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Friends and Foes

Postby elora » Sun Jun 03, 2012 3:50 pm

As the chaos ensued after that first day, inside a small prison cell sat a smiling Khurg. Aged and showing signs of senility, he had expected to live out his days locked up. Though it had been many years, the elderly general warlord of the Sagath clan retained his sympathizers. It was thought that most had been killed or imprisoned when Khurg was defeated many years ago. And little was ever said among the ranks of soldiers or the people since. But now it was becoming apparent that a cadre of young officers had simply disbanded and went underground after that fateful battle. Working quietly and in deep secret, they crafted the plan that would free their old leader. Though all things didn’t quite go as planned, and the events were triggered a little earlier than they wanted them to be, it had so far fallen in their favour.

A week had passed when the rebels launched a concentrated assault on the part of the city where the loyal Gondor Legion Guard had gathered and there was heavy fighting. The loyalists gave way a couple blocks at first but managed to take back one. With their supplies dwindling, their position was becoming precarious. Yet overnight the rebels just faded into the darkness. The next morning was quiet…. too quiet! The besieged soldiers sent out scouts to locate their foes. All returned with reports that the city was abandoned. It didn’t make sense to spend such an effort to dislodge the loyalists then simply abandon the front. Something must have happened elsewhere. It was about the noon hour when a din rose to the north. Battle had started, but who was fighting whom? Forming up into ranks, the loyalist men who had taken refuge there after fleeing from the north set out toward the smoke. The Prefect’s guard stayed and kept vigilant watch. It would fall to them to hold the area until relieved.

The prison was just north of the Prefect’s compound and the rebels had in their assault the previous day taken and freed the prisoners. One of them was Khurg. Despite his frail age and senility, he had enough of his wit to know that there would be reprisals for all that had happened. He and some of his old command freed along with him, attempted to wrest for control over the unruly rebels. But the younger commanders who had set things in motion refused to give up their command. Throughout most of the morning, the rebels spent the time trying to sort out their hierarchy. Though Khurg was recognized as their overall leader, the chain of command was not clear below him. It was a style that had suited Khurg well in the old days, but right now when their fortunes were on the verge of changing, decisive leadership was needed to get their affairs in order.


To the east, Khule, along with Berlas, Wulgof, and Loch were preoccupied with their new role as the Black Company elite in the eyes of the many Easterling recruits. They spent a week to organize them, indoctrinate them in some basic Company rules and conduct, identify the natural leaders, and set the men to the task of guarding their land. Khule knew he would have to get them moving, and his senses told him it would be soon. He had daily scouting reports from a light reconnaissance squad he organized under Runner. They ranged far enough west to garner word of the rebellion. Feeling he was as ready as he was allowed to get in a week, Khule issued the order to move out in the early morning hours. Khule, Loch, Wulgof, Berlas and most of the original twelve Easterlings marched at the head, with four groups of forty men following in their wake. They appeared sharp and professional, as far as these things go, and were in high spirits that they were marching to battle under the Company’s banner. Never mind it was going to be against their brothers, kinsmen.

Runner’s squad took the point and guided Khule’s Eastering Company to the north, then west. It was almost the noon hour when they came to an opening in the wood. Down a grassy slope they could see an encampment of rebel soldiers. Khule immediately recognized the banner of Khurg flying in their midst, a ghost from his past flickering over rebel heads. He waved at Dhak and had him set up a picket of men along the wood line, to watch for guards. It was strange that the edge of the wood held no rebel watchers to guard such an encampment from an obvious path of concealed approach and ambush. Could the rebel be so poorly organised? Nobody watched the outskirts and it seemed only a few paid any attention as lookouts immediately around the encampment. He had to strike now.

Addressing the companies, Khule said, ”We have reached the hour of battle. All you who stand before the standard of this Company, and have taken oath to serve its commission, your hour has come. Before us are the rebels who have plunged this land into turmoil. It will fall to you to claim it from them and ease the suffering of your people. For beyond the hills to the south and west marches our Company, and it will be well for us to have matters in hand for their arrival.”

The cult-like adherence seemed surreal to Khule, and Berlas and Wulgof flanked him as he spoke. A cheer was about to begin but Khule anticipated it and held his arm up and flashed the hand-sign for silence. With his other hand he made the motion that the Easterling armies had used for centuries to signal silence. They would attack in stealth and they did not want to give their presence away to soon.

He went on, ”Form into the two-two formation and make ready to move. When we are half way down the hill, rear regiments spread to the flanks so that we charge as a wedge. Maintain unit cohesion and watch each other’s backs. May this day go well. Now let’s go.”

The four Easterling regiments formed as a large square and set forth toward the camp. Hopefully the surprise gained would carry them over. Though Khule was fairly sure most of these men would hold to their oaths as Company men when the blood started to flow, there may be some whose allegiance wavered. Oaths were one thing. The spilling of your kinsmen’s blood was quite another.

Fortunately for Khule, they held together rather well. After they were sighted, the soldiers in camp made ready to welcome the Company as brothers. This was an unexpected surprise, and while it afforded them the unparalleled opportunity to approach, Khule’s face held the tension of the civil duplicity it was. One of the Company commanders gave the order to draw swords and chaos ensued in the camp. Alert of an attack went out, but confusion remained. By the time the Company men made contact with the first men of arms in the camp, only a few rebels survived the onslaught. Crude ranks of rebels formed, engaged, and shattered when several of their men were slain. Khule’s Company men took losses as well. This served to enrage the warrior blood of the others and the battle took on a ruthless quality that Rhun warfare was known for.

Surprise had been achieved and the initial success was great, but there was a sound, and another contingent of rebels emerged from the wood to the southwest. The Company fell back in good order to form up a defensive line and held this line with the first engagement of this new force. A second assault was held as well and the afternoon saw the two sides fall into stalemate. Khule thought they had a good line to hold but was unsure about their right flank. Some of Runner’s squad set out northwest and some went southwest. It didn’t take long for word to get back to him that their position was tenous at best. A small group of soldiers were moving north toward their left, and the rebels had a strong grip on the track to the north on their right. With their backs to the east where uncertainty loomed, it could all go badly for Khule as easily as it had gone so well. With the approach of evening, there was little choice this night but to dig in and hold the line and hope for the best. As for what that might be, Khule could think only of the arrival of relief from the west. Khule set the watch and told the other men to rest.

He hunkered down with Wulgof and Berlas, both men looking as weary as he felt, and said, ”So we don’t know who is who half the time with this lot, and we aren’t sure how many factions there are.”

Berlas nodded and Wulgof sourly grunted and the three men talked in the sparse way of men who had served in tight spots with each other before. To an observer, hardly anything discernable was said. Runner was not far off , talking to Loch. They were close in age and the two young men seemed to naturally gravitate to each other.

”You have done well in a short time Runner,” Loch said, “You have gone from the lowest of the low as a boy soldier in the eyes of the others to an important position in the Company. Your scouts are good eyes and Khule sees you as their leader. That is an achievement, you know?”

Runner nodded as he looked at the ground, not understanding all that was said, but enough. He was proud of this but wasn’t sure how he accomplished it or whether he could continue to in the future. Runner, however, was troubled.

He said to Loch in rough Westron, ”One man did not return. He was he was younger than me. I sent him on the hardest route. Loss, hard.”

Loch frowned at that, aware that his new companion was confronting the realities of battle this night. In this case, Loch felt older than his years. In this, he was the veteran.

He said to Runner, ”He may still be alive. Maybe he got delayed or couldn’t get back for this reason or that. What was his name? He will be remembered in the company lore.”

Loch hoped his words would help, but in his mind he kept the thought the man may have gone over to the other side. No, he remonstrated with himself, Runner seemed to trust the man. He just might still be alive, maybe.

“You need to tell Khule of this. He needs to know. “

Runner nodded and said, ”Dorghat. He has no family. He called us his family.”

They both then walked over and squatted down on their heels near where Khule was. Some of the commanders came over and sat as well, wanting to be a part of any planning.

Khule sketched a crude map of lines in the dirt and said, ”Under the circumstances, we will have to make for the city. We won’t be able to repeat our success of today on these men again, and with our casualties a tenth of our total strength, it is likely we’ll face a stronger, more determined rebel army in the morning. Word is the Prefect’s guard still hold the city centre and are likely besieged. We will try and breakthrough to them, and hold until our men get here. However, should things develop before then, we will adjust as necessary.”

Night fell with a relative calm between the two armies. But it didn’t last long. A commotion on the south side of the rebel camp erupted into a full-on fight. Whoever it was that arrived wasted no time raiding the rebel camp, setting fire to some of their provisions. Seeing this. Khule ordered one of the regiments to move forth to the left to assist and to find out who it was. His hopes were it was the Black Company, but no such luck. Still, The regiment under the command of Khade quickly set out toward the south end of the rebel line where the fires could be seen and swords could be heard. Khule got word out through Dhak for the others to form up but hold, ready to move forth in attack, but wait ready for now. The old hurry and wait routine that seemed to feature in military service. There would be no rest this night.

This move by Khade’s regiment caused great confusion in the rebel camp. Believing a large force was moving on them from the east under cover of darkness, Khurg gave the order for a general withdrawal to the west into the cover of the heavy woods. Sensing this, and seeing that the battle to the south of their line was going in their favour, Khule ordered the remaining three regiments to advance. With only a few engagements, they shadowed the withdrawal of the rebels and prevented them from moving much of their materiel. Soon they stood in the enemy camp surrounded by much of their provisions. It was into the early morning hours before the last skirmish and clash of sword was heard.

Khule sooned learned that the initial raid was performed by loyalist men from the city who wore the Easterling Gondor Legion badge. The commander had heard of Khule and the Company but did not go to join and had instead chosen a different line of defence against the rebels. He was in high spirits when he discovered that their forces had met and fought side by side in the night’s battle against Khurg’s murderous lot

”I am Commander Kolas. It was an honor to fight with you here this night!,” Kolas said, ”We were just going to hit them once and fall back, but when we saw your army moving toward us in the dark I decided to make a stand since our retreat was blocked. It was sheer joy to us when we saw your men cut into the rebel flank, so we renewed our attack!”

”So it seems to go in this madness. We were going to settle in for a night of attrition before your attack. We had our run most of the afternoon,”
Khule replied.

The two talked for some time before parting. The news that the city was nearly overrun but abandoned by the rebels the day before, and that there remained a contingent of men guarding the Prefect’s house was conveyed to Khule. He was also informed that Khurg had been freed. He knew that, and that it only happened this day was a big reason the rebel camp was in such disarray. If Khurg and some of his old command were now in charge of this rebel army it would not be caught at unawares again. The division in command distracted the younger command. If it was resolved in their favour, their attention would be squarely focussed on military matters. It was, no matter how it was looked at, only likely to get harder to deal with these rebels. Harder and bloodier by far. Here, this day was for those who had stood loyal against the rebels. Khule had moved at just the right time, as had the Legion from the city. But to the west, events this day were not so fortunate.

There, the Easterling soldiers were not so much involved in the revolution. They had heard that Rhun had broken with Gondor and so they put up their best defense. They would fight at choke points then withdraw, and would conduct end-run raids on the supply road. With the arrival of the horsemen of Rohan, screening the road was much easier, but it was still hard going. The Black Company would also employ the end-run tactics combined with steady pressure forward. The arrival of Gondor’s infantry freed the Company up to push around the strong points. On the day Khule marched the Easterling Company into battle, the Black had reached the west side of the wood. That evening, Morcal and Sticks brought in a prisoner.

”Look what we found lurking around the edges of our line!” Morcal said as they came in.

They could see it was a boy wearing a regular Easterling army uniform. Belegost stood and took hold of him so Morcal and Sticks could rest. The boy had big eyes as he looked at the men that surrounded him, hard bitten warriors to him, a terrible and awe inspiring sight to behold. He raised his hands and stood as tall as he could.

Mulgov said dryly, ”Congratulations Morcal, you captured a boy.”

The boy said haltingly, ”Company man? Company men you?”

He pointed at the badge on Belegost’s vest, and to the Standard that flipped lazily in the breeze behind them.

Belegost said as Videgavia walked up to apprise the situation, ”What? Wha’ts your name lad?”

The boy looked at Videgavia and said, ”I am Dorghat. You Black Company men… I Black Company man.... We are brothers!

The boy pointed to a crude small badge on his tunic that was too similar to theirs to be coincidence.

"Maybe in a few years boy...” Videgavia replied

"No, I am. Khule say! We brothers!"

Videgavia scratched his beard and said, ”Mec, go find Hanasian. There is something he needs to see and hear…”
Last edited by elora on Sun Jun 03, 2012 6:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby elora » Sun Jun 03, 2012 6:13 pm

It was inevitable. Hanasian and Rin had their first argument, a quiet tussle of wills that resulted in each of them stalking off in the opposite direction. Hanasian, fuming, hunched over his journal and irritably scratched in the latest updates. His paper bore the brunt of his ill temper. Unfortunately, the men recovering from the poison darts were left to the tender mercies of the Company Healer. Men that could get away, did so with all haste. Unfortunately, those recovering in Bear’s wagons were hampered. One staged a remarkable recovery and managed to evacuate on wobbly legs.

To their credit, Two Bells and Rocks endured for as long as they could. That came to an end when Two Bells produced the latest batch of the anti-toxin. Rin snatched it from his hand, hissing as she held it up to the dying light of the day.

”What are you trying to do? Kill the man? What sort of colour do you call that?”

Two Bells quavered and then flinched as her eyes narrowed.

”Look again!” she demanded and thrust the flask back across the wagon bed at him.

Two Bells reluctantly took the bottle from her and peered. Rocks sighed beside the younger man. This was not going to end well.

”B-Brown? Green? No, hazel!” Bells ventured.

”Exactly! I’ve told you a dozen times if I’ve told you once, Bells. There is a precise order it is to be combined in-“

“I know! I do! Honest!”
Bells stated urgently and Rocks clapped the youth on the shoulder.

”Come on, then. Before you dig yourself a deeper hole.”

Rocks steered the younger apprentice away as Bells began reciting the recipe, stumbling and becoming further frantic with each misstep. Rin heaved a sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose.

”Rough day, Doc?” said one of the three remaining men in the wagon bed.

Rin’s reply was indistinct and she focussed on her work, sealing her mind off from that dreadful exchange with Hanasian over the Edoras business. Why, she asked herself, could not the Company maxim apply to her as it did everyone else? There were plenty of Company men and women who had gotten into strife before and they were permitted their secrets. What would Hanasian think of her if she told him?

”Doc, that bandage is pretty and all…but I got hit on the other side.”

A loud and particularly creative curse rose from the wagon. Some at a safe distance clapped. Hanasian’s head rose and his frown intensified. His quill hovered over the page as questions bounded about his mind. Why was she being so difficult? Why could she not be truthful with him? Was duplicity embedded in her nature? Was this who she was? He knew about it all anyway. Frea had spilled the beans after Eomer had left, unable to help himself. What was done was done and he suspected the matter would be easily cleared up if she had a mind to. Why must she conceal it and, more troubling, what else did she hide? Mecarnil cleared his throat warily.

”Look, it’s a bad time… The fishing party have returned with a winnow, an interesting one. Vid wants you to come see, Cap.”

“Can’t he sort it out? No, belay that, Mec. I’ll go,”
Hanasian sighed and glanced down at his journal to see a great, fat ink blot creeping over the page that soured his frame of mind further.

Mecarnil wisely squinted off into the middle distance. Hanasian growled, tore out a page and crumpled it in his fist. He tossed the paper onto a fire he stalked off to locate Videgavia, Mecarnil falling into stride beside his agitated commander and old friend.

”How long has it been now, since we deployed? Four weeks? Six?”

“Four weeks and three days,”
Hanasian bit off and Mecarnil nodded sagely.

Ah yes, four weeks and three days and the man by his side had not had a moment to spare with his new wife. Yes, they had a month together, but that was not nearly enough to learn the difficult art of marriage. And, marriages were particularly difficult for those in active service. Duty always intruded, always had to be set first, and that took a toll on a man’s heart and a woman’s soul. Mecarnil’s thoughts flickered, but he kept his opinions to himself and soon enough they had reached the small party that had captured the boy soldier. The lad repeated his outlandish claims, inflating his chest as much as possible, and Hanasian’s face registered surprise.

”So, you were recruited by Khule?” he asked and Dorghat was only too pleased to describe the series of glorious events that led to him becoming brothers with the Black Company of Arnor in halting Westron.

”And where is Khule and your unit now?” Videgavia inquired, struggling with the tender years of the boy’s face. He couldn’t be more than fifteen.

Dorghat readily reported all he had scouted out since setting forth, eager to demonstrate that he was a Company man, one of them.

”He could be a plant,” Molguv pointed out and Morcal and Sticks frowned at each other.

”He could. Or he could be genuine,” Mecarnil replied.

They spoke in rapid Westron and it was difficult for Dorghat to follow. Not, however, for the Company Healer who arrived positively bristling. Her network of female Company members, informally dubbed the Black Cats, had informed her and she found precisely the sort of scene that made her blood boil. Or, it would have had her blood not already been simmering at a rapid pace. Warriors, fearsome looking ones to a civilian’s eyes, dripping with weapons and doubts, ringed a boy not old enough to sprout downy whiskers. His eyes were wide and his head swivelled back and forth on a thin stalk of a neck as he desperately tried to understand. His expression wavered between hopeful and frightened in equal measures.

”What is this, then? Interrogating children?”

“Oh, just what we need. Champion of the trod upon, crusading to another rescue,”
Molguv stated, crossing his arms over his chest.

”This is a military matter, Doc. Stand down,” Videgavia ordered with a reasonable expectation that she’d ignore him.

”The hell I will, Vid – the boy can barely stand. Just LOOK at his feet!”

“I man,”
the boy protested meekly, utterly amazed by the sudden appearance of a woman that seemed to be made of ice she was so very pale to him.

Then he glanced down at his feet, bloody and torn because his boots had fallen apart on him many miles ago. Yes, they were painful, but he was Black Company and he was equal to all his brothers required of him. Hanasian’s gaze met Rin’s and something there sizzled a long moment. Videgavia had not missed the stunned expression on Dorghat’s face. Fifteen, he was the perfect age… Videgavia signalled a crafty idea to Hanasian, whose brows rose as he considered it. Then he nodded and stepped to one side.

”Tend to him, Rin,” Hanasian ordered and Rin stepped forward to do so.

She crouched by the boy, coaxed him to sit and set to work. The men standing about exchanged knowing looks over their heads. The boy did anything, absolutely anything she asked, unable to tear his eyes from her. If she had of asked him to leap the moon, he would have died trying. A fifteen year male was prime fodder for infatuation regardless of which land he called home, and older women were irresistible to such lads. Rin spoke with Dorghat as she worked, choosing simple words that he could grasp across the language divide. She extracted how far he had travelled, how many other brothers like him were out there, and whether Khule had any companions still with him.

As she commenced bandaging his feet, she glanced in question up at Hanasian who nodded with implicit understanding of her query.

”You’re a strong young man, Dorghat. You will be on your feet again in a week. Will you ride with us until then?”

Dorghat’s eyes shone as he nodded. Sticks collected up the boy and carried him into camp, trailed by Morcal. Rin remained crouched to gather up her gear while a rapid-fire discussion took place over her head.

”The city, it’s where Khule is making for. He has too… over one hundred mouths to feed now, he needs supplies,” Molguv stated.

”Won’t the rohhirim be pleased to learn that over one hundred Easterlings have been signed up to their Company,” Belegost said.

Videgavia waved that aside for the moment, ”Word is the city has fallen, though. One hundred or three, he’ll need support.”

“Street fighting doesn’t suit armies, Vid,”
Mecarnil stated.

”But it does the Black. We need to replenish our own materiel anyway. And, if the city has fallen, the situation will be grim for those within. Order, safety and healers…Rin, are your Ducklings up to it?” Hanasian asked, voice perfectly modulated and strictly professional.

Rin stowed the last of her stuff and stood in their midst.

”As ready as they can be made. They know how to operate now, and the Company knows how to operate around them,” she replied in kind – just as impassive.

That night there was a larger Company meet where the strategy for the city was formed up. They would enter from two sides, north and south, to pursue their varied objectives. Key was finding more supplies and Khule. If opportunity arose to flush out rebels, support loyalists or assist the civilian populace they would take that as well. Rin got to her feet and strode into the darkness, muttering something about patients, after the discussion concluded. Mecarnil was waiting for her and nearly took ten years off her life when he spoke in the darkness.

”Rin, make it right again.”

“What are you trying to do? Scare me to death?”

“Did you hear me?”

“Yes. I would if I could. The milk is spilt and there’s not a damn thing I can do to undo it all.”


He heard her expel a weary breath.

”Look, Rin, I don’t wish to interfere in your life. But the thing is, tomorrow a dart could find you or Hanasian and then where would you be?”

“But it was years ago! I can’t go back in time, Mec.”

“What was?”

Another sigh and she grudgingly furnished scant bones of the Edoras matter.

”That’s it? That’s all? Woman, he knows already.”


“Yes, I know,”
rumbled a familiar and much loved voice in the darkness behind her and Rin lost another ten years off her life.

”It’s not how it seems. I’m not a traitor, we weren’t agents for Rhun. I- I’m going to throttle that man when I see him again. I don’t see why the Company rules don’t apply to me.”

“Rosmarin, I am not here as your commanding officer. I did not ask as your commanding officer. I simply wish to know the woman I have bound my life to.”

“But – if you know you might wish you had chosen otherwise, Hanasian.”

“Do you still doubt? How many times must I say it? Always and ever.”

“What do such words mean to me? What can they mean? Always? Ever? Permanence? Safety? Security? Illusions or, if real, ever denied to the likes of Loch and I.”

“Whose ring do you wear on your finger?”


“Then, woman, know this. There will come a time when you will know, in your heart, what such words mean because I will show you. We will build it. You will have it. I swear it. I swear it by sun and moon and stars. I swear it. Together, we will shape it, if you believe in me. Can you? Do you?”

“Do you?”

“Yes… despite what you would hide from me. I believe, knowing there is much I may never know of you. Have you any idea how terrifying that is?”

“No, for you have been open and honest with me,”
Rin confessed uncomfortably, ”What do you wish to know?”

“All of it, all of you. Only that.”

“Are you sure. Once it is said, it cannot be unsaid.”

“You must take the risk. Do you believe in me or not?”

“Oh, impossible man. That is unfair!”

“Yes, it is,”
Hanasian agreed, heard her sigh and then felt her hand grasp his arm and draw him down to sit.

She spoke quietly, shy and reluctant. But she spoke, peeling away at events he never imagined at. Some made him smile in the nights. Other’s stole his breath and made his eyes sting. Hers had not been an easy path by any measure and never before had she displayed so much trust as she was now as she whispered in his ear, warm breath against his cheek. After a while, he softly placed a finger over her lips. She was near enough that he could map out the panes of her face, or knew them so well now that his mind filled in the details.

”Enough, love,” he whispered to her and felt her lower her head to his shoulder. They sat that way for a long while, in silence, as the Company slept around them, and then crept to their own rolls divided no longer.

The following morning saw the Company ready for the city and two very happy individuals floated about hither and thither. Molguv rolled his eyes and Babble muttered under his breath how it just wasn’t fair. One of the Black Cats caught his glance in her direction and flashed him an entirely unpleasant, hair raising smile. When Babble blanched, the woman looked over at her companion and chortled in a fetching girlish manner completely at odds with their martial appearance.
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Postby elora » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:48 pm

The move toward the city should have been easy. But just because the rebels had been surprised by Khule’s arrival, and didn’t expect the loyal Guards raiding from the south, and with their initial contact with the main Company on the east side of the wood, still they managed to slip the pocket they had found themselves in. Their position had become tenuous at best, roughly being shaped like a thumb pointing south. Had Khule and the main Company had some communication that day, the better part of the rebellious armies of the northern clans could have been surrounded and eventually forced to surrender. But communication was nil, and the arriving Gondorian infantry was only then relieving the Company. Khule’s Easterling Company was in an uncertain position, unaware of the strength of the northern rebels or what may be taking place in the east, and opted to move into the abandoned city.

It had only been by chance that Dorghat managed to work his way around the north side of the main rebel army. In his quest to gain information for Runner and Khule, he found he was unable to get back east and so avoided capture by moving west until he ran into the Company. There were two schools of thought on whether Dorghat allowed himself be caught by Morcal, or if he was actually snared by the Southron. Only Dorghat knew for sure, and he refused to shed any light on it.

Once the Company had disengaged and turned their position to Gondor’s infantry, they prepared to move east toward the city. But delays in getting shifted set them back a day. It would be the early morning of the next day that the full Company could move out. They took Dorghat with them. He said he knew a good route, and though some did not wish to trust him, Hanasian reminded Morcal that he wasn’t trusted when he was brought in either. Hanasian decided to give the youth a chance to show his worth. He after all considered himself a Company Man and Hanasian wasn’t going to judge decisions made in the field by Khule. There was likely a good reason for this, and it was up to them to catch up with the Eastern Detachment, as Khule, Loch, Berlas, and Wulgof were known as by the old Company.

Hanasian, in a hope he could get word to Khule, called a small group that happened to be around him at the moment together. He said, ”So we will trust the word of Dorghat and he will lead a few of our men into the city in hopes to find Khule. Morcal, you will go with him, as will Frea, Donius, Ravenclaw, and Flint. Wait… Donius you stay.”

Rin came walking up to see what was being discussed, and Hanasian said to her, ”Rin, I need one of your medics to go with Frea. They will be going into the city. Who do you suggest?”

“I think Two Bells will be best,"
Rin answered without hesitation.

Hanasian said, ”Have Two Bells report here now. Frea, you keep two eyes and two ears out for anything that looks off. Evade, don’t engage, and try and get to the Prefect’s Palace. Hopefully one of our men will be around who knows you. Wear your emblems, and have a small standard ready. If the rest of these men Khule has under his command are as willing to join us as Dorghat, then it will be well with us. We’ll trust the boy to get you in.”

Two Bells came up and Rin said, ”You’re attached to Frea’s Company. Get your field kit and be ready to move.”

Two Bells shuffled off silently and it was not long before they were ready. They set off with Dorghat in the lead. He was followed closely by Morcal, and then Frea who mapped the way. Two Bells followed, with Ravenclaw watching the rear. They were inside the city by nightfall.

Khule’s Company maintained a strong rearguard as they rolled down the rebel line. Slowly the men pulled back, but a few remained, ready to take up position as soon as the rebels moved forward. However there was no pursuit. Instead, Khurg ordered a general withdrawal to the north to solidify his line against the combined forces of Khule and the western Company. Khule realized this and ordered the Easterlings to maintain their front north of the city under command of Wulgof and Berlas as his second. Meanwhile, Khule and Loch, along with some of the original dozen and some of the loyal Guards, sought out the Prefect’s Guards who remained at the Palace.

The city was abandoned for the most part. But signs of life were crawling out of their hiding places. Mostly women and children, and they scrounged for whatever food they could find on the dead soldiers of both sides. Flies had already swarmed in on the bodies and Loch for a moment felt his stomach become queasy.

He said to Khule. ”If I get killed, I don’t want to end up like this.”

Khule looked about and said, ”Don’t worry Kid, the Company looks after their own. “

“But there can be those situations where we can’t get to the fallen,”
Loch said in his quasi philosophical manner.

Khule answered, ”Don’t get killed. Then you don’t have to worry about it. Make the other man worry about it. Now quit thinking about it or it will eat you up. Now, what do you think of Runner and his band of merry fleet feet?”

Loch thought a moment about it and said, ”I can relate to them. Having to grow up sooner than they should. I think they will be the most loyal of the bunch.”

“Aye, that’s what I was thinking too.”

A fire was burning in the street not far from the Prefect’s palace. People stood about it and one was heard to say that it would be a cold night coming. If the weather turned now before much more was settled, things would be hard for all involved. Even now as the sun set, a deep chill could be felt on the breath of the wind.

The guard came out to greet them and reported the day had been quiet there; no sign of the rebels. Khule explained that they had withdrawn to the north. It was then that Loch spotted Dorghat moving between buildings. A guard also saw him and another.

”Who goes there?” the guard challenged

Dorghat disappeared behind some rubble and the others moved low and slow. Khule set out forward and Loch stepped in behind him. A few of the original twelve followed, swords ready. Khule called out into the fading twilight, watching as the flickering light of flames danced about the ruins.

”I know you are there. Be you friend of Gondor and the Company, show yourself!”

Dorghat looked at Frea knowingly and Frea smiled. Never thought he would be happy to hear Khule’s voice again.

Frea stood and said, pale hair gleaming in the torchlight, ”We are the Company. Come looking for you!”

Khule too smiled, the Company had come! Loch saw Dorghat and said, ”I see you got one of our boys there with you! I think his commander will be pleased to know he yet lives.”

“We’re coming in.”

Khule signalled to the guard that it was their men and the guards seemed to relax slightly. As Frea’s group came forth, Khule saw that other than Dorghat, Morcal and two others in Company insignia accompanied Frea. One was a complete stranger and the other was the vaguely familiar but not as Company.

”This is it? Where’s the Company?” Khule asked as he looked Two Bells over.

Frea said as they shook hands, ”There has been a lot of changes since you left. We recruited well over a hundred new heads, but attrition and our first battles with the rebels have reduced that number to ninety. The rest of the Company will be tomorrow likely. I see you did some recruiting of your own.”

He looked at Dorghat, who stood proud as he listened to the meeting of two Company brothers.

”You could say that I guess. It was unintentional, it just worked out in our favour,” Khule said, also looking at Dorghat.

Frea asked, ”So what is your situation? We had contact with some faction and the road was a tough one with the Easterling guards either welcoming us or fighting us.”

Come and rest,”
Khule said, ”We are setting up across the street from the palace. It’s the best place not wrecked other than the palace, but the palace guards seem to be adamant not to let anyone in there.”

Frea nodded and said to Two Bells, ”See if any of these people need your services. Set up a ward somewhere. We’ll bring you some food.”

Khule motioned to a couple of the original twelve to help out and the rest gathered in the main floor of the building next door. Runer had come when he heard that Dorghat was back and the night for them was spent in relative comfort. But for those holding the line, it was a miserable night, for it was cold, and a light rain started to fall.
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Winter Comes

Postby elora » Sun Jun 10, 2012 7:45 pm

”So who’s first?” Frea inquired as they gathered around a welcome fire.

The drip of the rain outside made him consider Folca a moment and then grin because cold and rain never failed to put a dint in his brother's imperturbable cheery facade.

”You, since you’re so damn happy,” Khule replied, ”Who're the strangers?”

“That's Ravenclaw…and the young one I sent off is one of Doc’s new medics. Not healers, of course, but the next best thing to one. Got three of them now.”

“How’s Rin?”
Loch inquired, eager for news given that he’d not seen her for months.

”Same as ever and I tell you, Kid, you’d better start running now.”


“She knows you told. The rest you can figure out for yourself,”
Frea informed him with a wide grin.

Loch withdrew to chew that over and to see, if all else failed, whether he could lay low with Runner’s troop until the heat died down. Maybe a few years. While Frea and Khule exchanged information on the disposition of each arm of the expanded Company, Ravenclaw saw to getting food organised. Warm food would make a welcome change from the cold rations they’d been subsisting on for weeks, especially on a night like this one. He ventured out to locate Bells and was directed to a ramshackle room that was large and poorly lit. Bells was trying to remedy that and Ravenclaw could see he’d been busy weatherproofing it as well. A few people lay within, dwarfed by the size of the room and making the ratio border on absurdity.

”Expecting more business?” Ravenclaw enquired as he ventured in, skirting a puddle as he went.

Bells glanced over his shoulder, nails in his mouth and a hammer poised in his hand. The sight of food, warm food, gave the young medic the necessary incentive to finish boarding over a gaping hole in the wall above the rear window. A few rapid thumps, the clatter of a hammer being discarded, and Ravenclaw was soon left standing with one metal plate in hand.

”Thanks,” Bells said moments later, voice muffled by the food in his mouth.

”Don’t mention it. Seriously, this room is huge…and I passed at least four that had better walls.”

“We’ll need those too, make sure they know that out there.”

Ravenclaw expelled a breath and glanced at the three men Bells had already placed inside the cavern. He shook his head. Ravenclaw stood to go and Bells hastened to his feet, still chewing.

”Before you leave, could you help me with something?”

the larger man answered and Bells grinned in a way that made Ravenclaw wish he hadn’t decided to be so agreeable.

By the time Ravenclaw emerged, missing both his cloak and his spare cloak, he had a head full of information that had to be relayed to whoever was heading back to the Company and a damp chill in his bones that he believed would not leave until Spring.

”How’s he doing in there?” Frea asked as he returned to the fire.

”Fine, just fine. Someone going back to the Company? I got a skin full of messages from Bells for Doc.”

“Bells can tell her himself when they arrive tomorrow. Where’s your cloak?”

Ravenclaw growled something under his breath and chafed his hands in front of the flames, ”They’re all the same, you realise. Mad, cantankerous, argumentative, demand the clothes off your back and the sun from the sky.”

“Aye…and they hold your life in their hands when you can’t and give it back to you when you can again, no price demanded. If they want the sun, they can have it. If you tell Doc I said that, I’ll break your neck.”

Khule grunted agreement and Loch chortled from where he was stationed with Runner’s group. Dorghat’s tales of the Black Company transfixed the young men. Amazed, Runner turned to Loch and asked if it was true that the Company recruited women too.

Loch nodded and tapped his chest proudly, ”Aye, my sister was their first and only. My sister, mind you, so careful what you say Dorghat.”

“No, there more now,”
Dorghat interrupted and stared at his fingers as he did a mental tally, ”There eight now.”

“Eight?! HEY FREA, are there more women in the Company now?”

Frea replied, winking at Khule as Loch let out a great whoop of delight and continuing with, ”As I said, Khule. A great deal has changed since you lot took off.”

Those outside had an uncomfortable night and there was no difficulty getting everyone going early. The light rain broke just before dawn only to return with greater fury an hour afterwards. If marching was unpleasant at the best of times, in the cold rain it was miserable. Donius earned himself not one but two kisses, one for each cheek, when he rigged up cover for those in the wagons unable to walk. He flushed bright in the watery light as the Company Healer spun away, calling a flurry of instruction out to her remaining two medics. One the wagons started trundling, the Company began moving out through the dreary day.

”We have to get this mess cleared up before winter hits,” Videgavia called from his sodden hood across to where Hanasian rode.

They reached the city walls, dilapidated if compared to the brilliance of the White City, just after midday. Sitting cross-legged on a large boulder by the road was a figure in a weatherproofed cloak. Rain, fat cold drops, spattered onto his hood and shoulders. The outriders whistled a warning back to the column behind them and held up their hands, suspicious and wary. The figure lifted his head slightly and weighed the sight before him on the trail. Four drenched and mud splattered men on wet horses that flicked rain from their ears with ill concealed rancour and stamped their feet, demanding to be on their way to a stable somewhere. Foldine, Folca, and two he didn’t know. Gondorians, by the look of them.

”Well…you could probably use a bath by now, but I would have thought you preferred warmer stuff than this,” the figure said.

Foldine squinted through the rain. All he could see beneath the hood was a straggly, unkempt sandy beard.

”Have you anything useful to tell us, Kid?”

“I been working on that for ages! Anyway, streets are secure. You’ll find us adjacent to the Prefect’s Palace. They’re expecting you and I already ate all the hot, fresh food and drank all the ale.”

With that, Loch was off his boulder and capered back through the gates like a mad, sodden, puppet, slipping and sliding on the mud. Folca scratched at his jaw and issued the all clear and move on signal. Foldine muttered into his beard. The other two recruits, a woman called Nets for a reason no one understood and Sticks glanced at each other.

”Who was that?” Sparks inquired.

”Company Jester,” Folca answered.

”If that toad has eaten all the food, I’ll hang him by his heel and use him for target practice,” Foldine grumbled.

”He was joking, surely. An entire city’s food and ale?” Nets demurred.

”Jester and Gut,” Folca clarified and kicked his horse forward and through the gates.

The scene inside was one the veterans had expected. It was grim and one they had seen before too many times. Most paid it no heed, braced themselves against it. The rain and chill did something to lessen the stench of decay but it could not abate it entirely. Bodies lay where they had fallen. Rin was singularly horrified and she became rigid in her saddle. The spectre of disease raised its deathly head and she kicked her horse forward as far as she could because there were things that needed to be seen to immediately. As a result, she rode straight past Loch, was out of her saddle and off in search of Bells before anyone else had dismounted. Sparks and Rocks were forced to scurry after her, packs bouncing as they rushed off. The rest of the Company was more orderly. They pulled up, dismounted, unloaded and filed off where they were directed to, perfectly content to be out of the saddle and the rain. The wagons pulled up and those within were unloaded in the large room Bells had earmarked. Rin paused on her way out again to inspect the direction of traffic. Momentarily satisfied that was in order, she went in search of Hanasian and Videgavia and anyone else she could find in charge.

She found the two men hunkered down with Khule and already in deep conversation around a fire that had been lit in a metal drum of some sort. Khule nodded at her and the conversation paused.

”Yes?” Videgavia inquired and she wasted no time.

”Those bodies have to be properly disposed immediately. I need a detail.”

“There is an entire city out there, Rin. We don’t have the manpower for that right now.”

“I need that detail, Vid. As simple as that.”

“Can it wait?”

Rin wiped her hands over her wet face, searching for some way to convey the urgency of the situation, ”It already has and too long, judging from what we saw on the way in. How much time have we got? I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re out of it already. I won’t know until the first case presents, and then that will become a tide and we will have a plague on our hands and four or four thousand healers will not be enough!

“I need that detail! And quicklime…and shovels… That, or we camp outside the walls – several miles away and to the north, given the force of the prevailing winds of late. And food, it could be tainted. Supplies here will need to be checked. I need that detail!”

With that she spun away and was out in the rain again rounding up men for the unpleasant but necessary task. By nightfall, the immediate area around the Prefect’s Palace had been cleared out and the causalities from Khule’s detachment had arrived for treatment. Bells’ selection of the large room was proven well founded. Time blurred and became indistinct the Ducklings and Rin. Word spread fast that healers were in the city, near the Palace. In the hour before midnight, the first civilian arrived and they spilled over into the other rooms that Bells had requisitioned. Civilians were kept away from military personnel. Any spare cloth was used to section each room, strung up as makeshift curtains to shield the majority of the room from the sight of what went on behind it. In public, they were calm, decisive, organised and in control. Behind that curtain, they were human again as they struggled their way through the initial onslaught. It was terrifying and exhilarating both. There were victories; particularly poignant when an old Palace Guard shuffled in with what appeared to be a mushroom which he said would remedy anyone still suffering the effects of the poisoned darts. He was right, and Bells actually capered about between the stretchers in sheer relief as Sparks clapped out a lively rhythm. There were defeats as well. The worst was a breach birth that Rin just could not save. Too late a frightened child of six had brought in her mother. Their father, as it turned out, had perished along with many of the loyal Palace guards. Just before dawn, the child had lost her mother and an infant brother as well.

Rin sat outside the room, numb and exhausted, staring at the wall of the Palace across the way. Someone had left a chair there. Her hands rested limp on her thighs and there was blood to her elbows and all down her torso. It was quite now, the worst of the initial set up done. Rocks led the child out, glancing at Rin as he passed. A few words passed between Rocks and one of the other Palace guards that had kept a vigil outside. The man placed a gnarled, battle scarred hand on the child’s back and led her away. Rock’s turned back to consider Rin. She hadn’t blinked or moved a muscle aside from her jaw, which she clenched tighter, and tighter. Unlike the rest of them, she’d been working straight since early the morning before. One of the things that could be done behind the makeshift curtains was sleep and she had bullied all three of them into it.

”You should clean up, get some rest,” he said, pitching his voice so that she could hear it and listening to it echo off the stones around them.

No response, so he started forward and tried to pull her up out of her chair. He got a response that time, but it was not helping things. Rocks stepped back, head canted and weighing up what to do next when she abruptly stood and shouldered past him. He returned to the ward and got back to business while Sparks and Bells snored behind their curtains. Rin found Hanasian hunched over by a candle, pouring through reports and scratching out notes. They’d taken what had once been a hall of some sort as barracks and around men and women snored, dry, reasonably well fed, warm. She didn’t say a word but something made Hanasian look up from his study. Gone was the mask. Absent was the control. Fragile, distraught, exhausted and lost now. Silently he stood and drew her further in. The slightest pressure on her shoulders and she sat suddenly. He rummaged through his packs for cloths and began cleaning away the clotted blood she was covered in. As he worked, she closed her eyes. Her shirt was ruined and he peeled it from her. The chain mail she wore beneath gleamed in the candlelight.

”Too much. You do too much,” he murmured, thinking she was asleep.

”I serve,” she replied, words slurred around the edges by her fatigue, ”As I swore I would.”

“A little moderation, every once in a while, is that too much to ask?”

No answer then, because she had fallen asleep sprawled against him. He gathered her up, reached for his papers and continued working until morning proper came. He left her to sleep through breakfast. By lunch he had left with a small patrol to get a direct look at the northern line himself. By mid afternoon she was up again and back at her work in a shirt she had borrowed from his pack. The rain had abated, but clouds hung heavily overhead. Hanasian stood on what passed as the northern walls of the city and studied the sight before him. He could see the Company standard that Wulgof and Berlas had raised. Further ahead, a darker mass on the horizon.

”They’re massing,” Khule observed from beside him.

”Where’s Khor in all this?” Videgavia asked and Khule shook his head.

”No word to be had of him. Could be he’s there, or not. The Sagath are…divided.”

“Nothing new, in other words,”
Hanasian said quietly.

”Nothing new,” Khule affirmed.

”We need fresh information; numbers and factions. Else we’re fighting blind,” Videgavia said.

”Aye, it’s time the Black got on with the business we know best,” Hanasian said as he turned away from the horizon and started back down the stairs at a jog, ”Company meet tonight – inner core only. Spread the word. Khule, bring Wulgof and Berlas back for it.”

“Aye, Cap,”
Videgavia and Khule said in unison.
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Postby elora » Sun Jun 17, 2012 1:22 pm

It was the first time since Minas Tirith that the Company was together in one spot. The ‘Old Crew’ as they referred to themselves now. Hanasian, on Loch’s recommendation, had Runner and his messengers be the watch around the room where they met. Their youthfulness had set them apart in their extreme loyalty and enthusiasm, so who else would be better to have as a guard? Outside, a handpicked dozen of Khule’s Easterlings and the new Company of Minas Tirith were set in position, and the rest were bivouacked on opposite sides of the Prefect’s Palace. The Palace Guard held steady around the palace and the other Easterling units held the front line north of the city.

Hanasian looked about at the eighteen faces and gave a slight smile.

”It has been a long time since we all gathered, or so it seems. It is good to see you all here this night.”

He looked at each in the eyes for a moment. The Company had changed so much in such a short time. If only this small crew was the Company still, the course of action from here would be dramatically different than what was to come. But with the Easterling corps that Khule brought in, and the Gondor corps that Videgavia recruited on the advice of the King, they had nearly a hundred and fifty members now. Before the fighting commenced for them, they were near two hundred.

Hanasian said, ”You are the core of the Company, and though some have not been with us much longer than all the new recruits from Gondor and Rhun, you were in on your own merits. There will be things we here will be the only ones to know for now. Those of the new Companies that show themselves to be trustworth will be brought in.

“There are already a few who have shown their worth. If any of you have any who you think are worthy of more development in the Company, then come speak to me about them. Unfortunately most will be just grunts, and will likely be casualties when we move. So you will need to take the necessary precautions for any you take to.”

Hanasian started to walk around, looking at the members. His wife sat on a barrel, oddly enough wearing her chain mail. She seemed distracted, her concerns were elsewhere, but she rested while she could.

He shook hands with Videgavia, one of the veterans of their last Rhun campaign. Loch leaned against a pillar, moving a small knife about in his hand with exacting control. The kid looked like a veteran already. A nod he gave when he looked up to see Hanasian looking at him. Wulgof sat next to him, and Berlas next to Wulgof. They seemed to have made some unspoken bond having had come east before the rest. Khule sat alone, already thinking of who out of his company he would like to see live. Next were the Southrons… Mulgov and Morcal, and clustered by the fire were the Rohirrim. Frea, Folca, and Foldine sat and in the flickering orange light they looked similar. The Rangers stood apart slightly, relatively relaxed in their charge for the heir of Cardolan in their midst. Mecarnil and Farbarad eyed just about everyone outside this group with suspicion, but within this group there was no such doubt.

Belegost, the engineer brothers Donius and Daius, Bear, Anras, and Belegost sat around in an arc that brought Hanasian back to Rosmarin. She looked up at him, and unspoken words with an embrace of shadow went between them. He paused and wondered if he still had what it took to do this. He wanted to right then run off west with his love, leaving the rugged life of the Company behind. Maybe when this was done. Maybe… he turned and stepped up onto a large block

”I know it is hard to know them, but try and know their nicknames. I want to record their deeds in the histories. Khule, if you can get the names of those who had fallen in your Company before we linked up, it will be appreciated. I think the others would like to know they are remembered. Vid has done pretty well with the new recruits from Gondor.

Now, the plan. The Gondor regulars will push against the rebels to the north, and with the pressure on, they will likely retreat somewhat. There is rumour that King Bard II has sent his son, Prince Bain II with an army east into Rhovanion to hold the Easterling rebels from moving west. But there are always rumours in war. If it true, it will be a blessing. If not, the Gondor army will hold and squeeze. The horsemen of Rohan and the loyal Easterling Gondor legion will assist them in this. Our job is to deal with the as-yet unknown situation in the east….”

Khule cut in as he stood, ”It is not unknown. Khor is out there and he likely has an army of some strength. But my brother is at best unpredictable and plays his hand close. It was how he was even when we were under Mordor’s command.”

Hanasian let him finish before continuing.

”I was getting to that. Videgavia told me it was the area that concerned the King before he sent the four of you out. It is what we will continue to do now. We go the early morning the day after tomorrow. There will be an attack against the rebels by the Gondor regulars and we will form the right flank of that force. The Gondor legion will be with us and they will press ahead while we slide off to the east as darkness comes. So there will be a hard day of fighting, as this will not be anything easy. It will be a full infantry assault, and with it will come death, wounds, and confusion. We will need to try and keep our core together as best we can.

“Bear, you will be hold back with some of Runner’s kids to get enough supply for a week moved east. The men going forward will carry their usual supply for three days. We will be reduced in numbers when we break, but how much will depend on several unanswerable variables. Now, you all get some rest, and get me the names of those you want to look after to me tomorrow.“

Hanasian walked over to Rin and took her hand. There was little else they could do for those in this city. It will be up to the local guard.

”Come my Love, let us get some rest too.”

She slid down off the barrel, her mail clinking somewhat. As much as he wanted to, he didn’t ask her why she was wearing it this night.
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Postby elora » Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:30 am

The meeting did not end simply because the Captain had departed with the Company Healer. In fact, their absence meant that another matter could be dealt with. It did not take long because all within the room were in agreement. The Captain and Healer could and would do what they could to look after others. Better to instruct the sun to stay abed or the stars to turn their faces than to attempt to suggest to either individual otherwise. By the time the meeting properly concluded, they had agreed that come what may, two people would emerge on the other side if it were the last thing those gathered accomplished. They had agreed something else as well…the less said of their arrangement the better, lest either one take exception to it as one or the other were likely to do.

Hanasian’s hand was warm around her own, strong and steady. They walked the area that the combined Company now occupied, each quiet with their own thoughts. Rin’s mind shied onto something new every time she tried to settle it. She was distracted, knew it and little liked it.

”Your mind is so busy I can hear it ticking like a hobbit’s fobwatch.”

“You’re a fine one to talk,”
Rin replied and he smiled, because it was true and because she was deflecting him.

They walked a little way further, nodding at those who acknowledged their passing. So much galloping through her mind, she scarce knew where to begin. Battle, real battle. Different to anything she had experienced before. Bigger, more frightening. How to prepare for that? How to prepare for the fact that there would be people that would be dead for no other reason than she could not reach them in time. It would be bigger than any strife she had encountered prior to the Company, bigger than Tharbad or Harad. She felt overwhelmed by it and she knew now was not the time for the Company Healer to get a bad case of the jitters. She had three medics and the entire weight of the Company depending on her to have a steady hand, a cool head. She had no way of knowing if she would be equal to what would come. The sheer unknown enormity of it was, frankly, terrifying.

”Medics and Cats,” she said, murmuring really.

”The title of your Black Company diary?” Hanasian inquired, squeezing her hand and spotting a brief smile illuminate her features.

”No, those I want to get through. The Ducklings, the Cats…and as many as possible. All of them.”

“Ah, well, no small feat then. Rin, you understand that it is inevitable that everyone will not get through.”

“Yes, but I do not have to like it. I know we will try our best and that for some, it will not be enough.”

For a night that was to be restful, their conversation was taking a decidedly unsettling slant. And she hadn’t even gotten to the bottom of what had set her mind spinning like a top. They had to hop over a puddle and when she landed, her chain mail made a distinct jingling noise. Oh, she hated that noise! And it rubbed despite the padded undershirt, dug into places she rather it didn’t, and weighed her down. Hanasian glanced down at her mail discreetly, and again decided not to say anything. She knew he wondered, though. It was too early to say anything. Such things were always uncertain so early on and they were hardly in an ideal setting. She could be wrong too. However, perhaps there was a way to broach something important, and related.

”My love, do you recall Henneth-Annun?”

“Frequently, more than once a day,”
he murmured, lips brushing her ear and making her shiver as a result.

”Ahhh,” damn her scattered thoughts, ”Remember how we agreed that we would know when it was time to go West?”

“Of course...”
Hanasian replied, his mind now spinning because what if she said that time was now?

”I think we know,” Rin continued, cautiously scanning his expression and finding it guarded.

”We do?”

“Yes…after Rhun. Do you not sense it?”

“Ah, yes. Of course… Are…are you certain it is not now?’

“It seems right to wait until after this, else we would abandon them mid campaign and I do not know if I could ever forgive us for that. Could you?”

“I could not,”
Hanasian said, both relieved and a little disappointed at the same time.

”Then, is that what we will do? After Rhun will we go…home?”

The way she shaped the word, the way her eyes had become deep blue pools, the hope that lit her face. He cupped her face in his hands, heedless of who might look on, and kissed her deeply.

”Yes, my love. We will go home after Rhun, by the fastest road and horse available.”

Rin stretched on her toes to kiss him soundly, relieved that at least this was in place. The rest would have to unfold, she would have to wait and hope for the best. Until she knew either way, she’d wear the damn chain mail regardless of how it caught at her hair and yanked strands from her scalp. And, tonight would be theirs and theirs alone. She took his hand and pulled him along towards their rest, their calm respite before the mighty storm that awaited them all.

News that the Black would be deploying and the disposition of its personnel were disseminated carefully and promptly amongst the wider Company. The night passed without incident, or at least incident that found its way to the Captain and Healer. The next day was predictably busy with preparations. Weapons, armour, gear, immediate supplies checked and re-checked. For Rin, in addition to all this she saw to arranging the care for those still in the makeshift wards that would not be coming with them. It was an important responsibility and one that required considered judgement.

It would prove to be an uneasy night for most of them and Hanasian or Rin proved no exception. They moved out prior to dawn, during the darkest period of the night, and were in position as planned arrayed along the side of the units that would assist them to push forward and fade east under the mantle of battle confusion. It was an ambitious gambit. Rin glanced to Loch. He had a white knuckled grasp on the Standard and the tension in his shoulders told her that he was as nervous as she was even if he didn’t look ready to run screaming for safety. He kept rubbing at his jaw. She knew it was his tell. He was worried.

Rin swept her eyes over the Company’s many faces and names, until her eyes rested on Hanasian. They had said their words in private, away from everyone else. Oh she loved him so. There had to be hope, and for her he was it. He would get them through. Then the horns that signalled the start of the attack split the dawn. It had begun and shortly thereafter, the world as she knew it broke apart. The sound as those on the front engaged was like nothing she had ever heard before. Savage, ferocious, steel, screaming men, thumping on shields, the hiss and whistle of spears and arrows, the shriek of pain, the terrible wet sound of bodies collapsing. Yet, in what seemed to be utter chaos, there were threads of order and even logic.

The Company moved in unison, pushing forward with those around them. Momentum was the key. It was like a bloody dance, on a floor crowded with the dead and the dying. It was the most terrible thing she had ever seen and the scale of it was monumental. And through this, somehow, she and her medics had to ply their trade. Impossible! Just impossible, or so she thought until she saw the first one go down, and then there was no time for thought. There was only action.

The Rohirrim were singing, voices fell and bright with battle lust as they fought and slew. Loch’s laughter told the Company around him that his bloodlust had taken him. The fighting was intense around the Standard and he was in the thick of it. Hanasian, Videgavia and Molguv divided their attention between directing those around them and waging their own battle. Medics and one healer darted, weaving in and around and in between and delivering punishment to any rebel who sought to target one they had tended. Still, for all that, there were losses as Hanasian had told them there would be. Rowdy, Nets, Stillwater all fell that day.

By mid afternoon, they had crept their way forward and now only had to maintain position until darkness fell. The rebels would not permit them to remain untested and so even this was punishing. Time blurred, the hours stretched and time and again Rin would look for Hanasian and he for her. The dread abated somewhat and the battle dragged on. Later in the afternoon, the rebels tried their hand at a particularly cunning tactic calculated to unnerve and unhinge the Black Company. They began to target the women of the Company.

The tactic failed, partially because the Black Cats were most ferocious when cornered. The response the rebels earned from their targets took them by surprise, for the women were not the softer marks they had believed them to be. What is more, the Black Company men swiftly perceived the tactic and nothing could better galvanise them better. Thus, in the closing stages of the day, the fighting became vicious and savage despite the exhaustion of those who fought.
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Postby elora » Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:40 pm

Blood was everywhere. It was on everyone, and stained the ground dark in the waning twilight. Hanasian had managed to keep the pressure on and it seemed the rebels thought the Company would be the focal point of the main attack. In this they were successful in that it allowed the Gondorians to push into their flank and inflict heavy casualties. For their part, the Company fared well, though not without loss. Of the old company, Anras was slain, as was his picked recruit Sandals. Donius suffered a wound to his arm yet fought on. Loch had a gash above his eye but it didn't seem to trouble him. It was his first battle scar to mark his young face. Belegost deflected a death blow down and seriously injured his foot.

Of the new Companies, the Gondorian recruits suffered the worst in the loss of their number. The Easterling Company fared better due to discipline and training, but still, they now numbered less than seventy. The Gondorian legion of Easterlings were not enthusiastic about the fight, but Wulgof and Khule with some others managed to prevent their retreat. They moved forward as the rebels began to yield. Hanasian seized the opportunity and began pushing his combined Companies towards the east. Part of the Gondorian company set themselves into defensive positions as rearguard under the command of Mulgov while the rest slid away in the darkness.

The Black finally stopped in a field two hours past midnight. The Easterling Company had gathered around Khule there and Hanasian knew that the Black was exhausted from the day’s battle and the protracted march afterwards. Defensive watches were set in all directions and many hoped that the rearguard would reach them soon. With the Company now largely at a standstill, Hanasian saw that Rin was diligently tending the wounded that required attention. Most were not life threatening injuries, but could become so if not properly dealt with when the opportunity arose. As a gamble, he sent east a small band of Easterlings, many of them Runner’s squad, led by Loch. Though they were boys, Hanasian and many of the others considered them men after their steadfast valour in battle. Berlas accompanied them as well and their orders were to probe east, watch and evade. Unless imminent death confronted them, the small band was not to engage in battle. Hanasian hoped they would return within a few hours.

For most of the others, it was time to rest, sleep, eat, sing, pray, talk or whatever gave them some comfort after the rigours they had endured. It was a day of days for the Black Company. Hanasian tapped Videgavia as he walked by.

"Look Vid, they are a company... all of them!"

Videgavia looked back over the field of shadows. Hanasian went on, "They were seen as the 'New Company’, the Easterling or the Gondorian Company. Now they mingle as one Company. It is something that being brothers in arms in battle does to one's soul. May they have peace of mind this night."

Videgavia took a harder look. Another page of the history of this Company has started.

The longer he waited, the harder this was going to be. Working side by side with her for months now, he was struggling to remain as detached as he needed to be. He was a professional. He knew that in order to perform his role he could not get attached to his target or his employers. The longer he spent, the harder it was to fight that grudging regard that threatened to bubble through. After the day that he had just had, and what he had seen, a genuine admiration had taken root. It had been battle, and he’d experienced their like before. But never as a medic, juggling the lives of others with your own at the same time. She had seemed utterly fearless, pressing in where the most sanguine of warriors would have hesitated without a backwards glance, working with flawless concentration. And, when their foes had started to target their fallen, such ferocity and valour had been unleashed and still more when they started to target the women of the Company later in the day.

It was impossible not find yourself respecting someone like that. Though she had seemed fearless, he knew from working so closely with her she had been as frightened as rabbit caught in a snare. It was natural, especially as the lives of her husband and brother hung in the balance with her own. That fear did not diminish his regard for her, however. It only served to feed it, because she had triumphed over it. The regard he felt towards his target extended more broadly to the wider Company, particularly those considered the ‘Old Company’. Not a single one in that number he would not be delighted to serve beside under different circumstances. The extent of the betrayal was starting to gnaw at his gut. No matter how he looked at it, it was a great mess and he had no clear idea how to extricate himself from it.

Just as he was starting to nod off on the back of such pleasant thoughts, someone tapped his shoulder and mentioned something about Belegost. He climbed to his feet and followed Foldine to where the soldier was sprawled. There was an interesting mix of men gathered around Belegost. Molguv joined Wulgof and Foldine and Belegost was not in a good way.

”I’ll be fine,” the man insisted as a shuttered lamp was uncovered to permit a fragile beam of light onto his mangled foot, ”Just some blood is all. “

“Blood, and half your damn foot man,”
he answered, taken aback by the severity of the injury.

It was a marvel that his foot remained intact, given the angle of the injury.

”This is bad, Belegost…really bad….Doc needs to take a look at this.”

“She’s busy. You do it.”

“That’s the thing. I’m a medic….you need a healer…either Doc sees this now or she’ll be amputating later. Either way, she needs to see this.”

“I’ll go get her,”
Wulgof said and disappeared into the night.

All he could do was compress the bleeding, because it wouldn’t do to have Belegost bleed out. How long had it been? How much blood had he already lost? Rin would ask him these things. There was a calculation that could be done, she said, based on the size of the person. The range of her knowledge was stupendous. She brushed it aside as just something that had to be. She had told him and the others that a healer working in remote locations had to have advanced knowledge of a range of matters in order to function effectively. He had no idea how she crammed all of into that head of hers and he was slightly in awe of it all. Wulgof returned just as he was working out the final calculations and, as he had predicted, she immediately demanded the information.

”Almost there,” he muttered, busy performing mental contortions and as per her usual self she did not the patience to wait and instead asked Belegost when he had taken the wound.

”Ah….well then, what the devil are you doing still conscious?” she answered, having snapped out the calculation in an instant.

”Sorry, Doc,” Belegost dutifully said, sounding sleepier by the moment.

”A little light, so I can get a visual map,” she asked, setting her hands on his ruined foot.

Foldine cracked open the shutter and if she was horrified she hid it behind that professional mask she said they needed to wear. He could see why. All three of the men were watching her expression like hawks, waiting for some sign of disaster. Instead, all they saw was cool control. She nodded and Foldine closed the shutter on the lamp.

”Won’t you need that for stitches,” Wulgof inquired, confused.

He knew, however, that stitches were not what she was going to do. Rin didn’t answer Wulgof. The task she was engaged in was extraordinarily complex. She’d tried to explain it to him once and it had bamboozled him utterly. There was only one way he knew how to elucidate it to others.

”She’s not stitching him up. She’s doing something…else.”

asked Foldine.

[Ii”Nearly impossible to explain…suffice it to say that what she is doing is the difference between us medics and a healer…and the difference between Doc and any other healer I ever met or heard of for the last two hundred years, give or take.”

“Whaever she’s doin’, it don’t hurt no more,”[/i] Belegost slurred.

He knew it was an elven technique that she had seized upon and then pushed into new bounds. Experimental, she had said, difficult. Brains were impossible, and the maze of hands, shoulders and knees almost so. Flesh too, given the network of muscles and ligaments and nerves and flesh to be knitted together. She had said it was knitting, but she didn’t use needles. It required an intricate knowledge of anatomy and the sort of skill that was rarely seen in mortals. For that reason, she had said she would happily part with one of her kidneys for the chance to study the principals of the elven technique from an Elf or, failing that, an elven library. Whatever she was doing, it was as remarkable as it was difficult to understand. For Belegost, he knew it likely saved his life. In field amputations rarely ended well. Best case, Belegost would never be able to soldier again and would be unable to walk unassisted. A man needed his toes for a great many things. Worst case, infection and gangrene would kill him in a slow, torturous, ignominious way.

The only sign that it was done came when Rin shifted position and removed her hands.

”Took longer than it should have, Belegost. I am sorry. I am just…tired…” she said.

Belegost, however was too addled by loss of blood and the remarkable thing that had just happened to him to respond. Rin, a shadow in the night with the faintest of starlight caught in the pale prism of hair not smothered in blood, pushed to her feet as she said she’d need to check in on him later. She managed to get no more than three steps when her legs melted beneath her. Wulgof was faster than he had expected and managed to catch the healer before she hit the ground hard.

”I got you, Doc...,” the Dunlending said kindly as he caught her weight.

Rin murmured something, her head falling to one side against Wulgof's shoulder as Molguv lent his aid. Together, they managed to walk the Company Healer back to where Hanasian had stretched out a bedroll beside his own. Hanasian stirred, having only just lay down himself to catch some rest.

”Too much again?” Hanasian drowsily asked as the two men disengaged themselves from their Captain's wife

”Wouldn't be Rin, otherwise, right Cap?” Wulgof asked as Molguv pulled up the blanket over her.

"Probably not," Hanasian agreed.

Bone tired, he pulled close and was relieved that Rin showed some sign of awareness as she nestled in. If she had truly exhausted herself, he'd have to lash her to her saddle in a few hours. Hardly a desirable state of affairs given their current status. Rin managed to wind herself around him, clinging to him fiercely. That she could, after what she had witnessed, was a wonder in itself. Though they were both bruised body and soul, and covered in the grime of battle, he was warm and whole and alive. A wonder, a marvel, her hope made flesh. Never would she let him go again.

It was shortly before dawn before Loch’s scouting party returned with little to say except that the lands seemed sparsely populated and no military activity had been sighted. But nor had any trace of Khor been uncovered.


On a ship, far to the east, a cowled figure stirred after many hours spent still and quiet.

”Could it be as simple as this?” he whispered and glanced at another woman who had been restrained for her own safety and that of others.

”Old blood…powerful blood…coming to us…No need for us to…I had thought he had no kin, but now there can be no mistake. A healing, outright, and a mortal…royal blood, untainted. Could he be so unwise to send such a one to us, or has our obfuscation been more successful than we could hope for?”

Outside the cabin, another heard this and wondered at what he had unleashed in acceding to his shadow’s counsel… and how it might be blocked. The Order could not be permitted to restore their mad priestess. It would mean the ruin of civilisations on both shores. Yet, he had no men of art to set against them. He himself was just a soldier… and history was clear. Against the Order of the Blue Wizards, even the descendants of Numenor could not hope to prevail…
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Best Intentions

Postby elora » Tue Jun 26, 2012 4:02 am

Loch was distressed. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Yes, they scouted thoroughly, and no, they had little to report. But it all just didn’t feel right. He should tell Hanasian, but he thought he would rest a bit and think it over. He was quite tired after a battle then a long-range patrol. Something just wasn’t right. It was Runner who set it all in motion, waking Loch with word that one of their squad had not returned with them. It suddenly all made sense. Runner said he only knew the man for a short time, but had no reason to doubt his loyalty.

Loch said to Runner, ”You know, Dhorgat didn’t return either, and that worked out in our favor. Somehow, I don’t think this will end so well. Gut feeling. You must come with me to the Cap.”

Runner, always eager to be close to the core of the Company, followed Loch closely. He took the time to tell Loch that one of his men had a suspicion about one of the medics. Loch stopped and asked him more about this, but Runner didn’t have anything solid to offer. Still, Loch would remember, and thought he should keep a closer eye on his sister when he could. Right now, he was concerned about their missing man.

”Cap… I have a follow-up to my earlier report.”

Hanasian was writing, but set down his quill when Loch arrived. Rin was nowhere to be seen. Hanasian could see Loch was disturbed and said, ”Go on.”

Loch paused, then said, ”Runner here has reported that one of our number on patrol did not return with us.”

Hanasian said, ”You know men go missing all the time. Usually in battle, but on occasion on night patrol. Do you fear for his life? Or is there something more?”

Yes… well, no sir”
Loch stammered, he went on, ”It’s my gut, sir… something doesn’t feel right.”

Hanasian had more than once relied on his gut in the past and there was no reason not to hear Loch out. He said, ”Tell me Kid, what is it you are feeling?”

Loch shifted his weight and Runner drew closer, not sure he should say anything yet. Loch went on, ”Well sir, it wasn’t so much that we saw or found nothing, but we should have. Whoever was out there, didn’t want to be seen or found, and left no sign. But things were too neat if you know what I mean. And with our man not returning…. Well, I think it is just not really how we see them.”

“You get any rest Loch? No, of course you haven’t. Your mind is too busy going over everything. If you can manage a short nap before sunrise, I’ll send you out with some of the Gondorians. Fresh eyes may be needed. Vid, get Plants, Birds, Rocks, and Things together at first light. Dhorgat and Loch will accompany them, as will Wulgof. Khule and the second Easterling squad will follow as their reserve muscle."

Videgavia questioned Hanasian, ”Sir? Rocks?”

“Yes, our missing man may be hurt. Besides, it will do the meds good to get out.”

Videgavia questioned again, ”The Easterlings as the reserve force?”

Hanasian nodded and said, ”Yes, the rest of us won’t be far behind.”

Videgavia nodded and left to make sure everyone received their orders and knew what to do at morning light. Hanasian ordered Loch to stay and lay down to rest, even if he didn’t sleep. He wanted to make sure he gave it a good try. It must have worked, for the scout was out within minutes of lying down. Had to be exhaustion.

A call went out that a runner was coming in. He was from the Gondorian army to the west. A general offensive would be starting, and assisted by the men from Dale in the west, and the Rohirrim will push their eastern flank and cover the rear of the Black Company as they pushed east. Their orders were to find Khor, and talk with him. Hoping to find out what his intentions are and what his loyalties are concerning Khurg. They would be ready for a fight, but hoped they could avoid one.

The next morning at first light the advance squad set out. Loch had managed a couple hours sleep and was there with Runner. They slipped east in stealth, followed by Khule and the second. Soon after, a mixed brigade of Easterlings and Gondorians moved out. The rest of the Company moved slow behind them as they spread their hold. The rearguard kept vigilance against the rebel north, watching the eastern flank of the Rohirrim just as the Rohirrim watched the western rear of the Company. But there was no threats to their positions. The rebels likely had other concerns with the Gondorian army pushing them north and an army from Dale pressing the rebel western flank. For all intents and purposes, the rebellion that started with such precision and surprise, was really no more than a grand prison break for Khurg. Though the destruction and suffering of the Easterling people was high, it didn’t seem to be of a concern to Khurg, as it was not when he was in power before. They were on the defensive now, and things would stabilize now in western Rhun with the protection of the Gondorian army. But the unknown factor remained in the east. The Company would push east to the Sea of Rhun, and beyond it. The wood on the eastern side would prove to be tough, for it would be a tough order. And as usual for this time of year, it started to rain.


Meanwhile, far to the west in Bree…

A cloaked man dismounted at the inn east of Bree. He had heard from his grandfather the Forsaken was a place where Halasian could be found in years passed. It would be a start for his search. He looked at the place and sighed. Doubtful anyone would be there, but it didn’t stop him from having his dagger ready. He forced open the old door, and it squeaked back after he entered. Inside appeared deserted, but not unused. Just not recently. Lots of history here. But any clues he had hoped for were long gone. Just the ghosts remained. Yet some of them seemed to whisper to him. But there was nobody there he could talk to. He would have to go to Bree now.

The next day he arrived in Bree. Talk was words were passed at the Inn of the Prancing Pony, so he made his way there. The evening spent talking to old timers and youngsters alike, proved somewhat useful, if tiring. He would rest in the comfort of the inn this night, and will ponder the information he had gained. He hoped to learn more at morning breakfast. Depending on what else he hears, it would decide his road in the morning.
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Postby elora » Tue Jun 26, 2012 2:02 pm

She had to snap out it. She had known what to expect anyway. The stabbing pain that drove her to wakefulness after a scant hour of sleep was not a surprise. Despite the mail and armour and leather, battle had delivered sharp and repeated blows to her abdomen. She had known what would follow then and there. It was done. The pain had ebbed after a time and now aching hollowness permeated her. She needed to snap out it. There was no time to spare for self indulgence. Hanasian was deeply worried as it was by this campaign and he needed to focus on the Company for all their sakes, as did she. She would have to tell him later, after all of this was done. Or, perhaps it was best if she said nothing at all. What purpose would be served, she wondered. Her cloak was sodden, her metal and leathers chilled. She shivered hard, pushed this all aside and focused herself on things more constructive.

In the seven days since battle, she now had a thorough assessment of who was still in fighting shape. There were injuries that could be seen and still others that took time to emerge. At least eight had seemed profoundly shocked in the immediate aftermath and she had since revised that number to six in the subsequent days of observation. They could not be placed on the front again, for their own safety and that of those around them. She was worried about Loch as well. Something had darkened in him, become shadowed. There were still the glimpses of his reckless, relentless optimism, but he had changed and he had little time to discuss such things with his sister.

Something was amiss, and everyone knew it. Despite this, the break gave men a chance to recover their stamina and strength. Belegost was coming along nicely indeed, as were a number of others. Talk was rife with speculation of what lay ahead and around. Talk of an ambush, a gathered force under a supposedly iron fisted and highly regarded commander, Khule’s brother. Yet Loch ran the patrols far and wide, sometimes reinforced by Berlas and Khule’s hand picked men for greater range. Yet they found nothing and this only served to increase general tension and unease.

Farbarad squinted through the rain at the heavily wrapped figure that rode ahead. Everything about the way she sat her horse, the set of her shoulders, they way her head drooped, her protracted silence, worried him deeply and he knew he wasn’t the only one. He glanced sideways at Mecarnil who shook his head.

”You’ll get nowhere with her. She doesn’t answer. Not me, not Hanasian. Barely eats. She isn’t sleeping either. Just works and broods, day and night.”

Farbarad drew breath to reply but a stupendous concussive boom knocked the air out of him and everyone else. It sounded like the sky had literally cracked open. People cried out in instinctive fear, crouched in saddle or on foot and, when Farbarad next looked up he saw that Rin was no longer in the saddle. She was on the muddy ground, writhing. He threw himself from his horse with a shout and Mecarnil immediately dived down to locate Hanasian. There was another terrible explosion from far above and Farbarad thought Rin would crack bones so hard did she twist. She was panting hard, her eyes rolled beneath their lids and she was moaning deep in her throat, a primal sound of abject terror. Hanasian fell to his knees with a splash and tried to steady her thrashing head. Bells and Sparks arrived and a small crowd was growing around them.

They scattered when the earth they stood on started trembling and growling. There was a deep ripping sound, wet and savage that thrummed through them. Horses screamed their fright and up ahead Videgavia saw great swathes of the earth tossed violently into the sky. Rin had managed get a hold of Farbarad’s arm and she nearly broke it as she screamed, back arched rigid. Blood seeped from her ears and then she went utterly limp, shaking like a leaf in the wind.

”What the hell was that?” Farbarad asked, shock and fear making his voice savage.

Both medics shook their heads, Sparks still measuring the frantic galloping of her heart, ”A fit? A coincidence? Never seen nor heard of this before…and neither has she, I’d bet. Her heart is slowing. Whatever it is, seems to be passing.”

“She’s cold as ice!”
Hanasian said, stricken as he cradled his wife’s head.

”Company, we pause here for the night. Donius, where’s that wagon cover! And any spare blankets or bedding. We can’t risk a fire, and Doc would have our ears we delivered up a whole field of people shot through on her account. Now move, people, move!” Videgavia bellowed.

The shocked Company flinched and then began to scramble, glancing either at the sky or the ground in fear as they went.


”What was THAT?” Khor asked, appalled and not the only one in the tent to be so.

It was crowded with his various officers and their dark eyes were flat with naked fear. Dhak’s expression was grim, as were most of his men. However, there was a cadaverous man with a rictus grin who was delighted and he was soothing a young woman, as mad as she was beautiful to behold. She was incensed.

”There, there…not too much. You are thirsty yes….but for now this little is enough and it will not be long,” the man crooned as he smoothed back dark sweaty strands from the woman’s brow.

She lapsed onto her couch, mewling like a distressed kitten. Khor found he was shaking. Yes, he was terrified but the urge to take out all their throats then and there seemed liable to tear his restraint apart.

He bit hard on his growing rage and fixed his attention back on Dhak, ”Again, I ask. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!”

The extent of the Easterling’s distress could not be more apparent to Dhak. Khor was a quiet man, a thinker, a man of control. It was stamped upon him, right down to the close-cropped and immaculately trimmed beard that shadowed his lower face in precisely maintained proportions. Dhak’s throat was dry, his stomach twisted in fear himself. That small display had been truly horrifying. What the Order could do with immediate contact did not bear consideration.

”A demonstration, as promised, of the power you have allied yourself with Khor. Just a small insight of what our people are capable of. The armies of Gondor, Rohan and Dale beset your land. What you do about it, with such allies as us, will require careful consideration. No commander takes the field without a full grasp of his…resources.”

“Enough. No more for today. Leave and take that…”
Khor bit hard on the urge to denounce the woman a witch, ”woman with you. This is a command tent. Suitable accommodation is available elsewhere.”

The sorcerer’s eyes were sharp, but he merely nodded and more of these foreign devils that he found himself in bed with stepped forward to lift the now twitching woman up. Officers and officials spilled out of his tent and Khor turned his back on them all, reached for something stronger than water and poured out a healthy measure with shaking hands.

”Khor, this cannot be. It cannot. You have seen what they can do. How long did your people suffer under Sauron’s yoke? Would you be willing to shoulder another to merely throw off Gondor’s control?”

“A thousand more years under Gondor’s heel would be kinder than the few weeks under Khurg’s freedom, and as for your Order!”
Khor spat, back to Dhak, and drained his drink in one gulp before continuing, ”What do you know of the Black? Little, I would guess.”

“Even less than that.”

“And so…you come creeping into my tent to implore me to ask the Black Company of Arnor to turn around and run like whipped curs home.”

“It must be, or you risk setting a new dominion over the throats of your people and mine.”

Khor sighed and said ”Have you any among your number you would trust with your first born son?”

“What do you propose?”

“Be ready to depart by sunset and mark me well. Speak of this to no one else you will be torn to pieces before you can draw your next breath.”

Khor’s mind was afire with calculations and possibilities after Dhak’s departure. The Black did not recruit women. Of that he was certain. Perhaps this was all part of a wider scheme. His allies were as fractured as his own people. Would this prove advantageous or disastrous? Who was the pawn here? Games within games. In any case, all he really needed was a clear shot on one woman and then this new evil would be defeated. After that, he’d deal with Khurg. As he expected, Khirue edged into his tent with silent questions in his eyes.

”Continue preparations here, be ready, be watchful, but do not move out until I, and only I give the word.”

“And the foreigners, Commander?”

“Watch them closely. If any follow us, you know the signal to raise. Even in this rain, the oil grasses of the Sagath plains will travel faster than sound itself."
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Postby elora » Sun Jul 08, 2012 3:46 pm

In the Undying Lands, Manwe sat in his high tower and stared east. He was troubled. Sworn away from meddling in the affairs of men, it grieved him that some decisions they had made were now affecting them in this age. A hand caressed his shoulder and he pressed his to it. Varda stood behind him and watched eastward now with him.

”You sensed it too?” Manwe asked Varda, and she squeezed his hand and said, ”Yes. I felt it as if it had hit me.”

Manwe caressed her hand and sighed. He asked her, ”Were we right to send them? I know that at the time Sauron meddled and caused much grief in the lands, and in our wisdom we sent forth the Istari Maia into the realms of Middle Earth to oppose him. But was it the right thing to do?”

Varda ran her hand about his neck and came around to stand before him.

She said, ”Beloved, what has been done is done. We pondered this long before sending them. We chose as best as we could. Only Mandos spoke that ill unseen may come to pass from our deed. In the end, only Olorin succeeded in what we hoped they would do. Alwendil did not fail, but became lost in the beauty of the lands.

“Our biggest hope in Curumo failed in the worst way, becoming a traitorous ally of Sauron. Alatar and Pallando … I opposed sending them both. As friends, they were bound to each other, and they faded into the lands without word.”

Varda’s eyes sparkled as she gazed into the east.

Manwe sighed again and said, ”Until now. This was my greatest fear… that one would mingle with the children. We had warned Melian to no avail when she wed Thingol, but thankfully this led not to much ill. But Thingol was of the Eldar. I always feared that if one of the Maia mingled with the second born that it would be ill. And it has come to pass. Are we responsible for this? It will wreak havoc on the age of men.”

Varda took Manwe’s hands and he stood. Together they stood hand-in-hand in silence, gazing deep into the east seeking knowledge.

In time, Varda said, ”My many eyes will watch, but I feel that we may have to act to bring this to an end.”

Manwe sighed again, and after some time, nodded slightly. He said almost in a whisper, ”I will call to council the Valar.”

Varda’s kiss on his cheek soothed him, and they walked down the tower stair in silence.

~ ~ ~

The Company was shaken. They had stopped after the spectacular event that seemed to strike down their healer, Rosmarin, of Cardolan. The position was defensible, but it could be better. It would be better also if the rain, lightning, and thunder would subside. Each flask and following deafening clap made everyone jump, as they were not able to get the one that made the ground shake out of their minds. Everyone was on edge.

The eastern reach of the Company was just north of the Sea of Rhun, and Loch, Runner, and Berlas held watch on a knoll. They were joined in time by Mercarnil. He slid into the trees that provided as good a shelter that could be expected, and he said, ”Should be glad these trees didn’t get lit up by that lightning. High ground, trees that had obviously been hit before. Anyway, have you seen the stars tonight?”

“STARS???” Loch said surprisingly before continuing in a quieter voice, ”Nothing but grey dark clouds, rain, and the lightning you mentioned.”

Mercarnil pointed to the north, and the others looked. Mercarnil said, ”Haven’t seen them so… active.’"

A small part of the sky had cleared and the few stars there seemed to burn much brighter than any of them had known. A bright streak crossed over there and for a brief moment lit the ground up. Then a gentle, soothing breeze came from the west and the rain stopped. The clouds reclaimed the sky and the stars could be seen no more, but a sense of calm had fallen upon the four. Loch strained to see the stars as the clouds closed. They would not feel rain again until the early morning. Marcarnil said, ”It felt as if Ebereth was watching us. If it were so, may she bless us.”

Loch asked, “Ebereth?”

Berlas nodded, and Runner looked puzzled but interested in hearing about it. Mercarnil went on, ”Yes, the Lady of the Stars. Tales of old spoke of her beauty and her power. The stars of the sky are her many eyes, and with them she sees and knows. And if her concerns are turned toward something, her eyes sparkle with intensity. From what I just saw, I would say she is watching. This could prove good or ill for us.”

“Well, I will hope for good.”
Loch said. Mercarnil smiled at him briefly and said, ”Yes, I do as well. Now you go see your sister. I know you are concerned. I’ll take your watch.”

Loch, instead of arguing to the contrary, took leave and set off back to where his sister rested. He had hoped she was well, and whispered as he walked in the dark, ”Ebereth, please watch over my sister.”

A gentle breeze blew around him, warming and drying., and it seemed a whisper could be heard though he did not know what, if anything, was said. He stepped a little faster toward the wagon where his sister lay.
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Postby elora » Mon Jul 09, 2012 3:08 am

What Loch had hoped to see when he gained the wagon was his sister awake, conscious. She was not. Hanasian sat by her side with his hands wrapped around one of hers. He did not appear to have moved since Loch had last seen him. Farbarad was on the other side, mashing lumps of vegetables in the steaming cup of broth. Farbarad was determined to get some sustenance into her, awake or not. Hanasian had been exhausting himself trying to rouse her with some sort of Dunedain thing Loch did not understand. Farbarad glanced up as Loch climbed into the wagon bed.

”No change?” he said and both men shook their heads.

The scrape of Farbarad’s knife against the tin of the cup continued, ”Mecarnil says Elbereth is watching. Is that true, do you think?”

“We can hope so, Loch,”
Hanasian said wearily, lifting one hand to smooth already smoothed hair on his wife’s head, ”Wherever she is, I hope the Lady of the Stars watches over her.”

“Isn’t she here?”

“No, Loch. She is not,”
Farbarad said, finally satisfied that the broth was smooth enough and had cooled enough.

Loch watched as the two men attempted to feed his sister. It was a painstaking affair. Small mouthfuls and then Hanasian would gently apply pressure to her throat, stroking until she swallowed. Without her armour and chain, she looked much diminished to Loch’s eyes. She had seemed so…vibrant when he had seen her for the first time back at the city. A whirlwind of busyness and preoccupied as per usual, and vibrant. She had glowed. Farbarad and Hanasian persisted at this for at least half a cup. In all this time, she made no movement of her own. What if she never woke up, Loch wondered. She was rarely idle by choice. In all their years together, it had been her putting him back together. She was rarely ill herself and usually managed to avoid all manner of mishaps that he failed to. Again that warm whispering wind curled around him and he glanced at that patch of clear sky ahead. Dancing stars. Farbarad set the mug aside with a grimace.

”I hate this. How can you bear it?” he asked of Hanasian, loathing the fact that this was an enemy he could not see or defend his charge against.

”I do because I must.”

“You’re both exhausted. I can sit with her if you like,”
Loch said.

”Kid’s right. An hour or two would do us both good. He’ll wake us if anything happens…and keep the visitors to a minimum,” Farbarad said.

”Visitors?” Loch inquired.

”She’s to be left in peace, Loch. Doesn’t matter who they are. No one aside from you, Vid, Mecarnil and the Ducklings are permitted into this wagon,” Hanasian said, a little louder than was necessary for a small knot had gathered again after observing Loch arrive.

”I’ll see to it,” Loch replied and watched as Hanasian bent, whispered something in his wife’s ear and pressed his lips to her brow.

The wagon softly swayed as both exhausted men alighted. He heard them settle under the wagon bed. Loch edged a little closer to where Rin lay. She was swathed in many blankets and cloaks. There must be more than a few shivering Black Company men and women out there. It was quiet…and he wasn’t sure how it started. Only that it did. He found himself talking to her, because she was too still, and he craved something familiar from her. Old memories, stories, jokes, there were so many of them because she was all he had in this world and he had shared nearly every moment of his life with her.

On the knoll, the darkness gradually relented. Dawn in the east was a stupendous thing. Mecarnil was transfixed by the sight of the rising sun. It seemed to emerge from the depths of the sea they were abutting, rising over the distant island in its heart. There had been no news from camp. That mean nothing had changed. It had been a day, a night and now another day. At a guess, no matter how attentive they were, they would have as long again before she perished. His eyes burned with fatigue. Hanasian would be devastated, the Company would be. Brother after brother had come by, searching for some sign that their Healer was unharmed. Theirs. She was theirs. She was Hanasian’s. She was Cardolan’s. She was Loch’s. No wonder the woman fought so fiercely sometimes just to be let be. He should have put his foot down. He should have spoken to Aragorn. Rhun was a dangerous place. She had no business being here. She was all they had left of Cardolan and she had walked unopposed into one of the most dangerous lands and for what? The Company had gotten by without a healer before. That damn oath of service. He had hoped to dandle whelps of Cardolan on his knee, not this. Farbarad looked upon her as a daughter, always had. No sooner had he managed to pull the ruin of Cardolan’s ambition together again was it now disintergrating…and he no clear idea why.

Mecarnil scrubbed at his face, heeled his eyes. One of the Easterlings, the young one Loch called Runner sidled up to him.


“Aye, of the North,”
he replied, attempting to gentle the weary growl of his voice.

”Something you should see, yes?”

”If you say so, lad,”
he said, once again wondering why they insisted on place questions on the end of statements in this part of the world.

Runner led him stealthily down the knoll and into the tall grasses that swayed on the shore of the sea. It’s soft susurrations provided cover for the noise of their passing. In time, Runner led him to where Berlas stood. Berlas was not alone and Mecarnil could only stare in shock a moment. An Easterling, and three others that most definitely were not Easterlings at all. Those three stared back in equal amazement. Mecarnil shook himself out of it. Runner was looking at him expectantly.

”Yes, Runner. I should see this,” he confirmed and Runner’s chest expanded somewhat.

”Mec, I should make some introductions,” Berlas said tensely, his crossbow trained on the Easterling who was standing quiescently, dark eyes sharply observant.

”This here is Khor,” Berlas said and Mecarnil grunted sourly, ”Sorry, Commander Khor. Apologies for my manners, Commander. With him are three…allies…I thought you might recognise them, but they said you wouldn’t. The one standing next to the Commander is called Dhak.”

“Well now, Commander, you’ve gone and found yourselves some unlikely allies from far afield,
” Mecarnil said, peering at the three Dunedain faces.

Khor’s sardonic smile emerged, ”You have no idea how far, Ranger.”

“I have never seen you before. You are not of Arnor. Nor of Cardolan. I know both better than the backs of my hand. And so, Rhudaur?”

Dhak shook his head, his face taut, ”No, such names…realms I presume…have no meaning, no relevance from us. We hail from the sea….south.”

Mecarnil’s mind was spinning now and he was too tired for this, far too tired for this, ”Black? Faithful?”

“Neither…but we have little time to discuss this now. There is a healer in your number... trueborn?”

Berlas’s hands tightened on the stock of his crossbow instinctively. Yes, Mecarnil thought gratefully, not a single one of the Old Company that he could not place his absolute faith in.

”Yes,” Mecarnil grudgingly replied, his bleary eyes narrowing.

”A woman?” Khor pressed, leaning forward.

”What of it?” Berlas snapped and Khor wisely relaxed back.

For all of this, Khor’s face lost it’s habitual sardonic cast and became troubled.

”A woman of noble birth…royal?” Dhak inquired, incredulous.

The early dawn was split by the ring of Mecarnil’s sword. He had it out and pressed against Dhak’s neck in a fluid, instinctual movement, all fatigue fallen away.

”Queen of Cardolan by birthright, Crown Princess of the High King’s Court, cousin to the High King, Black Company of Arnor’s Healer and wife of it’s Captain. What interest is any of this to you?” Mecarnil snarled.

Khor’s face when from troubled to chalky white as Mecarnil spoke. He glanced at the one holding the cross bow, a man of Gondor by the looks of him, and saw that vengeful glitter there. Oh, the Black Company was notoriously protective of its own and well he knew it. But this was the wife of its Captain. And she was kin to the High King. All thought of assassinating her vanished into thin air. Hanasian and the Black Company would tear Rhun to shreds, and what was left would then be utterly ahnilated by this high king. Khor did not need a blood feud with either man.

Meanwhile, Dhak was speaking, ”She is sorely beset, yes?”

Khor groaned…the man’s questions were going to get them killed and with them would go any chance Rhun had at peace.

”We can help. We know why. We wish to stop it. We need to see Hanasian,” Khor said urgently, adding, ”We have no hand in this evil, and we share a mutual interest in its defeat.”

The Ranger’s sword did not waver, but the Gondorian passed his cross bow to Runner when Mecarnil flicked his eyes to him, and was soon off. When he returned again, Khor was not surprised by the fact that the Gondorian brought others. A familiar face in the Daleman, eyes glittering dangerously, and a giant of a Southron. Under careful escort then were they taken into the camp of the Black Company of Arnor. A hasty camp, made out of necessity. Scowls, dark expressions, a camp bristling with steel and enimity…and a wagon. In front of it stood another two familiar faces. One was Khule, his brother’s face inscrutable as ever. Hanasian’s expression was stamped with the mark of having his wife cut down by some unseen foe. He looked as perilous as he was, more so than his father had ever been if the circumstances were right and it seemed to Khor that nothing would be more treacherous than to attack the woman Hanasian had taken to wife.
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Postby elora » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:48 pm

Berlas was his usual stoic self when he came to Hanasian, who was seeing how Rin was doing and quite worried. Maybe he wasn’t thinking as clear as he should, for he had a headache that throbbed with every noise. Berlas tapped him on the shoulder and as Hanasian turned his head, a quick sign of Berlas’ fingers told him that his attention was needed on an urgent matter. He left the cover where Rin lay, and duties of care were given to Rocks and duties of watch were given to Hamoor. As they had walked over to a watch-fire, both Berlas and Hanasian made signs that those they passed of the old Company recognized, and with stealth, they slid away to join the two at the designated fire. Khule signalled some of the Easterling Twelve that were nearby to watch their meet, and they quietly took up positions around the fire some distance away.

Berlas said, ”It appears that Commander Khor and some of his visiting friends have come to talk.”

“Khor? You sure?”
Hanasian said cutting in.

Berlas went on, ”Well no I’m not sure, but it was how he introduced himself. Khule will have to make a certain identification. But Cap, the three with him are a creepy sort, if you know what I mean. Their appearance is not like the Easterlings, but more like Farbarad or Mecarnil, or you and me. And one who must be their leader asks to many questions about Rin.”

Hanasian flashed signals around, and a fair party led by Videgavia was soon off to answer Mecarnil’s summons.

As Mecarnil waited for their arrival, the intense stand was too long, and too silent. The Easterling and his three visitors were not allowed to move, and some words passed between Khor and a couple of the Easterling companymen.

Mecarnil said finally as two of the Old Company arrived, ”Khor and friends, we will take you back to see our Captain.”

Videgavia turned to Berlas and said, ”Mulgov, you get who you will need to keep a tight watch. Keep Runner with you. If anything odd is sensed, you send him fast.”

Mulgov signalled for some who came with him to spread out and take watch. Mecarnil invited the four to walk with him and Videgavia.

As they came into camp, Hanasian walked up slowly with Khule by his side. Neither said a word until Hanasian turned to Khule. Khule then said in the Rhun dialect, ”Greetings brother. You are looking well, if stressed. Who are your friends?”

He then turned to Hanasian and said in Westron, ”He is who he says. Captain. Don’t know who these others are though. I’m sure the commander will explain.”

Hanasian nodded, still grim and silent. Some simple flicking of the finger told Khule what to do. In full military custom, he stood tall. He then began formal introductions.

”My Captain, meet my older brother, Commander Khor of the fifth Legion of Rhun. Commander, I present you to Hanasian of Arnor and Rohan, Captain of the Black Company, a Free Company of the West.”

A bow from Khor as he said, ”Former commander of the fifth, as my brother is former commander of the ninth.”

“Yes, of course,”
Khule replied. He then looked at the one standing next to Khor. Dhak stepped forward slightly and bowed slightly, saying, ”I am Dhak, from east of the sea.”

Mecarnil had stepped aside Hanasian and said in Sindarin, ”He is the one asking questions of Rin. I don’t like him or his associates. Do we treat them as guests or prisoners?”

Hanasian whispered back, “Both. They will be guests as they are here for some negotiation, so we will allow for their comfort as visiting dignitaries. But keep them all, especially Khor, well guarded. Khule has indicated there has been some grumbling amongst the Easterling legion of our Company about this turn of events. Nothing we need to worry about, but we don’t want anything happening. It will be best for us if Khule and Khor can make some sort of peace between them. So for now we will show them to a quartering tent, and we will prepare for a formal council.”

With a wave, preparations were set in motion. Hanasian then went over to his guests and shook Khor’s hand, saying, ”It is an unexpected surprise that you have come to us Commander Khor. For it has been, in part, your activities that have drawn us here to Rhun once again. As I, and my King, wish to know your intentions, I also wish to know your purpose in coming here to us. We will speak of this, and of what you seek as well in a council. But right now, you must be weary.”

Hanasian started to lead the guests to the tent prepared for them. Dhak, having been observant, said as they walked, ”We have great interest in your people, and we have great fear of some of our own. In this we wish to speak, yes?”

Hanasian looked over at Dhak and his two silent countrymen and said, ”Yes, we will discuss these matters shortly at council. For part, I will wish to speak to Commander Khor alone, and I will speak to Dhak and your party as well. We have great interest on your people, for it seems that there may be a kinship long sundered. But now we rest. I have matters to tend to before we meet again.”

The four were shown into their tent, and several of the Gondorian legion took up positions around it. Nobody was going to come or go until council. Hanasian made his way back to where Rin was being tended to. Hamoor was on vigilant watch and Hanasian sent him to join the Gondorian guard around the guest’s tent. Hanasian entered and caused Rocks to jump.

Hanasian said, staring Rocks down, ”Is there a problem?”

Rocks fidgeted and said, ”Uh... no. Just didn’t expect you back so soon.”

Hanasian thought Rocks was trying to conceal something, when he heard a soft voice.

”Is that my husband I hear?”

Hanasian, forgot about Rocks and came to Rin’s side. He said as he took her hand, ”Yes! It’s me! I’m here love.”

Rin didn’t try to move except for her eyes. Soft and glowing, she asked, ”What happened?”
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Postby elora » Wed Jul 18, 2012 5:57 am

”What do you recall?” Hanasian asked gently, picking up her hand again and stroking the long fingers.

What indeed, Rin mused, attempting to collect and assemble her recollections into something approaching a rational arrangement. Pain, brutal and savage and frightening. Then it’s sudden absence and the vacuum and emptiness it left behind, a chasm that she drifted like a mote of dust. So cold and vast. Then, music like she had never heard before. Impossible to describe, impossible to recreate, otherworldly and achingly beautiful. Inexorable tugging, like she was been drawn by a tidal surge and powerful voices. Many of those…and with them came pain because it was too much. A coruscating light and messages echoing and rolling around the inside of her skull. She did not belong there. She had to be sent back. They were coming. They were coming. They were coming.

Where was there? Who were they? No, it made no sense at all. Yet her limbs felt as light as feathers and she felt uncommonly whole and rested. She glimpsed Rocks studying her from over Hanasian’s shoulder and she tightened her fingers around her husband’s as she shook her head. She had no way to make any sense of it yet.

”There was some sort of attack, a power of unseen force, that coincided with your collapse. You fell from your horse, under the sway perhaps of this force, and you were greatly distressed. That was yesterday morning. You have been unconscious ever since,” Hanasian said and watched Rin’s eyes drift to the man that stood to one side. 

”A fit…bleeding from ears and nose…significant drop in temperature and escalation in pulse…and a possible concussion from the fall. How many fingers?”

“Four, one, three…oh, enough Rocks. I am not concussed.”

“How do you know?”
he challenged, testy and out of sorts. 

”Mostly, because I say so.”

Rocks inhaled deeply and then pushed the breath sharply out again through his nose. Then, grumbling, he climbed down out of the wagon. A crowd was gathering and he was forced to shoulder his way past. Farbarad’s hand halted him, planted in the centre of his chest. The ranger was clearly exhausted, pushed to his limits. He and Mecarnil had been huddled together since the visitors arrived, speaking in Elvish as if the rest of them could not be trusted.

”Is she conscious?” Farbarad asked tersely and Rocks’ head jerked assent once.

”Yes, yes and not concussed because she says so,” he snapped back, shaking off Farabarad’s hand and pushing past the pair.

This announcement rippled through those assembled, mostly Old Company men with some exceptions. Rocks had spent enough time in military units to know that word would spread faster than wildfire. Already the Dunlending was on his way to find Loch and Frea was on his way to find his brother and Foldine. Bear, Berlas and Belegost, the three B’s as Rocks thought of them, were looking pleased with themselves as if this development had something to do with them. Mecarnil and Farbarad were already climbing into the wagon and, short of room in there now, Videgavia was leaning over the rear of the wagon tray.

”Simply, enough is enough Rin,” Mecarnil said, raking his fingers through his hair as both Rin and Hanasian considered him. 

”This can’t continue,” Farbarad said, pitching in as he had already agreed to do. 

”What are you talking about?” Rin inquired warily. 

”This,” Mecarnil replied, hands expanding to encompass the interior of the wagon. 

”Well, I’ll be out of this wagon as soon as my commanding officer permits me. Then it will be freed up for proper cargo again.”

“No, not this wagon. I mean Rhun! I had my concerns about this and I held my tongue at first. That was my error and I’ll not make it a second time. This is too dangerous and we simply can’t-“

“That’s enough,”
Hanasian interjected and Mecarnil looked unhappily to Farbarad.

”No, it’s not actually. He’s right. We can’t-“

“Enough…Mecarnil, Farbarad…enough. This is our last campaign. Rin and I plan to depart the Company once it is done,”
Hanasian said, eyes moving to Videgavia’s thoughtful mien. 

”But only when it is properly done. Not a moment before,” Rin insisted.

Mecarnil’s brows rose and his head swivelled to consider his colleague. Farbarad looked desperately relieved.

”And I hope that you will accept the captaincy, Vid.”

“More talking,”
Videgavia said, lip curling in distaste, ”An honour, Hanasian…but I am not certain I am ready for it…or if the Black will accept me.”

“I am, on both counts, which ought to count for something don’t you think?”
Hanasian replied steadily.

There was a silence at that, thoughts tumbled in heads and Videgavia rolled his shoulders.

”Right, well, if we’re to finish this, then let’s finish this. You want to speak to Khor first, Cap?”

Hanasian replied, lifted the back of Rin’s hand to his lips and began to make his way out of the wagon.

It was then that Rin began to move and was met with four men shaking their heads.

”Oh no…and don’t even try it. You might run roughshod all over your ducklings, but it won’t take with me as well you know. You’re not going anywhere until you eat something and prove to me that you’re fit to move. Do you disagree, Captain?” Farbarad asked mildly and Hanasian shook his head. 

”Not at all,” Hanasian replied as Rin scowled, and continued his way out of the wagon.

He left his wife with her two keepers and headed for Khor’s tent. Videgavia and Khule entered with him and interrupted the Easterling’s restless pacing. If Khor had been discovered looking uncertain, he was quick to mask it. He clasped his hands behind his back, squared his shoulders and stance so that he was able to meet the gazes of the three men levelly.

”Commander,” Hanasian began, nodding, ”You have interesting allies and have come to us at an interesting time.”

“Captain…neither one of us has the luxury of time to expend, so forgive my forthrightness. I am not a supporter of Khurg and the plan to free him did not involve me or have the support of my men. You may have been told differently and you will need to decide whom you believe on that count,”
Khor said brusquely. 

”There has been word of rebellion, connected with you and your gathering of disaffected men from the tribes, for some time now,” Khule answered and at this Khor shrugged. 

”Of course…and it came from the Prefect, who was likely informed by men who gathered his intelligence for him…and was not the rebellion that saw Khurg unleashed again one that came from within the Prefect’s compound? I gathered the restless young warriors…it was that or have Khurg’s supporters gather them up. The Prefect was poorly advised by men keen to see him fall. He was losing support. An alternative that was not Khurg was required. That is all.”

Khor had been about to move onto his next point however something happened to forestall him. He blinked, unable to quite understand or look away. Spun gold, tumbling and dishevelled, over long lithe limbs clad in the ubiquitous black leather of her Company, the delicate structure of her face, and most of all those searing blue silver eyes. Storms…storms of sky or sea that raked over him and seemingly through him. She was not alone, of course. The dark haired ranger he had already encountered was in her wake, chagrined.

”I told you, Mec, I’m fine now. Honest,” the woman said as she fully entered the tent.

Khor’s brows climbed as he glanced at his younger brother. Words were not needed. How did anyone get anything accomplished with this about?

”You get used to it,” Khule answered in their local dialect and Khor shook his head, sceptical all the same. 

”Commander Khor, it appears you are meeting the Black Company Healer, Rosmarin of Cardolan,” Videgavia said slowly, as unhappy about this as the dark haired ranger was, ”Early.”

”So it seems,”
Khor replied in Westron, bowing smoothly in an eastern style that seemed to make her scowl irritably. 

”Who told him?” she demanded and turned on the dark haired ranger. 

”Doc,” Hanasian said to his wife and she turned back to face him. 

”I remembered something. They’re coming. That was what I was supposed to tell you. They’re coming.”

“Who are?”

“Well, I thought the Commander might know,”
Rin answered, eyes returning to Khor and for some reason he shivered. 

”Whoever they are, I hope that they can manage a feral witch and her litch of a wizard. That is why I am here…and it is why Dhak accompanied me. If we do not stop them here…then we will have the distinct pleasure of watching a new Dark Lord or Lady take shape. I have no desire to watch history repeat itself. One War was more than enough, Captain, was it not?”

Khor’s mouth sealed in a thin line as he stopped himself from speaking further, shaken by the way the woman’s scrutiny seemed to pull things from him. Perhaps it was her lofty Dunedain blood, the very blood Dhak said enabled the witch such terrible powers. With a start, Khor realised he had spoken that aloud. Hanasian’s wife was staring at the thin, delicate skin of her inner wrist and the veins that ran so close to the surface of her creamy skin.

”I think it’s time for that council,” Videgavia said. 

”The sooner the better. Witchcraft is an anathema to our people. I do not long how long Khalid, my second, can hold the men in check,” Khor said and cursed, ”Is that what you are too? A Dunedain witch?”

Rin objected, eyes wide and stepping back in sudden fear, ”No I am not! I am not, do you hear me Commander!”

With that, she withdrew, fled really from the tent. The four men inside followed her out and the command was given to summon Dhak and his two companions for the council.

”I believe you’ve made a new friend,” Khule said dryly in their mother tongue. 

”She’s of royal blood? I expected…no, I am not sure what I expected,” Khor amended and his younger brother grunted, flashing a rare grin. 

”Could be worse. You could be missing your purse and not even aware of it,” Khule said inexplicably.

There was little time to question him further, however. The council was about to begin imminently. Dhak and his two men joined Khor as people gathered around them. Hanasian held up a hand for silence and Dhak’s eyes found the woman that stood just behind her husband. The three men said something to each other that Khor did not understand, but those who understood archaic Aduanic did. Then, all three men dropped to their knees right there. Khor was not the only man surprised by this.

”Them too? You told them too? We had a deal, Mecarnil!” Rin said belligerently to the Ranger at her side and folded her arms under her chest, highly agitated now. 

”I don’t know what the hell you three think you’re doing,” she growled.

”Allegiance, we seek to swear allegiance,” Dhak answered, head still bowed. 

”Oh no you don’t. Not here, not me, no way. No.”

“You are of the High King’s court, no? Crown princ-“

“First I am accused of being a witch, which I am NOT, and now this?! Look, I don’t know who you are or what you’re up, but this is not how it works. Right?”

Rin glanced first at Hanasian, then Mecarnil and Farbarad. All three men looked perplexed and her relief at having cut the stranger’s pronunciation of that ridiculous word faded. Farbarad was scratching at his head.

”Right?” Rin repeated, not nearly as certain now. 

”Well…by rights…you’re probably the high ranked official member of the court in Rhun, so it might,” Farbarad said, Hanasian and Mecarnil nodding slowly and Rin threw her arms up. 

”Fantastic,” she drawled, vastly displeased. 

”Company, we will first hear what Commander Khor and his companions have to say or request of us. Then, we will discuss what our response will be. It would seem that we confront powers beyond the mortal ken,” Hanasian said, gesturing that Dhak and his men should stand once more. 

”Wizards again. I lost a battle under one fighting another, we had to deal with another in Harad and now this? I have had my fill of wizards,” Wulgof muttered darkly and beside him Molguv grunted. The council had begun.
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Postby elora » Mon Jul 23, 2012 1:53 am

There was a sense of tension in the air as everyone began to gather. It was too risky to have this council in the open and so Hanasian issued a silent order that they would disband. The older hands knew to watch for further instruction and it arrived sure enough. The leads of the Old Company would reconvene in the largest provision tent. Mecarnil and Farbarad shepherded Rin between them and she did not protest, eager to be away from Dhak and the uncomfortable realities he presented. She had given up her throne to avoid precisely the sort of business that had just unfolded.

Dhak and his two countrymen were unsure what was going to happen, but freely went with their armed escort to the council tent. They seemed to discuss matters in a native tongue that nobody else understood. But it didn’t take a genius to know there seemed to be some sort of contention and disagreement among them. But after they arrived in the tent, they sat quietly and seemed to accept what Dhak had said.

Meanwhile, Khor was taken to see Hanasian. It was obvious that Khor had played his hand in the east and was ready to deal with whatever outcome was to come. The discussion between the two seemed hard and formal, with little being achieved, and so Hanasian said it was time to go to the council. But what was achieved was Khor felt he could trust this captain of the Black Company, and considered throwing in with them if the conditions were right. He would have to talk. As they started to walk to the council tent, Hanasian and Khor were joined by Khule and some more Easterling companymen.

Shortly after that, they paused as Khor said, “I never wanted rebellion to happen. I didn’t expect it to happen. Khurg is a scourge on this land, and in his aged state, very dangerous. Yet he still has powerful followers. But even I feel the years on me, and maybe my little brother does too if he paused long enough to think about it. I know that Rhun cannot survive without the friendship of Gondor. But old rivalries run as deep as the years of strife between our nations. I tried to find strength in these newcomers from over the eastern sea but there is something more to these people. I think they come from a land far away and out of the reach and sight of these lands. It was not the right thing to do, but before I realized, I was in further than I could conceive. Now, it seems there are powers at play with them that even the worst of the clan struggles could not reach to meet."

Hanasian looked at Khor as he took in all he had said considering his next words carefully

"I believe the arrival of the newcomers has distressed our King. There is some power that has kept his eyes from seeing the shores. It is why we have come east again. To find out what was happening in the mists of the east. But it seemed events took their own hand and played it. The rebellion and freeing of Khurg was unlooked for. So too was the assassination of the Prefect. Also, it seems many of your younger countrymen have seemed to have taken a liking to our Company. This too was unexpected."

Khor nodded and said, "Yes, it seems my brother has done well in this."

Khule stepped around Hanasian and came face to face with Khor. He said, "I did not ask for this brother. It just happened. So they look up to being part of the Company. So? I'm not in command, Hanasian is the Company captain, and Videgavia is his second. Most of us are feeling the strain of all the wars and battles. Let alone the years. It is the young men that the future leans on, be they from Rhun or Gondor"

"I agree brother,"
Khor said, "but as to how it all comes to be is the mystery we need to watch for."

Hanasian said, urging the two to move on toward the tent, "There is much in play here this day. I need to know from Khor, how I should deal with your guests? They have some power to cause grief, especially with my wife. So do you embrace their wishes or oppose them? I need to know, and know now, before I meet with Dhak."

Khor, paused again and sighed, "I never wanted it to come to this. I had bargained with them when they first came in hopes a might in arms would be our saviour. Their counsel was to wait until the passing of the King. I, nor many of us, would live to see that day, so I started having second thoughts. The newcomers have disagreements of their own, and this will be what Dhak will likely speak to you about."

Hanasian looked grim as he nodded. He said as there were footsteps heard behind them, "It was good we had this talk. We will speak again soon, alone. Right now my wife joins me for the council."

Rin arrived, escorted by a vigilant, hawkish Farbarad who favoured Khor with a wary glance. Khor gave a bow while Khule stood tall, hoping to remedy any earlier discomfort between them. She cautiously inclined her head, no more than that. Hanasian embraced her and quickly kissed her cheek as they met. This was a revelation to Khor, such warmth and affection from Hanasian. They continued in silence to the council tent.

In the tent, Videgavia had gathered most of the old guard that weren't on the front watching. They were awaiting the arrival of Hanasian. Little did they know that he was also bringing Rosmarin, who seemed to have recovered enough to attend. The best of the Gondorian and a detachment of the Easterling legion were set as guard. As they entered the tent, Dhak stood in honour, and Hanasian waved him to sit with a wary glance at his wife who was clearly on edge. They all took up position around a large brazier that Donius had scavenged from the city and brought along.

Hanasian said to start, "We will forego the formalities and get right to it. Lord Dhak, I wish you to answer me these questions. What what are your intentions? What is it you seek from us? And what power do you know of or possess that causes the earth and sky to explode?"

Dhak blinked and saw this man knew how to clearly get to the point. Dhak stood and folded his arms as he looked about the people in the tent.

"I will start by saying that our people have come far to reach this shore. The seas are rough and strange, and passage is hard. Many millennia did our forefathers come over the sea from the west and settle the lands. There was in time a mighty tumult of the land and sea, and there was much destruction as the world changed. But a few of our kindred lived on, making life with what they could of what they had.

“It was the coming of the two wizards that things started to change. We had our knowledge re-awakened, and we were soon able to build ships to sail the seas. But we could find nothing to our west but mists and shrouds, and the sea always drove us back. It was only by the power of the two together that could part the shroud. But even they could not for long do this.

“So it came to pass that one of the powers wed a mortal and she had a daughter. It is this daughter that we fear, though she makes crossing the sea passable. She has powers unknown to us, but she does not think for her mind is broken. It is she that threatens us all. I ask you to help us break this hold. What say ye?"

Hanasian just blinked as he listened, he looked at Rin to see if she was affected by the words of Dhak. She sat silent, listening intently and scrutinising one of Dhak’s companions. Hanasian knew there would be more to this campaign in the east than what they had hoped or expected.
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Postby elora » Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:29 am

”If we agree, what do you hope for?” Hanasian pressed, sensing there was a great deal more.

”The Order must be dismantled. Here first and then we must root it out at home. There will be reprisals, terrible, if we fail to pursue it back to its nest. As you have already seen, I would have us swear to the High King and abide by his rule and that of his heirs. Perhaps…an alliance? A reunification of our sundered peoples. Your king’s realm would expand and in return, his protection?”

“You seem eager to swap one ruler for another. On whose authority do you speak?”
Rin inquired softly, her gaze resting on one of his companions.

Her question prompted Dhak to glance at his two companions briefly and this told those that watched a great deal.

”My lady, the Order’s dominion is oppressive. I cannot be sure of how many of my countrymen share our desire to throw off their shackles. There have been attempts in the past to free ourselves that have failed and the consequences have been dire. Many of us have families at home. Many may decide the safety of their kin outweighs all other concerns.”

“But not you…and you have family there, do you not?”

Dhak answered carefully, ”Yes, I have family there…and had the Order not waged war against the court of the High King I would not be standing here now. I have no thirst a war that would mean our destruction irrespective of who prevailed. The Order is powerful enough. If it rose yet further to cast its shadow over the realm of your court or if it failed…”

Khor glanced about those gathered within the tent in a bid to gauge the response thus far. Opinion seem divided. One, a dour faced rohirrim whose hair was showing silver and face was a map of the grassy plains of his home, nodded in acknowledgement at Hanasian’s wife. He was clearly pleased with something, and Khor imagined he knew what.

”How many in your camp, Commander Khor?” the rohirrim inquired tersely and confirmed Khor’s suspicions.

”I gathered some five hundred men of the various Sagath tribes. This number is further supplemented by one hundred of Dhak’s country men. More are a-ship, waiting. How many I do not know.”

“Three thousand,”
Dhak replied grimly, noticing how the noble woman’s gaze still rested upon the same man, almost predatory in its intensity.

”And your five hundred, Khor?” Khule inquired.

“Will not serve any wizard or witch, regardless of their cause,” Khor affirmed.

”So that only leaves some three thousand and ninety seven Dunedain, two wizards and one insane witch,” Frea summed up.

”Perfect,” Wulgof sarcastically intoned, ”Un-winnable odds and a strawhead that can count.”

Khor watched the dark face of a Southron split into a wide smile and some of the tension leaked from the tent. Rin shook her head as if to clear it, the gesture noted by a number of those in the tent.

”This witch of yours, she is the one that poses the threat that the king foresaw…and is responsible for the attacks,” Videgavia asked as a shudder skated down Rin’s spine.

”I cannot speak for what your king saw. But she is the tool responsible for what you saw, manipulated by another. One of the two wizards I spoke of,” Dhak replied as Hanasian leant to confer with his wife.

”What is it?” he asked, aware that Farbarad attended closely on the other side.

”A…tugging…someone or something, tugging at me…” Rin murmured and shook her head again as Hanasian’s gaze met Farbarad’s.

”The witch?” Farbarad inquired gravely.

”I don’t know. Possibly…”

“Is it like before? Do you recall?”
Farbarad pressed and something flashed in Rin’s eyes at the question.

”No,” she snapped, ”As it so happens, she doesn’t announce herself. Who’d a thunk it?”

Rin crossed her arms, scowled at the flames.

”It probably is” opined Wulgof.

”Oh probably,” Rin breezily replied, ”Is this a council or some sort of frenzy in wild, unsubstantiated speculation?”

Molguv cleared his throat and kept his eyes on his boots, determined not to look at Wulgof and so avoid laughing out loud at his pet.

”Well you’re fully recovered, clearly, and back to your usual charming self,” Frea growled.

”Which, in itself, proves that we are not in this alone. Doc has been healed, clearly, and is being shielded now. The Valar are in play in this, mark my words,” Folca stated and Rin shivered involuntarily again.

The idea that something like the Valar had any particular interest in her was far from comforting. She frowned and tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and was glad when Molguv spoke up into the uneasy silence that followed Folca’s announcement.

”The only way to eat an oliphaunt is one bite at a time,” rumbled Molguv, ”If you must eat them at all. Stringy, fatty meat…”

“Just what is that supposed to mean?”
demanded Foldine irritably.

”Well…we start with Khor’s camp. Even if this trio is all we got, between our numbers and Khor’s men, we will easily outnumber the ninety odd remaining.”

“And the wizards? And witch?”
Wulgof inquired and Molguv shrugged his massive shoulders.

”I suspect Folca is correct. More than mortal men are in the field and if it is through their intervention that the witch cannot wreak greater harm, then I am grateful. However the Valar will do as they see fit in this and in all things. The Company must, as ever, look to its own affairs. The decision as to whether to engage with the Order seems clear. They present a salient threat to the High King’s realm, a hostile invasion. Irrespective of the disposition of forces, and whether Khor’s men will stand with us or not, we must give answer to that. It is why we are here,” Hanasian stated.

There was general assent to this.

”I repeat, my men will not serve with the Order. They have had their fill of wizards and dark power. Let me send word to them that you move against the Order,” Khor pressed.

”We will consider it,” Hanasian allowed and with that Khor had to be content.

”And, presuming we survive that, then we must decide if we pursue this threat beyond Middle Earth. One bite at a time, as Molguv rightly pointed out,” Hanasian continued, nodding at Molguv.

Bear rubbed at his chin, ”You’re not sure if we’ll make it that far, are you Cap?”

“I can give no assurances. While the numbers may seem in our favour, there are greater powers at play.”

”There usually is,”
Wulgof sighed, undeterred.

Hanasian considered next his wife and found her studying Dhak thoughtfully. She expelled a breath and looked at Hanasian somewhat forlornly.

”I suppose I sort of have to now, don’t I?” she asked him, clearly nonplussed.

”It may be for the best,” Hanasian replied, considering Dhak a moment and then nodding.

”I don’t like this at all. What if I’m wrong, or if they appear more than they already are?”

“Rosmarin, you have been staring at them for nigh on half an hour. Do you honestly think you are making a mistake?”

“I suppose not,”
she allowed, fingers already searching for something she apparently believed stowed on her person.

”Ah…” she hedged, cheeks flushing, ”I appear to have lost it.”

“Is this what you are looking for?”
Farbarad inquired, emptying a small pouch he had kept at his belt into her hand.

”Well, of course you’d have it,” she growled and he smiled smugly.

”Naturally,” he agreed as she slipped her father’s ring onto the finger she had seen Aragorn wear his on.

It felt heavy, unnatural and wrong. Dhak watched this occur, blinked and dropped to his knees as she edged closer, reluctant.

The exchange was tense, Dhak swearing allegiance first and followed by his two companions who spoke in halting Westron. All three pressed their lips to the mithril rose of Cardolan and with that, found themselves sworn to a king they did not know and a realm they barely understood. Rin was swift to slip the signet from her finger and return it to Farbarad. With that done, all was set in motion. Men peeled from the tent, each with their own tasks to see to. Videgavia assigned Dhak and his three men to Molguv to keep a weather eye on. Khor found himself assigned to his younger brother and on his way to explain to no few of Khule’s recruits just where he stood on the matter of Khurg. With battle to prepare for, there was no shortage of tasks to see to in the remains of the day so that they could move into position the following day.

Hanasian himself tasked Loch with the task of slipping forward with Runner’s squad to see what lay head. If word could be gotten to Khor’s men, it may well mean the difference between victory and defeat. In the dying embers of sunlight, Loch stood with his head bowed near his sister, both of them deep in discussion. They spoke Dunlendic quietly. Hanasian watched Rin glance to where the medics were gathered, sterlising bandages and then shake her head. Loch gestured at Runner and Rin sighed. Clearly, they were having a difficult conversation. Rin pinched the bridge of her nose and then nodded barely. This, apparently, was sufficient for Loch and he wrapped his arms around his sister’s shoulders in farewell. When he pulled back, Rin spoke again, this time tapping his chest to make her point. He nodded dutifully, they embraced a second time and then he jogged away towards where Runner stood. He lifted his hand to his sister and she returned the gesture, watching as Loch and Runner moved out and into the now long shadows of dusk. Hanasian set down his journal, having mostly recorded the events of recent days, and got to his feet.

He curved a hand to rest on her shoulder as he walked to her side.

”He’s very good, you know…”

“I do, my love…still…”

She turned her face to study his in the sunset. Already the chill of night crept around them.

”Vid tells me that you, Farbarad and Mecarnil have barely slept these past three days. I said the Company Healer should do something about such an untenable situation,” Rin said gently, and ran her fingers tenderly over his bristled jaw.

Hanasian let his eyes close at the gesture, ”An early night, then?”

“A shame all the tents have been broken down,”
Rin murmured and something in her voice made his eyes open to consider her speculatively.

”That would hardly be restful,” he remonstrated and saw a brow quirk.

”Well, not at first….but afterwards you would sleep like a babe.”

Hanasian pulled her to him and rested his chin on top of her head.

”Well, yes…but such a plan would not work for the other two…unless…”

he heard her warn, breath warm against his neck.

”Unless you have been teaching those Cats more than Vid or I asked you to.”

He felt, rather than heard her laughter thrum through him. So vital, so alive, this was an unlooked for treasure that he instinctually tightened his arms around.

”I will not be drawn on who is teaching whom what when it comes to those women,” Rin replied mysteriously, pulled back and gathered up one of his hands in her own. ”Now, to bed with you, husband.”

“Yes, wife,”
he replied dutifully, towing her after him on his way to their packs and bed rolls.

He was truly exhausted and no sooner had he stretched out was he drifting to sleep, Rin still fitting herself around him. He woke only once during the night to a sky clear of cloud and bejewelled with stars that seemed to flicker and dance. Rin was breathing steadily against his ear, nestled close and warm. Hanasian felt himself swiftly sink below the surface of his dreams. Elsewhere, under the same stars, one young man watched the face of another expectantly.

”You’re certain?” said one of them and the other nodded.

”An opportunity we cannot squander, Runner,” Loch replied, decision made as he signalled the rest of the squad. They would get word to Khor’s men…and more besides. They would deal with the witch that had so nearly killed his sister once and for all, before battle began in another two days…sparing countless lives in the process. But it would not be easy. Important things never were.
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Postby elora » Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:45 am

Dorghat was the linchpin to Loch’s plan. He had been sent with speed back to the Company to report that they had located the place where the witch from the east of the sea was living. It also seemed evident that Khor’s men were nowhere to be seen. Instead, a cadre of mariners from the east made up the town garrison. There appeared to be more than a hundred. Around a rather ornate, if squat, stone palace, two large guards stood beside the door wearing black velvet tunics and tall domed helms that covered their faces. Any Easterlings that happened by steered clear of the place. Even the regular soldiers of the east passed with nervous quickness and in good order. Something was amiss and Loch could not put his finger on it. He knew that there was likely more here than what Dhorgat was going to report, so he would have to send another. With that in mind, Loch slid back to the wood where Runner and the others waited.

Loch said, ”I don’t have time to teach you all the silent language of the hands, for I barely know much of it. But I want you all to know these signs.”

They listened and watched closely, eager to know some of the languages the Company uses. Loch went on, ”The number of fingers tells how many score of men, and the four fingers at an angle tells how fast they are moving. Once placed, keep an eye on each other, and on the roads both in and out. We don’t want our men walking into trouble here. Now, who's the fastest?”

A young man who may have seen eighteen years raised his hand as others pointed at him. It was unanimous.

Loch asked him, ”You… Kallach, are you ready to take word to the Company? It is a matter of urgency!”

Kallach nodded enthusiastically. Loch came face to face with him and said, ”Tell them we suspect there are more than the one hundred soldiers from over the sea. There is a different sort as well. Also, Easterlings with Khor's insignia have not been sighted. They must be wary on their approach. Now you get that to them fast!”

Runner said a few words to Kallach in their Easterling dialect, and Kallach prepared to travel light. He chewed some dried meat and fruit and packed the rest in his small satchel. Moments later he set off west.

Loch and Runner set their remaining men out at various watch points where they could see one another. Their number were few but they were determined. Runner was disturbed by what he knew of Loch's plan. All he could do was keep watch on him the best he could. He could see Loch, closest of them all to the palace, perched on an overhanging rock surrounded in scrub bushes. They all watched, counted and tried to calculate the numbers of men that moved about. As they did this, Loch made some calculations of his own. The thief in him identified the best way into the palace, and marked the comings and goings of the guards and others. Now all he needed was a distraction.

He didn’t have to think about it and was barely ready when it happened. A cart pulled by a horse broke a wheel and spilled a load of potatoes into the street. Not only were the guards distracted, but so too was the rest of his men and he realised he would have to do this alone, without Runner. Loch slipped out and down the steep slope.

Runner was only distracted for a moment and when he turned to look for Loch, discovered the Black Company scout couldn’t be seen. None of the others could see him either. Where had he gone? Runner moved stealthily toward Loch’s last position and caught sight of him. At least Runner thought it was him. A man with Loch’s gait was partially dressed as one of the guards and bypassed the cart as one of the door guards tried to get the man to move along. Runner, aware of what Loch was up to, wasn’t going to let the man go in alone. But how was he going to get in? And where did Loch get his disguise?

It didn’t take Runner long to find out. Working his way around and down Loch’s scant trail, Runner found a dark stain in the dirt at the bottom of the slope. Loch had landed on one of the guards that happened to be standing there, and killed him. Runner hid the dead man in the bushes before trying to find a way inside. It was clear to Runner that he wasn’t going to be able to go in the Loch did. The guards were back in position at the door. He would have to search for another way.

It seemed dark inside the palace despite the bright autumn daylight without. Loch slipped from shadow to shadow, watching and mapping the passages in his mind. On several occasions he had to freeze or move for cover while men in the ornate black velvet passed.

Once one paused, saying in their language unknown to Loch, ”I thought I saw a shadow move.”

But the other looked briefly down the hall and shook his head. They went on. Loch took a moment to steady his breathing. He was on his own here. Rin was nowhere near. It felt odd, unnatural even, to be doing this without her yet he did this for her. For his sister and for his Company. He was sure the woman was brought here from the ship. He moved in silence as he searched. Finding a stair, Loch felt confident would be up there. But how to get up there without being seen? The sweeping stair was at least eighty steps, and the open railing offered no cover. No thief, or assassin, wanted to be caught on the stairs. It was why the rooftops were invariably preferred.

Meanwhile, Dhorgat had reached the scouts of the Company, and soon his report had been given to Hanasian.

The Captain quickly snapped out orders, ”More scouts out on the flanks, and watch carefully. Get word to Wulgof on point to move swiftly and keep eyes and ears forward. We need both swiftness and stealth, for our advance team has placed themselves in a precarious position.“

Hanasian summoned Khor, but Dhak came with him. Regardless, Hanasian asked ”Where would your men be Khor?”

Khor's reply was halting as he puzzled, They likely avoid the presence, but I am sure they not too far away.”

Dhak had a look of concern and said, ”It is as I feared. With the woman on these shores, it may be that the way across is being held open and more ships will come. Our time runs low.”

”That just may be, but we aren’t going to walk into a trap. We will get our men and Khor’s men out if we can, but it will seem this will be a hard road. We better get up front,”
Hanasian replied, turned and called, ”We need a runner to return with Dhorgat! We need to get word back to Loch.”

Dhorgat was soon ready to set out without rest with a lanky young man from the Gondor legion called Mallet. Meanwhile another runner came from the east with word that a general offensive was being waged against the slowly shrinking bastion of Khurg’s rebels. Intended to be good news, Hanasian knew that no further help would be forthcoming until that offensive had successfully concluded. They would have to go it alone, as impromptu allies with Khor and Dhak’s faction of the mariners from east of the sea.

Kallach was making good time west when he heard a noise. He paused and started to go to ground when he heard a hiss. He fell hard as his hand grabbed at his neck. The arrow aimed at his chest had caught him at an angle and cut him deeply. He faded as he bled out with a soft, wet gurgle. His message would never reach the Company. Moments later, a soldier dressed in black approached the dead messenger. He searched him for anything written or otherwise useful and found nothing. The message had died with the messenger. Another came to stand and look at the body. The two men started to talk when a yell came from behind them. They had barely time to turn before being cut down by sharp axes of the Easterlings. Khirue’s men were determined to stop the scouts the Order had sent out and most had been killed. Unfortunately, they arrived too late for Kallach. Khirue ordered his men to push west and set watch and to push east to guard the road by holding the high ridge. They would be able to see most of what was east and hoped Khor returned soon from the west.

The Company pushed on without surcease. Dhorgat and Mallet located the advance of Khirue’s western watch and were held and questioned. Khirue found it hard to believe that the Black Company had people in the east, even in the city by the sea, when they had not heard of it. Loch and Runner were quite good at evasion. Once the pair had convinced Khirue that they needed to get word through, with the agreement of Commander Khor, Khirue let them through with a few men of his own. It was likely they would need help.

Meanwhile, Loch spent the hours standing in a windowsill behind a large curtain. Trapped halfway up the stair, he had taken refuge in the only place to hide. Little did he know that there would be a general gathering of the Order. There may have only been a dozen who seemed to be a part of a high council, but they kept standing and walking and talking in a language he did not understand. He had no chance to move and his legs were throbbing with stiffness. But to move would surely be his end. He would wait them out. He had to.

There was a commotion and the talking slowly ceased one voice at a time. Loch, able to see slightly through a strained stich in the curtain he hid behind, could see heads turning toward him. Had he been spotted and they now toyed with him? No, someone was coming down the stairs! Loch could not see them but he heard them begin their descent. Instinctively, he counted the steps with each footfall. His tally reached thirty three when the light dimmed with their passing. All he could see was a flash of red with long flowing dark hair. It was the woman he had come for! It seemed she had sensed him as she passed for her head turned slightly. But she didn’t miss a step. On her arm was an old man in black. He could see the heads below begin to bow as the two approached the bottom of the stair. Two more sets of feet started descending the stairs, and Loch counted as he watched the floor. At thirty three steps, two shadows passed by the curtain. These must be the attendant girls. One said something back up the stairs as she passed, and they too were soon at the bottom of the stairs.

Those around the woman and the old man appeared to exchange pleasantries. Loch noticed the woman did not speak or show much of any expression when he could glimpse her face. He swallowed hard for he thought her beautiful and his resolve faltered. A bead of sweat ran into his eye, its saltiness burning. Loch didn’t flinch, just watched. He had to move or fall, his legs both ached beyond anything he had ever felt. He saw the people on the floor had started to move to another room and were no longer looking up the stairs. Silence fell as voices drifted away. Loch had to take a chance. He started to move a leg that badly wanted to move yet felt as limber as a tree trunk and eased himself down to the stair. So far so good. No cries of alarm and with as much speed as he could muster to his aching and stiff muscles, he continued up the stairs three at a time. Somehow he managed to be both quick and quiet and he gained the top of the stair.

Pausing just long enough to see if the hall was clear, and unsure what he would do if it wasn’t, he stepped around and looked at the doors. The ornate frame around a door three from both ends of the hall seemed to be the most likely location for where the woman was housed. Pausing by it, he again looked down the hall toward the stairs. Someone was ascending and a woman’s voice seemed to be asking a question. It was one of the attendants… the one who spoke going down the stairs. Loch pushed against the door and it seemed to give way before him. His stiff legs could not control him. Loch lost his balance and fell hard against the door. It hit someone who was opening the door to respond to the ascending attendant and they fell backward. Loch fell atop her, his hand covered her mouth. The door bounced shut and he realized he was in trouble. He had one girl gagged under him and another approaching the door. He stood and pulled the girl up by her wrist, and thought putting his finger to his lips might mean something to her. Her eyes were dark but bright, and what happened next took Loch by surprise. She quickly pushed him toward an open closet door and closed it after him just as the room door opened. A questioning voice and the girl he had tackled said something in answer as she stood with her back to the closet. Loch realized he was at the mercy of this girl maybe his age if not younger. His only chance was if she kept him secret right now. Going by the exchange it seemed his luck was holding. Then he heard the latch of a lock. He had been locked in! The two voices faded and the room door closed.

"Loch, you've really done it this time," his voice in his head told himself, "You've gone from being the assassin that would save your sister from torment to the prisoner of an attendant girl!"

But he had his knife, a few of then actually. He used one to trip the lock open and he stepped out. This was where he wanted to be. The curtain by the bedside would have to do. He would be able to strike from there. But it meant more long hours of standing still.

On the outside of the palace, Runner searched. He found why a guard was placed below the slope. There was a larder in the back side. Runner managed to slip inside the door and get out of sight. He knew it was only a matter of time before the missing guard was going to be missed.

"Oh Loch, what are you thinking!" Runner thought to himself in the darkness of the cellar.

He knew he didn't have half of Loch's cunning and so he had to think himself a way to find his commander. The first thing was to find a way out of here without raising alarm. Finding the door that led up into the kitchen, he found it locked. Choices were limited. Going back out the way he came, or out this way when the opportunity arises. Runner too had to bide his time.
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Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
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Postby elora » Wed Aug 01, 2012 4:51 am

As the sun westered, two men wondered if they would survive to see it rise again and the Black Company of Arnor finally met with the Khor’s substantive forces. The Company pulled into position at last in the late afternoon. Word had spread that Loch and Runner were in a precarious position. This meant that Rin was on hand as Khor’s lieutenant laid out the bones of the matter succinctly.

”More of the mariners arrived after the Commander departed, including others we had not encountered before. From their garb you could easily think them largely ceremonial, you’d think…only the regulars along side them want nothing to do with them. Once they showed up, we pulled back and cordoned off the area. Our estimates puts their total numbers at around four hundred now. A few less, since we decided we didn’t like their scouts,” Khirue finished with a fierce grin that set his dark eyes to dancing.

”These newcomers…are they familiar to you, Dhak?” Hanasian inquired and man grimaced, aware that Rin was staring at him hard.

”Nothing ceremonial about them. They were a military sect, but now are widely considered part of the Order themselves. They will defend it to their last breath. Fanatics. They little like to rub shoulders with common soldiers. But that palace will be infested with them. It bodes ill.”

“And what of Loch’s squad?”
Videgavia asked.

Khirue’s mirth vanished and he rolled his shoulders. ”Seem to be missing two, though. They’re ahead. Cunning, stealthy…wouldn’t mind having them as our own.”

“Which two?”
Rin demanded, pouncing on the Easterling. Khirue blinked in surprise and glanced askance at his Commander. Khor gestured with his hand and the lieutenant answered

“Don’t rightly know...” Khirue responded, hesitating as he struggled to discern the correct form of address for the woman. Clearly of rank, and clad as a warrior, she was an enigma to him in all ways. At his answer, Rin scowled and spun away on one boot heel. She had clearly instructed Loch to be careful! Careful! Odds were he was one of the two, and that Runner that seemed permanently attached to his elbow in recent times was with him. She knew it. Just knew it! Rin kicked at a clod of grass. Easier to be angry with him than afraid. And she was. Fear iced her blood and in her mind was the sound of his pleading chant repeated over and over again: Please, please, please, please...

This was torture! Every muscle in his body screamed in agony. Loch ached to move, just a twitch. He’d been trying out those muscle exercises his sister had told him about, but after a time they just weren’t enough. Could he do it? He’d never set out to kill a woman like this. He’d never killed a woman before. Was she someone’s sister, like Rin? Was she a target because of what she was, rather than who she was, like Rin? Down such paths lay recrimination, doubt and failure. He attempted to slowly tense and relax his muscle groups and harden his resolve. He was not doing this because he wanted to. He was doing this because he must. For his sister, for his Company, for the king and realm they served.

Dorghat eased the door close behind him and surveyed the empty room. It had to be hers. Neither she, nor Loch, were in sight. But Dorghat knew that if Loch was not here already he would be soon. Madness. This was madness. He understood why it must be, but it was madness. He regretted ever telling Loch that he knew where the witch was now. But, it was done and now their fates were in motion. He padded silently to the bed by the window, crouched and slipped underneath it. There was a muffled oomph and the sensation of colliding with a body. Panic set in until a familiar, if incredulous and hoarse voice whispered ”Runner?”

Runner suppressed the insane urge to laugh and briefly grunted assent. He heard Loch expel a sigh of relief beside him.

”Just as well these witches have very wide beds,” Loch said and after that was silence.

There was a special way to breathe to ensure you were not detected. There was a special way to think to ensure you were not distracted. There were special exercises to keep the body as limber as possible to ensure you were not handicapped. The sun gradually sank, there was footfall outside the room. The door opened and several people came in. Runner was closest to the door and judged that there were two women and a man from the feet he could glimpse. They spoke that strange language of them, nonsense to the ears of the two young men under the bed. Though there were three people, only two spoke. The man spoke rarely, voice dry and sibiliant. A young woman also spoke.

Back and forth the feet wandered, sometimes out of view. Then, two feminine sets of feet approached the bed and a wooden screen scraped over the stone floor as it was drawn across behind them. Runner felt Loch’s fingers tighten around his wrist. Carefully, oh so carefully, Loch and then Runner rolled out from the other side of the bed and peered over the mattress. Both women had their backs to the bed and window. One woman was patiently unlacing the back of the other woman’s red gown. Loch recognised the witch from her garb and hair. The other was an attendant, possibly the one that locked him in the wardrobe before or one of the other two. Would they have to kill two women tonight? What of the man?

Slowly they crept around the bed and padded towards the women. Loch’s grip on his knife was slick with sweat. He had to this. He had to. Runner’s knife shook in the light from the sconces. By none other than sheer chance, the attendant glanced to her right and saw Loch standing there. Her eyes went wide and her mouth formed a silent ring, hands stilled on the laces she was unweaving. Loch moved his eyes to the witch and then back again, hoping she might understand, hoping that her earlier concealment of him was a tacit statement of mercy. The attendant’s small hands dropped from the laces and she stepped back. It was now. It had to be now. Runner saw Loch coil and he leapt for the attendant, wrapping a hand around her mouth and literally picking her up as he dragged her backwards, so that her shoes would not scrape and scuff on the flagstone floors.

On the other side of the screen, the man heard movement that somehow seemed out of place. He frowned and turned towards the screen, goblet of what passed for wine in this land forgotten now. Loch heard the man ask a question. The question was repeated as the screen was dragged roughly to one side. The man’s eyes registered alarm and then rage at what he saw and he gathered not only his powers but those of the woman that sagged in the arms of the assassin, head lolling and a curving red gash across her throat. In desperation he released all that he held and chaos was unleashed.

”Rin, time to come clean. You’re more than a thief, aren’t you?”

“Not by design,”
Rin muttered, eyes fixed on the trail that Loch’s squad had seen Runner hare off down earlier in the day.


“I was never officially his apprentice and I only stayed six months.”

“Look, all I need to know is whether you’re up to the task of getting in and out of that palace or not.”

At that, Rin transferred her attention from the trail to Khule. ”Khule, how many times to you think I paid an unofficial visit to Meduseld?”

Khule studied her expression a moment and then nodded in satisfaction. He had found his last member of the squad that would be sent in after sunset to locate and extract Loch and Runner from the palace their squad had sighted them approaching. It would be a small team, numbering only four: Videgavia, himself, Berlas and Rin.

”No. Absolutely not. Over my dead body. Hanasian, tell him,” Mecarnil hissed as Khule reported on his selection.

Hanasian glanced over to where his wife stood, stripped of her usual gear. No armour, no packs, no sword or bow and quiver. She was winding her braid around her head and had a length of black fabric that she would shortly wrap over her head. Khule gestured at her without looking.

”She’s able to get into spaces the rest of us can’t. We need a woman for this, and none of the Cats are her equal as of yet. We’ll watch her like she was our own because she is.”

Mecarnil muttered something in Sindarin under his breath and Hanasian reluctantly nodded. Khule didn’t salute for obvious reasons, but he knew what his captain was entrusting him with. He turned on one heel and strode to where Rin stood with the other two. There was a brief conferral, most of their plans already set. Rin turned to sight Hanasian. She lifted her hand slightly and saw him echo the gesture. This was going to end well. It was. Her vision on the trail was false, a possibility already averted. That had to be it. As the sun set, four shadows slipped past the lines and ghosted towards the town. The evening stars had started to emerge. There were pools of shadow, places of obvious cover that they flitted to. Behind them, the Black Company watched and held its breath.

Rin had a particular approach in mind, confirmed as they drew nearer to the palace. It was not the smooth stone assembly seen elsewhere. Natural hand and foot holds abounded. Up the side, down through the top. The eastern face that looked out over the sea would be best. The guards would be clustered around likely access points. But no one would be expected from the inland sea. The question was, did she have enough rope for the climb. It was a relatively squat structure, but still easily four stories tall. Once she was in, did she have enough rope to secure her fool of a brother and drag him out by the ankles. Her mind was busy with such thoughts it happened. It seemed that a giant, invisible hand seemingly picked up the earth and gave it a good shake as if it were a carpet. The resultant force exploded like a great wave across the town with a dull whump.

Far aloft came the piercing cry of an eagle. The stars flared brightly and then faded back to their customary beauty. By the time the Company had picked themselves up, a heavy pall of rock dust hung in the air where the palace had been. Beneath it laid grotesquely tangled ruins, as if the palace had been nothing more than a house of cards.

”Ulmo, Manwe, Aule too…Varda…whatever happened, it was big,” Mecarnil murmured, ears ringing.

On the road, the four people lay sprawled on the ground. Slowly they rolled themselves to relative cover. Rin shook her head and stared at the scene ahead. Fear gave way to dread at what she saw and she had no clear recollection of what occurred next. When her senses cleared next it was late at night and she sat in the rubble. The night was crystalline cold and unnaturally still, as if it held its breath. She was covered in dust, sweat and blood, and filled with the realisation that Loch was gone. Despair flooded her and dully she stared at the scene around her. Torches had been brought to cast back the night and the light danced and flickered over the ruin. Men scrambled over the shattered stones and timber, heaving what could be moved aside either alone or in groups. Elsewhere ropes and horses were being used. It was utterly incomprehensible to her until atop the largest pile Wulgof raised his arm.


She had no idea how or why her body obeyed and yet she rose and answered the summons. And so it continued, stone by stone, victim by victim. Those not combing the ruined palace for two missing Black Company men were taken aback by the calmness of the town. The only strife had been with the men that Dhak had described as fanatics and most of those men were too injured by the palace's collapse or lying within the tangled wreckage to mount any significant opposition. And yet, the Company felt as though they had just confronted a grievious battle. They felt battered, bruised, tattered and saddened. When dawn finally spread soft delicate light over the east, some thirty bodies had been recovered from the ruin. None of them were Black Company men.
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Ranger of the North

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Postby elora » Sat Aug 04, 2012 5:21 pm

The devastation of the blast not only collapsed the palace, but it had caused some damage to nearby buildings. As the search and clean-up went on into the morning, Hanasian de-briefed and recorded in detail everyone of the Company men that were a part of Loch’s squad. They were at the time of the blast stationed at points in the hills above in an attempt to get a better understanding as to what may have happened. Most reported a flash of light before the shaking of the ground was felt. Then a shockwave of heat and cold blew past them and the air had a strange odour. This account was all the same with the difference in what odour was noted to resemble. Then they all reported they fell unconscious. Likewise, Khule and Khor questioned any locals that were nearby and other than the amount of time and what their senses noted. It was all pretty much the same.

Hanasian could see that Rin had retreated into herself and was silent yet dutifully treating the injured one after the other. There were a lot of them. Everything from minor scratches to shattered limbs. She started to treat Ghorn, one of Runner’s men for a severe head wound when he woke suddenly. Hanasian was right there. He was asking what happened!

”Let me bandage your head before you start talking and moving around too much!” Rin barked at him.

He settled back as if scolded by his mother, and Hanasian let his wife finish her work before pressing him for more information. It was then that Videgavia came with his report, and Hanasian brushed Rin’s hair with his hand and let her know with a look that he wanted to talk to Ghorn, and her, but was going to step away and hear what Vid had to report. They walked some steps away, still in sight but out of earshot, before Videgavia started speaking.

”Still not sure what happened Cap. Dhak is with the few of the black mariners that survived trying to get anything from them, but they are a tight-lipped bunch. Dhak said something about the rift being closed, but it didn’t make much sense to me.

“Since they speak in their language akin I believe to old Adunic, little of it we can make sense of. And I’m not so sure about trusting what Dhak says either; being he’s the only one we have to translate. If body language and vocal tones are to be trusted, they seem to be arguing more than anything.”

Hanasian waved Mecarnil over and asked, ”You of all of us are the most learned in the languages of the Old Edain. I have seen you intently listening to Dhak and his companions when they go off talking to one another. Have you been able to make any sense of it?”

Mecarnil shook his head in such way it was difficult discern whether he meant yes or no.

He said, “Cap, all I had found was some old worn parchments that were quite water damaged. I have studied more the writing than the spoken... being that nobody in Middle Earth speaks the language true anymore.

“We have some key words and phrases that we use that we have learned being raised in Arnor, and you, me, Farbarad, Aragorn, and some of the old Greys know them. But what we know is not a language. So no, I can’t tell you any that’s being said, but I listen and pick up the inflections I think is the punctuation inscribed on the old scrolls. I’m learning Cap, but I can’t tell you anything.”

Hanasian nodded, and said, ”Farbarad will have to stick with Rosmarin for a bit, help in healing and observing her. I will too within my abilities to do so while leading this Company. Now, Vid, what is our situation?”

Videgavia looked around and then started to speak, ”Overall, it looks like we as a Company came out reasonably well, apart from Loch’s command. We found one dead, three badly injured, and the rest shaken. Khor’s men he had in town suffered wounds, and some of the Mariner regulars that were nearby were killed with a dozen more wounded.

“It seems most of the dead were clustered around this palace, and were those of this ‘Order’ that Dhak referred to. Unfortunately, we have three missing.”

Hanasian glanced over at Rin who had Ghorn sitting up and looked back at Videgavia, saying, ”Loch, Runner, and who else?”

Videgavia answered.

Hanasian then asked, ”Ravenclaw?”

Mecarnil looked about and mumbled, ”Yeah, that would be about right.”

Hanasian turned and asked, ”What did you say?”

Mecarnil spat and said, ”Nothin’”

“Didn’t sound like nothin’.”
Hanasian said.

Mecarnil looked at Videgavia who huffed out a sigh and said, ”Let it out Mecarnil. You’ve been itching to for some time now. I know you want to tell me that you told me so.

“A bit of background Captain… as you know, when you were off honeymooning, it was left to me to recruit and get things set to head to Rhun. Ravenclaw, otherwise known as Hamoor, was one of the men who volunteered.

“I didn’t like the man, especially since we all had rejected him first time he tried to join when we were in pursuit of Simra. But this time I thought we could use him here. So far it seemed to work- -”

“I would let it out if you would shut up.”
Mecarnil cut in, “I said at the time he had a bad air about him. Didn’t like bumping into him on Hanasian’s night, didn’t like him years ago, and certainly didn’t like him becoming part of the Company. If I wasn’t so wrapped up in royal business at the time, I’d have made myself clearer.”

Hanasian put his hand up to his head as they bickered, and then grabbed both by the collar of their tunics. He dragged them close, nearly knocking their heads together.

”Enough! Yes, he stinks, yes he has history, and there is something about him I don’t like either. But what’s done is done, and like it or not, he is Company! Now I don’t need this from you two right now, or ever, really. There are many reasons men go missing.

“Remember when Mulgov was missing three days the last time we were here in Rhun? He went to relieve himself in the woods in the dark and ended up falling down a steep slope and knocking himself out. He eventually found us again. So, for now I write Loch, Runner, and Ravenclaw down as missing in action. Now Vid, how are we in numbers?”

They both were silent, and as Hanasian let go of them, they stood straight and adjusted their tunics. Hanasian could see that Rin had noted the discussion, and signalled that Ghorn was ready to talk. Hanasian gave her sign that he would be there shortly, and listened as Videgavia finished giving his report.

”Except for Loch, we have the rest of the old crew, fifty-three from the Gondorian recruitment, and sixty-seven of Khule’s Easterling recruitment. Of them, there is only a half dozen of Runner’s squad of swift feet left fit. Kallach is confirmed killed on the trail by Khirue, two have broken limbs and will not be moving swift anytime, Ghorn is badly hurt and being attended to, and as reported, Runner is missing.

“Khor has ninety-six with his main body under Khirue, and says there are another fifty or so posted on the outskirts. He has sent word to have all but sentries recalled. Of the mariner regulars, there are sixty-four who we have contained comfortably, being treated as prisoner-guests as they seem to listen to Dhak, and we have seven of this Order in captivity.

“Dhak said some of the regulars have reported some of the Order’s elite guard had left the day before, which corresponds with what Khirue said when they killed the ones who killed Kallach.”

Hanasian nodded and said, ”Thanks Vid. I want to have a Company meeting this afternoon before it rains. Let the old crew save Mulgov and Khule know we’ll meet there by those trees in an hour. Have Mulgov and Khule come see me now, and let their companies know there will be a meet in two hours by the destroyed palace.

“Until then, have them rest, for the night has been long and the march before that longer. Meanwhile, see if any sign of Ravenclaw can be found. Khor has the locals still rummaging through the rubble for sign. I’m going to see if Ghorn can tell me anything more.”

They parted with a grasp of the hand, and Vidigavia and Mecarnil headed up the hill where the old crew was, chuckling.

Vid mumbled, ”Mulgov had to be a sight… laying there knocked out for however long with his breeches down to his knees…”

More chuckles, and when they tried to contain themselves upon reaching the old crew’s camp, Mulgov looked at them and said, ”What’s so funny?”

Which set them both laughing hysterically. Vid got a hold of himself and managed to say without laughing, ”You and Khule need to go see the Cap right now. He’s with Rin at the aid camp in the field below.”

Mulgov waited for Khule before setting off down the hill, saying, ”I wonder what is tickling them?”

“It’s best you don’t ask,”
Khule said, not having a clue what it was all about, “I’m more worried about what the Captain wants.”

Hanasian came up to Rin and gave her a kiss. He could see the deep worry in her face beneath her professional demeanour. She was going to go attend to another when Hanasian stopped her.

”I want you with me to hear what Ghorn has to say. The others say he was closest and was moving to cover for Runner.”

Rin hesitated, then said, ”I don’t know if I can, love. I’m not ready to accept Loch is dead.”

“He isn’t dead, he is missing,”
Hanasian said, “If you feel the need to go to tend others, then do so, but I ask you to stay.”

She paused and thought as an Easterling soldier was brought with a rag tied over his right eye. Rin squeezed Hanasian’s hand and said, ”I would for you my love, but Rocks and Two Bells are working without break, so too should I. I‘ll only be a few steps away, tending this man. We will talk later of all this.”

Hanasian gave her a kiss and she set to work on the man next to where Ghorn sat. She was likely within earshot anyway. Hanasian sat down next to Ghorn, who tried to get up and stand at attention. He was in every way a proud Easterling member of the Company, and thought having the captain talking to him a great honour. Hanasian steadied the young man and helped him sit back down.

”Easy. I need you in good health. Let us talk some. Tell me all that happened as you remember it.”

Ghorn started when he saw Loch’s last signal. He had been busy counting the order’s elite guards moving out. Four troops of twenty, of which one group went up the hill. The approach of Khule and Mulgov distracted him slightly, but made him want to be as detailed as his memory would be. Hanasian signalled them both that there was possibly eighteen of the Order elite somewhere outside of the town. One of the least bandaged of the runners was sent to the camp on the hill to get word to Vid and the others. They would have to be on the alert as it was obvious these men were dangerous and unpredictable. Hanasian made a note to speak with Dhak and see what more he would say about this. But right now, Ghorn was reporting.

”When I again looked to signal my numbers to Loch, he was gone. Runner too was out of position, but I spotted him heading for Loch’s last position. He was puzzled by Loch’s disappearance too.

“I signalled him my numbers and he signalled back to me he was going in. He remained in sight by the palace for a short time, but disappeared from my sight around the back of the palace. I started to work my way down to cover and the others set new positions to keep full watch.

“I took up Loch’s old position and it was a long time, maybe hours before I decided to move down. I had not seen any sign of Runner, or Loch, and I got this feeling that something was happening inside. I had counted and had it signed to me that all but the twenty of the guards had come back to the palace, almost as if they were summoned.

“It was right when I stepped down that everything went white. Heat and cold both blasted me and I was thrown back against them rocks, and I remember no more… wait. A vision. I don’t know if I was awake or sleep, but I saw Loch and another.

“They were flying, as if they went by me. It was not Runner with him though. It could have been the effects of the blast but it seemed so clear at the time. It bothers me that I don’t know who was with him. Next thing I know is I am lying here in pain. That is all I know sir.”

Hanasian took his hand and squeezed, saying, ”Very well son. You heal and get well. We need you back with us!”

No better words could he receive. He smiled and gratefully lay back down, obviously dizzy. Ghorn watched as the captain stood and directed Mulgov and Khule to summon their commands and have a meet before the all Company meeting. Many decisions had to be made this day, none easy.

Ghorn said as Hanasian began to walk away, ”Sir, if I remember any more, I will let you know.”

Hanasian nodded to him and said, ”Yes, do that. Consider it an order.”

Hanasian felt he was starting to gain a handle on working these Easterling Company worshippers of Khule’s. He was headed to talk to Dhak when Two Bells came to him and said, ”Captain, there is something you may want to see.”

Hanasian detoured and went over to where the rubble was being sorted. A wisp of smoke, steam, and chill icy air weaved around each other from the pile. A precarious opening was made that led down into the cellar of the palace. A couple locals braved entry, and brought out a broken bloodied body of a girl.

After they crawled out, one said in the dialect of Rhun, ”There is another! May be alive!”

Two Easterling Company men pushed their way in one after another. They found them partially buried in dirt and trapped under a beam.

”Breathing but not conscious,” one of the men said out to another of his comrades outside the hole.

The commotion that someone had been found alive spread and Rin looked up. She resisted leaving her patient in mid–operation to see if it was her brother and returned to her task of removing a huge splinter of wood from the man’s eye. The eye would heal, but wouldn’t be able to see much from it.

Rin needed to believe her brother was alive, but she prepared herself as best she could to accept he was dead. She didn’t miss a move when word came that it was a woman found alive.

The two men worked to free the woman from under the beam. There was no little room to work but they managed to use a part of a beam as a lever to get the pressure off of her. They could see her gasp for air and breathe easier but they had lots of work to do. They dug away the dirt and rocks, and managed to move her. She moaned in pain but it had to be done.

The man outside the hole said, ”You two nearly done in there? We hear creaking so hurry up. The whole place may soon fall on you!”

The two heard creaking too. They had placed support from the pieces of wood and rock around the best they could but knew they were changing the dynamics of the structure. They freed the woman free and worked her to the opening, where she was pulled free. A cracking sound followed and things began to slide. They scrambled out as the remaining framework came crashing down. Too close! Hanasian would get their names and give them each an award of honour later. Right now he wanted to know about the two who were pulled out if the rubble.

One was dead, but the other was not. He sent for Rin to tend to the girl, and sent for Dhak, Khor, and had one who appeared to be an officer of the surviving Order elite brought forth. He wanted answers and he was going to get them. Two Bells examined the surviving girl and cleaned her face. To Hanasian, she didn’t look like she was from any race of men he had ever seen in these lands. Of the closest, the dark hair, tanned skin, and facial features reminded him most of the women of Khand. But not enough to be Khandese. He suspected that she and the dead girl beside her were from east of the sea, perhaps a people long sundered in the beginnings of the song? He hoped answers would come. Dhak was the first to arrive. He was astonished to see the girls.

”They didn’t!” he said in the eastern mariner language under his breath.

The girl heard him and stirred. She looked over to see the face of her sister and wept as she reached for her hand. She said something that only Dhak could understand.

When pressed by Hanasian, he said, ”She wants to know where her sister is, her other sister. Captain, don’t let any of the Order see her. They think they’re all destroyed.”

Hanasian agreed and countermanded his instruction to bring the officer. He and the rest of the Order were instead were put under the watch of Wulgof, Bear, and some of the Company men that had just recently arrived. Wulgof inspected a building one of Dhak’s companions suggested they use and deemed the cellar perfect for the job at hand. The prisoners were herded into the cellar and the place guarded several trusted Company men. Hanasian was satisfied with this arrangement and pleased that newly arrived men were used by Wulgof. For whatever reason Dhak didn’t want them to know about the girls being found, he thought it was best the guards didn’t know about them either. There could be powers at work here he did not know of. He would have to deal with them later.

He listened as Dhak interpreted what the girl said. He asked her how many sisters were there and she answered three. Dhak talked with her for some time, and told Hanasian of the three sisters who had come over the sea to tend to the witch. They were apprentice students, hoping to learn what they could from her, and given the task because the three triplets had shown some sort of a benign shielding capacity.

The Order hoped they would protect the witch through their proximity, but it seemed things went horribly wrong. Hanasian didn’t think Dhak was telling him everything, but he had to fear the worst. Thinking this girl may hold the key to what happened, he wanted to know more, but right now the girl only cried. She could talk no more.

Rin’s arrival prompted immediate action.

”You men! Get some blankets! She is barely clothed and is shivering! And cover her sister and move her away! What’s the matter with you?” she cried in dismay.

Hanasian pushed the others away and let Two Bells and Rin tend to her many wounds. The girl’s leg was smashed and her ribs were bruised with some of them broken, but she would survive. The girl slid into and out of consciousness, knowing her older sister was dead and her younger sister missing. She was surrounded by strange voices speaking strange languages she did not understand. She was in a strange land, all alone, and as she drank some water with something Rin had given her, she fell into a deep sleep.

Setting a guard around the girl, his wife and the Two Bells, Hanasian gave orders that she be taken to somewhere warm and dry once Rin approved her being moved. Hanasian went next with Dhak, Khor, Khule, and Mulgov to where Wulgof was keeping the prisoners and interrogated the officer of the Order. He got little information and left Dhak to verbally spar with him until they were sealed in. What to do with them were just one of Hanasian’s problems this day. He had another renegade band of these Order fanatics on the loose in the land, Dhak and his soldiers, scores of wounded soldiers and townsfolk, a seriously hurt woman from across the sea, scores of dead to be buried or burned, a grieving wife, and the mystery of three missing men. It was only mid afternoon too, and the rain started to fall from the grey sky. They were going to get wet during their meeting.
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Postby elora » Sat Aug 04, 2012 7:39 pm

The call to a compulsory Company meeting arrived just as the rain started to rush from the heavens. Thick, angry drops splattered, hurled resentfully down. It only added to the general misery for those working on the ground.

”You have to be kidding! We’re up to our necks in blood, bone and mud here. A meeting now?” Rocks protested when Babble arrived with the news.

The man nodded, shoulders hunched beneath his rain cape and strode off towards where the Black were camped. Rocks glanced back to where their healer was. She didn’t appear to have taken any notice. Rin was in grim shape. Every time they brought someone or something out, he saw hope turn to ashes in her face. The fact that he could discern anything of her thoughts revealed a great deal in itself. This was a woman whose capacity for self containment rivalled some of the best. Her leathers were ruined, abraded and gouged after a night and day of forcing herself into dangerous places to provide emergency treatment before the located victim could be removed. She’d been on her feet through a day and a night and now most of this day. He knew she was reserving her strength, parcelling it out so that she could make it last for as long as possible. Farbarad had asked to step down and rest already and she had refused him, staying that she would not leave until Loch was found. When she went down, it would be hard. Rocks glanced at Bells and issued a covert signal for the younger man to head off to the meeting. Once Bells had complied, Rocks cautiously approached Rin.

”You know, I seem to recall you telling us that the only thing more dangerous than a medic who didn’t know what he didn’t know was one that worked while exhausted.”

He had anticipated her silence and so continued to apply relentless pressure, ”Never figured you for a hypocrite, Doc.”

At that, her fingers stilled a moment. He saw her jaw bunch and she swallowed hard. Then she resumed her stitches. They were good and the civilian she was working on would heal cleanly as a result, but they were not her usual painstaking perfection. Another sign of how exhausted she was.

”I would have thought that you had enough trouble to wallow in without adding failure to report as ordered to the pile.”

“If you don’t let me concentrate, I’ll stitch your mouth shut,”
she growled and Rocks smiled and jammed his hands under his arms.

”If you don’t show up to this meeting, you won’t be stitching anyone’s anything as you'll be on report. How useful will you be then, eh?”

In this time she had finished up the stitches and she shot him a look that suggested she was repressing the urge to clip his ears by the slimmest of margins. Rin expelled a sharp breath and beckoned one of the Easterlings over. Once she established that the man could do a decent bandage they were on their way.

Donius and Daius had done their best to rig up some kind of shelter with what they could set their hands to. Even so, it was not nearly enough to keep everyone dry. Rain thrummed over the capes and hoods of men and women who clustered together. Rocks realised they were amongst the last to arrive. What happened next, however, surprised him. People parted way silently to admit them, a silent mark of respect for the particularly grim work the four of them had been doing and, Rocks suspected, a way of offering some comfort for the woman who had lost a brother. He was lost, as far as Rocks was concerned. The rubble was their tomb, their tangled cairn. It was a thought he kept to himself as he followed Rin through the press, and he was not the only one to think it.

Upon sighting Rin, Frea levered himself off a camp stool and beckoned her to it. She took it reluctantly, pushed her hood back and revealed that her composed mask was in place again. Rocks headed to where Bells and Sparks stood on the other side, near Wulgof, Molguv and Morcal. Many eyes darted between the three medics on one side, the healer on the other, and the command of the Black Company in the middle of it all. Hanasian swiftly called the meeting was swiftly called to order and Videgavia opened with a summary of their current situation.

”Which brings us to the three Black Company individuals currently missing, and our next course of action,” Videgavia finished, glancing to Hanasian.

”Missing? We know where two are, even if we haven’t found them yet,” Wulgof interjected belligerently, eyes flashing.

Rin’s jaw tightened and her head bowed so that her chin nearly rested on her chest, arms tightly crossed and fists clenched so tightly that her nails dug into her palms. The pain gave her something to focus herself on. She kept her eyes fixed on her muddy boots. Folca’s hand lightly brushed her shoulder and she jerked away.

”As for our next course of action, it’s as obvious as the nose on my face. We find this Order and hunt every last one of them down. What has happened here demands an answer!” Wulgof finished.

”There is nothing obvious about this,” Hanasian cut in sharply, ”Nothing! We don’t know nearly as much as we guess. Loch and Runner could be anywhere here. Have you searched every nook and cranny of this forest, Wulgof? First things first, anyone who has knowledge of where Ravenclaw might be is to step forward now.”

Wulgof muttered darkly, but otherwise there was no response. No one stepped forward.

”Right… we have three men missing, a number wounded, some eighteen elite hostile foes and some hard decisions to make.”

“If Loch were about, we’d have found him by now. It’s been a day, a night and a day,”
Wulgof persisted and Foldine’s temper snapped.

”Can you have some respect, some decency? Must you be so eager to declare him dead and buried, in the face of his sister?”

“Look at her, you fool! She knows! Just look at her! This devilry demands answer! The longer we equivocate, the longer will justice be denied!”

“Justice? Sounds like another Dunlander thirsty for vengeance to me. Thought you’d outgrown your barbarian roots,”
Foldine sneered and at that angry voices began to rise.

Tension rose inexorably towards dangerous heights. People jostled against each other. Hanasian, Videgavia, Mecarnil and Frea shouted for order frantically. They were tired, heartsore, overwhelmed and if any one of them drew a weapon against their fellow soldier, catastrophe would follow. The sound of a piercing wail sliced through the mayhem like elven steel through summer grass. It startled them all, including the woman responsible for it.

Rin found herself on her feet, panting hard and shaking so hard her teeth threatened to chatter. She ripped the Company brooch that pinned her muddy cloak to her throat free and flung it at Wulgof's chest with all her remaining strength. Her cloak soddenly slumped around her boots and the pin bounced off Wulgof's chest and fell to the ground heavily. Seering rage burnt in her eyes.

”WHO ARE YOU? WHO ARE ANY OF YOU? WHO! Is this what the Company is? Is this what we stand for? Thugs and mercenaries?” she rasped, voice husked by grief.

She strode to confront Wulgof, bare inches from his face, ”Lochared is NOT DEAD! Yet, even if he was, who are you to demand vengeance in HIS NAME? After all we have endured!” she savagely demanded of him.

”How DARE you! How dare you incite anyone to spill blood in my brother’s name! How dare you render him a savage effigy! Is THAT WHAT YOU ARE? Ravenous, hate filled, bent on revenge, another monster marauder from Dunland?”

Wulgof’s eyes were wide with pain at Rin's onslaught. ”No, Rin! No-“ he mumbled, eyes dropping and she teetered back a step.

She turned, still quivering and the tow of one boot kicked the brooch. Rin stared at it a long moment before she raised a grief ravaged expression to Hanasian. The hush amongst the Company was absolute, broken only by the drumming rain. Her back was to the gathered Company and she could not bare their pity filled eyes.

Rin turned her head and asked over one shoulder, ”How many of you believe Wulgof is right?”

A great number of hands raised. She knew this because she saw in the grim expressions of Hanasian and Videgavia.

”Then I was wrong about this Company…and I will have no further part in it.”

Bells, Sparks and Rocks gaped at her flat statement, devoid of inflection, weighted with despair. She turned and pushed through them, headed back out into the rain without cloak or hood. Hanasian shot a pleading glance at Farbarad and the Ranger hurried after her, grabbing the nearest medic and dragging him with him. Hanasian drew a deep breath and steered the meeting back onto course as the two men trudged after Rin.

”I need something to knock her out. She can’t continue like this,” Farbarad said plainly and Rocks nodded.

”I know just the thing,” he replied, the very thing Rin had been using on the various survivors in mind, a refinement of Molguv's Special Reserve.

It was not the only thing in the medic’s mind and his thoughts jarred, clashing with each other. They caught up with her down at site, where a small number of injured people had gathered under the canvas rigged up over the medical area. She was so exhausted that her reactions were already lagging. Farbarad placed two gentle yet firm hands on each of her shoulders and resolutely turned her about. Rocks pressed the soaked scrap of bandage over her nose and face. It was a simple thing, easily done. Her eyelids dragged down over her betrayed expression and Rocks’ thoughts cleared into a single realisation. He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t do it. Silver Fox hadn’t paid him yet. Yes, he was giving up a veritable prince’s ransom, but he couldn’t. As the last remaining tension fled Rin’s body and she sprawled against Farbarad, whose expression was achingly sorrowful, Rocks felt a great weight lift from his shoulders.
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Postby elora » Wed Aug 08, 2012 11:40 pm

Rosmarin was sound asleep in their tent and Hanasian thanked both Farbarad and Rocks for all they had done. She would be asleep for some time, so Hanasian sat by her side and updated his annals. It pained him, but he made note of Runner and Loch as ‘missing and presumed dead’. It would be their status until hard evidence proved otherwise. Other men of the Company had gone missing and were written off as dead the same way with even less proof, because there was just nothing to find. Hanasian referred back to the List of Names and read through them. All had been accounted there, and even those who served the least of time were remembered. Caras, a young Gondorian who joined as they rode out of Minas Tirith toward Rhun the first time to battle the warlord Khurg had burned to ashes in the ambush of fiery spears. There was nothing to find but his belt buckle days later. Or Faradas and Ergono who went out on a scouting patrol when they were in Khand. Neither were ever seen or heard from again. They disappeared withut a trace. Back in the war in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Malach was so badly hacked up and trampled, the only thing recognizable was the hood and the mangled brooch of his grey cloak. Hanasian thought about them all and could see each of their faces, laughing, yelling, arguing, thinking… he reached over and played with a curl of Rin’s hair and sighed. Sometimes you want to believe they are alive, but the pragmatic side of your thinking says they are dead. Runner was a good lad. He practically worshipped the ground we Company men stepped on. Loch… a wild and free spirit, who embraced too well all that the Company was about.

Hanasian didn’t want to, but it was in the best interest of the Company. Rosmarin was relieved of her role as Company physician. Temporary mind you, but definitely now. The loss of her brother and the stresses of the life in the Company has taken their toll on the Queen of Cardolan. Two Bells, being most capable, will have to fill in. Rocks will back up, and a couple of the Easterlings seemed to have taken interest in the healing arts, which was something not widely considered in the Easterling armies. Perhaps he could get Rin into teaching some of them a bit of her healing arts? The Company cannot have too many medics and it looked like the Easterlings would be a major part of it from now on. Maybe in a few days she would be more acceptable of this?

Hanasian decided to give the Company some down time if they wished it. Many took it upon themselves to conduct the clean-up around the palace while the locals, many of the Easterling legion, and Khor’s men helped elsewhere in the coastal town. The Gondorian legion took up the outpost guard with some of Khirue’s men. There had been raids on some of them and a few were killed. There seemed to be none of the raiders killed. It was the renegade Order squad. They would have to move on them, and soon. Mulgov and Khirue organized some raiding parties of their own, and sent them out at night in search of the renegades. They proved elusive, but a few had been killed.

Meanwhile, those who were in the town worked to had painstakingly remove the rubble of the palace stone by stone. Runner’s squad of swift messengers were there doing their part, and the old crew got into the digging. It was likely more to do with them wanting to find their comrades and always holding an ever dimming flame of hope that they would find them alive in some wine cellar enclave. But alas, it was becoming evident that this hope was futile. A knife hilt with burned marks on it where the blade was had been recovered, and Wulgof identified it as Loch’s. A warped belt buckle was identified as Runner’s, along with small pieces of cloaks from them both. The finding of Runner’s homemade Company patch, and Loch’s right boot in the debris of the palace largely confirmed it for Hanasian’s records if not in the minds of the rest of the Company.

After two days, all that could be found there had been. The remains of bodies found were identified as men of the Order, and blasted fragments of flesh and red silk were rightly identified as that of the witch. An aftershock bounced the land and it was fortunate the search through the palace rubble had concluded. For it had caused the collapse of a few weakened and damaged buildings around the town, and Dhak seemed very pleased that the building housing the captured order had fell in on them. Nobody was in a hurry to see if there were any survivors under that wreckage.

On the morning of the third day, Hanasian announced that Runner and Loch were listed as missing and presumed dead, and they would be holding the Company service for their missing comrades. It wasn’t an absolute acknowledgment of death, but it may have well been. It would be a wake of memory, and there would be much to remember.
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Postby elora » Wed Aug 08, 2012 11:42 pm

Little had been seen of Rin by Hanasian’s design since the events of the last Company meeting. Only those few who he permitted into the tent had set eyes on her. Farbarad, Mecarnil and Videgavia all were stricken by what they saw. Pale, silent, all too still aside from the recovered dagger hilt that she turned over and over in her hands. No matter how many blankets, no matter the amount of wood stuffed in the brazier that Farbarad had found, she shivered. She ate, barely, when told to. She slept poorly, driven mercilessly by dark nightmares of distant events.

Round and round the dagger hilt turned. How he had brandished them in Mithlond, chuckling with delight. A matched set, elvish make, that he swept about in absurd, grandiose flourishes like a rank amateur. Which he was not and it had made her laugh until her sides ached. That late afternoon memory, on the decks of the ship that took them to Pelargir and their first Company deployment, now seemed so very remote. The dagger hilt spun again and then, a gentle yet strong hand wrapped around hers. His touch was so warm, so vital.

”Are you sure, beloved?” Hanasian asked her, crouching over his heels in front of her and studying her anxiously.

She nodded at him but Hanasian was not in the least convinced she was up to this. She was wan, and her dark garb only further underscored it. All the spark, all her brightness had been snuffed out of her. The delicate structure of her face struck him as fragile, her eyes too large. She had lost weight and he was reminded powerfully of their first encounter. She looked more forlorn and stricken now than she had then and once again he found himself tempted to forbid it. Yet he could not bear to deny her this. His wife had lost every member of her immediate family to deaths that were too soon and far too violent. She had never had the chance to farewell any of them, until now. He did not think she would forgive him, no matter his motivations, if he prevented her farewelling her brother.

”Very well,” he said softly, and pressed his lips to her brow.

He drew the hood up over her head and slowly they emerged into the dusk. It was a clear, bitterly cold, night. Torches flickered in a stiff wind that came from the inland sea down at the collapsed palace. The light danced over those who had gathered. The stars had begun to reveal themselves, one by one, and the moon seemed over large. Slowly, down the slope they went, followed by Mecarnil and Farbarad.

The crowd was surprisingly large. The Company was there, of course. Khor and a great many of his men where there, as were the Easterlings Khule had unofficially recruited. A great many of the townsfolk gathered as well, for many considered that the two men were responsible for freeing their town of an entirely unwanted and sinister presence. What surprised Hanasian most, however, was the presence of so many of Dhak’s men. They stood as solemn faced and respectful as all of the others. For Rin, the faces largely blurred. So many of them, all around, none of them Loch. Every time she saw a Black Company uniform she found herself looking for her brother. Her mind had taken to deceiving her cruelly.

Runner’s squad clustered on the shore. A small boat had been found and filled with candles and keepsakes. It was their custom to release their fallen upon the sea, to be taken to the sacred isle at its heart. A great many voices urged Runner’s spirit to the protection of that isle. When the chanting was completed, the line was released. It slapped into the water and the greedy tide ensured that the little vessel bobbed away from shore. A silence fell over those assembled as they watched the glittering candles, protected from the wind by the gunnels of the boat, drift out over the waters of the vast inland sea.

But it was not yet done and Rin had started to shake hard. Still she managed the first step towards the pile of rubble. Hanasian made sure that she reached it and she sank to her knees before the stones to set her hand upon them. He heard her suck in a breath and then placed her other hand upon the tumbled stones. Her head bowed between her outstretched arms. Brother…are you cold? Was it fast? Did you suffer? Did it happen before you knew of it or did you lie here, listening to us look for you, death devouring you slowly, piece by piece, hour by hour? Have I failed you? Did you know I looked for you? So many of us searched? Did you think I abandoned you? The stone she touched held no answers, no memories. Slowly she raised her head and the hood slipped back to reveal the gleam of her hair under torchlight. She did not know if she could muster the strength to do what was needed but she knew that he would try for her. Rin drew a deep breath into her trembling body, lifted her head and began.

Never before had anyone gathered there heard Rin sing, not even her husband. The lament was a reflection of the land and people it sprang from and Wulgof sucked in a breath at hearing his people’s dirge. It was fair, wild, fierce and perilous. Wulgof joined his voice to hers once he found it and together they wove the two verses as custom required. He sung of the strength and loyalty that all Dunlanders were expected to epitomise. She sang of the hearth and home that all Dunlanders were expected to protect as ferociously as required. The third verse, however, Wulgof did not take up. It did not belong to him. It was not right for him to sing. There was only one to whom it belonged and the fact that she sang alone, where there should have been many, made it all the harder for him to bear.

There was no shame in grief and Loch had touched many lives in his brief time with the Company. His generosity, his good cheer, his steadfast loyalty and his rascal’s smile had left their mark. Once the lament was ended, there was a period of protracted silence. Then, either alone or in small groups, people began to drift away. Hanasian knew the way of his Company. Up at the camp, there would be people talking long into the night, sharing memories. Rin slowly rose to her feet again, hand lingering on the stone as if loath to surrender contact. Her fingers traced the grain of the stone, badly damaged by the forces that had held forth here. A gust of wind tugged at her cloak and dark skirts and sent her hair flying. She seemed lost somewhere else entirely. Recalling the barrows on the northern downs and fearing what these stones might reveal to her, Hanasian stepped forward to pull her hood back into place.

His fingers grazed her cheek as he did so and she took in a breath and turned to face him. Rin stared intently at him and he had the impression that she was seeing him for the first time in days. Her eyes roamed his face, searching for what he knew not. Then she spoke his name. It was like she was waking from a dream, a dark dream. He traced the fine line of her jaw softly and her eyes drifted shut.

”It is done, beloved,” he told her and took up her arm again to return to the camp above.
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Postby elora » Wed Aug 08, 2012 11:44 pm

Wulgof squinted against the morning sun, his head pounding more than it ought to. It had been a late night spent with Molguv, Khule and the others. He shaded his eyes with one hand. His other hand fidgeted with an envelope. It was thick, crinkled and grubby from being crammed into a soldier's pack. Wulgof looked back to where the others stood and saw them shoo him on. It was time, they said. He didn't argue with them over that. However, given his last encounter with the letter's recipient, he was not in the least convinced he should be the one to give it to her. Molguv and Khule outvoted him on that. He heaved a sigh and trudged the rest of the way.

Hanasian had decided to make the most of the bright winter day. He had scared up a table from somewhere and some mismatched chairs. He had installed Rin in one and then headed off to check in with Khor, Dhak and the men that guarded the Order. Rin had a book open that she wasn’t paying any attention to. Instead, she was staring at the ruffled surface of the sea, lost in her thoughts. The funeral garb of the previous evening was gone. In its place she wore her battered leather breeches, a thigh length tunic with a frayed hem and her badly abused leather jacket open over it. Her boots were unlaced and her hair was only loosely braided and had started to come free. A beggar princess, Wulgof thought, surprising himself with the poetic concept. When Wulgof’s shadow fell across the table, she drew in a deep breath and blinked to refocus those remarkable eyes of hers on his face. The Dunlender felt his gut tighten.

”I’m not here to argue or give you a hard time,” he said as hesitancy entered her expression.

She lifted a pale brow at that and she said, ”Not even if I deserved it?”

Wulgof found he couldn’t really answer that and her eyes dropped away from his face and back to the sea. He sat down at a spare chair and wondered how he was going to do this.

”If you’re here to see me in any official capacity, I must advise you to seek out one of the others. I have been stood down indefinitely,” she said.

”Look…your brother asked me to give you this if anything should…happen…”

Wulgof pushed the tattered envelope towards her across the table and she stared at it like he had brandished a poisoned dagger in her face.

”Rin…I hope this isn’t out of line…but me and the others just wanted to say that we’re sorry…and…well you’re Black too whether you quit or not. We do right by our own. Not that the Cap don’t do right by you or nothin’…” Wulgof's voice trailed off and he found himself wishing that Khule had done this instead of him.

She continued to stare at the envelope and so Wulgof stood and left her to her privacy. She swallowed hard and reached for the envelope. Her fingers only shook a little as she folded out the paper inside.


If you are reading this then I am dead and I just want to say that I’m sorry. I didn’t do it on purpose. I really do listen to you when you tell me to be careful. Please, don’t be mad with me-“

Rin jerked her eyes away and back to the sea below. Her heart pounded in her ears. Paper crumpled in her grasp. She closed her eyes and focussed on her breathing. It was shallow and unsteady and her head was starting to spin. Only when she felt she had a grasp on herself did she recommence reading Loch’s letter. His cramped handwriting made her heart ache. So many arguments back and forth about why it was important to learn how to read and write. He had forced a whole page out, a significant effort for her brother. She could hear his voice in her head as she read and she steeled herself to push on. As she read, the warmth the sun had left in her blood faded.

She folded the paper up again and placed it back into the envelope. Her heart was pounding again but this time it was anger that propelled it. As chance would have it, Rocks ambled down the slope towards the town right at that moment. Her eyes tracked his progress as her mind tried to come to grips with this information. The question was: what, if anything, to do with it? And, when? Her answers came willingly. Enough was enough. She was sick of being hunted. Sick of running and hiding. Sick of watching the treachery of others cut down those she loved the most. Rin slowly stood and set off down the slope. Enough. Was. Enough.

”Company meeting mid afternoon, remember?” called Farbarad after her and she lifted a hand in acknowledgement without pausing.

Hanasian watched the Company arrive for the meeting. His wife arrived late, her expression taut. She was walking very closely behind Rocks. Rocks peeled off to sit with the other medics, seeming unusually rattled. Rin stood with Farbarad and Mecarnil off to one side. She met Hanasian’s eyes a moment and he realised then that she was icily angry. She turned slightly and murmured something in Mecarnil’s ear that made the man go utterly still. She placed a hand on his forearm to stop him from drawing his sword and spoke again. He shook his head, clearly disagreeing and her expression became colder still as she spoke a third time. His arm relaxed and she turned next to Farbarad and whispered to him. Farbarad’s spine stiffened and his head whipped about to stare at her. The pulse in his temple started to throb. She spoke on, the skin around Farbarad’s eyes tightened and he nodded once. He pushed Rin firmly behind Mecarnil, whispered something to his colleague and swiftly departed. Mecarnil set a flat stare directly on Rocks.

Farbarad materialised again, this time directly behind Rocks, was not lost on Hanasian or the medic. As much as Hanasian desperately wanted to know what was happening, the rest of the Company had arrived and it was time to attempt this meeting once again.
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Postby elora » Mon Aug 13, 2012 10:34 pm

In the north of Rhun things did not go well for the rebellion. Their hand was played in the Prefect's assassination and the release of Khurg from prison. Despite these early successes, achieved through surprise, they had been compressed by an increasing force on three sides into an ever-diminishing part of northern Rhun. Further to the north were the dwarves of the Iron Hills at the ready. The rebels had not yet fought with them and had no desire to. To the west pressed the Army of Dale across a solid front that kept them from infiltrating west. From the south pushed the combined might of Gondor and Rohan, reinforced by the Easterling Guard that remained loyal to the Prefect and Gondor. Food now ran low and resolve of the northern clans had become strained.

The collective of former commanders and officials that thought getting Khurg out would be a good thing were mostly of the fragmented Sagath clan. Even they saw how their hopes had been misguided. Despite their intention to restore the old ways, matters had gone terribly awry. They had underestimated the degree of Khurg’s declining mental state. Khurg had shown little gratefulness for his freedom, with fierce admonishments that it had taken all he had to offer them. After the first weeks of masterful military tactics that saw them withdraw from a superior force, it became apparent that Khurg now lived in some past moment of his life. He could not accept their present reality and dismissed it as fantasy. He was convinced that he was once more the supreme warlord of Rhun and whittled away his days with rants and edicts for underlings that had either died or never existed. Soon, his closest circle was comprised only of the few servants cared for him. Nobody was sure what happened, but the morning the joint Gondor/Rohan/Dale offensive started, Khurg was found dead in his bed. Blood seeped from his ear and stained the linens about his head. They whispered that it was his mind at war with itself; each part finally killing each other in an intense battle in his sleep. Ignominious old age and dementia proved the end of Khurg, the Easterling Warlord General of Sauron.

The armies of the West made little headway when the offensive started. The first day proved difficult, but signs of weakening rebel resolve became clear as their lines fragmented. Tired and hungry, they began surrendering, in small units at first that increased in size as the days passed. Word spread through the rank and file of Khurg’s passing. The remaining senior struggled with each other to assume command. Beset with disarray and privation, the will of the northern clans to continue disintegrated. Many of southern and central Rhun quietly thought it a fitting end to the rebellion. Kings Aragorn and Eomer rode forth to meet only two tribal chiefs and accept formal surrender. For the Sagath clan it was a bitter moment, their pride bruised and their resolve in tatters. The remaining Sagath scattered and made their way east, some hoping to find the armies of Khor while others hoping to find the Black Company.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The remaining men of the Order had hunkered down in a thick wood to the north of the town on the eastern sea. Their commander was puzzled and unsure what to do after the blast and resultant disaster had claimed their mistress.

”It should never been able to happen! It had to be treachery!” The second said, scratching his head.

The commander said, ”Yes, something unlooked for I think. My suspicion is on the sisters three. The young one, a dreamer, was never fully committed, and I had my suspicions about the eldest as well. She always seemed distant. But no matter, whatever it was, it has killed our supreme mistress as well as the wizard of old. With their deaths, the rift is now closed to us. There will be no returning to our lands.”

The second nodded, but then said, ”But the shielding the sisters have… could they not still find a way back? Would they know enough?”

The commander shook his head and said, ”It is doubtful they, or any of the House survived. Powers known and unknown to us were at work, and they all came to head in the house that our mistress occupied. Maybe some of our comrades survived, but it is doubtful.”

The second looked deflated and lost, and asked, ”What of us now? All we had served and believed in has come to an abrupt end. We are now lost in a foreign land, adrift.”

“Not adrift!”
the commander said, “We have come to do what had been ordered, and that is what we will do to the last man.”

The second nodded reluctantly, recalled a conversation he had with the elder of the sisters on the ship. Maybe he wasn’t as committed as a man of the Order was expected to be, he thought. He wished to know the fate of the sisters. He would have to go along with his commander… for now. He said, ”What can eighteen of us do here in this land?”

The commander gazed the fire. It hissed with every raindrop that fell into it. ”We must go down into the city and see what we can discover. The way will be watched, so stealth and evasion will be our path. Kill only if needed, and listen and see. Groups of four will go, starting tonight. The rest will stand here, for it is quiet, off the tracks and well hidden.”

The second nodded, deciding to take three of his hand-picked men with him this night. He found two of them and gave them the word to be ready. But the third he could not find.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ravenclaw watched and listened. He circled the perimeter of the camp and slowly drew closer. The first guard he came to didn’t even notice him and only realized his presence when he felt the thin rope seize his neck. Not a sound was heard as Ravenclaw stretched him out on the earth, neck broken in a swift twist. Ravenclaw moved forth in silence and two more guards fell the same way. Satisfied with his work, Ravenclaw retreated to the safety of his small cave where he notched the staff he always carried.

The commander did not get word of his dead men until after his second officer set out with three others for the town. He ordered further vigilance and to await the return of their scouting team. But they never returned. The next night, three more guards fell in silence. The commander realized too late they had been found and were being picked off, one by one. The third night he did not set guard, but set out for the city himself. He took with him three men, and his second officer accompanied with another three. They had little hope to live another day if they did not move.

Ravenclaw followed one of the groups and took out a lagging man. He set himself in his place and made his way down. He was impressed with the skill the sergeant showed in evading the watch of the Easterlings, and they got past a couple watchpoints the Black Company set up as well. They sought out the brethren of the Order, but realized they would find none alive. Ravenclaw slipped away from them once in the town, shed his disguise and headed toward the Company's camp. He would have much to answer for in his disappearance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The meeting of the Company was tense and Hanasian could feel there was something in the air. However he could not dwell on whatever it was right now. He had given long and hard thought to the Company's next step and the news brought to him by a swift rider earlier in the day made him think even harder. The whole Company saw Gondor's messenger arrive and hand over the parchment. With a bow and a few words, the man was off west without rest. The Company knew there were tidings, perhaps even further orders. The man had delivered a message from King Aragorn that confirmed he was now in Rhun with the army of Gondor. News of Khurg's death and the rebellion's collapse had also arrived. Aragorn intended to come east as soon as possible with King Eomer in hopes to settle hostilities. This was welcome news. Hanasian was mindful his Company sorely needed rest. The wisdom of the King would be most welcome in seeing to the mysteries of the mariners and the Order. Had it not been for the ill-fated rebellion, they may have never come to know of all this in the east. Yet it was the veils of wizardry that fogged the vision of the King, and his suspicions proved to be mostly true.

Hanasian wanted to announce his retirement as Captain, but he resolved to await the King's arrival. Maybe after that, this matter would be settled and he and Rosmarin could leave freely. Maybe it would be the end, and the King will disband the Company? These matters would have to wait for another day, despite how they circled his mind on wings. This day, other matters had to be addressed.

”Company attend me well!

"It has been a hard run here and little rest has been had while we grieve our fallen comrades. Yet we do rebuild our strength. We will remain here a little longer, for our King is coming. The armies of Gondor and Rohan have been successful in bringing an end to Khurg's rebellion. Though it had only brought more grief to the people of Rhun, it is hoped it will be the beginnings of healing between the clans. As for the Company, we have grown. Dedicated Easterling soldiers serve in honor, and the recruits of Gondor have served with distinction. We have established a strong medical cadre and individuals with the ability for leadership have blossomed and will be ranked as sergeants.

"Is there anything that anybody wishes to say here while the whole of the Company is gathered?”

“I do,”
spoke a voice well towards the back of the assembled Company. A bit of celebration formed around the man who spoke, for it was Ravenclaw. That they had one of three men return provided no small measure of cheer to the grieving Company.

Hanasian called to him, ”And we want to hear it Hamoor. But first, where have you been? We were about to bury you along with the others, but my gut said to give you a few more days.”

Ravenclaw spoke of how he got separated from the Company, his attempts to return and how his misfortune led him to find and kill several of the Order renegades. But he didn’t tell all. Hanasian cut him short and said that he wanted a full report by the next day.

He then said, “Is there anything else that I should know about?”

He looked over a Mecarnil, who was looking at Farbarad who was looking at Rocks.
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Postby elora » Mon Aug 13, 2012 10:57 pm

”…bury you with the others…”

Rin could not help but be stung by sharp and bitter resentment. Why had Ravenclaw returned and Loch hadn’t? It wasn’t fair that everyone should be cut down so violently and so early around her. Her jaw tightened and she squeezed her eyes shut. And then she heard it. Loch’s voice, asking her solemnly if she’d really turn her back on all she was to trade one man’s life for another’s. Oh, but that cut deeper still. And then, the beguiling murmur that perhaps Loch wasn’t really dead either. That way lay madness, but it beckoned sweetly to her to come slithering down its slippery precipice. In this time, Ravenclaw had finished his report and Hanasian had asked a question. Her eyes flew open and she found he was staring pointedly at Mecarnil and, worse still, Mecarnil looked ready to talk. The expression on Rocks’ face was sheer panic. They’d tear him to pieces if Mecarnil reported now. This was not the arrangement they had made, she and him. She had to intervene before it all slipped between her fingers.

”It is not a Company matter,” Rin said loudly and far sharper than she intended to.

Farbarad, at Rocks’ shoulder, lifted both brows in open surprise and Mecarnil choked on his own tongue. Those assembled murmured to each other and a number of the core Company members began to appear gravely concerned indeed. It was going from bad to worse!

”It isn’t,” she hissed at Mecarnil, ”And well you know it! I will not see the entire Company dragged into this mess. Cardolan’s ambitions have stolen enough lives. You insist I accept my rank and position so here I am. Mecarnil, as your queen and a Crown Princess of the court of the Reunited Realm, this is not a Black Company matter. Gainsay me at your peril, Ranger.”

Though this was said all very quietly, everyone had observed them. From her position behind Mecarnil it was clear his spine had stiffened. Anger, dismay, disapproval? Her heart thudded in her ears. Time dragged before Mecarnil finally broke his silence.

”Princess Erían", he said with particular emphasis on that wretched name, ”Is correct.”

Rin felt the urge to grab Mecarnil’s ears and tug them in the opposite direction. Hanasian’s gaze flickered back and forth from Mecarnil’s face to his wife’s furious one. A Cardolan matter, then, he swiftly deduced and calmly nodded his thanks to Mecarnil for saying as much so neatly.

”Very well, then. We will reconvene once the King has arrived. Until then we will maintain our current position. Ravenclaw, your report by this time tomorrow. Company dismissed.”

As people peeled away, Rin swept around to confront Mecarnil with eyes that glittered with her anger.

”I suppose you consider yourself particularly clever now,” she snapped at him and he rolled his shoulders belligerently.

”I believe I have already made my position on this matter clear. You have no way of comprehending the perils associated with this notion of yours,” he replied as Farbarad pushed Rocks towards where they stood.

”What better teacher than bitter, cruel experience? The ambitions of these men have taken everything from me. I have lived my life under their shadow whether I knew it or not. Do not patronise me, Mecarnil!”

Mecarnil’s stony expression wavered at her answer. It was entirely unexpected. He glanced to Farbarad, who actually looked chastened, and then dropped his eyes a moment.

”My apologies,” he murmured, meeting her icy eyes a moment later.

Hanasian watched this exchange with no small amount of interest as he waited for the others to depart. Some, the old crew, lingered until he dispatched them with a clear signal to be gone.

”One of you, I presume, will tell me what is going on,” Hanasian said once they were on their own, looking in turn at each of them.

Rocks’ mouth compressed into a thin line. Mecarnil resumed staring holes through Rocks. Farbarad re-evaluated Rin with new eyes. Rin approached Hanasian and extracted a piece of folded paper from beneath her jacket. The pair stood off to one side, heads together. Hanasian flinched as he read the opening line and glanced at his wife. Her eyes also lingered on the words Loch had set there and he could see the pain within their depths.

”Where did you get this?” he murmured to her.

“Loch left it in Wulgof’s keeping. He gave it to me just before midday. The second half, love, is the heart of it,” she replied and redirected his attention back to the letter.

When Hanasian came to the end of it a second time, he found himself confronted with the urge to take Rocks’ throat out then and there. Rin’s hand tightened over his forearm. Mecarnil watched them discuss the matter. Back and forth it went between them for a span of heartbeats and then Hanasian drew a deep breath and nodded tersely before they swung back to face the others.

”Secure Rocks and make arrangements to meet with us at dusk in our tent. Bring Videgavia, Folca, Frea and Berlas with you,” Hanasian ordered and after a moment’s delay the two Rangers complied.

Hanasian and Rin spoke quietly with each other as they returned to camp. The pair disappeared into their tent and were not seen until Mecarnil and Farbarad arrived with the others as instructed at dusk. Husband and wife were waiting for them. Once all were settled in Hanasian laid out the matter.

”We have within the Company a man who has been approached by one of Cardolan’s rebels to perform a task.”

Videgavia asked sharply. His dark eyes glittered with sudden danger.

”Rocks,” Folca replied swiftly, ”Saw Mec and Farbarad bring him up after the meeting.”

“Is it him?”
Videgavia inquired and Rin nodded her head.

”It is…and I would say at this point that he has not done as asked by these rebels despite at least one opportunity to do so. He is the sole advantage we have over these men and I mean to exploit it to the fullest extent.”

“Fine…I hear what you’re saying. Don’t slit his throat, yet,”
Frea grumbled.

”Just what was he asked to do? Assassination?” Berlas queried, head cocked to one side.

”No…his part, as far as he admits, was to deliver Rin to others who would make themselves known to him at Lake-Town by mid winter. That is all we have,” Hanasian answered.

”How certain of this are you?” Folca inquired and Hanasian looked to his wife.

”Runner’s squad noticed something amiss back at that city and reported it to Loch. Truth be told, so did I, but events overtook us before I could pursue it further and in any case it was a minor thing.

“Loch mentioned his concerns to me before he set off that last time,”
Rin paused and her eyes fell as she mastered a welter of emotion that was entirely unwelcome at that juncture, ”But he was vague. Apparently, he set down the details he had yet to substantiate in writing and left it with Wulgof in the event of anything…untoward. I received that letter today, just before midday.”

Rin’s jaw bunched as she recalled that final conversation with her brother. They had nearly argued outright. She’d found his suspicions outlandish and unfair and she had told him exactly that. She remembered the queer look he gave her. His mouth had been open to argue and then he had changed his mind and directed their conversation onto safer footing. She knew now why. He knew he had written it all down and he trusted to Wulgof. He had not wanted their last exchange to be one fraught with conflict. She would take it all back now if she could. So many things she would do differently. As her thoughts circled, the discussion in the tent surged on.

”So I take it that you intend to use this information to flush the rest of them out into the open and deal with them once and for all,” Videgavia said and Hanasian nodded assent.

”You’ll need more than Mec and Farbarad for that,” Videgavia stated.

”This is not a Company matter, Vid, and in any case we cannot risk a large group. If they see us coming it will tip their hand and any advantage we have will be lost,” Hanasian replied.

”May not be a Company matter but it is a family one. We’re in,” Frea said and Folca nodded emphatically at their cousin.

”And I…because Loch isn’t here to see this one through,” Berlas said simply and Rin found her thrust into a humble realisation that she had not yet considered.

”If you set out within the next month, you could be in position comfortably at Lake-Town before mid winter,” Videgavia said and Hanasian nodded.

”This will be discussed with the King, Vid. Until then, we need Rocks under constant watch. This needs to stay tight, so others won’t fetch any ideas into their heads. Nothing is official until Rin and I have spoken with the King, but it would be wise to commence preparations for a journey to Lake-Town with our small group,” Hanasian stated and it was done.

On the discussion went, plans set down and arrangements made. Rin found it difficult to keep track of it all. Within the hour things were in order and the tent went from crowded to comparatively empty. Hanasian dropped some wood into the brazier and stirred the coals. He studied Rin carefully as he did so. She seem distracted and withdrawn.

”You’re quiet,” he observed softly and set down the poker to sit beside her, ”Have you doubts?”

A wry smile flittered across her face at his question and she emerged from her thoughts and met his eyes.

”Only a few thousand, just like you,” she answered and Hanasian smiled as she continued, ”But I do not doubt this is the right course to take. It has to end, beloved. We cannot live our lives forever under the shadow of their treachery, nor can Aragorn’s realm.”

Hanasian gathered her close to him and held for a moment. He stroked her hair and felt her heart beat against his chest.

”Come, lay your troubles aside for just a while and rest here with your husband.”

she sighed.

It was late and little moved within the camp. He had waited for precisely this moment. The Company was a living creature to him. He knew its moods, its heartbeat and breathing like his own. He slipped into the supply tent where Rocks was being held with a clear purpose in mind. The man had been restrained, bound to the wrist thick sturdy centre pole. Rocks did not sleep easily and this was no surprise. He padded towards where the man had curled around the pole and slowly drew out a long knife. He crouched and pressed the chill metal against the man’s jugular. Rocks grunted as his eyes flew open and his body tensed. His mouth nearly brushed the man’s ear as he bent and whispered.

”Have you wondered why we are called the Black? Betray her and you will learn. We will come for you. Have you heard what the Easterlings, Dunlendings and Southrons do to traitors?”

Despite the honed edge pressed over his throat, Rocks swallowed and blood started to well in a thin line across his neck, as the man elucidated further. Satisfied, he withdrew his dagger and padded out of the tent again. Outside he nodded at Khule and Molguv and signalled his thanks to Berlas who had agreed to watch Rocks through the night.

Berlas resumed his position with a grimly satisified smile as he watched the Dirty Three stride into the night. If anyone could terrify, it was Wulgof in a very bad mood. Dunlendings…scratch the surface and they were howling savages. Wulgof, at least, was their own.
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A Fork in the Road

Postby elora » Sun Aug 26, 2012 3:50 pm

The trio of the old Company had let Rocks know in no uncertain terms. Some things are just dealt with. The Company seemed to do that on those occasions that it is needed. Hanasian didn’t want to know about it, but Hanasian had also felt his leadership and his ability to lead this fast-changing and wide-ranging legion of men had come into question. His marriage to the queen of Cardolan and his need to exercise his duty as Company commander was a hard thing to balance. Rosmarin’s presence added further difficulty no husband easily dealt with. Hanasian did not know of any man who would ever be comfortable with the dangers his wife faced in the course of her duties. Rosmarin did not withhold herself either, did not expect to be sheltered or protected. She seemed to throw herself into what could only be described as harm’s way in her service to his Company. She was not just another soldier, not to him and not to the two Rangers sworn anew to Cardolan. They were circumspect about their concerns but he knew they ill-liked the situation and he could not blame them. They had sworn to protect a woman in an impossible situation and they would answer to censure from the highest levels if they failed. She did not make it any easier. In his heart and mind, Hanasian knew what he had to do for himself, for Rin, and for the Company.

He awoke from the uneasy sleep he had found himself in. Rin slept soundly beside him, her breathing coming in long deep breaths. Where her thoughts and dreams lay this night Hanasian had no idea, but he was relieved to see she rested. He played with the locks of her hair that had fallen across her cheek, and after winding them around his fingers for a while he set them back into place again. She was beautiful and the love of his life. If that compromised his decisions in any way, it was because he could not help it. But should that compromise cost just one life or many of his Company, he could not live with that. No, the Company needed someone who could lead without burden. Still, the Company was his, and this day dawning was the day they expected King Aragorn to arrive.

Hanasian let Rin sleep, as he readied himself. Before going out to see to call the Company to arms, he woke Rin.

”Wake up my love and ready yourself. The Company is being called to arms. Parade grounds in an hour.”

He gave her a kiss and left the tent. With the first of the Runners, an honorary title given to the remaining men of the messenger and scouting squad that Runner had gathered, Hanasian sent word to all the commanders in the area. It was made clear that everyone should wear their best. Within the hour, Hanasian and the Company stood ready. Rin was dressed in her battle leathers, the only uniform presentable enough left to her, at his side as Aragorn and Eomer made their final approach. It was a welcome any field Company would have been proud to give.

With the battles in the north done, Aragorn sought to reconcile Rhun under it’s own rule. He wished to avoid the need to leave an occupying force, but the only way this could be done effectively was if all the clans come together. This appeared to have occurred rather easily, for the word of otherworlders landing on the eastern shore of the great Eastern Sea had spread and made the Easterlings tense. Only the most stubborn would not see an advantage with an alliance with Gondor. The leaders of the clans answered the call to join the Kings of Gondor and Rohan in the east, in the town of Skhar where the Black Company was positioned. They travelled the road east swiftly for the winter was nigh. Aragorn wanted to see for himself the origin of the disturbance and would not be swayed to delay the trek until spring. The weather was chill and wet, with a steady drizzle falling nearly all the way. So it was until they descended from the highlands toward the city. The skies remained was grey and threatening, but it was dry.

The Company had prepared tents for some of the men, and space for the tents of the kings and their men were readied in the fields near the town. Aragorn approached slowly and studied the sea and its horizon. The obscuring of his vision east came to an end with the great shift of the ground. He was surprised to find things so well in order here, but he knew why that was. He had the Company to thank for that. They had handled matters as they encountered them and had even turned Khor aside. He and Eomer dismounted before Hanasian and Rin, the Company standard snapping in the breeze, black and silver against a grey sky. Both men bowed formally before Hanasian greeted them.

”It is good you have come m’Lords. There is much to discuss and settle, and I believe we have much to reveal to the other.”

Aragorn nodded as he embraced Hanasian, said, ”Much changed since we saw each other just a few short months ago. A new threat had come unlooked for, and unseen, yet not un-felt. I will be very much interested in knowing of that, and how you dealt with it.”

Hanasian sighed, ”I think it would be wise if you and I met privately before we all gather.”

“There will be time. It will be at least two days before the clan chiefs I have summonsed arrive,”
Aragorn said, ”I will need to talk with your man Khule, and also Khor, for I understand he is here?”

“He is.”
Hanasian replied as he scratched his cheek, ”I have found him quite amicable and have given him some autonomy in administering his territory here."

Aragorn frowned in thought, then asked, ”Do you think that was wise? He was likely active in planning rebellion.”

“There is more to it than that…”
Hanasian answered, “There is much to discuss, and now is as good a time as any, for it will be some time before your tent is raised. Come, let us walk.”

The two walked slowly about, with the King’s Guardsmen not far behind, and was Rin left to deal with the king of Rohan and no immediate option of escape. Hanasian explained that Khor had quite a number of men under his command with able commanders. Even with the Company expanded by the Gondor recruitment and Khule’s Easterling intake, their losses in battle had their number around one hundred. It would have been unfeasible to challenge Khor in battle without known reserves. He spoke also of the mariners from across the sea who had taken over this city due to its usable port, and though Khor accepted them at first, he did not like their demeanor. It was apparent now that they were beset with their own political differences. While Dhak wished to pursue an alliance, others appeared to want subjugation. Talk about Dhak and the mariners led Hanasian to explain the events as he knew them, and that Loch and Runner remain missing after the collapse of the palace. Aragorn was sure there was no direct intervention by the Valar, but it seemed the events progressed faster and in a way that none had anticipated. Hanasian took Aragorn to meet with Dhak, and to see the girl they had saved from the palace ruin. Afterward, they both walked to the ruins of where the Order had died, and then to the quay to see the two ships.

Aragorn stared long at the ship, ”The art of Numenor is in those timbers yet they are foreign. It will be well to know from where they came, but it is well beyond my reach to go there. Would it be within the Company’s grasp to find out?”

Hanasian answered solemnly, ”It may well be in the Company’s grasp, but it is not in mine. To ask us to leave these lands may be a tall order for many. Yet there may be some who would answer such a call. I know Loch, our lost apprentice standardbearer would sign on if he were here. He was in a natural element when he was aboard ship sailing south. I think a hardy crew of seafarers will be required to man these ships and we have few such amongst us.”

He paused and looked about and they started to walk back before he continued, ”I intend to resign my commission in the Company.”

Aragorn didn’t seem surprised by Hanasian’s statement, ”It’s a hard thing to do, to have your wife with you in harm’s way. In truth I expected this day to come when you returned from Ithilien last.”

Hanasian said, ”Well, it isn’t just that, though that has dominated my thoughts. There are still desperate people who wish to kill Rin, and there are severe dangers in being a healer on the front lines. Sometimes in her independent thought, she is reckless. I find myself second-guessing decisions I know to be right, for the fear of harm that might come to her. But it is not only that. The veterans amongst us are aged, and even I feel the years. The younger recruits have a fire and a will of adventure, but they lack the battle experience. Those who survive their first and second battles usually will do well enough, but I don’t feel I could lead them.”

Aragorn nodded as they walked, aware of what Hanasian wasn’t saying. He could not watch the next generation die around him in this Company. The king’s thoughts ran deep for a while before he spoke again.

”What is the state of your Company? Who would you have succeed you as Captain?”

Hanasian was silent for a few steps as he formed his response, ”Well, Videgavia would do it and do well, but he is not much younger than the veterans. The twins from Rohan, Wulgof, Mulgov, all are aged and some would not do well with leadership. Khule could do it, as could Mecarnil, but he will resign to stay close to Rin, as will Farbarad. I think the best and steadiest of the younger men would be Berlas. Give Vid the captaincy and make Berlas his second. That would be my choice.”

Aragorn agreed, ”I could see that. But I will have to ponder the future with all that I have heard here. I see my tent is set. I think I will retire for a few hours and rest and think.”

“As will I.”
Hanasian said and they clasped hands as they had of old, allies, friends, men of the North.

Aragorn said in parting, ”These are interesting times, for the last of the old warlords have gone and peace may be at hand. Much will change before this week is passed.”

Hanasian nodded, ”We will speak further this evening over dinner. The Company will gather, as will the Easterling commanders. There is much to be done.”

With that they parted. Hanasian walked back to his tent and found Rin sheltering inside. He silently took her into his arms and kissed her.
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Postby elora » Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:11 pm

The day had been an eventful one. She had known that Hanasian would resign but she had not expected it to be now. Though it made sense, it still caught her by surprise. So too had the fact that she had been left to entertain the King of Rohan. Eomer made her distinctly uncomfortable and the reason for that reminded her painfully of Loch. Now evening approached and there was to be a dinner. It was some kind of formal event, with nobles and officers and the sort. Really, she would rather just remain in the tent, where Hanasian had found her hiding from Eomer upon his return from his meeting with Aragorn.

”Is Aragorn upset?” she asked warily as Hanasian moved about the tent in preparations.

He shook his head, picked up one of his boots and began polishing it.

”No. Why would you think that?”

“Well…isn’t it my fault?”

Hanasian's head lifted and he considered her where she sat, cross legged on their camp bed. A number of possible responses ran through his head.

”Captains do not remain Captains their whole lives, if they are fortunate enough to live them out. There is no one to blame. Change in command is inevitable, indeed a healthy thing.”

Rin nodded but appeared unconvinced all the same. She dropped her eyes away and considered the dagger hilt beside her. She spun Loch’s hilt less and less with each passing day, he had noted. Rin was fighting against grief and despair and was slowly winning ground, but she was still not wholly herself.

”Out with it,” Hanasian prompted and her eyes lifted to his, mouth already open to protest her innocence.

She reconsidered when he cocked a brow at her and sighed, ”None of this would be happening if I hadn’t signed on…if our paths hadn’t crossed. You wouldn’t have these concerns to worry about. You’d still be Captain…and now Aragorn has lost one of his most experienced commanders in the field.”

Hanasian was still a moment and then, with deliberate care, set down boot and the rag he was using to polish it with.

”Did you just ask me if I wished we had never met?” he inquired, voice deceptively mild.

Rin flushed under his scrutiny but her resolve firmed and she challenged back, ”You’re being evasive and that means you know I am right. I’m onto something!”

“A fast horse to madness, woman, and that is no mistake. I thought we agreed on this. Do you expect me to believe that this,”
his hand swept the interior of the tent, ”Is what you want for the rest of your days? If so, you certainly have an odd way of telling a man. Most career soldiers base their accomplishments on following orders.”

“I do follow them, mostly, and you want people to think for themselves! And I am most certainly NOT a soldier!”

Hanasian teased and he saw the foundations of a genuine smile there in her face for the moment.

He picked up his boot and rag and resumed polishing, ”I know what you’re up to in any case and the answer is no.”

“No to what, precisely?”

“No, you cannot hide the night away in this tent.”

“I’ll find another tent.”

“I’ll pull them all down. You’re going. That is an end to it.”

“I have work to do,”
Rin grumbled and pushed out of the tent.

Hanasian shook his head. He distinctly remembered standing her down from her duties. So much for mostly following orders. Or was this her version of thinking for herself?

”And I have nothing to wear,” she called from outside and that, he realised, was true.

Hanasian was nothing if not a resourceful man and Rin was prepared to admit that she liked what he had sourced through Donius, only not outwardly because she was still nonplussed about the dinner. Hanasian could tell, however, from the way she studied the clothing she wore. She played with the tunic that skimmed narrowly down to mid calf. It was local garb and so was slit to her hips in the manner of women’s clothing here. The hues were that of the coast, muted blues and greys that suited her fair colouring well.

Muted grey pants were so full underneath as to appear as a skirt. A creamy long sleeved shirt under the tunic. The fabric was warm, soft finely milled wool and heavy cotton that had a faint sheen to it. There were no draped, billowing sleeves or skirts, velvets or silks. There was no stitching or stones. As much as he enjoyed her in such things, this had an exotic and unmistakeably feminine appeal that he also enjoyed. While Hanasian’s thoughts wandered down enticing paths, Rin bent and reached for her sword belt and Hanasian shook himself back to their tent.

”Put that down.”


“I mean it. Donius has gone to considerable effort.”

“But isn’t-“

“This is more than simply finding you something presentable aware, a common enough occurrence for I have never met a woman as hard on her clothing as you. This is about the local commanders meeting with Aragorn and Eomer.”

she retorted sceptically and shook the sword belt she had yet to release in his general direction, buckles jingling, ”Because this does not look like a meeting or an Easterling. And, by the by, I was not in the least responsible for what became of my last tunic, if you care to remember.”

Hanasian remembered well indeed, had been remembering all afternoon as he had polished his boots with rags made from its remnants. But, her ploy to distract him, while artful, was not going to work. Vixen.

“How many local women have you seen sporting weapons, even simple belt knives here? Not only that, what have you to defend yourself from? Or is that those also attending cannot be trusted to protect you? That is how such things are viewed here, my love.”

Rin sighed in defeat and dropped the belt onto their bed, ”Fine…Anyway it would look odd with these impractical slippers. I can’t even run in them for fear they will come right off.”

Hanasian murmured as he straightened his formal uniform, "Is general idea.”

Despite Hanasian’s assurances and the fact that he cut a truly delightful figure in his uniform, Rin was not convinced that the evening would go well. Aragorn’s warm greeting only served to deepen her unease. Eomer was there again, and just as determined to strike up some sort of cordial rapport as he had been the other two times their paths had crossed. They took their seats at the table reserved for nobles and officers and the conversation was polite around her.

”Hanasian reports that your men have acquitted themselves well, Commander Khor. Indeed, he credits the general state here in no small part to you,” Aragorn said as he smoothly plied the currents that ran under the surface.

Khor glanced with some surprise at Hanasian and then his sardonic smile emerged, ”Only fitting, really, that we assist to remedy the mess made here.”

“Do any of this Order remain still at large?”
Eomer asked.

”No. Only two survived the initial earthquake and our subsequent engagements. One appears to be an officer. Both are under guard.”

“Neither will capitulate,”
Dhak added to Khor’s account.

”And yet you did,” Aragorn pressed and Rin shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

She stared at the food before her. Loch would be scandalised by her lack of appetite. ‘Insects, Rin. We’ve been so hungry we ate insects once and that, right there, is lamb…or least, I think it is.’ She prodded at it with her fork but couldn’t muster herself to eat it. She knew that it had been a mistake to take that oath from Dhak. She’d not only made a mess of things for Hanasian, she had started on Aragorn’s court. Rin sighed, because this was entirely the point she had made to Mecarnil at the outset. She was not qualified for this sort of thing. She knew not a thing about it. She was a damn good thief, an even better healer. Give her a terrible disease, a broken body to mend, or somewhere to get in or out of that she wasn’t supposed to. The rest belonged with others who knew their business.

Dhak meanwhile smiled gallantly at the only woman at the table, ”Surely it is no surprise.”

Aragorn inclined his head and Hanasian squeezed Rin’s hand under the table.

”Indeed not. In this it was fortuitous that someone of sufficient rank, and charm, was present with the Black,” Aragorn stated and glanced at his cousin. ”It was astutely done. The oath will be honoured.”

”Is it common practice now for the West to embed highly ranked nobles in such Companies?”
Khor inquired.

”Absolutely not,” Aragorn said and Eomer agreed.

”I understand there has been some debate over it in Minas Tirith,” Eomer continued.

“It’s none of their business! What I do, where I go, how I occupy my time is solely my concern!” Rin stated and Aragorn held up a hand to placate her.

”M’lady,” he began and she expelled a sharp gust of distaste that made Khor’s, Dhak’s and Eomer’s mouths twitch with amusement, ”They are naturally concerned for the safety of any heir, no matter how distant, to the high throne. Especially one that has been missing for so very long and discovered in such spectacular circumstances. There is nothing for you to be concerned with. The matter is well and truly in hand.”

“Oh…come now Aragorn. You cannot suggest that your court does not want her precisely where they can keep an watchful eye on her?”
Eomer added mischievously.

”I think, in this instance, I will be generous and permit the Lady Rosmarin to first grace your court, Eomer,” Aragorn said dryly and Eomer’s laughter boomed out through the gathered men and women.

”Done! Now you shall have to come visit, by merit of Royal Decree,” Eomer said victoriously and twisted to where Gram stood quietly listening, ”And we shall truly see if this maid with hair as gold as Meduseld’s eaves cannot manage our rowdy marshals.”

“When next I seek my sister, we shall be sure to take up your invitation, m’lord,”
Hanasian said firmly before Rin could dig herself any deeper.

“How wonderful,” Rin muttered, stabbed at the lamb on her plate and felt a pang at how much she missed the grin that Loch would have plastered all over his face right now.

Once the evening meal was done, Aragorn moved to discuss more broadly the many matters that had drawn him here. He spoke of the need for Rhun to know peace and stability and his hopes that it could be delivered by a hand other than his own and without a sword. He praised the bravery, skill and accomplishments of the Black Company and Khor’s men in resecuring this port. He welcomed Dhak and his adherents and spoke of his hopes for renewing the bond between peoples long sundered. He spoke of the danger posed by the Order to the freedom of all. Hanasian knew the king was sowing seeds.

”How would you deal with those who seek to throw us under their yoke?” asked a voice from the crowd, and Hanasian thought he recognised Wulgof’s voice.

”Deny them…but I would not sit here and merely wait. If they can come to land here, then it is not beyond them to put a hostile naval fleet off the coast of Gondor itself. They have proven able to defeat even the palantir.”

There was murmuring amongst those listening until a voice spoke out, ”It’s obvious what we have to do.”

”The Company has reached a fork in its road and the paths it might follow are many. They cannot be decided now. Before you can do that, you must know who would lead you.”

“That we already know, Sire, and a fine job he has been doing of it too! Hanasian will lead us,”
called out a voice towards the back but the more experienced men were not in the least certain.

It was an open secret amongst the inner core of the Company that Hanasian had other concerns that would surely take precedence over the Black. In any case, he had a life to shape with his wife and one that he surely deserved begin before the years slipped further away from him. They were aware of just how much their Captain had given of himself, first in the war as a younger Ranger and thereafter in the formation and leadership of the Black. The older hands, those who knew this and who just how dearly he loved his wife, were not in the least surprised at what followed.

”Brothers and sisters of the Black, and those who have fought by our sides, the time has come for me to step aside and to let this Company continue to flourish beyond my limitations.”

Molguv and Bear called for quiet amongst the more recent recruits and Foldine asked the necessary to reach what appeared to him to be a mostly forgone conclusion.

”Who will lead us?”

“Hanasian has endorsed and I have approved Videgavia for the captaincy,”
Aragorn replied and Videgavia nodded at the reaction because that surprised not even the newcomers.

”And, to assure the secession of strong leadership within a Company that is essential to the stability and interests of the Reunited Realms, Berlas of Ithilien has been promoted to second in command.”

Not everyone was surprised, but Berlas certainly was. Videgavia found it hard not to laugh outright at the expression on the other man’s face.

”Let us all pause, and consider all that Captain Hanasian has achieved for the Black, for the realm, for each of us here. It is for good reason his name stands large amongst the many worthy men who have served us.”

There was silence, and then a rousing cheer of approval and gratitude as a toast was made. Another followed it for Videgavia, and then for a bewildered Berlas and then for Khor’s men and then for Dhak’s men and, last of all, for all those that had fallen along the way.

When the tankards were lowered, Aragorn turned to where Rin quietly sat by Hanasian’s side. Her hands were wrapped around her tankard and her expression was sorrowful no matter how she attempted to hide it. Aragorn knew that that fires most siblings never faced had forged the bond between Rin and Loch. Hanasian himself reported that she had witnessed his violent, untimely death. It was not the first time she had been confronted with such catastrophes and she endured with the steely determination that must surely be thickly woven through the cloth of her spirit.

”I was grieved to learn of Lochared’s untimely death. From all reports, he served with unstinting loyalty and valour the Black, Cardolan and the Reunited Realm. I am sorry I did not know more of him.”

All Rin could manage to do was nod and Aragorn pressed on, ”One of the many customs our respective peoples shared was the recognition of those who served with particular distinction.”

“The Companion of the Rose,”
Rin said quietly, glancing up and surprised Aragorn.

”Yes, as it was in Cardolan. In Arnor it was Companion of the Seven Stars. It seems to me that your brother surely merits such recognition.”

Hanasian replied and watched Mecarnil and Farbarad nod emphatically.

”With your consent, I would confer both titles upon Lochared. While it cannot restore him to you, it would ensure his contributions are duly recognised,” Aragorn said.

Hanasian squeezed the hand he still held and Rin was unable to speak. Her eyes were bright with bittersweet gratitude that was palpable to those who watched. The night passed swiftly as did the day that followed. One by one, clan chiefs arrived until all had gathered. In that time, Aragorn met individually with Hanasian and the others. By the time he had spoken with the Company’s outgoing and incoming captains, Khor, Dhak and Khule, his idea was formed.

The next day he and Eomer would meet with the clan chiefs. That night, they sat in his tent and shared a far simpler and quieter meal. He had pulled in Videgavia, Hanasian, Mecarnil, Farbarad and his cousin to join him. The meal passed simply and Aragorn had watched how Rin picked at her food. It seemed odd to him that a woman who ate so little did not look gaunt. She was back in her leathers and keeping her own counsel. At a guess, and he knew healers well enough, she was preoccupied with her work. The others had tamped their pipes and were enjoying them.

”Are you not hungry?” Aragorn pressed her, leaning forward and she shrugged one shoulder.

”She should be. She’s barely kept anything down all day,” Farbarad said from around his pipe and she sent him a scowl because he was supposed to simply do his job and not spy on her.

”I’m not hungry. Clap me in irons and toss me in jail!”she muttered caustically.

”Very tempting, is it not Hanasian?” Videgavia said mildly and Rin sighed at the unjustice of it all. Men always stuck together.

Aragorn leaned back in his chair and diverted matters away from Rin before she did something reckless, as Hanasian might put it. She shot him a relieved glance when next he spoke

”Hanasian, Videgavia…I desire your opinion on something, your free opinion,” Aragorn said.

”Of course,” Hanasian answered.

”I have spoken to Khor and his brother. The clan chiefs that assemble tomorrow expect me to announce an occupying force will remain to assure Rhun’s stability. I would rather the formation of Rhun’s first Free Company, comprised primarily of Easterlings.”

“And Khor to lead it?”
Hanasian swiftly guessed and Aragorn inclined his head.

“A Free Company is risky…it could be suborned, won over by partisan interests,” Videgavia answered.

”I would require an oath that it never take up arms or rebellion against the Reunited Realm.”

“Then are they a Free Company at all?”
Hanasian asked.

”They are free to act as they see best, provided they comply with the laws of the land and do not engage in rebellion. I know it is dangerous, and that is why I hope to second Khule across to assure its…neutrality towards the West.”

“How did Khor put it last night…Rhun cleaning up its own mess? It is a gamble but it could work,”
Hanasian said and Videgavia nodded reluctantly.

”It would give those who do not want to take ship somewhere to go…no dissolute warriors wandering about with nothing better to do,” Videgavia said.

And so the matter was set. All that remained now was to have the clan chiefs agree to it, and after that split the Black Company and then this matter of the conspiracy in Esgaroth. Aragorn wanted to question the agent himself because it was a perilous venture that his cousin proposed. Perilous and possibly reckless. She was not nearly as careful with herself that anyone would like and of course, the same could be said of him, Aragorn mused. But that, naturally, was entirely different.
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Postby elora » Sun Sep 02, 2012 8:00 pm

The incessant rain did nothing to dampen the talks amongst the clan leaders of Rhun and the High Kings of the West. The days stretched into weeks and the chill kept the fires burning throughout the camp. Yhe political aspects for the most part left Hanasian to his own devices for Rosmarin would at times choose to go and sit with Kings Aragorn and Eomer during the talks. Hanasian had other concerns. Splitting the Vompany was proving a bit harder to manage than first thought. As a whole, it was full of factions based on origin and when they were recruited. The old crew was just that, old, and Hanasian’s announcement that he was retiring set many things in motion.

Wulgof who found kegs of black local ale in a cellar of a building reduced to rubble by an aftershock. Mulgov, Donius and Daius, Morcal, Videgavia, Belegost, Folca and Frea, Bear, Foldine, and Berlas all set up their bivouac there. Sometimes Khule, Mecarnil, and Farbarad joined them. Each night they gathered and drank some of the ale in any sort of utensil that would work as a makeshift cup. Th discussion always turned to their collective futures.

The night was particularly cold. Rain that was really drops of melting snow felt like small knives when they hit exposed skin. The makeshift shelter the old crew had built over the cellar was particularly crowded. Everyone was there except for Hanasian and Rosmarin. Dhorgat had been accepted and was the “Kid” now, after Loch, in Wulgof and Mulgov’s eyes. Like the before, the talk moved to what they were thinking of doing in light of the Captain’s retirement and the future new Company.

Wulgof stated in a fairly loud voice, ”Well, it is good the Cap can quit and go off and make a home with Rin. He has that option. Me? I have nothing back in Dunland, so I will be staying with the Company, whatever that means.”

“Me too,” agreed Mulgov and a tin cup clashed with a flat pan, splashing ale around and they
downed their ale.

Folca said, ”Well, I’m getting too old for this soldiering. As much as I hate the smell of horse dung, I’m thinking Westfold would be good to see again.”

His brother Frea didn’t say anything but nodded in agreement as he rubbed his shoulder and moved it around to work out the stiffness the damp cold had caused.

Videgavia then said, ”Well, I’m committed to the Company no matter. And if a blade or arrow or a bolt of lightning doesn’t take me down, I’ll be here. From what I hear, things are going to change quite a bit. But that is only rumor.”

“And I will be a part of it as well,"
Berlas said, stood and lifted his clay pot of ale.

Belegost agreed with a hearty assent and lifted his proper mug. It looked quite out of sorts. The brothers Donius and Daius also concurred.

Bear shook his head and said, ”I haven’t been right since Tharbad. As much as I love this, I don’t have the fire, or even the strength to push onward unless the captain asked me to. I think I will take the option to go home if it is offered.”

Mecarnil said, ”I will go with Rosmarin.

Farbarad stood and said, ”As will I!”

There was silence after everyone took a drink and all eyes turned to Khule. The man had been very quiet. He looked up and realized they all were waiting for him. He just shrugged and went back to looking at the floor.

Dhorgat saw the opportunity and said, ”I will go with Company, I Company man! And the Runners will all go too.”

He too looked at Khule and finally the man stood and spoke, unable to ignore his painfully young eyes.

”You all don’t get it do you’? This is it. Here in Rhun, the Company ends. The man who started it is giving it up. And the rest of us are going this way or that way. But there is more to it. We have here two fair armies of Easterlings, one of which is Company and seems to grow with new recruits from the rebellion campaign each day, a fair if small company of Gondorian recruits we picked up before heading here, and us old crew. Now I’m Company all the way, but I am being asked to make other considerations.”

A voice in the dark said, ”And it will be good to know what it is you all are considering.”

Heads turned to the opening that was covered by canvass to help keep the heat of the fire in and the cold wind and freezing rain out. Hanasian pushed it aside and stepped in.

Vid jumped up and asked, ”How long have you been out there?”

”Long enough to know what most of you are thinking about doing. If you drunks would have thought of posting a guard, I wouldn’t have been able to gather such information from your banter.”

They all looked at each other and eventually their eyes swung to Morcal. He had stepped in to warm himself by the fire for a few minutes when the discussion and drinks had started. He had been pondering his future when Hanasian first spoke.

”Sorry sir, I had been out there for some time, and needed to warm up.”

Hanasian nodded and said, “I see that, being you’re the only one wet from the rain in here. Dhorgat, you relieve him. Give us warning if anyone approaches.”

Dhorgat’s chest puffed with pride and he smiled. He wasted no time grabbing his cloak and sword, demonstrating the same tolerance for unpleasant duties most avoided where possible that his namesake, the original “Kid” had. It was a good choice for now Hanasian had all of the old crew there. It was time to tell them about the future of their Company.

He said, ”You might want to give me some of that ale.”

A wooden bowl was found and some ale was poured and passed to Hanasian. He took a good drink and then set it down as he started to speak.

”After much talk, several things had been agreed upon tonight. Mainly, the future of Rhun and the future of the Black Company. First, Rhun will be a free state with an alliance with Gondor.

“The chiefs are weary of war and fighting, and too many sons have been lost. They hope peace will prevail, but will have an army on call if Gondor calls for aid. Likewise, Gondor will come to the aid if Rhun should outside influences or outright invasion should come from over the sea.

“In this Rohan abstained, but agreed to support Gondor in the east should the need be required. This army will be Khor’s army, but Khor will not command it. His second, Khirue will command. Khor has chosen to take a core of his men and will be readying for a voyage.

“Now, about the Company. By order of King Aragorn, the charter has been withdrawn and the Company is disbanded.”

A commotion of murmurs and rumblings and gasps was be heard, but Hanasian quietened them again.

Hanasian went on, ”Now… listen up … all this means is we are no longer bound by the restrictions placed on us by it. Since change was coming to it anyway, it was best to make other changes now as well.

“Anyone who wishes to go back to whatever lives you may have had or want to make will be paid out. You’ll return west with Rin, myself and the Kings.

“For those of you who remain, you will be paid to conduct a mission on behalf of the King of Gondor and the new Legate of Rhun. You will be a Free Company that will abide by the traditions and rules made by the Black Company and, in effect, an extension of the Black. But you will be a Free Company. With the task that is set before you, this is a good thing.”

Hanasian drained the ale he had, and went on, ”Those of you who wish to go west will put yourself forward tomorrow. Those of you who wish to remain here will venture forth as the Free Company of the West, for where you are going, it will be well east of here.”

Hanasian spoke impassively. He was both reluctant to miss the adventure they would encounter, yet relieved he would not be a part of it. The men grumbled and whispered to each other as to what this all meant. Hanasian spoke again when their questions seemed to be forthcoming.

”And it gets better. Dhak and his remaining few will also join, as will Anvikela, the girl pulled from the ruins and healed by Rin. All I can say about your next mission is you will be seeking her homeland.

“What that entails is a mystery to me and everyone else. Yet you know what we have encountered here. All I can say is that it is best to be on the utmost alert, for the unknown will be daunting and from what we know, full of peril.”

The men were subdued. With the rest of the night and the keg of ale, each would make their final decision.

Up in the hills above the town, the Gondorian component of the Company was set on watch for the night. There, the rain was a bit more frozen but it wasn’t quite snowing. It did manage to soak everything within its icy grip. Huddled around a struggling fire stood Flint, Two Bells, Things, and Sticks. Flint was a master with fire,and did all he could to keep this small one burning. The hissing of the wet wood and falling slush seemed to make as much steam and smoke as it did heat, and they huddled around to discuss matters.

”I knew it would not be just adventure and sightseeing,” Flint said as he piled some branches atop the burning embers.

Two Bells, nodded and said, ”I have to say I learned quite a bit from Rin. All I did to get noticed is to care enough to help fix a man hurt on training. Now, I think I have found a good calling.”

They all managed to stay as warm and dry as they could, aware in their minds that they would be left with a big decision to make come morning.

Morning arrived and the weather remained unchanged from the day before. The only good thing was it warmed somewhat and this made the rain less icy. The Kings and those whose path took them west gathered. And those whose path held them there also gathered. The formal decommissioning of the Black Company took place with little fanfare and Hanasian handed over to King Aragorn the annals of their years. They would be homed in the royal library of Minas Tirith. Once this was done, a new commission for the Free Company was provided.

Those who remained were sworn in and their orders were handed to both Videgavia and Khor. They were to make ready to take ship east to find the lands from where Dhak, Anvikela, and the Order had come. It would prove to be difficult since the way between lands had been severed with the death of the witch and the wizard of old. However, Aragorn remained optimistic that it would be possible after he met with Anvikela. It would take them some months to ready. It was never wise to set sail on the open sea as a northern winter settled over them. Anyone with seafaring or even river boating experience was called to the port.

The Free Company as well as the Gondorian, Rohirrim, and Easterling armies were culled for volunteers. No fewer than a hundred stood waiting when Aragorn’s host set out west. This new Free Company would have many new faces, and the half dozen old faces would have to do their best to carry forth the traditions. With the Easterling followers who joined, it would not be too hard, for they knew and even worshipped the Company and their ways. At last the time arrived to set out west and they did so under the cover of winter rain, for it fell on that day as it had most other days. It would be a long journey in the short gray days, and it would be sometime past midwinter when they would arrive in Esgoroth.
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Patience and Time

Postby elora » Sun Sep 02, 2012 8:11 pm

The host that travelled west was sizeable, far greater than Rin had anticipated. The days grew colder and shorter and the distance they could cover shrank as a result. Yet they attained the eastern reaches of the Iron Hills before mid-winter all the same. Here they would split. Most would press south, for Rohan and Gondor. It was snowing that day and the wind whipped it about them. It was a fraught day. It was the day men bid their captain farewell and returned to lives they barely knew. It was the day that they left their brothers, and one sister, to face uncertain tides in Lake-Town. It was also the day that Rin’s secret was discovered.

It had not been easy to conceal it. So many men, kings in their midst, meant the host travelled warily and eyes were watchful. It had taken all of her abilities to come and go as needed after meals. The nights were by far the worst. The watch set was vigilant and the smell of food cooking had driven her to find some way through them. She had lost count of the number of times that she had nearly lost her dignity and her privacy as well as her stomach. Rowdy was the worst of them. He had an unearthly ability to sneak up on people and a knack for arriving at precisely the wrong time. Rin suspected the man knew. She could only suppose his silence was habitual rather than any sympathy for her wishes.

If this was not enough, Aragorn made the most of his time with his cousin. She found herself spending large tracts of the day in his company as he did what he could to fill in all of the education she had missed on courtly matters. Rin was prepared to admit to herself that it was actually interesting. However, it was difficult to concentrate. She was frequently light headed and distracted, and not only because she found it impossible to keep food down. Her mind drifted between what lay ahead at Lake-Town and beyond, how she might control her stomach and what she would do once she got her hands on the benighted fool who had called this morning sickness. Morning! Probably a man, she concluded. Over all of that, however, her mind dwelled on her husband.

She knew he faced a difficult transition and she felt a profound sense of guilt that he did because of her. It’s what all the Old Company men had said before they had left. She didn’t doubt them. Would he be happy, content, to stay at home? This was a man who had wandered the wide world for longer than she had been alive. Now he faced a very narrow set of horizons, or so she thought, and now this…the timing was singularly appalling. She wrestled with this and, until she found an answer to her satisfaction, she resolved to say nothing.

Aragorn was a perceptive man. He knew Rin to be an intensely private soul and she kept her own counsel with such success that it drove those closest to her to distraction. He was pleased to note she slowly thawed towards him. She was, after all, kin. He saw glimpses, only flashes, of what lay behind her walls. He had known from the outset that she was of dangerous intellect. Distracted though she clearly was, she proved able to absorb the information he conveyed to her. As the days passed, she smiled a little more often. There was one occasion where she laughed outright. The loss of her brother had struck her to her core, but he was confident she would emerge stronger than ever in time and he said as much to her husband on the day their party divided.

”Time, Hanasian, and patience. You have an abundance of both, and she will not give up on you. The woman you know will return to you. This will not overwhelm her.”

Hanasian nodded, relieved, and the two men squinted through the snow at where the subject of their discussion was sorting things out to her satisfaction.

”No, no, no, Bear! It is not nearly too heavy or large for you to take with you. Mark my words; by the time you make Rohan, you’ll be glad of it. Now pack it, unless you want me riffling through your possessions!”

Bear was easily two times her mass and stood a head higher. Despite his age, he was the very image of a formidable veteran warrior. He stood in the snow by his horse as Rin bustled around him, exasperated and amused. Then, he lifted his shoulders in a resigned shrug. Rin, by that time, had opened one of his panniers and was boldly pawing through it, making room. He very gently, but firmly, picked her up and set her to one side. What he said to her could not be heard, but she smiled at him brightly, he melted somewhat and then ruffled the top of her head. She swatted at his hand and he chortled at whatever she shot back at him before she moved onto the next Company man preparing to depart south.

”This matter at Lake-Town…I need not tell you great care will be needed. I have prepared letters to request aid is made available to you. I have spoken to Eomer and he has readily agreed to make men available to ensure those you capture make it to Minas Tirith for trial,” Aragorn continued.

”Thank you, sire. We’ll make for the Gilded Lantern and proceed from there.”

“These men will recognise Farbarad and Mecarnil, and likely you. It is well you take Frea and Folca with you. Will anyone else come?”

“They all would, given the chance. Rin insists this is not a Company matter. Suffice it to say they do not agree. That said, Rowdy has volunteered to take Berlas’ place and, truthfully, he is most welcome along with others that had decided to volunteer irrespective of what Rin thinks. A larger force will attract too much attention and scatter the men we seek to apprehend.”

“You mean to draw them out, bait them?”

Hanasian replied grimly, clearly uncomfortable, ”That has been her plan from the outset. I hope to track them down before it comes to that. We have enough men to lay a good net in Esgaroth, and we know covert work well.”

Hanasian’s attention drifted to his wife. She was moving from horse to horse and, in the snow, she appeared at that moment to be winter incarnate. It hung in her pale hair like a jewelled crown, it brought a fetching flush to her cheeks and it made her eyes sparkle in a way he had little seen since Loch had perished.

”I’ve questioned Rocks on several occasions. I believe the man has told us all that he knows, and he believes it to be the truth. That said, we cannot verify the intent of this conspiracy,” Aragorn said, ”I have given the matter no small amount of thought. These are rapacious men, and the only conclusion I arrive at is truly evil.

Hanasian’s gaze returned to Aragorn and found he was unusually troubled.

”What is it?” he asked quietly, his stomach twisting.

”There can be only one reason they desire her alive and healthy. Royal heirs have two purposes. The first, to rule, is one she has set aside in a public manner. The second remains; and that is to produce a successor as soon as possible.”

The enormity of what Aragorn suggested left Hanasian aghast. His face paled and Aragorn watched his old friend grapple with horror and anger.

”But…why? Even were they to succeed, what difference would it make?”

Aragorn sighed, for it was a dark matter he spoke of, ”If they declare her of unsound mind, they invalidate her decree to dissolve Cardolan’s throne. Clearly, they know she will never accede to take it up herself. They would take the child they force from her, mould him to take the throne. As you said, these are desperate men.”

Aragorn set a steadying hand on Hanasian’s shoulder. What Aragorn spoke of staggered anyone of good heart. Abduction, imprisonment, rape, child stealing, treason, and likely murder because she would only become a liability once they had the child.

”Does she know?” he whispered and Aragorn shrugged.

”I have not spoken of it to her, but I would not be surprised if she has deduced it for herself. Hanasian, I tell you this not to change your course. I tell you this so that you might determine ways in which to locate these men before the necessity of baiting them arrives. To achieve these ends, they will need a secure location to hold her for some time. Arrangements must be in place, people…supplies…it is a staggeringly complex scheme…and you know the flaw with such things.”

“The easier it is to unravel,”
Hanasian said and Aragorn nodded.

”I wish I left you in brighter circumstances, my friend. I will watch for tidings. I hope that when summer and the need to seek Fornost comes, I will look in on you as I pass and discover you both happy and well.”

The leave-taking began with that, and it took most of the day. Words, bittersweet smiles, embraces, jests all passed and at the very last, Bear swept Rin into a tight embrace. He frowned and lifted her up a second time that day.

”Hmmm,” he commented loudly, mischievous grin flickering over his face as he set her down and held her out at arm’s length, ”You’ve been living on a sparrow’s diet, and yet despite that, you’re almost getting fat, woman!”

Rin flushed with bright embarrassment and pulled her cloak tightly about her. Men chortled but Hanasian noticed the furtive alarm that crossed her expression before it vanished behind her scowl. His mind ticked that over, on top of everything else, and all of sudden it all lined up. The distracted mood, the inability to keep anything down, the grumbling over how tight her leather breeches were getting and the way that her hair and skin glowed with vitality. It happened, he had heard, for some women. His head spun for a second time that day and he glanced at Mecarnil and Farbarad. The two Rangers had known her mother. Mecarnil squinted at Rin and Farbarad’s jaw dropped open for a moment. He began to chuckle, turned and clapped a congratulatory hand over Hanasian’s shoulder.

”Mind your manners, Bear, or that sister of yours will be getting a letter from me,” Rin growled and scooted out of his reach.

Hanasian looked utterly dumbfounded and she knew it was all spiralling out of control. By late afternoon the snow had thickened, the shadows had deepened and those headed south had departed. Rin was a bundle of nervous energy. She threw herself into re-organising her packs. Frea ambled over to her and grinned at his brother.

”Letting yourself go already,” he rumbled provocatively and she answered by way of a rude gesture.

”I am not getting fat. I was just weighted with things I had yet to stow after the supplies were divided.”

“Is that what you’re packing now?”

“It’s none of your business!”

“That, if I am not mistaken, is Bear’s favourite dagger!”

Frea dropped to a squat and pulled the pack she was organising from her. Upon inspection, he found a small number of items that were not her own.

”Doc! Have you no shame?”

“I wasn’t robbing them!”

“No? Then what’s this?” Frea brandished one of Foldine’s favourite pipes, ”Taken up smoking, have you?”

Rin coloured again and she mumbled, ”They’re keepsakes.”

“Souvenirs, you mean.”


“And what?”

“And maybe they might come looking for them some time.”

Frea dropped Foldine’s pipe back into her pack and cocked his head to one side. Her eyes were lowered and so she did not see the fond smile that slowly grew across his face. His embrace startled her.

”You couldn’t just ask them to visit you, could you Doc? You’re a strange one, alright,” he said as he patted her back with awkward affection, like he might a favoured pet, or horse.

When he pulled back, he frowned at her, ”Although I still think Bear was right.”

Hanasian’s hand descended on her shoulder and drew her to her feet.

”Yes, he was,” Hanasian said solemnly as he studied Rin’s face.

Her expression tensed and her eyes dropped from his, uncertain and troubled.

”I think we should speak, you and I,” he said and drew her away from the others.

Her heart thudded in her throat and she knew he had figured it out. Was he angry? Was he upset? Was he pleased? She found herself utterly unable to read him. When Hanasian turned to her again, he placed two fingers under her chin and lifted her face. The only way she could avoid his eyes was to close her own. She was so nervous she thought she’d be sick. It would not help matters and she clenched her jaw against it.

”When were you going to say something, wife?” he asked her and his voice betrayed his emotions.

Confused, hurt, surprised and scared. She swallowed hard.

”I…wasn’t sure at first…and then…there was no chance, no time…so much was happening…and-

Her voice faltered and then her eyes did close. He could feel her shaking through the fingers he held under her chin.

”And you were not sure how I would react,” he answered for her and she winced before she nodded.

”I know we discussed this…but that was before…everything…and now…this is not the time…I didn’t do it on purpose…I…”

“Look at me. Look, Rosmarin! Open your eyes

When she did, he could see the dread in them. It made him want to shake sense into her and comfort her all at once.

”Again you underestimate me! Why? What cause have I given you to doubt me? Honestly, Rosmarin, you drive me to the edge of my wits sometimes!”

“I am sorry,”
she whispered forlornly, arms wrapped around herself.

The snow was coming in flurries that sealed them off from the rest of the world like a thick, chill velvet curtain. It made the howl of the wind in the gathering evening all the sharper.

”For what? For concealing this from me?”

“For everything!”

Hanasian’s hand dropped from her chin and he found it difficult to speak for a moment. He pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her. He bent his head to speak his next words into her ear.

”So help me, woman, if you are apologising for carrying my child…Yes, the timing leaves a lot to be desired. But I do not regret this…I will not reject this…Rosmarin…this is a remarkable gift we have…and I demand you share it with me. I’ll accept nothing less from you. I am your husband, I am this child’s father and I will always be so. Do you understand me?”

He felt her shudder with relief against him and she nodded before he continued, ”Now…this makes it all the more imperative that we resolve this business in Lake-Town without placing you in harm’s way. I’ll brook no argument on this. I have already spoken with Mecarnil and Farbarad and we are all three of us agreed. You will abide willingly by this, or you will be sent to Minas Tirith.”

“Please do not send me away!”

She held him so tightly he found it hard to breathe, ”Very well…now, my love, let us find a fire…and I will see about making some tea.”


“Yes…there are several that will do for this purpose. You must eat more.”

A fire had been coaxed into life in their absence and the air about it was heavy with expectation upon their return. Mecarnil and Farbarad had clearly spoken with Hanasian’s cousins. Folca smiled openly and Frea winked at Hanasian. Rowdy and Rocks both made no response at all, for different reasons. Water was soon set to the boil and Hanasian sourced what he needed from Rin’s packs. She peppered him with questions over what he was using, how much, how it worked, her curiosity clearly getting the better of her. In time a mug of steaming tea was poured out and passed to her. She wrapped her hands around it to warm them and sniffed experimentally at the brew.

”Come on…all of it…and if it works we can see about something more substantial.”

“If it doesn’t?”

“We’ll try a different one.”

Rin’s face screwed up at her first mouthful, ”Gah! Are they all so bitter?”

“No…this one is by far the worst,
” Hanasian calmly replied and she stared at him pointedly.

He busied himself with removing the water so that food could be warmed through and ignored her for a while.

”Then why start with the worst?”

“It’s the most effective,”
he answered mildly and then added, ”And it’s the one you will remember the next time you decide to withhold something important from me. Now, drink up. All of it and another mug besides. Take your medicine, Doc.”

Mecarnil grunted laughter he could not conceal at the expression on her face. She did as bidden, grumbling in Dunlendic all the while. It was not easy to get down, but once down it surprised her by staying there. After that…food…it had been so long since she had eaten anything of substance. That night, Rin was overruled when it came to drawing lots for the watch. She wasn’t happy about it, but she was hardly in a position to press the matter with the others. She wrapped herself carefully against the cold and Hanasian did the same. They slept under a hastily erected tent, but the ground was freezing. The hunting done along the way had not only supplemented their supplies but provided pelts and skins to act as a barrier. It certainly helped, but it could not hold the chill back entirely.

In time, her shivering stopped and Hanasian was warm against her back. Her mind delved through the day’s events like an otter seeking dinner. Hanasian’s words circled her thoughts. He thought she underestimated him and she knew that was not the case. She hadn’t found the words to convey it to him at the time and they jostled at her now.

”I do not underestimate you,” she whispered and his response was to softly hush her, his breath warm against the back of her neck.

Rin shifted slightly and pressed on, ”I told you this in the Chetwood. You are a marvel to me and always will be. Rather, I know myself.”

One of these days, he would realise he overestimated her worth. She was convinced that would happen. Each day she would gladly take until that moment came and he walked away. It was like knowing the fire that warmed her now would consume her, wreathe her in agony, and yet she could not bring herself to step back to safety.

Hanasian shifted the arm he had clasped over her and brought his hand from her stomach to press his fingers gently against her lips. He was too tired to argue and this was a matter words could not settle. The woman he held had been convinced over thirty long years that she was less than a speck of dirt. It would take time to undo that, and love. Not just his, but the child she carried. Patience, as Aragorn had wisely said, and love. He had both in abundance.

Some miles away, Bear patted his torso and belt to locate his dagger. At this point, the cakes of cram rivalled rocks and only a very knife could penetrate them. No one wanted to eat a whole cake of the stuff in one sitting. After a few unsuccessful pats, Bear glanced down. He twisted about and tried to locate it and then swore.

"What's the problem?" Foldine asked, busy with something himself.

"I've lost my bloody dagger. Now! Of all times! Had it with me from the getgo, and now it's gone!"

Foldine snatched up his waxed leather pouch of tabbac, tucked it under his tabbard, and began to hunt for his pipe.

As he did so, Bear continued, "I suppose I've dropped it in the snow somewhere. Hell of a time to lose it, on the way back home."

Farbarad grunted, more in surprise than at Bear's statement and searched again. He had located his second pipe, but the first which he ordinarily kept carefully wrapped with it, had vanished into thin air. Foldine drew out his second best pipe and his eyes narrowed as he reviewed the day. Bear loses his favourite dagger, after carrying it successfully through years of risky activities. He had lost his best pipe, on the very same day. The same day as they had parted company with Hanasian...the same day as a certain Company Healer with known sticky fingers had diligently divided up supplies as if she were the Company's storemaster, logistics expert...

Foldine sighed and then flipped Bear one of his daggers. It landed in the snow near the marine's foot.

"Yeah...must have dropped it in the snow. That's it. That's what happened," Foldine said dryly and began packing tabbac into his second best pipe bowl. At least she had not taken the tabbac...and he had a reasonable idea where to find her to get his pipe back.
Last edited by elora on Sun Sep 02, 2012 8:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Patience and Time

Postby elora » Sun Sep 02, 2012 8:11 pm

The Free Company of Rhun

Many partings were made amongst friends and comrades in Skhar when the wet gray morning came. Hanasian and Videgavia, who had walked the path of the Company from its first days, spoke long of things past and present. Partings were hard but the old crew was very stoic. The emotions they felt were kept mostly in check. It would all come out in the next few days.

Not only was it hard for the old crew, but so to with what had become known as the Gondor Legion. Some few of them, most who had some experience with watercraft, and some who were itching for adventure, decided to stay in Rhun and signed on with the new Company. Also, a half a dozen men from what had become known as the Rhun Legion decided to go west on an adventure of their own. Of these, all save one went with the King’s Army. One decided to accompany Hanasian, because he was one of the original twelve, and his loyalty was to the original company captain. He had gone forth with a high recommendation from Khule, so he considered it to be an honor to go with Hanasian. Hanasian in turn put high regard on Khule’s word, and the young Easterling would be most helpful in the days ahead in Dale.

Some of the young soldiers from the Army of Gondor, mainly those whose seafaring Numenorean blood ran a bit thick, were given leave to sign on with the Free Company. Also, a few from the Army of Rohan stayed after given leave of their duties by King Eomer.

With the goodbyes being hard for most, it was some time later that day toward evening that the old Company men gathered around in their bar camp. It was Berlas who noted something missing first.

”Has anyone seen my favorite beer pot?” he asked.

Wulgof answered, ”It was on the bar yesterday, as was my cloak. It seems to be lost as well.”

Everyone decided to take stock of their personal goods, and the discovery was an item precious to each of the old crew was missing. Mulgov said in a low voice, ”Rin.”

There was a certain amount of grumbling but nobody was really upset about it. The possibility that they would never see Rin, Hanasian, or any of the old company that departed was heavy on their minds even if they didn’t say it.

It was Berlas who spoke as he reached for the missing fine silver chain he usually wore around his neck, ”Well, maybe next year, should we go wayward on the ships, we will come to Mithlond and may see them again.”

They were silent in thought. Nobody really thought that would happen, but it gave the old crew something to consider.

The rain never seemed to stop there. From fine foggy drizzle to heavy cloud bursts, the water and mud was hardly noticed after a while. No matter, work had begun on the ships within days of the King’s departure, and it was determined they would only have enough hands to man one. So the second ship was stripped of anything that would make the voyage easier and docked out of the way. Provisioning began but was slow going finding all that was needed. They had no idea how long or how far they would be going, and what they would find. In an effort to gather as much information as possible, Videgavia summoned Anvikela to speak with him. The lady had remained out of sight since the day she had met with King Aragorn. Since he was tasked with leading this Company and expedition, and she was entrusted to his care, it was time to find out a bit more about her. She arrived without notice, in the company of Nets and Flint. He stood and greeted her with a slight bow, and she returned a slight curtsy.

He asked, ”Greetings Lady Anvikela, I trust we are keeping you comfortable?”

Her eyes did not move from the floor by Videgavia’s feet, but she said in a deeply accented Westron, ”I am well. I am but a servant, yet you treat me as royalty. Why?”

Videgavia was taken aback by her question. He looked at Nets who shrugged, then he said, ”It is the wisdom of King Aragorn that could see you are a remarkable woman. We are to see to your needs, and we treat you as though you are a princess from a land far away that we know nothing about. You expressed a wish to him that you wanted to go home, and we are going to attempt to do just that. Think of us as your escort home.”

He had stepped closer to her, and stooped down enough to look into her eyes. She did not want to look at him but he managed to capture her gaze. She lifted her head as he stood.

”That is better. I prefer your beautiful eyes looking at me instead of down.”

Anvikela almost broke eye contact and looked down, but instead only blinked and blushed.

Her question sounded curiously like a statement, She said, ”You have powers?”

Videgavia said, “No, the only power I have is my strength of arms.”

She said haltingly, as if she did not know the words, ”I served the Lady … for I had shielding…. with my sisters. But…”

She swallowed and her eyes watered. Videgavia looked concerned and said, ”You are free to look away. I’m sure I’m hard on the eyes. I just wanted you to know it was permissible to meet my eyes when talking to me.”

She swallowed again and maybe a slight smile spread across her face for a moment as she said, ”I wish not to. I just know not of your ways. We… my sisters and I, were not to look the Lady or the Order in the eyes. “

Videgavia offered Anvikela a chair to sit in, and she did so haltingly. He said, ”Sit please. Now we are a rather rough bunch since most of the cultured of our number left for the west, but we know it has to be hard for you losing your sisters. We don’t follow your Order's predilection for subjugation either. Be at ease with us, and let us show you respect. You are our honored guest from another land. Now I need to talk to Nets and Flint. You are welcome to stay if you like."

Anvikela nodded and said, ”I would like that.”

She sat quiet as Vid said to Nets, ”Thank you for keeping an eye on Lady Anvikela. Good work teaching her our common tongue.”

Nets shrugged and said, ”She is a fast learner.”

Videgavia nodded before saying to Flint, ”Heard good things about you.”

Flint stood for a moment, finally asking, ”What have you heard?”

“I heard you could write.”

Flint answered, ”Yes I can when I have the time and the means.”

Videgavia nodded, saying, ”Then you will have the job of records. Hanasian was always writing things and kept records of everything the Company did, who served, who was lost. I want you to do that. Berlas could do it, but he will not ever get started. He would give briefs to Hanasian, and he can continue to do that for you. If you don’t want to do it, let me know now.”

“It will be an honor to do!”
Flint said.

Videgavia retrieved everthing Hanasian had left of his clean parchments, ink, and quill and handed it to Flint.

”I suggest you get started. A record of names will be a good start.”

“Yes sir”
Flint said as he left.

He passed Dhak and his shadows outside the door. They entered without announcement, and Dhak said, ”I understand you wanted to talk to me, no?”

“Yes, come in. I want to know what we can expect when we come to your land?”

Videgavia said, noticing the instant discomfort in Lady Anvikela upon their entry.

Dhak said as much as he needed to, at least as much as he thought would appease Videgavia. But he underestimated the new Company Captain. He could tell Dhak was balking at the idea of trying to set sail for home. With the departure of the royalty, he now sought to convince Videgavia that it would not be worthwhile to go. Maybe he was right, Videgavia thought, but he and all who signed on with the new Company were commissioned by the King to do this very thing. All Dhak’s stalling and vagueness did was to make Videgavia trust him even less. He obviously had something to hide. But Videgavia let him talk. Videgavia could smell a rat, and Dhak, for all of his prowess, was smelling like one here. He would have to talk with Khor about him, for he had much more extensive dealings with this man. And it was clear that Lady Anvikela did not trust him. There is something more going on here, and Videgavia hoped to gain as much knowledge about it before they would leave port.

He had a lot of time before that would happen, so he told Dhak and his companions, ”It would be best for you three to stay within a certain boundary in the city. I don’t want you walking freely about for your own safety.”

Dhak looked at his companions before asking, ”We are not your enemy. Why do you wish to limit us?”

Videgavia said, ”More for your own safety. For there had been some whispers on the street that you were the last of ‘the invaders’.”

Dhak took exception, ”So you will imprison us, no?”

Videgavia said, ”No, I won’t. You are free. The streets of Skhar could be dangerous to you, so know that should you and your companions go about, we cannot guarantee your safety.”

It was a chance Dhak was willing to take. He nodded and excused himself, with his shadows. The rumors were true, and Videgavia knew that Lady Anvikela too would be in danger of reprisal. He decided to have her lodged in a house closer to where the company stayed. Nets and others would remain with her at all times.

It would be many weeks before they would be ready to leave. Word came that in addition to the supplies left by the King upon leaving, his foresight had called for more supplies to be sent to help heal the country ravaged by civil war. Some was provided for the voyage, which would help with their provision.

After that day onward, the cloud of grief slowly seemed to leave Lady Anvikela, and in the days and weeks afterward, she and Nets spent more time with the old crew, and she learned more and more of the language and the ways of the Free Company. Videgavia and Berlas kept a close watch on her when they were in the Company den. She would not drink, so she was appointed bartender, and it seemed she was beginning to relax among them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Esgaroth New Town in Dale

The snow fell lightly in Esgoroth and along the west shore as the chill wind from the northeast pushed across Long Lake. The light dusting gave a chill, silvery sheen to the night, and the air was quiet but for the sound of the wind and the water lapping the edge of the lake. The few lamps that were lit gave a shrouded glow about them, and one of these was by the sign of the Guilded Lantern. Inside, the handful of men that had not gone home worked on finishing their stout ales before leaving. One man in particular was talking to the serving girl who was cleaning tables of empty flagons and plates. She didn’t want to be bothered, but a silver coin convinced her to hear him out. She was to watch for strangers and note their appearance and the time they were present. The man told her he would return in a week or so to hear any news. A second silver coin was passed to help her remember. Having made a week’s wage in a moment to do what she does anyway was a blessing. It would help her care for her aged father who was wounded in the War. The man downed the last of his ale and set his flagon on her tray and headed for the door.
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Postby elora » Sun Sep 09, 2012 1:40 am

Iron Hills

There was still some distance to cover and little time left to them. Mid-winter was only a week or two away. Between Esgaroth and the eastern corner of the Iron Hills, they had to traverse the Hills, the Desolation of Smaug, the Lonely Mountain and then the lake itself, for Esgaroth stood under the eaves of Mirkwood. The morning was blindingly bright and blessedly still. Wind nor snow marred the sunshine. Their small camp was up at its usual hour, their breath silvery in the air as they moved about. They had a routine for breaking camp and this morning proved no different.

Rin had stowed her bedroll, gathered her pack and panniers and grasped her saddle ready to lift it onto the back of her horse. She just levered it off the ground when Farbarad swooped and snatched it from her with a frown.

”Hey!” Rin protested as he swung it away and onto her horse.

”I don’t want to see that again, do you hear?” he growled fiercely at her.

Rin planted her fists on her hips, ”And why not? You had no trouble at all with me saddling my own horse yesterday.”

“That was yesterday,”
Farbarad said and bent to cinch the girth strap tighter now that her horse had let out its breath.

”And what’s the difference between then and now?”

Farbarad finished checking the tack and simply looked at her over one shoulder. His gaze travelled to her panniers.

”How heavy are they?” he asked and Rin sidestepped to stand in front of them.

”Is this how it’s going to be now?” she challenged and Farbarad shrugged.

”Yup,” he affirmed with a nod, ”At least for a good…well can’t be nine months. What would it be now? Eight? Seven?”

Rin responded, scandalised.

Farbarad shrugged unapologetically and scratched at his beard, ”Well, that may be. This is how it’s going to be until the little one comes, whether you like it or not. No matter how you scowl and argue.”

He shot her an unrepentant wolfish grin and set off. Meanwhile, the only other woman with them was doing a very poor job of concealing her amusement nearby.

”It’s not funny,” Rin stated and that only made Slip laugh harder.

The small woman actually wiped tears of mirth from her face, ”Aw, it’s sweet!”

“It’s offensive,”
Rin replied and grabbed the straps of one pannier.

”They’re just trying to take care of you.”

“I’ve been taking care of myself my whole life. I don’t see why today is any different,”
Rin grumbled as she strapped the first pannier on.

”You really are difficult to please, aren’t you?”

At that Rin grinned across the rump of her horse at Slip, ”It’s the only way to manage all these men.”

They were off at a good clip soon thereafter and the Iron Hills drifted by, mile after mile. Rin saw no sign of Dwarves despite Mecarnil’s insistence they were there and they certainly marked the passing of the mounted party. The weather stayed fair for several days, the nights were severe and cold. However, just as they gained the eastern cusp of the dragon’s desolation, the weather took a turn for the worse. The snow fell with increasing fury, the wind picked up and blasted over them. It was miserable going and both exposure and frostbite kept Rin more than busy. It took them three weeks all up to reach Esgaroth. It seemed to Rin, irrational though it was, that the blizzard gave up once they seemed likely to survive it.

Esgaroth appeared like a golden jewel in the chill night. It glimmered and beckoned down on the icy lake. Each lantern in each window was like a golden star. It had stopped snowing but the wind had picked up sharply after sunset. Hanasian led them into the town at a rapid pace, eager to make the Guilded Lantern as soon as possible. No sooner did they make the stables were Mecarnil and Farbarad off their horses. The stable was marginally warmer than outside, but they were all shivering before the two Rangers had returned and reported that arrangements were satisfactory for the night.

In the Guilded Lantern was a warm hearth, hot food, a hot bath even. Oh how she wanted one of those more than anything in the world. Her scalp itched and she thought she would smell like horse for the rest of her days. All this glorious luxury was only a few short steps away. She even had coin to pay for it.

”We’ve secured enough rooms for those of us as will remain here as well as extra rooms tonight. We’ve a private dining room as well, thought that best,” Mecarnil said.

”And a bath? You organised that too, didn’t you. They’re warming the water right now, aren’t they?” Rin asked, practically bouncing on her heels in excitement and a bid to warm herself up.

Mecarnil glanced at Farbarad and Slippery moaned, ”Typical! Content to wallow in their own muck for years, these men are!”

“You never complained ‘bout that afore,”
protested Stillwater and Slippery sniffed.

”I never had anything to compare you to before.”

Farbarad grinned suddenly, ”Of course we remembered…not worth our hides to forget, is it?”

Rin muttered something under her breath and Hanasian had to catch at his wife’s cloak to prevent her from marching out into the open. He pulled her back, pulled the cowl of her cloak back up over her head.

”We cannot afford for you to be seen in Esgaroth, Rin,” he cautioned solemnly.

With that, they left the stables and entered the inn warily. They went first to the private dining room. It was panelled in oak and sizeable enough to accommodate them easily. Bread and cheese had already been laid out and a serving maid bustled in laden with a tray of foaming ale. All Rin wanted was a bath. All the men wanted was the ale. She was not permitted to wander the inn alone. Slippery proved her saviour.

”Come on, I’ll take you,” she said and the two of them vanished in a twinkling of an eye.

”Three crowns we don’t see either one for at least an hour,” Folca said.

”Gives us time to discuss things without interruption,” remarked Frea.

While the men downstairs had their discussion, the women upstairs lounged in steam, bubbles and blissfully hot water. Their fingers and toes had become prunes, their hair was detangled and every last inch of skin was properly clean.

”I’ve never seen anyone love a bath quite like you,” Slippery drowsily commented.

”They’re still new, I suppose. Had my first hot bath, with proper soap, just before I officially signed onto the Black, in Bree.”



“I bet there isn’t any warm baths back at that town in Rhun.”

“There isn’t. I looked for them.”

In a while it became evident that the water was not going to stay hot forever and nor would the food last indefinitely below. The women emerged and rummaged through their packs for clean clothing. Slippery just pulled on a simple tunic over her leggings. With her belt slung around her hips, all she needed were her boots again and she was ready. Rin, however, found things a little more challenging. Since regaining the ability to eat, certain things had begun to markedly change. For starters, she was not going to get back into her breeches again. That left her with the two dresses Bea had given her at the Prancing Pony. The blue dress was out of the question. However, the chemise with the ruby kirtle still fit…if she let the laces across the front of the kirtle mostly unlaced. Slippery giggled, fingers pressed to her lips.

”You’re going to need clothes soon,” she said and Rin sighed.

”It’s happening already. I’m getting fat…no wonder Hanasian isn’t happy about this,” Rin replied, gesturing at her midriff.

It was concealed by the soft folds of her chemise, but there was no mistaking the soft swell that had started to emerge.

”It’s a change, is all. Men are terrible at change…and I don’t think he’s displeased. He’s just got a lot on his mind. There’s no point getting glum about it Rin. I mean, you can still see your toes, so enjoy things while you can, I say. Now, I saw cheese below. Let’s see if it’s still there, shall we? Don’t forget your hood,” said the young Gondorian woman with a wink.

Slippery started off down the hall for the stairs at a jaunty jog. In the dining room, things had largely been arranged to their satisfaction.

”So, tomorrow we’ll set out for Bard’s halls. Best if we stay there, all things considered, so that we’re not recognised. Safer for Rin too,” Mecarnil recapped, ”And we’ll run the patrols out of here.”

“Anywhere we can find local work, the right sort, will be a good place to start,”
Frea said, ”Eyes and ears open.”

“How will we communicate with you if you’re at Bard’s?”
Rowdy asked, the first thing he had said in days, ”Like as not you’ll be seen coming and going if you make a regular habit of it.”

“I’ve a letter from Aragorn for him. I plan to request access to the ways under the town.”

“Beneath the boards?”
Stillwater inquired in response to Hanasian’s statement.

”Aye, there’s a way beneath from Bard’s hall to access points throughout the town, over the surface of the lake itself. It’ll be the best option for us, if he’ll consent. Aragorn has requested his assistance and Dale is an ally of Gondor’s still, as recent events in Rhun demonstrated.”

The discussion paused as the door opened to admit Slippery and then Rin. The two women removed their cloaks and quickly found places at the table.

”Any hot water left?” Frea asked.

”Any cheese?” Rin swiftly retorted.

A serving maid circled, picking up empty tankards and dropping off freshly filled ones. Rin leaned back to intercept her.

”Please, some more cheese? And ale?”

“Cheese, certainly…the ale though…”

“You can’t have run out, surely,”
Rin answered and the maid glanced at Hanasian.

”She’s been told that you can’t have any,” Hanasian said.

”None! That’s an outrage!”

“I can fetch you watered wine, ma’am,”
the maid said awkwardly on the heels of Rin’s protest.

”Water…no tea, yes tea would be best,” Hanasian replied calmly as Rin stared incredulously at him.

”Yes, good sir! At once!” the maid answered and shot for the door.

”And bring more than just cheese. She needs a proper meal.”

“I don’t want a proper meal. There is nothing wrong with cheese!”
Rin mutinously growled and crossed her arms under her chest.

”So, everything settled?” Slippery brightly asked, moving her ale out of Rin’s reach for good measure.

”Yup…we’ll start the net tomorrow. Cap, Doc and the two Rangers will head off to Bard’s. They’ll use some sort of underboard boat system to reach us here and keep in contact,” Stillwater furnished.

”Underboard?” Rin asked, sufficiently intrigued.

”Nothing you need concern yourself with,” Farbarad said crisply.

”And why’s that?”

“Because you won’t be setting foot outside of Bard’s hall, nor near a window, until this is all done.”

“But…that means I’m a prisoner!”

“Until this is done,”
Hanasian solemnly said, ”If that is what it takes to keep you safe, then so be it. You chose, Rosmarin, to come here rather than go south to Minas Tirith.”

Rin looked like she was going to say more but then the tea arrived. Rin stared glumly at the teapot. Slippery imagined it was some sort of symbol for her loss of control. That’s what was troubling her so. She was losing control and freedom, and she had chosen this what is more. It wasn’t that Hanasian was upset with her. He was merely trying to defend his wife and unborn child the only way he could. Still, as the conversation moved on, Slippery could not help but feel sorry for her friend. Rin had a forlorn, lost look to her. Her shoulders slumped further when a proper meal was set down and she was ordered to eat. Slippery watched the other woman wrestle with herself and moment and then pick up a fork. If any of the men noticed this quiet battle they gave no sign of it. No one except Rowdy, who noticed everything.

They did not stay up late for they were all fatigued from their travel. They were soon all on their way to rooms, the routine for the night’s watch predetermined even though the Guilded Lantern had been deemed safe enough for them to remain the night.

”It’s for the best,” Slippery whispered to Rin and squeezed her hand on their way to their respective quarters for the night.

Rin nodded but otherwise said nothing.

”I will take no unnecessary risk, no chance, Rosmarin, and I make no apology for it,” Hanasian said to her as he wearily removed his boots one by one.

Again Rin nodded and said nothing. The morning came too soon and after a brief breakfast they were on their way to the halls of Bard II. Rin remained quiet and withdrawn upon arrival. A quick introduction and Aragorn’s letter ensured they were swiftly led into the homely comfort of Bard’s hall. Bard was a man bowed by the season and the weight of years on his shoulders. He sat in a stout chair, swathed in blankets, great silvery eyebrows drawn together to bristle as he read Aragorn’s request.

”This says you’re kin,” the elderly lord said, peering up with dark eyes that were still sharp with wit but not sight.

”Come closer then, girl! I don’t bite! No teeth left,” he demanded and flashed his gums.

Rin sidled reluctantly closer despite his assurances and he studied her a moment and then nodded.

”Well, what aid do you be hoping for?” the lord said after a while, eyes flicking back to Hanasian who had done most of the talking, ”You stay there, girl,” he added when Rin shifted to step back.

”Lord, I have brought men who will flush these traitors out for you. However, I do ask that you permit us to abide here, so that we are not recognised before we can locate them,” Hanasian replied and Bard’s head nodded.

”Yes, yes,” he said impatiently, ”Of course! Not the first you are to request that. Nothing else? They said you’d ask something else. Where are they?”

“With respect, my lord, where are who?”
Hanasian asked.

”I said stay there, girl! You’re a flighty one, make no mistake. You break one of my windows leaping through it and there’ll be trouble!” Bard roused at her and Rin flushed.

Precisely at that point, the door to his reception hall opened and in strode two individuals that Hanasian did not expect to see at all. Both executed gracious bows for Bard and then again for Rin, which only served to unsettle her further.

”Elladan! Elrohir! A fine sight unlooked for! Mae Govannen!” Hanasian cried and the twins smiled.

They clasped hands first with Hanasian and then with the other two rangers.

”Have you asked yet?” Elrohir inquired.

”No!” Bard grumbled.

”He’ll be wanting use of your dock, lord, and the access hatches you have wisely constructed throughout your fair town,” Elladan said smoothly.

”Is that all? This is what you kept me waiting for? Hmpf…no respect for an aged man. Well of course. You’ll be wanting boats too, I suspect,” Bard stated gruffly and then levered himself out of his chair.

His son’s wife took his arm and began leading him from the hall.

”Put them in the west rooms. They’re the warmest this time of year,” Bard continued and his escort inclined her head in understanding.

”What are you doing here?” Hanasian inquired, still surprised by their arrival.

”Aragorn sent word of trouble, of course. We but followed the trail.”

“But you could not have set out before the High Pass closed,”
Farbarad said.

”Think you that the only way across the Mountains?” Elrohir gently teased.

”Your delicate elf boots probably barely made an impression on the snow,” Farbarad replied, voice a roughened growl to heighten the comparison.

Rin watched all of this bounce back and forth, silent and definitely overwhelmed. She had not moved from the spot Bard had commanded her to occupy. Memories flooded her. Sunlight. Colour. Smell. Taste. Large boots and blue flowers. Lochared most of all. It made her heart ache. They had loved that little place, there under the trees, where the stream was gentle. They had whiled hours away there, together. There were frogs and fish and butterflies and all sorts of wonderful things to do and explore. Bard’s hall fell away and she was lost in that bubble of memory. No cares or concerns. No death, no conspiracies. No wars or battles. No unborn children that were driving a wedge between her and her husband.

Her bubble popped when a man of middle years appeared to show them to their quarters. She crashed back to reality. Loch was dead, Hanasian found it impossible to look at her without questions crowding his eyes, and she was about to embark on her prison sentence. Hanasian walked with the twins behind their guide, deep in conversation about what the two had found since taking up the trail on the western side of the mountains. Farbarad and Mecarnil followed and Rin trailed along. When she did not walk fast enough for their liking, Farbarad turned about and snapped at her to hurry up.

The western rooms were warm and comfortable. She was not permitted a window to look out upon lest someone mark her identity. She was not permitted to wander the hall either, nor step outside. With her instructions issued, the men soon departed to explore this dock of Bard’s and the boats. Rin turned about the now empty quarters. She had never felt lonelier. Lonely, overwhelmed, caged. She sat down in a chair in the parlour she stood in as Slippery’s words from the night before circled. This was for the best, apparently.
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