“What is that?” She asked. She struggled to sit up, and barely managed to keep herself propped onto one elbow. Zar Calech watched her, noting the effort his charge made. The Westron woman showed tremendous strength of will, even when she was unconscious and ravaged by River Fever; she’d fight unseen foes deep into the night, at times he even had to restrain her. Now she fought for renewed health, every day being another small victory.
“This is a fruit, a dirgo-da ,” he replied. He placed the tray down and assisted her, piling cushions and gently easing her against them. “In your tongue it would be a ‘ball of water’, which, I think you’ll agree, is an apt translation!” The elderly Easterling settled himself opposite, having chosen a small three-legged stool and taking up a large serrated knife he sunk the blade into the think green rind of the large fruit.
“You’re getting stronger, that is good,” he said with a kindly smile. “Tomorrow we start lessons…” he handed her a slice of the fruit, triangular in shape. The flesh was a vibrant pink and glistened with moisture…”and don’t eat the seeds. Spit them out.”
“Lessons?” she echoed feebly, taking the fruit.
“Yes, language lessons, joshida .”
Bardhwyn smiled; joshida, he once explained, meant ‘flower petal’ – and she laughed for it was a thing so unlike her – fragile and beautiful whereas she felt like a bar of scarred, rusted iron.
“If we are going to be successful in our plans,” Zar Calech continued, “in which you play a key part, you must get well and you must learn Shioka…”
“Shioka?” Bardhwyn repeated.
“Eastron, you say, but it is Shioka, language of the Shioks. You call us Eastrons or the old ones, Rhunadain but we have always called ourselves Shiok – Dawn Warriors, for we walk out of the sun - Shiok. Now eat! I think you will like it.”
Bardhwyn sunk her teeth into the fruit and was overwhelmed with the sensation; it was cool and sweet, so full of moisture the fruit seemed to melt in her mouth with every bite. The juice seeped out and over hand, quickly drying in the heat leaving her skin slightly sticky.
“Good, eh?” Zar Calech asked, taking a piece for himself. “When we succeed in defeating this threat that overshadows both our peoples, I will grow these and send them west…”
Bardhwyn held out a small collection of seeds in her hand, in her other hand she held the hard rind of the dirgo-da now clean of the fresh, pink fruit. “Then you better find a way to grow them with out seeds, or you’ll quickly loose your market,” she said with a weak smile.
Zar Calech looked up from her hand with a fierce glare, which quickly faded. He then laughed, loudly.
“You are right, my dear,” he said scooping the seeds from her hand. “How to achieve that, though? It would take a bit of magic, I think. If only your tall, silver-haired friend were here, I’d ask her.”
“She’s not a magician, Zar Calech,” Bardhwyn added wanly, “just half-Elven.”
The Scribe had left sometime ago, with Menon and the Easterlings, leaving her here to recoup – she and Canamarth. Where was the Mistress Bowman, she wondered? Had she left as well? Was she now pursuing some secret mission alone? Every time she asked, Zar Calech would only say ‘the less you know, joshida, the safer we all shall be…’
The original Bowmen were now dispersed; Meaglin and Them, then Lys and Dirk, and now Canamarth. Bardhwyn now understood it was all to plan; Lys and Canamarth knew full well they could no more travel as a group and penetrate deep into the East, travelling undetected, anymore than an Oliphant could waltz down the King’s Mall in Dale - not after the disruption they caused to the Enemy’s plans in Dorwinion.
To what extend the Bowmen’s dispersal was the Easterling Jiyadan’s suggestion, she did not know, perhaps she’d never know. All she knew is that Zar Calech trusted him but barely and it was Jiyadan who encouraged Menon and SilverScribe were to infiltrate the slave trade; that much she remembered before falling ill and then left in the care of Zar Calech.
Bardhwyn tried to place the rind onto the tray but the silver shackle about her wrist halted her reach. The bright links of the chain rattled against the bed frame; with a quick burst of temper she pulled fiercely. She succeeded only in bruising her wrist for the chain remained securely locked to the cast iron ring that hung upon the wall.
“Ssshh, Joshida, please. I know, it is a burden but remember,” Zar Calech said in a low voice while placing a calming hand upon her arm, “the only way to keep a Westron woman here is as a slave, so you are a slave; my slave.” The Easterling gently brushed her cheek. “And this chain,” he took up the highly polished links in his hand, “will become a weapon! For with it you will help bring an end to the tyranny my people suffer, the tyranny that threatens your people, too. Our plans will work but you must be patient, Bardhwyn and you must get well. Now please, eat…”
She raised her head, expecting to see more dirgo-da but she was no longer in Yama, safe in Zar Calech’s plush surroundings. She was tied to a tree, somewhere between New Weathertop and the Trollfells and night was falling, blue and black all around her. About her waist thick coils of elvish rope bound her to the trunk of a plane tree and she sat, uncomfortably, on one twisted and knurled tree root. Her hands were tied at the wrists and her arms were tied and suspended above her head. The blood had long drained down from her hands and arms; the sensation was maddening – as if she had two lumps of lifeless bone and flesh attached to her shoulders over which she had no command or control. Her stomach was an empty, aching pit. The hospitality of the Elves was wanting in this damp, dark forest hole.
“Eat,” she croaked.
Her head dropped to her chest…
“Another?” Lys asked. Bardhwyn nodded her head with a smile.
“Which one?” he asked.
“That one,” she replied, pointing to a rather large grape that sat at the top of the bunch that he held over her head. “They’re wondrous things, grapes,” she said, watching him pull her chosen piece of fruit free.
“You’ve eaten grapes, before, surely?” he asked, surprised. He poised the grape over her mouth and she opened wide, allowing him to drop it in. She chewed as she smiled.
“Yes, of course I’ve eaten grapes before,” she answered, swatting his chest playfully. “My father had vineyards, white and red and pink grapes… they make jam and wine and jelly and a sweet juice and they’re just … wondrous to me.”
“Sometimes you say the silliest things, woman…”
She nestled closer to him, tucking the thin blanket around her as she moved, warding off the cool autumn night that slid in through their open window. The sounds of Gondor’s second tier drifted in; night sounds – the rattling wheels of a hand drawn carriage, a door slamming, and men laughing loudly in the distance. Lys dropped the bunch of grapes onto the nightstand and rested his bearded chin onto the top of her head as she tucked under his arm. She held him tightly, memorizing the feel of him, knowing, somehow, this moment was important.
“I keep forgetting,” he murmured.
“That you were once landed gentry, a toff…”
She stifled a small laugh at the word ‘toff’. “That was a different life, belonging to someone else,” she said softly, “ a long time ago.” She felt a soft kiss on her hair.
Lys’ arm moved absently towards the grapes. “Another?” he asked.
She looked over and he was gone.
By the Gods, Lys… why?
“Why did you lie to me?”
“Do you need anything?” The Scribe asked.
“I need to get out of here,” she replied. Bardhwyn allowed her head to drop onto one of the cast iron bars that separated her from the Peredhel.
“I don’t think me breaking you out of King Bard’s prison would achieve the end you desire,” she replied drolly. “It was a full pardon, you asked for, was it not?”
Bardhwyn nodded silently, rubbing her forehead up and down the rough iron bars of her cell. She then heaved a sigh.
“This wasn’t the homecoming I imagined,” she said, lifting her head.
“You’re an exiled and branded traitor who chose to defy all laws and edicts and practically walked into the King’s receiving room - what did you expect? A parade?” SilverScribe asked.
“Ouch,” Bardhwyn said with a glare. A parade is exactly what the rest of the Bowmen were given, its route extending from shores of the Long Lake all the way to the Gates of Erebor with minstrels and drums and silks flying from every window along a people-packed route. The Royal Bowmen, victorious in their return from the East, were feted and feasted while she was sent to Bard’s dungeon.
“Forgive me, that was unfair,” SilverScribe said with a mischievous grin, “but seriously, I think you would have found the whole affair incredibly tedious. Lys’ head became so large, he could barely fit it through the palace gates en route to the reception.”
“There was a reception?!” Bardhwyn asked, her frustration clear. She then turned and threw herself onto the wooden slab that served as a bed.
“Your suit is a strong one,” the Scribe continued, “your actions in the East on behalf of the King cannot be overlooked. I think it safe to say you saved each of our lives at least once, if not more than…” The Peredhel fell quite as she watched both of Bardhwyn’s hands cover her face.
“Archer?” she asked, quietly.
Bardhwyn took a few deep breaths before rubbing her face and eyes vigorously. “I’m all right,” she announced sitting up with a hoarse voice. “You asked me if I needed anything,” she said, swinging her feet onto the ground. “Some decent food and wine would be appreciated and a few more candles. A book or two? Of tales, not history. You’ve read Barding histories?” She pulled a dire face.
SilverScribe nodded her head, knowledgeably. “I shall spare you more punishment. The tales of Dedhefyn, perhaps? He’s a good read and of course, food…”
“Yes, food, please…” she whispered.
'Food, then, here.” She felt the toe of a boot kick at her calf. Slowly she lifted her face. The Scribe was gone. Instead Calmacil, the Lebennese Tower Guardsmen who rode with the Elves, both he and his brother, as Elrohir’s ‘guests’, stood before her, his face barely discernable in the dusk.
“And I’m not the one who lies, Barding,” he added. He dropped a wineskin next to her then placed the bowl on the ground. The smell of the stew made her mouth water.
“Don’t get too excited, the wine’s been watered down,” he said quietly. “It may help you sleep.”
“And I’m supposed to eat this how?” she asked with a dry croak of a voice. She tried to shrug her shoulders but failed.
Wordlessly the man stepped behind the tree to which she was bound and Bardhwyn felt a vague sensation of ropes pulling against her wrists. Calmacil managed to free the Elvish knots that held her arms aloft and they dropped like dead weights into her lap. She hadn’t the will or strength to stifle the groan of pain that came next.
“It will hurt like hell as the blood moves back in,” Cal offered curtly. “I learned why we're here, as well. We’re waiting for at least one, maybe two advance tracking parties that are meant to assemble here with the main force. They’re late and word is they’ve picked up orc trail, maybe some of yours.”
“Orcs would never run this far west,” Bardhwyn said as she tried, futilely, to move her arms. She bit back another groan of pain. “They’d go east, to the mountains, hide in the caves…” she added through clenched teeth.
Calmacil walked off, not bothering to say anymore. He had, in fact said far more than he intended. Still silent he settled himself down near the tent door next to where his half-brother sat, noisily eating his portion of stew. The young Lebennese sniffed.
“I don’t understand you, Cal,” Cyrion said with tone of disgust. “After all you’ve learned, after all that woman has done, you still want to rescue her.”
“She may be a criminal, Cyr but she needs to eat. That’s something these Elves seemed to have forgotten,” Cal said softly.
“She ate yesterday,” Cyr said defensively, not even noticing Cal wasn’t eating.
He’d given his serving to Bardhwyn.