towards his djinn. Clad only in silk, and not nearly enough of it to Rin's mind, it took every measure of her courage to step forward. With her went Molguv at her shoulder. There was one other seat and she moved to that, relieved it was at the far end of the table. Rin heard a stream of haradi. Beside her Molguv bowed and turned to whisper in her ear even as he covertly signaled to the other acolytes.

"You are bid welcome and he hopes you are pleased by his offering. He says he will do you great honour in demonstrating his power this evening as an amusement for you, if you would but demonstrate once more your own power in accordance with the bargain struck."

"He means the rite, doesn't he? All those men down there. He’ll slaughter them and..."


"If I touch the man again, I don't think I'll be able to help myself. I want him dead, Molguv. Eru help me! I'm a healer and I want him dead."

At the far end of the table, the man the djinn wanted dead licked his lips and watched, transfixed by the unearthly creature before him. His guards were similarly stunned. Even the miserable tribesmen, too proud to submit to his rule, watched like wide eyed children. Such a remarkable creature, and she had come to him. It was a portent, surely, like none before. The chief attendant straightened and inclined his head. The would be king gestured and a serving boy, clad in a loincloth over his dark oiled skin, struggled forward with a full silver carafe. The game was afoot and Molguv's signal was clear. When Rin rose to "demonstrate" her power, her attendants would move as one to eliminate the central guard and capture their target.

Hanasian wasn't sure what happened. Rin moved to begin her demonstration, and what was set in motion was somewhat unexpected. The company moved to take out the guards according to their plan, and with the ring of steel, it was apparent that some of the guards may have been ready for such an event. Wulgof's attempt was blocked and he was held to a standstill, blades clashing. Mecarnil dispatched the unsuspecting guard he was near and turned to help the Dunlending. The spreading confusion was not helped any by a bright flash and the resultant cloud of smoke. There was too much happening here. And it was happening too fast.

Hanasian saw Rin make for the sorcerer, death in her eyes, and moved to stop her. He noticed also one of the guards, who moved first and knocked Loch on his butt, had stepped toward the sorcerer as well. Hanasian had knocked back the man he was faced with in surprise, and so he moved to prevent Rin from killing the sorcerer. But Hanasian assumed the guard that moved in was trying to stop Rin from touching the sorcerer, and at the last moment he turned to prevent him from taking out Rin. Instead the guard struck the weakened sorcerer with a small sharp object in his hand, and in that moment his hand was severed by a sword from another guard!

A split moment before that, Rin was knocked back by some spell from the sorcerer, but regained her footing. Steadying herself, she sank back to the ground dazed. Hanasian right then saw something coming toward him, and as he reacted and started to fall backwards, he felt something hit his face. His reaction was enough to soften the blow, and falling backwards, he saw Loch take the guard down, running him through while Hanasian landed on his butt. Things became a bit hazy to him right then, as the clash of steel faded. The smoke started to clear as well.

In the time it takes to breath a dozen breaths, the carnage become apparent. The sorcerer shook as if he was having a seizure. The captive tribesmen had run amok further down the slope and everywhere was the terrifying roar of riot. A storm of blood and violence and vengeance had been released. Every one of his guard lay dead or dying from wounds inflicted by the company or from each other. So too lay Gian, motionless while the expanding pool of blood from him met the rivers from others. He was gone. Anbor too lay gurgling around a grievous wound in the throat. His hand tried to hold it together. Anras, having taken down three of the guards, rushed to Anbor to help save him. Mulgov was slightly wounded after being cut by a sword edge while he was crushing the guard's head. The rest managed to get through with minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises.

Too much happening too quickly, and in too little time. Apparently there was a plot among the elite guard against the sorcerer, seeing this distraction as a chance to take him out. Analysis would have to wait though. Alert members of the company moved to seal off the scene, but it was only a matter of time before word got out that something was amiss. They had to get out of there somehow. But with one of their own dead, one seriously wounded, the doc stunned, and the cap himself wounded, it would be a challenge.

It was Loch who came to his sister who sat unmoving. A slap on the face seemed to bring her around. Khule shook her, saying, "Doc. DOC! You are needed!"

It seemed to bring her out of whatever she was hit with from the sorcerer. She spotted Anbor and immediately slid herself over to tend him. He was probably wishing he didn't so eagerly join the company in Pelargir.

Hanasian got up on his own and silently barked orders with his hand flipping about madly. Mecarnil searched to secure an exit, and Wulgof and Belegost watched the front on case anyone thought of coming into the pavilion. Fortunately for the company, the riot had carried those still alive off to seek out supporters of the sorcerer. The company moved rapidly, retracing their path to the security of the temple. They sealed the large doors with the knowledge that they were now trapped, penned. How would they be able to get out carrying their dead, wounded, and prisoner? It had all the makings of a seige and Foldine kept shaking his head at this turn of events.

"Is that rebel still alive?" Hanasian asked looking at the quivering, blood stained foaming body.

Rin nodded grimly and this made him very dangerous and unpredictable. His seizure, maybe caused by some sort of poison that the would-be assassin guard had on his palm blade, or maybe not, seemed to caused a stroke of some description. No matter, he was not conscience of what was going on around him.

Mecarnil checked the walls for any doors and found someone hiding in an alcove. He called out in the native tongue and Mulgov came over to see. It was a boy, maybe ten years, no more than twelve. Mulgov engaged him in a rapid conversation, and the boy seemed excited about something. Mulgov nodded and started to tell Mecarnil and Hanasian what was said.

"The boy is an orphan and a sneak. He said that his ladder was missing so he had to get inside the city by other means. Apparently he came in through a tunnel that goes under the wall, smugglers hole. I asked if he would show us the way out, and he readily agreed."

"How can we trust him after what happened here?"
Mecarnil asked as he looked around at the others.

It seemed the company was recovering, save Anbor who wasn't getting any worse. Rin was fighting a battle for his life even then, silks now a bloodied and torn ruin. Mecarnil dropped his cloak over her shoulders, a gesture of kindness for the woman was practically naked. She barely marked it, absorbed in her work. Gian was wrapped in his cloak. Mulgov asked the boy about what he saw and relayed the boy's answer.

"Says he saw smoke and fire, and some fighting. He didn't know what was happening, but was happy the head was taken. His father was forced to go to war farther in the north, and his mother had died years ago. So he will help us for some food."

"Well, there is plenty of it here. He is welcome to have as much as he can carry, for we aren't waiting around,"
Hanasian said, wiping at a warm wetness that flowed down his face.

"Damn… guess I was hit harder than I thought, " he murmured. He had a gash from his scalp across his forehead down to his left eyebrow, then on the bridge of his nose and on his right cheekbone. "Will have to tend that later. Can Anbor be moved?"

Khule noted that Rin had just finished working Anbor and had stopped his bleeding. In her turn she had noted the bloody state Hanasian was in. Still dazed by whatever she had taken the brunt of, she stood to go to him, but got dizzy. Khule caught and steadied her.

"Here are your leathers, Doc," he said kindly, aware she wouldn't want to venture into the jungle in what remained of her silks.

The boy collected all the food he could carry away, and then some. A few of the others took advantage of it as well, with Loch right behind the boy in his collection. They were ready as they were going to get. They needed to get out of there before someone got curious. Who knows how much time they would have?

The boy opened a wall panel in a dark corner and led the way. Mulgov went next. If he could fit, then the rest could too. It was the dead weight of Anbor, the sorcerer, and the body of Gian that was hardest to move, but they all managed. Foldine brought up the rear, and as best he could, pulled the panel back into place. They were in the dark moving slowly to wherever this boy was leading them. A leap of faith by the company, but one that was needed to be taken.

The way was straight, with few bends to contend with. One towards the end was rather sharp as it turned to the right. Getting their casualties and prisoner around that was a bit of a challenge, but it was done. When they came to an opening, they each crawled out and stood. It was still dark. They were still underground in some sort of cavern. They could use a torch right about now. All they could do was slowly step forward toward a faint point of light. It seemed like it took forever to get closer. They did manage it, and sitting down before a crevice opening, they decided to rest. Hand-sign was useless in the dark, so a slight whisper was passed back. It came forward again, and soon everyone was there and accounted for. Rin sat Hanasian down.

"You need tending!" she commanded, all stern worry. Hanasian agreed, for he had a pounding headache.

By the time they reached a secure place to stop, Anbor had died. Two dead... A bolt of futility hit Rin but she was able to relentlessly quash it. The guilt, however, was not so easily dealt with. If she had not delayed, could she have done something for the man that had assisted her at Pelargir? Anbor's injury had been grave. Blood loss had killed him. She could do much, but she could not make blood to replace what he had lost. If she had gotten to him faster, he would not have lost so much, and so perhaps he had a chance which she had squandered in her bid to kill the captive. It was a hopeless path her thoughts marched along. So many possibilities, so many decisions, and not every one leads to the outcome a healer wanted. Death waited for all mortals and no healer could best that reality. Her thoughts spun grimly as she tended to Hanasian.

A glancing blow, that she could deal with now she had learned what she had through Morcal. The bones of his skull were intact and it was a matter of knitting muscles, tendons and flesh now. Hanasian's concussion was another matter. She could sense the throbbing pulses of pain that caged Hanasian's skull. His speech wasn't slurred and he had not upended his stomach. There was a chance, a remote one, that he was not concussed at all. Such things were notoriously difficult to discern.

All Hanasian could sense was what Morcal would have sensed on the ship some days ago had the stowaway been conscious. Hanasian felt a warmth suffuse him, no more than that. Then it was gone and the throbbing was reduced, but not vanished. It was difficult to see in the dark, but Rin washed blood and grime from her beloved's face while men gathered their wits and wrapped their second dead. Her fingers were gentle , stroking softly over his face in a bid to assure herself that he was well. When she was done she sat back on her heels to seek her own equilibrium.

"Anyone else?" she asked to be sure no one else needed anything.

"Why, so you could help us like you did Anborn?" Berlas bitterly asked.

Men rumbled at that and Berlas fell silent again, reigning in any further outburst. The sour taste of failure filled Rin's mouth and twisted her stomach. Two men dead, what was the use of her? Hanasian reached for her but she was already moving away to where their prisoner lay twitching and insensate. She had no defense to offer Berlas, and she was not convinced he had spoken unfairly. Molguv opted to tend his own injuries, in a bid to spare the drain on their healer's strength.

Their prisoner had been poisoned. The sorcerer was the man singularly responsible for the horror that ringed this miserable place. She could hear the dead screaming at the outrage the sorcerer had inflicted upon their very mortality, a relentless wall of overwhelming emotion constantly surging against her healer's sensibilities. Another surge of icy rage shivered through her, chased down by a startling realisation. To betray a healer's purpose in a desire for vengeance or justice was the same slippery path this sorcerer had walked before her. He likely believed his deeds justified by some twisted logic. But to heal the man after Anbor's and Gian's loss, to heal the man and leave the chance that he would continue with his horrors was equally confronting. What if he escaped somehow? By healing him, she was perpetuating this travesty. But who was she to determine who lived and who did not? As Rin wrestled with her ethics, the Company grappled with their course.

"Seems to me that we got caught in a wider net. Ambush within an ambush," observed Foldine.

"As like as not. Regardless we can't hide down here like rats for long and we have two men to bury. It will need to be done quick in this heat," Bear replied.

"Our next course of action is simple, we just need to get out of here and back north," suggested Khule.

"How exactly? Got that figured out too, have you?" Wulgof drawled.

"Knew this was going to be hard. Too late to start whining now if you don't have the stomach for it," growled Frea.

"Sniping at each other is not going to achieve anything," came Loch's unwisely timed observation and he was met with a chorus to keep his young mouth closed.

"Hey, you kill that prisoner and you'll really drop us in it," rumbled Daius as he belatedly noticed Rin was hovering near the sorcerer.

His words were lost on her, so intently was she focussed. It was harder than she had guessed, and yet the screaming fell silent and the sorcerer still drew breath. Only then did Rin remove her hands from the sorcerer and breathed in relief at the removal of all that pressure.

"That better not mean she killed him," Bear said, mistaking the sigh for one of grim satisfaction.

"Can you not hear the difference?" she inquired as she moved back away from their prisoner. Her question was met with tense silence.

"The dead no longer scream. He lives still," she clarified, voice washed of inflection and flat.

"For how much longer?" asked Hanasian quietly.

"Difficult to know. He's been poisoned, and he was not a well man to begin with. Brain and lungs are failing. I'm not sure if I can heal all of that to return him to good health and if I tried, I'd be out of action for the Company for some time."

"By the Valar, you hear the dead scream?"
Farbarad asked, deeply shocked.

"Yes," Rin replied automatically.

"Do what you can to keep him alive, Rosmarin, but not at the expense of exhausting yourself. We may well have need of you as we make our way north," instructed Hanasian.

"We will see if we can flag down a smuggling ship if we can, negotiate or take it by force, make our way north that way rather than fight our way north through the lines. We'll deliver our hostage to the front, alive and showing no sign of maltreatment," he continued.

"Great, swimming. I hate swimming," Wulgof grumbled at the prospect of hijacking a smuggler's ship.

"What of Morcal?" asked Molguv.

"He comes with us. If he still has the stomach to join our number after this, we'll consider it when time permits. For now, we're not leaving anyone behind to point out where we went," Hanasian replied and they started to make preparations to move out into the night for the coast again.

Rin barely managed to get the rest of her gear on in the darkness. There was no time to wash blood from her hands. Nor was there time to braid her hair again. No sooner had she stowed her equipment and weapons were they moving out towards the torch light. They approached warily, quietly, slowly, in single file.

They found the torches had been flung, or dropped, to the ground. Their owners were nowhere in sight. They did not tarry there, with two dead to carry. Instead they pressed back into the thick and hungry jungle intent on their objective. Time was of the essence. They angled west and north, judging the smugglers they had observed yesterday would have likely made for Umbar to sell their goods at the best margin. There was no pursuit, which was troubling a first and then when no contact was made through the rest of the night considered a boon. They paused only to bury Gian and Anbor at dawn of the following day.

That they had to leave their dead in this fetid place galled some. The stark reality was that they could ill afford to be slowed by their dead. It was a sombre, brief and necessary affair. When it was done, Rin spared scant water from her bottle to wash the last remnants of blood from her hands and face. She could not sluice away the sense of failure that she carried with her from the temple. She was withdrawn but she was also determined to do her duty. As men took what brief rest they could, she ensured the prisoner remained alive. The poison was a particularly ferocious one. When Berlas approached her to make peace, she simply met his gaze with her own. He caught a glimpse of the failure she felt before she turned away.

They gained the coast in good time, arriving at dusk and still free of pursuit. Another stroke of fortune saw them greeted with the sight of the smuggler ship lying at anchor, quiescent and compliant. Quick discussion saw three of their number lose their heavier battle gear and weapons to swim out to the ship. It was a long, tense wait on the shore as night thickened around them. Still no pursuit. For the experienced of their number, they had stared to view this as a portent of trouble again. It seemed that half the night passed before those on the shore sighted a lantern being waved and heard the sound of oars as the ship's long boat was sent to ferry them across. Throughout this time, Rin had been silent. When they gained the ship, the absence of crew was noticeable.

"Where are they?" Foldine asked.

"No idea, but let's not squander our good fortune," Folca said.

Now even more nervous than ever, they sorted through who could sail in their number. Despite Wulgof warning him against volunteering, Loch was with a number of men who stepped forward and they were soon haltingly on their way. Others set themselves to watch for the misfortune that surely hung heavily over them. What none of them realised, not even the one responsible for it, was that the undead had fallen across Harad. No one was paying any attention to the Black Company. Most were celebrating the downfall of the rising tyrant or desperately reforming battle stratagems along the front line to the north.

Those men were faced with the gathered might of the Reunited Realms just south of Umbar.

"Sire, it is as the scouts have reported. Their undead have fallen and they're scrambling to cover the holes left in their lines," Faramir reported as he flung himself off a lathered horse.

"We should press now, while they are in disarray, while we have the advantage," Elfwine said, spurred on by his uncle's confirmation. Aragorn was silent a moment, trying to perceive something of what passed further south. He was not elven kind, but his kin was there... Unreachable still.

"No, we wait. Patience shall be our ally," the High King replied. Imrahil and Faramir nodded, older and wiser heads than the young prince of Rohan.

It was not solely mercy that prompted Aragorn to hold his hand longer yet. The fall of the undead was the loss of their opponent's most significant weapon. If it meant what he suspected, that the man responsible for this horror was no longer at large, the rebel army would likely experience huge losses through desertion. This was now no different to any armed uprising. Delicate dawn light proved his guess well founded. A much reduced contingent of rebel Haradians remained. Many of their conscript forces had dissipated in the night.

On a smuggler vessel, Loch approached his sister as soon as he was relieved of his duty at day break. He found her with their prisoner, still grimly silent and awake despite the fatigue he saw stamped on her face. She as not slept since the night before they entered the town, nearly three days ago.

"Rin? What's wrong?" he asked as quietly as he could.

His sister did not take her eyes from the prisoner.

"Go rest, Loch, " she eventually replied and his brow furrowed. Loch scratched at the beard along his jaw, a tell tale sign the man was thinking, and then crouched to bring his eyes to the same eye level as his sister's.

"Rin... Rosmarin, you're not going to kill him are you?" he asked, searching her expression.


"Still upset by what Berlas said?"


"Then what?"

"Go rest, Loch."

Her brother heaved a deep breath and she braced herself for another wave of questions.

Instead, he stood and the sound fall of his boots on the decking of the ship faded as he went in search of an unoccupied hammock. When the creak of groan of the ship in the waters was all she heard, Rin let out a soul deep sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose. She had already bullied Hansian into sleep, concerned about the lingering effects of his injury and the healing that had followed. She had doled out more stomach settling potions, though less needed it now an at first. She had re dosed their canteens with the herbs this kept them free of insect predation. She had seen to injured feet and kept their prisoner alive and unconscious. But she had not been able to shake the growing sense of culpability. Anbor had died because she did not get to him in time. She had delayed because she was busy compromising every value she held dear to her in a bid to kill their prisoner. Her lapse, her failure, had cost another his life.

Videgavia was not asleep. He was watching. He saw her jaw bunch as she bit down on whatever it was she was holding within her. She took another deep, shaking breath and forbade tears. Tears would not bring back the dead. She had not killed the prisoner. Her breathing shook with the force of her shame. The sound of boots drove her to gather her composure. It was Farbarad.

"Rest, Rin. I'll watch our charge. I'll wake you if something goes awry," he offered gently. Rin shook her head, not yet able to trust her voice. It was mid morning when Khule and Frea approached.

"Need to bind, gag and hood him. You can't keep him unconscious all the way to Umbar," Khule said.

When they got no response from the healer, the pair set to their task. They stepped back when they were done, and still Rin sat staring at the sorcerer. Khule and Frea exchanged a glance with each other before they moved away, uncertain as to what to do.

Hanasian awoke, head blessedly free of throbbing a last, to find the ship was still afloat and moving slowly north. The prisoner was still alive, and secured. Anbor and Gian aside, all personnel were accounted for. He found Rin by the prisoner. It looked like she had fallen asleep from where she had stationed herself. She was curled up tight, her sleep fitful, on the bare boards by one of the posts the prisoner's hammock had been fastened to.

Hanasian bent, gathered her up and deposited her in the hammock he had just abandoned. He removed some of her gear to smooth her sleep. As he smoothed tangled stands of hair from her face, he heard her half sob something as she slept.

"Forgive me," she said, breath catching in her throat

"Forgive you? Forgive what?" Hanasian whispered in her ear.

She didn't answer but though still troubled, it seemed to calm her enough so that she could lie still. He stood by for some time to ensure she slept. As he did so, he glanced at the prisoner. A thought came over him that he could be more dangerous in the hands of Gondor than in Harad, and Hanasian fiddled with the hilt of his knife in a restrained urge to kill him then and there. Too much trouble him. Cost two good men. The webs of deception ran deep, and he couldn't clearly sort it all out in his head.

After seeing the prisoner would be well looked after while Rin slept, Hanasian gave her a kiss on the cheek and went topside. It was quiet up there... too quiet. The stiff wind was contrary earlier, but now there was no wind. A chill drifted down from the north, and they could barely keep the erratic southerly gasps of breeze in the sails. The men manning the ship debated their options. They could drop sail and drift with the tidal current north along the shore, or they could anchor and wait in place. Neither was a good option, but the conditions offered no other. The onset of fog rising from the warm sea into the chill air made the decision for them. They would have to anchor and wait to avoid the risk running aground in the fog.

"Conditions are bad tonight," Loch said to Hanasian as he came by to check the lamps. Hanasian stopped him and had him light a stick from the lamp to light his pipe. Running lit had its own risk, but who would be out in this?

"Yeah, need a good morning breeze I think." Hanasian said as he watched the smoke drift slowly up to slowly mingle with the fog.

Loch continued on his round, and Hanasian watched the bland darkness shrouded in grey. As the hours passed the fog thickened as morning approached. Hanasian was about to turn in when he felt a hand on his back. He turned quickly to find Rin standing there. He gathered her in to ward off the chill in a tight embrace.

"You seemed troubled in your sleep," he said before kissing her forehead, "Maybe you could tell me about it?"

She leaned into him, deep in thought, when Wulgof came walking up quietly.

"We have a problem..."

"And that would be...?"
Hanasian asked due to Wulgof's long pause. A couple more breaths passed before he continued.

"This boat leaks. We have been taking on water almost since we boarded. Nothing that can't be handled if the boat don't get worse."

Hanasian turned, and Rin straightened up and turned to Wulgof. She whispered as if to herself, "Its him."

Wulgof paused at her words, but then went on.

"That isn't all of our problem. We are being shadowed by another boat."

Hanasian took note of the fact their boat, despite being solid when they took possession of it, had started to have multiple failures of sealing. Of the fact that Rin seems to sense their prisoner may be somehow causing it, and the wild card of a ship doing as they are. Hanasian signaled Wulgof to raise the anchor as quietly as they could, and they would drift to first light. Not knowing what ship was near them, should a warm southern wind take this fog away, he wanted to be ready to make a run for it.

He then turned to Rin, "M'lady, you must tell me what you know...”

"It is difficult to be clear… my mind feels woolly…"

Hanasian waited as Rin pinched the bridge of her nose and collected her thoughts. What had their prisoner hit her with, he wondered.

"It is as though he has mastered precisely the opposite of healing…. Decay… Entropy…At least that is how is seems to me… and I am no Wizard, my love," she said.

"Can it be stopped?"

"I thought I did in the temple tunnel… if he is doing it again, I was clearly mistaken. He'll rot this ship from beneath us if he can."

"Can you try anything else?"


"Without killing him?"
Rin paused at that question and turned her face away.

"There is something I could try. It may kill him… it may not."

"See to it, Doc."

"Aye Cap,"
she replied and she was off

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

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Hanasian moved about the deck, whispering orders for quiet stealth and readiness. If they could spring away, they would. When he appeared below deck, Rin was emptying a powder into a bottle of water. She shook the bottle vigorously, and then repeated the process with half of a second packet of powder.

"Nothing you can do, Doc. That's red frog poison. He's a dead man, even if neither of you are prepared to admit it yet," Molguv warned with a knowledgeable air.

"I'm not trying to heal him…"

"Then what are you doing? Wait, isn't that-"

"Yes, it is, now hush and let me concentrate. If I don't balance this right I will stop his wicked heart and we'll have lost two good men for nothing!"

"But that could kill him anyways! It's the deadliest substance we know of! How did you get the recipe, eh? That's assassin's knowledge!"

"Only a little bit… only mostly… just enough to slow him right down, put him far, far under…if I balance it right,"
Rin answered, avoiding Molguv's other questions. All sorts of things were used by healers, even poisons in the right circumstances.

Rin shook the bottle and studied the various packets and pouches spread out on the boards around her pack, counting them as she ran through the complex combination in her head.

"Are you sure of this, Rin?" Hanasian inquired as she added the final item, shook the bottle and sniffed at its contents.

"Not entirely… it's a calculated guess at best, but I don't have any other ideas right now," she jerked the bottle away in a hurry. They traded a long gaze and then Hanasian nodded slowly. Rin got to her feet, shook the bottle one more time and approached the prisoner.

"Never heard of mostly killing someone on purpose…" Molguv muttered in the background.

"It has a certain elegance, I suppose. Slows the blood, slows the poison," Khule replied.

"If any here has a better idea, now is the time to speak up," Rin said, poised to tip the contents down the prisoner's throat. Silence returned below deck. Rin swallowed and upturned the bottle. His bound feet kicked and Frea had to hold his bound hands down.

"Don't breathe it in," Rin warned as Frea jostled with the prisoner. His struggles weakened and his body slackened. Rin remained where she was, watching and monitoring his pulse and breathing.

"Down…. Yes down you go… you monster… far below… That's it…"

"You killed him!"

"I did not. He's breathing still… see, there! Wait….there again…see?"

Rin straightened, stoppering the bottle and expelling a pent breath. She glanced over to where Hanasian stood and nodded. It was done.

Above deck, they had started to drift with the current. This change in their course alerted the other ship. In the fog, conditions were treacherous and visibility all but absent. Still, it was clear the other ship was moving to intercept and in their wounded condition, they could hardly elude it.

"Cap…we're being intercepted. Run up colours?" Loch inquired from the hatch.

Hanasian's mind raced. There were two likely outcomes. If the ship was one of theirs, their Company identity would assure them assistance and bring them off this crippled, rotting vessel. However, if the ship was Corsair, Company identity would assure them no quarter.

"No… and conceal all Company devices and sigils. I want every man on deck, archers in the rigging. Frea and Folca, I want you down here and barricaded. You will be our last line of defense should this other ship prove Corsair. Kill the prisoner. He cannot be permitted to fall alive into Corsair hands.

"But mark me well, I want no steel bared, no arrow loosed until I give the signal."

men chorused.

The Company moved swiftly, collecting up gear and weapons. He caught Rin collecting her bow and quiver and moved to intercept her before she got on deck and into the rigging.

"Will you wait down here?" he asked as she slung her quiver over one shoulder.

"I've heard talk of these Corsairs…. Brigands, bandits of the sea… cruel and without mercy… If it is your order that I remain here, then here I shall remain. But I ask that you let me go above. If I must choose an end, then I would choose one different to my mother's. Please, my love."

Hanasian collected up one hand, which he pressed to his lips. Upon release, she reached to curve her fingers around the line of his jaw. Much passed between the pair with that stolen moment and then it was away. Hanasian watched her make for the main mast and start up the rigging. He moved along the deck, spreading men out to avoid clustered groups. In the growing grey light of dawn, the other ship loomed closer. The treacherous wind did nothing to assist them to flee and their sails hung limp. If this was not bad enough, none on board were aware of what had been unleashed with the dosing of their prisoner. Robbed of any control, the entropy became a wild and ravenous force.

It was eerily quietly. Thick fog made it an alien place, as though they foundered on an endless plane of Ulmo's vast ocean. The silence was shattered by the crashing of grappling hooks on deck. They bit hard, yanking the lines taut and yanked the smaller smuggling ship hard towards the larger approaching vessel. Hanasian held his hand aloft, a command for continued control and restraint, and counted them fortunate that the hooks had found wood and not men to bite. The deck beneath their feet canted towards their captors and men swarmed across, agile as cats and clearly accustomed to life and battle upon sea. As they landed, the smuggler ship shuddered and gave a terrible groan as timbers along its port-side hull staved in under pressure. The crack reverberated through the ship, vibrating up the mainsail. Those aloft had to hang on tightly to avoid a sharp, deadly fall to the deck below.

"Ho there, stand fast or be drowned," a man called in a strong, clear voice from the other ship before he kicked off to swing aboard.

"Never were there smugglers so pleased to see the King's navy, I reckon. And here we were hoping for a tussle to pass the time," he said upon landing. At that, Hanasian signaled to stand down and spread his own hands wide. Far above, in the leaning rigging, nocked arrows sagged.

"Captain Nerlas…well met once again," Hanasian said, reaching forward to greet him.

"Ah…. Stand to, lads… sorry excuses for smugglers they be, but we don't want to tangle steel with this lot. Captain Hanasian, seems you've a spot of bother. Might you want to come aboard?"


"Well, be quick about it. I'll need to cut this crate free shortly lest she bring us both down to Ulmo's embrace."

And like that, the captain of the Night Explorer had his boarding party swarming about at double time. By the time the sun had managed to fully rise, the Black stood on deck. They watched their former vessel quite literally disintegrate before their eyes. Nerlas ran his hand through sun bleached hair and shook his head, whistling low.

"Never seen a sight like that in all my life," he said and turned to where Hanasian stood on deck, Rin at his shoulder.

It would take them another two days and three nights to make it to Umbar. They made good time with Nerlas’ expert crew at the helm. They thrust through the seas northward like a hot knife through butter. But, it was far from smooth sailing. On the second evening, they had sped straight into a Corsair ambush. The result was a savage, startling encounter that left three of Nerlas’ crew dead, ten Corsairs dead, and one member of the Black Company seriously injured. It was fitting that the one responsible for injuring Loch was also the one responsible for ensuring it did not kill him. In fact, it was by inflicting that injury that she managed to preserve his life.

Loch reached Umbar with his left shoulder and upper chest tightly bandaged and a tale to regale any who would listen about how his sister finally made good on years of threats and shot him. Any member of the Black who wondered if the Healer would be able to keep pace in a military unit had their questions answered. Frea gave up badgering her to pick up a spear. He and Wulgof both believed that she was precisely deadly enough as was in the interests of their continued good health. Not a single man was caught gossiping about the incident either. Their healer was not a woman to get on the wrong side of and she was not particularly happy about shooting her brother.

The toll of the ambush did not end there. Their prisoner did not survive. It had been brutal encounter with the Corsairs. When they had managed to break through the hatch to where they had barricaded their insensate prisoner, it looked clear that the Corsairs would prevail. The Black simply could not countenance releasing the sorcerer to continue the wholesale slaughter and perversions of his campaign on the mainland. Rather than that, his throat was slit.

Rin didn’t quite know what to think about that. On the one hand, she had found it hard to restrain herself in administering the counter poison. Just a touch too much and it would be ended as she had longed to do since that first encounter in the temple. Since she had first sensed the horrendous screaming of his enslaved dead. On the other hand, they had lost two good men to take this sorcerer alive and now for what? She supposed that there was always a sense of futility in war…and in any case the evil he was responsible for had been brought to stop, saving incalculable lives that would otherwise be forfeit.

The Black Company had left Umbar a mix of old and new. It returned as a blooded, experienced unit that had seen a particularly difficult intense period of service through together. They may not all be the best of friends, but a mutual appreciation, respect and regard had sprung up from the shared hardships. Forged in the heat of battle and face of imminent death, it was a strong bond that linked them all. The Umbar they returned to had also changed.

The harbour was filled with ships that were loading with detachments of Gondor’s infantry. It was a simple thing to pull aside a scurrying messenger on the dock to learn that the army was shipping out. Knights had already left for the long ride back north. Rohan too had moved out on the day before. They’d expected to find Umbar at siege with war being waged just to the south. Naturally, Berlas inquired what had prompted this sudden change.

”We’ve been south, missed all the news,” he explained to the harried messenger.

”Rebel army fell apart a good seven days ago. Started when the dead finally fell to rest. Only a few core rebels left, and they’re fleeing for their lives from their former troops… Ithilien’s hunting them now.”

“And the King?”

“Do I look like I would know of the King’s movements?”
the messenger scoffed and hurried away about his business.

Wulgof leaned against the Standard, he had to bear it given Loch’s injured shoulder, and squinted at the rooftops of Umbar.

”Well, looks like he’s still ‘ere. Either that or they’ve forgotten to take his flag down,” he drawled.

”We’ll make for the Moon, where we left our horses. There may well be orders awaiting us there,” Hanasian ordered.

They arrived just after midday, found their horses had not been sold on, and secured rooms at The Desert Moon. They did not find orders. Hanasian dismissed the men with firm instructions to return to the inn early and out of trouble. Loch, injured as he was, was inn bound in any case. He mourned this openly. Rin departed in urgent and immediate search of a bath. Cold, hot, she didn’t care as long as the water was clean and not salty. She returned markedly cleaner and finally free of mail, plate and leather.

Clad in the blue dress Anis had gifted her with in Bree, she felt curiously naked as she returned to the common room. No sword, no packs, no bow, no armour, not even boots. She found Hanasian sitting in deep conversation with another man she did not immediately recognise. Both had long pipes clenched firmly between their teeth and tankards in front of them. Rin hesitated at the sight, wondering if it might be best to give Hanasian some time. It looked like he was up to Ranger business. Even Mecarnil and Farbarad were keeping their noses out of it. Unable to decide, Rin turned it over in her head as she went in search of her own tankard.

As she waited at the bar, a familiar voice sounded at her shoulder.

”Well now, this is a surprise. A dress and everything! Should we be flattered?” Faramir asked as he propped himself against the bar.

Rin rolled her eyes.

”Hardly. It one of the few clean items of clothing to my name. But, you believe what you want to believe. I’ve heard lordlings like to flatter themselves.”

“Flattered I am.”

“How goes your hunt?”

“Heard about that already? Well enough. I anticipate we’ll have those at large within our grasp by month’s end. They have no succour from the larger populace, makes our job considerably easier.”

“I can imagine. Morcal has quite a few tales to tell about what those men got up to further south.”

“So, how goes the wedding?”

Rin choked on a mouthful of ale and Faramir tipped back his head and laughed.

”Are you mad? I haven’t had time to brush my hair, much less plan a wedding! You must think yourself very funny.”

“Oh, stop riling my cousin, Faramir. You’ve seen for yourself what her temper is like once roused. I don’t need an international diplomatic incident on my hands just before I ship out,”
Aragorn chided gently. Faramir held up his hands in surrender and they sat at the table with Hanasian and Aragorn.

”I was just saying to Hanasian that I’ll need you to call in at Minas Tirith to sort a few things out,” Aragorn continued on blandly. Despite this, Rin’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.

”What sort of things? I thought everything was sorted out already?”

“We need to sort out your position at court-“

“Oh no. No no. I don’t have one. Nothing to sort out.”

In the background, Mecarnil snorted and said to Farbarad, ”See? See what I had to put up with at Mithlond?”

”And then there is the matter of a dowry,”
Aragorn continued on as if she had not said a word.

Rin’s mind jumped a few gears. One minute she was awaiting orders concerning next deployment and now, dowries? She pointed to where her brother sat, nursing an ale and an injured left arm.

”That’s what he is, isn’t he?” she asked as he grinned sheepishly.

”Yeah,” Loch enthused, and then quietly asked Mecarnil what a dowry was.

”Shouldn’t take long, a day at best. Whether you decide to ship out now or later after Faramir’s hunt has resolved is your decision, Hanasian. Whatever you decide, you’ll find a ship more than willing to carrying you north when you’re ready.”

“We have it in hand, Hanasian. Don’t feel compelled to stay on. Not like your men, and healer, haven’t done more than enough,”
Faramir said.

Hanasian nodded at this, taking it all in and Aragorn stood.

”If I don’t make this ship, I will have a lot to explain on the other end. Gentlemen, cousin, see you in Minas Tirith.”

And like that, Aragorn was on the move again. Faramir was forced to throw down the remainder of his ale.

”Damn, hate it when he does that,” the prince muttered and took off after him. There was some business to sort before Aragorn shipped out for Gondor.

That left Hanasian with a decision: join the hunt or head home. Rin was already up again, checking on her brother’s shoulder despite his protests. The option of heading home was appealing. Perhaps he could show her his mother’s home, maybe Edoras too, on the way. If they made it back to Arnor in time, they could have a midsummer wedding… perhaps at Fornost, or even Rivendell. Rivendell had an impressive library that would fascinate her. Lord Elrond had been a gifted healer and the knowledge he had stored there was envied the known world over. They sorely needed time together, without duty impinging on them. Time they didn’t have to steal away from their oaths of service to the crown. His entire Company badly needed to rest. He didn’t doubt the ability of Faramir’s men to hunt down the remaining rebels…but there was still unfinished business here.

When the Company reconvened in the common room that evening, Hanasian put it to the vote. It was not a narrow margin. Some, Morcal included, wanted to join the hunt for the rebels. Most, however, wanted quit of Harad.

”But Minas Tirith? Too many people and the ale is overpriced!” Bear said.

”Yeah, but remember that tale of that bar maid there we heard back in Bree?” countered Wulgof.

”What tale?” Bear and Foldine chorused in unison.

”I’ll fill you in later,” Folca said, catching the expression on Hanasian’s face.

”We ship out then,” Hanasian said.

”Now, about that bar maid,” Folca said a heart beat later.

The men leaned in around the table, even if they had heard the tale before at The Prancing Pony. It was a good tale. Worth hearing twice.

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

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The ship ride back north was in better luxury than their covert ride south. It turned out that a garrison of troops who arrived late were to take up positions and assert the realm's control beside the loyal Haradian army, and the hardcore remnants of the rebels faded away. So the company had a well stocked ship with room, and along with the remaining Gondorians who had borne the brunt of the revolt, they were on their way back to Pelargir.

It wasn't the hardest or even the most intriguing of the company feats since the war, but to Hanasian, it was one of the most memorable. Maybe because of the fact the woman he loved was there with him, involved as much or moreso than the rest, and everything seemed all the more personal. Everyone looked relaxed to a degree. Yet the sense of loss could be seen on their faces.

Hanasian took the time on the ship to catch up on his journals. He made sure it was recorded as it happened, and the names of the fallen were remembered. So too did he spend time with Rin, and it seemed to be too good to be true that they were able to spend time alone together without interruption.

"Beloved, how much has changed in such little time? You have gone from fearing soldiers such as us to being among them and being one of them. How do you feel about it all now? I am curious to know what you think my love."

But Rin was silent and did not answer right away. Instead she took his hand and then embraced, and it was a long time before they were seen again by anyone on the ship. For his part, Hanasian wanted to quit the company and go away and settle down with Rin somewhere. A quiet life with no death or war. He pondered all he had been through and done, and the memories came fast and hard. He woke up in a sweat next to Rin, who was worried about him.

"Dreams, that is all," he told her, but his face spoke otherwise.

"Tell me about them?" Rin said, sort of asking, sort of insisting.

Hanasian paused, but didn't say anything right away. He said, "But you have not answered the question I asked my Love."

Rin looked puzzled, and said, "You have not asked me any questions. What is it that you think you asked?"

Hanasian rubbed his temples with his fingers.

"Then I dreamed the question as well. I guess I can start telling you of my dreams by asking you the question I asked you in my dream... I was wondering how you felt about soldiers now that you have been amongst us for awhile, and through a campaign too. You think about that while I tell you of the hard part of my dreams. I was in command of the company, but it was not one I knew. We had become so large that we were the defacto army of Gondor in the east. Every one of us was a paid mercenary, and we had become brutal in putting down uprisings. A sense of lawlessness had crept over us and we had become that which we have always fought against. Scenes from real battles come to me amongst this, and I wake up in cold sweats."

He stood and took Rin's hand.

"I at times have an ability to see, but my vision is cloudy. Maybe you have a better view into me?"

He leaned to her and kissed her. He had given her a lot to think about. He was glad they had another day before they came to port in Pelargir.

Rin guided Hanasian’s head to rest against her as she considered his words. She knew the fact that he spoke to her of such things was a measure of his trust in her. The man she loved was a deep one, and a great deal ran beneath the surface that he permitted few to see. Sweat was already cooling on his brow, beneath her fingers. He felt the steady beat of her heart, closed his eyes. He believed he could hear the flash and twist of her quicksilver thoughts. After several moments, he felt her draw breath to speak.

”It is difficult for me to recall a time when I did not live in fear of the monsters I considered soldiers.

“As I became older, I began to comprehend the depth of the fear and hatred those men bore. It robbed them of any humanity, any mercy, any compassion. It made of them animals, savage and wild and bestial. Men such as these, the men of your dream, do not wake in the middle of the night haunted by screams. Such remorse is beyond them.

“I gave no man of the Company any cause for mercy. I knew the law, having spent considerable time skirting its boundaries in a bid to survive. In the face of open provocation, your men held their hand. In the face of orc attack, your men offered protection and indeed their lives without being asked, without hesitation, without expectation of reward.

“It is not the sword that creates a monster. Rather it is the heart and mind of the one who wields it. It is the cause and use it is put to.

“Beloved, you are not a monster. When I look at you, I see your heart. It is a good one, a precious one, one that has endured trials and emerged stronger, wiser, tempered. Mistakes can and will be made, but you will never become the monster of your dream. You will not permit yourself to, Hanasian.”

Rin paused then, recalling that she had just argued what Khule had argued around the campfire that morning after Tharbad. She smiled in the darkness of the cabin and Hanasian sensed it.

“What is it?”

“You asked me how I feel.... I feel alive. For the first time, I feel alive and...whole. I expected to find suffering and death when I ran into you at Tharbad. Instead you have given me life. You have given me freedom. You have given me choice.”

Hanasian felt her shift against him, felt her fingers drift down his spine. It was still some hours before dawn and Pelargir and sleep would be some time in coming.

A panicked yelp as the sun peeked over the horizon roused those that slept. Rin and Hanasian fumbled with tangled bedding and tangled limbs, tugged at clothing and burst out of the cabin at a race. The sight that greeted them was, to say the least, unexpected. The source of the panic was one Lochared of Dunland. He stood in the centre of the below deck area in a state of shock, peering at a small shaving mirror he had scrounged up from one of the others on board. He wasn’t the only one in shock. Men stood agape around, staring at him. His hair, his beard and the hair visible on his forearms were a vivid green. In the mirror, Loch caught the astonished expression of his sister behind him. He whirled and pointed an outraged, quivering finger at her.


Rin looked hard at her brother. Even the whites of his eyes seemed a faint green. She stepped forward and grabbed his outstretched hand. Nails too. Fascinating. Rin let his hand go and circled her brother.

”WELL?” he demanded.

”I’ve never seen anything like it,” she mused.

”I’m GREEN!”

“Very...Green all over? Right down to your hairy feet?”

Loch blinked at her, tossed her the mirror and darted behind the nearest set of doors. The howl of outrage that emanated soon after confirmed that he was quite green, everywhere. When he emerged, outright anger was simmering on his face and his hands were balled into fists. Unfortunately, since he was green, he did not nearly look as intimidating as he might have wished for. Rin couldn’t help herself. It was Wulgof’s fault. He chortled first. Rin clapped a hand over her mouth and had to look away to regain her composure.

”You better know how to fix this, Rosmarin,” Loch growled.

”Fix it? I have no idea how this happened! What did you eat and drink in the last... two days. Everything, Loch. Tell me everything.”

The list, by anyone’s measure, was prodigious.

”Was that all?” Foldine quipped sarcastically.

”None of that explains your present state, Loch.”

“What’s that goop you’ve been slapping on my shoulder at every opportunity?”

“It’s a combination of an antiseptic and a healing salve. It does not transform men into plants. Just settle down and take a seat. I’ll see what I can do.”

Rin almost ran back to the cabin. Hanasian dispersed the audience as best he could and followed. He found Rin sitting on the floor. Her hands were clamped over her mouth to quieten her laughter and tears of mirth rolled down her face.

”Is this some sort of sibling prank?" Hanasian inquired, helping her to her feet. She shook her head and tried to find some air to speak with. It took a few attempts.

”No. This is far better than anything I could have contrived,” she replied and started to go through her pack.

What Rin was looking for was something, anything, to de-green her brother. As she searched Rin noticed she was missing some things... and other things were not where she had left them. Hanasian watched her empty out two packs onto the ruin of their bed, flick through them rapidly and then swear.

”Both pouches, and that is damn expensive and difficult to get too. No wonder the rat is green. But he can’t of consumed it all on his own or he would glow in the dark by now...and besides, how would he know that it could be smoked. I didn't tell him. I'm not that stupid...”

Rin shot out of the cabin and confronted her brother.

”Did you enjoy it? Give you a buzz? Who else smoked it with you? In fact, where is Molguv? Haven’t seen him all morning despite you howling like a wet cat.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t you try to turn this on me. That won’t work. Fix this or there’ll be trouble, Rosmarin. I mean it!”

“I am missing two pouches, Lochared. Fancy that, eh? Two...I know you wouldn’t have known that the missing pouches contained certain...things that were very enjoyable when smoked. Just like you wouldn’t know that it would turn you green. You wouldn’t know that its use as a powerful sedative in medical applications far outweighs any short lived fun derived from smoking it. I used it, for example, to put that shoulder of yours back together to spare you from excruciating pain.

“However, I would expect that the missing Haradian might. When did you flitch it? How did you even know I had it? I acquired it on the quiet. Made sure of that to prevent this very stupidity. The only way you could have known is if you went through my pack.

“Cat got your tongue all of a sudden, Lochared?”

Loch quite literally squirmed as his sister connected dots he hadn’t. All of the anger melted out of him.

”Molguv smelt it,” he admitted, ”We didn’t just paw through your stuff like bandits. He knew it was there and he said that if I got it, he’d share it. I didn’t know all that other stuff. I didn't know it will turn us green.”

A quick search flushed out a distinctly less green Molguv. Loch was not a small man, but the Haradian truly was a giant by way of proportions. Between his size and his dusky skin, the green tinge was not as pronounced on Molguv as it was on Loch. But it was there.

”Is it permanent, Rin?” Hanasian inquired. What he was going to do with permanently green soldiers was a conundrum he hoped to be spared from.

”No...it will fade, over time Cap.”

“How much time?”

Hanasian watched a devious light flash into her expression and then vanish. She was all business once again. He braced himself.

”That is entirely dependent on how much water they drink. My recommendation, for them both, is to drink as much water as they can bear and then more. Absolutely no ale. Ale will dehydrate them and make them greener for longer. If they adhere to this, perhaps it will fade in two or three days. They need to flush it from their bodies.”

Hanasian nodded.

”And then there is the matter of replacing what was stolen. You mentioned it was expensive?” he inquired.

”Indeed. It’s rare, the further north we get the rarer it becomes. Accordingly, the price increases.”

“If it could be acquired at Pelargir, how much would it cost?”

“Well... presuming prices have not varied since I last acquired it there...two silver marks a pouch.”

“TWO! That’s four silver marks!”
Molguv exclaimed, eyes widening.

Rin spread her hands out.

”I know... painful...but I do not set the market value.”

“But that’s robbery!”

Rin regarded the Haradian steadily.

”She’s robbing me again. After Tharbad, and that beer business in the Shire, this makes the third time!” Molguv sighed. Khule looked distinctly pleased by events.

”Your pay will be docked accordingly. The next man who misappropriates medical supplies will fare far worse. Am I understood? This is your first and only warning.”

Men nodded at Hanasian’s steely orders. Molguv and Loch were passed their water bottles and left to their own devices. Rin returned to the cabin to repack her bags.

”Will the water do anything?” Hanasian inquired and watched her shrug one shoulder and cast him a positively predatory grin.

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

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They docked as planned at mid morning the next day. The Black Company arrived resplendent in full uniform and standard proudly aloft in the summer sky. Their two green members were carefully shrouded, despite the summer heat. They were in no hurry this time, and in any case had need to linger at least as long as it would take to procure what had been taken from Rin's supplies. They made for their usual venue, The Passage Tavern.

With Loch and Molguv in their current green state, there was scant chance of a recurrence of the mishap that had marked their last sojourn in Pelargir. They were not facing imminent battle. There were no matters of court to contend with, no secret assignations with monarchs of the willing or unwilling kind. No lords plotting pre-emptive action to forestall treason unplanned. Those missing, those fallen, were still missing though.

They settled in the common room of the tavern easily. Rin was struck by a sudden memory of Anborn as he passed her his old green cloak. She'd been too distracted by Wulgof's unhelpful instruction to walk like a man to thank him properly for all he had done. Now he was gone. Rin glanced to Berlas, his peer. The Ithilien Ranger seemed quiet also. Loch and Molguv grumbled about their diet of water as those around them received cool tankards of ale. There was a pause and a murmuring of the names of fallen men before they took their first drink.

The usual buzz of discussion, baiting, jokes, speculation, wagers and gossip started up. Farbarad and Mecarnil sat off to one side with Videgavia. They'd chosen a darker corner to stretch their legs and enjoy their pipes.

"That wooden bird. What's the deal with it?" Videgavia asked Farbarad at last as Hanasian settled himself in and started tamping his pipe.

"Made it for her. You know how children are. They latch onto one thing and that's how it was for her and that bird. She loved that thing. Wouldn't go to sleep without it. Found it in my pack after I made it back to Imladris and couldn't bear to discard it. Carried it around like a great millstone of guilt for years. Damn pleased to hand it back to her, I can tell you."

"Often make toys for other men's children?"
Videgavia inquired. Farbarad smiled quietly about his pipe for his fellows had posed similar questions at the time.

"That's not how it was," Mecarnil replied in his stead. "Farbarad was sworn to protect her, like I was to her father. I met her father when he was a young man, but spend enough time and you become...attached. Even if your charge is a proud, unbending, ambitious man.

"Farbarad was assigned to Rin before she was even born. She saw more of Farbarad than she did of her own father in those days."

The men fell silent for a long while. Hanasian couldn't help but wonder what Bereth would make of their current situation.

"So, this Minas Tirith business..." Mecarnil hedged, glancing to Hanasian sidelong. Hanasian shrugged his shoulders.

"Should only take a day, whatever it is."

"If she plays along,"
Mecarnil said.

"Then where?" Videgavia inquired.

"Rohan maybe.... have to be at Imladris before Midsummer."

"A summer crossing of the Misty's would provide some useful training for our younger members,"
Farbarad said.

"Keep Loch and Wulgof out of Dunland too," Videgavia added.

"Haven't decided yet," Hanasian said with a note of finality.

"After the wedding, Cap. What are you going to do?" Mecarnil asked.

"Haven't decided that either," Hanasian firmly replied. This was not a matter he'd discuss with them before discussing it with Rosmarin and that was that.

While they had spoken, a local entered the tavern and had scanned the common room. As soon as he spotted Rin, he made for her. Rin stood up as he approached and diverted him back out the door again. When she returned several moments later she looked pleased with herself. None of the others at the table noticed this, pre-occupied with their game of cards. The four rangers sitting in the corner couldn't help but notice. Rin looked over to Hanasian and nodded. It would appear that her supplies were now complete.

"You know, there once was a time when this Company would have not known what to do or how to be with a woman in their number... particularly that one," Videgavia observed.

"Certainly no way she'd come and go in their midst without them noticing and turning themselves inside out, like that first day. Never thought she'd do it, to be honest, given how things were when we first crossed paths. But look at what just happened. The green giant hasn't even glanced sideways at her and you know what he's like with 'exotic' women. She's one of us. She's even cheating at cards worse than Wulgof does. Did you see that? She just stole Frea's beer!"

"My beer!"
Frea objected a moment later.

"Tell you what, trade the beer for this winning hand of cards..."

"Show me the cards..."
Frea whistled at the hand and accepted the trade.

The grin on Rin's face was obvious. She'd stolen his beer and offloaded her ill gotten winning hand all in one fell swoop. Loch, familiar with this sort of shenanigans, levelled a green tinged suspicious glare at his sister. Course, he couldn't say too much as he was cheating also. They all were. They were soldiers.

Hanasian drained his tankard and stood.

"Off somewhere?" Mecarnil inquired.

"Time to intervene before she robs us blind, again," he replied with a smile and made for Rin. The three rangers watched the pair depart and once it was safe, fell to planning.

"Imladris, midsummer, that's what he said right?" Mecarnil queried.

"Yes, which means that our options are Minas Tirith, Edoras or Bree, dependant on which path he choses to take north." Videgavia confirmed.

"Too much will be going on at Minas Tirith and you know what's he's like. He'll put duty first, of course. Edoras is our best bet," Farbarad suggested.

"Agreed... but what to do with her, eh?" Mecarnil asked.

"Surely she'll be fine one night on her own," Farbarad said.

"Who says it will be one night?" Videgavia asked with a wide, rare grin and the other two men chuckled.

"She'll be fine. She probably has her own arrangements to make... wedding stuff... you know how women are," Farbarad assured them.

Mecarnil paused a moment, "But how would she know about any of that? She's grown up wild. What would she know about weddings?"

The Ranger had a point.

"Well I'm not explaining it to her," Videgavia flatly said.

"I suppose that's my job," Farbarad glumly noted and Mecarnil and Videgavia vigorously agreed.

"I really miss her mother," Farbarad sighed.

As Rin and Hanasian wandered Pelargir's streets along the Anduin, they too were talking.

"So it's some sort of tradition, is it?" Rin inquired, the fingers of one hand wound through Hanasian's.

"Apparently. I can talk them out of it."

"Nonsense. Do it, have fun."

"Are you certain? These things can get a little...chaotic."

"Have fun, my love. It can't all be duty, duty, duty. It can't be relentless all the time. Please."

Hanasian leant in to kiss the top of her head and she smiled that way she did when she was really happy about something. It made her nose crinkle slightly. It made his heart skip a little faster. To Rin, he looked relaxed. She only wished that this Minas Tirith business didn't hang over them. When would she be free of this mess, she wondered. When would she be free to live the life she wanted with the man by her side?

"Do we really have to go to Minas Tirith, Hanasian?"

"Yes, I think we do. It's important."

"But I thought it was all done already."

"It's been started, a good start. I'm not sure if its finished yet and I think we'll need Aragorn's help to finish it. He really means you no harm, Rosmarin."

"I know... it's just....Nobles..."
Rin's expression was one that Hanasian could not help but laugh at.

"I know what you mean. But they're not all bad. Faramir, for example. You like him, don't you? A good man and a noble."

"You mean a good man despite his noble rank."

"Perhaps. So too is Aragorn and a good number of nobles of his court."

"I'll do as I'm told, I suppose. But I'm not going to court. He can throw me in jail. I'd rather go there."

"Here we are. You ready?

Rin bounced on her heels. They had last danced at Bree. He'd been promising her this for days now. She dragged him inside. They emerged again well past midnight and enjoyed a starlit stroll back to the Passage Tavern. Everyone had retired by the time they arrived. Everyone rose before them the following day. No sooner had she acquired tea and an apple did Farbarad pounce.

"Girl, we need to talk," he started ominously as he steered her away to a place where they could talk.

"What was that all about?" the Anfalas brothers inquired.

"Wedding," Mecarnil said simply. No more needed to be said.


Beyond the Northern Downs

Far to the north two riders marked the final leagues to home. They had ridden far, as hard as their mounts could bear. It had taken them forty days. It had been done faster, in thirteen coming via the Gap of Rohan and then up the Old South Road from Tharbad. However they had cause to employ stealth and hence could not move as swiftly as someone on the open road. The news they carried was important. The door opened and a woman of her middle years squinted out into the darkness.

”Who goes there,” she demanded in an iron tone shared by so many of their kin. Life was harsh and unforgiving here. Death came in so many ways.

The riders reigned in and called out their names. Any closer and they’d bristle stiff with arrows. Though the archers could not be seen, they were there. It was why they had sent this grandmother to call the challenge. The woman withdrew. The curtains were opened and a lantern was set on the sill. No more than that was needed. They continued on the remaining distance, tied off their horses and forced their aching bodies into the cottage.

”Well?” said a man, silver haired and cunning as a fox. In his hands was a great yew bow, loosely nocked arrow now sagging against the string.

”Erían lives.”

The news was met with incredulous, stunned silence.

”Where is she now?” the silver fox inquired, eyes narrowing. Why had they returned without her? Despite their fatigue, the messenger’s faces betrayed anger.

”She’s fallen into Arthedain hands. She serves in their army, is sworn to their king, and will wed, they say, one of their men. She was sent south, to Harad with the forces that are to quell an uprising. We two rode as soon as we realized what had occured. Cullith remains in Pelargir to watch for her return with two others.”

”They mean to kill her,”
growled one man, this one younger than the silver fox by a decade.

Since Verawyn’s death, her brother had grown cold as the ice that gripped the north year round. It was entirely unsurprising that he had elected to remain and watch for his sister’s daughter. As those around him muttered of dark deeds and treachery, silver fox had time to think. Lost for so long, it was a wonder she had survived. A Harad campaign may not yet prove her undoing, and if she was revealed it would be difficult for the Arthedains to quietly manufacture her demise. The people of Cardolan were ever resilient, strong folk and her bloodline was strong - royal, untainted. Lost and surrounded, a woman alone, what choice had she when confronted with their rivals? Who had been there to guide and protect her? What decisions, what counsel would her embittered uncle proffer? After a while the silver fox held up a hand for silence.

”None of that matters. She is ours and by the Valar, WE WILL HAVE HER BACK! We will have her back alive and she will rebuild our people. Never more will we have to scurry and hide in secret vales, a forgotten people of a dead land. Or she will fall, and we will teach Arthedain the true meaning of vengeance.”

“And if that, then what? If Erían falls and the royal line is ended, what shall we do then?”
inquired the middle aged woman.

The silver fox drew himself up.

”Then we shall do what we have done before. We shall start again. We will select a suitable successor and we shall gather under his hand to raise our land once more. Cardolan shall survive.

“We must go south once more, by various means. To Minas Tirith, to Pelargir and beyond. We must seek word of our Queen and if she should survive still, we must bring her back to us. Too long has she been left without succor, without shelter in the wild places of this world. We will bring her home.”



Hanasian smiled at Farbarad's reluctant approach to Rin and left the man to his business in favour of joining the others for his morning tea. The mornings were mostly like this. A gathering in the morning, a check on the level of greenness of Loch, and less so Mulgov. Then they would go to drills for an hour. Afterward they would scatter about the city until they all gathered again at The Passage in the evening.

They had been in Pelargir for over a week, and Hanasian was revelling in the time he had with Rosmarin. For her part, she kept herself busy as ever. There were wares to collect, local healing knowledge to uncover and the importance of keeping prying hands from her gear. Farbarad warmed to his self appointed task of introducing Rin to the various rituals expectations of a marriage, and they would go walking after dinner and slip in late. Hanasian was in a state of bliss to have this uninterrupted time with Rin. So much so that he was letting slip on the company discipline. Frea and Folca were good sergeants in the field and one could not ask for better tacticians. However, neither were inclined to sustaining discipline when their down time came.

Mecarnil did well as a second, but he was preoccupied with Arnor and his attention was divided. Farbarad was also rising to the fore, particularly evident in all that he was trying to do with Rin. Ill at ease with this at first, he had soon settled into it and the opportunity it offered to renew a bond shattered so many years ago by ambition and violence. Hanasian was grateful for both Cardolan rangers. Being of mixed blood, the intricacies of Arnorian bloodlines was, for the most part, lost on him. His familiarity with Arnorian politics extended as far as what he had learned of the elves of Imladris had taught. The elven tendency to skim over the details of mortals in their telling ensured this was limited. The one exception was Elrond, but opportunities to ply that lord for details was rare and limited to the rare occasions paths crossed in the meadhall. As one week grew into two, Hanasian found himself leaning increasingly on Videgavia. The Northman was one of the few remaining company originals and he had an inimical way in keeping the others in line. It was Videgavia who had the company work their drills in the mornings. It was Videgavia who ensured all returned at night. Still, for all of this, the usual suspects were soon able to locate trouble once their hue returned to normalcy.

Of all people, it was Khule who ensured no one found themselves guests of the city's jail. With Minas Tirith looming, and with it the resumption of Cardolan's lingering business, Hanasian was reluctant for this period of calm to end. Two weeks drifted into three and Videgavia himself began to relent. He skipped a day of drills, then a couple days later he skipped drills again. Drills diminished steadily to only two mornings out of five. He said it was because of the heat. Still, he made sure everyone was back in the evening.

Mecarnil noticed them first. His keen nose for trouble picked up their scent. Night after night, he marked their presence at the tavern. He brought this fact to Hanasian on a warm night, the air stubbornly hot despite the setting of the sun. Rin watched Mecarnil whisper something to Hanasian. Ranger business again, she concluded. Even so, she was curious. A glance at Hanasian's expression was enough to prevent her questions from slipping out of her mouth. Mecarnil and Hanasian spoke in what sounded, to Rin, in a garbled and confused tongue that jarred. It was a combination of Rhovanion and Rohirric words blended with the hand signals she was only starting to make inroads on. Videgavia assisted as well, coughing in such a fashion that may be reasonably believable unless a healer was listening. Rin quirked an eyebrow, curiosity spinning ever faster now and fanned by the smile that Hanasian sent to her.

”Shall we take our walk m’lady?” he inquired and Rin found herself forced to school her expression away from further surprise.

Rather, Rin stood and smiled benignly. There was clearly something afoot and subterfuge was required. She accepted his arm and they headed for the door. No sooner were they across the threshold did Hanasian relieve the curiosity that chased at her heels.

”Tonight, we’re on duty. Mecarnil had noticed some men that are at the Passage every night. They blend in as regulars… except they aren’t. Mecarnil noted today that they were not here when we first arrived, but started showing up a couple days later. They appear to be locals, but one in particular Mecarnil thought was slightly out of place. He then noted their movements, and whenever we would go for our walk, one or two of them would leave shortly thereafter, but return before we did. It’s his hunch that they are watching us. Tonight is a test.”

They stood to the side of the front entry, easily able to view those who might also depart by that way.

“So we are testing them to see if they come out after us, bait as it were.”

“Yes, and seeing us here they will have to do something to cover themselves. Such as truly leave for the evening. We will then start our walk and nonchalantly follow them.”

Rin smiled slightly and cuddled in close as the door opened, a role very easy for her to play for it was no role at all. Only one man emerged this time. It was the man Mecarnil considered out of place. His eyes met Rin’s in the dull flicker of the inn’s porch lamp and surprise lit his face for a moment. He recovered swiftly, stepped away and unsteadily made off up the street. He seemed no more than another patron who had enjoyed a night in the cups. On cue, Hanasian turned as Rin hooked her arm through his and they began to walk. They struck up harmless lover's chatter, leavened with ample laughter.

”So do you know him?” Hanasian asked in the midst of their merriment

Rin whispered after a giggle, ”No... not sure. He is definitely a northerner though.”

“Aye, one who has been here awhile. He has managed to get dark enough to look like a local, yet his eyes give him away. He's done well to conceal them, squinting as if his vision is bad. The little surprise we caught him in proves Mecarnil was right. Now where will he take us?”

They laughed and whispered, letting some of their lover’s talk carry as they walked. The man went to a tenement and went in, glancing neither left nor right as he vanished into the dark building..

Hanasian paused their steps and said in a louder voice, ”Let us go this other way. I want to show you something but forgot about it when we left the inn.”

They pivoted and started walking back the way they came. They walked back to the inn and went inside. Mecarnil was there but Videgavia was gone. A few fingers told Hanasian that he had gone out the back, and was shadowing us. It was always good to have some back-up should things go pear-shaped. The other three men were still there, but shortly after Hanasian’s and Rin’s arrival, one left. Probably to find out what happened to their other man.

”So it truly has come…” Hanasian whispered to himself. Even so, any at their table could have heard him. It was time to leave Pelargir.

The sunrise arrived as clear as it had just about every day since they arrived. Hanasian stood at the window studying the streaks of colour in the sky. They reached toward the sea from the east.

Rin woke to find him quiet and still, his thoughts turning over. She watched him for awhile, soaking in the sight, before she softly asked, ”What are you thinking my Love?”

”The same thing I’ve been thinking these last few weeks when I wasn’t trying to forget about it. I have been procrastinating and enjoying this free time with you Rin. But I am afraid it’s time to get things righted again. We will go to Minas Tirith, and there we will do what needs to be done.”

He turned from the window and looked at Rin, still wrapped in a sheet.

”I’ll have to get the company back in order. In three days we will march out. I thought of taking a ship upriver, but I think a good march would help get them all back in shape. That and it may throw off whoever has decided we are worth watching.”

A smirk came across Hanasian’s face as Rin rolled the sheet over her head and groaned. He recalled her words from three weeks ago.

”I’ll tell you now, my dear, knowing Aragorn, he would likely build a jail cell in court so you could be in both places at once. So be careful what you ask. Also, I would like it to be there where we will marry. I wish not to wait any longer… unless you wish it to be elsewhere at another time. I grow restless. Maybe you would like to tell me your thoughts and maybe a bit on what you and Farbarad have discussed?”

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

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Beneath the sheet, she knew Hanasian was right about Aragorn. She was tempting fate. She could be dragged there, kicking and screaming, or she could retain her dignity and go willingly. This had been Mecarnil’s point from the beginning, from Mithlond. There was no escape from this. She could only push on with what had begun. If she wanted to set things to right. And she did.

”My love, it matters not to me where we marry. Minas Tirith, or indeed anywhere. It will be as your restless heart desires, Hanasian. As for Farbarad, I’ve yet to unravel his advice. It seems inordinately complicated and I fail to see why it should be so...complex. Something honest, simple and heartfelt.“

The pair emerged downstairs to find Videgavia, Farbarad and Mecarnil in close discussion.

”Did you recognize that fellow last night?” Mecarnil inquired before either had taken a seat.

”No, and good morning to you too,” Rin replied dryly as she reached for the pot of tea.

”Northerner,” Hanasian supplied, accepting a cup of the steaming liquid.

”A surprised northerner,” Rin added.

”Who vanished into thin air,” Videgavia rumbled, disgruntled.

”We’ll move out in three days. Resume the drills, get the Company ready, and stay alert. Perhaps they will follow us, perhaps not. Either way, we’’ll be ready,” Hanasian said.

”Wish I had a clearer look at his face,” Farbarad grumbled.

”Three days, and another six, and then the fun begins if I don’t miss my guess,” Mecarnil said, rubbing his hands over his face.

”Meaning?” Videgavia inquired, rising to roust the others for the morning drill.

”He’s expecting me to make his life miserable once we get to Minas Tirith and whatever this business is of the king’s. But what has to be, has to be,” Rin answered.

”What’s this? Trying the easier path this time, lass?” Farbarad inquired lightly, sardonic smile playing over his face a moment.

”Thought I’d try my hand at something new,” she returned with a casual half shrug of one shoulder. Mecarnil’s eyes narrowed suspiciously all the same.

”If you think that’s going to gull me into a false sense of complacency,” Mecarnil rumbled.

”Me? Eru forfend! Maybe I’ve just decided that you may have been right about some things.”

Videgavia pounded on Farbarad’s back when the man choked on his tea. Hanasian smiled behind his cup at the expression on Mecarnil’s face. Suspicious before, he was outright paranoid now and Rin wore a particularly well pleased expression.

”One final matter. Rosmarin and I have decided to wed at Minas Tirith,” Hanasian said calmly. Farbarad choked on his tea a second time and set the cup down hurriedly.

Minas Tirith it was, then, in three days time. The Company fell back into familiar patterns. Supplies were required, tack and equipment prepared, horses readied, drills resumed morning and afternoon. That night there was no trace of the three watching men. The second day proved as busy as the one before it. Again, no trace of watchers. The third day proved busier again.The Company split after morning drills. They set out to complete arrangements before to the afternoon drill. Rin pressed a knee weakening kiss on Hanasian before she drew up her hood and set off into Pelargir’s busy streets. He saw her smile flicker in the depths of her cowl as she looked back over her shoulder and vanished around a corner in a flow of people.

A final day in Pelargir and so much to prepare. She needed a dress fit for a wedding. Minas Tirith was a mystery to her, but she had a sense of Pelargir now after three weeks. A dress and something for Hanasian. A bride should present the groom with a gift, according to Farbarad. She understood at least that much. The first place she went to eyed her dubiously. They took in her martial appearance in such a way that Rin was relieved to have left the sword, bow and quiver at the tavern. By mid morning, Rin had learned a great deal and all of it pointed to a single fact. She’d have to wear her uniform to the wedding. When she mentioned why she was there, women clucked their tongues sympathetically and explained that at least four weeks would be needed to produce a suitable dress.

Rin pushed out of the last store, feeling defeated and overwhelmed. The street was crowded, noisy and the sun glared. Around the corner, however, the alley was shadowed and cool. To this she made her way, slumped her shoulders against the wall and pinched the bridge of her nose. She needed to think and for that she needed to calm down. She had two dresses...and really it didn’t matter nearly as much as everyone seemed to think. What she wore was not as important as it seemed. Two whole dresses, when not four months ago all she owned were rags. The day was wasting, she told herself. Time to see to Hanasian’s gift. That she could accomplish and that was important. More important than a dress. Rin’s shoulders straightened. She took a deep breath, drew up her hood and entered the slipstream of humanity again.

As the day’s heat built, the crowds in the street thinned. Shortly after midday, Rin forced herself to walk casually into the closest stall. It had only been a momentary glimpse but had been enough to make her pulse skid. Rin waved off the vendor, distractedly picked through cards of wool, and considered her options given there was at least one and as many as three men had trailed her. Clearly, a return to the tavern was in order. Rin smoothed her breathing and scanned the street outside. Across the diminished throng an alley opened. Alleys, roof tops, through buildings, under buildings. There were many ways to move covertly through a town or city. Any cut purse or street urchin knew this to be true. It had been six months since she had been forced to this, but it was in her bones now. Habit sent her hands checking to see everything she needed was secured and ready for a headlong, hurtling race up and under and over and around obstacles and buildings and people. She’d start with a diversion, a simple enough proposition.

Rin waited for the tell tale flicker of pickpockets in the crowd beyond. Pelagir, like many such towns, had entire tribes of such children. Once she had spotted one such child in action, she slipped out of the tent she had taken refuge in. Rin drifted in the same general direction as the thieving gang, upset a nearby crate of oranges. As the orange orbs rolled over the sun warmed ground, the vendor came hurrying out. Rin simply stared in the direction of the thieves. The grocer spotted them and let out a tremendous shout.


People in the street froze a moment and children scattered in the manner than enabled pickpockets and urchins to evade capture. As bedlam ensued, Rin darted across the street for the alley and pressed into its shadow. A window sill provided her purchase up the wall and she rolled onto the roof with a gasp as she hit the slates. Just as well she had leather between her shoulder and the sharp edges she had hit. Rin scrambled to her feet and started on her way in a low crouch. She needed distance fast, and then down before they marked her against the sky line. Below, she could hear the cry of Pelargir’s Watch. By now, the child thieves would be long gone, vanished into the dust of the street like ghosts.

All Cullith glimpsed was the swirl of her black cloak as Rin slipped into the alley amidst the hue and cry upon the street. The snarl of the crowd delayed him enough that she had vanished from sight by the time he reached it. The only clue as to her whereabouts was the shattered slate tile that lay on the ground. Cullith muttered an oath and peeled away. She’d be making for the tavern if she had any sense. He set out, moving rapidly through the streets. It remained to be seen whether she could somehow slip the net that had been tightening around her.

At the rear of the Passage Tavern in the late afternoon, the Company assembled for the afternoon drill. Cullith hung back, waiting for a familiar face to arrive. From time to time, he scanned the rooftops around him. No sign of her still. He’d already returned to the tenement and found it abandoned. The man of Dale, the one that had followed him several nights ago, peered up a street and nodded at three men that approached. Cullith studied them. Of the three rangers, two of them were familiar. The third was the Company captain. He had the look of a man that could account for himself should steel be bared. Not a man to cross idly, held in high esteem by the High King and for good reason if the tales were true. Cullith waited ten heartbeats for weapons to be unsheathed in readiness for a drill. He pushed his own cloak back to ensure his own were visible and started towards the makeshift practice area.

Videgavia’s whistle altered every man to Cullith’s presence by the time he’d taken but two steps out from the alley he’d been crouching in. Cullith carefully, slowly raised his hands and continued his way forward. Hanasian whipped about and recognised the approaching man’s face. His sword whipped out with a fluid whisper and his expression dangerously cooled. Signals flashed and the Company was soon arrayed in a formation that would prove difficult for Cullith if things went awry.

”Cullith?” Farbarad said, incredulous.

”She isn’t here and she isn’t at the tenement. We have to move, now. They’ll press hard, for Ethring to the west. If they discover that she has no intention of resurrecting her father’s ambitions, I cannot say what will follow. These are desperate men.”

“And you are not?”
Mecarnil inquired softly, dangerously. Cullith barked humourless laughter at the question and bared his teeth.

“Make no mistake. She is my sister’s daughter. My only surviving kin and they have taken her. Yes. I am a very dangerous man” he snarled. It was enough, it had to be. They already had a lead of at least two hours.


Outside Pelargir

”We need to put as much distance between us and Pelargir by nightfall.”

“Without killing our horses...or our queen. Give her a moment more.”

The first man grunted and turned to adjust a girth strap on his horse. The second man turned back to where Rin sat. He studied her a moment, approached and sank to his haunches.

”You needn’t fear, m’lady. He’s only keen to get you safe, get you home.”

“Untie me then, oh gentle sir, if it is my comfort and safety you are so mindful of,”
Rin growled, eyes narrowed. The man smiled and rubbed at his jaw. She saw the imprint of her fist was forming into a satisfying bruise.

”In good time, m’lady. Perhaps, when your uncle arrives, and your mind has been cleared of the pervasive lies set within it.”

“I think you’ll find you’ll have other guests to ready yourself for.”

“Indeed, my queen. I bow to your wisdom. We should indeed depart, for other guests do await.”

The water skin she clutched between her bound hands was plucked from her grasp first. Then she was pulled to her feet and propelled towards the horse. The two men hoisted her into the saddle and secured her hands to the pommel. In moments, they were trotting and then cantering, her horse secured to the saddle of the one man that spoke with her. She tried to twist back to see if there was any sign of pursuit through the dust her mount kicked up. Defeated in that, she straightened and locked her teeth against the jarring of each stride. Tied as she was, there was no way to adjust her weight in the saddle and roll with the horse’s gait. Each jolt prompted her to think. They had her knives, every last one. A humiliating exercise considering where she had secreted them. The further they travelled, the harder it would be for her to make her way back. Rin eyed the ropes at her wrist. Secure, but not painfully so.

Rin needed off that horse and before a third man, whoever and wherever her uncle was, arrived and the odds worsened again. By the time they slowed to a walk, Rin had already started to feel the grip of the rope loosen. All she need do is stretch it enough to slip over the pommel. They started canter again and Rin swore as the jarring resumed up her spine. By sunset, they had covered enough ground to permit a stop. She had run out of time.The men dismounted, and one turned back to release her hands from the saddle while the other unhitched her horse from the one in front.

”You’ve been busy, I see. A shame,” he observed as he noted how loose the rope was. Not enough to get it over the saddle horn.

He lifted her down easily, her joints stiffened and painful after an afternoon tied to the saddle and passed her wrists to the other man as he unsaddled the horse she had been removed from. Rin was towed, forced to follow both men a short distance to where the saddle had been set down.

”If you please,” said one man.

”And if I don’t?”[/I[ she retorted and the world suddenly spun.

When it righted again, Rin found herself seated, hands retied to the weighty saddle. Both men straightened, surveyed their work and nodded in satisfaction. One turned for the trees. The other began setting out the horses and rubbing them down. Rin bowed her head and closed her eyes. The shadows between the trees stretched as dusk tumbled into twilight. Overhead, the stars emerged, distant and beyond the conflict of the world they hung suspended over. Rin tipped her head back to study them a moment and then set herself to starting on the ropes again, this time using her teeth. Rin’s efforts ceased at the faintest whisper and her head turned in its direction. She peered at the growing darkness, straining to listen. It had sounded like an arrow, a trick of an increasingly desperate mind she concluded The Company would not know she was missing until the afternoon drill, which meant that these men had a sizable lead. Nor, if she was realistic, would they have any way of knowing what had happened or which direction to set off. Likely, they were combing Pelargir’s streets now. She was on her own.

In the trees, Mecarnil crouched over the body, checked and signaled. One was dead. The other, however, was the greater threat if Cullith was to be believed. Another arrow would be best, and swiftly before he realised his partner’s fate and took action. The Black Company bellied closer. Farbarad took careful aim and was forced to wait until the man in the clearing moved out from behind Rin. The opportunity did not arrive, but company did. Rin’s movements ceased and her head snapped up as men emerged on the far side of the clearing. Another six men, each heavily armed and armoured, came leading their horses. Rin’s stomach sank then. For the men watching in the trees, it was clear their plan required adjustment.



A fool's mistake to let Rosmarin go anywhere in this city alone. Especially with these characters known to be about. Surely she had one of the Company shadowing her? The evening gathering told Hanasian there wasn’t. Rin was clever that way. Her ability to slip a tail made her a good member of this company. Unfortunately the arrival of her uncle on the scene had complicated things, and there was more at play here than they in the Company, and he who approached realised this. Hanasian made the gut-call that they would have to take this man at his word at the moment, for his words had a sincerity to them that Hanasian detected.

[I]”We ride now. We likely won’t be back so Belegost, Bear, you remain here, secure our wares, obtain a wagon and head to Minas Tirith. The rest of you ready up now!”
Hanasian commanded.

They lit out fast and hard, with Loch riding point in search of sign his sister may leave. Foldine, a fast rider, was not far behind. The rest followed, with Wulgof keeping Cullith close. Khule and Berlas followed as rearguard. Loch proved himself as a tracker, but then the abductors didn’t seem to keen on covering their track. The sun had set and the night took hold. Hanasian kept hard at it, slowing only to allow some rest for their mounts. But even they felt the need to push hard, and were willing to go. Into the night they went onward.

It was well nigh two hours when Loch slowed, and flashed an awkward sign to slow to silent speed. The kid been learning, he just needed to practice it before he signals something he ought not. Foldine slipped up beside him silently and verified his signal before quickly flashing it to the others. Suddenly Loch’s fist went up, meaning to hold up. They all dismounted in quick, silent succession, and Folca secured the horses with Morcal. The men fanned out silently. They had found a camp, likely that of the abductors. Hanasian and Loch moved in closer for a look, and they both spotted Rin in the starlight.

They had wisely camped cold, with no fire, but they verified they had found the ones they sought. Hanasian signalled that the two men needed to be terminated. One went down silently by a swift, sure arrow of Mecarnil. Farbarad was tasked with the other, but didn’t have the shot. Hoping he would move, they quickly saw that there was more men coming. Hanasian flashed fingers, and a slight whisk of breath told Farbarad to hold up but be ready. Hanasian looked at the arriving men in the dim starlight.

”Men of Gondor!” he whispered in a breath like the wind.

Things had gotten more complicated just now, and the hand of conspiracy has been seen just above the thick bush. It was instinct that took hold in that moment. A nightbird call from Hanasian sent Farbarad’s arrow aflight, and it called the others to action as well. The kidnapper fell forward just as the soldiers started to secure their mounts. Surprised, they started to draw swords. Hanasian nearly signalled for battle, but being these men were soldiers in the army of Gondor, he decided they should find out their intentions first. With a wave and clicking of fingers, Wulgof brought Cullith forward, and the rest of the Company spread and turned as they moved forward. The soldiers seemed to ignore Rin entirely at this point, sights set instead on armed men that emerged from the trees.

”Hail captain of Gondor!” Hanasian called out as he moved forward. Only Mecarnil and Farbarad remained hidden, fresh arrows at the ready in case trouble erupted.

”Who comes forth slaying men in the dark?” The captain uneasily called out.

”I am Hanasian, captain of the King’s Black Company.”

Hanasian walked forward with Loch beside him, unfurling the small standard he carried as bearer-apprentice. Wulgof and Cullith were on his other side.

”We came from Pelargir in pursuit of abductors of a member of our company. She is bound over there,” Hanasian continued.

The darkness hid her well, but the igniting of a torch lit the small clearing and revealed her, the horses and the corpse of the dead man.

”Ah, the King’s mercenaries. Thought you would be in pursuit of rebels down south. Anyway… heard there was trouble out this way, so we came to investigate,” the other captain dissembled smoothly.

Cullith was too quiet in all this. A look from the second in the flickering light told Hanasian that they knew each other. A couple glances to the others and something seemed awry in a way that was difficult to define. Hanasian tapped Loch and he handed Wugof the standard.

”Go free your sister,” Hanasian told Loch, and the scout moved quickly to Rin.

His knife was out and was about to make quick work of her bonds when a voice from the wood said, ”I wouldn’t do that son.”

Loch cut Rin free without hesitation. The hiss of an arrow followed and the young man rolled into the brush pushing his sister ahead of him and keeping his back towards the hidden archer.

Another arrow hissed, this time from Farbarad, and it entered the neck of the man who had tried to kill Loch. He fell from the tree with a thud, and the ring of steel broke the night as swords clashed. It was on. Mercarnil’s arrow hit the leader, hitting him in the neck just above his armor. The torch fell and sputtered out, plunging them once more into starlit darkness. The second man dodged to his left, clashing swords with Foldine. The third man dodged right and made a pursuit toward where Loch and Rin had disappeared. The forth hit the ground flat, not having a stomach for a fight. An arrow that hoped to take down another man found an arm and pinned him to a tree. The sixth man tried to backtrack, but ran headlong into Khule and Berlas. It was over in only a few breaths. They had two of the men as captive, and Loch and Rin emerged from the brush. Her eyes were locked on the slain.

”Captain. We have a problem,” Loch said. ”There are more men coming. On horseback, I could hear them.”

Hanasian nodded, counted heads and said, ”Bind these two, and lets fade. Where’s Cullith?”

He, nor Wulgof were anywhere to be seen, But there was no time to ponder this.

”Fall back to our staging point, and be ready to ride out fast,” Hanasian ordered.

He went and took his place beside Rin, giving Loch a nod. They moved as quick as they could back to where Morcal and Folca were. Mercarnil and Farbarad guarded their rear. Just like that the two captives were alone in the dark.

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

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Just when things were heating up, getting interesting, an arm dragged Wulgof back into the trees. He managed to tangle the feet of the man responsible for ruining his excitement. The pair dropped to the shadowed ground, grunting and panting. Wulgof managed, at least, to hang onto his sword. He managed to rise to his knees in the darkness, several tree root shaped bruises and abrasions now amongst his collection. At such close quarter, a sword was useless. Worse than useless, he was more likely to kill himself than his assailant might be. Wulgof dropped it in favour of a weapon more suitable. He cast about the shadows he was standing in and tried to get a fix on his assailant, dagger weaving in the best guard position he could manage without knowing who or where his target now was.

”Put that pig sticker away, you fool,” his attacker snarled. ”If I wanted your blood, I’d have it...and after what your kindred did to mine, no one would fault me for it.”

Wulgof shook his head, fixed his guard in the direction of the voice and tightened his grip on his dagger.

”Fine, hang onto it if it offers you comfort. Just get down low and keep still,” the other man responded.


“Low and still, Dunlending. Need I remind you to keep your mouth shut?”
Cullith responded.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, and as Cullith moved, Wulgof was able to make out the dim outline of Rin’s uncle, purported uncle. Wulgof was not convinced the man was what anyone thought him to be, which seemed to be a family trait if he considered the woman who was allegedly his niece. She wasn’t what he had expected her to be either. Wulgof saw Cullith belly forward towards the edge of the trees for a better view of the clearing.

”To hell with this,” Wulgof grunted, sheathed his dagger and retrieved his sword, intent on re-joining the fray below.

Cullith’s intervention was swift and effective. Wulgof’s teary vision focused on tree limbs overhead after a few moments.

”Typical,” Wulgof wheezed when he was able to get air into his lungs. ”Three weeks of watching paint dry and when the fun finally arrives I have to sit it out.”

A hiss from Cullith silenced any further rumination. Wulgof considered his options. If Cullith wanted him dead, he’d be dead. Clearly something was about to occur that the man thought worth watching. Wulgof flipped over and bellied up beside Cullith. The strife below was done and Hanasian was issuing orders. Rin emerged with her brother, in one piece. Wulgof felt a flood of relief, which he would naturally admit to no one. He glanced to the man lying next to him Wulfof could make out the pale glimmer of her uncle’s gaze as it settled on his niece. Something rather like pain twisted his expression for an instant and it was gone.

The pair waited until the Company had abandoned the clearing, two captives left in their wake and five bodies. Loch had let slip about approaching riders. Hanasian had mentioned a staging point, likely voicing that for Wulgof’s benefit. Still, Cullith waited in silence. After ten heartbeats, the two captives began talking to themselves in low voices. An argument was building. One man had fought, the other had capitulated and now the one who had fought figured the piper needed payment. Cullith let this brew another ten heartbeats before he rose and walked steadily down the gentle slope to where the two men had been left. Wulgof trailed after him, instincts trilling an alarm. Why had Cullith waited until the Company was out of his hair? Why was he approaching the captives? Why had Cullith ensured that a Company man was present for this?

”I was wondering when you’d show up again. Hurry, before that damn guard arrives,” said the captive that had fought.

The one that had surrendered simply studied Cullith uncertainly. It seemed to Wulgof that even his own conspirators doubted Rin’s uncle. Cullith considered the two bound men a moment and then turned to the man that had yet to say anything to him.

”You did not fight. Why?”

“He’s craven traitor,”
snarled the the other captive. Cullith dealt him a blow casually. Wulgof heard the wet crack of the man’s nose as he toppled backwards, dazed. The Dunlending’s unease ratcheted up. Casual, easy violence, against a man bound and defenceless, an ally even.

”Why?” Cullith repeated to the other captive, speaking louder to be heard over the other man’s painful moans.

”Treason... I just - I couldn’t,” the man stuttered, closing his eyes in resigned acceptance of whatever doom he thought was about to fall.

At Cullith’s back, Wulgof considered taking Cullith down now. Beating a bound man was one thing, murdering him was quite another. Cullith, however, merely cocked his head.


“Sh-she chose- it was her will to surrender the throne- treason...against the queen and High King.”

“You think Silver Fox wrong.”

“Aye, though I was coward enough to say nothing and ride with them. So do what you came for. I’ve surrendered enough of my dignity already. I’ll not be toyed with. I’ll not beg for my life.”

Cullith turned and fixed an unreadable expression on Wulgof. The other man still moaned.

”The riders approaching are likely soldiers patrolling lands filled with strange armed men in a time of peace. Up to you who they find here, Dunlending,” Cullith said, and with that sheathed his sword and set off at a lope across the remainder of the clearing.

”Where are you going?” Wulgof called.

”There’ll be others. The rest I will leave up to your imagination,” Cullith replied, tossing it over his shoulder as he disappeared into the dark trees on the far side.

Wulgof turned back to the two captives. One lay on the ground, quiet now and wondering what was about to happen with a Dunlending at the helm. The other had closed his eyes and bowed his head. What was he supposed to know about this, Wulgof wondered. How was he supposed to tell the Company Healer that her closest surviving blood relative had once again vanished into thin air? Wulgof hissed a curse in his native tongue and pulled out his dagger again. He stalked towards the man that still knelt and slashed the binds that held his hands behind his back. The man fell forward onto his hands and knees and glanced about him in surprise.

”Make me regret that and I’ll hunt you down myself, Dunedain,” Wulgof growled.

”What would you have me do?”

“Come with me, and hurry. It’s a long walk otherwise.”

The man got to his feet, ignoring the weapons that had been divested from him by the others upon capture. He nodded once, solemn. Wulgof cursed again and set off, prodding the man with his sword.

”What about me?” called the remaining captive as best he could with a freshly broken nose. ”I was only defending my realm.”

“No good deed goes unpunished,”
Wulgof replied as they left the clearing.

The staging area was a defensible rise that the Company’s horses had been picketed on earlier. They had two choices, ride out and hope to out pace the approaching riders despite the fatigue of their mounts and riders, or stay and hope to defend the area should the riders prove hostile. Ultimately, the Company decided to stay and defend. Wulgof and Cullith was still missing, they were tired and the horses were in no condition to out run those that approached. Men fell into position in readiness, each murmuring a word or placing a hand on the shoulder of the Company healer as they did so. Despite their relief, tensions still ran high. So high, in fact, that Wulgof and his prisoner nearly found themselves on the business end of several arrows and spears.

Hanasian’s brows climbed in the darkness and he shifted to stand in front of Rin before he was aware of it. Wulgof’s companion was not Cullith. That was the only thing clear. The closing rumour of horse hooves prevented any further questioning. Wulgof pushed the man ahead through the ring of his Company and took up his own position. Hanasian drew out his sword, attention split between the arriving horsemen and the newly arrived stranger. As he drew closer, Rin gasped in recognition.

”You!” she gasped, falling back a step.

”I mean you no harm, m’lady. I swear it,” the newcomer avowed and sank to one knee in supplication.

”You up there on the rise! Explain yourselves! Why do you move through the night girt for war in this land and time of peace?” a man below called up, clearly irritated.

Wulgof belatedly shook out the Company Standard.

”We are the Black Company of Arnor, and we seek peace as do you,” Hanasian called out.

The man below called for light and torches were soon lit. A squad of soldiers numbering approximately fifty sat on their horses. In the transient light, it took some effort to make out the sigil of a swan on shields.

”Peace? Six bodies nearby and a man bound like a wild animal with a broken nose says otherwise,” the squad commander challenged.

”I will vouchsafe your passage, Commander. Listen to our tale and judge as you see fit,” Hanasian replied.

The commander conferred with the men on either side and then swung out of his saddle to amble up to their encampment. Hanasian used that time to order weapons stowed and cast a penetrating glare at Wulgof. There was more than one man who needed answers.

”Is Cardolan’s legacy only to be that of blood spilled?” he heard Rin say in a defeated voice. The man she had recognised remained on one knee.

”Get on your feet,” Hanasian growled at him and beckoned Wulgof closer. Farbarad and Mecarnil followed the Dunlending. Loch hovered to one side, close to his sister. She stood, shoulders slumped and head bowed.

”This had better be worth hearing,” the commander said as he gained their vantage.

Hanasian spoke sparingly, laying out the bald facts right up to the point at which he had left the clearing.

”Traitors and malcontents, you say? Easy accusations to throw around. What proof have you, Captain?”

“The country side is crawling with strange, armed men, I gather. I suppose you could freely think us but part of their number.”

“Aye, that I could,”
the commander agreed, thumbs hooked through his baldric as he rocked back onto his heels a moment.

”Very well, Rin, show the commander,” Hanasian said in a quiet voice.

Rin let out a sigh, tugged up the leather of both sleeves and proffered up the evidence. The ropes, and her efforts to free herself of them, had left their mark.

”Think you that we are so far fallen that we would do this? That I would permit, or order this be done to my bride, Commander?” Hanasian asked, aggrieved at what he saw.

”Ach...” the commander said, turning his head to one side and glancing away as Rin lowered her arms again.

”There are others. Her uncle seeks for them now,” Wulgof said.

”And this one? Not one of the Company,” the Commander said.

”No,” Hanasian replied dourly, glancing at Wulgof and then at the recent captive.

”An honest conspirator, who would have backed out if he could have,” Wulgof said. ”Cullith thought it enough to free him.”

“I don’t know who this Cullith is, but a conspirator is a conspirator. Have you any objections, Captain, to us taking him into our custody?”

“I do not,”
Hanasian replied calmly and the commander turned and signalled down to the men below. Another two men swung out of their saddles and started up towards them.

”As for Cullith, he is our healer’s uncle. His character is less...certain,” Hanasian said.

”I tell you this. Better you find the others than Cullith, commander. Unpredictable as he is, he is not a man crossed. He will accord no quarter to any foe,” said the captive.

”And who is his foe?” Hanasian asked. A sardonic, bitter smile twisted the man as the two soldiers took hold of him.

”I wish I knew, for all our sakes,” he replied and they watched him be escorted away.

”What will happen to him?” Rin asked after a moment.

”Trial, I expect. A matter for the king and his court to determine. Though, I’m a soldier, not an advocate, m’lady. Captain,” the commander said, brusquely turning his attention back to Hanasian. ”With the hue and cry of the night, I will deploy my men below. A small detail to deal with the fallen will be needed, but there are more than enough to ensure you are spared further predation this night. As for the morrow, I had thought to continue our patrol. In which direction will you make?”

“We will re-join with the rest of our Company on the Great South Road. I doubt few rebels will be so foolish as to attempt anything on such a busy thoroughfare.”

“Well and good. The very same direction we were to patrol in. We can see you at least that far.”

“Will that be necessary?
” Rin asked.

”M’lady, Prince Imrahil would insist upon it were he here. Neither he nor Faramir would countenance anything less, given the threat posed by these rebels.”

Rin opened her mouth as if to reply and then thought better of it. She closed it and nodded, seeming defeated.

”Our thanks, Commander,” Hanasian offered.

I]”If that will be all, Captain, I shall see to the disposition of my men,”[/I] the Commander replied, saluted lazily and ambled back down the slope to his men.

He issued orders as he walked. The majority of the squad dismounted, a group of ten riding back to the clearing to inter the fallen rebels. A camp was swiftly established below, and the Black Company followed suit above. A fire was created, pickets and watches set, food set to cooking. It was a familiar routine, comforting and in sharp contrast to the rigours of the day. Rin found herself watching the men around her, a sudden fear constricting her throat. It kept her away from those that gathered around the fire to trade banter. Six men, all told, had died today. Only skill and fortune had meant that none of them were Company men. But how long could that continue, she wondered. If Cardolan’s legacy of strife was to haunt her steps for the rest of her days, then surely it would claim those around her.

A brush of gentle fingers down her cheek startled her so badly that she flinched in naked fright. Heart pounding, she realised it was Hanasian. He frowned slightly and repeated the gesture, brushing back wild tangles of hair.

”Come, Rosmarin. Sit,” he said. Mutely she nodded and he led her to a place to sit, slightly away from the others. They marked this and left the pair to their privacy.

”Give me your wrists, love,” he said, reaching into a pouch at his belt for a soothing balm. He worked quietly, fingers gentle on the broken skin.

”Bear and Belegost will have found a wagon by now, loaded up the rest of our gear including yours. We’ll meet them on the road to Minas Tirith in the next day or so. We’ll be safe on that road, but I would be surprised if the White City was free of rebel sympathisers. There must be some supporters here in south to provide food, gear and succour. So, we will need to be cautious in Minas Tirith. No more slipping free of tails, my love. It is too dangerous. Too dangerous-”

“I think it would have been better if I had died that night, with my mother,”
Rin said in a voice devoid of colour. Hanasian’s ministrations ceased, shocked at her statement. He glanced up.

”Beloved, no! You cannot think such a thing!”

“It is true. None of this would be happening if I had. None of it. No rebels, no kidnapping, no peril to your Company, no dead men, no beaten men, on my account. None of this would have happened if I-”


The tone of Hanasian’s voice drew heads to where he sat with Rin. It was enough to open her eyes and reveal the icy despair within.

”This is not your fault. None of it. Oh my love, would you truly allow these brigands hold sway over all you bring to me, to us all?”

She said nothing, and her eyes lowered.

”Come, you are weary and frightened and nothing more. Rest, dear heart. This will pass, we will prevail. You will remember this, see this in the morning.”

Rin let him guide her down to the ground. She curled up around herself, aching in body and mind and spirit. She felt him fit himself against her back and wrap an arm around her.

”Sleep, love. Just sleep,” he murmured and Rin surprised herself. She fell into a featureless sleep, slowly uncurling and seeking the safety Hanasian offered.

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

posted      Profile for Elora Starsong   Email Elora Starsong   New Private Message   Edit/Delete Post 
It was not that easy finding a suitable wagon to use for their purposes. Bear managed to con a guy out of one of his two wagons in a wager in a card game.

"Better get one from someone who has two than someone who has one. You take the one, and the man suffers total hardship. But the man with two will only suffer some loss," Bear told Belegost as they scrambled in the dark gathering all the company left behind.

Among the journals and the Standard, there was some interesting items some members had. Easterling books that Khule held onto, and some rare-looking bottles of wine that Frea and Folca both had two of each vintage. A very well done charcoal sketch of a very beautiful woman well kept in a tube amongst Wulgof's otherwise unruly collection of detrius. Most interesting was what the Captain had stowed away amongst his journals, records and writings. Two silky flowing gowns with a wrap lined with soft feathers. Surely they were gifts for Rin that he would give to her on their big day. Belegost was careful to keep them hung smooth and straight, even if the conditions weren't the best. Finally they had it all. Even Mulgov's home-brew that he had thought un-findable. They found two jugs, but they would say they only found one. Someday in the years to come, and per chance the company ever came back to pelargir, Mulgov would go seeking the second jug, hoping it had aged well. He will never find it.

They set out north on the west side of the river, silently plodding north toward Minas Tirith. Bear was used to traveling away from the company, for it was a long journey that he took after being wounded at Tharbad.

"It's like this a lot, isn't it?" Belegost asked Bear as they bounced along the road north. Bear sipped out of the jug and and thought about it.

"Yeah. Seems so. You spend your time quietly as you go here and there, and grow bored and itch for some action, then when it comes, usually suddenly and without fanfare, you are terrified in battle hoping it will end and you come out of it in good health. I think we got the easy end of this deal here. May we see them all again in Minas Tirith."

Belegost nodded as he tok the jug from Bear. After healthy hit and a screwed up face as he held back the cough that wanted to explode from him, Belegost thought about it for a bit before nodding.

"Yeah. Suppose we did. Best put the cork in this for now, and keep what senses we have in the night. We do want to see everyone in Minas Tirith."

Bear nodded and looked straight ahead. The road was quiet and without trouble, which they would find to be the case all the way to the White City.


Rosmarin fell into a deep sleep, and Hanasian thought about his lovely bride-to-be. He was thinking of how she would look in either black or white. His find was per chance in Pelargir, and he was a bit worried about whether they would would make the sweep that Belegost and Bear would do. All he could do was hope for the best, in more ways than one. He hoped to be in Minas Tirith sooner than later. For now, it was good that high men of Prince Imrahil's command were there, and that this mess had stabilized for a moment. This night, they could rest well from their long pursuit. To have a fire in the field without worry of detection was a comfort not often enjoyed. It seemed to help the relaxation of the intense company. Still, despite this, Hanasian could sense his Company was not in the least pacified. There were dead being buried and the Company's loyalty remained in question. However, it was also clear that the Company's actions came only in response to the attack upon one of their own. The commander of this legion knows the reality of the field. Of that, Hanasian was sure.

What Hanasian was not sure of was how far these noble royalists would go. To him, Rosmarin was a beautiful woman who he had met by chance in a field outside Tharbad. Her history, seemed to be worrying at her heels now that it had caught up with here and it had the potential to undo their hopes and dreams for the future. Still, Hanasian mused, it is what it is. He would have to deal with it all beside her, which he would gladly do. There were those who wanted her to be crowned Queen of Cardolan, and the extreme of those would have her Queen to surplant Aragoron. Cullith had mentioned this and added a third group who believed she should succeed the High King to the throne before his son - a small group, admittedly, but still there were there.

On the other side, there was those in Gondor who thought she should be put to death, at least imprisonment or banishment from the kingdom given the threat, the symbol they perceived her to be. King Elessar had already intervened on that front in Pelargir, but it was possible that not all of his southern court concurred with their liege. Mecarnil and Farbarad had spent three weeks discussing that between themselves, turning it over this way and that in a bid to find a way through. Between the many factions, both Rangers worried that the Company healer would be torn apart. Hanasian brushed her hair from her face as she slept and wondered if they would ever find time to be, without the cares of the world imposing their will on them. Still, Hanasian wished it to be no other way, for no matter what he was called to do, he knew she would go with him.

It was a cool dawn sun that found them wakening. A quiet day, and a day that would find them riding in peace with the troop of Inrahil's men. Yet, the larger conspiracy that Cullith spoke loomed in Hanasian's mind. He was quiet while he pondered its meaning, and all that he had thought of before. But for now, they rode toward and would follow the South Road. Unfortunately, they would not meet up with Belegost and Bear until the evening they came to the ford of the River Euri, where the two men had to spend time fixing a broken wheel.

The returning Black Company literally swarmed over the wagon bed to retrieve and inspect their belongings. Belegost did his best to discreetly bundle particular items into his Captain’s safe keeping, with only a hint of a grin visible. Molguv seemed initially perplexed and then smugly pleased as he reviewed his gear. Again, the men settled in for the night by the side of the Great Southern Road. The talk centred on the events that had propelled them from Pelargir at first. Loch seemed happy to answer the questions that he could, however questions for Rin were met with a wall of silence. In the face of that, talk soon turned to Minas Tirith, and what lay in wait there. It was not all rebels and the grim ghosts of a tortured past. There was family for some, such as Bear, familiar haunts for others and for three of their number it would their first meeting with the White City.

The forces split the next morning. The commander assigned the captives to the keeping of the Black Company along with a report for Imrahil, who had been called to the city in Faramir’s absence. The Company watched the force ride for Pelargir in the early morning and set off north for Minas Tirith soon after, the prisoners consigned to the wagon. The day passed without incident, trundling along the road around the wagon. The monotony of the journey came as a welcome relief. They fell into a familiar routine. Scouts ranged, riding formations were maintained, pickets and watches were set without chivying. Hanasian was mildly surprised, given their relative disarray in the preceding weeks, and greatly pleased. Still, after five days on the road Rin had said little about anything, reserving her scant words for the man she loved and whatever it was she jotted into her journal.

Hanasian let the Company settle in and watched Rin bury her head in her journal again. He caught Mecarnil and Farbarad’s attention and with a signal the three withdrew in the direction of Videgavia. The four rangers left the watch in the hands of Morcal and moved away to a location where they could safely speak.

”There will be more of these attacks,” Hanasian said.

”Likely, given what little Cullith said,” Farbarad said heavily. ”They will keep coming. I think she knows this.”

“Course she does. She’s no fool,”
Videgavia replied.

”I’ve managed get some information from the prisoners,” Mecarnil said.

”What have you learned, Mec?” Farbarad asked.

Mecarnil rolled his shoulders a moment.

”Half truths, twisted into jagged goads, have reached the north concerning Rin’s actions in Pelargir prior to Harad. They’ve been penned up there, feeding their resentments for generations. As far as they’re concerned, their rightful queen has been robbed and they mean to set it to rights. I suspect from his words in Umbar that Aragorn saw this happening.”

“How would Aragorn see that coming?”
Videgavia wondered.

”He knows Arnor,” Hanasian replied and Farbarad grunted his surprised as several pieces fell into place.

”Sauron’s balls... he knows Arnor! But how will he persuade her to play that game, eh? She gave up one throne already...”

“That’s it, Farbarad...and I know how... he’ll appeal to the healer in her. He’ll have to! I just can’t see any other way, can you?”

“No, Mec.”

Hanasian and Videgavia traded a baffled glance at the obtuse exchange between the two Cardolan rangers.

”Well, glad that’s straightened out then,” Videgavia dryly observed and Mecarnil patiently expounded.

”He as good as said so in Umbar, even in Pelargir after the announcement. Rin ceded her throne, but she remains of royal descent. He will name her place in the succession at court in Minas Tirith and formally recognise her. As I figure it, she stands after Aragorn’s heirs and just before the Steward. Eldarion’s a healthy young fellow and he has sisters, so she will remain some distance away from the throne - far enough to keep her safe from the court of Gondor and close enough for the hotheads of the North. It’s a necessary formality.

“Once named, it will be impossible for any to claim she has been robbed. I think he’ll leaven it with Cardolan’s crown wealth to some degree. The wise thing to do would be to direct most it back to Cardolan’s remaining people. Offer them land with Cardolan’s former borders, get them out of the far north and return them to the land they believe is rightfully theirs. He’s already rebuilding Tharbad, so it would be a natural progression. A few roads and schools, the chance to return to what was taken through war and pestilence so long ago.”

The four Rangers stood in silence as they contemplated this.

”In other words, she gave up one throne only to be tossed into the line for the higher throne. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to be around when she figures that out.” Videgavia said .

“I’m not going to tell her,” Farbarad exclaimed, ”That’s for the King to sort out. Us, we’re just Rangers when all is said and done.”

“True. I think she suspects something along these lines already, given what she’s said so far. I’ve been expecting to find her curled up around Molguv’s special reserve under the wagon since we met Bear and Belegost on the road. She wants little else than the right to freely choose her path in life. If she could, she would choose one that led as far away as possible from thrones and courts and nobles. She wants peace. Eru knows I certainly do too."

Hanasian exhaled heavily and the continued on.

"So, whatever it is that waits for her in Minas Tirith’s court, it will come after the wedding. Any talk of this Cardolan matter will wait until after the wedding. It will wait. It must wait. Let her at least have that,” Hanasian declared.

There was a general rumble of agreement from the others and they turned back for the camp.

Rin glanced up at their arrival, trepidation flickering over her features a moment as Hanasian settled down beside her. Rin chewed her lower lip a moment, released a deep breath and dared a question.

”Something amiss, my love? More trouble?”

Hanasian pressed a gentle kiss to her brow.

”Straightening out priorities. First things first,” he replied.

”Logical,” she agreed.

”I’m glad you think so. Rin, when we reach Minas Tirith, I would have us marry as soon as we may.”

He saw a glimmer of a smile emerge, the first since leaving Pelargir.


“Yes, really.”

“Even though,”
she gestured in the general direction of the prisoners.

”Especially though,” Hanasian replied and saw her smile reach her eyes.

She laced the fingers of one hand through his and lifted it to her lips. Surrounded by the Company, she could do no more than that as they curiously looked on. Still, for all of that discretion, the layer of silence melted away and the Company saw the return of her usual animation. Word spread through the Company quietly. Plans begun in Pelargir were amended and others were set in place. They reached Minas Tirith on the tenth day with these plans flourishing. Cardolan, courts, nobles and rebels be damned. There was a wedding that came before it all.

The gates of the White City were ever attended and the Company arrived with the Standard unfurled as they met the escort that had been provided to them. They rode through the streets at a fair clip, passing through each tier without delay. The old hands knew where it was they were making for. The new hands were distracted by the city they rode through and the people that they passed. Ever higher they rose, wagon in their midst, towards the gleaming white stone building that crowned the city and held the heart of the Reunited Realm of Men. By the time they reached the summit, Loch’s familiar lopsided grin was firmly in place. He’d spent years listening to his sister wistfully yearn for the famed libraries and House of Healing. For all of that, it was a place of mystery and excitement that already wound a siren call over him.

They passed through the gates and into the compound, their escort clattering away as they made for the nearby stables. The castellan, a whip thin man of middle years, strode out to meet them upon sight and was there before anyone had dismounted.

”Well met again, Captain Hanasian,” the man said smoothly, glancing at the woman who had just swung down out of the saddle with mildly contained curiosity and then onto the captives in the wagon.

”I trust your road has too long or troublesome,” he added.

”Not as long as some, longer than others,” Hanasian replied flicking his attention to the wagon.

“Those two are for the cells, charges detailed in this report.”

Hanasian handed the commander’s report across as the castellan. The man nodded once, gestured at two nearby guards and soon had the prisoners on their way.

”As for you, Captain, other arrangements have been made. The ostlers will see to your horses and gear. They are skilled with all manner of military animals” the castellan said with unflappable efficiency. He turned without further ado and glided towards the palace proper.

”Like to seem them ostle an oliphaunt,” Molguv quipped quietly to his cousin, as they fell in after the man.

The Black Company of Arnor were led to their usual lodgings. Though not ornate, they were comfortable and well appointed. No soldier’s barracks or sailor’s hammocks were these. Rugs of various design softened the flagstones, windows admitted light and the summer breeze cooled by Mount Mindolluin kept the rooms crisp. Their gear soon joined them, and men extracted their belongings and headed in pairs to their room. No sooner did the door to the Captain’s room close did the other doors open. A quick glance up and down the hall and the other’s emerged to exchange a flurry on hand signals. They would have to move quickly and, all things considered, conditions were ideal. The Tower of the Guard was perhaps one of the most secure locations in all of Middle Earth. No safer keeping for the Company healer could be found, for she could not follow where they were going tonight.

Rin and Hanasian leant against the door to their rooms and grinned at each other.

”They’re out there now aren’t they, flapping their hands about,” she said.

”I believe so. It doesn’t have to be tonight,” he replied, trailing one finger along her jaw and sending her thoughts skittering.

Outside someone cleared his throat and then knocked on the door.

”Ah...Cap...um... Need you out here,” Molguv rumbled.

”Not tonight? Try telling them that,” Rin whispered through the heat of her blood, ”Go on, my love. Go to them. The sooner this happens, the sooner we can have a wedding.”

Molguv glanced over his shoulder when the whispering on the other side of the door fell quiet.

”I think they might...ah-”

The door opened and Hanasian emerged, distracted and tugging his uniform into place. At his shoulder in the open door, the Company healer looked eminently pleased with herself.

”Have fun, boys,” she purred, reached and ran a retaliatory finger down Hanasian’s spine.

”Better hurry up,” Hanasian growled at them, half turning back for her. Molguv grabbed his elbow and pulled him away. She waited until they had vanished around the corner, and closed her door.

”Right, that’s them taken care of for the next twelve or so hours...ample time to turn that blue dress into something for a wedding...just need needle and thread...” Rin muttered as she set out in the opposite direction.

The men stationed throughout the tower, naturally, did not have such implements on their person but they knew where she could go. As the men of the Black Company of Arnor entered the first tavern of the evening, Rin ventured into a distinctly feminine study. The woman that looked up had hair of ebony, eyes that rivalled the stars and was as lovely as the night. Arwen Evenstar smiled, not in the least surprised by the woman that now hovered like some eldritch apparition just inside the threshold of her study.

”Rosmarin of Cardolan. At last I am permitted to meet you. Come, I know why you are here and I have just the very thing in mind.”

Rin found herself frozen to the floor and struck dumb all at once. Arwen was the first elven woman she had ever seen, and Rin had no idea who she was. Arwen drew closer and pulled Rin into her study with gentle persistence. She orbited the mortal woman, kin to her own husband, another scion of Numenor.

”Yes, just the very thing. Hanasian will not believe his eyes. The wedding is soon, yes?”

“How did you know that? How do you know Hanasian? Who are you?”
the questions tumbled out of Rin’s mouth all in a hurry.

Arwen smiled enigmatically.

”You are just as he said you would be. My lord husband Aragorn is keen sighted as ever.”

Rin squeaked as she realised she stood before the High Queen of the Reunited Realm with plans to borrow needle and thread. Arwen herded Rin towards another door. No safer keeping for Cardolan’s former queen indeed.

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

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The men had something planned, and not seeing Anras around led Hanasian to suspect what they had in mind. A smirk spread across his face when he saw they were heading for the Silver Bark Tavern. Now the Silver Bark is not by the gate like the popular White Tree Inn, and can be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the back nooks of the first level. Tucked up against the mountain, the carved out stone amphitheatre shape made it a prime location for live entertainment. It was hard to say what entertainment was in store this night.

As the cluster of men neared the door, Hanasian thought back to the last couple times he was here. Some good company men were recruited here, but it seems that only Anras remained of them. Hanasian shook those thoughts off as he laughed. He could hear the music inside. It was going to be an interesting night.

As they reached the door, it opened seemingly on its own, but it was because a man was walking out. A tall and muscular sort who was in the same size of if not Bear, then maybe Mulgov. A polite exchange ensued as they passed, and the men went in.

”Did you see that one? He looked like Mulgov’s father may have met Farbarad’s mother on the side about forty years ago.”

Wulgof’s comment earned him a slug from Farbarad and an elbow in the ribs from Mulgov. The rest laughed. Hanasian paused at the door to take one last look at the guy. Wulgov did have a point. The dark locks and body features were similar to Mulgov, and his grey eyes were similar to Farbarad’s or more-so, Mecarnil’s. His skin color was roughly that of Khule’s, which was a darker, yet fair-skinned. Interesting. But what was more interesting was the singer that just came on stage.

The guys grabbed a table up close, being there weren’t too many in the place this night. A few guys had taken a side route to the bar, and returned to the table with fists of tankards. Mulgov had a bucket for himself. They all settled in for some talk and banter. Everyone was there, with the exception of Anras. Any enquiries about were met by their expecting him to show up at any moment. Hanasian enjoyed his ale rather quietly while he watched the woman sing and the three musicians who accompanied her play. A rather deep-tuned lyre, a harp, and a man sitting playing two tall drums with his hands. They seemed to play off of each other well, and the vocals filled in around it all. The Silver Bark lived up to its reputation of being a choice location preferred by musicians. An interesting combo, but Hanasian was thinking of a similar singer from other places… like the Forsaken, and the The Lakeside in Dale, and the Splintered Chamberpot northeast of Bree, and the now defunct Trolls Nose in the hills of Rhuadur. A familiar connection he felt every time he had seen and heard her, but they had never talked. Still, it was beautiful music and the guys of the company, which was everyone save Rin, were enjoying the brew and the banter.

The music moved toward more of an eastern mix, and the air in the tavern seemed to grow thick. It may have to do with most of the guys in a communal eastern waterpipe which they were burning pipeweed in. A couple of the guys were reluctant to smoke anything after their green incident, but they loosened up some when Hanasian took part. With ales and music flowing freely, Hanasian noted that they were pretty much the only people in there. Some had left, and a couple came in. One was the guy they ran into when they arrived. He was seated with someone who also looked familiar, but it would have been impossible for her to be who it reminded Hanasian of. Still, Hanasian found his attention drawn to her, when it wasn’t drawn to the singer. It was then that Anras was seen. He came in the door and whispered to the man and the woman, and they started to go to the stage.

The singer just finished a song and then said, ”And now, a couple guests of mine whom I met on my travels will perform with me. Hamoor on congas, and Oganyan will dance.”

She then broke into a hypnotic tune with her band, and it took Hamoor only moments to join in. Oganyan started to dance in a traditional Khandese style that Hanasian recognized both from his time there, and from a shadow in his mind - Simra.

”She has danced at the Oasis!" Mulgov stated in a knowing manner, maybe hoping to have an inside track to meeting her.

”She has danced at the Veiled Breath in Dorwinion!” said Khule, countering Mulgov’s statement.

”Pelargir, the first time we came through…” Videgavia said, and added, ”…and, I have seen her at the Lakeside in Dale as well.”

One-upping them both. Frea and Folca whispered amongst themselves, both sure they had seen her at the Black Stallion Inn back in Edoras. Foldine overheard them and agreed.

Hanasian remembered her too, from the Forsaken before the war. But she went by a different name. Practiced in the arts, she did not seem to age. Suspected to be Elven, for there seemed to be too much history that spread like a wind behind her. But there had been a first-hand account of the slaying of the one he thought of. None other than Malassuil, an esteemed Ranger which helped train young Hanasian, recorded her death outside the Forsaken Inn some years before the war. This woman could not be her, yet the resemblance was striking.

Loch was mesmorized. He thought he saw much in Pelargir, but Oganyan drew the young man in with her smiles and flashing eyes. He was probably going to mess himself.

It was Morcal who said she had sisters. Known widely in the south after the war, they had fled Khand and the strife that lingered there. Frea, Folca, Videgavia, and Hanasian grumbled a bit at the mention, for they had been there, and they had left a few brothers in the company there as well. Morcal went on about how they danced in Pelargir and Umbar to make ends meet, and two of them eventually married and settled. But one was wild and soon went to Pelargir, and northward. It appears she is here now.

The here and now seemed to become evermore surreal, as the serving girls seemed to have changed…. They were the same girls, just with less clothing. Anras sat there smiling as Hanasian noticed.


There was simply no way for Rin to prepare for the day, or the night, that awaited her. Never could she have dreamed that she would meet an elven queen. Never could she conceive of what that queen would lead her to. Soon, everything concerning the wedding was resolved. She emerged from that encounter with a spinning head. Her mother’s wedding dress and circlet, her parents letters to each other, and even the date upon which she had been born. No one had ever told her that before, and it had stolen her breath away to learn of it after so long. But the fates were not yet done with Erían of Cardolan or Rosmarin of the Black Company. No sooner had Arwen reunited her with all the various heirlooms and possessions that now fell to her keeping was Rin scooped up again. This time, she was swept off to a place that she had long wistfully hoped to find. The House of Healing of Minas Tirith were rightfully known and revered by healers. Since Lord Elrond’s departure for the Undying Lands, the House had become the centre of medicine and learning in all the lands.

There was not a healer or medic that did not yearn to walk its sweeping halls, and Rin was no different. The day, consequently, passed rapidly. It was a blur of discovery, debate, inquiry. It was exhilarating to find others to share her ideas, argue her perspectives and be challenged in return. She was able to test her logic and technique on the extension of the elven bone setting to other forms of injury. To find colleagues at last, after so many years finding her way on her own, was simply a joy she could not properly disguise. She had not snuck into a class. She had not been found crouching under an open window to listen to some master of healing hold forth in a lecture. She was there, in her own right, justified as healer to the Black Company. It made her head spin.

Thus, somewhat off kilter and her pulse still racing from that last amputation, Rin was not well placed to resist the two women that arrived seeking her. One she knew and welcomed with a ready smile that Fraefoc returned. The other woman, dark eyes and hair, smiled prettily until Fraefoc introduced her as Bear’s sister. In short order, Rin discovered that Foldine had packed his sister back to Minas Tirith, prevailing on Bear’s sister to assist in keep his sister out of what he considered harm’s way: namely, any Haradian or Easterling that might cross Forcwynn’s path.

”They conspired, the fiends! I asked Foldine after you, and the man positively squirmed. Well, now I know why...I swear, brothers are all the same. The only reason Loch hasn’t interfered in my wedding is because the groom is his commanding officer!” Rin said.

”We went seeking Foldine and Bear,” Braewyn said

”And Molguv. Is he here?”

“Yes, and he has a cousin with him - Morcal,”
Rin said. ”Only they’re all off out there somewhere, muttering about some masculine tradition that has to do with weddings.”

Fraefoc's brows shot up and she exchanged a long gaze with Braewyn. Then both women looked back to consider Rin.

”What?” Rin asked, setting down the towel she had used to dry off her face and hands after washing the blood from them. ”Did I miss a bit?”

“They’re out there, and you’re here, working all on your own,”
Braewyn said, shaking her head.

”Well two can play at that game,” Fraefoc announced. ”Do you have a skirt? You’ll need a skirt for this.”

“For what?”
said a man behind them, head poking through the door and curious expression on his face. Rin shrugged her shoulders.

”She’s getting married soon, when Rin?” Fraefoc said.

”Two days, I think. Arwen mentioned it but I was a touch distracted at the time...”

“Two days, and here she is, working while the rest of the Black Company-”

“Are off celebrating... well, no matter. We were thinking of heading into the city after a long day anyway. I had hoped you’d join us, Rin. Your friends are more than welcome,”
the healer said, a tired yet genuine smile lighting his serious features.

”She’ll need a skirt,” Braewyn said and the healer’s smile grew. He nodded, and returned with a voluminous black skirt of light cotton that would float it was so delicate.

”Will this do?” he inquired.

”Perfect!” Fraefoc declared, relieving him of the skirt and turning back to Rin with a devilish smile on her face. Rin involuntarily backed up a step.

”I don’t see why I can’t just go as I am. No holes, clean, mostly. Where has that skirt come from? What could I possibly need a skirt for, and in any case-”

“Grab her Braewyn,”
Fraefoc said and the healer decided he would withdraw.

It took, in all, ten minutes.

”Are you sure this is a good idea?” Rin asked dubiously as she glanced down at herself and what had been revealed.

Fraefoc tilted her head and Braewyn tapped her lips. They both stepped forward and tucked up one side of the full skirt under the leather vest they’d permitted her to retain. It revealed a certain length of the leather boots that encased her lower leg. Both women stepped back and nodded in unison.

”Oh yes, perfect, though it makes me positively green to say so,” Braewyn announced.

”Let down your hair... there, a little tangled and wild. Just how all the maids of Minas Tirith strive.”

“Really? All of them? Do you know what I would have given for a shirt just a couple of months ago? And now you tell me they don’t want shirts, only vests?”

At that juncture the healer returned and his eyes widened a moment. He audibly sighed, collected himself and announced over his shoulder to his fellows that they were ready at last. They moved fast as group through the streets of Minas Tirith, young men and women apprenticed as healers at the House. Some Rin knew specialized. Young though they were, there were some remarkably advanced in potions, child birth and children, and illnesses. There were others who specialized in injuries and what some referred to as surgery. To heal with steel was their motto and they were, Rin had started to learn, a rather formidable group of decisive individuals. There were, lastly, those like her that took an interest in surgery and medicine. Such practitioners were rare.

Their group pressed into an alehouse that was well known to them. The proprietor of the Soothing Alms waved them onto a large table and sent a bountiful pitcher of ale to follow soon after. As they shucked off the rigours of the day, Rin spent her time bringing Fraefoc and Braewyn up to speed with events in Umbar and introducing the many faces around them. Someone banged his tankard on the table to bring quiet to the group and all eyes turned to the young healer that had provided the skirt Rin now wore.

”I would have you charge your tankards for this is not any night. This is not any aftermath after battle is waged with pain, suffering and disease and death. No, there is a healer amongst us, yes a healer indeed, who in two days will wed some very fortunate devil!”

Tankards banged on table tops as the men of their number considered the particularly fetching leather vest the woman in question wore. The spokesman continued, winking at Rin and her friends.

”And so we are here to celebrate not only victory, but LIFE! For what is marriage, if not a celebration of life!”

There was a raucous cheer.

”Hey, Rin, what will you do with the children? You’d can’t very well load them in saddle bags,” a nearby woman asked.

”Children?” Rin echoed, the question throwing her off centre.

Laughter rolled around the table. Her tankard was topped up, Fraefoc winked at her, and soon enough Rin was draining it. Never one to back away from a challenge was Rosmarin of the Black Company. A cheer went up, a new jug of ale was ordered and the night was truly afoot. Rin didn’t catch the name of the next place they went to, not that it mattered. There was music and dancing aplenty. Soon enough she was on her feet and her skirt was flying. The life of a healer was spent spitting in the teeth of death, of mortality, of grief and suffering. No small wonder then, that those of the House responded by living life to its fullest.

Rin made it back to their table, grabbed her tankard and emptied it down her throat in a lusty display of thirst, cheeks flushed and hair flung back. Her wrist jingled with silver bracelets that she stared at, puzzled by their appearance from nowhere, seemingly. She was, Rin concluded, very drunk. At least she hadn't cracked her ribs prior this time.

”Oh! At LAST! It’s been ten years! I’d abandoned all hope, and yet, here you are. Fey as the night!”

Rin gave off her inspection of her wrist and peered at the man that now bowed deeply before her.

”Who r’you?" she asked, perplexed at the silver that caught her eyes now. It glinted at her, slung snugly around her hips. Where had that come from?

”Oh, you do not remember me?” the man asked, straightening and unleashing a devastating smile upon her.

Fraefoc and Braewynn both squeaked, eyes large in appreciation and Rin started to recall when she had seen this man before.

”Edoras?” she asked, trying to concentrate with only marginal success.

”Ah, she does remember me! You temptress you! One minute you’re waving at me, and the next that ill tempered oaf drags you away.”

“My brother,”
Rin said dryly.

”My apologies,” he returned, arching a brow. ”For ten years now I have wondered who you were, even if you existed. And now, here you are, as luminous as the dawn. What is your name? I simply must have it!”

“She’s betrothed,”
Fraefoc pointed out and he frowned.

”Betrothed...An unusual name, that. But, then, she is an uncommon beauty.”

“No, I’m getting married in two days,”
Rin said, smiling despite his grandiose flattery.

”Then there is not a moment to lose, ” he replied, grabbed her hand and plucked her forward.

”Your name?” he asked as he pulled her close and swung into the press of other dancers.

”That you shall have to earn,” Rin replied, pulling herself back to a modest distance.

”As you wish my lady,” he vowed.

Rin rolled her eyes, her expression seen by Fraefoc and prompting considerable hilarity. Soon enough, Rin was breathless with laughter as the aristocrat she had last seen ten years ago swung her about the floor. Back at the table, Braewyn and Fraefoc fell into a deep conversation that drew in a number of other healers. Rin was oblivious when a young woman rose, tucking a pouch into her pocket and hurried for the door. Her aristocrat was charming, if a little too ready to press himself against her leather vest and a little too preoccupied with the flare of her calf in her leather boot. He managed to keep her for three dances and he had her laughing often and freely. More than once she was forced to adjust the position of his hands.

When at last he had returned her to her table, the young woman had returned. She sat, nodded at Fraefoc and all of this was missed as Rin drained the last of her ale. She felt flushed, her skin glistened in the light and her hair was tousled.

”Here, Rin, try this,” Fraefoc said, passing Rin a smaller glass which she tossed back and sent fire burning down her throat.

”Dwarven,” Fraefoc explained as she pounded Rin’s back and sent silver shimmering and jingling. ”Brew it in Ithilien, now, from what I am told.”

“It’s dangerous,”
Rin gasped, setting the glass down.

”As is he,” Fraefoc replied, looking now over Rin’s shoulder.

All the women at the table were dreamily transfixed. The aristocrat was positively dismayed. Rin turned about and found herself forced to lean back. The man that stood there was massive, broad shouldered and heavily built. So much so, Rin though he’d give Molguv a run for his money. His skin was dusky but his eyes were that piercing grey, so similar to Hanasian’s that Rin felt a familiar flush dance through her. He smiled slowly. He extended his hand down to her. She stared at it a moment, swallowed hard, and set her own within his massive grip. Gently, so painstakingly, he knelt then and pressed his lips to her knuckles.

”Oh, that’s just not fair!” Rin protested as he gazed up at her.

”Hear, hear! Not fair at all!” the Edoras aristocrat by Braewyn added, noting the way Rin’s breathing had picked up.

The man stood, a fluid languorous movement, and drew her up to her feet. With a backward glance to her two friends, Rin was led back to the dance floor, other men scattering out of the way. Once in position, the man ran the back of his hand down the curve of her cheek, pulled her into position and began to dance in a way that meant that Rin’s feet did not have to touch the ground. Indeed, she dangled from his grasp and considering she was a tall woman in her own right, it was no mean feat.

Fraefoc was well pleased with the outcome, though by no means was she finished. She'd find Molguv tonight no matter what Foldine had to say on the matter. When Rin was returned again, her plan was already set. Farewells were made and the three women were soon on their way. By this point, Rin’s usual restraint had utterly dissolved. She trailed along behind the other two, happily dancing along the street, swinging her skirt as she sang beneath the moon. They passed a small trio of men and soon, Rin and a complete stranger were skipping about and singing with each other. Down they went, through the tiers and thankfully, the three men took their leave.

"They were nicsh," Rin announced, flicking her skirt and twirling about.

"Really, I think we should probably take her back," Braewyn said.

"Not yet. We're almost there," Fraefoc said, collected Rin's arm and towed the humming healer the final distance. They entered an tavern that was precisely the sort of place Molguv might frequent. A quick glance around the common room revealed that the Haradian was no where in sight.

"I'll go check out the back," Fraefoc declared and left Braewyn with a very merry healer who had begun enthusiastically waving at the patrons that were there and watching greedily.

By the time Fraefoc returned, empty handed, Braewyn was propped against the bar and decidedly peeved. Rin, however, was in fine form. She stood on a table was was singing some Dunlending song, complete with the dance steps to go with it, to a crowd of appreciative onlookers.

"Now see what's happened," Braewyn muttered as Fraefoc joined her.

"How did she get up there?"

Rin brandished a decanter of a intense blue liquor at that point and the answer became apparent.

"That's NOT how fine Ithilien Starfire is to be treated," a gruff voice interjected.

The singing came to an end and people looked down.

"Oooh, look! A hairy hobbit!" Rin said, giggling as she pointed to the glowering dwarf. At his shoulder stood an elf trying very hard not to laugh.

Legolas stepped forward and Rin obligingly leapt into his arms, still clutching the bottle, and permitted herself to be lowered. Legolas set her feet first on the floor and Gimli stepped forward to relieve her of the bottle.

"Hey!" Rin protested, frowning.

Gimli stumped off to the table, and Rin pursued, flicking her skirt out of her way in a rather hypnotic fashion as far as the other men were concerned.

"You are accompanying her," Legolas inquired of Rin's companions, both of whom nodded momentarily overcome with his elvish presence.

"She's getting married in two days," Braewyn said.

"That's no excuse," Gimli muttered, gently stroking the bottle and swatting Rin's hands out of the way.

"And her Company?" Legolas inquired as they walked to the table.

"I had hoped to find them here," Fraefoc said, barely able to suppress her disappointment. Braewyn stifled a yawn which Legolas caught.

"If you wish, ladies, we can return her safely to her quarters," Legolas offered, just as Rin tackled Gimli out of his chair in her attempt to wrest the bottle from him.

The trio standing watched a dwarf wrestle with a woman on the floor a moment. Braewyn turned and headed for the door, followed more slowly by Fraefoc. Legolas turned and obtained something more suitable for the pair on the floor. He returned and upended a pitcher of water over them. Rin gasped and sprang upright, water running over her and under her vest. Gimli scrambled to his feet, muttering about the indecently frequent bathing habits of elves. Men watched, captivated by the drenched woman.

"Waz that really necsharacy?" Rin inquired, pushing damp pale hair back from her face and weaving slightly on her feet.

"Last drink and back we go," Legolas announced, glaring at one man who was fixated on the damp thin cotton of her skirt.

"Spoil shport," Rin declared, sitting heaving back down again and crossing her arms under her chest in protest. Legolas heaved a sigh, remembered himself and turned his attention to the dwarf, who was also having difficulty looking away.

"Like she said," Gimli snapped, sat next to Rin and handed her the bottle.

It would be a long night, Legolas concluded. Still, it could be worse. Their guest was a far easier place to rest ones eyes than the dwarf, particularly when she lounged back against the wall and stretched her long legs out over the nearest chair, leather outlining the gentle flare of her calves.

"But why him, lassie?" Gimli persisted, taking a swig of the bottle and passing it to Rin.

"It's just... everything about him," Rin sighed, and lapsed into silence with a particularly revealing smile on her face as she considered the man she would shortly wed. Then she started listing her many and varied reasons, in no particular order.

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

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More ale, laughter, dancing. Ample attention was being poured out toward Hanasian, though he didn’t seem to take advantage of it. The other members of the Company did and Loch was managing to get his enjoyment of the ladies in amongst his drinks. He was beginning to not be such a light-weight with these matters. As if a spell was cast on him by the dancer Oganyan, he turned his attention to a young blonde wench that seemed to fancy him as the evening went on. Eventually they disappeared somewhere together. Wulgof cracked a joke about the kid probably wanting to get married after what he thought he was about to go through. Mulgov roared his laughter, and then after a moment, asked Foldine where his sister was. He didn’t answer. But the smile told Mulgov all he needed to know. She was in the city.

Hanasian seemed to be resistant to the brews he had been drinking. A veteran at pacing himself, he seemed immune to not only that but all the seemingly incidental contact, like the ‘accidental’ softness that bumped his head when the serving wench was reaching to collect empty flagons from the table. He had never been known to quit working, and only with Rosmarin coming to the Company did he begin to take time for himself other than to write. Even now, he was observing all he could of his surroundings, and those surroundings consisted of Oganyan dancing about him, ending up in his lap. A veteran of the Khand uprisings, he knew how such things go and played along.

”You dance quite well for one who entertains here in the White City. I thank thee for your performance.”

She had the skill of the land yet was a renegade of their tradition.

Oganyan smiled and asked, ”May I sit with you for a time?”

Hanasian nodded and offered Loch’s recently abandoned chair. Oganyan took some water from one of the serving wenches.

”You know of the land and the custom. You served there?”

Hanasian sipped his ale and said, ”I did some years back. I don’t wish to recall those days now. Tell me, how is it you have come here?”

Oganyan smiled evilly and said, ”I seek lands where what I do is considered exotic. It is something I wanted to do since I was a girl yet arrived at womanhood. I was able to train some wandering elf woman in the arts. She told me of the joys and sorrows of a nomadic life. I suppose it intrigued me. I travelled here and there, not staying too long until I came to the White City. I have yet to move on.”

Hanasian nodded and talked some more with Oganyan despite how she reminded him of Simra. He was felt he was wasting valuable time he could be spending with the love of his life, and missed Rosmarin deeply. Such was the way of these things, though he would not have believed it would have happened to him. The same distance could be seen in the eyes of other Dunedain Rangers who had married before him, and it always seems to be the men throwing the party for the groom that enjoy it the most. Yet, he found himself actually enjoying their talk.

”So this nomadic elf you speak of… “ Hanasian asked, ”She had an enchanting air about her. Dark, black hair? Dark eyes with a silvery glint? Skin a golden tan color?”

Oganyan nodded, then asked, ”Yes, you know her? If so, tell me where she may be found? For I wish to see and talk to her again.”

”Yea, lady…"
Hanasian said, ”I have met her once, a long time ago in my young days as a Ranger. My father knew her, as did my his father and grandfather. But I can only tell you where to find where her body was laid to rest.”

Hanasian suspected some wizardry, for Oganyan looked way too much alike. Oganyan seemed stunned, asking ”You mean she has passed from this world?”

“Yes, and only a place remains where her body sleeps.”
Hanasian answered.

He then plied her with questions of the time they met, and all that went on, and when it came time for Oganyan to again perform, Hanasian noted all that was said, before being interrupted.

”Come now Cap… surely you and Lady Oganyan have arranged a bit of a back-stage rendezvous, no?”

“No, I leave that up to you Wulgof. I’ve enjoyed the attention, from Oganyan and the serving wenches, but I have no interest in any of it. You and the men enjoy yourselves as you see fit. I will keep watch out here.”

Wulgof gaped, inarticulate for a moment. He wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like this. Soon Wulgof, and the rest of the company save Mecarnil and Farbarad, had disappeared into the back rooms of The Silver Bark. The three were at the table, listening to the singer they all had heard but nobody knew her name, and watched Oganyan dance hypnotically in the background.

Mercarnil asked, ”So what will you two do after you get married?”

Hanasian raised an eyebrow and grinned, ”What we been doing, only moreso.”

Farbarad chuckled, and Mecarnil shook his head and said, ”I know that, but I speak of the future. You two will have to settle somewhere, for surely children will come and this life in this company is not conducive to married life.”

“Yes, you are right. I haven’t been my usual self since Tharbad, or even since Simra was lost. To speak plainly, I have been pondering resigning. Each time I got close to considering it, I couldn’t think of what I would do if I did. But now, with Rin, I have something to think about and consider should I do so.

"You are capable of the captaincy Merc, but I don’t think Aragorn would appoint you. You are my second, but Vid has tenure and has proven himself. He will say he don’t want it, but if offered, he would not turn it down.”

Farbarad said, ”Well, our Captain is speaking his mind a bit here. Maybe the beer and smoke has done its work?”

said Mecarnil.

”Maybe,” Hanasian echoed.

Oganyan concluded with a up-tempo drum solo. She stepped down and whirled about the room. They were the only three in there other than the barkeep. She moved around them, sliding a bright red sheer scarf around Hanasian, and brushing Farbarad’s cheek as she faded into the dark hall. Farbarad rose to follow but hesitated. He sat back down.

The three nursed their last ales, and one by one the guys emerged, slow moving but smiling. They only waited for one more before leaving, to find another place in town this late. After waiting a while, Hanasian finally decided that Loch may need some intervention. He and Mulgov went back to find him.

He was quite drunk and the young serving wench was quite happy with him being in her room. Hanasian went over and shook him some and said, ”Come on kid, we’re leaving. Got other places to stop in at.”

“I’m not going! I’m staying! Staying with ….. uh, Brenae! We’re getting married!”
Loch bellowed.

Mulgov stepped in and said, ”You can’t kid…”

“Why not? Cap is marrying my sister… I marrying Brenae!”

“You can’t, because I married her…. last week.”

Loch blinked a couple times in puzzlment as Mulgov continued, ”Except her name was Dawnae.”

Loch said as he tried to stand and take a swing at Mulgov.

Loch lost his balance and consciounsness. The big man just lifted him up over his shoulder.

”Let’s go," Hanasian said as they turned to leave the girl’s room.

Loch's stomach did not survive intact and Molguv's back was an unfortunate casualty.

”I’ll be back for you Brenae. I loves you…” Loch slurred.

The Company settled up their account at The Silver Bark, with Anras taking care of most of it, and they set out down the street, zig-zagging a bit though they were sure they were walking a straight line. Mulgov wanted to pass Loch off on someone else, but nobody wanted to get near the sour-smelling two.

It was the brothers who said, ”We know just the place to go now…”

And they went in search of the legendary wench that tales were told of, but to no avail. By the time the sun started to rise and the stars were disappearing one by one, this party was over as they all sat along the wall by the gates of the city.


Hamoor was surprised to happen to run headlong into the men known as the Black Company. By chance he thought. It was very possible it was chance. But he would have to give this more thought later. Maybe a word with them would be forthcoming, but not this day. Right now, he had things to do and people to see.


The discreet door was more reinforcement than wood. It squealed as it was opened, from inside the walls of Minas Tirith. A blearily blinking dwarf emerged, mostly empty bottle clutched protectively to his chest. Gimli was followed by a profusely apologizing elf. The Mirkland prince was exhibiting the pinacle of his courtly charm on the guards that crowded the doorway. Gimli belched, which seemed to rouse the woman slung unceremoniously over the elf’s shoulder. She immediately picked up where she had left off. The sound of a ribald sea shanty that she had acquired from a sailor in Pelargir soon floated over the roof tops of buildings that leant for shelter against Minas Tirith’s walls.

”Again, I apologise. She has had little by way of instruction on civilised conduct, I am given to understand, despite her noble descent. Yes, as you say, a terrible tragedy to be twice orphaned. You are being most considerate and understanding considering the circumstances. I can assure you that the last of the purloined goods have been restored to their owners.”

Something metallic rang as it dropped from the woman’s leather vest to the cobble stones behind the elf as he back out the door.

”Damn!” the woman said, chagrined enough to disrupt her rendition of the shanty and commence an drunken attempt to retrieve the object despite her current position slung over an elf’s shoulder. She started to kick her feet in an effort to dislodge herself, silver at her wrists jingling with each attempt.

Legolas had the grace to blush as the guard clapped eyes on the dropped object and recognised it as one of his own possessions.

”Rather, then, I can assure you that any missing items in the king’s cousin’s possession shall be immediately returned to their rightful owners,” Legolas amended.

The guard stooped and collected up the small cup, grunted, and the door slammed decisively closed.

”Ill tempered,” observed Gimli as the woman resumed her shanty about a sailor, a badly leaking boat and what he managed to stop the hole with.

All of this was not missed by those of the Black Company still awake. As Legolas turned about, he clapped eyes on the men lounging against the city walls. Some were dozing, others were watching with faintly amused expressions. Three rangers, one of whom Legolas and Gimli recognised from the closing phases of the War of the Ring, got to their feet.

”I admit that I am well pleased to see you,” Legolas said with some relief as Rin and Gimli broke into the tenth round of the chorus.

Legolas swung Rin down as gently as he could. She wove a little, straightened and clapped eyes on Hanasian. Her smile was as incandescent as the dawn that was breaking around them. Mecarnil shook his head in reproof whilst Farbarad grinned at his intoxicated former charge. She saluted the two rangers sloppily before she tumbled into Hanasian’s arms.

”Enjoying yourselves?” Hanasian asked, mastering his smile.

”Yesh!” Gimli said fervently.

”A singular talent for mayhem, Hansasian,” Legolas warned.

”Oh, indeed,” Hanasian replied, perfectly contented with the elf’s assessment.

Mortals were mysterious, Legolas mused to himself. He decided against advice, for the feelings of the two were abundantly clear in how they gazed at each other in the emerging dawn. Then Rin nearly overbalanced, saved by Hanasian’s arms.

"HEY! RIN! I’M GETTING MARRISHED TOO!” Loch announced exuberantly and a rather loud discussion began between the siblings that soon roused those that still dozed.

Men staggered to their feet, enamoured with the wild haired, flush cheeked healer draped over their captain’s arm. Any reservation, any cool distance had utterly melted and the transformation was remarkable.

”Where did those bracelets and that belt come from?” Mecarnil inquired.

"Shtole them,”
Rin freely admitted, for it was the most likely explanation even if it was also incorrect. She then stabbed an off centre finger at Foldine and Bear.

”You two colluded. Messhing with livesh,” she remonstrated.

”Is Fraefoc here, Rin?" Molguv inquired and Rin smiled before Hanasian spun her about and pressed her to him.

"Mmohfff,” Rin said, voice muffled by Hanasian's chest before settling in to enjoy herself.

”Well, I had best let you be about your way,” Legolas said, one brow arching as he observed all of this. ”A word or two of advice before I go, if I may.”

Mecarnil asked as he draped his cloak over her bare shoulders and haphazardly buttoned leather vest.

”Aside from her wrists and hips, any valuables found in her possession-”

“Are not her own?”
Khule finished, a wry smile on his face.

”Indeed...I see this comes as no surprise?”

Hanasian replied, thinking back to that first meeting outside of Tharbad.

Those wide, deep blue eyes peering so deeply, so startled into his own as she dangled from his grip. Wrapped in rags, soaked to the bone, fevered and clearly in need of warmth and decent food. Wild, fey, untamed...as if she had fallen from the very tree she had suddenly emerged from. Mixed with her fear of the soldiers, a determined glint of steel evident in her theft and again, later, in her return to battle to heal. And now, she was humming that provocative shanty in his ear, warm and steady beside him. In a matter of days, she would be his wife. His wife. The mother to his children. Had he ever of envisaged this? Indeed, with the very woman he had been sent to seek out when she was but a child?

Legolas quietened, taking in the expression on the man’s face. For all of the revelations of the night, this was the most profound. There was a deep contentment in this man’s eyes, a sense of fulfilment that had been absent before. And, for all of her unschooled, unfettered ways, she loved him fully. She was wild, that was all, and how could she be any different considering her circumstances? The rawness of it all, the heights of joy rubbing shoulders with the bleak realities of life, was so all inextricably mortal and human. Legolas was prepared to admit to himself it was this capacity to live so fully, so completely, that mortals possessed that enchanted him so.

”Hanasian, I wish you joy,” Legolas said after a moment.

”Damn shtraight! Lucky man to have a woman of her word. She said she could steal the shirts from their backs. When we shaid that she was jesting, she took their breechesh too,” Gimli added, admiration clear in his voice.

Legolas inclined his head in salutation and steered his inebriated companion away. Hanasian did not need to glance down at his bride to know she was asleep. He could feel her heavy, regular breathing rise and fall against him. Hanasian collected her up, let her nuzzle into his arms and started for the way back to the palace. His Company fell in behind him. Molguv, Foldine and Bear were quietly arguing. Loch was composing sonnets to his future wife. Farbarad had a particularly sentimental expression on his face.

”Shirts and breeches! That’s an achievement,” the ranger quietly observed.

”You were ever too permissive with her,” Mecarnil returned, voice similarly subdued, breathing new life into an argument that had lain dormant for over thirty years.

”Someone needed to consider her something more than a disappointment, a failure. You sound just like her father, Mec.”

“All the same, she is of royal descent!”

“I know! Think I don’t? That aside, I’ve never seen her so happy and as for the Cap, he’s obviously delighted and why wouldn’t he be? Let her live, Mec. Just let her be. No harm done, is there?”

“What if someone saw whatever it is she got up to tonight-last night?”

“Listen Mec - you’re just plain wrong about this. She’s got every right, perhaps more considering what she has survived, to celebrate the joy of her life.”

Behind the two rangers, something dawned upon Loch. ”What happened to my shister’s shirt?” he inquired.

”What it was, hope it happens again,” Wulgof quipped quietly.

Rin did not stir again until Hanasian swung her down. She found herself seated on the edge of the bed in their room. He stood close by, arms crossed as he stared down at her.

”Well, anything to say for yourself, recruit?” he asked.

”It was all the dwarf’sh idea,” Rin replied hopefully.

”That’s it? Nothing more?” Hanasian replied and watched her shake her head. ”Then I am left with no choice.”

She swallowed hard and her eyes widened ever so slightly.

”Yes, let the punishment begin,” Hanasian replied, and leaned down to where she was perched on the side of the bed.


Hamoor rubbed at his chin, spurring his thoughts on as he took in the scene he observed through the window. There was much to consider...and the surprise was that he had already encountered Aragorn's cousin. She was not in the least what he had expected in a woman around whom a rebellion spiralled. There had been no artifice, none of the usual games he expected of nobility. Just a woman, on the cusp of marriage, filled with life and laughter, Yes, much to consider.

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

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Hanasian considered his options, several springing to mind and most not likely at all to seem punishment. Instead he lifted her, sat her in a chair, and turned a bucket of water over her head. She sputtered at its chill. Let the punishment begin, he mused.

"You will need to sleep some I think. I take it you are ready to marry me, or has the thought of that drive you to try and out-drink a dwarf, particularly THAT dwarf?"

Rin was clearly unsteady, disorientated and Hanasian’s swift reaction with the now empty bucket he held prevented a greater mishap. Whatever she had ingested, it was not agreeing with her. She flopped back against the chair. Hanasian eased her up in sitting position, grabbed a cup of water and convinced her to drink.

"You sleep a while, my dear. You will need rest to be ready to marry me tomorrow."

Rin blinked a few times finding it difficult to follow his words. He returned her carefully to the bed where she instinctively cuddled into a pillow. When she was sound asleep, a matter of moments only, Hanasian took Rin’s medical bag and supplies to ensure she had no easy path to relieve the consequences of her actions. Her punishment was to suffer through this. Hi sown head ached from too much ale and insufficient sleep, yet it was manageable and he had not been drinking whatever it was his bride had been.

So commenced the final day before their wedding, and the ritual where the bride and groom do not set eyes on the other until the ceremony itself. With a final glance around the room, and the sleeping woman on the bed, Hanasian set out again with his gear and the Black Company. They relocated to the large parlour room of the White Tree Inn, this time no ales or liquor tobe sighted. All, save Mecarnil and Farbarad, found a place to sleep wherever they could in the manner of any accustomed to the realities of military deployment. They slept propped up against each other's backs or the walls. Once the two handmaidens of the Queen had departed and any last details were set in place, even those two rangers let themselves succumb to the lure of sleep.


On this day, by the Sea of Rhun

Easterling soldiers wearing the armour and colours of Gondor were not a common sight here anymore. The clans who swore fealty toKing Elessar were proud and their oaths endured strong. The peace and freedom granted by the King has been good to them in return. Many sons and daughters had been born into their clans, the fear of the young being taken off to war now a memory and no longer a reality. Those that so chose to take up service did freely and were eager to serve in Gondor's Legion of Rhun. The troubles of the warring clans had been subdued when the Company had been there last, and it did not return. A scattered few drifted east and faded from memory for no trouble came from them.

All this changed for the Captain of the Guard when the leaders of the clans came to the gate of the Prefect of Gondor’s residence.

"Prefect, the leaders of the seven clans wish to meet with you," the Captain reported

"What does their request pertain to?" the Prefect sighed as he stood and looked out the window. This, he thought, was a hard land to be the King's representative in.

"It pertains to the far eastern province and the two clans that live there. It seems they are having troubles accepting the rule of Gondor still."

I thought that was settled years ago,"
the Prefect said, putting his hand to his forehead.

The Captain shrugged, "It seems not... at least according to these clans."

The Prefect shook his head, more for his own benefit than for anyone else.

"Very well then, the breakfast is about to be served, invite them to join us if they wish."

"Very good sir."

The offer was well received.

The discussion over breakfast went smoothly and the clan leaders were clear in their concern over a leader in the east of the land. The man was not of the clans of that table, but rather hailed from the Sagath. The clan leaders had surprisingly detailed information which they were pleased to share. They told the Prefect of a mid-level commander in the old army who had emigrated east after the downfall and peace. A proud leader who cared much for his men, and would at times not carry out orders when they were detrimental to his men's survival in the war, he managed not to be killed by Sauron’s agents, and returned home marching at the head of his remaining men.

After they had left, the Captain was asked by the Prefect what he thought, and to speak freely.

"If you remember sir, during the troubles with Khurg, there was a commander that was instrumental to our winning the battles that led to his capture. He disappeared soon after. Rumor has it he went west, joined the King’s mercenaries, the Black. But he had a brother and fellow commander of another unit under Khurg. His brother did not choose a side and instead disbanded his unit and faded away. Nothing more was heard from him. My guess is that the Sagath leader could be either brother."

"Yes, quite possible. What was their names? Do you know?"

"Sagath warrior class. I believe their names were Khule and Khor."

The Prefect took his quill to clean parchment,hurried the ink dry by waving it in the warm air and sealed it shut with his mark.

"Take this to the local constable and have him try to locate them. See if they have family around here, and see if you can find any of the men who served under either of them."

"Very good sir,"
The captain took the scroll and turned and left, knowing this could be either very easy or impossible as there was never anything moderate about this land or its people in his experience.


Minas Tirith

The day got off to a slow start, particularly for Rin and Loch. In both instances, the use of miruvor ensured they were recovered and on their feet reasonably quickly. Farbarad convinced Molguv to spare some of his personal supply to ensure the man giving the bride away would be functional and ready on time. Rin was assisted by Legolas, remorseful on Gimli’s behalf. The Queen’s garden was readied and the kitchens buzzed with the preparations for the feast. Grey rangers, knights and healers saw to straightening out their garb so that they could look in and present their best wishes. The men of the Black Company polished, trimmed and cleaned. But, that was not all. Those around the bride and groom found themselves hard pressed to keep their respective charges from sneaking away to find the other throughout the day and especially the night.

For Hanasian and Rin, the eve of the wedding was a restless one. Minds were filled with racing thoughts. Hearts were racing in anticipation. Some of this nervous energy was burnt off when each saw to packing for the time they would spend together after the wedding, just for them. Rin had no idea where that would be. Hanasian was determined to keep that entirely to himself until the final moment. Added to all of this was the stunning revelation of something Aragorn had hinted at in Umbar. Rin’s dowry was revealed by the king to each in turn, and each had stared at him with a poleaxed expression. It was land, a significant tract, that had once belonged to Rin’s ancestors when Cardolan had been a realm proper.

Located near the elvish haven of Harlond, between the Blue Mountains and coast, it had been abandoned prior to the fall of Amon Sul in III - 1409. It’s proximity to the elvish haven ensured the land did not fall entirely under the sway of the desolation Sauron sent through the realm. Gardens were long gone, and perhaps one building yet remained if the survey of the site ten years prior remained accurate. But, it was well stocked with woods and game, a gentle land that offered a home should Hanasian and Rin chose to make of it one. For Hanasian, it was the means to realise his dreams for their lives together. For Rin, who had last had a home when she was five years old, it was utterly overwhelming. Oblivious to all of these hopes, thoughts, dreams, ideas and plans, the moon serenely sailed full and high over scattered silver clouds that night and the dawn that followed was clear and bright.

Bells tolled joyfully through the city that morning. Hanasian woke, feeling curiously calm despite the momentous day before him. Rin woke to find herself surrounded by a particularly formidable ring of handmaidens who hauled her away to be scrubbed and polished and scented to within an inch of her life. At the inn, there was the usual last minute flurry to ensure all was ready, all were accounted for and all got themselves to the Queen’s garden prior to midday. Loch was dispatched, pulling at his stiffened collar uncomfortably, to the royal apartments to await his sister. The others moved through the garden finding a long carpet of soft petals that led to the graceful spread of garlanded elm boughs.

Hanasian took his position beneath the elm, flanked by Frea and Folca who stood this day as his cousins. Arwen had selected a particularly fair and private location within her garden, which had flourished under her care and burgeoned in the full flush of summer. A brook nearby laughed as it danced over smoothed stones, and the breeze made the leaves shimmer in the light and sighed through the air. By design, few would attend the ceremony. Apart from the Black Company, only the king and queen would be present. The Black Company formed up an honour guard, pairing off along the petal carpet, and Hanasian had nothing left to do but wait for his bride.

His gaze wandered through the garden, over the grass and brook and plants, up into the endless blue of the sky. Down again, to the gleaming polish of his boots. He tugged absently at his jacket, straightening out creases no one else could see, his hand automatically drifted to the space the hilt of his sword usually occupied. When it closed on thin air, he realised he was fidgeting. A glance sideways to Frea confirmed this had been noticed by his cousins and amused them. Frea squeezed his biceps consolingly. Hanasian took a deep breath, expanding the silvery blue of his jacket, and cleared his throat. Watching further away, Aragorn smiled quietly at his queen. He had walked the Paths of the Dead with the groom, and a great deal more besides, but never had he seen Hanasian looking quite so anxious and filled with expectation and working so hard to seem steady and calm. It conveyed in a way no words could just how much his friend was yearning for his bride. For all of his anxiety, never had Hanasian seemed so contented.

Loch knocked on the door he had been instructed to knock on and heard his sister bid him enter. He felt curiously nervous as well, finally facing the moment when he would set her hand in another’s and with that act, release her to this stage of her life. His sister stood with her back to him, wrestling with a circlet that refused to stay in place. Loch’s thoughts stalled as he set eyes on her.

”Can you help me with this, Loch? I can’t quite reach,” she asked, peering intently at her reflection in the mirror.

Still mute, Loch propelled himself forward and set the circlet in place. It was so delicate, silver leaves winding around scatters of pearls or sapphires that glowed against the smoothness of her hair. It fell simply, a wealth of gold that spilled down to her hips like a molten river. Silk net, worked with silver roses around the edges, floated down from the circlet.

”The top layer, Loch. Can you lift it up and forward over my face?”

“A moment, just a moment,”
he finally said, picked up her hand and turned her around to face him.

She wore little adornment. A pearl hung suspended in the hollow of her throat. A belt of sapphires circled her hips. Hanasian's betrothal ring gleamed on her hand. Nor was the gown ornate. It's silk fell like water over her to pool on the floor, an extraordinary play of creamy lustre, pale blue or lavender according the fall of the fabric and the angle of the light. It somehow made her skin glow, her eyes luminous as deep meres found hidden high in mountains. To Loch, she seemed an otherworldly creature. There was no hint of the urchin, the waif or the thief. She looked as regal as her heritage. Then, she smiled and she was the sister he could recognise. Her eyes shimmered, tears unshed as they always were. She had not wept since that terrible day in Dunland, not for joy or sorrow. Loch pressed a gentle kiss on one cheek and then the other. Then, he lowered the veil over her head and led her to the man he knew would love and care for her in a way no other could best.

Wulgof and Videgavia stood at the head of the column. Sharp eyed Videgavia was the first to spot the approach of Loch and his sister, Rin appearing to glide through the garden. This produced a cascade of reactions, as men straightened their stance. As they passed, each man fell in behind until at last, Loch stood with Rin before Hanasian with the Black Company arrayed in silence around them. Loch placed his hand over Rin’s, it had started to quiver as soon as she had sighted Hanasian. He studied his Captain's face and with solemn deliberation, Loch transferred Rin’s hand to Hanasian's. He stepped away with a truly splendid grin in place. The bride and groom turned to face each other, hands clasped. Her face obscured by the veil, he was left with the sound of her voice as she spoke his name and invoked her vows to him.

Rings were exchanged, hand bound ritually and the bond sanctified. Then, at last, Hanasian lifted back the silk net to reveal the face of his wife. His eyes shone clear, untroubled silver. Rin soaked in the sight him, felt her heart thud in her ribs. This man was the pillar that held her sky aloft and her earth securely beneath her feet. He was her light, her love, her husband and all of this she allowed to be revealed in her face. Hanasian lifted his hands to gently cup her upturned face, and bent to press his lips to hers. He closed his arms around her and swept her up, kissing her deeply as he lifted her from the ground and turned about, silk and netting drifting around him with the scent of her hair and skin. She clung to him as fiercely as he did her, drinking in the man that made impossible dreams alive and real and theirs. Suspended in that moment, the world and all its many opportunities and paths unfurled around them.

"Beloved," she whispered when he set her down again, his brow still pressed to hers, "You are my joy."

The joy he had never felt before Tharbad had filled Hanasian to no end. Now to see Rosmarin so beautiful, he could hardly breath. As if in a dream that had come true and was reality, Hanasian could barely hold his joy. He forgot all sense of custom and manners, and swept his bride up in joy and kissed her, drifting around and around as he did so. It was a moment that would be forever impressed into his mind, and he clung to her and held her close... they were one!

Hanasian kissed her again after hearing her words, but he could not say a word, his smile burned into his face. Nothing else mattered! Cheers went up from the others in attendance but all Hanasian heard was Rin's words: ”You are my joy!”

Joy... this was what it was! Hanasian was filled to overflowing with it! With the grant of land, Hanasian wanted to have the home Rin dreamed of built there, but for now, a small old cabin occupied the bluff overlooking it. That all would have to wait for later days, whenever they may be. Right now it was time to celebrate!

The reception was held in one of the palace ballrooms, with guests from all over the Kingdom attending. Hanasian didn’t think himself so popular, and credited his lovely wife, the Royal Queen of Cardolan for being the main attraction. But it was people who he had met in the campaigns in the east and south that were there. How the King passes word was beyond Hanasian’s comprehension, but it likely had to do with his foresight and the seeing stone. There was Kozz, who had become the King’s Prefect of Khand. And Darus of Dale, and several of his kin from the north who had rode the Paths of the Dead in the war. With the guests came also the security, which was seen to by Faramir’s House Guard. The Steward and the Lady Eowyn were there with the King & Queen, and a band of musicians who swore they never ever played together before this night had gathered and were playing beautiful music. It was a magical time! Hanasian even looked about the faces to see if an old man was attending. No, Gandalf the wizard was not there, but the air was filled with such joy that Hanasian just had to check.

With a clap at the end of the band’s number, a tall man with a distinct limp stepped up and rang his wine glass. Hanasian hadn’t seen him there as yet, but if a smile could come over his already smiling face, it would have. Massuil one of the Dunedain Rangers of the war, started to speak..

”I’ve known Hanasian since our first days as Rangers, when we rode under the command of Elendur and Arkaeth before the war. We shared our first sorrows at Raven Falls in Rhuadur, and our early joys at Imladris. We watched over the Shire in the shadows, and were scattered at Sarn Ford by the Nazgul. We heard our Chieftain’s call and rode south under the command of Halbarad. From Dunharrow we walked the Paths of the Dead with our Chieftain and King, and we battled together in the war with memories too many to and many too dark to recall here.

"I just want to say that I was proud to serve with Hanasian, and knew that with him near, my back was secure. I tried to do the same for him. But I have to say that when word came that he was to marry, I was overjoyed! For I thought he would wile away his days with that quill and parchments while out in this world on his campaigns. Anyway, I’m getting long and seemingly losing my way here, so I will toast to the lady Rosmarin, who has put a gleam in Hanasian’s eyes which never was there before! To your lifetimes of happiness and joy together!”

The rise of agreements and tinking of glasses and applause erupted, and with his arm around Rin, he watched Massuil limp off the stage. Their eyes met across the room, and Hanasian lifted his glass to him, and Massuil did likewise. None save Rin and any of the company or Rangers who had seen it knew that words were passed with the movement of fingers around the glasses. They would catch up later on.

The music began again and Hanasian turned to Rin and asked, ”Lady Rosmarin, may I have this dance?”

Rin smiled and they twirled out onto the floor, her dress floating after her. Hanasian looked only at her for the whole dance, watching her eyes and enjoying the glow about her face. Happiness like this was unthinkable even a short tim ago, but now, it would never leave him.

Even as the song ended, Hanasian and Rin continued to dance. It wasn’t until Loch got up on stage and rang his glass and said…

”I would like to say a few things here.…”

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

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The floor was cleared and eyes, many of them very important and highly ranked, settled on him. It was then Loch realised that his words might not seem half as polished as that ranger who spoke before. Loch ran a self conscious hand through his hair and cleared his throat.

”I’m the first to say that I am not an educated man. My words will seem simple, but they are honest.”

Loch paused then, bracing himself.

”Things were hard for Rin and me a long time.I won’t put a pretty face on it. It was bad, sometimes real bad. We didn’t have much, apart from each other. Sometimes that was all we had. Somehow, it was enough to get us by.

“Today I gave the most precious thing I ever had to somebody else. I didn’t do it lightly or because I had to. The thing is, he’s the only man I ever met that seemed worth it. She ain’t never been so happy, so filled with light before. We haven’t had a whole lot to be truly happy about. But, my sister is, because of Hanasian. He’s the best man I know, and he’s married the best person I know.

“A toast, for Hanasian, who has the most valuable thing I ever done had and will now have to keep her occupied! I got my money on four children, Rin. Don’t let me down. I put a whole month’s pay on it!”

Laughter rippled throughout the crowd. Glasses and tankards were drained and the music began again. Massuil edged towards Hanasian and after a more personable introduction, Rin left the two Rangers catch up, nibbling Hanasian’s ear before she moved off with a twinkle in her eye and a whisper of silk. She edged between the tables and guests, chatting here and there. All the while she was astonished at the people in the ballroom. She had no idea who most of them were. Gimli and Legolas stood across the room, chatting amicably with the king and queen. Faramir stood, clearly enjoying the company of a fair haired woman who must surely be Eowyn. Molguv demanded a dance with his “pet queen”, who then handed her onto Khule, who handed her onto Loch. Rin begged off a fourth dance, pleading the need for refreshment. Hanasian and Massuil were still in deep conversation.

”It is good to see so many of my kin from the north make this journey, and on such short notice too,” Hanasian said to Massuil

”It wasn’t all that short. Word at Bree was that you had eyes for a wild beauty, and so we started preparing then. We just didn’t know where we would be going. Then word came from Aragorn in the way he does it, and we set out, much older and less fit than we were on our ride back in the war. I myself was glad to be able to still be able to ride.”

Hanasian looked down and saw a fine polished cane in his hand, and he was leaning on it rather heavily. Hanasian asked, ”How goes that wounded knee? You walked off the pain after pulling that orc-arrow out of it at Pelennor.”

”Not so well really. It seems to grow more an inconvenience as the years go by. Sure, it wasn’t poisoned, and it was not much of a wound at the time, but it seems to nag me,”
Massuil said, he went on, ”You know I would be with you every step of the way if not for this.”

Hanasian paused and said, ”It isn’t so glamorous to be living on this side, you know. I just never felt I would fit in anywhere after the war, so I stayed and I serve, and do what our Chieftain asks.”

Hanasian gave Massuil a deep stare as if to read him, but the visions were all jumbled and distorted. Hanasian smiled and shook Massuil’s hand.

”Brother of the paths, you do not stand alone. We are bound by that which few have served. And there are evermore few of us. Take pride in that which you have served, and may you find peace this day.”

Rin found herself faced by three men she didn’t know, but Hanasian did. They were polite, personable and curious about how she and Hanasian had met. They explained a little of how they knew Hanasian, and assured Rin that if ever she had need of their assistance it would be forthcoming. Rin had a sense that she was rapidly acquiring family, of a sort. There was her brother, and now there was her husband. There was her distant cousin and of course there was the Company. And now, there was this fellowship of rangers that Hanasian was part of that seemed to close in around her as well. It was a strange, warm sensation that lingered with her after they parted ways.

”He’s always had an eye for the beauty of this world, and a taste for challenge. For all the maids of Imladris that looked wistfully in his direction, it’s easy to see why this one finally captured his mind and heart,” said one ranger and his fellows agreed.

”Come then, let us go congratulate him. I suspect we may need some haste, given the task set before them by the bride’s brother.”

“Task? That would not be how I would describe it,”
replied one of his fellows and Massuil was joined by three Grey rangers intent on congratulating the groom on his nuptials. As other Dunedain closed in, Hanasian's quiet discussion with Massuil concluded. They were all smiles as they gathered, talking and listening to the tales each had to say of themselves since their parting of ways.

To Rin’s great shock, Voromir glided towards her. Or, she thought, slithered. The man bowed and mouthed empty words of courtesy. At the sight of this, several guests felt themselves tense. Mecarnil, Aragorn, Faramir and Imrahil all watched avidly. Rin was holding a glass, and she had that look she acquired when she was contemplating how to bring somebody down a peg or five. It was clear, as they watched her study the contents of her glass and then Voromir, she was considering something generally frowned upon in courtly circles. Aragorn caught her eye and raised a cautionary brow. She sighed, smiled blandly at Voromir and then threw back the contents of her glass when he moved away.

”There, you’ll make a diplomat out of her yet,” Imrahil observed dryly.

Eventually Hanasian left the other Dunedain to talk among themselves about this and that in the north. Hanasian slipped up by his lovely bride. He whispered in her ear, a lazy smile flickering over his face and colour rising to her cheeks as she laughed. From his smile, and her response, there were no prizes for guessing what Hanasian was suggesting. They swayed together, lost in the wonder of the other. The merriment drew on, the sun sank and the king and queen withdrew. This, then, marked a change in tempo. With the withdrawal of the king and queen, the nobles politely withdrew and those that remained would do so until the bride and groom departed.

”I say Ithilien,” Wulgof insisted, tossing back some ale.

”And I say they’ll make for Tolfalas,” Anwar insisted.

”I say it’s none of our business where they go and what they get up to,” Mecarnil insisted for propriety's sake and was ignored as speculation moved on to how long it would take for the news that the Company healer was with child to arrive.

Below, on the sixth tier, Cullith straightened and peered upwards at the palace. His niece was married, to a man she had chosen, a man that had proven himself to be of fine measure. He looked down at the figure sprawled unmoving at his feet. The last assassin, he hoped. His wedding gift would be that she would have the freedom to chose her husband. Cullith shucked off his spattered shirt and dropped it by the assassin’s body. He started rifling through the assassin’s meagre possessions in the lean to, looking for a fresh shirt that he ducked into.

So weary of this deadly ambition, Cullith washed a hand over his face. His beard had grown ragged and unkempt, such little time to see to it with the madness of Silver Fox unleashed. Then he sat and waited for the assassin’s employer to convey the good news that it was all now pointless. His niece was married, the horse had bolted, and to hell with their offensive, foolish concepts of protecting the integrity of Cardolan’s bloodline. Cullith smiled at the irony of the day. It had been precisely this issue that had shattered Arnor so long ago when the youngest of Earendur’s three sons insisted on a bride who was not of pure Dunedain stock. Now, the scion of the second son had chosen again, according to her heart and mind and only to that. A fitting answer to the blind pride of her ancestor, and her father.

The sound of boots outside the ill fitted door brought Cullith to his feet, his ironic smile of victory still on his face as a man pushed into the small space.

”Greetings to you, country man, on this joyous day. I hope that you will spread the glad tidings far and wide, for Erían has wed.”


“A man of her choosing.”

Cullith watched the man’s face twist into a silent snarl and then he was away. Rin’s uncle glanced at the corpse.

”Politics. Ever a nasty business,” he said and departed himself, for it would not do to be caught within the walls of this city just yet.

The thoughts of the dead assassin’s employer silently raged as he made his way to his home. Erían had turned away from them, turned away from her people, betrayed them all and in doing so proven their deepest fears that she was not fit to rule despite her royal lineage and the sanctity of her Numenorean blood. It was time to find another, just as Silver Fox had suggested...and perhaps there was the answer too. There would be much to discuss this night, for it was no easy task to unmake a queen and create a king.

And yet, perhaps all they needed to do was wait. If she were unfit to rule, she remained of pure lineage. Perhaps, if they were clever enough, they could secure a suitable heir. The throne could skip a generation. It would be a difficult feat, for the heir could not possibly be sired by her husband. It had been Earendur’s youngest son’s deathly fascination with a woman of unsuitable heritage that had fractured Arnor and given rise to the disaster of Angband. No, they’d not repeat that error after so much blood was spent in preserving the lineage through all that followed. A difficult feat, and one that may require noisome deeds to achieve, but if it produced a suitable heir for Cardolan...and what mercy could one turned traitor against her realm and people and history expect? Much to discuss this night indeed.

It was Anras who came over to a few of the Company men, Khule, Wulgof, Molguv, and Videgavia and whispered to them the planned honeymoon. Most had no idea where it was, but the those from Gondor did, and smiled. It would remain a secret from all the rest of the Company, particularly Mecarnil, Farbarad, and Loch. Lord Faramir had made personal arrangements for the couple, and his ferry awaited them on the Anduin. But even those of Gondor did not know the whole of it, only a general idea.

The evening grew late. Hanasian retrieved a suitably personal favour from his wife and let it fly toward the single men gathered. The rush of hands seemed to miss it, and before it hit the floor and was forever sullied, a hand intercepted it. A young Gondorian Knight of the house of Imrahil lifted it up, and his eyes immediately set toward Nimawyn, a fair young maiden in the service of Lady Eowyn. When it came time for Rosmarin to toss her flowers, it was Nimawyn who easily out-leapt the other ladies in waiting to take it. Surely there was something in the air between these two!

Hanasian was all smiles as they walked away down toward the landing where the Queen's own coach awaited them. With the proud horses, they would be taken to the ferry in all ceremony and circumstance. There they would board the Steward’s ferry, and on the other side be met by the Lady Eowyn’s personal coach. Then it was south journey south for their time alone, no distractions. They would spend a few weeks in the privacy of Henneth Annun, behind the falls of the Windows of the West.

It didn’t take Hanasian long after they left the White City to make good on his promise to his wife in the ballroom. It fell to a red-faced driver to interrupt them to let them know they were at the river. Rin emerged, straightening her dress, but her hair remained entangled. Hanasian was all smiles behind her again, and trying to straighten his own attire. They behaved themselves on the ferry, and shortly after boarding the coach and setting out, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

It seemed quite awhile before they arrived near Henneth Annun. They would have to walk a ways and Rin didn’t want to ruin her dress. Hanasian offered a cunning alternative that caused Rin to blush. She decided to leave the gown on, just in case. Hanasian followed her along the trail, smiling in the night. They managed the narrow track well, and though a slip here and a pause there slowed them, they soon came to where they would pass under the falls. They worked their way in, and Hanasian was quite enamoured with the effect produced by the tiny droplets of spray from the falls upon his bride. But looking at the old cave, the Steward and the Lady left nothing untouched. A beautiful setting was prepared for them overlooking the Window of the West, and they were here alone. They would enjoy each other’s company so much over the coming weeks.

Back at Minas Tirith, the company was given leave for a month. But even though they were on leave, it was asked they all check in at morning call, and they had a place in the city set aside for them in the soldier’s ward.

Their pay was distributed, and Videgavia hoped they would stay out of trouble for the most part while on his watch. Farbarad and Mecarnil finally had a moment to try and relax, though it seemed much still lingered on their minds. They headed off together. Khule, Loch, Morcal, Wulgof, and Molguv all headed back to the Silver Bark. The rest scattered about alone, or in pairs to find their own place to relax and unwind.

Hamoor observed the men arrive at the Silver Bark, and whispered to the young serving wench twins Brenae and Dawnae that they should continue seducing the young kid. Oganyan would take care of Morcal, and he would later sit down with the Easterling, Southron, and Dunlending for a chat.

Reminiscent of days long before, Mecarnil and Farbarad found themselves in each other’s company, the day after the wedding. The event had prompted a certain nostalgia as it was, particularly sharp for them when they realized Verawyn’s daughter had chosen her mother’s wedding gown and circlet for the occasion. It was a sweet discovery, a mélange of old bitterness woven through it. It was only natural, then, that the two men would to talk of the service they shared to Cardolan. They did so over a pot of tea, mid morning, overlooking the bustle of Minas Tirith’s main markets.

”Any regrets?” Farbarad asked Mecarnil on a whim when conversation had fallen to a lull.

”Plenty,” Mecarnil chuckled wryly, expelled a smoke ring and continued, ”Only they’re never what I thought they would be at the time.

“I regretted taking up Cardolan’s service when I discovered what was going on. Tried to make amends by serving in the war and regretted that too before it was all done. Returned to service with Cardolan again and regretted where that ended for years. Wouldn’t do it differently, though. Only thing I haven’t regretted is the Black. Hanasian’s a good man. Yet, if I had walked away from Cardolan a second time, who knows if she would have made it as far as to marry him.”

“Actually, who knows if she would have even left Imladris. That first three months were unbearable. I don’t think I slept more than a moment, fearing one of his fool advisers would take it upon himself to dash in her head and demand a male heir,”
Farbarad added as he took a mouthful of tea.

”Remember, Mec?”

“Mmmm, happy times.”

“I regret that you didn’t let me snap Berith’s neck.”

“I don’t. For all his flaws, and he had a few, he was at the least her father. If you thought him cold and cruel, then imagine her fate in the hands of one of his advisors. A pack of wolves one and all. I know for a fact that they suggested an ‘accident’ befall her and he baulked.”

“Only because he wasn’t sure how Elrond’s sons would respond. Not for any true sense of honour, not because he felt his infant daughter needed his protection, deserved it.”

“Still, by my reckoning, those last months were the worst by far. Remember?”
Mecarnil asked and drew deeply on his pipe as an old, bone deep anger and sorrow turned over.

”I remember it took him three months to deign to see his daughter, and he did so purely by accident. Verawyn happened to be holding her when he arrived. He came only because she kept refusing his letters, his missives and me. He came because she forced him to, in order to tell her his decision. I watched Verawyn fall to her knees with Rin in her arms and beg him to relent.”

”Rin screamed for hours that day. There were two things that stopped me from killing her father that day. You and bird I started carving in a bid to make her stop. Rin’s wailing followed me for years. There’s a regret for you. The other one that haunted me was the day we set out. I still see Verawyn’s face in my dreams, Mec,”
Farbarad said quietly.

”She knew. She knew what it was her husband was dragging them to. She knew she would ride to her death. I thought I would run that day, but when I saw her I realised that if she could face it, then I had to.”

“Such a gentle woman,”
Farbarad said softly, a shake of his head.

There was a long quiet then.

”For all of those regrets though, I’d be hard placed now to decide which one I would give up. As you said, Farbarad, would any of us be here without all of them? Would we have found her again? Would Hanasian be happily married and would the Black Company have an accomplished, if light fingered, healer?”

“The answer is no, for if there was any regret I would surrender it is the regret that I did not snatch her away as I thought of doing in those first few months. Only the anguish it would cause Verawyn stopped me.”

“Really? You were going to steal the royal heir of Cardolan?”

“Damn straight, Mec, and if I had of raised her as my own, she’d not be keeping company with the likes of the Black Company of Arnor,”
Farbarad laughed.

”That bird carving,” Mecarnil started.

”Soon as I handed it to her, straight into her mouth for it’s first chewing...well gumming at that time.”

“That was the bird you gave to her in Harad?”

“Mmmmm....didn’t realise I still had it with me. I tried to get rid of it over the years, but couldn’t. That bird stopped me from taking Berith’s life, and those little tooth marks on it stopped me from ending mine over the years. I went to Pelargir to seek redemption. Never knew it would bring me to her again. Never knew.”

“Would you have come if you had known, Farbarad?”

“I honestly do not know, Mec.”

It was as good an answer as any and the rangers sat in silence, nursing their pipes and tea.

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

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Far to the East, about the time of the Harad insurrection

The waves of the eastern sea broke gently on the shore. Commander Khor stood there with his young second Khirue, watching and waiting. The lack of words allowed only the sound of the surf breaking on the pebbles on the beach until Khirue said, ”Do you think they will return again?”

“Yes, they will return. Though I deem them a long-forgotten remnant of mighty kings of old, they are still powerful. Though their numbers were few, their dress and demeanour spoke much. Yes, they will return.”
Khor answered then added, ”And this morning’s light may not have brought them as they promised, they come now on contrary seas.”

Khirue shielded his eyes from the sun. The mastheads could barely be seen against the horizon, but time would bring them into sight. It was the afternoon before the first ship anchored off the coast and two others could be seen coming. The young commander was excited but Khor was grim. Knowing what he was about to do could spell the end of Rhun as he knew it, Khor was willing to gamble on the future. Men like Khirue and the young warrior caste would see it through. Khor only hoped that the wisdom of years could hold them in check long enough. And that word doesn’t get to the west too soon.

They watched as the launch came ashore with several men. Language and communication had been difficult the first time but was less problematic this time. It seemed they had a common understanding and the seafarers had some ability to learn and understand the language of the east-shore Easterling clans. Their language was a bit harsh in sound but at times melodic, much like the dwarves of the northwest. Khor used a mix of Westron, Rhunic, and the old speech of their ancestors to get across what he wished to say. He had hoped that they would have better understanding, but both the Easterlings and the seafarers were careful to clarify all that was said. It was only after a day of talks that the visitors spoke in language fully understandable to the Easterlings. A tall leader named Dahk had come late on another ship.

With him was another hooded, robed man who said nothing and did not leave Dhak’s side. Dhak spoke of things Khor had little knowledge of, like the Sea Kings and the offworlders, and the devastation of the lands by shaking and rising seas. Dhak spoke of his history, tales of how his people had been all but wiped out and the unnumbered years it took for them to recover. Through the years, small bands on ships of ill repair, great and small, seemed to find their way to the coast of a remnant of what was once known as the dark lands. They felt they were kin from afar, and so they grew in number and strength. Through this all, the hooded man seemed to be in a trance that Khor found unsettling. Somehow, Dhak perceived his unspoken questions.

”You have wondered why we come only now, when our first ship landed several moons ago.”

“Yes I have,”
Khor answered.

”We had been here long ago, when the Maia known as Sauron was again strong. But his eye was ever searching west, and we could not permit him to see us. It was his words that caused the destruction of our fore-bearers. Though we were strong enough to cause him grief in his east, we pondered approaching the western kingdom in alliance. But our emissary ship, after a long voyage in contrary seas, was attacked and lost as it approached north. We understand now that they were also kindred of old, but they served Sauron.

“We not so strong or prideful as to challenge Sauron on our own. We decided to stay away over the eastern sea and let these lands follow their course. Now, he has been vanquished by the West, yes?”

Khor answered, ” He has. Rhun allied with him and so we too were vanquished.”

Dahk went on, ” And you think we will help you in freeing your lands from the benevolent rule of the western king?”

“Very little escapes you I see. Yes, this is the hope of some of our clan,”
Khor replied, eyes on the hooded man at Dhak’s side.

”And the other clans?”

Khor's reply was immediate, ” They serve the King of Gondor in exchange for relative freedom to live life in peace.”

Dhak suggested wisdom.

”You should settle for this. The war has decimated your strength. You need peace to regain strength. Too soon would you challenge this king who led victory over the dark one. It will go ill for you should you challenge him now. Enjoy this peace and use it well. For a time will come when the king will pass his kingdom to his heir, for good or ill. No matter which, heirs are never the men their fathers were."

Talks were careful and slow. Ultimately they agreed to send a small force of several hundred ashore to work on winning the other clan chiefs to their side. No army would immediately march west and return Rhun to complete independence now. However Rhun would recover over time, renew their mighty warrior caste and extend their roots for support. Khor already had the eastern clan in hand. word of this was already bringing many of the old warrior caste who ill liked being allied to foes of old. The trouble Khor saw was if word was getting to these disaffected men, it would be reaching other ears as well.

It would be disastrous should Gondor move against them before they were ready. Indeed, since the Fourth Age, the army of the Reunited Realm had been proven fearsomely effective against rebel insurrections. It would take many years before Rhun could muster the strength again, and it appeared there would be little help from the seafarers. Yet, even if Gondor received word this very day, they would be hard pressed to muster a force strong enough and move them this far east. Particularly given the rebellion sputtering violently in the south of Harad.

The day ended with the seafarers leaving a dozen men ashore to make camp and to interact with the Easterlings, a core of men to function as liaison between the two peoples on shore. Likewise, several Easterling volunteers set out to the ships. Khor hoped the new-come men’s curiosity would be to Rhun’s benefit. Despite this, Khor’s fear of what could come of this alliance persisted. He had cast his lot and will see it through. It did not make for a sound night of sleep.

Aboard ship, Dhak did not sleep too well either. His shadow had recovered his capacity for speech and set out several arguments in disagreement with Dhak. Indeed, Dhak’s shadow could perceive certain advantages they could bring to the table.


Henneth Annun

A whole month with the love of his life! Three days in, Hanasian remained in a state joyful disbelief. Walking was not an easy thing, and there was no real need to have to. There was food aplenty, and the constant sound of the falls became in itself a soothing sound that permeated them. It faded slightly on the sunny days only to swell during the rain that passed in fits over Ithilien to soothe summer’s waxing lambent heat. There was nothing to part them in this time and so nothing did. They did not, indeed could not, venture very far. They made it as far as the pool at the frothy feet of the falls, and basked on sun warmed rocks in the haze of the afternoon. Or they would explore the various passages and places of Henneth Annun. Usually, though, they found other things to occupy their time with. For the first time, Hanasian could forget all he had known.

”My dearest wife, all joy in life is mine, for to have your love and to be able to hold you and kiss you and … well, it would be our life together. Do we give it all up and go west as the elves say? We have been blessed. Right now that is what I want to do. But I fear I will miss it all. My father had this failing.”

Hanasian looked at Rin in her soft sheer silken wrap as they lounged on the bed. There was a faint smile playing over her lips as she peered up at the clouds through her lashes. Her expression was all mystery. It took Hanasian some time to get to the bottom of Rin’s response to his question. At first, admittedly, he was distracted. When they caught their breath again, he could see her smile flickering once more. Elusive, secret, it intrigued him. Ultimately, she kept him dangling until that very night. They had chosen to venture out under the stars to perch high above the falls and take in the glory of the night. Around them Ithilien was in the verdant grip of summer. The season was laden in the air, swelling and swirling around them as they nibbled on what food had appealed to bring with them. The moon had started to wane, yet the light was sufficient still to catch in the pale silk of Rin’s hair and panes of Hanasian’s face.

They sat there, contentedly discussing their future. West, they agreed wholeheartedly, each eager to shape a life and a home with the other. The question, however, was when. Rin revealed her secret. It was voices, heard each morning before she woke now. Young voices mingled with Hanasian’s, laughing as they sang a rhyme with the ever present sigh of the distant sea underneath it all. It was all she knew of, all she Dreamt. Just voices, the very breath of hope and joy that seemed to suffuse her, scour through her mind and veins with the morning light and the sensation of Hanasian beside her.

”Very well,” Hanasian murmured into her hair as they studied the night sky. ”We shall go west.”

“We will know when, my love,”
Rin assured him.

That night, it was warm enough to sleep under the stars and they did so, feeling as though they floated on the very cusp of the world. Wrapped in each other and their beckoning future, they were untroubled by the world that slumbered around them.


Minas Tirith

The Company seemed to relax and unwind as the first week drifted by. That is all but Farbarad and Mecarnil. The two rangers stood shoulder to shoulder in a cell. Both men studied the body of a man that was sprawled on the floor in silence. He’s been brought in with the turn over of the city guard, and they’d not reached him before someone else clearly had. Cullith had put up a fight. Mecarnil turned to the guard that had discovered the prisoner’s fate.

”Did he say nothing else?” the ranger asked heavily and the guard shook his head.

”Nothing that made sense,” guard replied.

”Let us be the judge of that, if you will,” Mecarnil replied.

”Two words, then. Stop and wrong, that was what he said.”

“And you saw nothing, I suppose,”
Farbarad said without turning around.

”Nothing like this has ever happened before. I saw nothing, and neither did Mithgorn.”

Farbarad washed his hand over his face and blocked the ghastly bloody smile that yawned across Cullith’s throat from his sight.

”It don’t make sense,” the guard murmured, more to himself.

”What doesn’t?” Mecarnil asked sharply.

”He turned himself in, you know. Wild claims about that spate of assassin killings in the city of late and all them rebel supports what turned up dead over the past week. Raul brought him in, said he was desperate to get locked up. Why would he be so desperate to come to the place he would die? Man cunning enough to kill all those men? Don’t make sense.”

Farbarad shook his head and walked just behind Mecarnil as the pair made their way back out of the city jail’s narrow corridors.

”We’ll never know what he needed to tell us so badly he was willing to risk arrest and execution for,” Mecarnil said.

Farbarad studied the stones of the street he walked in the night, turning over what he knew of Verawyn’s younger brother. Cullith had ever walked the edges. Whatever seemed bad enough, wrong enough to stop to him must truly be a horror. But what? They’d been looking for the rebels that were surely in the city for over a week now to no avail. What had Cullith uncovered that they had not?

In the second week, Videgavia was summoned to the palace by Aragorn.

With the service of tea the King asked him, "I understand you have been named Company Lieutenant?"

"Yes, it seems so."

The King nodded and said, "You have served admirably in all your days. Do you get on well with Khule the Easterling?"

Videgavia hesitated before answering, "Sire, you must know of my loathing of the Easterlings from the past. I am a man of Dale. Yet Khule and I have reached an understanding despite the tumult of our people’s history. Our last mission east has tempered me somewhat in this regard."

The King again nodded and after a few sips of his tea and a thoughtful look into his cup, he inquired "What is your assessment of Khule's ability to lead?"

Videgavia swallowed his tea in a great lump, wondering what this was leading to.

"I think he is a good soldier, and will step up if needed.... Sire, may I speak freely?"

"I expect it Videgavia,"
the King answered.

Videgavia asked, "Sire, these questions seem best posed to our Captain."

Aragorn considered his tea a moment before he replied.

"Leadership is a hard thing. My days as Chieftain saw me depending on my second and good friend Halbarad to lead the Rangers in my absence. So too does Hanasian look to you. Hanasian may not return to the Company at all. Therefore you would be Captain. While he is not here, my questions fall to you."

"Yes, sire. Khule is very capable and would likely do well in need."

Aragorn drained his tea, unsurprised by Videgavia’s report.

"I'll need you to pick three of the Company for a special mission led by Khule. They won't be returning any time soon, so you best spend the next couple weeks seeing who would wish to join, and seeing who will be accepted. Consider the strengths of the men you would choose and how they complement each other. You have until tonight to consider your preferences on that basis."

Videgavia bowed and departed, mind crowded with the many challenges his tea with the king had set before him. The first was to find Khule, and then hope he was sober enough to see the king.


Minas Tirith - The Silver Bark

"That was you?” Frea exclaimed, astonished as Loch nodded.

”Yup! Right up the northern escarpment,” Loch replied smugly, ”The way down wasn’t so easy though,” he added.

Loch mimed windmilling arms and a sudden drop, face first, into the ground. There was laughter around the table.

”No surprise you weren’t the graceful one,” Wulgof said, wiping at his eyes.

”Not me. That was Rin. Meduseld’s guards had cut the rope,” Loch corrected and the laughter doubled.

The image of the Company healer falling face first into the ground particularly amused Wulgof. She was always so in control of herself ordinarily. Always so...together. Aside from that morning a little over a week ago, but she had been clearly intoxicated then. Loch launched into the rest of tale.

”There’s what, fifty marks now Folca?” Frea inquired of his twin brother.

”Fifty seven marks on your heads,” Folca supplied and Loch seemed particularly impressed with that. So too did Molguv, the closest rival to the title of professional thief in their number.

”What did you do with the cheese?” Molguv asked, well aware of the reports of the cordon Eomer had drawn in on Edoras in the wake of the humiliating theft.

”She ate it, of course,” Loch replied, grinning as men rolled their eyes.

Videgavia had, naturally, missed none of this. For all of his innocuous ways, the scout had proven himself capable in more ways than one. Hanasian had spotted immediately that there was more to the young man than appeared on his slightly scruffy equable surface. Videgavia agreed with his captain wholeheartedly. Khule was situated across the table from Loch, dozing fitfully.

”Here’s trouble,” Foldine rumbled good naturedly as Videgavia stepped forward and into sight of those gathered at the table.

”He awake?” Videgavia inquired.

Morcal obliged with a rousing slap on Khule’s back, between the Easterling’s shoulder blades. Khule started up in his chair, focus already evident in his almost black eyes. They glittered dangerously, for all of their lingering bleariness.

”Not good enough,” Videgavia declared and Molguv’s face split into a blindingly white grin.

The Haradian emptied a bucket of water over Khule’s head and then wisely stepped back. Khule was a veteran, a proven capable commander, and an accomplished assassin. By this time Khule was on his feet, murderous expression fixed on his normally cool features.

”Come on then, we have business Easterling,” Videgavia grated and, to Khule’s credit, the Easterling’s attention swivelled to the lieutenant.

The man had discipline that most officers would give their eye teeth for. Discipline and cunning. Who else to put with the man, though. None of the Rohirrim. They’d stick out like sore thumbs if Videgavia guessed the purpose of Khule’s mission aright. Maybe the brothers from Anfalas. Maybe Loch and Wulgof. Maybe Anwar. Perhaps himself, but what if Hanasian didn’t come back? Videgavia knew, were he in Hanasian’s shoes, he’d not return to a life of service. Too many left their wives and children to a life of hardship and loneliness in the name of duty. Videgavia pondered such things in silence as he escorted Khule to his appointment.

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

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Khule and Videgavia met the King in a low hall of the city, not in the palace proper. Looking much more like the Ranger Strider than the King of the United Realm of Numenor in Exile, he nevertheless carried himself with authority. He eyed Khule who stood wearily, but professionally beside Videgavia, and wasted no time.

” You are Khule the Easterling, of Rhun?”

“Yes m’lord.”

“And you joined the Company when?”
the King asked.

Khule shifted his weight ever so slightly as he swallowed, finally saying, ”When the Company was last in Rhun, after the defeat of Warlord Khurg.”

“I see…”
the King replied. He walked a few paces and turned again toward the two, asking, ”Commander Khule, do you have family in the east?”

Again, Khule shifted, hesitating, ”M’lord, I have no ties to the east. All that was became forgotten when I was accepted into the Company-”

“Yes, I know of Hanasian’s requirements of his Company,”
the King cut him off. ”But my question stands. I would prefer you to answer me truthfully.”

Khule took a deep breath, knowing the King Elessar could likely read his thoughts anyway.

”Yes, yes I do. I have a half-brother whom I did not meet until just before the war.”

The King did not reply, just stared into Khule’s eyes as he continued, ”My father & mother no longer live, and the mother of my half-brother had another son, which makes him my brother in some sort of way I guess.”

The King nodded, ”Yes, and you don’t have any ties with any of them. Relax Khule. Videgavia will tell you what you will need to do.”

Videgavia was a bit dismayed at that. He wasn’t sure what Khule would be doing, but he did know what was needed. He turned to Khule, ”You, along with two others will be on special assignment for the King. I’m going to say to take three others, but two at the minimum.”

Khule looked around, and the King took up where Videgavia left off.

”You and your men will travel east to Rhun, and there will meet the Prefect. Afterward you will likely journey to the far reaches to the east. You may be asking yourself why, and why you. Well, you know the lands and the language. You also may have some local contacts to assist as well. Videgavia has some thoughts on who should go with you.”

Videgavia nodded more to himself than for anyone else’s benefit, finalising his selection even as Aragorn spoke.

”I have assigned to you Wulgof, Berlas, and Lochared.”

Khule was about to say something but Videgavia held his hand up to prevent interruption. As Videgavia’s expression was was all business Khule wisely elected to keep his silence.

”I send these three with you because Wulgof won’t stand out, Berlas is a master of not being seen, and Loch is sneaky. All these traits will come in handy I believe. Now, what is it you will be doing…”

The King stepped in at this juncture.

”I need some good reconnaissance. Normally I can perceive enough with my mind and stoneto know what is developing in distant places. But since returning from Harad, I seem to only see and sense vagueness far to the east. There seems to be something there, but whatever it is seems to be able to shroud itself. My prefect seems uneasy, and with him the clan chiefs of western Rhun seem uneasy. There is little else I can grasp. Therein lies the problem. So you will needs be my eyes and ears. I must know what is happening on the ground. You will likely have to go east, and you will avoid trouble. You will gather information, and then when you have a good idea what is going on, you will make for the Prefect’s compound, or if need be, back here to Minas Tirith.”

Aragorn seemed perturbed for a moment, but returned to his stoic self. He said to Videgavia, ”Make sure they are ready by morning, for their escort will leave after breakfast.”

He handed Videgavia a parchment and turned to go, saying, ”Thank you both for your service. You may return to your Company.”

Videgavia and Khule saluted the King as he left. He seemed to disappear down the dark hall, gone out of sight even though Khule and Videgavia were right behind him.

Videgavia told Khule, ”You have your orders. Grab Loch, Wulgof, and Berlas and spend the rest of this day getting provision together. You will be a light mobile force, so you will have to pack what you can and scavenge what you need as you go. You will be well received by the Prefect when you get there. He will see you have what you need should you arrive without it.”

Khule was silent and his face was grim. He had to be a commander again. He took a deep breath and let it escape through his lips in a hissing sound.

”Fine…fine. Do I have to take the kid? I mean…. Anras or one of the brothers from Anfalas…”

“It’s been decided. Loch will do alright. And you may have a need for his unique abilities. Don’t make the same mistake you made on the way to Bree. Neither he nor his sister are to be underestimated.”

Nothing more was said. When they arrived where most of the Company was, Videgavia soon had their attention.

“Listen up. Wulgof, get provisions for the road. Loch and Berlas, you get yourselves ready to go. You will be accompanying Khule tomorrow morning on special assignment. Anything you want to leave behind have ready for the Company to pack when we move out. Foldine, you are temporary Standardbearer for the company. Wulgof, you’re Khule’s second. Daius, Donius, you go and screen any wouldbe adventurers who want to join us. They will be gathering at the Mean Mead. If you deem any worthy, have them go to the Silver Bark tomorrow night where the rest of us will look them over. Now, this day is still here, so, let’s get ready.”

There was grumbling and questions, but they knew Videgavia was serious. The man rarely jested and Khule’s expression left them in no doubt. Something was up, and so preparations were made.

The next morning came and the whole Company was ready to move out. They marched in formation to the docks where Khule, Berlas, Wulgof, and Loch boarded a small river barge. They were loaded down with packs and had satchels of provision with them as well. Berlas would lead them off on the east side of the river to where horses had been prepared for them. The parting was somber and professional, though Loch seemed to be his usual affable self. His manner was more befitting a camp-out with a couple friends at first. When the barge shoved off he sobered, aware that for the first time ever he had no idea when he would see his sister again. Slowly the small barge faded into the morning mist that hung over the river.

No sooner had they turned to march back to the city in formation did Mecarnil get Videgavia’s ear about what had transpired the night before.

”He’s dead,” Videgavia repeated and the two rangers nodded.

”And this is a bad thing?” Videgavia guessed from the expressions on their faces.

Mecarnil seemed taken aback by the question, but Farbarad shrugged his shoulders.

”Perhaps...we’re not sure,” Farbarad replied and Mecarnil turned a startled expression on his fellow ranger.

”Cullith was our only line, our only connection on what Malagorn was up to and now he’s dead. Yes. It is a bad thing. Even if we ignore the fact that yet again, she’s lost another member of her immediate family prematurely, this is a bad thing.”

“Who’s Malagorn?”
Videgavia asked, trying to follow along.

”Silver Fox,” Farbarad replied distractedly, addressing most of his attention on Mecarnil.

”We don’t know exactly, Mec. Cullith was not what you’d call reliable... or predictable. He’s-”

Mecarnil said emphatically.

”Dubious...and his methods are even more questionable. There’s been a string of assassin’s taken out in the city, and you heard what that guard said as well as I. Cullith claimed responsibility for that, and whatever else blood he took upon his hands beyond the city gates,” Farbarad said.

”So...we’ve a few less assassins and rebels, and an unreliable man of questionable values is no longer a risk, ” Videgavia summed up, ignoring the fact he was still none the wiser on who Silver Fox/Malagorn was.

Mecarnil nodded and Farbarad frowned.

”So, I suppose, it is worth bringing them back early?” Videgavia asked, hopeful that they might agree and the Captain would be back sooner than later for entirely selfish reasons.

”No,” Mecarnil and Farbarad chorused.

”Better by far she’s out of this for now. It’s a rotten business however you look at it,” Mecarnil said.

”So, what has this got to do with the Black Company exactly?” Videgavia asked.

”Well... nothing...yet,” Mecarnil added as Farbarad cleared his throat.

”We’re not sure, Vid. We don’t know what we don’t know. I think we should spend some time fixing that, while we have it up our sleeves. I just don’t think it’s wise to presume all is well as ends well,” Farbarad persisted.

”If you can spare us, Vid,” Mecarnil threw in.

Videgavia grunted at that and nodded, ”Sure. Truth be told I’ll sleep straighter knowing there isn’t some great ambush waiting for them on their return.”

Videgavia eyed Mecarnil closely as the ranger seemed suddenly uncomfortable, ”What?”

“Well there is an ambush, but it’s for her own good. For everyone’s. She has to sign those succession documents before she leaves the city. If I have to ambush her with them, I will. I make no apologies for it.”

“Except that one,”
Farbarad said with a grin at the apologetic yet defiant tone of Mecarnil’s voice.

”Good luck,” Videgavia said earnestly, unable to stop himself from grinning either, ”From what I heard, a liberal application of dwarven spirits may render her more...agreeable,” he helpfully suggested.

Mecarnil muttered something under his breath, Farbarad grinned widely at the man from Dale and the two were off to see what they could unearth. Videgavia’s smile lingered a moment and then faded slowly.

”It just isn’t fair,” he said to himself, considering the fact that Rin had again lost a member of her family before she even managed to be introduced. Just as well she had the Black, he supposed.

”What’s your story then?” Donius said, sick and tires of adventurer tales.

”Want to serve, do something useful, travel. The usual,” the fellow replied and then launched into a tale of how dull his existence was and how valuable he would prove to the Black Company. Daius waved a hand to bring the song and dance show to an end.

”Fine, whatever. Silver Bark tomorrow night,” he intoned and then fixed his attention on the next would be member of the Black Company.

This one was a woman, wearing an outfit similiar to the one Rin had sported not so long ago. She had Daius’ attention and vote. Donius was inclined to agree with his brother, only he had a little more concern for avoiding the inevitable ribbing he would get if she proved to be nothing more than wonderful to look at.

”Skills?” Donius asked.

”Yes... yes, do tell us your skills,” his brother enthused, leaning forward.

”Relevant skills,” Donius added as he saw her expression brighten.

”Oh...well, I’m hard working and eager to learn.”

“Recon, infiltration, theft, diplomacy, combat, healing?”
Donius inquired, ignoring Daius statement that she seem suitably qualified from his vantage.

”Scouting, tracking, hunting, weapons, sabotage, espionage, assassination, engineering?" Donius continued as her smile faded into uncertainty.

”What’s recon?” she asked.

Daius glanced with irritation at his brother as Donius shook his head.

”I’ll teach you,” Daius promised and her smile grew again as he stood and set off for a more private table away from his boorish brother.

”Next,” Donius intoned, rolling his eyes before they settled on a nondescript man of average height and average appearance.

Donius squinted at him and blinked. Remarkable! The sort of everyman that no one would pay a second glance too. Quiet, just fitted right on in no matter where he was. Perfect camoflague. The man just sat there studying Donius in return.

”You’re fit and able?”


“A talker then,”
Donius’ smile grew as the man imperceptibly shrugged. This one would give Videgavia a run for his money.

”Perfect,” Donius said, ”Silver Bark-”

“Tomorrow night. I’ll be there,”
the man replied, nodded calmly and moved off. He barely made a ripple in the crowd despite the press of people.

”Perfect,” Donius repeated.

The rest, Nilrick observed, got short shrift. Only a couple more, and the one who had decided he was perfect was clearly favouring those who would make his preferred candidate shine. Nilrick did not smile. He did not feel satisfaction. He glanced to one side and saw the effusive, talkative man that had gone before him was sitting at the bar.

”Derran,” he introduced himself and shook Nilrick’s hand enthusiastically.

”I can tell we’re going to get on like a house on fire, what did you say your name was?”

“Nildrick. And I didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”

“I didn’t tell you my name before.”

“Oh, no matter. Bygones be bygones. I tell you this, Millrid, you and I, we’re both in.”

Nildrick replied, ignoring the mistake Derran had made with his name because bygones were, as he had said, bygones.

”Truly... I know this. We’re in. We’re in the sharpest, meanest Company of Arnor and Gondor combined,” Derran confirmed and held up his tankard for a refill.

”And you’re pleased by being part of this sharp, mean... presumably deadly and risky Company,” Nildrick observed.

Derran looked at him a moment and then winked.

”Oh yes. Sharp, mean, deadly and risky...but worth every moment, every drop.”

“Enjoy living dangerously?”

“You could say that.”


“Have you seen her? Saw her in Pelargir, in that uniform. All that leather... a very dangerous business. And, she’s the Captain’s wife if that’s not dangerous enough for you.”

“Ah, the Company healer.”

“Can’t wait to get healed,”
Derran said, grinning, and tipped back his ale.

Nildrick considered his own tankard a moment and Derran’s attention was soon pre-occupied with a pretty face on the other side of the bar. When Derran turned back to Nildrick, he found the position occupied by someone else. This, somehow, seemed natural. Derran shrugged and turned back to the bar maid.

”As I said lassie, we’re soon to sign up service to the king. Yes, loyal men, steadfast and true,” Derran continued, knowing just how well women liked men in uniforms.

It would be an interesting time at the Silver Bark. Anras was put in charge of security, and he along with Belegost made sure the place was secure. The owner was paid handsomely for the rental of his establishment. It took a bit for him to leave, taking the dancer Oganyan with him. Gone too was Loch's girl, and all of the ladies who attended them on Hanasian's night. A few daughters of local families, after assurances to their fathers that no funny business would be had, were permitted to work that night and were paid well for it. It was a private gathering of the Company, and drinks were taken lightly as it was all business. With the approaches to The Silver Bark watched by shadows that were Frea and Foldine, Bear's ominous presence stood outside the door to make sure nobody got in.

Each band of recruiters had given out a series of unique passwords to their prospects that they were to keep to themselves. With these words linked to names, and descriptions of each name well detailed, it would be known if any had shared theirs. If any did, they would be stricken from consideration. Donius, Folca, and Morcal each checked their respective prospects, and everyone who was even remotely serious who made the cut showed up. Videgavia got them all to listen, and after a brief on what was expected of everyone who was accepted, a few had second thoughts. After they left by the front door, they were sequestered by Mulgov and led around to the back into a storeroom and held until the end of the meet. Five in total through the meet decided to “leave”. Those who were decided upon by Videgavia as good prospects were given new passwords and were told to meet at the White Tree Inn by the gates of the city the next afternoon. Those that weren’t were led to believe they were, given someone else’s old password and told to meet the next afternoon again at the Silver Bark. Again it was a test of confidentiality.

When it was done well past the midnight hour, thirty-three were to go to the White Tree, and a few more than that were to go to the Silver Bark. There were many Gondorian soldiers who were too young to fight in the war, with a couple older professional veterans. But there was also in the mix a scribe, a thief, trader who knew many languages, a smith, a carpenter, a sailor, and a farmer. Derran and Nildrick managed to make the cut. Finally everyone was allowed to depart, and the Company remained for a time for a parting flagon of ale.

”Some lot,” Mulgov muttered, not too impressed with the latest crop of prospects, ”Why are we looking at taking in so many anyway?”

Mulgov’s question was aimed at Videgavia, who was enjoying a slug off his ale before answering.

”Have you had a look around here recently? With Khule, Loch, Berlas and Wulgof gone, Mercarnil and Farbarad off dealing with this Cardolan matter, and the Cap’n and Doc gone for a couple more weeks, there isn’t too many of us left. We could be as likely as not ordered out before the Cap returns, and we will need some strength in numbers. Most of these prospects will likely end up as fodder, with a few standouts that know how to survive. We don’t know what is coming our way, but from what I get as a feeling, and with this business our four are on in the east, I know it isn’t good. So quit griping about what we got here and offer some useful critique on any of them.”

“Well, for one, I don’t like the chatty guy. Something about him…. Anyway, if he makes it, I’m watching him,”
Mulgov said whimsically.

Videgavia said, ”How right you are. For you, Mulgov, have just been promoted to sergeant of the new Company.”

With that, Videgavia drained his flagon and let it slam to the table. He stood up and said, ”Now, everyone back to our quarters. Get some sleep, for we have work to do tomorrow.”

They formed up in ranks and half-timed it back. Some of the lingering recruits saw them go and were impressed.

The next morning, research into some of the new prospects went well for Videgavia. It was mid afternoon in the market area where he was approached by a rather large man with braided locks.

Videgavia took a second look at him and said, ”You are the conga player at the Silver Bark from a couple weeks ago.”

“That’s right. Hamoor is my name. I would like to join you.”

“Join me? Sorry, I don’t play that way.”

Videgavia was a bit puzzled at Hamoor’s request, but figured he would see where it goes. He listened as Hamoor started talking again.

”You are a funny man. You know that I mean the Company.”

”Of course I do,”
Videgavia said.

He finished his dealing with a food vendor and started to eat. He said with a mouthful, ”If you're interested, be at the Silver Bark by sunset.”

”Or maybe the White Tree?”

Videgavia slowed his chewing for a moment but carried on, mumbling, ”As you wish Ravenclaw.”

Hamoor smiled, and with a wisp of wind, he vanished into the crowd.

Videgavia was troubled at the security leak, but it didn’t throw him off too much. A man like that has the ways of a good Company man and he couldn’t just pass that up. Even if he had his own agenda…

Getting back to their quarters, everyone was polished up and looking like they belonged to a fine military outfit. Videgavia took Folca and Frea, Donius and Daius aside.

”As expected, we had a breach. I don’t think it’s a bad one though. Remember the man we ran into at the Silver Bark on Hanasian's night? He will be here late. His word is ravensclaw. Hopefully we’ll be done with the rest of this lot by then. Anyway, Anras, you and Morcal will deal with the Silver Bark cadre. Tell them they’re all in, and that they need to get themselves as a company to Pelargir forthwith for training. Their collective password will be ‘guardwatch’. And when they arrive, they need to report to Mungoloo. They will be the city guard’s new recruits.

“Listen carefully. Make no mention of Khule, Loch, Berlas or Wulgof. Also, none of the Cap or Rin. They’re likely to be known, but what they’re up to is none of this bunch’s business. So, let's see this through.”

That afternoon at The White Tree, they gathered in a private dining room. Videgavia stood up on a chair and addressed the thirty-three prospects.

”Right, you have made it this far. You are the first group of prospective recruits to the Company that will have some set requirements. First of all, we aren’t interested in your names. You were each given a password to get in here. Those words are recorded with your names, and they will become your names. Secondly, many of you likely come in here with some sort of agenda or are hiding from something or someone. That could go ill for you. I give you fair warning that this Company is at present sworn to the King, and therefore all the King’s laws. If any of you have run afoul, well, you will be given up should you be discovered.”

One of the recruits whispered to another, ”We could be in deep water here.”

The other, a petite Gondorian woman maybe in her twentieth year, whispered back, ”Relax, he is saying not to get caught. If that happens, then we’re in deep trouble of the worst kind. We’ll be fine. Besides, we didn’t use our names, and we won’t be called by the names we did use.”

Videgavia noted the whispering pair, and he went on, ”Third, if you have anything to say to each other while I’m going over all this, you will have to answer to me. So… Stillwater and… Slippery… Slippery??? Who gave out that password?”

A restrained and muffled chuckle from Mulgov and a few in the crowd was heard, but Videgavia just rolled his eyes and continued, ”Yes, you two. You have something to hide. Fine. Don’t we all. You best make sure your house is in order before signing the oath. Yes, you’re in.”

Derran mumbled something to the guy next to him, ”Maybe if we mumble and whisper to each other we’ll get in too.”

Videgavia yelled, pointin at Derran, “Thanks for volunteering. Now quiet! No more talking from any of you!”

Derran wasn’t sure if he should be pleased he got in, or worried that he just got every nasty detail to come along. He decided to go ignore his talkative nature and the urge to inquire which it should be and kept his mouth shut, with difficulty.

Videgavia leaned over and whispered to Mulgov, ”That one … ‘Babble’, he’s your new corporal of this new Company. Since he talks a lot, we’ll see if we can out it to good use.”

Mulgov turned away, mumbling something obscene in Haradian under his breath.

[i}“What?” [/i]Videgavia questioned.

Mulgov replied, ”Delighted.”

“Don’t worry too much about it,”
Videgavia said, ”The first few days will see who washes out and who has leadership qualities. We’ll get those old vets to help out on the training.”

Videgavia looked back out over the group and said, ”Now, most of you are wondering if you, like Stillwater and Slippery, are in. Well, that remains to be seen. Go now and get your affairs in order, and be out on the far wall of Pelennor by mid morning. The hard work will begin. We’ll see how you all go, and we’ll make things official afterward. You’re all dismissed…. Except you Ravenclaw.”

As Videgavia expected, Hamoor had managed to slip in un-noticed. He had been there most of the time, and Videgavia guessed in his mind that he was at the Silver Bark the night before. A good one him.

”Grab a chair at a table. Let’s have a chat…”

Farbarad and Mecarnil sought high places and low, the bright open spaces of the city and the dank, dark underbelly. They revealed nothing. No whisper, no scrap, no sightings and no names. In short, the city that had bristled with threats was suddenly clear of them. They extended their search into the surrounding countryside and returned empty handed. Whatever Cullith had stumbled over had vanished. Farbarad had an alternate theory that suggested Cullith’s end came as a result of the company he kept rather than the information he possessed. Mecarnil could not ignore the fact that someone with sufficient reach had assassinated a prisoner within the city’s jail cells within hours of his capture. Minas Tirith was not Umbar. As much as he wanted to believe Farbarad’s alternate theory, he could not bring himself to do it.

Defeated and ill at ease, the Rangers trudged into The White Tree. Videgavia was over talking to the hulking braided man they’d seen several weeks ago. Farbarad favoured him with a suspicious inspection as he ordered his ale.

”You! I’ve heard about you, and you too,” said a man neither Mecarnil or Farbarad had met before.

Farbarad grunted sourly and ignored him. Mecarnil stared fixedly ahead, waiting for his ale. Molguv folded his arms and watched Babble sink himself even deeper into the hole he was already in.

”You’re those Rangers what served Cardolan, right? You are, aren’t you. You’re the ones left, at any rate,” Babble continued.

”Congratulations,” Farbarad growled.

”Who might you be?" Mecarnil inquired.

”I’m one of you now. Least, I think I am, aren’t I whatshis name...what is your name by the way,” Babble asked another man who shook his head.

”We’re not using names. My passcode is Rowdy,” said the most nondescript man Mecarnil and Farbarad had ever seen. Rowdy nodded at them mildly and continued on his way.

”Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, new recruit, passcode Babble.”

Farbarad turned his back on Babble to face Mecarnil, ”He must be joking. Tell me he’s joking, Mec.”

”Ah.... Mec... short for Mecarnil... that makes you Farbarad eh, the one sworn to protect the crown princess of Cardolan. Is that what she is now? Where is she anyway? I was hoping she’d be here tonight...but absence makes the heart grow fonder, eh? Oh, no, no. No need to scowl like that, Farbarad, I was just joking. Yes... harmless fun.... Hey, Stillwater and Slippery! Wait for me! I am rather enchanted with your name, Slippery. Who recruited you, eh?”

Babble was a man who knew when to make himself scarce. Molguv decided that he’d need to have a word to the man that now scuttled away from a now openly bristling Farbarad. The ranger swung back to Mecarnil.

”I’m going to break his neck,” Farbarad promised, glaring now at Videgavia.

”Drink your ale first,” Mecarnil advised, turning to watch Babble with his suspicions forming.

Tankard in hand, he turned to lean against the bar and take in the people in the room. There were a great many new faces. A veritable crop, most green but some moved the way an experienced fighter did, including Rowdy. Unsurprising there was a woman in their number, likely encouraged by the precedent set by Eowyn Dernhelm and now Erían of Cardolan. This newest recruit had the look of trouble, Mecarnil thought, eying the small woman. Still, not his problem unlike the absent bundle of trouble. Mecarnil sighed at the thought. Despite her flagrant disregard for courtly manners and propensity to argue any point he might wish to make, his bundle of trouble had a particularly fond spot in his otherwise tired heart and he wasn’t the only one. Babble had earned himself the unwelcome distinction as the recruit most closely scrutinised by the current Company men for his ill advised open curiosity in the Company Healer and the protective regard each felt for the woman. How many others had been drawn here by Cardolan, Mecarnil wondered. Farbarad turned about and expelled a breath.

”You know what I’m thinking?” the sandy haired ranger said wearily.

”That somewhere in this room is the answer we’ve been turning Minas Tirith inside out for?”

Farbarad blinked at his fellow ranger, ”You have a devious mind, my friend.”

”Oh, ignore that, Farbarad. I’m just worn out and worried that we’ve failed her,”
Mecarnil replied, surprised at the dark paths his mind traced.

”But what if you’re right?”

“I’m just a paranoid, old man.”

The more her name was dropped, the tighter the Company tensed. It was clear to him that this would be no easy task. The Black would not surrender the traitor queen up quietly and with their numbers swelling, it would become only further perilous. Still, there was not a man better suited for the task before him. Nor was their any other way but the path he had selected. Infiltrate, allay, worm his way in and extract her when the opportunity arose. And there would be one, for in a military unit such as this, the potential for distractions and cover was limited only by their assignments.

Molguv found Babble in a side alley. Babble was not alone. Frea, Folca, Foldine and Bear had the recruit cornered.

”Just watch yourself,” Frea insisted, his voice dangerously quiet.

”My turn,” Molguv growled.

”We’re done here,” Bear said.

”No, not by half,” Foldine declared.

”Next time you shoot your mouth off about the Doc, I’ll knock your face down your gullet, pull it back out and start over again,” Molguv said matteroffactly.

”I was just joking,” Babble said nervously.

”Find something else to joke about.”

“Half the city’s talking about her. There aren’t enough of you to go round.”

“Did he just say what I think he did?”
Foldine asked. incredulous.

”I believe he called our bluff,” Folca agreed.

”I was just saying that she’s a popular topic of discussion is all.”

“That’s it. I warned you. Didn’t I? I warned him!”

Derras’ mouth snapped shut as the Haradian surged forward, fist clenching.

”Tomorrow, save it up for the wall tomorrow,” Bear said, the only man of enough size to attempt to forestall the Haradian heavy.

”Yes, tomorrow. We’ll be waiting for you, Babble. Welcome aboard,” Frea taunted and Derras was let slide away.

”I don’t like him,” Frea said.

”You never like the recruits,” his brother observed, "Heck, you didn’t like Doc for the longest time and yet here you are.”

“Yeah, well, then she knocked two Green Rangers over and took a swing at me. I was just reserving my judgement.”

Molguv snorted and Bear tossed Foldine a knowing look.

”He’s my corporal. If anyone’s going to sort him out, it will be me,” [/B]Molguv said.

[I]”Well, be quick,”
Foldine advised, ”There’s a line forming. Farbarad’s at the front of it and I don’t reckon Mecarnil’s far behind.”

“He’s my corporal and that’s that. Any risk he poses to the Company is one I will deal with. You have my word on it.”

Molguv turned back for the inn, leaving the three rohirrim and Gondorian heavy out in the alley.

”Reserving your judgement...what a crock!” Folca said after a moment.

[ 05-16-2012, 12:28 AM: Message edited by: Elora Starsong ]

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

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Mulgov caught up with Derran on the way back to the inn. Derran instantly felt a bit better, saying, "Sure are an edgy bunch, eh?"

Mulgov grabbed Derran and shoved him off to the right of the door of the inn. By the time Derran turned, trying to keep his balance, Mulgov slammed him against the wall, a knife against his neck. A slight redness started to form along its edge as Derran gulped, making the cut worse. Mulgov said, "Listen you... you wanted in, and got got in despite your mouth. Even managed to get promoted as my corporal. So we're going to get things straight here and now."

Mulgov's left hand replaced the knife on his neck, and the blade tip now rested just below Derran's right eye. Mulgov went on, "First, not another word about the Doc. No questions. No comments. Nothing. The Cap would have just as soon pressed this knife a bit harder if he heard how you carried on. Do you understand Corporal Babble?"

Mulgov pressed the knife tip slightly harder into the soft skin of Derran's eyelid so he couldn't acknowledge without pain. A slight nodding could be felt more than seen.

"Second, keep your eyes off Doc and on business at hand. I prefer a corporal with two good eyes, so don't make me have to remove one. Do you hear me Corporal Babble?"

Mulgov saw Derran nod reluctantly, seeing he was at this point scared. So Mulgov looked around to see if anyone had yet noticed them, and it looked like he was still clear.

"Third, and especially third.... you only have an expressed eye problem. Expressed by your tongue. You seem to have tongue problems. Tongues make the words that are thought of on brains, and you make too many words. Get this... You NEVER know who's listening, and listening for what. So a word of advice... keep your mouth shut. Being that you have had ample warning from my esteemed old company colleagues to do this very thing, be happy all you get today is what you have coming from me. Wouldn't have been the first time a new recruit disappeared without a trace the day they joined, so be happy I came along when I did. Worse would have happened."

With that, Mulgov's hand snapped swiftly, removing the knife from Derran's eye and into its sheath. Yet the damage was done. A fair cut into his eyelid started to leak blood, and the pain caused Derran's hand to go up to cover it. He would be scarred for life. The cursing that spilled at the same time was cut short when Mulgov lifted his other hand into a fist and banged the bottom of Derran's jaw, causing his teethe to come together hard with his tongue between them. This made him forget about his eye and he doubled forward.

Mulgov wrapped his arm around him and steered him toward the door if the inn just as a passing city patrol guard asked, "Is everything alright with your friend?"

Mulgov smiled and waved, saying, "Yeah, he's fine. He just missed a step. Fell on his face."

"I see..."
said the guard, "Just make sure he doesn't have any more mis-steps, right?"

Mulgov slapped Derran on the back causing him to cough, launching some blood and a piece of his tongue out of his mouth. Mulgov said, "He won't. We'll go sear his wounds with some of that Iron Hills heavy the dwarves brought in last week."

The guard waved them off and they entered the Inn. Derran was stunned still, and was sat down at the usual table. Videgavia and Hamoor Ravenclaw were still talking when they paused to watch Mulgov and Babble come in. Videgavia ordered two of the 'Dwarf Stouts' as the Iron Hills Heavy was known as locally, and pointed at the table. Even so, Babble was none too keen to say anything.

Ravenclaw said to Videgavia, "I saw that coming."

Videgavia nodded, saying, "I did too. Being he's returned with Mulgov, he passed muster this time. Now, back to what you were saying. You almost joined the company before? When?"

Ravenclaw nodded and said, "A number of years ago, when they were in pursuit of someone abducted and being whisked away to I believe Khand. I gave your Captain some information that expedited their journey onto the heels of the kidnappers, but alas, I understand that didn't turn out so well."

"No, it didn't,"
Videgavia said, remembering that day in Pelargir. Ravenclaw went on.

"So when Hanasian was talking to a few men who wanted to join, I was among them, but decided that I could not give up my life here at the time. What did I know? Now I believe I could make a contribution."

Videgavia looked up from his teacup and asked, "And what is it that you could 'contribute'? And to and for whom?"

Ravenclaw smirked and said, "It's funny, your captain said much the same thing those many years ago. Let's just say that I noticed that of all the men who did join back then, I only recognise two still with you now. The Gondorian soldiers..."

"Belegost and Anras."

Ravenclaw nodded and Videgavia continued.

"They all have fallen. Some as soon as Pelargir, but most in the east. One as recently as a few months ago, and rests now in Tharbad. I, the Cap, and Belegost all thought you looked familiar at the Silver Bark. Yet, the question still stands. What is it that you can contribute?"

Ravenclaw didn't answer right away, but eventually said, "If you accept me, as you seemed to have, then I will be loyal to the Company and they will be the beneficiary of my contributions. Now if we are done here, I have some personal business I need to attend to before tomorrow."

He started to walk toward the door and Videgavia said, "See you in the morning, we'll make it official."

At the table, a blood-stained towel rested against Babble's eye, his hand holding it there. His other hand held the tankard and he worked sips from it into his sore mouth. He wasn't saying anything.

Foldine came in as Ravenclaw went out. He was to quickly report that the others had gone off to gather provision for the field so the new grunts would get it full on right away. The idea was to take away their comforts and see how many remained. Of course they wouldn't know that until tomorrow night, and Foldine whispered it to Videgavia as he was walking over to the table.

Videgavia nodded, and Foldine smiled at Babble before saying, "You're awful quiet. Let me guess... you slipped and fell on the stairs."

Babble only managed to raise the corner of his mouth, and Videgavia pushed him toward the door before sitting down at the table. He looked Babble over closely, then eyed Mulgov who shrugged nonchalantly. Videgavia then said, ”I see you’re getting the hang of company life already. Believe me when I say that worse will likely come your way. It's best to be in good with those who have your back when a pinch comes. I’m sure your immediate commander has made that clear to you?”

Babble managed an affirmative mumble. Videgavia patted him on the cheek and said, ”Good recruit. Now… you go and do what you were told. And don’t be running into any more walls.”

A nod came as Babble stood. Videgavia gave Mulgov a sign and as he walked passed, he paused him with a whisper.

”Stay with him until late, then return here. We’ll see if he shows up tomorrow.”

Mulgov flinched and gave a nod, mocking what Babble did. Videgavia set a boot to the set of the Haradian's breeches as the man left, and muttered, ”How does the Cap put up with this time and time again?”


On the road to Rhun

Loch was sweating, and it was only mid afternoon. It turned out that instead of three horses, word only got to the men east of the river that one sturdy pack horse was needed. So they were walking, at least for the first day. Hopefully some riding horses will catch up with them by the evening.

”Who messed this up? I didn’t know we would have to walk to Rhun. How far is Rhun anyway?”

Khule smiled at Berlas and said, ”It’s just over there kid.”

He pointed at some gnarly peaks shrouded in cloud.

”We just have to head that way, skirt north of them, then head east.”

“Isn’t that where Mordor was?”

Wulgof worked hard at keeping a smile off his face, and Khule said, ”Yes kid. You know your geography. See, we have this here ring, and somewhere in there is the remains of that old volcano, and we…”

“Cut it out… I know the tale of the brave Halflings too. Again I ask, how long before we get to wherever it is we’re going?”
Loch asked again in a less whiney voice. Khule straightened a bit to adjust the load of his pack.

Wulgof drawled, ”A long, long time if those horses don’t show up.”

The four managed to stomp along an overgrown track, probably used by armies to march on Minas Tirith or Osgoliath. Without the heavy feet and cruel wastage the orcs spread before them, some of the scarred lands managed to grow some vegetation. Unfortunately, in places it was just high enough to prevent any breeze to get in and not high enough to provide much usable shade. Berlas took the lead here and managed to get them through. Khule followed on. Wulgof stumbled a bit, kicking an old rotten log. A muffled hum could be heard, and Khule stepped fast ahead and gave Berlas a nudge. He too started double-timing. Loch, having brushed up against some stinging nettles, said while looking at his hands. ”What is this that is stinging my hand?...GAH!”

Loch bellowed as he sprinted, pack bouncing on his back with each stride.

The wasps were quite mad from having their nest kicked, and their soldier guards thought attack was the best defence. The one they saw was Loch passing by and they made their presence known. Khule looked back to see Wulgof moving faster than he’d ever see him run, and behind him, came Loch with his arms waving about as he ran. With the distance between them closing fast, Berlas chuckled and ran faster. Khule followed. By the time they stopped, they both were laughing as they caught their breath. It’s not easy running with a full pack on your back. Wulgof arrived, winded but also laughing. Loch came puffing up behind, still waving his arms about. They had outrun the bee-scouts, and once they deemed there was no more threat they abandoned the attack. Loch still ducked and waved when a wayward buzz was heard. Wulgof laughed harder and Loch looked tired.

”What are you lot laughing about? It wasn’t that funny.”

Still, he managed a smile and a chuckle with the other two. Khule finally asked Loch, ”So, were you hit? How many did you get?”

Berlas suppressed a chuckle into a rough low honk, and Loch taking the question somewhat seriously, said, ”I killed two that landed on me, but a third got me.”

He held up his arm and a welt was forming on his wrist. His hand was red with spots and Khule pointed at that. Loch shrugged. Berlas looked at it and said, ”Nettles. Very irritating. But very useful. Maybe you should go back for some. Where were they?”

Loch used one of his ration of one-finger salutes. Berlas smiled and shook his head, saying, ”Keep your eye out. We will likely run into some more of those thickets and we could use some of them to soothe that bee sting. If Doc was here she would make you go back to get them.”

“Useful are they?”
Khule questioned. Berlas answered. 

”Yes, quite common in Ithilien, and their seeds riding the summer southerly winds are likely how they come to grow here.”

Loch rubbed his hand against his side as he asked, ”What do they look like?”

Wulgof said, “Well, they’re green, and you usually don’t see them amongst the other green until its too late. So next time, stop and fight back, and take some as prisoners.”

A sarcastic ha-ha was all Loch could muster. Khule said, ”Break time is over, we need to get to that track from the south before dark, and the sun is westering fast. Loch, you take point."

Loch, last one in was the first to leave. He could have used a bit more break, but he kept quiet and soldiered on. Wulgof and Khule looked at each other and shrugged. They didn’t get so much as a whimper from him. They followed on, and Berlas waited and watched their back trail for a bit before following.

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

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No sooner had Videgavia settled back down in a chair did he sense two men stand very close to the table he had seated himself at. He did not open his eyes and instead let his hands rub at his weary face.

”Rough night?” Farbarad rumbled and Videgavia muttered something indistinct before he lowered his hands.

He looked up at the two rangers that stood at the table and guessed that what he saw in their expressions must be mirrored in some way in his.

”You as well?” Videgavia inquired and the two rangers took a seat.

Farbarad selected a chair that gave him a commanding view of the room. He had been dispirited upon arrival, then agitated, and now he was uneasy. Every person, even the ones he knew, was closely inspected by his restless eyes. He held a tankard of ale that he barely touched and his jaw was tight around a pipe that had gone cold. The ranger was at work. Mecarnil looked tired.

”We looked everywhere, and found a great load of nothing Vid.”

“So, that’s that then?”

Farbarad muttered something and scowled so hard at some poor man that the patron nearly tripped over his own boots in his hurry to escape.

”I don’t like some of these recruits,” the ranger said a heartbeat later.

”You’re not the only one,” Videgavia replied, starting to lose his patience with the incessant complaining.

”This turn of events is nothing new, however,” Mecarnil intervened before an argument could take shape, ”Remember the crush of would be members at Pelargir last? Your batch, Farbarad. Remember, Vid?”

“Dross mostly...and agents and children,”
Videgavia summarised, nodding.

”So I figure you must have a plan, Vid.”

“What’s your interest in our recruitment all of a sudden, Mec?”

Mecarnil closed up tighter than a dwarven mithril mine at Videgavia’s question. Farbarad’s jaw bunched a moment.

”Oh, tell the man, Mec. He clearly isn’t one of them,” Farbarad urged.

”I could be wrong, Vid.”

“I’m tired, Mecarnil. Tell me or don’t. Just make your mind up soon.”

With a weary sigh, Mecarnil sparingly laid out their concerns using the careful means of signals unique to the Black. The answer was simple. Mecarnil and Farbarad would take a particularly close involvement in the tests of the recruits and the rest of the Company was already keeping a weather eye on them. Not a single one of them wanted this latest batch to prove a liability. It went without saying that they were thinking as much of their own skins as of those in Henneth-Annun. You were only as safe as the man at your back or shoulder, and if they let one into their midst that did deliberate mischief to the Company as a whole or any part thereof, a particular fury would be unleashed.

”So you gave Babble to Molguv,” Mecarnil stated after all was arranged and Videgavia permitted himself a devious grin. Farbarad barked a laugh around his pipe and then realised it had gone out and swore.

The new faces were vanishing fast, leaving the hardened core open to inspection. Any one of them was sufficient to give a fighting man pause. These weren’t mere soldiers. Some may have been, once. These were weapons in their own right, honed and perilous. Only a fool would under-estimate them. Four were missing and this was good. The Easterling was particularly potent, assassin and warrior both if the tales out of Rhun were reliable enough. The Dunlending was as deadly as he was laconic, sorely missed among his former comrades it was said. The younger one was somewhat unknown, but there had been talk of a particular ferocity within the man when it came to his foster sister. Able scout, vigilant, and inclined to be protective. As for the Ithilien man, he’d yet to meet one of Faramir’s that was a slouch. Yes, it was good those four were elsewhere. It didn’t matter where they were. Simply not here was good enough.

That left the others. The two Cardolan rangers he knew of and they were everything he had expected. These two, like the third now reportedly dead in Harad, had been selected as much for their skill and prowess from a field of highly able men as for their intelligence and loyalty. He expected a great deal of trouble from them potentially. The man they sat with now was another one to watch. Vague reports only convinced him that Videgavia was a force to contend with. The three rohirrim and two Minas Tirith from were fierce, experienced campaigners. Two of those owed his target their lives outright, and of such things is an unbreakable bond made. As for the giant from Harad, he had seen for himself why particular care was required when dealing from him. At the front of this formidable pack, then, was its captain and his target’s husband.

While his employers considered him a man of common, mixed heritage, he did not suffer from such delusions. Hanasian had been a well regarded member of the Grey Company and had continued to ascend since the War. His feats and accomplishments within that Company and now this one were the achievements of a keen mind, a fearless spirit and a prodigious skill in weaponry, strategy and ranger-craft. Elven tutored, he was considered a friend by the High King, two Princes of the realm and Elrond’s sons. This son could not have fallen farther from the tree, yet if ever there was something to take note of then it was the capabilities of Hanasian’s father. His son was so very much more.

Lastly, his target. No coddled princess or dainty lady this. She had survived the wild, treacherous world, as a mere infant. She had emerged from the teeth of terrible slaughter. She should have frozen or starved. She should have been pulled to pieces by a savage land and people or bought and pressed into service as often happened to young, abandoned girls. Instead, she had not just survived but flourished. His employers considered her somehow impaired. These were men that thought women made poor rulers. None of that mattered to him. Facts mattered to him and those painted him a very different tale. A frightening intellect and one of the foremost healers. Possesses unknown gifts of foresight and the undiluted blood and abilities of Numenor. As dangerous as the High King, and not nearly as inclined to courtly conduct and restraint. Thief, rumoured at one time to have apprenticed to Treagon, Master Assassin and survived no less. While they said it was solely due to her natural charms and Treagon’s masculinity, anyone who knew the man understood that to be false. Treagon was assassin first and man second in all things, particularly women. And all that before she had been trained by Hanasian’s Black Company. Now, she had been blooded in battle and reports were that she had performed well, better than even her own Company had anticipated. She was a finely wrought sword, fair to look upon and as deadly as the elven blade she carried.

This job, then, was filled with portents and warnings and things to weigh. It would take time, precision, care and above all luck. He would need many plans, rather than one. A plan for each eventuality. It was a pity that they did not engage him earlier. It would have been child’s play to snatch her from the forces that Elessar sent into Harad. That would have been ideal and before that inane attempt to abduct her from Pelargir upon their return. Amateurs though they may have been, it had only served to teach the Company a lesson they had been sure to take full advantage of. Ultimately, he needed to be ready to act the moment the opportunity arrived and the capacity to see it through all manner of consequences. There was a danger in thinking too far ahead. For now, he needed to rest because he knew there would be interesting events the next day. He had to get through those, and this Company would not make it easy. Their standards were high and rightly so.


Henneth Annun

They had spent the day gambolling. There was no other way to explain it. Bare feet, free of care or worry, filled with sunlight and laughter and the glory of each other. Through the trees, along the stream, in the stream to tickle sweet fish from the cool waters for dinner. Such joyous abandon of course did not go unnoticed. Legolas’ people curiously looked on, content to observe the pair of mortals while away a summer day with nothing better to do than relax. Hanasian and Rin were indecently happy and it showed. They had made their plans. At the first sign of impending children, they would go West. Simple as that.

”What more obvious sign can there be?” Rin had teased him.

Each morning, Hanasian demanded an inspection. ”Nothing yet? Halloo?” he would murmur against her abdomen until she laughed and swatted him aside.

”Why such a hurry? Do you find yourself wearying of decent sleep and a surfeit of peace and quiet?”

Even though they were mortal, and their years would be numbered, neither felt particularly impelled to rush or delay. Rather, they were content to let things take their course. It was enough to know that it would happen. That night Hanasian sat up at the table by the hearth. The fire had been lit for light more than warmth. He had spread before him the gift Rin had made to him for their wedding. It was a particularly fine writing set. The pens, nibs, pots and even the leather had been fashioned by elvish hands. The leather was dyed a deep blue and silver cord was woven around the edges. It would be as sturdy and useful as it was beautiful. Beside which, Hanasian confessed to a deep satisfaction at using something that had probably been used by its previous owner to craft that appalling petition his daughter had summarily burnt in Mithlond. In due course, Hanasian would bequeath to his own children. Given the inclinations of both parents, it seemed likely at least one of them would appreciate a gift such as this.

Hanasian glanced across at his wife. Her back was to him as she lay on the bed. He could see she was sleeping from the even rhythm of her breathing. He studied her a moment, a long moment, and then returned his attention to the blank sheet of parchment before him. He needed to write his sister and tell her that he had, in fact, married that girl he had made mention of at Bree. Beyond that, who she was, he suspected it was best to leave that unsaid for now. Such topics were best broached in person and one of these days he wanted his sister to meet his wife. The idea of the two women meeting made him both cautiously smile and wince. Both women were inclined to say exactly what they were thinking.

As Hanasian wrestled with what to write to his sister, Rin drifted in another world entirely. It was a confusing one that blurred things together that did not belong. A horse stood on an ocean, ears flicking impatiently. Then she was underground, but that was not particularly concerning and nor was the cow that sat in a subterranean antechamber, contentedly chewing its cud. Then she was trying to ford a stream that continued to rise higher and higher. It pushed her back and she shoved forward. She had no idea why she needed to get to the other side. Then she was in a warm place. A big building with a massive space within it. Straw, chickens, cows, grain. One of her favourite childhood haunts. The sun could find its way through the timbers of the barn and create warm golden stripes on the things inside it. She liked to sit in there and watch her father work. Every now and again he would call out her name and she would answer. Sometimes, she didn’t, because then Da would stop what he was doing and come look for her.

She heard thunder, but the sun was still shining and the sky was a clear faultless blue beyond. Da was repairing the stone wall that kept the sheep and cows out of their garden. His back was to her and he called out her name, a rhyming sing song call. Warm mischievousness turned through her and she held her breath and did not answer. He called again, still working and she did not answer. Thunder tolled. He called a third time and she was smiling so hard her cheeks hurt. Then the sun went away and she could not see Da any longer. Horses, strange men with frightening faces, savage glee and hatred making them monster masks. Da ran to the house and slammed the door. Ma and Loch were inside. Ma was pleading, desperately. She could see it now because somehow she was standing there too, clinging to Loch’s arm. Then Da went out again before she could say she was here, she was here, she was here Da! He didn’t need to go find her because she was here and she was only playing a game and she was sorry! Don’t go out, Da! Glass shattered, the sound of fists on flesh. The spray of arterial blood. The grunts and snarls of the monsters and they wrought their carnage and torment. Where was Da? So much blood, creeping towards where she huddled with Loch. Ma was twisted, still, staring. Her brown eyes did not laugh or twinkle anymore. Run! Flee! Hide! Where was he? Where was Da?

”Love? Rin? Rosmarin?”

The low panicked moan had alerted Hanasian that something was wrong. Her breathing had become shallow and rapid. She was muttering something in the Dunlendic speech and the bedding had twisted around her. He tried again to wake her, gently shaking her shoulders. Then she seemed to writhe in his grip, her eyes flew wide and such naked terror as he had never seen before stared back at him. She pushed him away hard, crawled to the far corner of the bed and curled into a tight ball. He recovered his balance after a moment and saw she was shivering so hard her teeth were chattering.

”Dear heart? My love, it is I. You are safe. I swear it.”

Another sound now, a whimper. He dared approach and curve an arm over her shaking, rounded back. No words now, just soft sounds to soothe and gentle movements. He stroked her hair, murmuring nonsense sounds into her shoulder. He dare not guess at what dark horror had snared her dreaming mind. The future or the past, right then it did not matter. It took perhaps half an hour for the rapid gallop of her breathing and pulse to abate. She curled her fingers through his shirt and held with a white knuckled grip. He smoothed back hair from her face as best he could for she had it buried against his neck. The shivering eased and in another half hour she was dozing again.

Hanasian sat with his wife cradled in his arms, back against stone, and gazing up at the night sky through the window overhead. It had been a beautiful night, though in winter, when he had discovered the ruin of her foster family’s farm. At the time, he had not dared hope any child had survived such savagery as had been visited there. And yet, here he was, holding proof that such a feat was possible. Not just once, but twice. Two survivors. One bottled his scars up and shoved them down deep. And this one faced hers head on, though mostly in silence. If there was one thing he knew, aside from the depth with which he loved the woman he held, it was this. He would permit no such thing to befall his wife and children. No marauding killers would descend like ravenous wolves to consume his family. As his mind turned, the woman he held shifted against him and sighed, as if in relief.

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

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Aboard the ships in the far east…

Dhak woke, startled. His shadow stood silent at the rails as he looked out over the sea toward the land of the Easterlings. His robe slightly quivered, and it was obvious to Dhak that his shadow was engaged in a profound mental battle. Dhak made to ask him what was happening, but the shadow lifted an arm to silence him. He did not want to be interrupted. Dhak always became nervous when he got this way.

Far to the west in the Tower of Ecthelion, Aragorn sat alone. The Palantir was before him but he did not upon it and instead stared east. He sought to know of events there, through his own perception or that of the Stone. He knew his scouting party had encountered the Ithilien Rangers that watched the northern reaches of that land. They had made good time and would make better now they had horses. Yet he was troubled by his failure to penetrate through the foggy wall that stood far to the east. Try as he might, by mind or Palantir, he saw only shadows. All seemed well this side of it, at least for the common folk of the Easterlings. The clan chiefs were uneasy, as was his Prefect. And he was so very tired now. Aragorn sighed as he broke away from looking east. Immediately the weariness fell from him and he pondered this for a moment more before he descended from the tower.

Aboard the ship, the shadow staggered and nearly fell. He caught himself, straightened to resume his steady stance. Dhak was surprised by this momentarily revelation of vulnerability, and he was prepared to admit somewhat amused. Somehow, this made his shadow less...ominous.

He asked, ”What is it that wearies you so?”

The shadow was breathing hard but slowly turned to Dhak. He had yet to relax his guard.

Taking a breath, the shadow wheezed his answer, ”The King of the West is a mighty man.”

The shadow steadied himself further with another deep breath, “It is a great drain upon my strength to obscure our presence from his sight.”

Dhak observed the shadow continue to assert control and edge closer to the unsettling man he was accustomed to, despite his earlier dismay.

Dhak said, "You are reconsidering our plans then?"

The shadow turned at that and considered the matter, his breath still wheezing from him.

“Yes, I think it wise for our obscurity comes with a price. His inability to see does not mean he does know know. It may be of further detriment to our cause, in fact. And he will only look harder the next time he has a chance to. I will hope it is later than sooner, for I am tired.”

Dhak nodded and thought, finally saying, ”Maybe it would be best to sail away from these lands for a time. We will then be out of sight when he looks for us. Our people we leave behind will blend in here, and in due time when more of us come, we will be better prepared and ready. And, meanwhile, Khor will continue his preparations.”

Dhak’s shadow lifted his head and sighed. If the shadowy figure ever smiled, or could smile, he was doing it.

He nodded slightly, “As suggested after our meeting with Khor, we could obtain a certain advantage for us. Yet, at the time, you were...reluctant.”

Dhak crossed the deck to look into the west. It was a difficult decision to male. Still, he deemed they would for now have to retreat out of sight proper.

“Tell me again of this advantage,” Dhak asked.

The robed shadow at his side stood tall, his arms folded before him and hands concealed in the sleeves of his sky-blue robe. When he spoke, his voice was stronger again.

“If we bring here, offshore, the one of my order whose youthful mind and strength will be of much use to us. We will set her on the obscurity, and free me to what we it is we came here to do, and still more. Only...”

The shadow paused, voice trailing off and Dhak prompted him, “ Only... only what?”

“She will need to be controlled,”
the shadow sighed and this was shared by Dhak, who grimaced.

“Hence, my reluctance. We can only bring her ashore when we are truly ready and that may not be for years!”

“Yes, yes...much will depend on her progress since our departure. It remains to be seen if she can be controlled. In the least, we can bring her close.”

The shadow turned from the rail, the discussion concluded in his view, and slowly crossed to the other rail and studied the eastern horizon. Dhak turned to tap at a door.

Quietly, at Dhak’s back, the shadow whispered, ”I will ponder these things now while I rest.”

The shadowy face retreated further into his hood and tilted down. He folded his arms and close his eyes, taking himself into a trance to renew his strength. This brought Dhak a smile, for it meant that his shadow would be out from underfoot for days. A new plan would be set in motion and he immediately issued orders to retreat further from the coast. Messages were sent for Khor and those men Dhak had left ashore. The captain of the smallest ship of their flotilla was summonsed and issued with new orders and parchments that outlined them prepared.

Then, Dhak had to wait for his shadow’s arms to drop back to his side. He knew eventually this would happen, for he had seen it before. Dhak removed the shadow’s signet to seal the parchments and thus declare who had issued them. Then, Dhak applied his own signet as confirmation. It pleased Dhak in the main, yet he retained some unease at the prospect of yet more of his shadow’s unsettling order arriving.

At the rail the shadow stood as if frozen. In dark memories of the distant past he remembered his two companions. They had come from the west and travelled well into the east and south. When it seemed there was nowhere else to go, they discovered an old ship, mighty in size and strength, aground on the shores of the great eastern ocean. There, entangled in vines of the tropical forest that pushed its way to the edge of the sea, the three of them worked to explore the ship. Secrets they discovered, some by their leader and some by him which he didn’t share. While their leader found Numenorean lore, he had discovered the navigational logs and maps, which he shared with his friend. By this time they had begun to distrust their leader, even as he sought to tighten his grip on their order. When he decided that they would return west, they two refused and the ensuing argument was not easily forgotten. After much effort, their leader decided to return without them and the two, once their strength was renewed, had discussed the find.

Years had passed, and with one studying the weather,water currents and the paths of the sun and moon, the other worked to make the ship worthy. Few men desired to help them, only twenty refugees from the far south. Still, these twenty had been enamoured the two. They called them ‘high men’ and became fascinated with the ship and the prospect of setting it afloat on the great sea. One day the time had come. The weather and the tides of the sea were perfect. The mood was full and a swift storm blew hard from the east. The seas rose high as the tides swam in far over the land. Then as the tides and winds turned back, the men worked to free the ship. Huge sails had been fashioned and they were lifted to catch the wind. The ship slowly wrested itself free itself from the land's iron grip. They, and a dozen large tribesmen from Far Harad, were adrift then, sailing the seas in an old Numenorean ship! They made for the east on favourable winds, and though the maps and distances of the logs were all now far from true since the great Numenor's downfall, they searched until they found land.

It was how the two came to the far away lands over the eastern sea and there they remained. He had kept himself pure and refrained from the vices of the local population they had discovered, but his friend did not. He gave himself over to the ways of the nobles and in time married a daughter of one of the high families he had befriended. It was unwise for one of their order to intermingle with the children of the Atani, the second born. From the time the child was conceived, his friend was steadily drained of his strength. His wife died upon the childbed and his friend descended into the coma that gripped him to this very day.

As for the child, many said she channels her father’s power and has all the physical strength and beauty of her mother’s line. But even in an ageless adulthood, she remains in mind a child. It would be dangerous to bring her here. Her father would have to be brought as well. So perilous, but it could be done. He would have need of a strong containment spell to keep his friend's daughter on her task, for she could wander. He did not know how she would be now. He would have to prepare for the necessary adjustments for the proper strength. Memories and thoughts, visions all began to fade and he stirred slowly to full wakefulness.

He woke to early dawn, some three days later. He looked about and found Dhak speaking with the captain of a messenger ship. The man was reporting that instructions had been carried out. By sunrise, the flotilla would be beyond the horizon. Dhak had not slept in this time and belatedly noticed his shadow’s stirring. Again the man stood tall, arms crossed and hands buried in his sleeves. Wearily, Dhak went to him.

“We have moved from sight of the western lands. We are readying one ship to return home with word. Will we proceed with what we have discussed?” Dhak inquired.

“Yes. Bring her father as well.”

Dhak was pleased to have anticipated this. The shadow gave to him a parchment, an order, which Dhak took to the messenger ship’s captain. This parchment Dhak did not apply his signet to. No one could know how the girl would perform. By morning, the messenger ship had slipped far ahead and out of sight. They themselves were beyond sight from the western shores.

Khor wasn’t sure what to make of the decision of the seafarers to go. They said they won’t be far, but he could not go to sea to find them if need be. The only thing that remained was a company of armed men who didn’t talk much. They were dressed in the local clan uniforms, and except for being taller, looked every bit the part. The young warrior class of the eastern clans would form up around these men and become the core of the new Easterling army, but for now they are the subservient local law enforcement for the king of the west.

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

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Henneth Annun

Hanasian and Rin seemed to have lost themselves to the world. The time they had together, every moment of every day, through the sun and rain, and the moon turning its face about, blessed them both in ways neither could properly imagine. Soaking in the other's love day and night as they pleased, and drinking in each other at every moment. Life couldn’t get any better than this.

But with the moon coming around again, both knew it was time to return to Minas Tirith. As much as they wanted to forget the world and live happily in each other’s arms, they both knew it wasn’t to be.

"My dearest beloved....” Hanasian said as he held Rin and looked in her eyes, ”Forever will this happiness live within me. A blessing of Eru you are to me. For though my life before knowing you was well, it is now fulfilled in your presence. I Love you Rosmarin, ever and always.”

He embraced her and kissed her long. He didn’t want this time to end. But as appointed, the carriage arrived, and a messenger came to Henneth Annun summoning them. It was time to go.

The journey back was in itself relaxing, for it seemed the two had not one care in the world. They went a different way than that they had taken to arrive, for the bridges of Osgoliath was newly opened. It was nice to be able to ride and not have to board a ship to ferry across the river! They spent two days in Osgoliath, seeing the city return to life from the devastation of the war. It was here on their second day that a visitor came calling.

The man seemed noble, but was rough dressed with a few day’s growth of a beard. Still, Hanasian recognized him right off.

”My Chieftain! It is a pleasant, yet disturbing surprise to see you here.”

Hanasian bowed with his greeting. The door closed and the hood went back. Aragorn had come to Osgoliath as Strider. Unrecognized except by a few, he looked grim.

He said, ”I hope the time away together was blessed. You both look happy and relaxed.”

“We are at that! We thank you for the leave!”
Hanasian said, but he did not smile. Rin too could see there was something on Aragorn’s mind.

Aragorn went on, ”I thought I would greet you here, and therefore have a chance to tell you all that has happened since you left a month ago.”

Hanasian was deep in thought. It all was coming back now, ”Tell me it isn’t really bad.”

Aragorn nodded and said, ”I would like to tell you that, but I will let you judge for yourself. You will find when you get to Minas Tirith that some of your Company will be gone. Khule, Berlas, Wulgof, and Loch have taken this task in hand and I think they will do well. I sent them east to be solid eyes. I've been leaning on your second, Videgavia, rather heavily and I think he is quite a good leader of men. He’s stern them, but given he has recruited over a hundred men, and a few women, to the Company on my order, he has performed well.

"The veterans refer to the recruits as ‘the New Company’, and the southron Mulgov is in command of them. Mostly young adventurers and the old veterans of service. Many of the veterans have taken up as corporals to help train the others. All up, it seems they are a good bunch. Now you know that the company you return to has vastly changed from the one you left. May all be well.”

Hanasian nodded as he took this all in. Loch on a special mission with Khule and Wulgof. What could go wrong with Berlas with them? Hanasian shook off the thoughts of it, and resolved to ask Videgavia about it at the next Company meet upon their return.

They set out for the city the next day. Strider had likely slipped out during the night, and was again King Aragorn in the morning. Hanasian worried about his friend, hoping he got to sleep on occasion.

As they approached the city, Hanasian could see men working with weapons in the field. He fought back the temptation to take a side trip over to see them. He would let them be, and would be at the evening meet.

He turned to Rin and said, ”Well my love, we are back.”

From: Dancing 'twixt the stars | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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