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Postby elora » Sun Sep 16, 2012 6:57 pm

As it did most every night in winter, the chill northeast wind blowing across the lake spread a light dusting of snow over Esgaroth New City. The freezing temperatures rarely let its grip loose, unless the low sun found a break in the gray blanket of low clouds and fog during the peak of the day. But even then, it would warm barely enough to melt some of the collected snow into wet gloppy slush and mud that would freeze again in the waning daylight. On the nights after those days, one had to watch for ice under foot and under the fresh snow. But for that moment of the struggling breath of warmth, the days it didn’t warm were better.

It was such a chill night, with random stray snowflakes falling steady as Tarina, the serving maid at the Gilded Lantern, walked home from a hard evening of waiting tables. Barely enough snow had come after nightfall to leave tracks in. There was enough to hear the light crunch of footfall. The sound made her feet hurry a little faster towards home. Her last look back to see who may be following revealed a faint shadow in the distance and she turned to run the last block home. But the hidden ice claimed her step and her feet went out from under her. By the time she turned to try and get back to her feet, the shadowed figure stood over her. A hand reached down and helped her up. But he wrapped his arm around her and his other hand pressed over her mouth, silencing any sound she tried to make as she was drawn into the alley and out of sight.

A voice hissed, ”Cease struggling girl! You will be safe! I’ll let you go but I expect only whispering from you.”

Tarina nodded and his hand relaxed. She took a few hurried breaths, each one let out a silvery plume in the chill air, before she whispered, “I expected you days ago!”

”Have you found anything for me?”
the man asked.

Tarina found her anger as her breathing began to slow, ”You scared me half to death! You could have come to the inn!"

The man wheezed, ”No, I could not. I paid you to be my eyes and ears there. So tell me, what do they see and hear?”

Tarina pulled free of the man, straightened herself and said, ”These eyes have seen a lot, but these ears have heard very much. There have been some travellers coming into town, most are traders looking for a place to winter. Words are the usual… the price of tea from the south, or of pipeweed from the Shire. Where the inns with the best beer are, and how the roads are much safer now that King Elessar rules.”

The man grew impatient and gripped her wrist hard.

”Stop! You’re hurting me!” Tarina cried faintly.

She saw the blade the man now wielded, and he pulled her to him, grasping her under her arm and spinning her back against him. The blade rested against the pale skin of her neck.

She wept and gasped out faintly, ”Please! I have a father who needs me. Please don’t kill me!”

The stench of his breath blowing over her shoulder from behind caused her to wretch, and the movement of her neck as she tried to keep her stomach in check pressed the knife into her skin. A light crimson trickle started to run down her neck and started to stain the collar of her shirt.

He wheezed in her ear, ”A coin bought your eyes and a coin bought your ears. They best start seeing and hearing more than the usual common room chatter lest I claim them back for the money I spent. Much is seen and heard in common rooms, usually in the shadowy corners out of the way. Now, I will ask again, what have you seen and heard since I saw you last?”

Tarina sniffled as tears ran down her cheeks. Her voice shook and was breathy with distress, ”Please! I will tell you… days after you left…”

The man began to relax his blade from her neck, but he and Tarina heard next was a loud thud. The man fell forward, his weight pushed Tarina to the ground for he was knocked out cold. She looked up into the dark alley above her and a young man who held a log of firewood reached for her, grasped her hand and helped her to her feet for a second time that night. She looked at the dark body sprawled in the snow and then at the man who hit him. The man spoke in heavily-Easterling accented Westron.

”Do you know him? He was hurting you.”

Tarina again looked at the man laying in the snow, then said, ”No. He paid me a sizable tip some days ago, and thought it should buy him other favours.”

The Easterling then said, ”I am Kholas! I come look for you to give tip. You served me a good dinner and kept my ale full. I wanted to give you something but they told me you went home. I saw your tracks in the snow. Then I saw them turn with others into this alley. I stood by the wall and listened, and when I heard your voice I took log from pile there. He was cruel to you, yes?”

Tarina smiled slightly, then said, ”Yes, he was.”

Kholas pointed at the blood on her shirt and said, ”You are hurt!”

He considered swinging the log he held at the man’s head again, but Tarina grabbed his arm, saying, ”No.. no… I’m alright! Leave him be….”

Kholas nudged the man with his boot but he was still out cold. A breeze carried ever more snow with it, and it was falling harder now. Tarina picked up her bags of leftover bread and cheese rinds from the inn and said, ”Will you walk me home? I can be certain I am safe that way.”

She smiled up at him and he nodded. Kholas walked over to the woodpile and set the log back exactly in the same place he had found it. Tarina had her bags mostly gathered and he hurried over to help her with one. She almost slipped and fell again on the ice but he grabbed her around the waist. Tarina didn’t seem to mind as she smiled. Kholas returned it and let her regain her footing. She took his arm and they started to walk down the street.

”I would say introductions are in order, yes? I am Kholas of Rhun, merchant, trader, and traveller. I travel to trade merchandise.”

Tarina smiled and said, ”Pleased to meet you Kholas. My name is Tarina of Esgaroth. I am a serving maid at the Gilded Lantern Inn. I’ve lived all my days right here. As for travels, my brother and I set out once. We tried to walk all the way around the Long Lake.”

“Did you make it?”
Kholas asked.

Tarina answered, ”No. We left north, and we forded the river that feeds the lake from the Dwarf King’s Mountain. We worked our way south, but the river leaving the lake was too deep and swift. We lost all our belongings and only barely managed to get back to the east shore. We found an old boat that had been abandoned in the bushes, and we made it ready to carry us over the lake back to Esgaroth.”

“I boated some, along the edges of the Sea of Rhun. My boat leaked a lot. How did your boat fare?”
Kholas said excitedly.

Tarina sighed and said, ”Not very well. It was abandoned for a reason. Fortunately, my brother rowed while I scooped the water out. We were in sight and approaching Lake Town when some rot gave way and water poured in. It sank and we swam the final leg. So ended my days of journey.”

Tarina didn’t live far away and both Kholas and Tarina took ever smaller steps as they talked. Kholas said, "Perhaps someday you will go elsewhere and see many sights. It is a big world out there."

"I would like that. Maybe one day."

They walked along silently for a short time when she stopped.

"This is where I live."

They stood in front for a moment as she took the bag from Kholas. She smiled and said, ”Thank you very much for what you did for me tonight. My father would be quite pleased with what you have done.”

Kholas smiled and said as the snow drove ever harder and faster in the building gale, saying, ”Please, I will shake your father’s hand and tell him I was honoured to help you get home tonight.”

Tarina said with some sadness, sighed and said, ”It would not go well Kholas of Rhun.

“My father fought in the Great War and it was on the battlefield south of here where an Easterling axe hit his helm, splitting his head taking his mind. Another Easterling axe cut his leg giving him his limp. Though he healed and lived, he has not been right since. He remains bitter in his old age. Part of him died that day, or so I believe.”

She looked at the ground by their feet and sighed again. After a moment, Kholas said, ”Your father and my father fought. Perhaps they fought each other. I was just a baby when he marched away towards Dale in the Great War. He never returned.”

They stood there in silence a moment and then, on chance, Kholas held his arms out and Tarina embraced him. They stood quietly together for a moment, buffeted by the wind before Kholas said, ”Such is war. May there be no more wars.”

Tarina nodded as she burrowed in Kholas’ cloak, saying, ”May it be so. Yet things I see and hear, I think there is still much trouble in the wide lands.”

Kholas looked over Tarina’s shoulder into the dark gray shroud of the snowy lands and asked, ”What have you seen and heard Lady Tarina?”

She pulled her head back to look at his face. He looked at hers as the snow flakes caught in her hair. He reached to pull her hood up about her cheeks as she answered.

”There is trouble brewing here. That man tonight, he wanted information. I don’t know who he is, he just paid me one night to gather it. I didn’t want to tell him, but he nearly forced me to had you not done what you did.

“I will tell you for I have seen you are alone. A small and very secretive party of travellers arrived at the Inn nearly a week ago. They rented many of the rooms, and reserved the private dining room for themselves. I was able to observe them rather close that first night, for I served them the ale and food. Not all are still there, some left after that first night. Three Rangers of the North and woman of their people left and have not returned. Between that man and these people, I smell trouble all over.”

Kholas’s finger went up to her lips and tapped them and she stopped talking.

”Fear not. There will be little if no trouble Lady Tarina. Come, let us get you home before you are missed.”

Tarina nodded and they walked once again. It was only about fifty paces to get to her house, and Kholas noted its location. She started to go when Kholas said, ”Wait! I wished to give you this! It was to be your tip tonight, and why I left the inn to find you!”

She turned and he handed her three coins. Two were silver like those she had gotten from the shadowy man. The other was a gold coin of Rhun. Its worth was in its weight, not the value embossed on it. She looked at it and said, ”Thank you Kholas, but this is far too much! It would buy a week of meals at the inn!”

”No, it is for you, for your kindness to this man from the lands of a once hated enemy. This hour tonight means more to me than you will know. Please take it. Keep it secret and use it at need.”

Kholas said as he closed her hand around the coins.

”But this one is Rhun gold! I cannot use it without drawing suspicion. What do I do with it but to have as a keepsake of this night?” she said as her eyes started to tear up.

He wiped them away and said, ”You keep it. In the right time, at the right place, you will know when to use it. You may want to visit the smith at the livery.”

Tarina’s father opened the door and peered out into the darkness.

“Tarina! That you? You’re late! Who is with you?”

Tarins smiled at Kholas then turned and said, ”A gentleman, Da. I had a bit of trouble on my way home tonight and he helped me.”

He grunted and tried to make out the figure beside his daughter in the driving snow. He finally said gruffly, ”Well you are home, so he can be on his way!”

He slammed the door most likely to try and keep the heat of the fire inside the walls. Tarina smiled and leaned up and gave Kholas’ bearded cheek a kiss.

Kholas smiled and said, ”Maybe I will see you again? I’ll likely not leave for days. Weeks maybe. I might be convinced to stay until summer! The weather’s very bad now you know. Nowhere to go.”

Tarina kept smiling as she walked away, not turning back toward him, but said over her shoulder, ”You know where I work.”

Kholas smiled and turned to walk away. He mumbled to himself as he walked into the wind, ”Same place where I am staying.”

He followed the barely noticeable tracks they had made. But for where they had stood for a time, they were already obscured by fresh snow. Kholas was careful and all the more vigilant in not making any noise in the quiet night. Only the wind howled mournfully. He was especially careful when he returned and saw the man he had knocked cold was no longer where he had laid. The amount of snow where he had been gave Kholas a rough idea on how long he had lain there. He looked about, expecting a sore-headed man come flying at him at any moment. But there was only silence. He followed the tracks down the alley and saw the door of which they led. He then returned to the street and walked to the Inn, and he again slipped inside into its warmth.

Mecarnil sat and ran over all those he had watched that day. There was nothing out of the ordinary really. He had hoped they would be able to coax out any of those who still wished to kill or take Rin captive. He hoped their numbers would be so few they would finally die. But like a bad rash, there was always one who wished to keep the idea of an independent Cardolan alive. They had to find something in this cold snowy town. Rocks said they would be near here. With the weather as it was, if they were hiding in the outskirts, they would have to come in at some time. No, they were here. Surely they have the Gilded Lantern watched. Surely the arrival of their party, as late in the season as it was, had been noticed by someone.

Trying to remain unnoticed was at times proving difficult. There were a few around who knew Hanasian, and even he almost ran into someone he knew. The best man they had to get out regularly was Rowdy, Slippery, Stillwater, and the old twins Frea and Folca. Also, arriving much later, was Kholas, an Easterling that Khule recommended from his original twelve who came to him to join the Company. He spent the first night out in the wood, and the next day as well. On the third day he arrived at the Gilded Lantern and he looked every bit the part of an Easterling trader. He was the best source of independent eyes and ears for them in the common room.

While some of the others would come and go, and at times sit and listen and watch, they never acknowledged Kholas, nor he them. He rented his own room, which by sheer luck was directly above the private dining room. It was also by sheer luck that the private dining room was where an unused floor hatch accessed the underboards. It wasn’t on the map Bard provided, so was probably never used. Being it was sealed, it would take a bit of work to get it opened. It was a matter of luck that Kholas in his room the first night noticed a large knot in the floorboards.

He carefully managed to work loose the knothole so he could whisper to those in the room below. The knot he worked loose was tapered the right way so he could simply drop it back in place to conceal it. He thanked the tree for growing a branch just so, and the mill for cutting the wood so, and the builders for using this plank so. It however wasn’t so easy for the men in the dining room below. To get near it, one had to climb up close to the ceiling in the corner of the room to be able to hear him. They needed to avoid the noise carrying and occupants of both rooms had to be careful about who might be outside the respective doors. This meant that an intricate process of moving of a table and then clambering atop it in the corner of the room was needed to get someone up to hear Kholas. Still, it was worth it to keep Kholas separated from the Company in the eyes and minds of the locals.

Rowdy early on had noted that the young sandy-haired serving girl seemed to spend much of her day serving them. He had to assume she would be listening to conversations and watching carefully those who came and went that weren’t regular. And they weren’t regular. It was in the afternoon that Rowdy sat at a table with some locals playing cards. On the afternoon Kholas first walked into the Inn, Hanasian would have been proud of these two new men, recent inductees to the Company from two different cultures in two different places, not knowing each other beyond the divisional patch they shared.

They communicated with just a sidelong look. Kholas knew before he ordered his first meal who to watch and she was rather pretty, an unexpected treat on this very serious matter. It was Kholas watched her that night and again the next day and into the night. She was definitely listening if not watching. He had managed to not catch her eye, but he did talk to others about trading, filling the air with words of no meaning. When she left for the night, he followed her.

Returning well chilled to the common room, Kholas shook off the chill with the snow all over him after he entered the Inn. Rowdy was in a card game with a couple remaining locals but noted his face. He found her and had information. It was time for him to retire from the game.

The next hand he scraped up his winnings and said to the two remaining players, ”Don’t worry, I’ll be back tomorrow night. Maybe you will win it all back!”

They grumbled and decided to call it a night. Rowdy went to the dining room, and Kholas had a small mug of stout before retiring to his room. The innkeeper went and locked the doors for the few hours before the Inn would open for breakfast. It was only a few minutes before the knot was lifted. There was a quiet scramble to get Rowdy up to hear what Kholas had to say. He was direct in his report.

”I found the serving girl. She was paid to gather information. She was good in not telling for her contact threatened her. I took him down and I spoke with the girl at length. She has noted the coming of the Company and has noted everyone that arrived the first night. She knows there are some missing from the inn and can provide basic descriptions of who, or rather what, they are. I think I can keep her from talking to anyone else. Make suitable adjustments to accommodate her eyes. She will be here at work again in the morning.”

The knot plugged the hole and Rowdy climbed down.

He said to Frea, ”We’ve been noticed by the serving girl. What’s more, someone paid her to talk of what she may see or hear. Kholas took care of him and her for now. Nothing is believed to have been said. We need to talk with Hanasian.”

Frea chuckled and Folca said, ”He’s been out of sight, holed up with his wife in Bard’s hall. Surely he will be paying us a visit by morning.”

Rowdy considered that and believed it would be doubtful Hanasian was seen any time soon, all things considered. He knew what he would be doing were he in Hanasian’s boots.

”One would hope. But in case he doesn’t, we need a back up plan. Now that I got a job at the smithy, I’ll be outside this inn. So I hope this will not be a problem,” Rowdy said.

Frea asked, ”You are a blacksmith?”

Rowdy answered, ”I’ve some experience. Made chain mail mostly as an apprentice. Didn’t like it much, but it will be enough to get me by. I won the job in a card game. Any of you get any work?

Folca answered, ”Yes, in the livery, which is right next to the smithy.”

Nobody else answered. It was about that time that the hatch was worked free, and at the right time. Hanasian came crawling up a few minutes after it got opened. The first thing Hanasian did after emerging was to go to the hearth and tried to warm up.

He said, ”Damn, those crawlways may be convienient to move about under the city, but you’re only inches above the water and the wind gets under there and freezes you to the bone! Now, tell me what you all know.”

They let Rowdy fill him in on what Kholas told them. Hanasian nodded and considered their situation. It was always the serving girls, he noted. His father had been quite fond of several, especially the sisters at the Forsaken about the time he was born. Why mother put up with him he would never know. Hanasian himself befriended a few along his path as well and found they were well placed and often valuable assets. They always hear and see more than people expect.

He asked, ”Is she a threat?”

Most were unsure, but Rowdy said, ”Kholas says he has her handled.”

Hanasian replied, ”I think the man who was asking for information that may be one Rocks’ contact here. We need to find him.”

Plans were made as to where they would look, but it was unanimously agreed that the best chance would be for this man to find Kholas. They were sure he would have a grudge to settle. The tap code got Kholas to pull the knot, and instructions were given that pleased him to no end. He was to keep befriending the girl and keep her close, and in time the man would make his move.
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Postby elora » Sun Sep 16, 2012 9:48 pm

Hanasian returned from the Gilded Lantern filled with news and chilled to the bone once again. Rin piled wood onto the hearth in the parlour as Mecarnil and Farbarad closed in. Elladan and Elrohir had left some days ago, intent on searching Mirkwood and hopeful of seeking aid of some sort from Thranduril. As Hanasian reported the details, Mecarnil's expression lost some of its frustration and Farbarad's gained a fell light. They had a lead; the net was being drawn tighter.

From her position by the hearth, Rin observed that having something to focus on did the two Rangers as much good as it had done her. Hanasian had been artful indeed and well she knew it. At first, he had ensured that he had drawn her full attention in ways only he could. With Mecarnil and Farbarad out during the day, and Elrohir and Elladan absent, they had the rooms to themselves and Hanasian had found an excellent use for them.

"We owe Khule a great deal for sending Kholas along," Farbarad said once Hanasian had finished and Mecarnil grunted, stroking his beard as he pondered.

"And I owe Rowdy an apology," he allowed a moment later because he had harboured enduring suspicion of the man.

"Another to add to the list," Rin observed and Mecarnil's head twisted about to catch her quiet smile.

"Well played," he admitted, they were each as proud as the other, and Rin lifted a shoulder in half a shrug.

"I'm learning," she casually answered as she walked towards her bedroom, for it was late.

She had caught Hanasian's smile as she brushed past him and a moment later Farbarad asked, "Speaking of learning, how goes those other lessons?"

"I didn't burn the pastry at all today."

"Pastry? Is there a pie? Why haven't we seen it?"
Farbarad persisted, aware that he was onto something.

"Note she referred to the pastry…not the filling," Hanasian murmured and Mecarnil chuckled.

At her request, Rin had been permitted to venture into Bard's kitchens. Rin's plan was simple. In under a year, she'd have a family to care for, plus two hungry Rangers and there were things she needed to know how to do, despite her unorthodox upbringing. Hanasian was well aware that a preoccupied Rin was far safer than anything else and he was running out of energy as the week progressed. He had agreed once an initial check of the kitchen's staff and security met with their exacting satisfaction.

Thus far, she had mastered the art of burning things that should be edible. Ovens, like beds she had discovered nearly a year ago, were trickier to use than their simple appearances suggested. It had only been three days. Tomorrow, she was sure she would have something to show for her efforts. As she closed the bedroom door to prepare for sleep she heard them discussing who between them should take on responsibility for the cooking once they had settled in at home. Apparently, the three men out there were not nearly as certain as she and this only made her more determined.

Elsewhere that night a man grimaced as his split scalp was closed by another. Silver Fox silver paced to a fro, highly agitated. The man was at his most dangerous in such states and the others in the room watched him carefully.

"Fool!" he eventually snarled, turning to face the injured man, "If your carelessness tonight proves our undoing, I will take it from your hide!"

The injured man kept his expression neutral and lowered his eyes in acceptance. There were no excuses to satisfy Malagorn at this time. That Easterling had appeared from nowhere and had he had more time with the serving girl, things would be different now. Now all he had to show for the night was the gash in his scalp, a pounding headache and absolutely nothing other than unsubstantiated hunches and suspicions. Silver Fox looked away and focused on another man.

"Your report," Silver Fox demanded and the man nodded.

"The farm is ours …the old man was only too pleased to be quit of it and with a reasonable sum of money in his possession. The well is dry and will prove a secure location that she will not be able to escape from. No locks to pick. The farm house is in reasonably good repair and far enough from Esgaroth that no one of any account will notice aught amiss."

Malagorn nodded, pleased with the development on this front at least. The discovery of the farm had been a boon. Taking up residence in an abandoned building drew attention, but this farm was not abandoned. The old man had proved amenable to selling, his wife dead and his children scattered and the well dry. And that well! What a find! A perfect place to keep someone for a protracted period of time. They would need to hold her for at least nine months, presuming they were met with success immediately. It was also valuable tool to use in bringing her into submission, for that would be necessary. Isolation, darkness, they could cap it and leave her there without food and water for a time. Yes, perfect. And, once they had what they required, simply cap it and walk away. They'd never find the traitor. Never. Cell and grave both. Ideal!

Pleasing as that was, however, it was clear that there had arisen salient threats in Esgaroth that could undo all of this. The attack on his man tonight might merely be chance, but Malagorn had never believed in chance. It was likely that their traitor was in Esgaroth already. If she was here, the fact that she was not already in their hands proved their agent within the Black had been compromised. The Black were notoriously effective in acquiring information. And he knew Mecarnil was here based on a suspected sighting some days ago.

Farbarad was unpredictable, wilder. Mecarnil, however, was easier to understand. The man worked according to strict principles of honour and integrity. Had Farbarad been spotted, Malagorn would not know whether Erían was nearby or not. Mecarnil, on the other hand, made it certain that she was somewhere in Esgaroth. There was simply no conceivable way that Mecarnil would leave her. Malagorn knew this, just as he knew it was wise to presume that they not only knew of of this conspiracy, but it's aims. Erían, Farbarad and Hanasian had not been sighted to confirm any of this conjecture. They therefore would be holed up somewhere safe. If Erían was in Esgaroth, then she would be in the safest placed there was – Bard's Hall.

Bard's Hall was not easy to penetrate. He'd sent men to sign on there as a precaution in the preparations for Mettarë, when the hall would be full of guests and hands would be short. The men he had sent were skilled but had not managed to gain a foothold in the hall itself. Still, the whispers they had heard of guests of great import only confirmed the suspicions that had formed upon possible sighting of Mecarnil. Malagorn's attention moved from the man responsible for acquiring and preparing the farm to the three men who had failed to gain employment in Bard's Hall.

"Well?" he growled.

"We've found a provender who keeps Bard's larders full of ale. His labourers found themselves unable to attend work yesterday. Ale barrels are very large and frequently heavy."

Malagorn tilted his head. This was something, at least.

"If you see an opportunity, take it. No unnecessary risks," he said and beside him, ensconced in a chair by the hearth, a man of a similar age to him cleared his throat.

"Indeed? If we do not seize opportunity, like as not she will slip through our fingers. What purpose can caution serve now? Is this not our final gambit?"

"Not necessarily but that is not your concern, Glarvis. I recommend you look to your own son for he had best be ready!"
Malagorn snapped and his gaze flicked to the younger man that lounged behind his father's armchair.

That one had said nothing and spent the evening admiring his nails. While his reputation preceded him, Malagorn had doubts about the boy.

In his chair, the man's father snarled, "He's ready!"

"This is not some trembling milkmaid you can merely slap into submission! She will come for your throat!"

At that, the younger man smiled coldly and lifted his eyes from his nails to Malagorn's face.

"Fear not, I will pull her claws," he murmured and Malagorn's doubts shifted at that. He moved his attention back to man's father.

"Have a care, Glarvis, lest your son ruin your ambitions. She must live to bear this heir if it is to be any benefit to your House. As for you," Malagorn swung back to the injured man, "I want that agent dead and I care not how it is accomplished."

"Aye, Silver Fox."

It took him another two days to contact his bar wench. It would have been faster, but the Gilded Lantern was a busy place and he was convinced now that some, if not most, of the men that came and went were Black Company. he even spotted the Easterling and tempting as it was, he knew he could ill-afford to inspire further censure from Malagorn in some spiteful vendetta. He had work to do, something to accomplish and he could ill afford to be recognised before he had done it. Ultimately he found his opportunity came when the wench came out the back of the inn to toss out scraps. He seized her arm and dragged her sharply to one side, the wooden pail clattering to the ground.

"Time to earn your keep, wench," he snarled into her frightened face.

"Wh-what do you want?" she cringed in alarm and his face twisted into a scowl.

"I want you to fetch a man out that is inside, here, to me."

"What for?"
Tarin asked and gasped as his grip on her forearm became brutally tight.

He bent close and hissed, "Because I said so, wench!"

She blanched and he went on to describe the agent. Her eyes grew wide and he knew then, he knew that the turncoat was inside.

"I haven't seen-"

There was a crack as the back of his hand caught the side of her face and she let out a soft cry of pain, "Don't you lie to me! Bring him out here, or I'll take my argument up with you. Do you hear me, girl?!"

He shook her hard to jolt her and she nodded, one cheek an angry red already. Then he released her and she stumbled back inside, bucket of scraps forgotten. He pulled back to wait, hand still stinging as he slipped it under his cloak and wrapped it around the wooden stock there.

Inside, Rocks folded his arms and sighed. It wasn't going well, he knew, even if no one would dare speak of it. They were never going to make contact with this man Kholas thought he could track down. Grudges didn't mean a thing to these men. What they needed to do was let him out to the place he was supposed to have been at nearly a fortnight ago. They needed to let him make contact, as arranged, to set it all up, draw them all out. These men were smart. Kholas had been back to the building he had marked and found it empty and nothing of any use there. Rocks could have told them that too. Not that they listened to him. Rin would have, were she here. Instead, they had her cooped up safely. She was their other best chance, perfect bait and they had her warming her hands by the fire under their over protective guard. She'd give them hell, the Doc he knew.

Still, after several days of waiting for the serving girl's benefactor to reappear, they had at last deigned to let him sit in the Gilded Lantern's common room. It was a small improvement. Perhaps, by summer's end, they might start to see things his way, he sourly thought. The re-appearance of the serving girl barely caught his attention at first. Once their gazes brushed each other, her eyes grew wide. He could see she was shaking hard and that someone had recently used the back of his hand on her. He drained his water, for there was no ale for him, and nudged it towards her to give her an excuse to approach. Folca and Rowdy were at work. Frea was holed up with the others in the dining room because Kholas had just come back with an arm load of nothing to report.

The girl collected up his empty mug and swiped at the table with a rag.

"Sir," she mumbled awkwardly.

"You have the wrong man, if that's the case," Rocks replied dryly. Rin would have chuckled, but this one just looked ready to burst into tears. Kholas might fall for the helpless lamb charade but he really couldn't see the appeal of it, no matter how pretty the face.

"What's the problem, girl," he asked with a faint shake of his head and she glanced over her shoulder towards the kitchen.

"I- There's a man out back…wants to see you," she muttered miserably, her shaking increased.

Rocks snorted, "That so? Well what's he waiting for? I'm sitting right here."

"P-please sir,"
she stuttered, bottom lip quivered, "He says if you don't go out there, he- he'll – he'll…"

Rocks sighed and inwardly cursed his newly formed conscience. Life was much simpler, easier and clearer before a certain Company healer. There was a time when he'd send the girl on her way without a second thought in her direction. It was her problem if she accepted money from strange men.

"Is that who hit you?" he asked and she nodded, a tear spilling over as she fiercely twisted the rag between her hands.

"Right…follow, but not too close. Don't let him see you, no matter what," Rocks said as he gained his feet.

He trudged out through the kitchen with his serving girl ghost haunting along at a safe distance. He paused at the door, glanced back at her and shook his head. He could not believe he was about to do this. Chivalry was overrated. He stared at the hand he had on the door latch for a moment, took a deep breath, and opened to door to step into the alley. He nearly tripped over a discarded bucket of kitchen scraps at first. The alley appeared empty but Rocks knew better.

He heard the whack of the hammer an instant before the quarrel thudded into his sternum and shattered his chest wall. He grunted in surprise at that. He had not expected a crossbow. It was one of the screw ones, the sort that were small enough to conceal, accurate enough over short distances and easier to reload. When the second bolt tore into him, he thought it unnecessary. The first one had been enough and bolts were expensive. His vision was darkening as a man stepped out. His contact glanced at him appraisingly, found everything to his satisfaction, and then strode out of Rocks' line of sight.

Tarina heard muffled sounds that were unfamiliar and frightening as she pressed her ear to the kitchen door. She heard boots crunch over the snow in the alley and become distant. Unable to help herself, she cracked the kitchen door open and saw a bright, garish splash of red snow. The man lay slumped, as if he sat on the ground and leant back against the wall of the inn. His legs were canted and folded unnaturally and two thick things protruded from his chest. His hands were limp in his lap. His head sagged, eyes open but they saw nothing. Horror flooded Tarina at the sight and her chest heaved as it threatened to overwhelm her. Where was Kholas? Her hand fumbled for the golden coin, tucked into a pocket of her apron and then she recalled his words.

She left the door hanging open behind her as she flew into the alley, stumbling in her hurry to reach the smithy near the livery. She practically fell into the hot and dark smithy and tripped over the doorframe in her haste. A man, bare from the waist up in the oppressive heat, stood with the biggest hammer she had ever seen raised over his head and frozen there. Fire made his skin glisten and he wore a thick leather apron. He stared at her hard and then his hammer swung down but did not collide with the horseshoe he was fashioning on the anvil before him. He strode towards her, through the fumes of iron and fire and steam reached for her.

She jerked back as if stung and Kholas' gold coin fell heavily to the floor and spun a moment. Rowdy crouched and closed his hand around the weight and studied the girl that had burst in. Then he turned about and headed deeper into the smithy. She stared after him, agog. He emerged again, dressed in a shirt and throwing a cloak over his shoulders despite the terrible heat and the way the shirt already clung to his damp skin. He placed one hand under her arm, not cruelly but firmly all the same, and retraced her steps until he found Rocks. The girl uttered a low moan at the sight and Rowdy swiftly towed her past it and into the kitchen of the inn.

"You know who did that?" he asked on their way to the dining room and she nodded miserably, pale with that greenish tinge that suggested someone was about to wear her breakfast soon.

He pulled her into the dining room without knocking. Slippery shot to her feet, Frea scowled at him and Stillwater froze at the sight of Rowdy and the serving maid from his vantage atop the table. Kholas wisely fell silent.

"Rocks is dead. They know we're here," Rowdy said, releasing Tarina now they were inside the dining room.

"And in your grief stricken madness, you decided to bring her in here," Slippery snapped, eyed Tarina dangerously as she wrapped a hand around a dagger hilt.

"She brought me your coin, Kholas," Rowdy replied, ignoring Slippery's sarcasm.

"Kholas?" Tarina tremulously said and from the roof came the sound of an Easterling curse.

"I'll get Folca," Frea said.

"Watch your footing out back. Treacherous," Rowdy warned and Frea took his meaning immediately.

"And I'll fetch Hanasian," Stillwater said as he climbed down from the table.

"Kholas?" Tarina repeated and Slippery rolled her eyes at the ceiling.

"Well, Prince Charming," she quipped and another Easterling curse was shut off once the knot of wood was plugged back into place.

Slippery could hear Kholas' boots on the floorboards overhead as he crossed to his door. She returned her attention to the serving maid. The girl was frightened out of her wits.

"Tarina, isn't it?" she asked and the girl nodded jerkily, "Tarina, I suggest that you grab a seat and take a few deep breaths to steady yourself. Perhaps some water might help."

"W-why? What's going on?"

Slippery said, glancing at Rowdy who shrugged, "Soon this room is going to be filled with irritable Rangers with a lot of questions for you."

"But I didn't do anything!"

"They'll be the judge of that,"
Rowdy said and Slippery shot him a scowl because he wasn't helping and she did not know why the man had suddenly decided to be so loquacious.

"What's going on?" Tarina demanded with greater force, loosing any composure she may have recently regained and becoming agitated.

"Have you ever met a princess before, Tarina?" Slippery asked as Kholas admitted himself to the dining room.

Tarina shook her head from side to side and Kholas said from behind her, "Well, appearances can be deceiving."

"You're no trader,"
Tarina spat at him as she whirled about.

"No…though one day I might be. Perhaps," Kholas said with no small trace of regret at her response, "But you have met a princess and a queen."


"Do you recall the woman who left with the Rangers of the North?"

Tarina looked from him to Slippery, who nodded, to Rowdy who simply returned her gaze impassively. She recalled the woman clearly. She had been very tall, with pale hair like morning sunlight and such remarkable eyes. Tarina had never seen anyone quite like her before. She had not been very happy. In fact, she had struck Tarina as so very sad that she hid it behind anger.

"You're going to hurt her! I won't allow it! I- I'll-"

"You'll sit there quietly, Tarina, of your own free will or not,"
Rowdy said and Slippery rolled her eyes at him.

"Not very helpful, you clod," she snapped at him as Tarina became fearful once again.

Kholas stepped forward and she shrank back from him several steps.

"I swear it, Lady Tarina, we are not here to harm her, or you."

"That is actually true,"
Slippery helpfully added and then settled in to wait for the hatch in the floor to pop open again.

Stillwater emerged, along with Hanasian, Mecarnil and Farbarad and one other Slippery had not expected to see. She appeared to be wearing flour. It coated her forearms where she had rolled up her sleeves, smudged her nose and cheek and hung in her hair. No sooner was Rin on her feet did she turn to face Rowdy.

"Where is he?" she demanded.

"You can't go out there. It isn't safe," Rowdy replied and Rin took a step closer, bristling.

"Where. Is. My. Man?"

With that question, Slippery understood why Rin was here and she glanced sympathetically at three Rangers who were none too happy about it. Rocks may be a traitor, but Rin still saw him as hers. Her Duckling, her medic, one of her men. She had been as fiercely protective of her Ducklings as she was of her Cats and there wasn't a Black Company man or woman who didn't know it, Rowdy included.

"He's in the alley. There's nothing you can do for him, Doc," Rowdy answered once her scrutiny got too much to bear.

"We can bury him. Not leave him there like garbage," she hissed.

Rowdy looked past her to the three Rangers and Hanasian reluctantly nodded.

"Bring him in from the alley. Bard's men have been notified. They will collect him."

"The cellar,"
Tarina said, surprising herself and then discovering all the attention of a princess, a queen even, and three Rangers settled on her.

She swallowed hard and continued, "There is a spare room there and it is quiet and cool."

"Thank you,"
said the queen, just like she was any other woman Tarina might bump into on the street. Like she had thanked Kholas the other night, grateful and not haughty at all.

"Rowdy, Stillwater, see to it," Hanasian said.

"Cap," they murmured and followed Tarina out.

Slippery sidled closer to Rin and the two women exchanged a knowing glance that spoke volumes.

"So, how goes the wife classes," Slippery inquired lightly and despite it all, Rin actually laughed.

"Slowly, unless the art of it lies in burning anything edible."

"She's mastered that,"
Mecarnil rumbled.

By the time Stillwater and Rowdy returned with Tarina, Frea had returned with Folca and it was time get on with things.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Yes…that's it…now keep an eye on it, your Highness. Young Rob here has been heating that oven for you since before dawn."

"Please! How many times?"

"Until you quit burnin' them-"

"No…the titles!"
Rin interrupted sharply, both hands on her hips and a deep frown on a face flushed from the oven's heat. With things on a knife edge out there, no slip was too small to ignore. Since Rocks had been killed two days ago, everyone was on edge. They were all out, combing Esgaroth and its surrounds for anything out of the ordinary. They were all on edge, her included. She lived in dread. Dread that Rocks' fate would find others, find Hanasian, or the others. It dogged her day and night. Hanasian, Mecarnil and Farbarad left before dawn and rarely got back before midnight, if indeed they returned at all.

"Oh…well…I know….but it isn't right. Not right at all," the cook said abashed and caught sight of a sack of potatoes being set down precisely where the whole kitchen will trip over it.

These new labourers had proved no end of trouble and he bellowed at the man responsible. To his great chagrin, the man stared right at him then turned about and walked back out to the wagon. Of course, this needed to be corrected at once and it gave him a chance to escape an irate princess of the highest court. No sooner had he reached the door to berate the labourers, a blast of the morning's chill permeated him, was there a terrible cracking, grinding sound. The barrels in the wagon had come free and crashed into the snow bound courtyard. Some of the barrels split, others remained in tact. Ale was spreading over the snow, freezing before his stunned eyes. Two of the labourers had managed to avoid the crush but the third had not been so fortunate. The cook stared and then he spun about to face the kitchen. Everyone within was frozen in alarm with the exception of one. Rin came to stand at the door with him and surveyed the disaster outside.

"Your High-"

"Hot water, now…clear that table, send someone to fetch Bard's cutter immediately and find me clean cloths, whatever you have…sharp knives too, the paring ones,"
Rin said in a firm voice and the cook nodded, jowls swaying with the movement.

She placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed so that he would pay attention, "Keep this door shut until I call to open it. We need it warm in here. And get as many as you can out of the kitchen, so we do not trip over them as we work."

He fumbled at the latch and she did not look back as she continued into the courtyard. The fallen man lay twisted at unnatural angles in the wagon tray. She picked her way towards the wagon carefully, assembling the scene as she went. The wagon wheels had not been braced. A rope lay, snapped through, on the snow. The man appeared to have climbed into the back of the tray and it would have tilted or rolled under his weight.

Rin harboured no illusions. It may already be futile. The temperature was frigid, but her pulse was roaring as it always did. Ironically, she never felt more alive than when death drew near at times like this. There were two other men in the courtyard and one was trying to re-position the barrels while the other secured the wheels. Their movements betrayed a waxen quality that suggested shock to her. They'd need to be brought in as well, but the fallen man came first.

If any of the Black saw her now, they would be howling with anger, but so too would the family of this man when they heard a Healer had been available and cowered inside for fear of her own life. It was as simple as that. In truth, the fact she was taking a risk did not occur to her until after she was already in the wagon. Instinct had taken over and it rode her hard now. This was who and what she was: a healer. Multiple, catastrophic injuries, blood was freezing, jagged bones protruded from skin and clothing, and parts of him had been pulped by the heavy ale barrels that had slammed over him. Somehow, despite this, he still breathed.

His eyes fluttered as she knelt as carefully as she could to avoid upsetting the wagon further. She paid little further attention to the other two men and set her hands on the broken man's shattered body to begin. At the least, she could ease his final moments. At best, she could keep his heart working while those inside marshalled what was needed to bring him in and start work proper. She could hear his lungs filling with blood and labouring. His breathing was shallow, wet and gurgling. It was so cold that he was not in immediate danger of bleeding out. His wounds were clotting with frozen blood. The internal bleeding, however, would kill him. In this instance, the temperature was an ally, for it had slowed his heart and thus the bleeding inside.

"Don't strain," she said advised but he could not help it, his body was screaming for air and his pain was excruciating.

Rin glanced to the kitchen door and wondered if enough time had passed to ensure they were ready inside, provided he survived the transfer in? It was a delicate balancing act and as she weighed it all up a coarse cloth was pressed over her mouth. She heard the stricken man gasp as her consciousness fled and the full force of his pain returned. Once her weight was absolutely limp, the two men moved swiftly. Within minutes, they had her secured in an empty ale barrel in the tray and the wagon was on its way, bouncing through the streets. They left the dying man with the fallen barrels in the snow of the courtyard, a necessary price for this success.

Bard's cutter paced around the kitchen table within impatiently a moment longer and then barked at the cook to open the door. While the medic was perplexed by what he saw outside, the cook was horrified by what he did not see there in the courtyard.

"Is this some kind of jest? I am not here to be dangled at a noble's whim, no matter how highly she might be born!" the cutter growled and the cook slammed the door shut.

"GET THE RANGERS NOW!" the man cried, aghast.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rin stared up into the darkness overhead. Her clothes were soaked in the fetid water she had been left in and caked in the mud and slime that coated the belly of the well. The fabric of her skirts had started to ice. Dare she try it? She could just make out the shaft of the well. It was bricked but it was old and there were footholds and handholds there. She just might be able to work her way up. There was a wooden cap over the well. She did not know if it would be barred or locked. If she fell…well, it would be fast, at least. She would be spared the horror and humiliation of what she knew lay ahead of her. When would it begin? What would they do once they discovered she was already with child?

Her decision was made with that thought and so she stretched to her full height, scrabbled for a crumbling hold and was pleased no one else was in the well to watch her lower limbs kick and scramble indecently for some leverage in the vault's roof. A root proved her saviour and she set her weight against it, gathered her strength and propelled herself up in a surge. It would take hours, and all her strength, to get far enough up that she could brace herself across the shaft of the well. It placed inordinate strain on her legs, but it gave her arms respite. Then, back pressed on one side, feet on the other and hands pulling and pushing, she began to wriggle her way back up to whatever was above.

Rin's head brushed the underside of the well cap as the day's shadows reached their zenith. Exhaustion had her muscles shaking. She expected the cap to be locked or weighted but even so she tested it. She could not face a certain death without at least trying, no matter how futile. She nearly burst into tears when the cap started to move. She steeled herself, sucked in a breath and shoved the wooden well cap aside. It fell into the snow drifts around the well. A few more inches and she would out! Shoulders above the lip of well, she brought her arms up to lever herself out, for her legs were about to fail her entirely. As she struggled, the wind at dusk icy on her damp face and clothing, she began to wonder at things. Did they watch? Where was she? How would she escape once out of the well, particularly as she knew her legs would not be able to walk, much less run? Where would she find shelter so she would not freeze tonight?

Questions crowded her exhausted mind and at that moment the strength in her legs failed and her arms took the full extent of her weight. Death's maw yawned beneath her, hungry and dark. Panic suffused her in an instant and there was nothing she could do. A cry was dragged from her throat, hoarse and dry from panting with her exertions. Then two hands, like iron, were under her arms and she was pulled sharply up and out of the well. Her head spun as she was dropped into the snow. A moment later, she was hauled up. Rin's vision cleared and the twilight revealed a face she did not recognise at all. She tugged in new alarm but she had no strength left and it made little impact on him. He dragged her through the snow towards a farmhouse. Light twinkled out between the curtains drawn over the window. Another strange man stood by a door, watching impassively. Smoke curled from a chimney overhead. The man by the door pulled it open as they drew near. She was roughly shoved through the door and into what felt like a furnace compared to the chill outside. The door closed hard behind her and she stumbled to her knees on the floorboards of the farmhouse.

"Had I known you to be so eager to begin, I would have sent for you earlier," said a silver haired man.

Rin pushed herself with great effort to her feet. Her knees nearly buckled and so she pressed herself back against the wall. The man who had spoken stood slowly from his chair and clasped his hands behind his back. He approached the shaking, filthy woman and considered her at length. Her expression, despite her obvious vulnerability, was an inscrutable mask. Her father had worn the same mask in his time and the fact that she had managed to climb out of the well displayed Bereth's determined fire. That fire had availed him naught in the end, as his treacherous daughter would soon discover.

What Malagorn was struck by, however, is how hauntingly she resembled her mother. This could have been a Queen they could have been proud of. Fair, proud, strong, and provided she had been true to her people and properly matched to a suitable Consort, Cardolan's future would not require such a grievous assurance. They would have willingly rallied to her had she just merely proved faithful and true to them, to her heritage, to her birthright and blood. Instead, she had reduced them to this. Malagorn's hands tightened at his back. Rage, no matter how justified, would serve no purpose. Instead, he stepped back and angled just slightly so that she could see the other two men in the room.

"Well?" he asked the other two men.

Rin knew predators when she saw them. She had learnt that lesson early in the most brutal way imaginable. Loch would kill these three in a heartbeat were he here to see them. The two men that Silver Fox spoke to regarded her like she was nothing more than an animal. She had no idea who they were but she knew the threat they represented. The younger one spoke first.

"As you said, though she is filthy."

"Something I am sure we can remedy,"
Silver Fox replied, the others smiled and her skin crawled.

He turned his attention back to her, "Introductions are due, your Majesty. You, of course, are Erían, Queen of Cardolan by undisputed birthright and traitor to your people as demonstrated by your perfidy and actions of late."

Malagorn watched her composure flinch with some satisfaction but was then surprised when at last she spoke. Her voice was a low growl of outrage and contempt.

"I know who you are, dog, and I care not for the names of your curs," she snarled dismissively.

It was a ploy, she knew, but she desperately needed to gain some power if she was not to be torn to pieces by the men in the room. She watched the Silver Fox's expression carefully. A raised brow, a tight nod and a small smile. He had been chief counsellor to her father, her birth father. Silver Fox, Malagorn, as dangerous as a rabid bear and as smart as his namesake. Even Bereth had feared him and worked hard to retain him as an ally.

"Well then, it seems we can dispense with formalities, your Majesty, and begin in proper," he said and at that, the young man rose from his seat with a cold smile. She saw then a belt had been wrapped around one hand and he slowly unfurled it.

It was dark and the sky was clear when she was brought back to the well. Her back was on fire and the frigid air only made it worse. Two men accompanied her. One held a lantern and the other dragged her. She was barely conscious and the brilliant stars overhead left dazzling trails as they streaked over the sky. She blacked out entirely before they reached the well. The two men lowered her down with rope and once she had reached the bottom they simply let go. The well cap was replaced and heavy stones fetched from the eaves of Mirkwood secured it into place to ensure a repeat of the day's near miss would not reoccur. It was unlikely anyway, given the state she was in after that beating. Not so much as cry or word, but they'd heard the sound of the lashes and the soft grunt of the man who delivered them.

The well secured, the two men returned to their stations to maintain a watch. Vigilant though they were, their mortal eyes could not penetrate the shadows of Mirkwood to find two Elves concealed there. Elladan had a hold of his brother for Elrohir had stiffened and nearly broken cover at what they had just seen. So very softly, Elladan spoke to his twin.

"Seek Hanasian, and swiftly."

"No! We will not make that same error again. We left her last time and came to rue it. You saw her as did I…you saw what they did!"

"Aye…but it will take two of us to bring her out, and they will know. Even if we shoot both guards, they will know. We are not enough, Elrohir. Seek Hanasian! I will keep watch!"

"And if they come for her?"

Elrohir's voice spoke of a more personal grief and Elladan knew it. Their mother's suffering had been immense and it had driven her from mortal shores. They had found this nest of foul, cruel men too late to prevent whatever had taken place already, delayed by their attempt to seek the aid of Thranduril's people. Elladan laid a hand on his brother's forearm.

"I will defend her, brother, even if it be the last thing I do."

Elrohir knew the truth of that and so darted away, moving over snow and through the trees with deadly speed and grace.
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Postby elora » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:55 pm

The hours stretched as night drew in and Elladan watched and waited for Elrohir’s return. The temperature plummeted and his vigil was edged with concern for the one he watched over. There was no moon but the sky was clear and the starlight more than sufficient for his keen Eldar vision. Though he had advised Elrohir against the wisdom of pressing in on their own, he calculated various approaches that he might attempt on his own. The light from within the farmhouse flared on the snow outside whenever a curtain was twitched aside. He knew they watched.

From his position in the fringes of Eryn Lasgalan he could mark the dark shapes of the stones they had set on the cap of the well. He would be able to get to the well if he were swift and remove the cover. But that was the least of his concerns. He had no way of knowing if she was able to climb out. If he had to go down to retrieve her, they would be vulnerable for he would not be able to watch from above. Not only that, those in the farmhouse would surely note something amiss and they would not permit him to go unchallenged. What would follow after that was simply too risky to countenance. He would act in haste if he had to. If he must. That time had not yet come, he resolved, and so he remained where he was.

Hanasian fought despair as the night closed around him. So many wagons came and went in Esgaroth and none of the wagons they had been able to track down had been the one they were chasing. The cook had given a detailed description of the wagon and the men driving it. She’d been taken hours ago. He should never have let her into the kitchen. Never. And now…he could not think upon what was happening now or it would drive him mad and he needed his wits. It was nearly midnight and he squinted at the shape of Stillwater as the man returned them. They were on the outskirts of Esgaroth and Slippery thought she had seen the spokes of a wagon wheel in a fire that several vagabonds had built to fend off the chill. That had been enough to send Stillwater in.

”It’s Doc’s,” Stillwater said upon return and Hanasian nearly missed pulling Farbarad back from the man. Farbarad’s restraint had been whittled away hour by hour until he was now little more than a fight waiting to happen.

”What did they say?” Mecarnil said as Hanasian shoved Farbarad back.

”Two men, wagon full of ale barrels. Stopped, removed a woman from one, unhitched the horses, set off west with the woman on the horses.”

”West…Eryn Lasgalen,”
Rowdy said.

”And farms between the forest and Esgaroth,” Hanasian added and in his mind the task became impossibly large. The time needed to search each farm thoroughly and the sheer scale of the forest did little to inspire hope.

”We should split up,” Frea suggested and then, from the darkness, came an elven fair voice.

”A very bad idea for I believe we have need of every sword you have,” Elrohir stated plainly.

”They have her!” Hanasian cried and Elrohir extended a hand and set it on Hanasian’s shoulder.

”Yes. Elladan and I have seen her. She is being kept on the farm nearest to Thranduril’s realm.”

“Is she safe?”

“She is in a well. I imagine it is very cold. She was not dressed for it,”
Elrohir replied, uncertain of the wisdom of speculation for he believed there was something else awry given what they had seen as she was dragged out and thrust into the well.

”I will take you there. Elladan watches to prevent anything else befalling.”

“Else? What else?”
Farbarad growled sharply.

”We don’t have time for this,” Hanasian snapped and nodded at Elrohir, ”Lead on, Elrohir, with all speed. I’ll not have my wife freeze to death in a pit waiting on us.”

It was all they could do to keep up with the Elf in the moonless night, for he moved with characteristic swiftness through the snowy expanses. Weary and frantic as they were, however, they made no complaint and no one lagged. Not even Frea and Folca, who were no longer young men. Elrohir led them past the other farms, their twinkling warm windows and the pale plumes of smoke from their hearths. He led them into the bare, dormant boles of Eryn Lasgalen’s trees. On he led them until the promise of dawn blushed the eastern horizon. Only then did he pause and make a bird call that Elladan promptly answered. Elrohir stole forward through the trees until he reached to his brother.

Elladan did not look away from his vigil. The farmhouse was dark, no light from its windows peeked forth. A small stable stood on the far side, closest to Esgaroth. The house stood twenty paces from the trees they sheltered in. The well stood in a straight line from the door, some ten paces from the house eaves. Elladan held up eight fingers to indicate how many he had detected inside the house. Hanasian flickered a hand sign to him and Elladan shook his head. There had been no sound or signal from the well. At that, Hanasian turned to his own people and gave out the command by hand signal. The others faded away to move into position before dawn arrived to illuminate the snowy farm properly.

In the well the darkness was absolute. It pressed upon her like a great barrow, outweighed only by the chill that emanated from the frozen earth around her. The rotting water had iced over. So had her clothing. It had been damp with ale, sweat and blood. Ice hung in her hair too. Rin had her knees drawn up to her chest. Her muscles screamed in fatigue from the constant shivering, the earlier beating and her attempt to escape this nightmare. Her jaw ached from the constant chattering of her teeth. She had not eaten nor drunk anything for a long time. Her thoughts were slowing, becoming muddy and dull. All she could do now was hang onto one thing and one thing alone. An idea. A thought. She must not go to sleep. She mustn’t. She had no idea why anymore. Only that she mustn’t. The icy material over her knees crunched as she pressed her brow against them. She mustn’t go to sleep. No…no…only it was so warm there. So warm…why mustn’t she go there? It made no sense. None at all… In fact, it was silly, because it was so warm there and so cold here.

They moved with the first proper rays of sunlight. Most moved for the farmhouse. Rowdy and Kholas were the first to enter the place. The sound of shattering glass as they bulled through the windows on the far side was the only signal the others needed. The door was pulled open and Frea, Folca, Stillwater and Slippery pressed in from the other side while Elladan and Elrohir waited with arrows ready should any flee from house. Three Rangers converged on the well, tossed the lid aside and shouted down into it. Only silence returned from the well, carried on a blast of frigid air.

Elrohir glanced to where the Rangers were crowded around the well, foreboding seeping through him.

”RIN! RIN! Hurry, rope, Mec! RIN!” Hanasian bellowed, voice echoing off the walls of the well shaft.
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Postby elora » Sat Sep 29, 2012 6:33 pm

It was a sure sign that he was right to get out of the company. He had lost his edge. Maybe love caused that or maybe he just didn’t read signs as he should. How could he allow his wife to be taken again? Short of chaining her to himself, he couldn’t keep her safe. Self-doubt filled Hanasian faster than he could drain it off. He didn’t have the Company anymore, and so his whole being was focused on his love. Perhaps coming to Esgoroth was the wrong decision. Maybe they should have just headed west to their home and set about making it proper. Now, because of his lapse in leadership and thought, Rin was put in danger again. This was it. If she was alright after this, they would go west and not give a care to the world outside. He swore he would not let her out of his sight again. They would live happily together, not bothered by anyone.

It wasn’t long before a rope was brought, and it was secured to Hanasian as he worked his way into the well. He lowered himself slowly down, hoping he was not too late to save his wife and child. He found her slumped in the fetid, icy waters, cold to the touch, and removed the rope from himself to secured it around Rin. At his signal, the others above worked to pull her up. He watched her go, sending his enduring hope that she would survive and vowing that those responsible for this would die. Once again he had to let her go out of his sight and the rope did not fly back to fast enough. He scrambled to get out of the well and he saw that two men were being held by Kholas while Farbarad was restrained by Frea and Folca. A third man was walking out of the house with Stillwater and Rowdy, a slight grin on his face. He looked at Hanasian as he stepped forward. Elladan rested his bow and went to tend to Rin, who lay covered in cloaks. Elrohir kept his at the ready and trained on any potential target.

If anyone saw it coming, it was Farbarad. A blink of an eye was too long for the events that unfolded as the muffled silence of the snow-covered lands erupted into chaos. Hanasian ordered Farbarad to be released. As the hands of Frea and Folca relaxed their grip, Farbarad shook them away and considered moving against the third man. But what he saw only caused him to react with instinct. With a hand that moved so fast and sly, Silver Fox ripped himself from Rowdy’s grip and smashed Stillwater in the face with a fist. Before Rowdy could react, the man had Stillwater’s knife and slammed its hilt into Rowdy’s face. Elrohir let his arrow fly but it only sliced the neck of the swift-moving Silver Fox. The man had taken a swift step forward and sent his stolen dagger sailing right toward Rin where she lay. Elladan turned his head when his keen eye marked the blade’s flight. He lifted his hand up to knock it away but Farbarad jumped forth in front of the flying knife to shield Rin. He took it full on in the side between his ribs and his blood spilled in a crimson stain upon snow, Rin and Elladan as he crumpled to the ground. Reactions to this were swift and chaotic. Kholas slammed the heads of the two men he held together hard. One fell backwards dead as shards of his broken skull pierced his scalp and brain. The other spun away, but fell as the concussion caused him to lose balance. Mecarnil stopped his fall with a knife to his belly. He twisted and turning it hard and fast, and then pushed the man backwards off his blade so that he too fell and bled out in the snow. Hanasian lunged after Silver Fox but the sly Cardolanian rolled in the snow, regained his feet and ran for Eryn Lasgalen. Hanasian gave pursuit, his blade in hand and the two men had disappeared into the woods within moments. Kholas set out after them but Mecarnil signalled him to go with him to the right. Frea and Folca together ran off to the left of where Silver Fox and Hanasian had disappeared in the wood.

The chill wind sifted the falling snow all around in the gray skies. Hanasian followed the trail Silver Fox left; it was quite easy in the snow. Not only did he leave heavy footprints, his bleeding neck left a blood trail. Hanasian didn’t know what he would do when he caught up to the man, but his mind was filled with rage at what had been done to his wife by this man. Not thinking what took place at the farmhouse in those moments, Hanasian pressed on and gave no rest to the man he pursued.

Silver Fox dodged his pursuer and worked his way slowly to the right in the wood. Hanasian had little trouble following, for the crimson snow pointed the way. It was when the Silver Fox had to climb over a huge fallen tree that Hanasian caught up to him. Malagorn rested as he straddled the log. His strength departed with each drop of blood. The elf’s arrow had done more damage than had first appeared. His breath gave out clouds of silvery steam as he looked at the approaching Hanasian.

”You sully all who call themselves Arnorians,” Malagorn gasped.

Hanasian slowed but his determined demeanour did not alter. His knife in hand, Hanasian continued his approach towards the man and said, ”You, and those that think like you have failed. It ends here. Here and now!”

Silver Fox laughed, ”So you will kill me and you will think it will end? It will not. You know that. Another will take my place.”

Hanasian was nearly to the log and was about to grab the man and pull him down to finish it but instead Malagorn fell on his own. The loss of blood from the arrow from Elrohir’s bow had found its mark. It had taken time for the man to bleed out. Hanasian stood before him and watched the snow turn scarlett and pink, and fought the urge to stab him viciously. He stood over the man and cursed him. With that he hoped that now he and Rin would have peace. Rin! He had to get back to his beloved! He had sworn in the well he would never leave her side again, yet he found himself in the snowy woods alone. He turned just as a knife blade dug into his shoulder. It was aimed for his back behind his heart. Hanasian fell and rolled, pulled the knife out. A ranger’s knife of Cardolan! Now, it was he who was staining the snow. Hanasian wondered if he would see his wife again as a shadow crept over him.

”You stupid half-breed…” a voice said quietly. Hanasian tried to roll and see who stood over him. But he knew the voice. It went on…

”Not even that, really. Your Lossoth b*s*a*d blood speaks loudly of all that is wrong with Arthedain. You would have us go the way of Rhuadur and mingle, and mingle again. But aside from our great King, true pure Dunedain blood only pulses through ever so few, and the fewest, yet purist, are Cardolanion! You have sullied our rightful Queen you who call yourself Arthedainian. You are from a Lossoth-mingled line, and only half so. You should call yourself Rohirrim since you are half so. Now you mingle the blood of the Rohirrim into our line, and you think we would follow you? No, you will die here, and our Queen will be cleansed and will bear a child of true Cardolanion blood, and our people will continue!”

Though Hanasian heard the words, he could not bring himself to believe what was being said. He lay on the ground and stared up at the man that stood over him, he wheezed a response breathlessly, ”Mecarnil… we are brothers in arms! We rode the Paths of the Dead with our King! You know not what you say!”

“I know exactly what I say, ‘brother’. It has not been easy for me these long years. Yes, we served our King, and yes, I served you as my Captain in the Company. But you are no longer my Captain, and are no longer a Company. I regret it has come down to this, old friend, but Cardolan will again rise from the ashes of the destruction of men.”

Mecarnil raised his knife and sent it down hard toward Hanasian’s chest but he was knocked off balance when a log hit his head. The sound of the wood cracking on Mecarnil’s head was muffled in the snowy trees and Hanasian’s knife instead plunged into the chest of Mecarnil as he fell on top of him, the sound little more than a soft scrape. Standing over the two men was Kholas, his head bloodied down one side.

”If you are going to kill, then kill. Waste not time talking.” the Easterling said flatly.

Mecarnil fell to the side of Hanasian as he pushed him off. Hanasian stood and looked at Kholas, who stared at Mecarnil. Hanasian brushed the man’s bloody hair from his swollen cheek, wrapped his arm around his neck and drew him close.

He whispered, ”This did not happen this way. He died in the pursuit of Silver Fox. He deserves to be remembered with honour.”

Kholas was confused; his head still rang from the clubbing he took from Mecarnil. He wasn’t sure what Hanasian was saying but the sound of footsteps brought the two to turn about. Frea and Folca approached through the trees and stopped when they saw the two bloodied men standing. Looking about, they saw the two dead men.

Folca noted the blood-stained snow and asked, ”What happened here Cap?”

Frea was not far behind his twin and also paused to study the scene. He looked at the two dead men and then to Hanasian and Kholas’s wounds. A silence followed, but Hanasian finally said, ”I’m not really sure what happened. My recollection after Silver Fox hit me with his knife and knocked the wind out of me seems to have blurred in my mind. I think they killed each other in the fight while I was down.”

Folca looked at Kholas, who was still dazed and unsure what to say. Folca asked, ”What do you know of this, Easterling?”

Kholas swallowed and said as his arm wiped the blood and sweat from his brow, ”I don’t know for certain... I was hit with a log or something from behind as I pursued. Mecarnil was not far behind me. I heard a scuffle and I turned to look, and everything went black. When I came to, I came over here to help Hanasian up out of the snow. It looks like the two men fought and killed each other while we both were down.”

Frea wiped Kholas’s head with some cloth, and he jumped away, ”Our Captain is wounded! See to him!”

Frea looked at Silver Fox, then at Mecarnil, then stood and looked at Hanasian and saw to his wound. Folca looked at Kholas, then at Hanasian, before saying, ”You all go. I will tend to our fallen.”

Frea paused as did Kholas and Hanasian. Frea said gruffly, ”Go! See about the others! And us go see Rin!”

The brothers looked at each other before departing, and in silence told each other it happened the way Hanasian said it happened… even if it was a load of lies.

The three set out back through the woods toward the farmhouse. Folca was noted the tracks. If their Captain said it happened a certain way, then it happened a certain way. Any sign to the contrary would soon be obscured in the falling snow. Right now, their concern was whether the others, and particularly Rosmarin and her unborn child. They returned to find the elf brothers had transferred those alive into the farmhouse for shelter. Elladan and Elrohir tended Rin, who was just now starting to stir as warmth returned to her limbs. They found Slippery tending Fabarad, who still barely lived despite the severity of his wound. Stillwater had a broken nose, and Rowdy had a cut on his face but both men were in no danger of perishing from their injuries. Hanasian fell to his knees beside Rin as she opened her eyes. She smiled shyly as if in a dream and Hanasian leaned over and kissed her forehead.

”I love you Rosmarin.”

Fatigue and the loss of blood finally took him at that and Hanasian fell to his side. He sank into a world of dreams. It was his turn to be tended. The sounds of voices sounded so far away, and Hanasian struggled to hang on to this world. He did not want to go to sleep… at least not before knowing Rin was alive and well. But the voices filled his head, and he faded into dream….

He was only a boy and he sat with his sister as his mother and father talked. Another young man was there; he recognized as his brother Hayna. But he left and his father and mother argued. Father was leaving, dressed for battle. He looked at him and said,

”You will understand one day.”

Then he turned back to his mother. She cried as he kissed her on the cheek. She did not kiss him back. He turned and walked out the door, and little Hanasian and Halcwyn wondered if they would ever see him again.

He opened an eye and saw the yellow of a blazing fire. They were still in the house and it was warm. He felt hot. He tried to move but couldn’t. It was then the most beautiful face came to him. Rin leaned over and kissed him long and slow.

The room in the old farmhouse was filled with the scent of wood-smoke as the fire worked at trying to keep the place warm. Hanasian woke up from his dream to find his shoulder wrapped tight and Kholas sitting there by the fire with his head bandaged. It looked like the available bedsheets had been sacrificed for the purpose. Farbarad was closest to the fire but he wasn’t awake. Both Stillwater and Rowdy had bandages on their noses and were sitting at a small table playing a card game. Where was Rin? Hanasian tried to get up but the pain in his shoulder went all the way through him and made it hard to breathe. He began to cough. Slippery came in, followed by Frea who said, ”You settle down there now Cap. As doc tells it, you took a severe blade hit that caught a bit of your lung.”

Hanasian managed to catch his breath but refused to lay back down. He asked, ”Doc? Where’s Doc? Where’s Rin?”

Folca arrived then and found Slippery was tending to Farbarad, but he quickly rounded her and Rowdy back out of the room. Folca said, ”We’ll only be a few moments.”

When it was only the four there, Frea said in a low voice to Hanasian, ”We prepared the body of Mecarnil and figured to bury him today. We were hoping you would wake for it.”

“How long have I been out?”
Hanasian asked.

Folca answered, ”This is the second day. Didn’t miss much. Been a full blizzard out since the fight until this morning.”

“Where is Rosmarin?”
Hanasian asked sternly.

Frea said, ”In the other room by the fire. She’s been sleeping a lot too. Worry not, she and the baby are safe. We’re more worried about you and Farbarad. It looks like you will live. Farbarad we’re not so sure. He lost a lot of blood. The sons of Elrond tended to him and you. I think you will be fine with rest. We hold hope Farbarad will make it.”

Hanasian leaned forward and motioned the three to draw close. He whispered, ”Who knows what here?”

“Just us.” Folca whispered in Rohirric before saying in Westron, ”We know that events moved beyond all reason. We pressured Kholas to tell us, which he did finally after we pointed out the many inconsistencies we noticed. We all agree it’s the best for everyone, and for the Company record.”

Frea and Kholas nodded, and Hanasian nodded as well. The conflict he felt within him it reminded him of the day in Khand nearly twenty years before. Decisions had to be made faster than there was time for thought. Now a trusted comrade in arms from the war and in Company campaigns had fallen. Hanasian resolved that he would bury the ill that erupted at the last and remember the good. It was what captains had to do. Mecarnil had proven himself a better man that the final madness that had consumed him

Slippery stuck her head in and said, ”I have to tend Farbarad. You will have to take your meet elsewhere.”

Kholas went over to sit by the fire while Frea and Folca stood up. Hanasian said to them, ”Help me up and take me to see my beloved wife.”

With one on each side, they walked Hanasian through the doorway to the kitchen where a blanket hung, separating where Rin rested from the rest of the room. Hanasian looked in on her and saw her peacefully sleeping. Hanasian said, ”I’m going to lay down here with Rin. Wake us when the service is ready.”

He got as comfortable as he could and buried his face into her hair as he held her close.
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Postby elora » Mon Oct 01, 2012 1:27 pm

She ran on cool, soft grass that sprang under her bare feet and tickled them in such a way that it made her giggle. Ahead was a dappled array of sunlight that pooled here and there on the ground. Sunlight streamed over Loch as he streaked away ahead of her. He was older. His legs were longer. But sometimes he would let her catch up and they would tumble beneath the trees and laugh. She loved this game. She loved running through the trees and sunlit patches. She loved the feel of the grass under her feet, the warm summer air on her skin, the breeze in her hair that had tangled despite her mother’s care to brush it out earlier. There would be knots so ferocious that tugging them free would bring tears to her eyes no matter how Da and Loch teased her. She’d be sitting in Ma’s lap, giggling and squirming, eyes screwed shut come evening. She didn’t care. It was worth it.

Rin called ahead to her brother. His answer floated back to her, singsong high and taunting. If he were heading for the brook there would be trouble. They weren’t allowed there, not after last week. She hadn’t fallen in. Loch had pushed her in because he thought it was funny. It was, until their parents found out. Now they weren’t allowed near it, even though summer had made it all slow and shallow and the frogs could be seen hiding in the cool, sucking mud of the bed. Today would be a day that Loch would not let her catch him. He’d run right up to that brook and hop across it like he was a frog himself. Unfair as it was, she knew why. It was because she was growing and she was getting faster. She’d catch him, one day soon. She knew she would. She’d catch him good and all on her own and not because he let her.

But not this day. One of the nearby ferns reached out and lightly touched her shoulder. She blinked, confused and discovered it was a hand. A hand gently grasped her shoulder and shook it but it was not Loch’s hand, nor Ma’s nor Da’s.

”Shhh…Rin….Shhh….it’s me,” Frea said as his cousin’s wife flinched from his touch. Folca was stirring Hanasian to wake on the other side.

The confusion and fear on Rin’s face in that instant made his heart ache but once she had her bearings she hid it away again. He released her shoulder and she turned to where Hanasian lay.

”Doc…Doc no, not now. It’s time and you’re not yet strong enough,” Folca said and Hanasian managed to lift a hand and wrap it around her wrists.

”He’s right, my love,” Hanasian said and drew her hands up so that he could kiss her knuckles.

”Time for what?”

Hanasian answered.

Understanding dawned in her face, chased by something else that she hid away. Daylight was failing, the blizzard had subsided in what was proven later to be a momentary respite. It was time to farewell a friend, one he would remember as a friend, a brother in arms. It had to be that way. By the time those able to attend had been girded against the cold, Elladan and Elrohir had returned.

Solemnly, they picked their way to the site prepared. It was under the eaves of Eryn Lasgalen, a clear view down to the lake and the twinkling lights of Esgaroth. Behind the forest rose the peaks of the Misty Mountains. Ahead rose the Lonely Mountain. Torches had been lit and thrust into the frozen ground as far as possible. Because the ground was frozen, and because the rites of Mecarnil’s people did not involve pagan pyres, the only option remaining was a cairn of stones.

Large rocks had been positioned around Mecarnil’s body already. Hanasian suspected it was the work of Elves. Certainly Elladan and Elrohir had been busy and likely it had been more than them. He could not see any of Thranduril’s folk now but that did not mean they were not there, watching. With Farbarad still unconscious, Hanasian realised the rites would fall to him. Rin stood silent, uncertain of what to do because she did not know such things. Mecarnil had made it one of his chief purposes to educate her, but his focus had been on matters of the court rather than funeral rites. She stood there eying the stones, thoughts hidden behind her eyes. Folca stood on one side of him, Rin the other and Frea next to her.

The cold was already leeching into his bones despite the measures taken to keep him warm. He did not know if he could say the words. There were many to speak and his lungs had not yet recovered. Nor was he certain what Mecarnil would make of a half-breed leading his final rites. But he could not think of that, would not think of that now. His grip on Rin’s forearm tightened and he drew a breath to begin. The action made him cough and Rin’s fixed stare on the stones shifted then to her husband.

Pits and stones…she hated them. All this death was her fault. Had she not gone to the aid of that man. Had she not crossed paths with the Black. Had she not stepped forward and remained just Rin, just a thief and a healer and Erían remained just a sad tale of a little girl lost all those years ago. Now Mecarnil was dead, Farbarad was dying, Loch was dead and Hanasian just might perish too. It was all her fault. What sort of healer brought such death? It was no wonder that Mecarnil was so bitterly disappointed in her. In under a year, she’d killed off half the Rangers that had survived her father’s ambitions. She just might wipe them all out. Loch was buried under stone and now Mecarnil would be too. She could sense the pain Hanasian was in. How was she to just stand there and ignore all of this? HOW?

Elladan and Elrohir sensed the difficulty Hanasian was having and began for them. In their years they had observed enough Dundedain funeral rites to know their form. As the rites were performed, those around slowly added stones to the cairn. While this happened, Hanasian sensed the pain within him begin to ease. He implicitly understood why this was but it was not the time or place to chastise his wife for it. She was healing him, no matter what anyone had to say about it. She got far enough that he was able to walk forward with her to the cairn. Rin bent and gathered up two stones from the pile at the foot of the structure. She passed one to Hanasian, the smallest so that he could find the strength to set it into place.

As he did so, he struggled to find the words of farewell. So many things jostled within him.

”Rest, old friend. Rest in honour and peace for your service has been long and true. I will never forget that, never forget you,” he ultimately said in Aduanic.

Rin understood none of this and Hanasian resolved that he would remedy that in the time they would now have for each other. So many things he could tell her about her people, her history, even if he were of such mingled descent himself. Rin set the final rock in place with a single phrase in Dunlendic.

”Forgive me,” she whispered, fingers lingering on the rock.

Hanasian found himself hoping that the rocks would not betray Mecarnil’s final moments. Her fingers left the stone and her expression was unchanged as she returned her hand to his arm and guided them both back. There was only one left now and he lay gripped in a battle that came of his unflinching loyalty.

With evening falling thick and fast and the wind beginning to lash them again, there was nothing left but to set the final rocks in place and seek the shelter of the farmhouse once again. By the time they had regained the warmth, Hanasian was lightheaded and his limbs shook with the strain. No sooner had he been guided to one of the few armchairs that had survived the attack did Rin move in again. Elrohir murmured for the need for caution and Elladan sucked in a gasp at what followed.

While not healers, they were the sons of a master healer and what they sensed was, strictly speaking impossible. Lienduril’s Quickening was not a mortal technique. It was not for mortals. Mortals never performed it. There were very good reasons for this. However, despite the adaptations made, there was no mistaking what Rin was doing. It should not have worked. It should have been catastrophic.

”No, enough!” Elladan burst out when he could not bear it any longer.

Rin removed her hands and Hanasian felt no stronger. He drew a breath to say something and then realised something. He could draw a breath without coughing. His eyes widened at that and Rin brushed her fingers along his jaw.

”What have you done?” he asked with a combination of concern and wonder.

”Remember our stowaway – Morcal?”

Hanasian nodded his assent, ”He proved that the rot and nonsense sprouted about Lienduril’s Quickening was precisely that. All it needed was a little tweaking, a bit of practice, some patience… But I can’t do anything about the blood you have lost, my love. That you will have to manage on your own. Rest, warmth, food. Don’t let yourself be gulled. It will take some time before your full strength not only returns but can be sustained.”

“This is madness,”
Elrohir muttered.

”I’ve not lost one yet. If that makes me mad, then so be it,” Rin replied as she straightened to her height.

Before she had turned away Hanasian knew what she was about to do next. He also knew it would be easier to talk the sun down from the sky than dissuade her. The sons of Elrond had no such experience.

As Rin turned to deal with Farbarad, Elladan planted himself in her way with the pronouncement, ”I cannot permit this.”

“I do not recall asking your permission.”

“You cannot do this!”

“Can I not? I have just buried one Ranger sworn to my service. And now you would have me stand here and wait to bury the last Ranger of Cardolan? He will not last the night.”

“You do not know that.”

“He will not last the night and I will not fail him! I have one Ranger’s blood on my hands. I cannot bear another’s.”

An Elf and a woman of pure Dunedain descent in a contest of wills was a rare sight. Her expression was implacable and remorseless and Elladan’s attention slipped to the man in the armchair. Hanasian subtly shook his head at his friend.

”I cannot allow it,” Elladan persisted and at that Rin held her wrists forward towards him. The bruises left by others were still dark tattoos on her pale skin.

”Then bind me. Hand and foot. Make the knots tight for else I will find a way out. Then lock me somewhere, and watch the door and windows night and day without surcease. Do not open the door, not once. For if you do, I will find a way out. There is not a lock I cannot pick, a door or window I cannot dislodge. I can even find my way out through rooves if I must. I found my way out of that well and had they not beaten me senseless, I would have again. If you would stop me, then that is what you must do.”

She knew it was a cruel tactic. Elladan and Elrohir were both aware of the torment she had endured as a prisoner only days ago. She was being so very unkind and manipulative, but she could not countenance another death. Not Farbarad. Not after Loch and Mecarnil. No, not another. She was fighting for his life and there was not a thing she would not do for either. For had he not thrown his life down for hers? Did she not owe him at least this?

Stricken, Elladan had no answer. What she presented him with was a sickening choice. Around them the others were silent, frozen into place. Elladan dropped his eyes and only then did Rin move past him and continue on to where Farbarad lay. He felt her begin again, only this time drawing deeper. He shook his head in his dismay and caught Hanasian beckon him nearer.

”My friend, you cannot dissuade the tide,” Hanasian said, studying his wife’s back as she worked, ”She has been wielding this technique for some time during her service to the Black. It tires her, but no greater harm than that seems to arise from it. Indeed, more than some have been grateful for it.”

“What do you know of the Quickening?”

Hanasian admitted, ”And you?”

Elladan made to answer and then paused to glance at his brother. Without knowing it, Hanasian may have made a point.

”I have but a little art, Hanasian. No more. Neither Elrohir or I are our father’s equal.”

“Might it be possible, then, that the only healer amongst our number knows something we do not?”
Elrohir stated.

”Of course…but if it tires her when she is strong and well, what now will it bode for her, or her child? It is a marvel she has not lost it already and Farbarad’s wounds are grievous.”

“She is stronger than she seems. Tenacious, bloody minded, mule stubborn and fundamentally unable to do as she is told. But she is also a truly gifted Healer. I have seen it for myself and now I suspect you have too. See? I have not coughed once. More than all of that, I know my beloved will do nothing that would endanger our child. After all that she has endured, nothing could be so precious to her.”

Hanasian’s final words were intended as a warning for her and she marked it well even if she made no open response to it. There was so much damage to repair and she was not in the least certain that she could prevail for all of this talk of strength and gifts and impossible techniques. He was tired, weak, and vulnerable and what she was doing was demanding that he fight. If she drew so deeply on herself that she sacrificed the child she carried, then she would never forgive herself. Nor would Hanasian…or Farbarad for that matter. While Rin worked, Slippery kept things organised. The woman was inordinately attentive. Rowdy was watching too, but then he was always watching. Hanasian kept Elladan and Elrohir engaged with talk of future plans.

When Rin became aware of her surroundings again it was late. Men snored, even Rowdy. Slippery’s eyes were heavy. Hanasian was dozing in his armchair and she knew that once she gave in to her own fatigue it would own her entirely for many an hour to come. Outside the renewed blizzard howled balefully and the farmhouse groaned in its snapping teeth.

”Foolish, remarkable, impossible,” Elladan said.

”It may not yet be enough,” Rin replied, ”He has lost so much blood. I fear too much…so much blood for a realm that should never have been.”

“Will you rest? Please?”

For the life of her, she could not remember her answer. Nor could she remember cleaning up, getting to her feet and returning to their side of the kitchen blanket with Hanasian. She could not remember dreams. She could not remember a thing. Rin woke with a start at a sudden sound.

”Sorry,” Stillwater said from his position by the kitchen hearth. He had been stirring new life into the fire there.

Hanasian was still asleep and this, Rin thought, was a good thing.

”You’ll put it out that way,” Rin observed and Stillwater waved a hand at her.

”You get out of that blanket and it will mean both our hides. I never met anyone who openly provoked an Elf before.”

“Do what you’re told, lassie,”
came a tired growl from a weary Ranger from the other side of the blanket.

At that, Rin smiled in relief and snuggled back under the blankets against Hanasian.

”Well I’ll be,” Stillwater exclaimed, stunned at the sight of an obedient Company Healer.

He managed to coax life out of the kitchen fire and went immediately to convey the tidings. Frea shook his head.

”Impossible,” he stated flatly.

Hanasian kept his eyes closed but could hear the banter go back and forth on the other side of the blanket. Rin settled back in against him and set her head upon his chest. He knew she listened for his heartbeat. He could feel their child cradled between them. He felt her draw a deep breath and sigh as she tightened her arms around him. He felt so languorous that he easily drifted back to sleep again. When he woke again the farmhouse was bright with midday light and the wind had abated. It was also very quiet and Rin was gone. He quelled initial alarm, roused himself and pulled the blanket aside. He found his wife there, peering curiously out the window along with several others. Farbarad was still asleep. Everyone else was pressed to one of two windows.

”What is going on?” Hanasian asked and at that his wife left the window and came to where he stood.

”There are Elves out there, talking,” Rin told him, ”I don’t know what it’s about.”

“Elladan and Elrohir are out there with them. Talking in Elvish,”
Stillwater added, not peeling his eyes from the scene.

”Fancy that. Elves talking Elvish. What a shock,” Slippery muttered and by Hanasian's side Rin grinned at the woman’s sarcasm.

”They’re coming back!” Stillwater exclaimed and at that, those at the window scattered back around the farmhouse and strove to appear nonchalant.

Elladan wasted no time, ”Given events here, Thranduril has recapitulated. He’s prepared to offer sanctuary until such time as you can make your way West. We’d take you now, but Farbarad will need time before he can travel. So frankly, will you. It is too vulnerable and remote to remain here.”

“All of us? Thranduril would take all of us?”
Hanasian inquired.

”Seems he’s not prepared to explain to his son how he came let the cousin of the High King perish right on his very borders without so much as the offer of temporary sanctuary. So, Esgaroth or Thranduril…which is it to be?”

It was, to say the least, a surprising decision to be presented with. Hanasian looked to his wife and found her looking at him, brow furrowed.

”What is it, love?” he asked for it may be that she sensed something important.

”Who is this Thranduril anyway? And if he’s so eager to help, where was he before? Sounds like a typical noble to me, bending this way or that according to the direction of the wind.”

Hanasian wasn’t entirely how to begin answering those questions and so he turned his attention back to the more immediate matter. Esgaroth or the elven realm of Thranduril. Esgaroth had already proven perilous. Thranduril’s realm was far the safer option, provided his wife did not ask the wrong question at the wrong time.
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Postby elora » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:05 am

Thranduril's hospitality only extended so far. The Rangers of Arnor and the Gondorians were welcome and they were intrigued with Rin and the story that drifted in her wake. They would tolerate the Rohirrim as they were kin of the Northmen and allies of Gondor, but the Easterling Kholas was not welcome. Hanasian at first refused to go unless all of his party were allowed to go, but Kholas eased his concern.

"I will return to Esgoroth. You take refuge with the elves. It is best to keep eyes and ears in Lake Town. Besides, the pretty serving girl, Tarina, still favours me even though I was not completely honest"

"How do you know that?"
Folca asked.

Kholas answered, "It was in the way she looked when we left. She didn't like my deception, but she was saddened to see us go. I will return, and if I'm right, I will enjoy my time there that much more."

Hanasian agreed, saying, "Yes, meeting a beautiful young woman can have that effect. You go, watch and listen, and we will meet again one day."

Kholas bowed and saluted, and turned to go. The rest of the party prepared to follow the Elven guards.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Videgavia and Berlas ran the Old Company in their own way. Vid sought to make his mark and so daily training was the first activity before a late breakfast. This rigid discipline was the source of constant grumbling but the grit of the men who had chosen to stay didn’t truly object. They just couldn’t say that. It was one of the jobs of soldiers to complain. A friendly competition sprang up between themselves, the Free Old Company commanded by Videgavia as they came to be called, and the Free Company of Rhun commanded by Khor. It kept both companies on a keen edge despite the constant chill weather that tried to dampen their spirits.

A small yet much needed trickle of Gondorian seafarers made the trek to serve the Old Company, seeing it as a calling by their King, and were swiftly put to work on the ship. Easterling soldiers who wanted a home in arms and did not join Legate Khirue’s Home Guard, were those who wanted to join the Old Company. Only a few were accepted and only then on a recommendation from one of the Old Company’s Easterling recruits. Khor accepted some into his Free Company of Rhun. While those who did not make the cut would have been welcomed in earlier days, the fact they were going to be taking ship to lands unknown meant their available room would be limited. Had they two seaworthy ships and the men to work them, larger companies would have been welcome.

In training the Rhun Company trained more as an army unit as it was mostly comprised of Easterling military soldiers. The Old Company trained more as a covert and marine force. The seafarers of Gondor joined the Old Company and would form the hands to man the ship. Khor’s Company would be the muscle should they succeed in landing on a far shore. Privately, Videgavia hoped Khor would be the one who would be looking for the fight should it be needed, for they will likely be restless having to spend endless days on a ship at sea. Though the numbers of men in each company were roughly the same, it will be the strength of the Company of Rhun that will hopefully get them out of any scraps they might encounter. Until the winter storms passed and the ship was deemed seaworthy, they trained.

On the ship, Donius worked below deck to repair some of the sealing that had deteriorated to a point of falling out. It was all he had been doing for some time now. Finishing a stretch near the bow, he drank some water and splashed some more on him to wipe away the grime and sweat. While it was chilly and damp outside, the same gray mist and drizzle day after day, in the confines of the ship’s hold it was quite stuffy and humid. As he rested, he watched his brother come down the old wooden ladder. His weight on the last rung caused it to give way and Daius stumbled to the bottom.

”Damn! This ship seems to be falling apart in front of our very eyes!”

“I agree with you, brother,” Donius said as the hard fall made a bit more old seal fall away. He went on, ”I don’t know how anybody expects us to get, let alone keep, this old girl seaworthy.”

Daius came over and handed his brother a small bottle. Donius uncorked it and winced as he smelled it.

”What’s this?”

“Not sure…”
Daius answered as he shrugged.

”Khule found it and was delighted. Said it was a decent version of the harsh draught they would use in the war. Orcish in nature, but the Easterlings tamed it some. Still, you will warm up if you’re cold, or cool down if you’re hot. Whatever it is, it doesn’t go down too bad once you get past the smell.”

Donius shrugged and said, ”Bottoms up.”

He took a long swig off the bottle. After a bit of a cough, he rasped, ”It burns on the way down, but in a soothing way. Now, how are we going to get this ship to stay together? It wasn’t in such bad shape when we took possession of it.”

Daius took the bottle back and had his own swig. He went to say something but he had to pause for a moment while his voice came back.

”Remember that hulk we came back from Harad on? That comatose mage was doing something to the ship with his mind. It literally fell apart before we got to Pelargir.”

Donius nodded as he thought. He said, “Maybe the same thing here, only in reverse.”

Daius went on, ”Thinking they needed the mage and the young witch to keep it all together?”

Donius nodded and went back to work on sealing. Daius said, ”Little good working on it if that be the case, is there?”

Donius pressed some pitch into a crack between planks and tapped on the plank. He said, ”The wood is solid and not eaten. Very good wood this, even for the age of this ship. No, we can get her fixed up. Besides, would you rather we be outside drilling with the rest of the Company?”

Daius thought about it and nodded, ”Good point. Vid said we’re going to sail, so we best make it as seaworthy as we can. We’ll have to tell him of our suspicion though.”

“We will tonight.”
Donius said as he worked the sealing harder. Daius went back topside to continue working on the masts.

The weeks passed and the fog and drizzle was ceaseless, except for when it would rain properly. The only way to know if there was a full moon was by the way the clouds glowed in a subtle faintness. Strong hands and some shipwrights from Pelargir arrived and set to work on the ship, intrigued by the tales of a Numenorean ship having been found. They got what they came for, and more. With the help of their knowledge of the craft, the old ship started to look and feel better.

On shore, daily drills and training would give way to materiel movement. The evenings were spent around their fires, or for the old crew, their building they had made into a bar. Some of the men had decided to open the bar to others who were in their company. WulgoF and Mulgov charged higher prices for the cheapest of ales and they were making a fair haul. They would have grown too comfortable had it not been for Videgavia’s consistent drills.

As the weeks passed, Anvikela grew more comfortable in their presence, and it seemed she had eyes for their Lieutenant. Berlas didn’t seem to mind her attention but thought it ill advised to get too close. All professionalism aside, he was concerned about his Captain. Vid was the first to really reach out to her and get her to come out of her shell. But Videgavia was not interested in anything further. He even encouraged Berlas somewhat. After a time, the men would comment about ‘his girl’ and Anvikela would slightly smile when she would hear that. If Berlas became a bit more protective of Anvikela, it was because she was their eyes and ears into this world they would try and get to when they set out.

And it wasn’t going to be too long before some fair weather and friendly seas would come.
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Postby elora » Mon Oct 15, 2012 3:11 am

The sun slanted between the bare boughs. Earth peeked between drifts of snow. Sun was rare still. Snow had relinquished her wintry empire to sleet, and sleet then to rain as winter passed. While it had not been easy to reach the sanctuary offered by Thranduril, the rewards of their efforts clearly showed. Farbarad’s recovery was near complete. Hanasian had regained his strength swiftly. Rowdy’s broken nose had largely resolved itself and Rin seemed to glow with renewed vitality and vigour. She had even been heard to laugh. Above all else, the care of Thranduril’s folk for the mortals sheltering in their midst, was evident in that silvery sound. It came only occasionally, but that it came at all spoke volumes. Rin had not been heard to laugh outright since the initial march from Minas Tirith.

In that rare sun strewn moment, Hanasian was on his knees and talking to his child while Rin laughed from above. They were not alone. Farbarad was perched nearby and Rowdy was somewhere close at hand too. The more Farbarad got to know the Gondorian, the more convinced he was that the man would make a fine addition. After all, they were missing a man after Mecarnil’s death and with a child to defend now…and he was only one Ranger. One Ranger, who sat at his relative ease watching a charge he had long considered dead flourish in the fullness of motherhood. She wore it well. Verawyn would have as well had she not Bereth and his politics to contend with. Rin was quite literally her mother’s image, except for when she was up to something. Verawyn had never worn so devious a smile as her daughter did. With the rebels dealt with, there was nothing left but a long and fruitful life. He’d finally made it through to the other side. He missed Mecarnil sorely for it. As proper and exacting as his fellow Ranger had been, at his heart Mecarnil had only wanted what Farbarad now saw. Safety, prosperity, good life and health.

As if she grasped the cant of his thoughts, Rin tipped her head back and laughed at whatever Hanasian said. The man had his hands on either side of her belly, fingers splayed, and he was smiling in that quiet and heartfelt way of his. A twinkle had returned to his eyes. Initially it had been difficult. Hanasian had not been able to tolerate his wife’s absence from his sight or hearing for even a moment. It underscored just how frightened Hanasian had been. In the immediate aftermath, there had been questions about the bruises on his wife. Farbarad recalled the dark, insidious stain at her wrists. Hanasian suggested that there was far worse. Yet, when questioned, all Rin would say was that those responsible were beyond mortal justice. Certainly she recovered strongly, particularly once Thranduril’s healers were able to take up the work for her. Now, clad in a green velvet gown fashioned in the elven style, no one would know what she had faced and survived. Not just with these rebels, but with the death of her brother and all the long years of desperate sorrow.

Movement off to one side drew Farbarad’s attention. Though they were well within Thranduril’s realm, he would never completely relax his guard again. He knew that just as he knew the sun would set this day and rise again the next. Elladan and Elrohir emerged from the forest. They lifted their hands to Hanasian and Rin, who paused in whatever game they were playing to study the elves, and continued on to where Farbarad lounged. Their faces were solemn. Farbarad knew that his time of reflection and relative good cheer was ending.

”They’ve fired the farm,” Elrohir said quietly, without preamble.

Farbarad frowned, ”Who has?”

“We do not know. Nor does Kholas,”
Elladan supplied and Farbarad grunted at that, mind wheeling.

Firstly, the fact that they’d spoken to the Easterling confirmed they’d ventured as far as Esgaroth. That meant that the report to Bard had been made. If Kholas didn’t know, it meant that the Easterling hadn’t seen anything in Esgaroth and if Kholas hadn’t seen anything… But surely they had them all in hand? Surely!


“Arrows dipped in pitch and set alight. We found the arrowheads in the ruins. The heat marked the metal,”
Elrohir answered.

Farbarad scratched at his jaw and weighed this up. Fired arrows meant that they struck from a distance. Uncertain as to their reception should they close and take more direct action? Why would they bother? Assuming it was yet more of these fools, what could they possibly have left to gain? How many were there? Farbarad’s attention slid back to Hanasian and Rin. They were deep in discussion again, earnest exchange of thoughts. Rin’s expression showed a candour rarely seen by others. As Hanasian made his reply he brushed a fall of sunlit pale hair back from her cheek. She leaned her cheek into his palm. How much should they know, he wondered? He was loathe to let such matters intrude on this precious time of peace. They had known so little of it since their paths crossed. And yet, to keep it from them both would be an unforgivable breach of trust.

”We should set out for Imladris as soon as we may. If they lay in wait for us, I would rather chance it while Rin is reasonably agile on her feet. If we wait…” Farbarad rumbled.

Rin was now some five months along and though she wore her pregnancy well, with the grace her mother had before her, she was unmistakeably pregnant. As the weeks passed, she would find it increasingly difficult to travel. The mountain passes would be all but impossible. They would slow, vulnerable…no, he could not chance it.

”There are some of Thranduril’s folk who have a mind to summer in Imladris. They would bolster our numbers, increase protection,” Elrohir stated.

”We’re all going too,” Farbarad returned, aware of the thoughts of the others.

Frea and Folca were intent on making Bree again. Secretly, though, Farbarad knew that neither man wanted to miss the chance to greet their cousin’s child. Stillwater and Slippery had no interest in returning to Gondor or Rhun. Something waited for them in Minas Tirith that neither were keen to encounter. As for Rowdy, well Farbarad had all but recruited him. He was good. He was very good. Quiet, discrete, attentive, and not in the least cowed by a certain Company Healer. Rowdy woul just batten down the hatches and let Rin storm around him in a way reminiscent of her foster brother. Loch would do the same thing, except he would have the temerity to grin at her which only fuelled her ire further.

”Then preparations are required,” Elladan said and the decision was made.

”I’d best tell them about this,” Farbarad said, and resolved to do exactly that tonight.

This is how it came to be that he sat with Hanasian and Elrond’s Sons in the glow of dinner’s aftermath. Rin was elsewhere, head close to Slippery’s. The two women were up to something. Slippery had that smile he had come to appreciate so well. Every so often there was chuckling, nodding of heads, grins. It was making Stillwater nervous. But it kept Rin preoccupied and that was a good thing. The last thing he needed was to cast a new shadow over her head. While he kept an eye on Rin, Elladan summarised their earlier discussion.

”How soon?”

“Two weeks…if you think she can be ready,”
Elrohir replied and at that Hanasian thought a moment before he nodded.

”She will be. She will ensure she is. Rin wants to go home, wherever that is. Aside from fatigue, she is hale and well.”

Farbarad inquired and heard the sharpness of his tone.

”It is to be expected. She is nurturing a child, Ranger. The child draws on her strength as proper. It is the way of things,” Elladan reassured him and Farbarad nodded.

Elrohir caught a smirk upon Hanasian’s face, ”Fatigue? Is that your excuse?”

“It is. Ask her…she finds the need to nap now. My wife naps.”

“Of course,”
Elrohir murmured and Farbarad realised the Elf was being wicked.

For weeks now, neither Hanasian nor Rin could be found in the late afternoon. Hanasian might ascribe it to naps, but Elrohir’s gentle game had Farbarad wondering. Rin may well be fatigued, but what was Hanasian’s excuse? Her pregnancy made her glow. Did he really expect them to believe that all that happened was napping? Before or after? That was the question that Farbarad wanted to ask. Mecarnil’s memory and the fact that the man would have been scandalised, made him hold his tongue.

Hanasian told his wife of their plan to set out for Imladris in the coming weeks that very night as they readied for bed, but he said nothing of what had been discovered at the farm. She had only just started to sleep through the nights free of night terrors and he was not inclined to see that change. News that they would commence their long journey home made her eyes luminous with hope.

”Home,” she whispered reverently and he gathered her into the circle of his arms.

”Home, my love, as I promised. Our own. Four sturdy walls, a roof that does not leak. A garden too, for whatever it is we would grow…a warm hearth, a safe place. Ours. Our own. Never to wander again.”

Rin repeated as if tasting the word and settled in against him.

That night, Rin dreamt of many things. As her child grew, her dreams became strange. No longer frightening, but vivid and fantastical. She dreamt of home as she knew it, the sing song voices weaving around Hanasian’s in a child’s song and the sound of waves. She dreamt of the only home she had known before this glimpse of the future. She dreamt of Loch that night and it was so profound that it woke her. Hanasian drew deep, steady breaths beside her. Loch’s presence was palpable. She could hear his voice. Sense him. So close that it ached. She dreamt that he had been sitting, watching the dying embers of a hearth in an unfamiliar and yet comforting room. There had been a carpet thrown over the flagstones of the floor. Curtains had been drawn over the window at his back, set into a deep sill. He had been seated on a couch, legs crossed at the ankle, boots caked with mud, and he had been smiling. Lopsided, but not devilish. A deeply happy, contented smile. The sort that came when all was good and right in his world. She could almost smell him. And yet, in this elven chamber there was only herself, her beloved and their child.

Rin considered waking Hanasian to tell him of this but decided against it. Instead, she lay down again and wrapped her arms around him. Loch was gone, a deep rift, torn away too soon, but her beloved was here beside her and they were going home. Each night Rin had the same dream. It varied only in one details. Sometimes Loch would glance up as if he looked in her direction and she would see his dark eyes gleamed with a heartfelt warmth. Two weeks passed and at last all was ready. Between their numbers and those venturing west for summer to Imladris, their numbers stood at a score. If anything or anyone lay in wait for them, they would come to rue their wicked plot.
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Postby elora » Sun Oct 28, 2012 1:20 pm

Kholas found winter in Dale rather comfortable. He took up a job at the blacksmiths, and at night Tarina was there with him. He stayed away from her house but was there to comfort her when the old warrior veteran of the great war passed away.

All the while he remembered why he was there, and his card playing at the inn where Tarina worked provided a perfect vantage point to listen to the banter while making a little extra money on the side. Word from the east was slow in coming as the weather didn’t allow much trade. But as spring arrived, news of the Company came to the inn and he learned they were still in Rhun. Kholas faced a brief moment of indecision. He could travel back east and try and re-join the company before they left. But instead he decided to go west to try to find Hanasian and the others who had wintered with the elves. But what about Tarina? He had to make a decision and it would have to be tomorrow morning. He leaned his head into her hair as she slept next to him and gave her a kiss.

Preparation had gone on for some weeks for the day they would set out. Rowdy went forth with Frea to scout the way and each time they returned with news that the snows were still too deep. They did manage to make minor repairs along the track, filling in washouts with rocks and cutting away downed trees, but the high slopes were still in full winter. As the days passed, the weather warmed in the lowlands. With rain and sun came the rising waters of the rivers. Rowdy brought back word that he had met with elves from Imladris who sought out the sons of Elrond. Rin’s advancing state meant that as she grew she became further uncomfortab;e. News of the Elves on the trails made it clear to Hanasian that it was time to go. They would not be able to take a wagon and the horses would be used for supplies . One was made ready for Rin, though she little liked the idea and wanted walk like everyone else. Farbarad thankfully prevailed in a rare display of stubborness and so it was that Rin found herself riding at least most of the time.

It was sunny and warm the day they set out. Hanasian awaited word from Kholas, but he had not come. He considered his concerns for Rin and the difficult journey ahead, they set out feelings on the track just as Kholas called out.

”Leaving already?”

Folca turned and saw Kholas and Tarina wading along in the wet snow, leading a horse with supply.

Hanasian grinned at this, ”You’re late! But with good reason I suspect.”

Kholas nodded and smiled. With eyes on Tarina, he said with a shrug, ”Her father died this winter. She dreamed of seeing the world, and so she settled his estate and refused to let me go without her.”

Hanasian shrugged too. This wasn’t a military company anymore. If Kholas and Tarina wished to join them on the trail west, it was a good thing.

The going went well the first day and they short camped by the track and set off early the next day. The sun’s warmth made the track a muddy mess beset with melting snow and feet and hooves. The light tracks of the elves that came east could still barely be seen and they managed many a mile the second day. The third day was not so pleasant. Thick cloud had settled around the Misty Mountains and the day was a dreary and damp gray. Also, the track became rougher. The limit of Rowdy and Frea’s scouting and repair had been reached. They would find the way harder from here. The evening saw rain fall and the party took refuge under a grove of oaks that had new leaves. While not yet full grown, the trees provided shelter from the wind that was welcome.

The next few days were slow and tedious. The climb was fraught with danger as the melting snow dropped slides here and there. While this slowed their progress, they were actually making fairly good time in the conditions. Yet the higher they went, the more they had to dig. There were few places to camp at night, and it was too dangerous to push on in the darkness. Once they crested the pass, they thought things would be easier as they descended. The trouble with that idea was the fact that the west side had considerably more snow over the winter. Though it was well on its way to melting, the track that was dug quickly became a channel for the frigid snowmelt. Still, they gained trees again after some days and once there they were able to rest longer.

It came as no surprise that of their number, Rosmarin found it the most difficult. She suffered pains on occasion as the rigours of the trail took their toll. It sent the men around her into earnest panic as they little liked the idea of having to deliver a child on a mountain trail. But it seemed it was only another way for her to toy with them. Rin remained in good spirits despite the conditions and hardships. It was a sunny day when they met up with the advance scouts of Imladris. They had made it!

“Come beloved!” Hanasian said as he helped her down from the horse.

Once down, Rin refused to get back into the saddle and threatened to box Farbarad’s ears if he pushed the matter. She was resolved to walk now to Imladris, where they would rest. Rin smiled in relief at being free of the saddle as she stretched her legs. They arrived under the escort of the Sons of Elrond, and here Kholas would be welcome. Both he and Tarina were in awe of the place, even though it had faded considerably from its days of glory and might.

”It will be good to lie down on something soft,” Rin said as she walked, ”If comfortable I will ever be again.”

Hanasian smiled and elected to say nothing. He instead squeezed her hand as they walked. It would be good to rest in a soft bed…

The hospitality of Imladris had diminished little even though there were ever fewer elves around. The baths were relaxing and the kitchen sent a fine feast to the table. The fresh honey mead went down well.

”Sure beats whatever it was Wulgof tried brewing in both Rhun and Harad,” Frea said sipping the cup and his brother agreed emphatically.

Rin pecked at her food and Hanasian kept her eating. The memories of the old crew came back to him and he found himself wondering what they were doing right now.

Meanwhile, far to the East, over the ocean and beyond the rift between worlds from where the Mariners and the Order Of the High Mage had come…

It was raining hard that morning when the city shook. Rumors of the destruction of the city exploded from tales once told of the tumult long ago that broke the world. Those tales were now remembered by few, yet now it seemed that the gods had reached once again to these lands and squeezed their hands around it. Like a fist arising from the ground, the lifting turned the majestic stones of the Mage Hall into no more than the broken rocks that they were shaped from so long ago. Inside the core remnants of the Order perished. The city now had few, for the tremors continued erratically making it unsafe. Most of the buildings were damaged or had fallen, and with each shake, more fell. Most who could had fled. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t were left. They squeezed out subsistence the best they could and cursed the days the wizards had come.
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Postby elora » Sun Oct 28, 2012 8:21 pm

Spring unfurled into summer and as the seasons burgeoned so too did Rin. They had settled in swiftly, each in their own way, upon arrival at Imladris. The Last Homely House still retained some measure of its capacity to offer a weary, footsore traveller that which he most desired. For Hanasian, it was a return to his boyhood home of many years. He delighted in showing his wife all the many places dear to his heart, unfolding his treasured memories along the way. For Rin, Imladris was the place of her birth. It was where a significant part of her history resided as well. Records and possessions had been left there. However, for Rin it was different. She had no memories to breathe life into them for her.

Kholas was rarely seen outside of the company of Tarina. A quiet speculation had sprung up between the other men that if things progressed at their current rate, further travel might be ruled out by more immediate family concerns. Frea and Folca turned their attention to a small herd of horses. They soon had a plan that involved their transport to Rohan and onward sale and the two men were hip deep in negotiations with Elves to secure rights to the herd. Negotiations proceeded smoothly until the matter of saddles arose. Stillwater was content to do mostly nothing. Occasionally, Slippery goaded him into exercise and the man would puff and moan his way around a training yard until such time as Slippery decided she could not bear his complaints any longer.

No one was aware of what Rowdy did when he wasn’t on duty. Rin speculated that he had located a cave and hung from the ceiling upside down until such time as he was required. He was just so unnaturally quiet. He unnerved her. Farbarad thought this an excellent arrangement and not two weeks after arrival did she wake to find Rowdy standing outside the door to the apartments she shared with Hanasian. He said nothing when she emerged but she saw his little smile. She stared at him hard. It didn’t seem to make much difference. Rowdy wasn’t the sort of man to be overly perturbed by a Dunedain gaze. And that was that. When she brought the matter up with Hanasian, he nodded in approval.

”Excellent,” Hanasian pronounced, tankard of honeyed ale in one hand and a lazy smile playing over his lips at the evening table.

Rin opened her mouth to protest but her husband pounced, ”Now you can eat your meal yourself or I will arrange for your new Ranger to see to it for you.”

Had there not been Elves in the Great Hall, Rin would have thrown her meal at him. The thing was, she believed him. He would summon Rowdy. Frea and Folca were grinning over in the corner. Even Slippery was smiling and Slippery was supposed to be her friend. Rin pushed the food around her place, not particularly hungry. She had eaten already. There was more food here than she had ever seen in her life. So much food. How they could eat it all she had no idea. Loch, were he here, would have helped her. He had a prodigious capacity to eat. Pleading fatigue, not entirely untrue, Rin retired early. Rowdy was, of course, waiting outside to ensure she safely made it back to her quarters. Safely. In Imladris. The only thing she was in danger of here was a paper cut. There were so many books to read now that she had a reasonable grasp of Sindarin.

Back in the Great Hall, Frea leant back in his chair and expelled a long stream of bluish smoke.

”You know…I have to say that I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t twins…runs in the family,” the man drawled.

Folca chuckled, Farbarad groaned and Hanasian looked uncomfortably nervous all of a sudden.

”She barely eats enough for one, much less two,” Slippery replied with some concern.

”She is very much like her mother. Verawyn had that same delicate build, even with child,” Farbarad said.

”Twins,” Hanasian echoed, struggling to understand how he would manage two infants at the same time.

”One for each of you,” Folca said merrily and at that Stillwater began to laugh.

Once his booming laughter died down Elladan broached a different matter, ”We will have guests tomorrow. Men…from Cardolan.”

Any joviality faded and Farbarad demanded, ”Who?”

“The Prefect comes to report on progress. I do not think he is aware of your presence.”

“Is he alone?”
Hanasian inquired and Elladan shook his head.

”He has brought a number of his men with him. Aragorn himself appointed this Prefect. Yet, if you consider him perilous…”

Hanasian inquired and the Ranger rubbed at his jaw.

”Aragorn took particular care with this appointment, and Rin was part of the process. Mec and I found no cause for concern with the Prefect. It’s not the Prefect that concerns me.”

“You wonder, as I do, at who may have found a place in his service,”
Hanasian finished and Farbarad nodded.

”I can think of no better place to insert myself were I a rebel, as we saw in Rhun.”

”We can turn the others away,”
Elladan said and Hanasian frowned.

”If you do that, you embroil yourself in the politics of Cardolan. Admitting some, denying others. No…we will simply ensure that they remain unaware of her presence here and she of theirs. I would risk no distress to her. Her time is so near.”

Cardolan’s Prefect arrived with eight men the following day. Hanasian arranged so that they could be observed from a distance. Farbarad saw no familiar faces among their number but cautioned that this, in itself, meant little. Rin found herself with not one but two attentive companions at any time. Her carefully established routine was turned onto its head and no one had any answers for the reason for this disturbance. Hanasian was rarely absent from her side no matter what she was doing. If Rowdy wasn’t with him, Farbarad or one of the twins was. Rin found she missed most of all the ability to wander Imladris’ many paths in the company of her own thoughts.

While Rin was cloistered securely, Cardolan’s Prefect proved himself a worthy appointment. His report indicated that the task of restoring the ancestral property bequeathed to Rin and Hanasian had largely concluded though some of the outlying buildings were still in construction. The main residence and chief functionary buildings had been repaired, the fields cleared and sowed and the forests tended. This was welcome news for Hanasian. He had been grappling with the matter of how he would go about repairing the buildings and provide shelter for his young family, at least four others he suspected would continue on with them.

Hanasian met with the Prefect himself three days after his arrival at Imladris. Farbarad met with the men who had accompanied the Prefect and, gradually, their suspicions faded but their wariness did not. Carefully, Hanasian discussed his plans to take up residence by early Autumn.

”Oh yes, Captain. All will be ready. King Elessar made it clear that this was to be so. May I be so bold as to inquire whether your lady wife will be joining you?” the Prefect inquired, believing that Rin was elsewhere entirely.

Hanasian hesitated, glanced at Farbarad who jerked his head in assent, ”Aye, and our child.”

The surprise on the Prefect’s face confirmed that the man was utterly unaware of Rin’s presence or her state.

”Congratulations, Captain. A son or daughter?”

“That remains to be seen,”
Hanasian replied and the Prefect’s expression was one of understanding.

”Ah…yes…the King made it clear that there were certain elements that posed some risk. You are wise to ensure she is safely hidden from view. This only makes it more necessary for me to ask. Have you arrangements for security, Captain?”

Hanasian inquired tersely.

”My arrival in Cardolan did not go unnoticed. I have been contacted by a number of….interested parties. Some are no more than curious. Others, however…I have ensured particular is taken with the defences of the property. I seek only to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place, without a gap.”

Hanasian did not return to his quarters until quite late, but he did so reasonably assured that their home would be safe without being a prison or an army barracks. A place of peace for his children, the sanctuary he had promised his wife. The Prefect was a capable, perceptive man, of unquestionable loyalty to Elessar. As he slid under the light sheets beside his wife, Rin stirred. She did not sleep heavily now. She murmured something, a question by her tone. He smoothed her hair and kissed her cheek.

”Preparations my love, that is all. All is well. Now hush…and rest,” he assured her.

His dreams that night consisted of a winding trail beneath summer leaves towards the sea. It was warm. He could hear the ocean beckoning. He knew that just around the corner he would see his home. It stood on a rise, looking out at the sea and the coastal forest that carpeted the shore below. There was a garden, behind the house and sheltered from the coastal winds. He could hear Rin singing as she burnt dinner and the sound of their children at play. He smiled as he walked through his dreams, at ease and comfortable.

Rin woke to a hot day. Sunlight streamed through the windows and there was a dull ache in her back already. She had not slept well, again. A night’s unbroken sleep was a rare thing for her of late. Hanasian jested and called it training. He had left for the day; busy with something he would not tell her of. She extricated herself with some difficulty from the bedding. Getting dressed was its usual impossible challenge until Slippery arrived to rescue her.

”Hungry?” Slippery asked brightly, smiling so widely that Rin felt the sudden urge to slap her.

The thought made her blink in surprise at her own surliness and then she glanced down at where her feet had once been. They were still there, though she could not see them. She knew they were there because they had started to ache already too. Everything and everyone was starting early except for her. She was late, clumsy, cumbersome and ponderous. Rin heaved a sigh.

”I believe, Slippery, that if I only had a mirror I would at last be able to see an Oliphant.”

“Nonsense! Aside from this,”
Slippery placed her hands on either side of Rin’s belly, ”You’re still the same…all legs and arms…Too much, if you ask me. You should eat more!”

Rin frowned at her belly and tried to imagine it any larger. She just couldn’t. She already felt as big as a house and had to take care with doorways and corners and stairs and chairs…the list got longer and longer as the months passed. Soon they’d have to suspend her from the ceiling, if only they could find rope sturdy enough for her weight. Slippery gave up and set herself to tying back her friend’s hair. It would be too hot and uncomfortable to leave it out today.

”Tell you what…after breakfast, we’ll go down to the pools.”

“I’m not allowed,”
Rin grumbled, ”For reasons I am not permitted to know. I think I’m under house arrest and I haven’t even stolen anything…lately.”

“You, me and Tarina, if Kholas hasn’t stolen her away.”

“And a small army.”

“Rowdy and Frea will keep out of our way. You won’t even know they’re there. It’ll be fun. We could have a picnic even.”

They emerged to find Rowdy and Frea waiting.

”Don’t you look lovely today, Doc” Frea attempted and Rin favoured him with a sceptical scowl.

”Don’t try that on me, horseboy. I like it better when you’re taciturn. That, at least, is genuine.”

Frea glanced at Slippery, who grinned at Rin’s shoulder, and nodded. Now that he had a gauge of her mood, he and Rowdy would be attentive shadows, silent. Rowdy slipped ahead to scout and they found breakfast without sighting another soul. For some reason, this only soured Rin’s mood further.

”I’m not hungry anymore,” Rin said emphatically in the Great Hall and pushed her plate away. She’d eaten more than what she had once had to eat in two days but as far as Slippery was concerned it was not enough.

Slippery shook her head and waggled her finger back and forth, ”I’ll remember this come lunch.”

“I’m sure you will,”
Rin replied and reached for the cup of cool water sweetened by summer berries.

Her fingers brushed something unexpected under the cup and she nearly dropped the cup. A quick adjustment and Rin found she held a small folded square of paper in the palm of her hand. Her mouth opened in surprise and then her eyes darted up to Slippery. Slippery was making the most of breakfast’s remains. Carefully, Rin unfolded the paper and swiftly read. When she had read it a third time, she crumpled it and dropped it down the bodice of her dress. Her thoughts stormed within her head as she sipped at the water.

The note explained much. There were strangers in Imladris. Strangers who knew about her. Men of Cardolan, and that explained a number of questions about the sudden change to her routine, where she was permitted to go and what was keeping Hanasian and Farbarad so preoccupied of late. It did nothing at all to improve her mood. Her frustration boiled over into a deeper anger, one that ran cold through her veins. However, Rin could not untangle what, precisely, she was so angry about. Was it the fact that Cardolan’s shadow had found her even here and now? Was it the fact that this had been hidden from her like she was a child? Was it the fear that it would dog the lives of her children through their days as well?

Tarina strode into the Great Hall looking fresh and light as gossamer. The young woman was clearly in love. She radiated with it.

”Finished, Doc?” Slippery asked at Tarina’s arrival.

Tarina glanced at the table and the half eaten plate in front of Rin, ”You’ve barely touched your breakfast!”

Rin actually heard something snap within her and she clamped her jaw viciously to prevent something flying out of her mouth.

”She’s a light eater…I think it has something to do with all those years spent making do with barely enough to sustain a sparrow,” Slippery said and Rin’s eyes narrowed because now they were talking about her like a child, as if she was not even there.

”But we’ll be here all day waiting for her to finish. Once she thinks you’re trying to make her eat, she refuses on principle. Don’t you, Rin?”

Both women looked at her expectantly. Rin’s jaw unlocked but she modified what she had been about to say and transformed it into Dunlendic so that it would, at the least, not be comprehensible.

”She doesn’t seem very happy.”

“She isn’t, but the pools will remedy that. Come on, grumpy, up and at ‘em. Let’s see if we can’t cool you down and take some of that weight off your back. I see you rubbing at it.”

The great indignity of it all was that she needed both Slippery’s and Tarina’s help to get to her feet. Once up, Rin decided that there was something she needed to do straight away.

”Go on without me. I’ll join you later, if my guards permit me,” Rin stated, fixing a dark glare on Frea and Folca both, ”I’ve something to do that cannot be delayed.”

”We’ll wait for you. How long do you think you’ll be?”

“Oh, I don’t know,”
Rin said with sarcastic breeziness, ”How long does it take to straighten out an errant husband and a Ranger?”

Slippery’s brows shot up, Frea swallowed hard and Tarina looked shocked. Rin plucked out the square of paper on which the names of four loyal Cardolan men entreated her for audience without the intolerable interference of Gondor’s vassals. She brandished this in the air.

”Where. Is. My. Husband? I’ll fix Farbarad’s wagon later. Let’s start with Hanasian. Where is he?”

“He’s busy,”
Frea shot back, crossed his arms and spread his weight into a combative stance that Rin had seen him adopt many times before, in the days of the Company. She knew what it meant and she had not time for it.

”Oh, I am sure he is. Let me make one thing very clear to you, Frea. This is my mess to clean up. Cardolan is my problem. Mine! Now where is he?”

Frea’s lips thinned as he pressed them together.

”Right!” Rin snapped and strode out into the hall at some speed, both hands pressed to her aching back.

It was not easy for a heavily pregnant woman to walk quickly and Rin was soon panting with the effort.

”Slow down, Doc!” Slippery pleaded and grabbed the other woman’s elbow to halt her.

Rin rounded on her sharply and Slippery had to be fleet footed to avoid a collision with her belly.

”That’s not fair, using that thing as a weapon,” Slippery chided her friend.

”You knew. You all knew, except me and maybe Tarina. Don’t lecture me on fair, Slip. This was hidden from me.”

“To avoid causing you harm. Look at the state you're in, Rin! You’re nine months!”

“And one week. I can still count! And this Cardolan mess is my problem. One I knew I was walking into and one I resolved to settle. Me. How long have these men been here?”

“Only a few days. Rin…I know you’re not going to see eye to eye with us on this. All I am asking is that you slow down, calm down. The cat’s out of the bag now. There’s no stuffing it back, though I’d dearly like to know how you found out,”
Slippery said and Rin passed her a crumpled wad of paper.

Slippery closed her hand around the paper and noted that Frea and Rowdy had caught up.

”Doc, you don’t look so good,” Rowdy said and Slippery agreed with the assessment.

Rin’s cheeks were flushed, the rest of her face pale, and she had both hands set to the small of her back to rub. Rin frowned.

”Well, if you’re going to come along on this field trip, Rowdy, you’d better find yourself a sterner constitution. Things are going to look a whole lot worse before I’m done with them,” Rin growled.

”Where are you going?” Frea demanded.

”I am going to find my husband, Frea. I’ll start with Elrohir’s study.”

Rin started off again at a slower rate and Slippery unfolded the paper and read it before she passed it to Frea and pursued her friend. Frea cursed and set off last of all. This was not good. Not. Good. Hanasian and Farbarad were going to hit the roof, once Rin was done with them. Not. Good.

Rin arrived at Elrohir’s study short of breath, flushed, with a dangerously smooth expression. She found both Sons of Elrond, the Prefect of Cardolan, and the two rangers she was searching for clustered around a table that was covered with maps and plans and deep in discussions. The sound of her laboured breathing in the doorway lifted their attention from the table. Aside from the smoothness of Rin’s expression, the icy blue glitter of her eyes spoke volumes to the depth of her anger. Slippery, Rowdy and Frea were at her back, clearly unhappy.

”My word…Princess…this is an unexpected pleasure!” the Prefect exclaimed, believing that Rin had just arrived.

Rin struggled to retain her composure and favoured the man with a long, silent gaze.

”I can see the road has been difficult, and no small wonder. ‘Tis a brave thing to venture forth even on the gentlest of roads at such a time.”

Farbarad cleared his throat as Rin stepped through the door and straightened. She had been leaning against it.

”My love, you have met the Prefect before…in Minas Tirith,” Hanasian said smoothly to broach the uncomfortable silence.

”Yes,” Rin said shortly, eyes locked on Hanasian now.

”Is there something we might assist you with,” Farbarad said from the table as Hanasian took his wife’s arm.

Rin’s eyes snapped to him and she lifted one pale brow. Farbarad watched her draw a deep breath and knew that whatever she was going to say would likely peel several layers of his hide away.

”Yes, there is as it so happens. I have met the Prefect. However, the matter of some four men-“ Rin’s reply was abbreviated by pain that shot up her spine like fire. Her eyes widened and Hanasian’s grip tightened on her arm.

”Oh, now?” she breathed shakily, ”This is important. Does it have to be now?”

“It would seem so,”
Elladan said, ”And on this no amount of argument from you will make any difference and well you know it, healer. Hanasian, take her to your apartments. We will see to the necessary arrangements and quickly too, if Lady Rosmarin follows in her mother’s steps in this matter as well.”

At that, Farbarad’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

”What does that mean?” Rin asked worried as Hanasian carefully steered her about.

”Elladan’s right. It might be best to carry her,” Farbarad said as he reached the door.

“Was it that fast?” Hanasian inquired.

“Aye…and look at her.”

“How fast?”
Rin demanded as the two Rangers lifted her from her feet.

”Never you mind, lassie,” Farbarad answered.

The Prefect soon found himself on his own, with his plans and maps, with the sound of the Crown Princess of Cardolan wailing a protest about how noone tells her anything any more through the hall outside Elrohir’s study. He considered the drawings below and nodded his satisfaction. It was well indeed that progress had been so far ahead of schedule. There were two remarkable things about what unfolded next.

The first was that it was fast. It was over in a matter of hours. Opinion was divided over whether this was a good thing. As there was little untoward about the birth, most agreed it was a good thing. The tension of waiting was unbearable. It was made worse by the second thing. There was no wailing. There were no cries or shouts. The silence had been a cause for concern initially. It had seen them bicker outside over who might venture in and Slippery ultimately declared she had no patience for their squeamishness. She returned with the assurance that all was well.

”You know Doc. She’s quiet,” Slippery said.

”It’s the quiet ones you have to watch,” Rowdy remarked.

”You would know,” Slippery retorted and the mood lightened.

After a while they a steady stream of cursing in any language Rin possessed begin. It turned out that she had learnt a great deal on her travels.

”What was that?” Tarina asked Kholas out where they all waited and the Easterling actually blushed.

He refused to translate which made the Rohirrim chuckle, because it seemed likely that she had said something in Kholas’ tongue similar to what she had said in Rohirric.

”If Hanasian is limping, we’ll know why,” Folca drawled and Rowdy grinned a rare smile.

By late afternoon the door was cracked open and Elrohir bid Farbarad to enter. The Ranger was gone several minutes and then returned, hoarse of voice and eyes bright.

“Not too loudly,” the Ranger instructed them and they carefully assembled just inside the doorway, suddenly bashful.

Hanasian and Rin only had eyes for their infant son. He lay sleeping, tightly swathed, across his mother’s chest. His parents looked exhausted but victorious. Rin was pale but alert and aware of her surroundings. She glanced up at those waiting by the door and smiled. There was such raw emotion there, something she rarely showed and the men shuffled their feet and cleared their throats. This drew Hanasian’s attention from his son to the others. Such astonished joy and pride radiated from him. His arm was still under Rin’s shoulders from where he had lent her strength in those final, wrenching moments. He knew she would not be able to remain propped up if he moved his arm. It had been so terrifying. He had not known what would happen even as his son emerged. It had been so fast that any complication would likely have taken Rin from him. He felt shellshocked now, so awash with emotion that he did not know what to do. A father. He was a father to a son.

”Congratulations,” Folca said earnestly as he crept forward to peer at his cousin’s son.

”You’re a braver man than I,” Frea said a moment later and he caught Rin’s tired smile.

”You both are,” he amended and bent forward to kiss the top of Rin’s head.

When they had all gone and there was just the three of them there, the setting sun caught in Hanasian’s hair. He had never looked fairer to Rin than that moment. He was in a chair by the window, his son in his arms. He had held him while Rin slept briefly. There was such a vulnerable expression on his face. He seemed so very large and powerful against the tiny infant he cradled with such gentle care. Hanasian caught her movement and looked up.

”Tears?” he asked for his wife had never shed them in all the time he had known her.

”Happy ones,” she whispered.

”He is sleeping,” Hanasian said, glancing back down at his son.

”I imagine it was quite an ordeal for him,” Rin said, ”What shall we call him?”

Hanasian shook his head uncertainly, ”Is there anyone you would name him for?”

Rin closed her eyes and knew that it was too soon to name him for Lochared.

”No, my love…not yet…perhaps in time, should we have another son.”

“Another? Already you plan another?”
Hanasian’s lips quirked.

You’ll have to catch me first. I’ll not soon forget this, husband,” she answered, mock growl.

”Oh, but you will. Women always do…we both know your earlier threats are but empty promises.”

“I meant them at the time.”

Hanasian’s smile went soul deep and he sobered and studied her face intently. Women, he concluded, were remarkable creatures and he was fortunate beyond all measure to have the one he now watched.

”Are you well, my love?” he inquired, aware that things could yet go awry.

She saw the fear in his expression and she nodded, ”I am, beloved. You’ve a few more years to contend with me yet ahead of you. Now, to the business of naming. You’re stalling.”

“Why do I have to name him?”

“Well, he’s your son and you’ve probably got something Elvish in mind.”

“You’ve demonstrated a reasonable facility with Sindarin this afternoon. Along with Aduanic, Haradian and the dialect of Rhun.”

“Yes, yes…but we can hardly name our son after a curse. He is your first born son, my love. This is yours. Take it.”

Hanasian nodded and glanced back to the infant in his arms. His. Take this he would.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sun Nov 04, 2012 5:24 am

A son was born to Hanasian and Rosmarin, and though the title meant naught, he was called Ernil, or Prince, by the elves. Hanasian, however, had not considered what he might name his firstborn. His son slept beside his beloved. Rin dozed as well, still recovering from the demands of bringing him into the world. Hanasian’s thoughts circled until, at last, he had an answer. He looked down upon his son and bent to kiss them both.

”He will be called Hanavia Lochnard of the House Halvaris, if this name pleases my beloved,” Hanasian said and his son squirmed slightly, finding his thumb with his mouth.

Rin stirred at his voice and smiled as her eyes opened. Hanasian leaned over and kissed her again, as Hanavia struggled to find something to eat.

Hanasian said to Rin, ”I chose Hanavia as it is a name of old in my line. I wish him to carry the name of Lochnard in memory of your brother, and I feel he may have some of his demeanour. What do you say my love?”

Her smile as her eyes closed once more said it all, and Hanasian kissed her brow and let her and the baby sleep.

The days that followed proved hectic, and there was still the matter of the Prefect and his ministers to resolve. In the days that passed, Hanasian and Farbarad held them as they gathered information. On the other hand, Hanasian spoke with Rosmarin about what they wanted to know. He did his best to convince her to address them in a diplomatic manner that was unbefitting of his wife for she was nothing if not a direct woman. She remained uneasy with the secrecy of the weeks before, but ultimately she agreed with Hanasian. He was somewhat surprised when she announced that she would address them in the Hall of Fire the next morning. Yet she kept quiet as to what she would say.

Hanasian, before he went to sleep, kissed his sleeping wife on the forehead and rested assured that his wife would strive to be diplomatic and avoid mayhem. He took it as a good sign when Hanavia slept all the way through to first light for the first time. Farbarad on the other hand, didn’t sleep, for he was not nearly so sure. Mecarnil had always been the one to lead when it came to matters of politics and he missed the man now in particular.

The morning arrived bright and clear, with the scent of summer flowers in the air. Rosmarin was clad in a lovely silvery elven dress that fitted her well. Hanasian was in his best dress uniform, as was Farbarad, and Frea and Folca were in their Rohirrim martial finery. Kholas cleaned up well, and was in his leathers with the old Company crest. Tarina appeared in awe of everyone, even though she too was in a fine dress which she had made. She still blushed when she was referred to as Lady of Dale. Rowdy wore his silver chain mail, and the others wore their best Company attire. Slippery prowled about like the Black Cat she was. Notably missing were any of the Eldar save the official scribes. Even the Sons of Elrond were nowhere to be seen. Yet they were nearby and intent on watching this meeting from afar. The King’s Prefect and his ministers arrived in the hall dressed in their official attire.

Farbarad stood up and announced, ”The Lady Rosmarin of Cardolan arrives!”

She strode into the room, looking every inch the Queen of Cardolan, bearing her son in her arms. She walked through their assembly and once at the front passed Hanavia to Hanasian. He took his son in his arms and sat down with Farbarad. Rosmarin turned then and looked out upon the faces of all who had gathered. The Prefect had bowed, and wished to ask a question, but she cut him short. Farbarad shifted in his seat uncomfortably, ready for her customary direct approach to begin to permanently ruffle feathers. All Hanasian could do was hope for the best.

She said, ”It had come to my attention, albeit late, that the King’s Prefect and his ministers had arrived here with questions and concerns about the future of Cardolan and my role. Although I had thought all this was settled and put behind us in Pelargir and again in Minas Tirith, I have found it necessary to address lingering doubts that persist, for there has been some who have tried to bring about a free and independent Cardolan by violent means.

“These attempts have failed, and should any here today yet harbour a similar desire, I tell you now to set it aside once and for all. This is my official proclamation. As the Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor were united under one king in the days of Elendil, so to now are they united under King Elessar. There are no two kingdoms, or three, or four.

“This fragmentation has only caused grief, and now the division has come to an end. I have acceded all rights and claims as a rightful heir to Cardolan to the King of the West. His rule is supreme and is the final in all matters concerning Cardolan, and Arthedain, and Rhuadur, and Gondor and all its lands. He is your king, and mine.

“If by his will, he should allow a free and independent land under his realm, then it will by his decree alone. But all hereditary rights and claims that some insist remain mine by merit of birthright are forfeit, by my will and my choice and no other’s. This is the last that I will speak of this matter.

“Any and all concerns that may come forth should be brought to the representative of King Elessar, whose appointed representative of Cardolan is the Prefect. I remain what I have always been. I am not Erían but Rosmarin, a girl who faced with her brother a hard road in uncertain times. I reluctantly joined a company of mercenary soldiers when my brother deemed it best for us. The Company commander perceived my gift for healing and convinced me to become their physician.

“This commander is now my husband, the father of my first born son. I am the wife of a veteran Dunedain Ranger who rode the Paths of the Dead with King Elessar, founded and until recently commanded the Black Company of Arnor. I am the mother of Hanavia, a soldier and a healer’s son.

“And now, this matter is settled once more and on record in two places, one in the south in Gondor, and one by my own mouth in this hallowed chamber, recorded by the Scribes of Imladris. If there are any who still feel compelled to ascribe a rank and position that is no longer mine, they may serve be leaving my family and myself in peace. For my dreams are not so different to your own. I seek only a peaceful life in a land that once more prospers.

“May you all have a good morning.”

By the time Rin stepped back down, Hanavia was flailing impatiently in his father’s arms. She took her son back into her own embrace and he settled into the crook of one arm with a soft gurgle. She could not tell if it was one of relief or irritation. Like as not he was hungry. He frowned up at her as she placed her other arm upon Hanasian’s. The hall remained silent as they departed, walking once more through the throng. Hanasian flicked a signal to Farbarad that made it clear that the Ranger could deal with any questions.

As they walked through the doors, Hanasian whispered to his wife, ”Well said, my Love.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wulgof went around to gather up the Company. So to did Khor gathered his men together. Except for the men skilled in sailing, and Donius and Daius, all the old crew were there. Videgavia arrived last of all to address them.

”Men of the Company and Khor’s Legion, it is now spring and while the weather has yet to break, it warms and the winds and tides will be right for our departure tomorrow morning. Though armed, and trained in matters of military skill, we go forth not as an invading force but as explorers. We may be gone for a long time, or we may return in short order. We set out, commissioned as a Free Company, to seek out the lands to the east. Now Anavikela had said that the way would not be easy to do, if it was even possible to do. But we will attempt it.

“Any man who does not wish not to depart these shores can resign and be freed of their commission. Is there any who wish this?”

He stood silent and waited. So did everyone else, to a man. After several moments, Videgavia continued.

”This will be your last day in Skhar. Get your affairs sorted and be ready to board at first light.”

Videgavia dismissed the men of the Company and Khor dismissed his men. They were free to mingle and it seemed many converged on the place the Company had called home for these long months. Mulgov was selling out his wares. Of course everyone knew that he had plenty stored aboard ship, but what he couldn’t take, he sold at bargain prices. It was a good party this night.

Lady Anavikela spent the evening in her room alone. She turned her mind toward home, and for a moment, it seemed she felt her sister and those she had left behind.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sun Nov 04, 2012 6:47 am

Hanasian considered his son. For the moment, Hanavia seemed contented in the main to have been returned to his mother’s arms. The child held his gaze solemnly, as if he read something of his father’s intention. Hanasian decided to risk it. Instead of steering Rin back to their apartments, he instead led her to the Great Hall.

”Where are we going?” Rosmarin asked.

”You will see.”

“Hanavia is hungry.”

“It will take but a moment.”

Rin fell quiet but took to frowning faintly at his side.

”I thought it went well,” she said a long moment later and Hanasian glanced down at her in askance for he had said as much even as they left.

Then he realised the thrust of her thoughts, ”My love, this is no chastisement. Be patient, dear heart.”

With all of Imladris’ guests corralled in the Hall of Fire, the Great Hall was empty. Anduril had been removed many years ago, but the histories of Elendil and Isildur still adorned the walls. Waves and tall ships. Tall men with grey eyes and stern faces. A looming Dark Lord in all his dread power. A gleaming shard held up in defiance. This place had fascinated him as a boy. It was part of his heritage, his history. But the figures that strode so proudly across the walls were his wife’s forebears. He led her to where they stood upon Middle Earth’s shore, narrowly escaped from the disaster that claimed Numenor. Their expressions were grim and sorrowful and yet hope was there too.

”Do you know who they are?” Hanasian asked her and Rin checked a sigh.

”It is written on the wall below.”

“Aye…but do you know who they are?”

Rin paused at his tone and considered the question with greater care than before. He watched her head tilt to one side. Hanavia seized up a strand of his mother’s hair, delighting in how his fingers opened and closed.

”Elendil and his son, Isildur,” Rin replied warily now.

Hanasian ran his knuckles down the side of her face. It had been the delicate structure of her face, the silvery blue of her eyes above high cheekbones, and her ability to heal that had first hinted at her true identity. A heritage that she shared so many generations later with the men she studied upon the wall.

”My love, do you recall Aragorn’s words in Pelargir of your inviolate blood?”


Hanasian turned her to face him. The soft light caught in the fabric of her gown and made it ripple against her like waves under moonlight.

”You are Rosmarin. You are my wife, mother to my son. You were the Company Healer of the Black Company, and reluctantly so at first. But you are also the descendant of Elendil. No-“ he set a finger against soft lips that even now parted to argue, ”It is as much a part of who you are as Hanavia now is. My darling…you have set aside your throne. All I say is this: do not deny your blood. It is nothing to be frightened of. If not for yourself, then for him. For it is his now too.”

“As is yours,”
Rin insisted despite his finger.

”Yes…and I’ll not ask him to hide from it. Will you?”

Hanavia began to fret then, waving fists about between them and Rin wondered if the two of them had plotted this together somehow. When Hanasian framed it like that, there was only one possible answer.

”No, my love,” she said solemnly, eyes returning to the figures on the wall.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Prefect and his men did not linger overlong. They set out some three days later, much to the relief of Farbarad. He slid into an armchair with a weary sigh.


“Best to avoid them,”
Rowdy offered and Farbarad scowled at the man.

”Yes, and where were you?”

Rowdy shrugged unapologetically, ”Avoiding them.”

With Hanavia now sleeping through and finding some sort of routine, thought began to be given to the next phase of the journey. Hanasian flatly refused to place his son and wife on the road until Hanavia was at least three months old. In this time, Slippery and Stillwater came to an agreement and sought Hanasian out.

”We won’t be any trouble, Cap,” Slippery assured him once Stillwater had finished speaking.

”I wager not, for it’ll be a fast horse back to Minas Tirith otherwise and that is precisely where you do not wish to go. Am I correct?”

Stillwater muttered.

”I can be an extra set of hands around the house…can never have too many when it comes to little ones. As for Stillwater…I’m sure you’ll find something useful for him to do. How about gardening?” Slippery inquired and released her prettiest, most charming smile.

”Gardening!” Stillwater protested and Hanasian was not in the least distracted by any of it.

”I’ll agree, on two conditions,” he said at length.

”Name them,” Slippery said.

”I want your real names…and I want the truth about what you’re hiding from.”

“But Company rules-“

“This is not the Company. This is my family. If you think I would take any risk, countenance any possible peril to my wife and child, you do not know me at all,”
Hanasian pressed, his voice and expression steely.

Stillwater shuffled his weight and glanced at Slippery. Slippery chewed her lower lip, sighed and shrugged one shoulder. Stillwater let her do the talking in the main. When she was finished, he threw in one important fact.

”It was a misunderstanding. That’s all, Cap.”

Hanasian said dryly, for he had heard the same said by a woman he loved dearly, ”Does Rosmarin know?”

said Stillwater emphatically.

”Yes…told her months ago,” Slippery admitted and Hanasian rubbed at his face. When it came to his wife and her secrets, she was more jealous with them than Smaug was with his treasure.

”Very well…but, at the first sign of trouble…”

“Fast horse. Minas Tirith. We’ll be on our best behaviour, won’t we Still?”
Slippery said brightly and glance at Stillwater.

The man glowered at her. Hanasian waved them off and as they departed, Stillwater made it clear just how unimpressed he was with Slippery’s unauthorised confession.

”But it’s Rin,” Slippery pointed out.

”Exactly! She’s cousin of the High King! Of all the people you could talk to, her?”

Autumn came late that year. It meant that the nights remained mild and this was something to be grateful for. They took a steady path towards Bree. Farbarad and Rowdy, Stillwater and Slippery would accompany them onwards to where they were to settle within the ancient boundaries of Cardolan. Frea and Folca would strike south for Rohan. Kholas and Tarina had not yet decided where they would go. As soon as Bea set eyes on Hanavia nestled in Rin’s arms, the woman burst into tears.

”Oh the best rooms, make no mistake. We can’t have you bunking down anywhere else with a little one to tend to, now can we?”

“It’s just us this time, Mistress,”
Hanasian said, ”No Black Company men will be riding in after us.”

“All the same…and they’re free. You see, I’ve been keeping them aside for there’s word that there’s a princess about in the north again. Yet to see her myself, and I suppose there’s small chance she’d bother with Bree, but all the same…all the same.”

“Quite right,”
Rin said, staring hard at Frea whose mouth was already open.

”Now come along. Let’s get you settled in…”
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Wed Nov 07, 2012 10:02 pm

Bree was, well, Bree. Nothing much ever seemed to change, except for some of the faces - maybe. The mix of men and Halflings was fairly unique to the land and the tales were always a bit larger than the truth there. Still the tales always seemed to be near the mark. The rumours of a princess were true, though they could not see her in their midst. It was a secret well kept by all who knew and their very presence only spoke of the return of the Black company and nothing further. Tales that the Company was far to the east did not prevail and it appeared everyone prepared themselves for the onslaught of Wulgof, Mulgov, and Khule. But the old Rohirrim and the younger Gondorians were all that came. Kholas drew some extra looks but most held that he was no more than an odd Dunlanding and they lost interest. Tarina enjoyed the attention on the back of her tales of Dale but this too faded after a while.

While the days passed, Hanasian and Rin certainly enjoyed the peace on offer. It had been Bree that had seen their relationship blossom. They walk their haunts from that earlier time, now with Hanavia, without care for the other developments that had emerged along with their love. The presence of young Dunedain wearing a brooch of the rayed star of old, inlaid with the White Tree and Stars of Gondor was of comfort. The King had made his presence felt and the lands breathed easier for it. Moreso, even, than the last time they were in town. Hanasian suspected Aragorn had done that apurpose upon discovering Cardolan’s heir lived still…and his colleagues of old that had attended their wedding were probably in it up to their ears also.

In truth, they lingered in Bree, reluctant to see the fellowship’s end. A cold morning rain put paid to that and they came to realise that it was time to depart before winter approached too near. They waited one more day in hopes that the next might see a clearing of the weather and grant them a little longer yet. That evening Hanasian called for a big feast. He produced a small chest filled with coin and it paid for a party for the town. Rin was, as a whole, astonished not only by the sheer wealth of it all but also that it happened to be in her husband’s possession without her being aware of it. She was a professional thief. It was a matter, therefore, of professional pride.

Rin asked Hanasian, ”Where did that come from?”

With a gleam in his eye, Hanasian smiled.

”Mulgov always does this. He stashes his gains from whatever his profiteering is in the particular area we were encamped, in hopes of one day retrieving it when he returns. Did you not notice that whenever we were somewhere we had been to before, he seemed to always have more than what his pay was?

“I realised his and sometimes I would note locations where he seemed to be secretive. I just happened to look in the wall of the room he stayed in before, and I found this! I am almost as sure he will not remember where he has hidden all his little stashes if and when he returns to Bree anyway, and if he should, will write it off as one that a local got lucky in finding. In this case, I’m the local.”

Rin appreciated this immensely. She chuckled, already thinking she may try and find some of his little stashes herself. Perhaps in Mithlond. He had been lingering around that old blacksmithy. Aye, should she ever venture back there she would have a careful look around. She kissed Hanasian soundly, which he returned in kind, and the pair of them wore conspiratorial grins. It was obvious that Hanasian had planned this well before the day. They went to their room and prepared for the night.

It was a starry night and a slight northerly breeze came down from the Evendim Hills. Inside the inn the fire was warm and the townsfolk were more than willing to venture to the Prancing Pony for free food and ale even if they had no idea what the celebration was all about. What it was about was the parting of old comrades in arms. Frea and Folca would set out south toward home. After a toast to the Old Crew, Hanasian had passed each of his cousins letters to give to his sister when they arrived in Rohan. Kholas and Tarina decided to linger together in Bree, at least for the while. The remainder were set to accompany Hanasian, Rin, and Hanavia west to their home. Strange, it was, for it was a home none of them had seen before. Farbarad, who had visited the site of the ancestral seat of Cardolan’s Princes decades ago as a much younger Ranger, recalled empty buildings fallen into disrepair and in danger of vanishing into the forest wilds entirely.

The banter that night was jolly and even little Hanavia didn’t seem to mind the noise. In this, Farbarad said, the child bore out well the namesake of his second name. Lochared would have been in his element that night, had he of been there. The talk went on long between Frea, Folca, Hanasian, and Rin. They recounted various exchanges, including her brother’s incident with Frea’s boots in the Shire after the wedding. The tension that had hung between Frea and Rin had evaporated on the march to Umbar and the sparring had become largely for sport than anything else. But this night, they shared laughter and memories and Frea abandoned his fondness for irritating his cousin’s wife.

The others drifted into talk and drinks with each other and with some of the townsfolk. The night was long when Rin bid Frea and Folca a good night. She bent to kiss her husband, who then rose to his feet to follow his wife and son.

”Hanavia sleeps already and I am weary. Stay and talk to your heart’s fill, for all I go in search of now is sleep.”

Hanasian kissed her once more and bestowed a softer, gentler version upon the brow of his son, asleep in her arms, ”I won’t be long, my love.”

Rin’s smile as she turned to go was a knowing one. She left two brothers and a cousin at a table where the ale jugs regularly happened by. The night, for them, would not end any time soon.

And right she was… there were rounds aplenty, and the food, though diminished, remained plentiful. The three were determined to close down the common room. They talked and laughed and argued about things great and small since their childhood. However, as the common room emptied and became quiet, Frea became serious.

”Don’t know what it will be like without battle to go to or come from. I don’t know what to think about that.”

“I know what to think about that,”
Folca answered, ”We go home, we relax, and we go to the local inn and drink and talk, like we’re doing here now.”

Hanasian said, ”I am looking forward to going home. It will be nice not to have to think about strategy and tactics and the local politics and such.”

Frea drained his tankard and splashed the last on the table as he set it down hard, ”Yes and you will have the best home life a man could hope for, I’m sure. But won’t you miss it?

“I mean, Folca and I were both were pretty young our first tilt at the fords, and you not much more experienced but for some skirmishes in the north. But since then it has become a way of life. Sometimes I wish I would have stayed on and gone to the end…”

Folca jumped in, ”Oh yes? And serve under Videgavia? “

Frea returned, ”Yes. I know he is pretty much all business and too serious, but I miss him, and the others… Wulgof who we had battled, the big Haradian. Even Khule, even though he got all strange when we were in Skhar.”

“Well, it’s a long walk back now.”
Hanasian said as he finished his ale.

”Me, I won’t miss it. I have enough visions in my head to keep it alive for me should that be what I desire. It wasn’t until I met Rin that I realized that I was not at peace. It’s been forty some years since I last tried and I think I have made peace with my demons. I hope you will too cousin.”

He saw Frea set his head down on his arms. He was battling the demons of his memories even now and his brother said, ”He will be well, Han. You go to bed. I have this.”

Hanasian gripped Folca’s forearm and went to find his comfort in the arms of his wife. The morning would come too soon.

And it was only hours before it did. They had prepared themselves for the ride west, and both Frea and Folca were looking thick as they prepared to part south. They all rode to the south gate, and with long farewells, Frea and Folca rode out south. Hanasian could not help but wonder when he would see them again. It seemed like an end of an era to him.

As they rode out of sight, Hanasian turned and said, ”Well, I think we should be going too.”

The party returned to the inn to collect their belongings. It was here that Kholas and Tarina would remain for a while.

”Fare thee well, Captain!” Kholas bade him. Hanasian waved and nodded. They made for the West Gate and rode out of town at an easy pace.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Thu Nov 08, 2012 7:28 pm

Aside from a few tense days and nights as they cut through the Barrow Downs, the remainder of the journey was uneventful. Rin recalled all too well just how perilious the stones were and this she steered well clear of them. All the same, Hanasian set Farbarad and Rowdy on the alerts should something unwholesome seek to lure her. The wights had been sent to infest the tombs of her forefathers and it was well known that bright, hot blood was a siren call to them. She slept uneasily those nights but that was the extent of it this time. Stillwater was a little disappointed, though he would not admit it. Hanavia was oblivious, blissfully so and everyone else envied him for it.

Once they had set the Barrow Downs to their backs and forded the river that marked the boundary of old between Arthedain and Cardolan, the days and nights were wholly unremarkable. Save for the inexorable turning of the seasons, for winter would press on them all to quickly, there was nothing to press them hard. Nor did they camp cold.

The skirted the northern tip of the Blue Mountains and after nearly a month since setting out from Bree, followed Farbarad at the last through the forest that stood thickly on the coastal plain. With the Blue Mountains at the east, the sea at the west, and the elvish enclaves still found at Harlond and Mithlond to the north, it was easy to see why this had once been the seat of Cardolan’s Princes. It was well defended in addition to being a gentle, rich land. Had it not been for the Great Plague, like as not this land would have harboured Dunedain of the Cardolan realm still.

Forest kings, once they had been called, and it was easy to see why. It was also easy to see why the powerful spirit Tom Bombadil had found some measure of kinship with the few survivors of Cardolan that had fled to shelter in the Old Forest. Rumour had it that there was no Ranger of the Dunedain more skilled in forestcraft than those of Cardolan had once been. It was a rumour few had ever thought to test as the sorrowful tale of the years had unfolded. As Hanasian watched Farbarad press ahead, he thought he saw some of the truth of that rumour.

It had been many years, over fifty, since Farbarad had last ventured here. At that time, he had discovered a wild forest largely untouched and untamed, shells of empty buildings that seemed in danger of being consumed entirely. The empty doors and dark windows had seemed mournful to him, as if the stones remembered those who had shaped them and long since fled or perished in that terrible sickness. Remembered and grieved. Now the forest seemed as thick and vital but it was, somehow, a little more restrained. He glanced more than once over his shoulder to where Rosmarin rode. She was quiet, wrapped in her thoughts. The sunlight dappled the trail and flickered over horses and riders both. It made her hair gleam when it found her and then swiftly fell away. Over fifty years ago, had any man suggested that one of Cardolan’s royal line would retake the seat of Cardolan’s Princes, he would have punched the man in his mouth. And now, here she was, riding quietly along behind him on a horse next to her husband.

Farbarad led them gradually westward and closer to the coast as he took them south. She liked this forest. It was the sort of forest that would have once provided a reasonably good existence in years gone by. Abundant shelter and water and game. The sort of place she and Loch would have gravitated to. Particularly had they know that the mountains contained no orcs. Mountains meant overhangs and caves, excellent for winter.

”Just a Dwarf or twenty to deal with,” Farbarad had said the night before, adding the twenty for good measure in case she got ideas.

Dwarves, she thought, easy enough. Keep out of their way, and don’t steal anything from them unless you know they won’t miss it until you are well clear and beyond their reach.

In time, she started to hear the sighing song of waves upon the shore. It was a sound she had heard for many long months, over a year. She’d first heard it in that glorious month in Ithilien, spent with Hanasian after their wedding. She’d heard the sea underneath the sound of her beloved teaching a child’s rhyme to children. She glanced down at Hanavia. He was nestled in a sling across her chest, little hands curled around folds of her shirt. He slept best when he could hear her heartbeat. Nearly five months old, with his father’s dark hair softly waving against his head and wintry blue eyes that Slippery had predicted would be the bane of every woman’s existence in the years to come.

”Yours as well, Rin. Just watch if he doesn’t turn those eyes loose on you the same way you do on everyone else. Only stands to reason he would, given he has your eyes. I’m looking forward to the day that happens,” Slippery had chuckled.

”Won’t make a lick of difference,” Rin had replied and Slippery had only laughed harder.

”Sounds like a wager to me,” she replied and so it was.

Rin found that aside from herself, everyone bet on Hanavia for they all knew through personal experience just how potent that blend of silver and blue could do when harnessed to its full potential. Her own brother had famously listed his sister’s eyes as their secret weapon.

”Charm? She doesn’t need a gentle tongue. All she has to do is look and they melt, fear or fascination. Was those eyes that earned her the money purses of Khule and Molguv when she was half dead of exposure, hunger and fever. Was those eyes that earned us a place in the Company she had robbed.”

“Hah! She spent most of that day unconscious,”
Khule had replied and Loch grinned at him.

”Oh aye, and weren’t you all leaning in to see when she’d open them again. You especially, Molguv!”

And the Haradian had grinned, teeth white against the ink of his skin, unashamedly.

Home…they were coming home. Home was a place now. Before, for as long as she knew, it had been people. Loch, of course, and then Hanasian and the Company. Home was a place now, and people. It was a strange thing to understand for her. When at last Farbarad led them to their destination, it was difficult for her to prevent her jaw from hanging slack. Hanasian and the others swung down out of their saddles and strode to where the Prefect waited with a small group of men. Most of the men looked to have been working fields she could see to the east. They might lean on mattocks and hoes. They might not wear steel or leather. There was something about the way a fighting man held himself that was unmistakeable. She wasn’t fooled. She watched Hanasian and Farbarad exchange greetings with the Prefect while Rowdy nodded at some of his men.

Rowdy was a man of Gondor. It made absolutely no sense to her why he would want to sign on. She had the strong suspicion he had not joined the Black Company by happenstance alone. He had begun following her after that battle in Rhun, after the city where she first wondered about Rocks. Since that battle, he’d been following her about like a bad smell and it wasn’t because he harboured any sentiment for her. It was strictly business. Professional. While she sat on her horse, several things fell into place. Aragorn’s words on the trail from Rhun towards Esgaroth proved the key.

He had spoken of the need for certain precautions. She had voiced her protest at raising her family under siege but Aragorn had not relented. The saddle had creaked as he had leaned across it to drive his words home. He was king, his will in matters concerning the protection of his court and his family was not to be lightly set aside. She had fallen silent at the time, preoccupied with finding a way to argue without appearing to argue and then he had smiled at her sideways and told her matter was out of his hands already and in motion. Now, as she watched Rowdy, she realised just how true that had been. Rowdy looked back to where she still sat her horse and slowly inclined his head. Now she understood. She knew who he was, what he was. She eyed the fieldworkers a moment longer and then returned to her study of what was her home.

Stone, wood and slate. The principle residence sprawled across the gentle rise and fall of the ground as if it had sprung up from there. It was all one story, and it was huge, at least to her eyes. The land sharply dropped away for they stood on a bluff and the house perched along it. A balcony had been built out over it, cunning design holding it aloft, and stone stairs had been carved into wall of the bluff so that they could reach the shore and inlet below. There was a large garden at the rear of the house, protected from the salty ocean wind. The eaves were deep, more protection from the elements, and offered a cool place to sit in summer or a warm place in winter depending on the angle of the sun. Couches sat waiting already. A house, furniture…the wealth of it all astounded her. It was incomprehensible.

The house was sturdy, but it was not a keep. It could be a home. A very large home. It would take her and Hanasian time to fill it and as her thoughts turned Hanavia seemed to sense something of that and shifted against her in his sleep. She patted him gently.

”Not yet, little one,” she murmured.

There were other buildings scattered around between the trees. One was a stables, another a storehouse. One might make an excellent work area, and there appeared to be a barracks as well. Behind it all, sealing it off was the forest. She recalled the map Aragorn had showed to her. A stream marked the inner boundary, he had said. She knew forest hemmed that stream from the markings on the map. He had indicated that the forest would be cleared to restore fields and pastures that had once been established there of old. It would be there that the “fieldworkers” would live and spend most of their time.

Stillwater and Slippery were unloading horses. It made no sense to place them out in the barracks when the house was so very large. As for the pastures, Frea and Folca had been hatching a horse trading plan that might have use for such a space…and there was a way to generate an independent stream of income…one to be used to fund the clinic…yes…and as for the barracks…well what of the Black Company who grew weary of the road and had no home to return to, like her?

”You getting down?”

Slippery’s question cut across her thoughts. Hanasian and Farbarad had concluded their discussion with the Prefect and he was already on his way. The fieldworkers were returning to their fields. She hoped that they would be fieldworkers in truth as well as in appearance. Rowdy, Hanasian and Farbarad had vanished into the house to sweep it, presumably. The Prefect and his men would have seen to that already, but she knew by now that they’d not permit complacency to catch them unawares.

Rin slowly dismounted and started towards the house. It felt utterly surreal. Home. This was home. The building grew larger, solider, with each passing step. Inside, having completed their scan, the three men watched through the windows. Rin approached slowly, eyes a little wide, hands protectively settled over Hanavia. A little arm and then a leg stretched free of the sling. She reached the verandah and seemed to come to a standstill. She eyed the building like it might swallow her whole and, in that moment, her expression was unguarded. It was clear that she mystified.

”I reckon she might just stand there for the rest of the day and all through the night,” Rowdy said, thumbs hooked through his belt.

”Not if I have anything to do with it,” Hanasian rumbled fondly. He knew all too well how overwhelming this would be for a woman who had never known a home. If he was lightheaded with the generosity shown by Aragorn in restoring this building, Rin would be utterly amazed. It was not ornate. It was simple, clean…Numenor was here, elvish traces of design there…a solid, welcoming, safe haven of a place. A place Cardolan’s princes had wandered. Hanasian strode for the door. There matters he would need to take into his own hands if he was going to get her over the threshold. This was a woman who had relatively recently mastered beds and who would simply dig in and wait until she had figured this home business out for herself before she proceeded any further. He was not going to have her camp under the stars tonight.

As Hanasian strode out of the door, across the verandah, directly for his wife. Rowdy and Farbarad followed.

”Good enough?” Hanasian inquired and, eyes still wide and locked on the house, Rin nodded mutely.

Hanavia was squirming in his sling. He gurgled with delight as his father fetched him out. The little boy was all smiles. A happy soul, much like Lochared had been. He passed his son to Farbarad and Hanavia sank his little hands into the Ranger’s beard as he liked to do. Farbarad winced as Hanasian turned back to his wife and, in one smooth movement, swept her up and over his shoulder. She let out a squeak of surprise but that proved no delay and Hanasian was soon striding back for the door again. The thick oak door, carved by elven hands, but doughty all the same thunked solidly back into place. Farbarad passed Hanavia to Rowdy, disentangling his beard from the little boy’s curious hands with some care.

”Now what?” Rowdy asked, eyeing Hanavia warily. The little rascal was reaching for his beard already, fingers waggling.

”Now you’d better hope he don’t get hungry…because you know what happens then. It’ll be a while before we see those two, I should think.”

Farbarad’s grin was merciless as he walked back to assist the other two with the horses. Rowdy’s shout for Slippery was positively alarmed.
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Postby elora » Fri Nov 16, 2012 9:53 pm

The ship moved with speed to the southeast in the days after they set out from Skhar. The winds were favourable and the skies clear. They swiftly lost sight of the land they all knew and it was then that many of their number mourned their departure. It was too late of course. Every man had elected to forego their chance to remain on dry, familiar land. The sagging spirits did not come from the prospect of adventure in unknown places. Rather, soldiers who had in the main spent all their days on steady land found the seasickness of the relentlessly moving ocean troubled them greatly. By the third day most had recovered from it.

Hamoor took on the duty of navigation, with the instruments and star maps at his disposal, and he quickly had the ship striking mostly east. However the ocean wanted them to go south, and it appeared to resist any eastward path. Videgavia did not relent and ordered them to persist with their eastern course. He suggested a gentler route, for no Man could best an ocean's wild will, that took them southeast. Morcal enjoyed his duty of watch in the crows nest and the experienced sea hands of Gondor gladly let him have it. The day the storm blew in out of the east, these same experienced hands were well clear of the space below the crow's nest and the contents of Morcal's unfortunate stomach. Still, the younger Southron grimly persisted with his watch despite his profound discomfort.

A week passed and little headway was made into the east. The winds become contrary after the storm and the currents pushed them evermore south. If they kept on that route, Hamoor suspected they would run into the wild east shore of Far Harad, a prospect that was not even pleasing for the two Southrons in their number. Videgavia ordered them to turn about and try to make their way northwest. They spent the second week working their way back north and another week trying to ride what seemed like favourable winds, but the storms and weather ensured that they only pushed a little ways east.

Their lack of progress increasingly frustrated the Company's new captain and Videgavia had to weigh their options. After discussion with Khor and the Old Crew, Berlas suggested they bring in Hamoor, for the man had shown great skill in his attempts to navigate. While Wulgof went off to fetch him, Videgavia asked the Company's resident engineers, brothers Daius and Donius, to look into how the old ship was holding up. Their report was not encouraging, mostly a list of running issues that developed along the way. The Company assisted as they could, still there was no escaping the fact that the outlook for their voyage was grim. Videgavia stood silently for a time at the rail, his hand wrapped around his chin. He tugged at hairs of his beard.

He then took Berlas aside and asked him, "What of Lady Anvikela? How does she fare?"

"You should ask her."
Berlas answered.

Videgavia scowled for it was a well-known fact that she had taking a liking to Berlas, and he seemed to have kept an eye on her in his turn. Still, she had not once emerged from the cabin room that was her quarters since boarding. On their voyage over, she and her sisters had spent their whole time in the one room. Perhaps, Videgavia ruminated, she felt she had to remain in her cabin. When he voiced this speculation aloud Berlas shrugged.

Videgavia thought a moment longer, then said to Berlas, "You, Wulgof, Mulgov, and I will pay Lady Anvikela a visit. Who, besides you, has attended the Lady?"

Berlas answered, sending a signal that would bring the other two men to join them while Videgavia scratched at his beard again.


"Barik. Was one of the few Rohirrim that signed on with the Free Company,"
Berlas said as they started for her quarters.

Videgavia was silent for a few steps before he said, "I heard you say Barika."

"I did... yes,"
Berlas said, trying to suppress a grin.

Videgavia would have none of it. He stopped, turned about and glared at Berlas eye to eye, "What are you on about here?"

He looked at Wulgof and then to Molguv. Both men had been suspiciously silent upon arrival and they glanced at each other conspiratorially. Vid's temper began to fray and he demanded in a voice that was dark and gruff an explanation for the second time. Wulgof and Molguv's grins spread across their faces while Berlas took a cautionary backwards step and raised a hand.

"I'll try and explain Captain. One night at our bar in Skhar-"

"He's a poet!"
Wulgof quipped, interrupting him. Mulgov gleefully added, "And he didn't even know it!"

Videgavia shut their laughter down quick, even before it got away from them, with a look that usually meant someone was bleeding or about to.

He said, "You both have been awful quiet of late. Let's keep it that way for a bit longer and shut up. I should know that when you lot are quiet that some sort of trouble is not too far behind. More fool me for enjoying the peace so much that I am reluctant to pursue it. Now, Berlas, will you tell me about Barik... Barika… whatever his name is that tends Lady Anvikela."

Berlas shrugged and said, "Well, maybe Wulgof would be better at telling you, since Hamoor brought this discovery to him first. But I'll get to the point…"

"Please do!"
Videgavia growled, out of patience entirely with any prevarication.

Berlas swallowed and said, "Barik, the feisty little bowman that came east with the army of Rohan, who wielded a short broadsword in close combat with the axes of the Easterling rebels, is a woman."

Videgavia stared at Berlas a moment, then at the other two and then rolled his eyes.

"How did she manage to that get by you lot? No matter. Good with a sword, good with a bow, and can pass herself off as a man. She has talent. I want to talk to her."

"Well, we promised we wouldn't reveal her secret,"
Wulgof hurriedly said and Mulgov agreed with a nod.

Berlas cut in, "I didn't," and he shrugged when Mulgov and Wulgof looked set to argue, "I didn't know until we set sail. When I confronted her about it, we talked, and for good reason I said I'd keep quiet about it if she tended the Lady. She accepted the assignment gladly. I also added that the Cap would find out eventually."

"And so he has,"
came a voice behind them. Barika stood, looking every part the soldier that she was.

Videgavia turned about and nodded, "Yes. And I need to talk to you about the Lady Anvikela."

"And I was going to find you to tell you of some things I have observed,"
Barika offered and Videgavia stepped closer.

"Every time we have tried to sail east the Lady becomes agitated and frightened, as though she does not want to return. There is something affecting her."

Videgavia said to Mulgov, "You, stand guard outside the Lady's door. Barika, Berlas, and I have some business with the Lady and we don't want to be bothered. You, Wulgof, go and tell Hamoor to steer the ship due east after he does his full calculation of conditions and the star reading and wind check. We will be talking with the Lady when he steers the ship east."

Wulgov nodded and headed off. The rest went to the Anvikela's quarters. Once there, Barika knocked and was admitted. Berlas stepped in, and then Videgavia after her.

He bowed slightly and said, "Pardon my intrusion Lady Anvikela, but there are some urgent matters we need to discuss."

With a look of resignation, Anvikela showed them to a table where she had made tea. Videgavia wasted no time in asking hard questions.

"Why do you oppose us returning to your land?" Videgavia said and added "We need your help."

Lady Anvikela started to tear up and Videgavia inwardly steeled himself for he never liked it when women cried. It was one of the things he had appreciated about the former Company Healer. She had been a woman with a stomach and spine of steel. And a head too...by the by.

Anvikela said, "I want to go, I want to bring you to my land. But I fear what will become… what will be required of me, both upon my return. I fear also in passing the rift between worlds. I do not have the strength of the high born whom I served, or the high mages. Even if my sisters lived and breathed and were with me here, it would be a hard task for all three of us."

Tears ran down her cheeks as she sobbed. Videgavia did not relent, "Well, you must try with all you do have, and we will do what we can for you. Even now the creaking of this ship warns us. We are turning east and soon the storms will begin again."

She stared at her tea and Videgavia reached for her hand. Berlas took her other hand. Barika stood behind her.

Lady Anvikela swallowed hard, frowned at the table and said, "If we are turning, then there is little time. I will try… I will reach out east. I must go to the bow, for it is forefront of our eastward drive."

Videgavia looked at Berlas, and then to Barika. They stood, the Lady with them, and they hurried out just as the waves of a storm front started to rise. The Lady came to the bow. Barika secured a rope about her to prevent her from being washed away while the sky boiled overhead. It was a ferocious storm and the ship howled in agony beneath them.

Anvikela yelled out over the noise of the rising wind and thunder, "We approach the edge of the rift! May we pass safely!"

She stood tall and proud as the elements of wind, rain, and sea spray tore at her. Videgavia, Berlas, and Barika stood not to far back, and struglled to keep themselves upright. Donius stumbled forth, grabbed Videgavia and yelled though his words could barely be heard.

"What are we doing? This ship can't take this! She will break apart!"

Videgavia watched the woman in the bow of the screaming ship. He thought she had started to glow with a pale blue light but when he tried to concentrate on that it faded from sight. Still, something was happening! The hair on his arms stood on end. Wave after brutal wave slammed into the hull and there was a terrible sound as one of the masts cracked, unable to bear the twisting timbers and the sheering winds. Molguv grabbed a dangling line and pulled it taut with all of his prodigious strength, wishing Bear was there to help him as he strained. It was then that lightning streamed forth from the Lady's hands and disappeared into the clouds to the east. The clouds swallowed them whole and the percussive waves of impact made it seem like boulders and not waters pounded their ship. Still, Anvikela held on with her arms raised. It was too much and Molguv bellowed in sheer, naked fear as the main mast came crashing down with Morcal in the crows nest….

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The world was in a shambles. What power that had kept the few remaining lights of Numenor's glorious Sea Captains ablaze was now shattered. The land writhed in agony and the people who remained were suffering. The once grand city was no more than rubble. The only glimpse of its former glory was had in the pillars and arches still managed to stand. The Order had been destroyed; its downfall was absolute, here and in Middle Earth, though few there comprehended that at first. Every day, fewer went to the shore to watch for the return of their loved ones and enough days passed for what little hope there was to dwindle. It had been the power of the Order, and the strength of the Priestess, that had pushed open the way. As they realised the extent of the destruction, it seemed obvious that the rift was once more irrevocably sealed. Any who might have survived were as lost as if they had perished.

The Sisterhood of Knowledge that had arisen in the heart of the Order around the lost Priestess was set adrift. The link to their chosen sisters had been severed with the downfall of the Priestess. They knew her to be dead, just as they knew that one of the Wizards had perished. Where the other was they did not know. They could not now feel his power. They could not feel any power, save that of their own heartbeats. It was terrifying.

Though their sanctuary suffered cracks and a few fallen stones, the structures remained sturdy. So too were the walls around their grounds. The Sisterhood's elders, the Mothers, had no explanation as to why they alone in the city and the surrounding lands had suffered so little. They kept themselves sheltered away from the world outside their walls. Their Elite stood guard dutifully outside the walls and the fear of those who remained of the power that once dwelt there kept them safe from the few vagabonds that roamed the lands. It was the night of the bright stars, when the Mothers gathered. They called upon the Sisterhood to hold vigil for their departed Sisters in the west. Little did they know that one of their own reached out for them on that very night, caught in the grinding jaws of the rift.

The storm came upon them fast, and the lightning and rain that arrived with it fell hard upon them. The roof leaked and the sound of water dripping and pouring started to fill their sanctuary. It was then that lightning struck the high roof and caused it to collapse. The sisterhood nearly panicked at that, but the Mothers could feel the power building. Something was happening. It drew them to concentrate harder even as their sanctuary seemed to collapse around them. Maybe they were coming home…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rubble everywhere. Dust too. In his eyes, grinding with every blink. There was a hot cinder smell in the air. Or maybe that of flint being struck? It was hard to tell with all the dust in his nose. He tried to wipe his eyes clear but that only made it worse. Trying to kick off a bit of rubble, he felt his leg pop.

"That's not good," he said to himself.

He tried to stand. The rubble that had coated him fell to the ground with a bang down as he stood. Squinting, he could see the building around him had collapsed inside. The outer walls and roof were largely intact but they appeared unsteady in the grey dusty light. His head pounded and his right arm felt numb. He looked down at his hand. He could see it was there still, caked with dirt and drying blood. His ears… he wasn't hearing much beyond a muffled sound that sounded like dripping water, as if from a stream from the Misty Mountains pouring forth its last of the snowmelt in the late days of summer. He squinted to look about and tried to clear the dust and dirt out of his eyes. He tried to move his right hand to wipe his face. It wouldn't move. So he tried his left hand again. It let go of the stone that he had been hanging onto and he started to topple over.

"Leg won't work either," he observed again to himself.

He propped himself against the stone and wiped his eyes with his finger. It still felt like he was grinding dirt and salt into them but vision started to clear once they started to water and flushed the debris from them. He blinked madly. Things were still a bit blurred and grey but the sound of the dripping water was growing louder. No, not actually getting louder, he realised. Rather it was the one constant sound present. His hearing was recovering. He again tried to take a step but found that to be too ambitious and had to again lean against the large chunk of stone. It used to be an inner wall. Sweat from his forehead and nose started to drip down on his leg and useless hand. Except it wasn't sweat, it was blood. His head was throbbing, and the sound of the water dripping became ever louder in his head, making it pound.

"Water…" he mumbled to himself, trying to focus his eyes in the direction he thought the sound was coming from.

He noticed a silvery glisten in the murk. He could see the stream of water falling down from the broken corner of the roof. He was quite thirsty. He resolved to attempt to walk again. He grabbed the large stone he had leaned against with his left hand and pulled himself along while he attempted to kick his legs to gain footholds in the rubble. It was ungainly, but he managed a step and found he could see and feel his legs. This was a good thing. Now, to see if they would continue to work. He still couldn't feel his right arm as it hung limply at his side. But he could now start to feel a tingling at his right shoulder. He tried to move his shoulder and he felt a snap and a pop, and pain shot down his arm and up his neck to his head. He staggered as his balance failed and he fell forward into the rubble.

"Ouch," he said, stared out across the broken ground in the direction of the water.

Despite the pain, he could now feel his right arm. His elbow tingled as if a thousand needles were being stuck into it. He moved his shoulder again and though it was painful, it didn't make any noise. He must have popped it back in. Still couldn't feel his hand or make his fingers work though. He struggled to get up, but thought crawling toward the water would be easier at this stage. He got close enough to feel the first cool droplets hit his face, and it felt good.

The remains of another wall stood next to him, and he grasped the broken top with his left hand and pulled himself up. He leant against it while his head spun and his balance struggled to return to him. Once it had he could see now the steady stream of water. He could hear also the steady rain outside that supplied the stream running off the roof. He resolved to take a step towards it and hope for the best. Once an incurable optimist, always an incurable optimist. That's what she had said to him over the years, shaking her head and sometimes scowling and sometimes smiling.

A stagger and a step, and then another, and Loch stood in the cool stream. Letting it splash over his head, he used his left hand to wash off the dirt and dust and some of the blood. He also found the source of the blood. A gash above his right eyebrow went up to his hairline in the middle of his forehead. Head wounds always bled bad. She had said that too. He splashed several handfuls of water splashed against his face and his eyes felt much better. They actually could focus now. He rubbed his right arm with his left hand and it was then he noticed that his sleeve had been torn off to the shoulder. The darkness of his flesh told him that it was burned, but it didn't feel like he had burns. Most likely a flash burn? Yes, he did watch and listen to his sister when she talked about such matters. His disinterest at the time didn't mean he didn't learn anything. Still, try as he might, he couldn't move the fingers on his right arm. His hand was dead and even though he could now move his elbow. He let the water run down on it and tried to wash off the darkness.

"Remember Loch… try and remember! What do you remember?" he wheezed to himself as his head throbbed. Slowly his memories organised themselves. He remembered the mission, and the room, and the witch!

"She hit me with a spell!" he exclaimed to himself. What a fool he was! Thinking he could kill a high mage with a knife! Rin would have his hide. But what happened after that? He could not remember.

"Water…" a meek voice said and Loch looked around to find its owner.

The voice! One of the attendants! Yes, the one who discovered him and locked him in the wardrobe! But he got out, and there had been two others that looked much like her when he struck. They were there, if only for a moment. Coming into the room. And the old man was there too, surely he was the Wizard! They were all in the room, and the old mage turned when he had sensed Loch's presence. But it was too late! Loch had struck! Completely surprising the witch! And surprise to the others! It was the reactions in that moment that set things alight.

The old mage cast a spell toward him, the girl he had met jumped toward him, the other girl threw herself toward the witch, and the third… what did she do? He could not remember. It all happened so fast. He could see in his mind his knife rake across the witch's throat, and then everything went white. Heat had enveloped him, and everything faded to black. He had no memory of anything more until a few moments ago when he woke up here. Rationally, he had to be standing in whatever was left of the palace he and Runner had snuck into. His gut hinted at other, irrational things that he squelched down. He needed to get himself in order so he could continue to scout, and return to the Company with his report! And an explanation for his sister. She had specifically told him to be careful.

His mind fell toward duty to the Company, and he felt his head start spinning.

"Water…" a meek voice said again and he reaslied that it was a real voice and not something out of his head. She was here, somewhere. But where?

Again unsure if he was hearing things, he called out, "Where are you?"

There was only silence. Things were just not right. Things sounded wrong. Or at least in a different way. He snapped the fingers of his left hand by his left ear, and he could hear it well. He went to snap his fingers of his right hand by his right ear, but his hand just jerked and remained limp. He couldn't raise his hand to his head anyway. So he reached around with his left hand and snapped his fingers. A faint distant echo was all he heard, with most of the sound being heard in his left ear.

Loch shifted his stance and suddenly felt something stabbing him in the right foot. Looking down, he saw that the leg of his leather breeches were shredded and missing parts from the knee down, and he was missing his boot. The feeling was coming back to his right leg, and it was beginning to throb. He picked his foot up and found a shard of wood jammed into the bottom of it. Removing it made standing a bit easier. But he became dizzy again and lost his balance. He fell to the side, and nearly blacked out but for the cold flesh his left hand came to touch, and he jumped.

He pushed a broken door, the very door he hid behind and was closed into by the girl, aside and saw her. She lay there, staring at the sky through the hole in the roof, unmoving. Her dress was tattered and some of her exposed skin was dark with flash burns like his. He squatted down to take her hand, and he could see that she still took breath.

Her eyes blinked open again and she said, "Water…"

Loch found a broken jar in the rubble that would hold some water, and reached for the stream that fell from the broken roof. He brought it to her lips and she gulped it down. He helped her sit up and rested her against the door. His head throbbed and his vision was struggling to stay focused.

"You are alive Lochared of Dunland. As am I."

Loch looked at her and sat down beside her before he fell down unceremoniously, "What happened? Where are we?"

The wind pushed the water around, making its splashing change pitch, sending Loch's hearing into echoes. He could see in his mind that moment when she jumped toward him. He assumed in that instant it was to stop him from killing her charge. But in truth, she had moved to protect him. This girl chose to try and extend what shielding ability she had over him! It made no sense to him.

In that moment, everyone reacted. He was fading and everything started to sound far away, like in a dream you can't wake up from.

"I do not know what happened, but I know where we are. What I ask myself is when we are."

She took Loch's hand, and he seemed to return at the strangeness of her reply.

He said, "When we are? It's 44 years into the 4th age of Middle Earth."

"That may be so Lochared of Dunland, but this is not Middle Earth."

She gave him some of the water he had brought to her to drink. She reached out to let the stream of water splash on her palm and it splashed all over them both. She giggled like a girl and it made Loch remember younger days with Rin.

Something surfaced in his sluggish thoughts and Loch asked, "I need to know how you know my name and the land which I came?"

She answered, "You told me in my dream."

That too reminded him of Rin, as did his frustration with the mysteries that seemed to come from the girl's mouth every time she spoke. He looked at the side of her face and he could see now sadness and a mind in deep thought. The little girl of a moment ago had fled. Loch leaned back and sighed.

He said, "Well. It seems you know me but I have yet to meet you. May I ask your name?"

He had too many questions, especially with her responses. Maybe he could at least get her name. Then he could figure out the rest and then try and find Runner and the others, and get back to the Company and report to Hanasian. He will surely have questions of his own and will want Loch to recall details so he could record it all and Rin would be shoving him about in a bid to get him to lie down so she could tend him, all impatient and irritable.

As he tried to marshal his recollections into order, he felt awareness slipping from him.

The girl whispered to him,"You rest now Lochared of Dunland. You are hurt from our ordeal. I did my best to shield you from harm, now I will do my best to help you heal."

Just like Rin…only politer.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sat Nov 17, 2012 1:11 am

When he came to he thought he was dead. Or blind. Maybe both. The initial panic that seized him faded, leaving a metallic aftertaste in his mouth and his limbs trembling like some newborn colt. Cold drops of water fell on him. His back was soaked and where the rain found his bare flesh it was needles. Thousands of them. Prickling him. It made him roll over. That was a mistake. Better the needles gouge his back than his face. Actually, better that he find shelter. Then Loch. The fool. This was his fault.

It took more effort than he was bargaining on to gain his feet. He peered blearily down, rain hammering on his skull like a drum. Boom. Boom. Boom. CRACK! Lightening! His brain felt like it was all pebbles, rattling around in a kettle. Bare feet were illuminated in the flare of bluewhite death. No boots. Damn. Those Company boots had been the best he’d ever had. Cover. He needed cover. Runner hunched against the decaying wall he had been laying against and decided to follow it until it lead him to a door or window or hole. Anything would do.

He found a gap in the masonry and fell through it. The night was inky. Things were moving in it. He didn’t know what. Only that they did and he didn’t want to meet them. His collected assortment of aches pains soon disabused Runner of any notion that he was dead. Of course, he couldn’t be so lucky. It was difficult to see in the murky night. He had no idea where specifically he was. He had no idea where Loch was. Given how his luck had panned out this far, it seemed likely that he’d be caught in the onslaught that he knew was brewing. The Black were massing to fall upon the Order in Skhar. Khor’s men would be in the fray as well. And here he was, disorientated, lost and bootless. Not even a dagger.

Killing a witch with a dagger. A fool’s errand if ever there was one. He hunkered down, squatting between his knees with his arms wrapped around himself for warmth. He was soaked through. Things were starting to hurt. A lot. What had his friend been thinking? Runner understood how important family was. He knew how much his friend cared for his sister even if she was a little frightening. So tall and pale and such a way of looking at someone as if she could see right into his thoughts. When he had first seen her, she was angry. She argued with men. One of the Black Company men, one of the scariest ones, shouted at her and she just argued back. But she had been kind to him and he had been overawed enough to forgive the way she mangled his language in a bid to communicate with him.

Yes, Runner supposed as he shivered miserably and the heavens rained down death from above, if he had a sister he’d protect her too. But this plan had been suicide. Loch had said he was a professional. This had all the professional precision and forethought of an amateur. As the young man of Rhun pondered just what he would do to even the score with his impetuous friend, he found thoughts of vengeance were keeping the chill at bay. In time, the storm without passed, though not with a whimper. Rather, it slammed a fist down and howled away. Out to sea, presumably.

The temptation to remain where he was assaulted Runner. He was tired. Everything hurt.



And he was angry with Loch.

But if he stayed where he was his muscles would seize up and he’d not be able to walk, much less return to the safety of his own lines before all hell broke loose. With a stifled moan, Runner began to stretch out his legs. The effort made his eyes water and so his sight was blurry when he thought he saw a shadow flit past the opening he had fell through earlier. Instinct made him freeze, not sitting and not standing. This in no way assisted his aching body. It was dark. A trick of the mind. No…again…a shadow…He could taste metal again.

He had grown up on tales of the Dark Years. Tales of nights such as these, where nightmares roamed, hunting for the unwary. Punishment sent for those who had failed the Dark Lord…or his pets, sporting at their hunt. He had sensed things moved in the storm. Powers. Was this what he now saw? The tales said that such creatures could smell a man’s blood if they were near enough…sense the heat of his body…hear his breathing, the movement of his lungs. The urge to swallow against his suddenly dry throat seized Runner and he fought it, straining to focus his attention on the gap and the night beyond.

Stars had already emerged, unveiled again. He paid them scant regard. There! A third time! It paused this time, hovered in the gap, questing for him. Horror bloomed in Runner’s gut. Still, to move was to die. As the shadow poured through the gap, Runner’s fading strength failed him outright and he fell back hard. His head bounced off the ground with a damp crack and tales and vengeance and aches and pains were not Runner’s concern any more. The shadow crouched at his side, poised, ready to strike.

The light changed. It was grey now, false dawn. It filtered through Runner’s eyelids and as soon as he realised this he realised that a ring of fire encircled his skull. A groan of misery was wrenched from his dry throat. He heard a scrabbling sound and desperately tried to open his eyes. They were gummed shut, gluey. Water splashed over his face, shocking him. His eyes flew open and his hands lifted to form a pathetic shield. It was all he had. He blinked the water from them, gasped in air and peered into the dim morning.

He expected to see a beast of nightmare. Slavering jaws, cruel teeth, beady little eyes crazed with dumb malice, misshapen form. Instead, he found a young woman was crouched beside him. She was not nearly as well kept as last he had seen her. Her gown was badly rent, her hair snarled and hanging in thick ropes. Dust coated her and she appeared to have burns that were mostly healing. Her head was tilted to one side. Dark eyes regarded him with some caution. Suddenly it occurred to Runner that his hands held up in a shield was faintly ridiculous. He lowered them.

Her head tilted the other way and then she lifted into view a broken jar of some sort. It sloshed with water.

He nodded and she held it to his mouth. As he drank, he never took his eyes from her. It was one of the attendants. She studied him critically and lowered it when she judged he had had enough.

”You can walk now. Not far, yes?” she asked him in heavily accented Westron.

Runner frowned. He wasn’t sure if he could sit up, much less walk anywhere. Even if he could, he wasn’t in the least convinced he wanted to go anywhere with her. Besides, the attack would have to be starting any moment now.

”Where are the others,” he instead asked and her head tilted again.


Runner realised with that nothing would be had from her and instead turned his efforts to more fruitful pursuits. The first attempt to sit up resulted in all of his recently drunk water returning to the world again. He blacked out shortly after that. He started awake and resumed his efforts. He was sweating by the time he managed to sit up and trembling again. At this rate he’d be an old man before he got his feet under him again. The girl had moved away but studied his progress curiously.

”Not far,” she assured him.

”That’s what you think,” he muttered in his own tongue.

He needed to find Loch and then they needed to light out of there, collect his squad and hightail it back to the Company to answer some pointy questions. A fool of a thing to do!

Runner was panting by the time he made the gap. Most of his pains had receeded to dull aches but his head was abysmal. He recalled a brief flash of pain from last night and concluded that he probably had concussion. That meant a trip to Loch’s sister…perhaps one of the medics. They weren’t nearly so…so…well they weren’t her. Everyone knew that if you weren’t Old Company or her Cats, well you kept your distance. They were possessive and not the sort of people to run afoul of. The girl flitted to the gap and through it, out into the morning. Dawn was not far off. He was surprised he hadn’t heard the bird calls of the advance squads yet. Things were quiet. Unnaturally still. Something was about to break. Aside from his head.

”Not far,” the girl said and gave him what was supposed to be an encouraging smile.

He ignored her and scanned the street. It looked like everything had been slapped about. Rubble, broken buildings, cracked stones. Furniture and scraps of clothing. Nothing lootable, he noticed. That made no sense at all. There was no way all the looting could have finished so quickly with all these buildings cracked open like over-ripe fruit.

”I know where your friend is. Lochared,” the girl said when it seemed unlikely that Runner would follow her.

When his wandering attention returned to her, she added brightly, ”I’ll take you to him!”

It was the oldest trick in the book, Runner thought. He’d be a fool to believe her. But, then, considering that he’d followed Loch on this disastrous idea of his, he was already a formidable fool. Then it occurred to him. She knew Loch’s name. That made no sense. Runner sighed and pushed out after her on wobbly legs. He expected she was leading him into a trap, but then where else did he have to go? When instead she lead him to another tumbled down building and his friend, Runner was pleasantly surprised. His face broke into a grin at the sight of Loch lying there. He had an arm thrown over his eyes and he was trying to sleep. The girl saw his expression and mirrored his smile.

A new surge of strength eddied through Runner and he made it to where Loch was laying with a quarter of the energy that he had needed to make if from his shelter to this one. The girl trailed along behind, pleased with herself. Time would be short, Runner knew, before the anvil fell and the ambush was sprung. He nudged Loch’s calf as he squatted down. Loch looked like he had been trampled and burned all at once. It would make no difference to him. He lifted his arm from his face, opened his eyes and peered up into Runner’s face.

”RUNNER!” Loch enthusiastically cried, or would have if his throat wasn’t so dry.

Instead it came out as a mangled croak. Still, he managed to sit himself up, which was a good thing. It would make it easier. Runner smiled at this thought.

”Am I pleased to see-“

Loch found it difficult to finish his next sentence. Not because of his dry throat. No. Rather, it was Runner’s fist colliding with his jaw that made conversation hard. No sooner had Runner swung at Loch did Loch instinctively swing back and that was that.

The girl’s smile dissolved into outright puzzlement as the two men scuffled about on the dusty floor, grunting and swearing at each other. They had managed only one swing each in their condition and were soon reduced to rolling about, wrestling with each other, half hearted strength and full blown anger. It was the strangest thing she had ever seen in all her life. Her years in the sanctuary had never prepared her for this. And she thought they were allies.

It took over ten minutes. She glanced down at the water she held still and thought that soon had both men howling popped into her head. Just as well they were not as ambulatory as usual, she thought as she hopped away with a now empty jug. Both men sat puffing as water dripped from their hair. Loch had a bloodied lip. Runner had a black eye. They glared at each other, arms resting on their bent knees. This, she thought, was going to be difficult.
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Land Ho!

Postby elora » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:06 pm

The storm battered the ship and the rift nearly pulled it apart. Had not Lady Anvikela put everything she had into their push east, they would have surely broken apart and perished. As it stood, Only Morcal was known to have fallen but there were three missing, presumed lost overboard in the heavy sea. All were exhausted yet their dulled senses could not shield them from the awareness that something had changed. The air smelled different and this was noticeable despite the thick briny tang to it. The rain felt different too, no more than water now and stripped of its earlier malice. The tumultuous seas had quieted and all that confronted them was a mere heavy storm. Yet Lady Anvikela remained where she was, without rest, with her hands to the sky.

The seas did not begin to relent proper for another several hours and it was only when they had completely passed through that Lady Anvikela crumpled to the deck. Berlas and Barika tended her, for she had come out of her cabin unprepared. They covered her with a blanket for her dress had been rent by the ravages of the storm. Despite the fact that she was insensate, Videgavia bowed to her and thanked her as she was carried by to her quarters Berlas and Barika. So too did the rest of those who were present on deck.

Dhak stood and watched in silence, his thought ran deep. Somehow, she had managed it alone, without her sisters or the aid of a high mage. It seemed too easy. It was clear to Dhak that there was more at work here than what had appeared. Other powers were involved, ones he did not know and could not yet guess at. He would have to ponder this and all it meant. He found, however, that this realisation brought him satisfaction despite his fear. The work of the sisterhood had not been for naught. But what had they done? A new wild card, the Free Company, had been added to their deck and it had been quickly dealt out. Only time will tell where this would lead. As ever, Dhak wanted to play his hand in a way that kept him on the side that came out on top.

The storm had subsided to vast amounts of heavy rain. They were alive and the ship was still floating. Daius and Donius had their hands full. They had managed to recruit several of the soldiers who had a knack for this sort of work, and they were hard pressed in their efforts to keep the ship afloat. Their chief concern after that was the loss of the main mast and the damage caused but its topple. It took more than Morcal's life. It stole from them their ability to push themselves through the seas. They did what they could with what they had, and the current seemed to keep mostly to an easterly direction, but another disaster was discovered.

The rudder appeared to have been damaged. After drawing straws, it fell to Daius to go over the side. Holding his breath for long periods, he went under and examined the rudder. The salty water burned his eyes and the movement of the ship made staying close to the hull difficult. The ropes about him tensed and slacked with the roll of the water, pulling him this way and that like a cork on the end of a string. He found it hard to do anything other than look. On his third dive he located the problem. The rudder's wooden shaft had splintered under the force of the heaving water and jammed itself into the hull. The shaft was barely strong enough to work now and any further pressure could snap it entirely. This would cause them to lose steering altogether. It was clear to Daius. He knew what he had to do though the prospect was little appealing. He surfaced and clung to the ropes as the water slapped at him and the side of the ship.

He called up, "What is our heading now?"

A bit of commotion on deck as the question was relayed back to the bridge. Hamoor checked his records and found it no easy thing to answer. After some time and calculations, he said they were heading due east-southeast on a natural current. This was relayed to Daius who tapped his fingers together a few times before he dove under again. He manipulated the rudder to a straight position with his hands and surfaced. Another dive to remove the shard of wood and he returned to the surface again. He signalled that he was ready to be brought up and he was hoisted up to the deck. Videgavia met him with a water skin. Daius drank deeply and coughed. He had always hated swimming.

He said, "There's damage to the rudder gear and shaft. A shard from the shaft jammed the rudder, but it is free now. But the gear is quite stiff. I fear that if too much pressure is applied by the wheel, it could snap entirely."

Vid nodded, not surprised at the news. Donius piped in and said, "If another storm blows our way, there is a chance that this ship won't hold together to steer."

Videgavia nodded again and finally said, "We're here for now and we're still heading east. When we find land, we'll anchor and make repairs as needed. Now, I'm not sure how far we have to go, but Hamoor assures me from his best interpretation of the few charts we have of this eastern sea, it seems likely we will make land in three days. So everyone will need to make ready."

Donius and Daius didn't say anything further. The rest of their work party didn't either. They knew the ship had sailed its last voyage, if not on the sea, definitely crossing the rift. Vid knew too. He would worry about their return journey when the time came. He would have to find a new ship, rebuild this old one, and in either case, convince Lady Anvikela to return with them. Right now, he would carry on. Panic now would kill them faster than a sinking ship or another sudden storm. Eager for something familiar to set their minds to, the Free Company fell to preparations. Their plans were soon in place

The plan was for Khor's men to move forward and set up a perimeter around their beachhead. They had not planned on landing at a dock. As they neared land a dense fog enveloped them. From time to time they managed to sail free of it into small pockets of clarity. In these brief moments they sighted a city. To its north was a port. But as they came closer, they could see that destruction had arrived ahead of them. Berlas brought Lady Anvikela up from her quarters, followed by Barika. It was the first time she had emerged since the day they crossed the rift. She still looked fatigued, but she came to see her homeland. Wearing a purple hooded cloak, she peered out from the rails.

She whispered to herself, "It is as I thought."

Videgavia, heard her and asked, "What is m'lady? What has happened?"

She clasped her hands together and said in a soft voice to him, "The death of the High Priestess had caused the lands to break. We must be careful. Let them not find me."

Videgavia scratched at his bristly cheek and said, "You speak in riddles Lady Anvikela. Who seeks you?"

She did not answer but pointed north of the docks towards the hills inland. Upon one of them a silvery light shone out to the west, as if searching for something. Lady Anvikela whispered to those around her: Videgavia, Berlas, and Barika.

"Having tasted freedom in the outside world, they will seek for me to return. But I can not. I will be enslaved to their will once again. Before, I knew not of such things and I knew no differently. Now, I will know."

"But I thought you wanted to come back,"
Berlas said, puzzled.

Videgavia then said, "As others before have done, so too will it be for you m'Lady. Morcal, one of our lost, was a prisoner of ours once before he joined the Company. You have been as a prisoner, and then our guide.

"I will put forth your name as a new member, but it will have to be decided upon. Until then at least, you will have the same protection as any other member of the Free Company."

The Lady looked at him, realizing only in part what Videgavia had done. Berlas knew only too well. Barika did not fully understand, but knew it was important.

Videgavia looked at their expressions and said, "As long as I'm the Cap, we'll go by Han's rules. Same as the old Company. I've been lax on appointments and such, but as soon as we get settled here, I will rectify that. Now, Lady, you are our guide. We have Dhak, but I don't trust the man. Never have. So I will be depending on you greatly here."

Lady Anvikela looked at him and there was a softness in the glow of her eyes. The deep sadness that always loomed there seemed to have fallen back some.

She said, "I thank you Sir Videgavia of Rhovanion. I will do my best to repay your, and all the other's kindness. May it be that no ill will comes to you or your men here. But I doubt I will remain hidden long. I will watch for them, but to keep myself cloaked from their senses drains me. If I seem, or have seemed distant and cold, and tired all the time, it is because I try to shield myself from them."

Videgavia looked at Barika and no words passed, but she knew what her duty was. She would be her personal bodyguard. May her own senses not fail her.

They came slowly toward the docks at night, unlit. Khor's men stood ready and all eyes were on the shore. The plan was that Khor's men would go forth and set up a line of defence. They would clear the few buildings that still stood nearby, take high points and set a watch. This would be their ring of steel. Of the Company, Videgavia divided them up according to their tasks. Most of the sea hands would remain with the ship or nearby, on watch at all times. They had worked the hardest on the water, and deserved what Vid hoped would be a time of rest. Some of the engineering squad that Daius and Donius scraped together from the Company hands would remain with the ship and try and conduct repairs. Donius was given command of this group.

Daius, Flint, Birds, and the rest of their engineers would accompany the main force in hopes of finding useful materials and such. Wulgof and Mulgov would be a part of this crew, and Videgavia would command it. The main force, consisting of the bulk of the newer company, would help Khor with the perimeter, set up points further in to keep watch, and scout the immediate area around their line. Dhorgat and the other remaining men that was part of Runner's conscripts back in Rhun would form the core of their scouting party, commanded by Berlas. Attached to this group would be Khule, Hamoor, and Belegost. Barika would remain with the ship with Lady Anvikela. Their growing relationship benefited the Company, for the lady had grown fond of the little woman and their talks seemed to bring the woman that was behind the name Anvikela out. The Lady felt she found a friend in Barika.

While it was a conservative plan to begin with, it was one they could and would adjust as needed. They didn't want to attract too much attention. They tied off in silence. Those few people about scarcely noticed the new arrivals. Khor's men moved with such military precision that it was hard to tell they had been cooped up on a ship for many weeks. The shadows from an obscured moon had only moved a finger length before word came back that all was secured. The main Company started to fan out through the ruined city and the scouts moved quickly and headed north towards where the light had been sighted. When they got to a fork in the road, they split into two groups. Berlas took one up the coast while Khule took some up the east fork.

Silently the men moved through the muddy streets. Lanterns burned only sporadically, an air of neglect hung thick about the place. On occasion a dog could be heard barking in the distance, but they had somehow achieved complete surprise. It didn't look like anyone of any threat was here and those few who were did not look interested in a fight.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The water had for the most part stopped Loch and Runner's fighting. They both were weak but each wanted to get the last punch in and so set to again after they had regathered their breath. Except they had no force in them, none at all. They both collapsed in heavy breathing almost as soon after the second bout began and, after a few breaths, Loch started to laugh slightly. Runner too started to giggle.

"Oww," both men said in unision, for laughter was painful

Runner wheezed a whisper, "It was a fool thing to do ya know."

Loch was out of strength to even spar verbally, he just raised his hand and nodded. Runner, never out of questions, asked, "So what exactly happened, and what do we do now? Oh, and who is your friend here?"

"You… ask too many... questions. The lady will answer the last one if she sees fit to do so. As for the second, we should see about finding the others. Easier said than done though. I'm sure I have a broken leg, my right arm doesn't work quite right, and I'm missing a boot,"
Loch said.

Runner leant back to pick up both his feet and waved them at Loch, "Well I'm missing two boots. Best boots I ever had. They were a bit big for me, so likely why they didn't stay on. Now, you didn't answer my first question."

Loch grunted. He looked over at the girl who had sidled off to get more water after she saw the two men weren't going to kill each other. She looked over at him as if she knew he was looking at her, and she smiled.

Loch said, "I'm not entirely sure. I've been thinking and dreaming about it for a couple days now, trying to get the facts straight for my report for Hanasian. Just when I seem to have it straight, I get it jumbled and it comes together a bit differently next time. You must remember and give a report too, since we weren't together."

The girl returned, her smile vanished and a wary, serious expression in its place.

She asked them both, "You can walk, yes? We need to go from here. I find safe place where we hide. You get better there, hurry!"

The slight crunch of stone under a boot could be heard not far away. Runner and Loch helped each other to their feet, and Runner having two mostly good legs, walked Loch toward the arch where the girl had gone. They stumbled over the rubble, through the rear of the building they had sheltered in. She led them towards an opening that had once been a door to the back alley. Out into the rain they went. While the girl stepped out, Loch and Runner kind of clambered out as a three-legged two-headed man. She had them follow the alley along. They entered a small house at the end of stone walls that seemed for the most part untouched by the destruction. The only damage was the corner of the roof where part of the stone building next to it had fallen through. It allowed the rain n, but most of the rest of the house was dry, more or less. Loch and Runner collapsed on the floor in a tangled heap and they commented at the same time, "Ow."

They sorted themselves out and propped their backs up to a wall where they could see the single door. The girl stood before the door with her hands out. She brought them slowly together and stood that way for several moments. Finally she turned back to the men and located three discarded vessles to collect water in. She brought them over to where Loch and Runner sat. She handed them each one and squeezed herself in between them. Runner was going to drink but she stopped him, grabbing his wrist.

"Wait, yes?" she said as she looked hard into his eyes.

Runner tried to hold her gaze but found that he could not and turned away. She held her hand over the jar of water in Runner's hand, then did the same for Loch's and then hers.

"What are you doing?" Loch asked.

"Unseen," was all she said, and she lifted her jar of water.

Loch and Runner knew what that meant when drinking Mulgov's brew, and they hoisted their jars and tapped them together with the girl's.

"Bottoms Up!" Loch said as the two drank heartily of their water.

The girl seemed surprised at this strange ritual. These barbarians were so amusing. She smiled and drank slowly. It was surprisingly refreshing for water drained off a roof.

Runner asked her, "What is your name?"

"I've been asking her that question for days now. Each time, I seemed to pass out before it was answered,"
Loch said.

The girl smiled, considered surrendering her mystery to these two men.

She said, "As Loch knows, I am the third sister. He knows my name, a name I remembered from long ago as a little girl. It rings clear in my head. But I am not called that. For they gave us new names…"

She hesitated, as her face grew serious. She had let her defence slip and in that moment she felt her sister! She was coming home! Should she reach for her and help her? Or remain silent and unseen? Scared she would be discovered, she withdrew and tears spilled down her face. Loch and Runner drew closer.

Loch whispered in her ear, "Don't tell us if it hurts that much. I'll just call you Rose."

She wiped her eyes to correct him but instead hushed them as boots drew closer. She whispered, "Unseen, not unheard. Do not move, no."

The three sat huddled together, their eyes on the door. A man walked by, a second did too, peering in the door for a moment and looking around before moving on. The sound grew fainter and finally the girl moved.

She said, "It worked, yes!"

They had been indeed, unseen. Loch decided to drink the rest of the jar of water. Soon, the three were fast asleep.

The morning light came and Loch jumped awake. Runner was sound asleep, laying on his side to his right. Rose was nowhere to be seen. He worked his right hand and shoulder, and though it popped some, it didn't hurt like it had before. His leg still throbbed, but it too wasn't as bad as it has been. Loch knew he would likely have a limp for the rest of his life, for his foot didn't set straight. He could hear his sister even now telling him what needed to be done. He tried to turn it, but pain shot up his leg and side. He let it be. At least it wouldn't need amputating. He did manage to kick Runner in the bottom of his foot and he jumped awake.

"I'm watching… I'm …"

Loch finished for him.

Runner blinked and said, "That was the hardest I slept in… I can't remember."

"Yes, me too. Must be because we were unseen,"
Loch replied.

Runner nodded before he glanced around and said, "I was supposed to be on watch. I was supposed to watch… Where's Rose? Why did you call her Rose?"

Loch shrugged, "I like the flower, and thought it would make a nice name. She is kind of that way…besides…."

Loch paused as if trying to remember something. Runner said, "Yeah, well watch for her thorns. She was one who was with that witch. Not sure I would trust her."

Loch sighed and said, "Part of my report that never seems to get mixed up is the fact she had made me well before anything happened. She locked me in a closet for safekeeping when her sister came looking for her. I can still see her eyes as she looked at me before she closed the doors.

"And here after I woke up she has been nothing but kind to me, and you. Looking out for us. No, I'm willing to give her my trust. Besides, we don't really have much of a choice."

'Well, where is she then?"
Runner asked.

Loch answered, "She does that. Wanders off while I'm sleeping, always returns, usually with something. Now, about finding the others… I'm not sure we can. From what Rose has told me of the event that put us in this condition, it seems there was some sort of disruption…"

"Oh really? I hadn't noticed,"
Runner barked.

Loch smiled and suppressed a laugh, mainly because they made his ribs hurt. He countered, "No, I mean something beyond our knowledge. Though I woke up in that broken building, she says she was with me for months! Said I knew her name as we exchanged them when we were introduced at a gala dinner. Said we danced and walked in the moonlight by a lakeside. All sorts of stuff."

"Right, so the girl dreams of you. How is any of this relevant to our situation and our finding the Company?"

Loch slapped him in the chest with the back of his hand, saying, "Let me finish! In my report, I know that we were there at the same point at the same time, yet I wake up here as if I was only out for a few moments at the most, while she says we had been together for months and knows more about me than most."

In fact, more than anybody aside from Rin. Runner nodded and said, "It seemed a few moments for me too. How do you know you were out only a few moments?"

Loch swallowed and said, "Because after I came to, I was somewhere else, but still had the taste of Khule's stale jerky he gave us before we left. I had chewed a piece before moving in. If it was any amount of time, say days or weeks, let alone months, it would have long faded. What I'm saying is, how did this affect the rest of the Company? Where are they?"

"I don't know. I miss Dhorgat and the boys, and Khule. We need to try and find them,"
Runner said with an air of resignation, aware of what Loch was getting at.

Loch went on, "Well, we are still two Scouts of The Black Company! While we still live, we will gather information and report back. We need to find out exactly where we are, and yes, when we are. I think Rose will aid us in this."

The two sat and talked and made plans and talked strategy. It was well into the day when Loch began to worry properly. Rose had been gone since first light. He had never been awake this long without seeing her. He worked himself up to his feet and tried to walk. He stumbled but found that he could manage something approximate to walking if he located a crutch of some sort. Runner walked over to the door. Unsure if they should look out, they stood just inside and peered uncertainly at each other. Loch held up his hand to make a count, three fingers aloft. On three, they both stuck their heads out and peered around. There sitting on the ground against the outside wall was Rose, her knees drawn up to with her arms around them and her head face down resting on them.

"Rose?" Loch said as he walked along the wall to her. Runner came to the other side of her. She was wet and shivering, even if the rain had stopped and was replaced by a thick fog. She looked up at Loch, her eyes red and tired.

"Come inside! Try and stay warm!" Loch said as they helped her to her feet. She walked calmly as if she was blind and permitted them to lead her. They returned to the dry floor in the corner of the house where Loch threw an old cloth around her. She held it tight to herself.

After a moment she looked at him and said in a strained tired voice, "I have found my sister, but she has not found me. I helped her in her plight but she thought me a dream. She thinks I am dead, as our eldest sister is dead. But the others have now sensed me. For I have given myself to shield my sister. They have not sensed her. Have hope Lochnard of Dunland and the Runner of Rhun, for your friends are coming. For me, I have little to hope for."

Loch wiped the dirt from her face with his one good sleeve. He said, "Have hope Rose, for you are with the Black Company. We look out for our own."

He had more questions than answers. Who sensed her, and what did this mean? And right now at this point, he and Runner were the Company. That meant something important. To him, and to Runner.

"Have hope Rose, for you will again see your sister," and he his, for they were coming.

They spent the next three days moving from one place to another. Rose had withdrawn and said little in this time. She brightened when Loch talked directly to her. She tried to answer questions and keep them hidden, and they had managed to find some suitable clothing in a burned out shop. It was good to have boots again. The third night out, the fog thinned and a slight wind came from the west. The moon was bright when the clouds were not in the way. Rose sat staring out to the west.

She whispered to a sleeping Loch and Runner, "They have come."

She caressed Runner's cheek, and her eyes lingered as they gazed on Loch's sleeping moonlit face. She kissed him and whispered in his ear, "May we meet again, in dream and in reality."

And with that, she silently sped out of the door and down the alley. It wasn't long before shadowy figures moved in the night. Rose avoided them, but at a corner of a building the sight of armed men moving up along a roofline distracted her. Someone grabbed her from behind. A rag went into her mouth and a hood went over her head, and she was carried away.

The deployment of the Company went smoothly and it was a rare instance that all had gone according to plan. The perimeter was well secured, they had found some food and drink, and the city was well infiltrated by the Company. They had set their defensive web and could lie low in the daylight. After so long waiting, this night was theirs.

Dhorgat fell into the ditch and froze all movement. There were people coming. He could not see anyone and signed to Khule. Khule looked about but could not see much either. Damnable fog, Dhorgat thought, could use a bit of that moonlight right about now. Khule waved at the bowman that was with them. He signed for him to watch the road, and to shoot if he saw movement. The moon broke through the fog for just a moment. The arrow hissed and Dhorgat jumped. A shadowy man fell with the arrow lodged in his side and Dhorgat pulled the other man down into the ditch. The bound girl he was carrying fell atop them and they splashed in the water that ran through it. Dhorgat had knifed the man and pushed him down into the water. He grabbed the bound girl to keep her from drowning as she flailed about. He removed the hood that was over her head and then pulled out the rag from her mouth. He made quick work of the rope that tied her wrists too and signalled her to be quiet.

"I have hope, for I am with the Black Company," she whispered to herself.

Dhorgat heard her though. How did she know who they were? He thought to himself. She could see that the youth with her had the same sort of leather clothing that Loch had worn when she first saw him in the room. She stayed low and quiet, for more voices could be heard.

"Things are getting tight," Khule said softly as they marked their prey.

They hoped this was the last, for they did not have the numbers. They had to get Dhorgat back across the road. The men kept talking as they walked by. There were four of them. It was a good thing that thick fog had obscured the moon, for otherwise they might have seen the dead men. Dhorgat tapped the girl on the shoulder and they scrambled up the ditch and crossed the road.

"Who's this?" Khule asked.

Dhorgat answered, "She was with the man I took, bound and gagged. She knows we're the Black Company!"

Khule hesitated as he peered hard at the girl in the murky night. He then said, as he pushed them along, "You'd better be sure. She's coming with us and she'll have some questions to answer."

Rose went freely. She was not going to be taken back to the Sisters this night. The scouts had returned to the fork, and Berlas grumbled at Khule,"What took you so long? Daylight is coming and we're supposed to be back!"

"Ran into a little trouble that held us up,"
Khule answered.

Berlas looked at the girl as she walked by following Dhorgat.

"Great. Just great," Berlas mumbled to himself as he took up rearguard, another one.

They kept a steady pace, and were within their positions in the city before the sun rose too high and revealed them. It was the first time they had seen the sun since they were at the southernmost part of their journey on the sea. It would be a bright morning. What the day had in store was anyone's guess.
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Ranger of the North

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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sun Nov 25, 2012 12:29 am

”The Black is here,” Loch muttered, crouched behind a pile of debris.

Beside him, Runner grunted agreement. He was peering at the same thing Loch was A dead man. Well, not the man per se but the agency of his death. The fletching on the arrow was Black Company.

”Here and tetchy,” Loch continued because something had rattled the others enough to drop a man.

But what? It was just a street. No better or worse than any other dilapidated street. Gaping holes grinned where windows and doors should have stood. Blocks of masonry, pools of water that gleamed brightly in the sun now. Just a street in this forsaken place. What had startled the Black to drop a man here? And, where were they now? They’d been searching for Rose all morning and not seen a single soul. Not a mangy dog or a skinny chicken. Not even a rat. Nothing. The morning breeze played through the fletching.

”Perhaps we should go back, let things calm down, have a think,” Runner said, knowing that it was all useless. Still, someone had to be the voice of reason.

Loch resolutely pushed on, limping forward with his crutch determinedly. At this rate, they’d be shot by their own people. When he said as much a long while later, Loch waved it aside.

”We will at least have found them then,” he answered and then a lopsided grin creased his face, ”And if they’ve accidentally shot us, we might be able to buy enough sympathy to be let off for failing to report on time.”

“Failing to report? That’s what you’re worried about?”
Runner incredulously asked.

”What else is there, then?”


Runner’s shout bounced off the ragged walls of buildings around them. The salty tang of the sea was thicker here. They were near the port. Loch just grinned at him, slid down the wall he had been leaning against. He stretched his legs out, folding the good one over his bad one, and crossed his arms behind his head. Galled at his lapse, Runner crouched. His shoulders were hunched and he breathed hard through clenched teeth. Loch’s eyes were closed. He looked for all the world as if he was napping in the sun.

”Are you taking a nap?” Runner tightly asked between his teeth.


“Now? We have not found Rose…nor the Black.”

“You’re just full of our failures. You’re mostly right, except on one count.”


“The Black are already locating us.”

“How do you know?”

Loch cracked open one eye and decided that discretion on this count would be the greater valour and he said nothing. Either the Black would respond to all of the noise or someone else would. He was an optimist. It would be the Black.

“Relax, Runner, you appear….perturbed.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wulgof listened for a moment longer and then swung back to where Molguv stood. The Haradian had broken open the crate despite strict orders to leave it intact, and was disconsolately pawing through its contents. More force of habit than any preconceived plot to steal the good supplies before they found their way back to the Company. Since his cousin’s death, Molguv had not been himself. Not even the threat of Videgavia’s wrath brought him out of his shell.

”Vid told us to leave them alone,” Wulgof said and Molguv shrugged his shoulders.

”Salt. It’s just salt.”

While they had crates and crates of the stuff already, it wasn’t the point. Wulgof rubbed at the back of his neck and swung about as Belegost came trotting back in. The man glanced at Molguv’s half hearted pilfering and then peered at Wulgof.

”We should look into that.”

“I agree,”
Wulgof said and then, over his shoulder, ”You coming, Molguv?”

The Haradian let his handful of salt drain away, ”What? Sure…if we have to…I suppose.”

He collected up the now ruined crate, set it on one broad shoulder and stumped towards where the other two men stood. A white trail of salt was left in his wake. Belegost’s brows rose and Wulgof shook his shaggy head. They followed the hulking, salty, Haradian, on the alert for any sign of trouble. That shouting had not come from thin air and, after the contact of the night before, the unnatural peace of the place had come to a definitive end. Still, block after block was deserted. A cat careened across the street behind them, screeching like a rabid child. This swung both Belegost and Wulgof about, hearts hammering at the sudden noise in the cloying stillness. Both men glanced at the other, swords at the ready to slay a cat. A cat. Berlas would die laughing. Belegost scowled at the thought, both men stepped back and collided with Molguv. The giant had come to a standstill on the corner, oblivious to them, staring ahead. Colour had leached from his face and it was a horrified mask. He thrust a fist into the crate on his shoulder and threw a handful of salt at whatever it was that had confronted him, panting hard in terror.

By the time the other two had gotten around the Haradian, two men were coughing in a cloud of salt.

”What was that for,” one protested. He had a black eye.

”It’s what you do when you see a ghost,” said the other, lisping through a swollen lip, ”Least, it is in Rhun. Guess it’s the same in Harad too.”

Wulgof felt as though he had been hit over the head. Of the three of them, Belegost was the first to recover. He scratched at his head, stowed his sword and then grinned at the two men seated on the ground against the wall, taking their ease.

”Hooo….do you have some questions to answer, scouts! That leg looks bad, Kid.”

“It’s nothing, ‘Gost. Not twisted….Rin’ll set it straight, though before or after she tans my hide I can’t say.”

Wulgof punched Molguv in the arm and then bent with Belegost to assist Loch up. Runner tagged along easily and Molguv trailed in their wake, another handful of salt at the ready in the event they really were ghosts.

Word reached camp before they did. Videgavia, Berlas and Khule strode out to meet them. Sure enough, Lochared and Runner were escorted back by a grinning Belegost, a baffled Wulgof and a dazed Molguv. Both looked worse for wear but very much alive. Videgavia waved them off in the direction of the two remaining medics.

”Where’s Rin?” Videgavia heard Loch ask as Bells and Sparks approached.

Videgavia rubbed at his jaw. ”Damn,” he muttered after a while and Berlas glanced at him and realised the man was thinking the same as him….of a woman, fair and pale, shattered by grief, bereft of everything, now forging her way in the belief that she was utterly alone, far to the west.

”She dreams…she sees…” Berlas offered and Videgavia wiped his hand over his face.

”Let us hope so,” he replied and started for where the medics were working. There was quite a crowd gathered already.

When at last he won through to where Runner and Loch were being tended, Loch had discovered some of the truth of what had happened. He was grim and had lost his cheer. His dark eyes were heavy.

”She thinks me dead,” he said as soon as he sighted Videgavia and the man nodded.

”She looked for you, Loch. Searched for days and nights, refused to leave the ruins, refused to believe you had perished.”

“Where is she now?”

“West…she went west with Hanasian. Your information concerning Rocks panned out.”

“The letter,”
Loch guessed and Vid nodded.

”Wulgof delivered it up to her after…after the funeral, as you asked.”

“And the outcome?”

“We have not heard…and I think we would have ‘ere we sailed had things gone ill.”

Loch nodded, features tightening in pain as Sparks worked on his leg. In this silence, on the other side, Runner piped up.

”There were three women guarding the witch. One of them was with us. Have you seen her?”

“Her and her sister both. They are in camp. The third perished that night. It was nigh on ten months ago, though. We wintered there, set out mid summer and it took us months to reach this shore. What have you been doing here all that time?”

Runner and Loch glanced at each other and Berlas interceded,

”Another time, perhaps. When they have recovered somewhat?”

“Of course,” Videgavia relented and with that he withdrew.

The rest of the afternoon saw any lingering Old Company men or women about stop by to see with their own eyes the first two Black Company men to have returned from the dead. By sunset, Loch found himself in the company of Wulgof once more. Khule had joined the Dunlending and both perched on the slender wooden frame of the cot Loch had been installed in while his leg was being tended. The frame creaked under their weight as they passed a flask to and fro. Pleased and relieved as he was to see their faces, he could not shake the weight that was on his shoulders. His sister grieved him. Even now, far away, she grieved him. He knew what this meant, the enormity of it. She had been his world and he hers. And all of it had been taken away from her. The last time something like that had happened she had withdrawn into herself and not spoken for three terribly long years.

”Where’s Molguv?” Wulgof asked across him to where Khule sat.

The Easterling rolled his shoulders, ”Recovering. He took quite a fright today.”

Khule passed the flask to Loch and Loch found he had no appetite for it.

”Sure is good to see you, Kid,” Wulgof said, clearing his throat with emotion that crowded it.

”Kid…you sang of him as brother, if I recall correctly. That was what you sang, wasn’t it?” Khule prodded.

Wulgof grimaced, recalling the words of the funeral dirge all too clearly. Recalling the forlorn sound of another’s voice as it rose and sank through the traditional song. He tipped a mouthful of the flask’s contents back, some local firewater they had found here, and after a moment spat it out into the darkness. Molguv materialised and Wulgof, surprised, stammered a rare apology.

”Didn’t see you there,” he finished.

The large Haradian did not so much as pause or flick a glance at him. His eyes were locked on the man on the cot. He strode up, towering over him, staring hard. A hand balled up and thudded into Loch’s stomach. His breath wheezed out of him in a hard hush and he doubled over, gasping like a grounded fish.

”She grieved you hard!” Molguv grated at him.

Loch nodded, vision teared, and gasped, ”I know! I didn’t mean for it!”

“Hard!” Molguv snarled and wrapped a giant hand around Loch’s shoulder to wrench him back.

Frozen in one place, Wulgof and Khule stared at each other. Molguv studied Loch’s face. Whatever he saw there seemed to be enough.

”You will make it right,” he rumbled.

”Yes! As soon as we get back. Going straight there! Wherever she is,” Loch emphatically stated and Molguv nodded, released his shoulder and held his hand out for the flask.

”Where is she?” Loch asked as the Haradian tipped his head back for a long swig.

”Oh we know. Made it our business to. We’ve our own score to settle with the thief,” Wulgof said and Khule muttered something about how unholy it was to rob a man twice.

”Excellent….we already have our next mission in mind then,” said Runner from the neighbouring cot, ”Only there’s just one thing. What do we do now?”

“Drink little scout….more,”
Molguv demanded, thrusting the flask at Runner’s face.

When the flask was lowered, Runner frowned and Molguv’s teeth shone in the darkness as he smiled, ”Now…. questions?”

Try as he might, Runner could not remember a single one of his many questions.
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Ranger of the North

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Fickle Dreams

Postby elora » Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:40 am

Their fatigue was such that the contents of Molguv's flask was soon taking its toll on their consciousness.

The men were cleared out being prodded by Two Bells' blade, "They need rest, not drunkenness. Now out!"

"Aw Doc, we just want to watch them, especially the Kid…"
Mulgov said as the Dirty Three wanted to stay.

"No. I cannot make exception for you even if you are Old Company. Dhorgat and a half-dozen young Easterlings want to come in and linger by Runner as well. Can't have it, at least not today. Come back in the morning."

With assistance from Sparks, the two medics pushed Wulgof out. Khule went of his own accord after looking down the scalpel that Bells held.

Molguv finally nodded, "Just let me do one thing Doc."

Bells paused but kept his eyes on the unpredictable Haradian. Molguv dribbled salt around the cots that Loch and Runner occupied, then departed with one last look before the tent flap fell back into place.

"Had to kick them out?" Loch mumbled, his eyes closed.

"Yes. You need your rest and you've both a de-briefing with the Captain in the morning."

"Hanasian? He tried to teach me to write, you know,"
Loch muttered still with his eyes closed, and failed to add that Hanasian was not the first to attempt it. Not the first, but infinitely more patient than his sister… and far less amusing to tease as well.

Bells grinned, "Aye, sounds like him. Thought the recording of events accurately was important. It has its place. Did you write anything down?"

Loch sighed at the question and attempted to sit up. Bells prevented him from doing so.

"I had no time, nothing to write with, nothing to write on. But I swear, it's all in my head. I just have to be able to get it out. Hanasian won't be happy when he gets my report and there is nothing on it."

"Hanasian won't be getting your report. Captain Videgavia will."

Loch sighed again and whispered as sleep lured him into her webs, "Mmmm… yeah… I forgot. He's Captain now…. where is Rose? I would like to see her…"

Once the snoring started coming from both patients, it was all that Bells needed to hear, and he left them to their rest. Once the medic had sought his own bedroll, Wulgof, Khule, and Dhorgat slipped in and sat on the ground in the tent to watch the pair sleep. Mulgov had begged off, saying he had something else to attend to. In any case, there would not have been enough room for them all had the large man decided to return with them. They watched the two men sleep, but it wasn't long before these three watchers were asleep themselves and sprawled all over the floor, snoring as Loch and Runner were.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The command post was one of the few properly solid buildings about that also boasted a roof that was mostly intact. It was high enough to see over most of the rubble, and within Videgavia and Berlas were in deep discussion. The two men summoned Barika to report.

"Lady Anvikela knows that her sister is close, but she does not know we have her," Barika said.

Vid glanced at Berlas before he asked, "And the other girl?"

"She too knows her sister is close, but I don't think she knows we have her. She was quite distressed when Dhorgat found her. If anything she now seems more afraid of us giving her up to whomever she was being taken to."

Berlas cut in and said, "You can assure her that will not happen on our watch."

Berlas then considered his Captain and asked, "Do we risk a reunion?"

Vid scratched his cheek, a sure sign he was thinking about things. Indeed, there was much to consider and most of it strange, beyond their ken.

"I wish to speak to Loch and Runner first. Barika, you continue to talk to the girl and try to determine what exactly she is afraid of. It's possible we need to be wary of the same people who wish to take her captive. Also, get as much as you can of her days since the incident in Shkar. It will help.”

Videgavia held his chin for a moment before he again addressed Barika,

"Tell her that she is welcome among us and that we know where her sister is. I want her to find some reason to hope in us. We will need Lady Anvikela to get back home when we're finished here. If we have her with us as well, given how hard we know it to be to cross that rift, it can't hurt. Two of the three sisters is the best we can hope for, since the third is confirmed dead and now rests in Shkar. Maybe, aware of the freedom that is now theirs, they both will want to come back with us. We can only hope. Besides, it appears they fear whatever they know they left behind here. We need them, and they're our only helpful local guides in this strange place. I think it's in our best interests to keep the girls close with us and out of the hands of whoever or whatever they both fear. Hopefully by having them with us, we can make that work for us.”

“What about Dhak and his shadows?” Berlas asked. Videgavia frowned and said,

“Dhak has been less than helpful since we returned, and I didn’t ever really trust him anyway. But I do need to speak to Dhak. I want to hear what he has to say about all this. Berlas, I want you to speak to the Lady Anvikela. Barika, you go talk to this other girl. When you are done, you both get some rest. Then be here early and brief me before I talk to Loch and Runner."

"Right Cap," Berlas and Barika both said, heads full of their task before their bedrolls would find them. Videgavia chased them with one last request.

”If either of you see Dhak, send him to me.” A quick salute said they heard him.

The next morning came and Berlas and Barika both briefed Videgavia on their talks with the two girls, and Barika returned to have breakfast with Rose. Their tales were consistent, but Barika was finding Rose a wealth of information. She suggested, and the Captain agreed, that it would be best for her to spend more time with her this morning.

Now it was time to gain reports from the two lost scouts. They both arrived well rested but on edge. Berlas would speak with Runner while Videgavia would speak with Loch. It was clear that the two Company scouts were nervous and unsettled. Berlas left the Captains room with Runner to find another room to talk. Being separated made them both even more uneasy. For Loch, the questions Videgavia asked seemed to fuel the younger man's unease. From Loch's perspective, Videgavia was a far cry from the now easy, approachable captain that Hanasian had been. Yet, in other ways, the two Captains were the same.

Loch swallowed when Vid asked, "Do you have your summary for the Company annals?"

Loch glanced to one side and resisted to urge to tug at his beard. Still, his tone was one of apology, "I haven't written it down yet."

Videgavia waved it off, "Berlas and Belegost are the writers in this company, so I'm sure one of them will get what he needs from you when he speaks to you. Hanasian always thought it important to keep these records and I agree with him.

"Now, about your time away, there are a couple things I need to follow up on. Tell me all that you know from the time you were watching the temple in Shkar."

Loch swallowed, because this was the part that he really struggled with. He spoke of how he came to be in the house and how the girl he called now Rose had discovered him there. He told Vid how he was locked in the closet and not given up as an intruder, and the events after the Witch returned to her room. He paused, gathered his thoughts and continued on to the point that the three sisters returned to the room with the Wizard. It had been at moment he had perceived the need to act or risk discovery and failure. He paused a second time, as if in pain.

Loch finally said, "The knife stroke across her throat, it was quick and sure. Nobody had time to react, at east very much. Not the Witch, not the High Mage, or even the three girls. Still, each did something in that moment, and nothing any of the other expected."

Videgavia was furiously scratching this down, racing his speed with the recall of the scout. A third pause provided him with time to catch up.

A few moments passed before Vid said, "Go on Loch. What do you know when you moved on the witch?"

Loch swallowed and rubbed at his forehead, "This is where it all get a bit … distorted? I mean I know in my head what I know, but when I try and tell it, I become confused."

"Just relax and speak."
Vid prompted.

Loch nodded, seeming reassured by his captain's demeanour.

"I felt her blood on my hand. It burned. Then air around me started to burn! I tried to move away from her, but I was thrown back by her final scream as if I had been picked up and tossed aside. I soon lost all grip on that room. I did see the girls and the Wizard as I fell back. Rose, the girl who found me in the ruins here, moved toward me.

One of the other girls threw herself against the wave of terrible power that came from the Witch. The other girl threw herself against the Wizard. He had seen me and was pointing. That is all I recall. I know or remember nothing until I awoke in the ruins near here. I have these wounds which I cannot explain, with Rose in the ruins with me."

It was a strange tale at the least and Videgavia reviewed it carefully with Loch to ensure he had the key details correct. Loch rounded it out by summarising the past week spent recuperating.

Puzzled, Vid asked, "You say that you are only aware of a few days, perhaps a week or so at most having passed since this incident in the house in Skhar. We talked to the girl you call Rose and she tells us-"

"Rose? You talked to her? Is she safe?"
Loch pressed, his focus returning again.

Vid pressed on, "Aye Loch, she is well. We'll talk more about her later. I need you to listen now. She tells us that a few months passed from the time of the incident to now. She spoke of spending much of that time with you. You don't remember some festival dinner and dance with her? She does. She was very descriptive and, aside from the formal attire she said you wore, it fit you like a glove."

"No sir. I remember nothing except what I have told you,"
Loch said, lost in thought as he tried to remember anything further.

Loch was not a good liar. He was the most honest thief Videgavia had ever encountered, unlike his sister. At that moment, the man's brow was crumpled as he racked his shattered memories.

"I believe you Loch," Videgavia assured the scout, "The Company have spent well over a half a year since that day. Rose says it's been months and you say its been days. I have no reason to doubt any of you, but it is obvious that at the moment that you killed the witch, something happened that is beyond our understanding. Mecarnil's theory of other influences…perhaps that. I do not know.

"Whatever it was, it has affected you, Runner and this Rose most of all; presumably because you were so closest to the witch and wizard. It has affected others to a lesser degree. Lady Anvikela, was found in the rubble of the temple. So too was her sister, though she soon died of her injuries. Your assistance in understanding this is greatly appreciated."

Loch straightened in his chair, "I understand, sir."

Videgavia stood at that point, his mind already onto what would come next. Restless, because it would not be easy, he paced about and slapped a hand on Loch's shoulder before he continued.

"You have been away from us for a while and you've been sorely missed. Sadly, we have no way of getting word to your sister that you are indeed alive. It will be quite some time before we ever head west to our lands again, so all I can say is that I am sorry for that.

"All we found of yours in the ruins was a boot, a burned shirt sleeve, and the hilt of one of your daggers. Since you are still walking around with only one boot, you will be fitted with new gear. As soon as we get back to the western lands, you will be granted leave to go see your sister."

Loch blinked, eyes gleaming with the difficulty of it all. The urge to find her, tell her, was so strong that it made his joints ache. Still, he swallowed the lump in his throat and said, "Thank you sir."

Vid peered into the man's face, "Until then, I need you. I only have a hand full of the Old Crew left. The new recruits of Gondor and Rhun are quite capable and are dedicated as any, but you're old crew, and I need you to stay on top of it all.

"I'm depending on you, the man who made the split field decision to go in like you did. There is a fine line between boldness and recklessness and you have the skill to walk it. You be him. You did well, Loch."

Vid stood and returned to his chair. Loch was silent for a long while as he struggled with his composure. Over six months. It had been bad enough when he realised that Rin thought him dead for a week. Six months!

When Loch had marshalled his thoughts he asked, "Would it be possible to see Rose? She was greatly distressed when I last saw her."

Vid scratched his chin, "In due time, son. Before this day is done. Right now she is telling Barika all about these events."

Loch stood, "Barika? Who is Barika?"

"Much has happened in this company while you have been away. She is a member of this Company who has shown some rather remarkable skills, rather like your sister before her. She has been invaluable in working with Anvikela and now Rose seems to have taken a liking to her. You will meet Barika later today I believe, likely at evening meal. For now, you are dismissed Lochared. It’s the noon hour, and you still need rest. I suggest you get it before this evening."

Videgavia was pleased to see the old company salute from Loch as the scout departed and he returned it in kind. So few of them in the Company knew it. So few. Another Old Company man returned. A boon unlooked for from an operational perspective.

Loch stumbled over Runner on his way to where he thought his tent was. He too was ordered to get some rest. So much was confusing and bewildering. The two men were glad to see each other, a marked change from their last reunion.

Runner said, "That Berlas is a good inquisitor. He asked me more questions and wrote down more than my answer each time. But he said I did well and was glad to have me back. How did you fare?"

Loch looked about the men about them who were now Company. He didn't know any that he saw except for a few vague but familiar faces.

After a few steps he replied, "It went well. Cap took my verbal report and said I did well."

They walked to a tent that had their names hanging on it and found Runner's squad had already camped around them. It gave both scouts a warm sense of place and belonging in a much-changed Company. The rigours of reporting ensured they were soon wrapping themselves back in their bedrolls, spare rolls from the Company's supplies. Donius and Daius, Loch supposed. Rin had always said those two men were marvels and now he could really appreciate why she was so fond of the two men.

"I need rest, for I will meet… Rose… in the morning…" he muttered to himself, for Runner was already asleep. Loch drifted off into dream in moments. Sparks and Bells kept a close eye on the two and made sure nobody bothered them. The two slept through the afternoon, and only woke for their evening meal. Still drowsy, and after a check by Bells and Sparks, they again went back to their tents and fell into deep sleep. The two docs shared their notes, and decided that both should be cleared for duty tomorrow.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Barika had spent the rest of the day with Rose and found that Rose had quite a lot to say. She even filled in some of the gaps that Anvikela had refused to speak of about that day in Skhar. She remained steadfast in her account of the days and weeks that had followed. Rose told of a festival of lights that she had attended with Loch and how he had been forced to suddenly leave, as if someone had called him away. It was when he left that they woke up in the rubble. Barika suspected it was a dream that coincided with the time Loch was unconscious, but she couldn't be sure and knew she would not be the judge of the matter in any case. But Barika did decide that she would do something that she suspected Videgavia would likely not approve of, unwittingly following in the footsteps of the Company's first female member. She planned it for that night.

After reporting the Captain, she returned to find Rose sleeping.

"You wish to see Loch?" Barika askedwith a whisper.

"I would, very much, yes!" Rose answered.

"Put this cloak on. I will take you to him, but it will be in secret. We will have to return here shortly before this is discovered."

Rose nodded, pulled the cloak around her, hid her head in its hood. Barika peeked out the door of the tent, then tapped Rose. She looked once morebefore stepping out, and employed her stealth to move them quietly between the tents. Attempting this at night was foolish, it was crazy. Loch's tent was not far away and the two were quickly inside Loch’s tent unseen.

Barika whispered to Rose, "You have only a few moments. Let him know you are alive and well, and see that he is too."

With that Barika withdrew to watch by the tent door, confident that there was no harm in this and that it would only further install Barika in Rose's trust. She was already forming her rationale should they be discovered while Rose knelt on the ground next to Loch. She ran her fingers through his hair and took his hand but he did not stir. Rose became strangely still, a detail that Barika did not notice given her attention was on movement outside of the tent.

Loch reached for his sister in his sleep but clouds and fog assailed him, wrapped him, formed as certain a wall as stone might. It was sudden, but soft, as dreams can be, when Loch found himself side by side with Rose. They walked through a wide field of grass under a clear sky.

Rose whispered into his ear, "You wish to find you sister. I can help you. Come with me."

Loch was puzzled but took her hand. No sooner did he do that did it seem as though the field dropped away. It was dizzying, yet Rose held his hand fast. Then it started to speed past below their feet, blurring until the grass looked like the waters of a mountain rapid. Speeding, leaping, dancing waters of the spring melt, at home long ago, when he had delighted in playing by the stream and hunting frogs. For a long time it was like this until they came to a place that looked hauntingly familiar and not at precisely the same time to Loch.

"We're out west, by the elf port!" Loch said as he looked about. The tall white towers they had passed on their way to Mithlond were within sight.

Rose said nothing and suddenly he was standing and the ground was where it belonged, beneath his feet. In the tent, sweat beaded Rose's brow despite the chill of the day. She could sense Loch's search for his sister. She sensed him start, a sudden surge of excited relief. A shape, a woman…walking with a child in the distance. It was her. Had to be. He knew his sister better than he knew the back of his own hand. Still, he could not get any closer. He held tighter to Rose's hand and tugged her forward.

Oh how it burned! Rose had reached far and brought Loch along with her all that way. But now, she felt the push that was needed to find the other woman's dream. She was strong. So strong and guarded. It was so hard! Anvikela twisted and turned in her tent on the cot. She reached for her sister. Where was she? Was she the only one left? Surely…surely it could not be, else how could she have managed to get this Company of foreigners across the Rift.

Loch had a hold of Rose's hand and he strained towards the distant figure of a woman and child. Rose turned and saw her sister approach. Anvikela was frowning.

"You reach for the boy's sister, yet you reach not for me?"

"Please do not oppose me sister. Let me do this! My debt to this man is more than I can say!"
Rose replied even as she tried to push Loch toward his sister.

Anvikela came to stand before them in the dreamscape, "You endanger us by doing this! They will know we are here!"

Rose pushed Loch hard to the side and into the dreams of the west proper before all her work could be undone. She said to her sister, "They already know we are here! It was this man's friends who saved me from being taken back! They know you are here too with the breaking of the rift, but you have shrouded yourself well enough to keep them finding you after you have returned."

Anvikela turned and fretted, then considered Loch now adrift in dreams not his own.

She said with an accusatory note, "This man is the one who brought all this to pass!"

"All the more reason to help him and his friends. They will protect us the best they can and that is something we both need... unless my sister, you wish to return to the Order's control."

Rose drew herself up with that and Anvikela turned away and stood in quiet thought. Loch was even now returning, looking for Rose, floundering. And, if Anvikela's senses bore true, the woman Rose attempted to lead him to had been the woman who had cared for her when she was first uncovered. Anvikela remembered her well. She had swept in to the midst of those frightening men, made the pain recede and shown remarkable, unexpected compassion. How she had barked at those other men too. So ferocious, in a way that would never be tolerated within the Order. And they had heeded her commands. As fearsome with them as she had been gentle with her. Rose reached for her sister and embraced her.

"Help me with this. He only wants to see and talk to his sister. She is the high born that they sought. She will be able to see and hear us. Let us take him to her!"

Lady Anvikela began to weep. She knew her younger sister was right just as she knew their elder sister would oppose them both. But she was dead and it had been this woman who had shown dignity and compassion even to her despite the fact she was beyond caring. With a nod, tears shining on her cheeks, Anvikela took up Rose's hand and Loch found himself suddenly surrounded their embrace.

Dreams are sometimes gentle, sometimes wild and usually beyond recall or comprehension upon awaking. It was a cold autumn night that such a dream came to Rosmarin. Hanasian was adrift in dream worlds of his own beside her when Rin saw Loch in the distance. The ache of that recognition that shocked through her was bone deep. That, and the fact that there appeared to be a woman on either of his arms, made her hesitate. The wind made the tall grasses dance around them. She remained still, still as the stones that stood around them. Barrow stones, stones that guarded the dead and not nearly well enough to keep the wights out. As soon as Loch saw her the women released him and he approached her. She did not know when such dreams would cease to be a torment. Not yet, it seemed. The shape of his jaw, the lopsided smile and the dark eyes that now leapt with such earnest relief at her.

"My sister! How I have missed you! I am sorry I did not return to you, but please rest assured that I live. I am far away in another land, but swear to return to see you. I owe a huge report to Hanasian. Rest easy Rosmarin! My friends have made this possible that I speak to you in dream, at least I think that is what they do, at great peril to themselves and others. I had to see you. Please remember this dream, Rin. Please! My beloved sister!"

Even the sound of his voice was just as she had remembered. She remained frozen. The urge to reach for him pounded through her. It seemed so real! Excruciating! The two women drew closer to him and took his arms again. Painful as it was to see him, the idea that he would go so soon was worse. She stepped towards him and distantly heard the sound of a child wailing. Hanavia was gone. He had been beside her but now he was gone. When Rin looked up, she found everything else was fading. Everything but the sound of a baby's cries. Rin woke with a shuddering start. It felt like she had surfaced from somewhere deep below the ocean that lay beyond their balcony.

Rin found Hanasian already out of bed, their son in his arms. Hanavia was quiet now but his sniffles said much.

"He woke suddenly but you were so deeply asleep, my love. I think he's well, but I suspect he is hungry."

Rin reached for Hanavia to comfort and fed him. The comfort given and comfort received for he was warm and real against her. It was a salve for the confrontation of her dream. In so many ways, her son was a salve for what had been lost. Of the two of them, he was certainly the greater healer.

Rin whispered to her son loud enough for Hanasian to hear from his chair in the corner of the room, "Hanavia Lochnard. I have seen your uncle and namesake this night! It was only a dream, and yet for all of that it seemed he was really here. With us. My mind may have come to terms, but my heart still speaks otherwise. How happy he would be to meet you, little one."

Hanasian rose from his chair at that and settled in at her back to rub shoulders he found knotted, "I too dreamt of Loch. Rapid images of him from the time he and you joined us," Hanasian paused, for those had been a memorable set of days in so many ways, "Much had happened, he said, and he wanted to take me east and tell me something at the end. Said he had a report to deliver. Hanavia woke me, so the dream ended. And yet, like yours, it seemed so real."

Rin drew a deep breath and let out a sigh, "I should not get any hope up that I will see him any time soon. That way lies madness. I know it. Yet, despite that, I confess I feel easier for the dream's lie that he lives still. What is worse, do you think? Madness or grief?"

"Hold it close and take what comfort you might from it,"
Hanasian answered, "I too felt in my dream that he lived though I cannot say why. Perhaps he does, somewhere far away from us. There were so many unanswered questions in Skhar. I confess that I have harboured a deep hope that somehow he was alive despite the apparent reality and need to record him as missing and assumed dead.

"Be open to the east my Love, for there may be powers in motion here that we know little, and it may be so that Loch has found his way into them. He may come to you again."

Rose and Loch ran fast through the grass. Anvikela followed not far behind. The dream was closing and they hurried back to their sleeping bodies.

In her tent, Anvikela started awake. She was sweaty and reached for the pot of water. She drank sloppily from it, spilling a fair amount as she drained it. She gasped and looked about, disorientation fading once she realised she was in her quarters. She lay back and closed her eyes. Her lot had been cast, and she concentrated on shielding herself and her sister from unfriendly eyes. Already they searched. Even if they knew the area to look, they did not yet have their whereabouts.

Rose jumped awake and released Loch's hand just as Barika stepped towards her, "Come Lady Rose, we must return!"

Rose stood and leaned over and kissed Loch on the cheek. She then turned and disappeared with Barika's aid for she was unsteady on her feet. They made it back to their tent unnoticed, for now.

Loch's dreams wandered strange and long paths, winding and twisting through the Black Company. He jumped awake when heard Videgavia yell, "Report Standardbearer!"

Loch's jumping and flailing awoke the men on the floor. Morning light had just begun to paint the sky a deep blue and chase off the stars. Videgavia straightened and eyed the men sprawled on the floor.

"You'd best get out of here before Doc returns," Videgavia suggested.

Each gave Loch and Runner a pat before they slipped out. Bells watched this procession from a nearby tent, a smile on his face and Sparks snoring hard on his cot behind him. Having friends spend the night was the best therapy they could get but what made Bells smile was the discovery that Sparks had a much more human side to him than previously thought. The men trooping out now had arrived during Sparks' watch in the night. The sound of the morning was now in full swing and the camp began to awake.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Wed Dec 05, 2012 2:10 am

”Patrol, scout. I need your eyes and ears out there this morning. Some sort of organised force is moving during the night. Look in on Rose on your way past. I suspect she knows something of who they might be,” Videgavia said as Loch rolled untidily off the other side of the cot.

The captain eyed the man. He was brighter now, more alert, and was clearly chewing something over. Loch was the sort of man who could not conceal his thoughts. If he thought it, felt it, they all knew about it. Whatever it was, however, he remained tight lipped. Tight lipped and poorly equipped.

”Replace your gear before you go,” Vid added as Loch raked his hair out of his eyes.

At that moment he looked about as well dressed as he had been when their paths first crossed. All that was missing this time was the mud. No, Vid amended, slightly better. He had one boot this time. The captain turned and pushed out of the tent, Loch on his heels.


“Rose’s tent is that way, and supply is behind the command post,”
Videgavia furnished and with that Loch was loping away.

There was so much that did not make sense. The discrepancy in recall. The gap in time. How was it that Loch had not starved if he was unconscious all that time? Mecarnil had his theories about the Valar back in Skhar. Videgavia turned these about. Valar involvement did not in the least come as a comfort to him. However this was not the most pressing knot of questions. What concerned him most was Dhak. The man had vanished the very night that Rose, as Loch called her, had been found. The first night they’d made any contact with an organised group that could pose some form of local resistance. Videgavia did not believe in coincidence. Not. At. All.

Loch being who he was, the first thing he did was fill his stomach. He didn’t realise just how hungry he was until he ate. His sister dominated his thoughts as he ate. Who had been that child by her side? Only young, dark hair like Hanasian and clear eyes like Rin, greyer than her own. The child had peered curiously up at him until he had faded away. Could it be hers? But…Vid said six months…Wulgof slid in across the table and snagged an apple.

”You coming with us, then?”

“Soon as I get some gear.”

“Good…we could use you out there,”
Wulgof replied, or at least that is what Loch thought he said around a mouth full of apple.

“How long has it been?” Loch asked after a moment and Wulgof stopped chewing for an instant.

”Didn’t Vid tell you?” he asked cagily.

Loch knew that tone. Wulgof was being careful and he knew why. It was one of the rules of the Old Company. If the Captain thought you needed to know, you knew. Simple as that.

”I saw Rin last night. Spoke to her. Rose helped me…and another woman I do not know.”

Had it been anyone else, Wulgof would have denounced that statement as proof he was insane. However, Rin’s dreams were known to everyone in the Old Company. And this Avienkala had powers no one understood. Presumably so did her sister. It was all too complicated for him to make sense of. In any case, such eldritch things like this always led to trouble in his experience, and this was no exception. None of them would be here, having this conversation, if it hadn’t have been for inexplicable forces best left alone.

”When I saw her, there was a little boy with her. He held her hand. He…he looked like he was her son.”

Loch’s words intruded on Wulgof’s thoughts and turned them in another direction. Rin as anyone’s mother was utterly ludicrous. Maybe Loch wasn’t mad. Perhaps it had been a knock to his head. That could addle a man’s wits.

”The boy was at least two years old!”

“It hasn’t been two years,”
Wulgof blurted out and then scowled because Loch always managed to pluck things from him he had not intended to give. He crossed his arms over his chest.

”Vid told me it had been over six months,” Loch said.

“It has been,” Wulgof answered, Loch heaved a frustrated sigh and stared at the crumbs on the table.

”It was autumn when that temple collapsed in Skhar…since then, we’ve had winter, spring, summer and we’re back to autumn.”

“A year,”
Loch said, faintly shocked and Wulgof nodded.

”So it could be her son…only he would be a babe in arms still.”

Wulgof said, though it still felt odd to imagine either Rin or Hanasian as parents. Hanasian would always be their Captain to him and Rin was…well…Trouble, of the enjoyable kind. Certainly not mild enough to be anyone’s mother unless it was a bear cub. Perhaps one of those large hunting cats Molguv said lived in jungles of the far south.

While Wulgof tried to reconcile conflicting images, Loch reviewed the strange events of the night. The more he thought on it, the less likely it seemed to have really occurred. She had been so guarded and wary with him in a way she never, ever was.

”Come on then. Time to get you equipped. We haven’t got all day,” Wulgof bustled and Loch let himself be towed to his feet.

”I need to see Rose on my way out,” he muttered.

What, your dreams not enough for you, eh Kid?” Wulgof jibed, elbowing him in a bid to lighten his mood.

”I just need to see that she’s well. Runner and I owe her a great deal...”

Wulgof ensured he went directly to the supply tent. There were more than few people eager to waylay the scout. After that he almost looked like himself. Next stop was Rose’s tent. Barika was standing outside and her expression was almost as suspicious as Wulgof’s.

”She in?” Loch asked and Barika nodded tersely. Loch ducked into the tent and left Wulgof outside with this woman.

Dunland and Rohan. The two studied each other covertly.

”What are you looking at?” Barika demanded.

Wulgof wondered if he should mention now that he knew what she had done last night or not. Maybe later…best to keep such chips up your sleeve with women like this. He sucked his teeth and redirected his attention to the camp around them. Barika did the same. No need to be on edge, after all. No one had seen. No harm had been caused. Why was that man smirking? No, none of her business. The less she had to do with the Dirty Three, the better.

”I am pleased you are well,” Loch said even though she looked tired.

”I hope to see my sister today,” Rose said, brightening at that.

”Rose…was…was last night…real?”

“What do you think, Loch?”
she asked and Loch shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His head brushed the ceiling of the tent and he was freshly equipped. A solider again. A foreign solider with weapons and duties she was not sure she understood. She could only hope she had placed her trust wisely. And yet, if she looked past his gear to his face, she sensed she had. If only Avienkala could see that as well.

”Come on, Kid! Morning’s wasting! We’ve no time for rendezvous,” said one of the other men from outside the tent.

Loch ducked his head at her and offered her a smile, ”I think I should thank you, Rose. Whatever you did, it was a kindness. Yet another kindness. Thank you. If you need anything, you let me know. I’m not far away and these men…these men you can trust. I swear it.”

And with that he was gone. Barika ducked inside a moment later.

”Are you ready, Lady Rose?” Barika asked and Rose nodded, weary though she was because Avienkala needed her, now more than ever.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was so much that did not make sense. More than usual, when it came to dreams like this. It had sat uneasily with her all through the day. As a result, she was distracted. She poured tea into the sugar bowl, mistaking it for a cup. She attempted to butter an egg, because it was next to the toast. She nearly missed the chair when she sat down in the kitchen for breakfast.

”Somebody move that knife, quickly,” Stillwater hissed and Slippery obligingly slid the knife away. Rin’s fingers brushed over the table near where it had been, eyes distant and expression inscrutable. Stillwater breathed a sigh of relief.

”That was close,” he whispered and Slippery applied her elbow to his ribs.

”Rough night, Rin? Rin? Rosmarin? Doc? Erían? PRINCESS!”

Rin answered, discovered there were people sitting across the table for the first time and realised that there was a frown on her face for a reason she could not quite place, ”What was that?”

“Leave her be,” Farbarad rumbled from down the end. He knew the look. Knew it well. Her mother had worn it in her own time, ”She’ll decide when she wants to say something on it, if at all. Isn’t that right, lassie?”

Rin was frowning at her plate but she nodded distractedly, ”Did someone call me prin-“

“Say, Rowdy, are you going to check the hives today. It’ll probably be the last chance before winter closes in,”
Slippery cut in a little too brightly and darted a nervous glance at Rin.

The woman Slippery knew would pursue a point to the ends of the earth and beyond. However, Rin was back gazing into the distance again, fork balanced in her hand and forgotten. Hanasian grinned and snagged the piece of sausage that was on the tines.

”Going to help him, Slip? Try your hand at it a second time? I do wonder why you’re so eager to get and into the maw of those little yellow and black demons,” he said, well aware that Slippery was doing what anyone might do should Rin discover them using one of her titles – she was fleeing.

“Isn’t that what they say you should do? You know, fall off a horse…get back on again. Besides, I’ll be prepared this time. I’ll wear a veil,” Slippery replied, not at all prepared to own up that she was running away for good measure.

“What, and obscure your lovely features?” Stillwater teased.

Slippery balled her fist and sank it into his biceps, ”Aw, you noticed! After all these years! So sweet of you.”

She pushed her chair back and the legs scraped over the flagstones of the kitchen floor. That was the signal for everyone else to stand. Everyone did, except Rin, and headed off on their respective duties. Hanasian busied himself in the kitchen. He liked the routine of it. As he clattered about, tidying things away, Rin remained where she was. He wondered if she would notice if he removed the plate before her. Not so much as a flicker. He plucked the fork from her hand and she didn’t notice that either.

”Is something wrong my love?” he asked and of course she did not answer. He ran his hand across the line of her shoulders as he passed and she drew in a breath and blinked.

”Oh, they’ve gone,” she said softly.

”Aye, as has half the morning. Still thinking on last night?”

Rin shook her head slightly, ”No…that is done now.”

That was no lie. She’d figured it out. It wasn’t one of those dreams at all. Never before had her dreams spilled over to affect others and Hanasian had been clear that he had dreamt of Loch as well. The first anniversary of Loch’s death loomed. It was not far off now. She knew from the ache deep within at the thought of him that she grieved him still. It was from there that the dream had sprung. From grief. Nothing else. It was sheer chance that Hanasian had dreamt of him as well. Perhaps for the same reason she had. Hanasian intently studied her expression in a way only he could. She mustered a small smile for him to prevent him from worrying and he leaned in to kiss her brow.

”Well and good, dear heart,” he answered and watched her push back from the table.

He wasn’t fooled in the least, but right at the moment he needed set down all he could recall for Loch had spoken of much indeed. And, he’d need to keep a close eye on Rin. She might further sense something of the Company’s fortunes in that far land. He did not envy Videgavia his task, and if Rin just might prove a conduit through which counsel could be passed...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

”Who is this third one!”

“I. Do. Not. Know!”
Dhak’s voice bounced off the walls and the woman flinched as she glanced upwards, ”Two of the sisters were located, only one of which survived. The other, apparently is here. You are better qualified than I as to how that can be since all three of them set out with us! As for this third? I do not know! I do not know! Another sister, a fourth? Perhaps you were not thorough enough. Or a new comer, an ally. Surely they have them, for I can think of no other explanation for the youngest being suddenly here. Where is the other Wizard?”

He had been asking that for over a day now. The old woman made a warding gesture by habit.

”Not here! I know not where!” she whispered.

”So there is only you…as I thought,” Dhak wearily said.

Since that night he had been desperately trying to ascertain the strength of the survivors here. Had they been at full strength, their fortunes would be vastly different. All in all, it was far better than Dhak had hoped it might be. Provided that trust could be restored, much could be done now that the Order was no more. Restoring trust would be no small task…and then there was the missing Wizard. If the missing Wizard returned, all was endangered. They needed to find that Wizard. He needed to get back to the Company. How long had it been? Over a day? Heading into two? He pushed to his feet, swayed slightly.

”You should rest, Commander. Have you sought your family?”

Dhak's reply was gruff, ”I know where they are.”

He gestured in one of the worst hit areas, where so many of the Order had made their homes. It was, to a building, flattened. Shoulders slumped and head bowed, Dhak departed, his dusty boots crunching over the debris still scattered on the floor of the main sanctum. No sooner had he vanished did one of the younger sisters materialise. The older woman was not surprised. Old habits died hard. Like as not many of them had listened and it was so much easier now to overhear given the holes and cracks in their inner walls.

”What now, Mother?” she asked and the old woman sighed.

”We see what the night’s patrols have found us.”

“Not the sisters, Mother.”

“No, and that is the way it will remain for now. But they do not only look for sisters, or have you already devoured what food they found?”
the old woman replied for such were the practicalities of life.

”Were we mistaken then? Are they not here?”

“Wherever they are is none of your concern! Such matters rest with your superiors.”

“Commander Dhak. I do not trust him.”

“How fortunate, then, that you are not one of our superiors, girl,”
the woman snapped and that was that as far as discussion went.

Mother’s mind was not idle though. They needed those two sisters sorely and Dhak would be the key to them, she knew, if she could trust him. His counsel had been that it would be wiser to not have their small patrol find them, to cease searching for them entirely. It was a risk for they could slip through her fingers again. And yet, Dhak had warned that if they continued on this path and cornered the two girls they would face a far greater battle than winning their trust. This Company he spoke of was a dangerous force. One that could be useful when it came to rooting out that Wizard. A great deal, then, pivoted on the trustworthiness of Commander Dhak…a grieving man and a former officer of the Order turned rebel. Sworn now to a foreign ruler. And, what of this third woman? Certainly not one of them. Not a sister. The old blood ran so strongly through her. It had been but a glimpse but she could recall it still. How many of such women were there in this distant land? Dhak had been adamant that the woman he had knelt to was of unsurpassed royal descent and now this woman last night. One and the same?

His family…forever silenced. Their laughter and voices. His wife and sons. Gone. Dhak had struggled not to think of them, to push it from his thoughts for it would bury him and already things were strained. This Company did not trust him. Nor did Avienkala, though he could well understand why that was. He had feared that the reprisals of the Order would find them when he could not protect them. He had feared they would pay the price for his actions. They had, he sensed, though not in the way he had expected. Dhak’s eyes closed as he rounded the corner, despair lapped at his thoughts. There was a city to rebuild, a future undreamt of for those who had survived this, if he could somehow…

”HOLD!” boomed a voice in Westron and he rocked on his heels as his aching body struggled to comply. Dhak did not bother to open his eyes.

”Well now…Commander…I hope you’re in a mood to talk,” the man continued and Dhak could hear the scrape of weapons and boots.

He opened his eyes and was not surprised by the men he saw. Clearly the scout was on his feet and back on duty again. He had an arrow nocked and bow string taut against his cheek. The older Dunlending had a sword drawn, point partially raised and it was him that was doing the speaking. His habitually suspicious expression was in place. Dhak shrugged his shoulders.

”I’ll do my best,” he answered flatly.

The two men marched him smartly back to camp and directly to the command post. People paused as they passed through to stare. No one delayed them. Straight into the building, straight through the doors until Dhak found himself in a room with others. Videgavia and Berlas were there, along with three women. Two of the three, the sisters, stiffened in alarm.

”Found him wandering the streets,” Wulgof growled as the two officers studied him. Loch, meanwhile, had edged protectively towards the youngest of the sisters.

”With his eyes closed,” Loch added.

”You look weary, Commander. Perhaps you should sit,” Berlas suggested.

Sit. Stand? Did it matter any more? Dhak was not sure that it did. Still, a hand in the middle of his chest ensured he sat in the chair Wulgof dragged behind him.

”I’ve had about enough of this,” Videgavia growled, ”I’m sick of talking. I want answers. I want them now. I mean to have them!”

“He cannot be trusted!”
Avienkala blurted, an accusatory finger jabbed at Dhak.

”No, but they can be,” he replied with a nod towards the Company men.

”That’s true,” her sister said.

”That’s beside the point. I agree with Lady Avienkala. He’s been missing for nearly two days. Vanishes the very night we found Rose,” Berlas said.

Dhak snorted at that. Rose. Is that what they were calling her now. Apt, he supposed, for roses had thorns and were not to be trifled with.

”I will explain,” Dhak said, ”And you will do as you see fit. The Order has been destroyed. Their quarter is utterly decimated. Not a single man survives.”

“Except for you!”
Avienkala hissed.

”Except for me…and you and your sister, though you are not men. Indeed, you are not Order. Your sisters, those within the protection of your walls, survived as did a small number of their retainers. They have been seeking others beyond the walls for it is not safe outside of them. Which is how they found you…Rose.

“The other Wizard, the one that remained here, has vanished. No one know where.”

“Who are these women?”
Berlas asked.

”Dangerous!” Avienkala stated.

”Yes, just like you. Just like your sister. And yet if they meant harm do you think we would have been permitted to dock here? Would they have let us through the rift? Would you be permitted to remain here, beyond their walls? Do they look for you now?”

That last was a risky ploy, for he did not know if the old woman had heeded his counsel. The two women turned from the others and drew together. Ultimately, it was ‘Rose’ who spoke.

”It’s true. They have stopped…for now.”

Videgavia was rubbing at his temples trying to put this all together, ”What do they want?”

“Freedom. They hope to build a future of freedom. They will need help, for freedom is a strange concept and there is much to repair. If I might be so bold…”

“By all means, Commander Dhak, for it appears boldness is your strong suit,”
Berlas replied dryly.

”Meet with them, open ground of your choosing. Hear it from their own mouths. If they ask for aid, I suggest tracking down that missing Wizard for he has the power to undo all of this.”

“Wulgof, Loch, escort the Commander to his quarters. He is fatigued. See that he rests,”
Videgavia ordered and the two men nodded.

Once the three men had departed, the Captain turned to the two women.

”If you mean to go through with this meeting, do so with caution,” Avienkala urged.

”I mean to, my lady, if we proceed at all. Your assistance will be of great import.”

“You shall have it, Captain, from myself and my sister.”

Barika escorted the two women away until, at last, Videgavia and Berlas were left in the room.

”Hours into his first patrol and already producing results. It’s good to have Loch back with us,” Berlas observed and Videgavia nodded.

”And yet, a headache already, though it’s not of their making.”

“What do you make of Dhak’s suggestion?”

“It could be good. It could be a trap. What’s new?”

“So, we proceed then? Meet with these women?”
Berlas asked

“Aye… Black Company style. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

“So a meeting then, later today, to plan.”

Berlas was on his way before Videgavia could change his mind. Meetings meant talking. He hated talking. The Captain located his table, a rickety thing salvaged from the ruins, and installed himself at it. He collected up a quill and stared at his last journal entry. Where to begin? He hated writing almost as much as he hated talking.
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Fickle Dreams

Postby elora » Wed Dec 05, 2012 7:59 pm

For the brief pass of time, mere moments, it took for her to travel from kitchen to the living room Rin had really believed she had it all sorted out. It was done. She strode through the living room. A glance flicked towards the curtains prompted her to note the need to pull them back. The heavy fabric kept the night’s chill out, but the room needed the sun during the day. She’d do it on her way back again. In fact, Rin almost made it through to the other side of the room before a startling realisation stopped her in her tracks. The curtains! Curtains! She swung about to stare at them. Why had she not seen it before? She closed on the window and rubbed her fingers over the fabric. It was thick, plush, soft…and she was a fool! A fool! She glanced around the rest of the room. Yes…it was this. This was it…only…that chair was little closer to the hearth…and the carpet on the flagstones was at a different angle….She recalled that dream from her time in Thranduril’s care as clearly now as it had been then. That had been a Dream! A Dream! Which meant that she was all wrong about last night.

Hanasian heard the sound of furniture being moved. Frowning, he set off to explore and found his wife determinedly shoving items about in the living room. He leant against the doorway as she wrestled with a table, a familiar furrow on her brow. Her eyes were grey, calculating and weighing things up. She forced the table where she wanted it, planted her fists on her hips and scanned the other items in the room. The chair, he observed, was her next victim. It wasn’t a small chair. It was a large, well stuffed, creature. Not easy for anyone to move on their own. Not him. Certainly not her. And yet, care was needed. He cleared his throat and she ignored him, shoulder planted against the arm of the chair. He had to admit she was a good deal stronger than her delicate features suggested and she had the most tenacious, bloody minded nature he had ever encountered. That chair would move, or she’d reduce it to fire wood. He was very fond of that chair.

”Would you like some assistance,” he asked, unwise though the question was.

”No,” came her reply, predictably gruff and notes of irritation. The chair was in grave peril.

”Might I ask why you’re arguing with the living room furniture?” he continued, trying his best to take a diplomatic approach. He really liked that chair. Rin straightened and wheeled about to face him. Her face was flushed and her jaw tightly clenched.

”What?” she asked in a perilously quiet voice, a brow lifted in a challenge.

Hanasian considered his options and found himself committed to his risky path in such a way he could not now surrender it. The urge to groan was strong and it took some effort to stifle it.

Instead, he said, ”I can only presume there’s a reason for moving this furniture about. You always have them, dear heart. You are the most reason-able person I know.”

He had attempted that last to inject some levity into the brooding storm. It fell flat on its face.

”Oh…I see how it is. If I want to move things about, I need to have a reason and inform you of it before I am granted permission. And here I was thinking this was my home as much it is yours. Well, I stand corrected and thank you very much for pointing out the error of my thinking! I shall-“

Rin had not finished by a long shot when he turned about and walked away, but he had stopped listening. He shook his head as he walked away, rueful smile on his face. He should have known better…that had been the equivalent of daubing himself in pig fat and prancing naked through a den of wolves whilst hoping none of them might take a swipe at him. Perhaps five heartbeats passed before he heard her return to re-organising the living room with her secret reasons and not the slightest intention of stopping despite what she had just hurled at him. What had he been thinking?

Rin permitted herself a brief grin at her success. It would be perhaps two hours before Hanasian ventured back her way again and in that time she would have things just as they needed to be for when Loch came. He would. She knew it. Somewhere in the corner of her mind a wail that she was mad sounded. She ignored that with well practiced ease. A person wasn’t insane until other people said so. Provided she kept her reasons to herself, she was safe. Now…that couch would be the next challenge.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was close to midday by the time he finally made it through. The journey from Minas Tirith to, what was it called now? Cardolan? The journey had been no more or less difficult than usual. The season didn’t help, certainly, but there was naught to be done about that. The High King had been clear and so he had pushed ahead. He knew that he would need to show his credentials on this side of the journey. She was of high royal rank, a senior member of the High Court. He would not be permitted in to see Prince Faramir or Imrahil without credentials and Princess Erían would be no different. Should be no different. Aside from the King’s children, she stood in line to inherit the Reunited Realms. He knew there had been trouble, foul conspiracies, but he also knew that this was all done now.

So, the King’s Rider was surprised by the level of security he encountered right at the last. He had informed Cardolan’s Prefect of his presence weeks ago and he knew the man was aware of his destination and movement through the land. What had appeared to be fields in preparation for winter’s blanket had turned out to be a thick security cordon. The workers were each of them accomplished operatives and he had faced a rather difficult task of assuring them of his identity and purpose. Still, his credentials were good and ultimately the men that had been tracking him proved useful for they could vouch for him given they were in the service of the Prefect.

After that, he had been permitted to continue on down a path that became little more than a trail through the forest. A casual observer would find it hard to believe that Cardolan’s royal family resided at the end of it. Two ruts, wagon axle width apart, curved through the forest. He spotted no further sentinels there, but his instinct told him that he was under their scrutiny all the same. Up and over a little stone bridge, the stream underneath already iced thinly over along the banks. Around another corner and the trees opened out and he realised he had arrived.

He wasn’t sure what he had expected. It wasn’t a castle or a keep or a tower, though it certainly was a mannish, stone structure. Smaller buildings were scattered about, functionary things. He could hear the fall of a hammer within a stable. Smoke curled from several chimneys in the main residence. No great walls or gates, he realised. That was why the men had been so thorough. They formed the wall, and someone else would likely serve as the gate. As his gaze swung about he realised the gate may even now be approaching. A woman, he noted, and she prowled directly at him, a hand resting on her hilt and the expression on her face remote and perilous. He swallowed, kept his hands in plain view, and remained in the saddle.

”Who might you be?” she demanded suspiciously. She had long dark hair, brown eyes that he supposed could be warm if she wanted them to and that moment she clearly did not. She was small but that meant nothing. She was not a woman to turn your back on. The rider sighed for he had hoped to be quit of all of this by now.

”High King Elessar has sent me. I have tidings and an item to bestow on Princ-“

He was not in the least prepared for what the woman did. She pulled him down, nearly out of the saddle and hissed in his ear, ”Are you mad? Not so loud!”

Her response certainly silenced him and she released him and glanced about. He had no choice but to dismount. It was that or fall ingloriously on his face on the ground. Hardly befitting. He drew himself up and attempted to dust his clothing off. Tired as he was, he squared his shoulders and considered the woman. She had stepped away from the horse to peer back at the trees. Whatever she saw there made her consider him anew. He realised then that she had fabric looped around her neck. Not a scarf, for it was too light and delicate. He filed it away under a growing list of odd things in this part of the Reunited Realm. She seized his biceps and pulled him unceremoniously towards the main residence.

The house was pleasantly warm. It wasn’t easy to get his bearings and it didn’t do to appear overly curious. Still, this was the famed seat of Cardolan’s Princes. Any student of Dunedain history, such as himself, would be curious. The woman hauled him through the wide kitchen and across the living room. Another woman was in there, muttering as she tugged on a heavy carpet.

She shot up to her full height at their entry and turned about to face them. This woman was much taller and had very pale hair. Like the smaller woman, she wasn’t pleased with his presence. Unlike the smaller woman, this one’s displeasure only made even more captivating.

”Who’s this,” she demanded, voice a husky growl and he found he was smiling despite himself. He opened his mouth to introduce himself but his captor got there first.

”King’s messenger,” she answered and for some reason that just made the other woman angrier. Oh, he really wanted to know her name! However, he was pulled from the room just as she narrowed her eyes.

”Who was she?” he asked his captor and she snorted at the question.

”One of the maids,” she replied dryly as he twisted about to catch a final glimpse at the maid.

The small woman pulled him relentlessly down the hall until at last they reached what appeared to be a cavernous study. Books lined the walls, carpets strewn across the floor, a mammoth table in two of the corners. Behind one was a man the messenger presumed was none other than the famed Captain Hanasian. A man of high regard and accounted a friend of the High King. The Ranger frowned faintly at the sight presented him and stood. The woman released his biceps and stepped to one side. True to form, the Captain took in his garb. Gondor’s crest was emblazoned across his chest. Underneath it was an arrow. Not a red one, but an arrow in silver. Hanasian glanced at the woman that had taken him captive.

”Is there a problem?” he asked pointedly and she crossed her arms and cocked one hip.

”Not yet there isn’t. But if he goes around tossing fancy titles about, I’m not going to clean up the mess,” she replied.

”Does she know?”


At that the Captain sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. The woman continued on, ”Don’t worry, the lads know too. They’ll collect and return her if she makes a run for it. Want me to bring her in here when they do?”

Hanasian nodded and with that the woman departed.

”My apologies,” Hanasian murmured, coming from around the desk, ”You must be tired. The road from Minas Tirith is a long one.”

“It is, Captain. But my lord was clear that certain measures were in place for good reason. This was not entirely unexpected.”

“I presume you are here to see my wife?”

“I am, Captain. I have been asked to convey a message and bestow an item into her keeping.”

“You may wish to sit. It could be a while. Something to eat or drink?”

“Thank you, Captain. Perhaps after I have executed my orders.”

“Well, as I said, it could be a while. She may have gotten the slip on them.”

In all, it took half an hour before anyone joined them in the study. In that time, the messenger had assuaged his thirst and was eyeing small round cakes with some interest. Hanasian had returned to his desk. He was deep in thought, setting something down on parchment. The titles on the shelves were intriguing. Historical works. Elvish books. Healing. Law. Ancestry. Plants. Anatomy. Rows and rows of black leather books without a title at all. The relative peace in the study was interrupted by the sound of a man struggling with something in the hall. Heavy breathing, scuffling boots and then a surprised oath. This made Hanasian set down his quill, rise and head to the door.

”Stones, lassie! There was no call for that!” a man protested and the messenger heard a woman say something in a strange language – possibly rohirric.

Then the Captain said something in kind, voice a low rumble. The messenger thought it best he stand and as he did so, the Captain returned with another Ranger and the maid he had seen earlier. She shot him a look that would fell a Corsair but that was the worst she could do. Hanasian had a firm hold of her wrist and the other Ranger, face flushed and amusement flickering faintly in his eyes, was pressed at her back. Still, she had her heels dug in and had the floor not been made of stone, the messenger thought she’d carve furrows in floorboards. The Ranger at her back kicked the study door closed for good measure.

”I trust the windows are locked,” he asked, Hanasian nodded and the woman growled something in a different strange language.

Once they had managed to get the maid far enough into the study, the Ranger set a hand on each of her shoulders and Hanasian turned back to face her.

”Now…I’m going to let you go now, dear heart, and you are going to demonstrate the nobility of your descent and treat with this man, sent by your own kin down a long road at an inhospitable time, with dignity.”

The maid’s eyes were locked with Hanasian. Maid? No, not at all! This was none other than Princess Erían! The woman had clearly put up a fight. Dirt marked the hem of her simple dress and slippers. So, she had taken flight just as Hanasian had said she would. Remarkable! The Ranger at her back had to be Farbarad. The man plucked a twig that had caught in her tousled hair. Grudgingly she nodded when it became apparent she had no choice and Hanasian released his wife’s wrist. Her eyes slid to the windows and Farbarad’s hands tightened a little. She sighed at that but then began to smooth the folds of her skirts as she gathered her composure. When her attention fell on him, the messenger was astonished at how swiftly she had assembled her thoughts. Her expression was smooth, chin slightly lifted as if challenging him to find some fault with her. And those eyes! They glittered as though she still wanted to pull him to pieces. Remarkable!

Hanasian could not help but grin at the slightly dazed expression on the messenger’s face. He settled back at his desk and surveyed the scene. She was really doing a number on this poor, hapless man and he recalled a line of similar men, starting with his own and ending with Dhak, who had be similarly beset.

”Rosmarin…as I have said once before, stop playing with your food,” he chided and at that, she glanced at her husband and the messenger drew a breath.

”Oh, if I must. What is this urgent business that intrudes upon my peace and quiet?”

“Is that what that was in the living room? Peace and Quiet?”
inquired Farbarad dryly and the corners of her mouth twitched before they stilled again.

”Well?” she demanded, attention returning to the messenger.

Years of training kicked in and he reached for the item that had been carefully carried all this way in a pouch at his belt. She was wary as he drew forth a small bundle of black velvet. The fabric had a silvery sheen in the autumn light spilling through the windows. Locked, curse them! Aragorn’s messenger laid the little bundle in his upturned palm and with a glance at Farbarad, approached carefully carrying it before him. He extended his hand towards her and though he said nothing, his expression pleaded with her that she take it up. She did not want to and she did not know why. Still, she forced herself to collect it.

Something hard was within the soft, luxuriant folds. Curiosity tugged at her and she was easing back the material before she realised what she was doing. The messenger paused, watching long nimble fingers peel the protective layers away until it was revealed. Her breath caught in her throat and she was not the only one. In her hand was the most exquisite thing he had ever beheld. Seven brilliant diamonds curved in a bed of metal that could only be mithril. They formed an arch over a brooding sapphire fashioned into a rose. It too was couched in mithril and through cunning design, the two elements were joined together. It was worth a king’s ransom and her hand quivered, but not solely in the precious gems and metal. It’s worth lay chiefly in what it symbolised and this was where his message was needed.

The man took a step back and knelt, words memorised floating to the forefront of his mind.

”By this small token doth the High Court of the Reunited Realms of Middle Earth recognise the faithful service, sacrifice and diligence of Lochared, son of Dunland. Ever shall we stand in his debt.”

With these solemn words came silence. Hanasian stood and joined his wife. She stared at the emblem a long moment. Farbarad’s hands sank from her shoulders to her arms, a gesture of comfort now. The messenger stood and backed away. Hanasian curled her fingers around it and pressed a soft, gentle kiss to his wife’s cheek.

”Keep it for him, my love,” he whispered in Sindarin and she jerked her eyes up to meet his.

The messenger watched her search the Captain’s face, eyes roaming, and then a slow nod. He took that as his cue for the second message.

”There is more,” he said and three sets of eyes settled on him, ”High King Elessar Telcontar welcomes the tidings of the birth of your son, and acknowledges him as a Prince of Cardolan’s ancient line. Accordingly, Prince Hanavia Lochnard has been entered into the rolls as such. It is the court’s desire that they might meet Prince Hanavia at some later date, at such time as his parents deem suitable.”

Rin was frozen at this news, unable to ascertain if were good or ill. She looked up into Hanasian’s face and when he realised she was watching him he endeavoured to smile for her. He knew she was seeking reassurance.

”Well, my love, could you expect anything less? I daresay Hanavia may find more than one play mate amongst his cousins. Perhaps he might squire somewhere in the years ahead.”

“With respect, already there is speculation where he might,”
the messenger added and Rin frowned at that so he amended, ”If that indeed is what his parents wish for him.”

“If the court means to instruct his parents what to wish for their son-“
Rin began, voice crystalline cold and the messenger shook his head.

”The court does not presume, your Highness!”

Her eyes flashed at that but, with a murmur from Hanasian, she relented and accepted what had been said. Rin’s eyes dropped to the emblem she yet held and then she drew a breath.

”My apologies…you must think me ungracious and uncouth,” she said, any loftiness vanished from her demeanour, and the messenger bowed to demonstrate no offense had been taken. His lord had instructed him most carefully on what to expect once certain matters were broached.

”Will you stay or must you return?” she asked next and with that she managed to surprise him anew.

One minute she had been ready to run into the wilds to avoid him, the next she had been willing to tear him to pieces to defend her child and now she was inviting him to stay! In the royal seat of Cardolan’s Princes. The historian in him was bouncing up and down excitedly like a child.

”Perhaps one night. My horse is weary,” he answered, for his time was not entirely his own, and he found that the only thing better than how she looked when irritable was her smile.

As it turned out, the messenger remained several nights and they sent him off with a fresh horse. He left with full saddle bags and many memories. Cardolan…a strange place indeed.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Fri Dec 28, 2012 7:03 pm

Once they had Dhak settled in a basement of a storehouse, Videgavia had given permission for Rose and Lady Anvikela to live together in a stately, well-guarded room in the building that Videgavia had taken as his command centre. Barika remained there as well, as did Berlas. The rest of the Old Company had taken the ground level, meaning anyone entering the building would have to pass that gauntlet first. While Wulgof, Mulgov, and Khule worked at getting all creature comforts available in place, to those unfamiliar with these men the gathering was a formidable one. All hard bitten warriors, impassive, coldly appraising, always armed. As far as comforts went, there was a notable gap. There was little to drink. A local sour drink did little to numb their senses, and it didn’t taste good to boot. Mulgov went to work on trying to remedy this problem, but the mood on the ground floor was all the more dour for this lack.

The two sisters had little time to rest and talk with each other since their reunion. Their thoughts had centred on the Sanctuary and those within it. The spectre of a return to imprisonment behind the thick walls loomed. Despite this, the promises made to them by the Company were not forgotten and with the day’s passing an evening to speak in peace was theirs. Peace, but not privacy, for Berlas and Barika both stood guard. They watched the sisters prepare the room to suit themselves. When this was done, the two women stood and regarded each other steadily. Their arms lifted from their sides and they clasped forearms, still gazing into the other’s eyes. A long moment passed before this embrace closed and they drew together. In a language of their own, the sisters whispered to each other.

Anvikela said, ”Beloved sister, it has been too long since I have seen you, and longer still since I could reveal myself so.”

Rose pressed a soft kiss to her sister’s cheek, ”This is freedom. We must cherish it, as we should those who have provided it to us.”

”Yes, I do. And yet I feel I betray the trust that was placed in us. This defies all that we have been taught.”

“Yes sister. We were taught not to feel. We were not permitted to feel. Despite that, did you not have feelings that you wished to express? There was no trust placed in us, only obligation.”

Anvikela considered this a moment before saying more.

”When the wizard, the high priestess, and our beloved sister died, I felt the release of the restraints that had surrounded us. It came to me that I was the eldest now, and so I had to control things as our sister had before me.

“I wished to return home as badly as I wanted to stay way. I am glad that I led these westerners here and have aided them. I have been re-united with you my dear sister. But now…. They wish to meet with the Mothers. This bodes ill. I know not what insights these westerners will draw from such an encounter.

“I feel lost, divided. I must go to help them and at the least shield their minds. They have no means of protection otherwise. I don’t know if I have the power to shield them and shield your presence.”

Rose cut in urgently, ”Embrace this freedom and live! Go with them and protect them. I will shield myself. I think I can do this.”

Anvikela smiled at her sister’s words and tightened her embrace, “We will stand united in this, sister. I suspect yours is the wisdom in this matter. You remain here, well guarded. If they find you, there will be many warriors to shield you.”

Rose kissed her sister again and drew back to hold her hands within her own, Anvikela on her cheek and then held her hands. She said, ”We should remain with the westerners. We must remain strong for their sake.”

Anvikela let her eyes slip briefly to where Berlas stood before she returned her gaze to her sister’s.

”We must work on our powers together. As one, we have proven we possess the abilities the High Wizard said we might. Together we will continue to grow, two instead of three, for our beloved sister who fell.”

Rose nodded, whispered, ”For our beloved sister. You know what we must do.”

Berlas and Barika watched intently as the two women spoke earnestly with each other. Barika seemed impassive but Berlas was ill at ease. His concern rose as the whispering continued, and yet he could sense no ill will seeping from the sisters. Groundless, baseless suspicion only, he knew, and yet such instincts had kept his skin intact more than once before. Were his eyes cheating him or did the air shimmer faintly, like a silvery nimbus, around the two women? He narrowed his eyes to get a better view and as soon as he did that, the effect disappated and left him standing there squinting at nothing like a benighted fool. The two women linked arms and approached him. Berlas braced himself for whatever was next.

It was Avienkala who spoke, ”As I offered earlier, we will aid you as we can. We have decided to accept the offers made to us by members of your Company. This sort of camaraderie is new to us, the feelings it stirs are strange. Still, we thank you for your generosity.

“But I warn you again, and my sister agrees. Meeting the Mothers will be dangerous!”

Berlas motioned Barika to fetch Videgavia and she set out promptly to get him, please to be away from the room in truth. Dwimmer-folk made her nervous, be they Elf or Mortal, like any decent man or woman of the Mark. In her absence, Berlas Cap should be talking to the girls. Barika set out promptly to get him. Meanwhile Berlas asked questions on what offer had been made to the two sisters. He learnt then that Loch had made the very offer to Rose that Videgavia had made to Anvikela. It was an offer that would be honoured. The Company rules in place under Videgavia’s captaincy were no different to those established by the Black’s first captain, Hanasian. The two sisters represented the Company’s best hope of returning home. They were easiest to protect within their ranks. Much easier. Provided they followed orders. Unlike the first woman they had taken into the number.

Videgavia arrived with a scant number of direct questions. The sisters appeared to answer well enough for his liking. It was done. The Company had two new members. As such, the sisters were permitted to venture into the areas of the city the Company ahd secured in the same way any other member was to venture out – in other words, never alone and never unarmed. They could also receive visitors, provided they were screened. The Company had learnt a great deal about members of rank or note from Rosmarin’s presence. In fact, they’d learnt faster than she had, but that was solely down to her refusal to engage in what she denounced as the bad habits of nobility. The two sisters were much as Rosmarin had been. While not of royal blood, they were of rank and they were precious indeed to the Black as it was through them that the Black would return home.

For that reason, Dhak and those few men that had defected with him back in Rhun were not permitted near the sisters. In the unlikely event that any local people emerged to seek the sisters, they would only be admitted if the sisters wished to see them. It was near impossible to understand the undercurrents of this strange place. Videgavia was resolved to permit the sisters to know who was fair or foul, for they had the experience the Black lacked and they have proven themselves trustworthy in ways Dhak had not. Yes, Dhak was a problem. The more he thought on it, the more of a problem Dhak became to Videgavia and the further away a solution appeared.

A day passed before Videgavia assembled the Old company, Khor and his second. The sisters were there as well, seated by Berlas and holding each other’s hand. It was their situation that Videgavia wished to discuss. He began:

”We’ve had an interesting time here. We have secured the docks down to the southern point through to Khor and his cadre of men. We hold all the high buildings still intact, meaning all available vantages within the city. There appears to be little by way of organized armies to oppose us. In fact, there are few inhabitants at all. We are not, however, an invading or occupying force.

“Loch and Runner have carried out long range patrols and we’ve learnt that most of the people surviving this cataclysm have gone far to the south or east, over mountains that lie there. We lack the number to press farther, but we have recruited a few locals who seem to welcome our presence to keep watch for us in the event that this exodus returns.”

Vidigavia coughed, for this was a lot of talking, and eased his dry throat with water. As he did so, he prepared himself for the next nugget of truth. This would be sour tidings indeed for many of those gathered around him.

”It will come as no surprise to you that our ship will never be seaworthy again. It barely limped to port. Until we secure other means, this place will be our home-”

“About that… We may have a solution,”
Donius cut in and Videgavia shot a sharp glance at the man.

Donius bent to whisper furiously with Runner, before he pushed on, ”Our long range recon lads have found something that is of interest to us.”

Videgavia waited for the engineer to say more. When he didn’t, Videgavia pointedly cleared his throat and said, ”Would you like to enlighten us? Or does this require a private talk?”

Donius blinked, looked around at everyone gathered to be certain, and said, ”I think it concerns us all, so don’t see any harm in talking here.”

“Very well then. Please tell us,”
Videgavia said, reigning his impatience in. This was potentially good news. A way home and someone else to do the talking.

Donius approached where Videgavia stood and addressed the group.

”Runner’s squad has found another ship. I’ve only managed a brief look at it thus far. It’s a fair ship, newer but smaller. It looks like it was never quite completed. Now we can up and move ourselves down south where this ship sits, but that will bring considerable attention to our movements. I’m thinking we can send a team down and maybe nudge it up here so we can get it ready in our secured port.”

This prompted waves of whispered speculation throughout the room. The sisters traded a look and Anvikela said something to Rose in their language. With Dhak and his men absent, there was no one to interpret what passed between them. Videgavia clapped his hands together to quell the quiet discussion.

”This is good news. Donius, is there any chance the ship won’t be there in say a week’s time, maybe two?”

“It doesn’t seem to have moved in quite some time,”
Donius replied with a shrug.

Videgavia nodded, ”In that case, the Black has its long-term project.”

Smiles, fierce and bright, blossomed around the room. A way home. There’d be no shortage of willing hands for that project. But this was not all that concerned the Black Company and so Videgavia pressed on with more immediate concerns.

”Right now we need to deal with this Sisterhood. We’re unsure what they want, and Dhak has told us precious little. Loch has mapped out the terrain around their keep. We will be hard pressed to mount a watch around all sides with the people available to us. However, I will be sending a message to them in the hope of meeting with them. Maybe after that we will have some understanding of their intentions.”

“It will be a danger, to you and all of the Company,” Anvikela said clearly and Rose nodded beside her.

Videgavia answered, ”Very likely. That is why I am going. And you two ladies will accompany me.”

Rose looked concerned, ”We cannot… will not go inside the gates. If we do, we will be lost!”

“My sister is correct Captain. Inside the walls, their power is strong. Even remaining beyond the walls but near will tax our strength. My sister and I must prepare for whatever it is you wish to attempt.”

Videgavia nodded, aware that he now had a few options to weigh up.

”We won’t go in. We may not even get close. From all we have seen thus far, it appears this Sisterhood of yours has no desire or ability to disrupt us. We’ll wait until they reach out to us directly. When we do go, we will bring them food. In the mean time, you two ladies work together to prepare whatever it is you need to prepare. You’re part of this Company now, and we are going to need you both.”

The two sisters nodded and appeared pleased with this. Videgavia continued to consider his various paths. He wanted to send an expedition to the east but couldn’t risk it with the Sisterhood in their midst, dormant – for now. He needed to secure the southern approach so they could salvage this ship. It was obvious that the seamen would have to go, along with one or both Daius and Donius. His thoughts came together in a new configuration.

”A change in plan. We will send those who can bring the ship back here. Berlas will lead this party with several soldiers to keep a perimeter secure while the work is done. We will use Runner’s squad to keep in contact. Runner will go, Loch will stay. You two coordinate the messaging on either end. Anything happens, I want to know about it.

“Donius, you will be in charge of getting the work done. How long do you think it will take to get the ship up here?”

“I cannot say until I get a proper look inside the hull,” Donius replied, despite the fact he was already making calculations based on what little he had seen.

”Very well. The first message I get back will be an estimate on time. Take who you need and be ready to move tomorrow night.

“Berlas, take Khule and some of his men with you. Khor, we’ll keep you and your men in place here and the remaining Company will continue to maintain the cordon and watch.

"We’ll limit our patrols around the Keep, but with Avienkala and Rose onto that front, I doubt little will surprise from that front.

“That’s it. I’ve said more than enough for a week. If you’ve questions, bring them to me directly. Dismissed!”

The room buzzed with talk almost immediately. People either milled about or left for their own quarters. Barika escorted the two sisters to their room and sat outside to keep watch. The night passed calmly, the Company preoccupied with the tasks ahead. Dawn was a grey and misty affair. A morning storm pushed in from the sea and transformed the mist into a grey curtain of rain. The pervasive dust became mud that coated ground, gear, clothing and skin alike.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The clouds gathered around the hill. The beacons were dimmed and struggled against the murk to give off light. The Mother sat, shoulders bowed and head in her hands as the weather set in. This winter would be a cold one. Would it gnaw their bones too? An attendant Sister reluctantly approached the ageing woman. So many calamities sat on her too thin shoulders as it was. And yet, this was too important.

”We have a problem, Mother. The two sisters have joined in a bond. We do not control them. We can only hope now that Dhak succeeds in winning these westerners to our cause. Through them we may return to some control. The Sisters, doubt, Mother that this will come to pass.”

Control. The old woman heard the ghost of the Order whisper through the younger woman’s words. Control. Her face hidden by her hands, a mirthless smile lifted the corners of her mouth. How arrogant, how foolish to think survival lay now in the failed paths of the past. Could they ever change? She was one woman. Ever the Sisters would whisper, it seemed, of control.

“We must send word to the westerners. Commander Dhak was not the right choice for messenger,” the Sister said when it seemed that Mother would not answer her.

Behind her hands the old woman closed her eyes and let her silence drift on a few moments yet. When she spoke it, her voice was as thin as paper.

”Dhak was only one of our messengers. Others have been sent. Only time will tell. Patience, Sister, for time will not be controlled by our will alone.”

The old woman did not glance up from her hands. She heard the rustle of robes as the younger woman bowed, then the diminishing sound of footfall as she withdrew. The Mother sighed and let her mind drift anew. The fog that gathered without seemed to settle within her skull all the thicker with each passing hour.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The party heading for the ship slipped out in the darkness of that night. They found the abandoned ship was as they had left it; virtually un-manned except for the two men that had been left to walk its deck. At times, one of the men would go below and make some noise just to keep anyone close with curious ears something to hear. Khule pushed his perimeter out another block and secured all routes in. This was the limit of his manpower. The streets beyond their line became wider and the alleys numerous. He could keep the few blocks around the docks well enough, but he planned his withdrawal all the same should Videgavia choose to move or should some unknown force emerge from those wide streets and numerous alleys.

The weeks passed and the work Donius soon began to show. There was much to be done, as before. However, unlike their old ship, this one had not been battered by the sea. His estimate was that within the second month, they could set it out to sea and nurse it to the secured docks. Meanwhile things remained deserted. This did nothing to ease Khule’s habitual suspicion. His guards patrolled now and again in search of anything that might be of use. Little was to be found, but it kept them busy, sharp and fought indolence and boredom. When the time came that Donius decided to try and sail her, the last two messengers were sent to the docks to give Videgavia word. If all went well, they planed to arrive in two days.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Fri Dec 28, 2012 10:33 pm

He really was paying attention. It was just that he had split his attention in two directions, at first. One was on the empty street in front of him. The other was far to the west. What sort of reception would he get when he showed up, alive. She’d be happy, but she didn’t like surprises. Of any sort. He’d have to pick his approach carefully. Preferably when she was empty handed. More likely to survive her initial reaction that way. With that sorted out, Loch’s divided thoughts turned in the direction of Rose. How had she done that? Was it real? Why did she say he had taken her dancing? He didn’t know how to dance! Just never had the time to learn, what with all demands of surviving as a homeless child with a sister to care for occupying his time. Mind you, dancing had always looked enjoyable. Rin certainly liked it. He had no idea where she picked it up from, but then she was always doing that. Dancing, reading, writing…she just learnt things he never seemed to have the time for. Maybe he’d learn…and take Rose dancing.

Loch felt a grin creep over his face that did not belong to a scout standing vigil. He swiftly put it away and let his eyes slide briefly to where Wulgof was hunkered down over his heels. The other man hadn’t noticed the lapse. Loch inwardly breathed a sigh of relief and reunited his divided attention on his duty. The street was still numbingly empty. Nothing to report. This was the dull side of service. It wasn’t all battles and secret missions, and exploding buildings. There was lots of waiting around, for hours and hours. Beside him, Wulgof was scratching down notes on a grubby piece of paper. He’d been ridiculously secretive about it. Loch could hear the sound of the other man writing and resisted the urge to sneak a peek. He couldn’t without taking his eyes off the watch and that would earn him a jab in the nose. Curiosity itched at him relentlessly.

”You know, I can’t hardly smell the mud anymore. I don’t know what Sparks is grumbling about,” Loch commented as he eyed a drying mud puddle some distance from the place they’d selected as their vantage.

”All that means is that you’re in sore need of a bath,” Wulgof muttered, grinning at the irony of one Dunlander saying that to another.

Loch scowled, ”You sound like my sister.”

That made Wulgof scowl in his own turn. No man wanted to be told he sounded like a woman. Particularly that woman. He turned his ire back to his list. It was near enough done. He thrust it at Loch.

”Here,” Wulgof grunted and stared out at the street as Loch looked down at his offered fist, ”Take it. I know you’ve been itching to see it.”

There was no point denying that, so Loch accepted the paper and inspected what was on it.

”What’s this?”

“A list,”
Wulgof answered

Just as Loch opened his mouth to offer an incisive observation, Wulgof continued, ”Of all the things your sister stole from us.”

At that, Loch’s mouth snapped shut with an audible click and he considered the list anew. It was quite a list. Oh, she’d been busy. She’d even fingered Videgavia! The urge to laugh warred with a deep seated peverse pride and the instinct of self preservation. From Wulgof’s expression, it was no laughing matter at all.

”They’re all Old Company names,” Loch remarked.

”Lucky, lucky, us,” Wulgof bit off.

”But not everyone. Bear…Foldine…Frea and Folca are missing, as are others…”

“Everyone knows she has a soft spot for those first two, as for Frea and Folca…I don’t know why she let Frea off... He weren’t no nicer to her than I was…”

Loch blinked at Wulgof’s comment. It was clear that the man did not understand and when he said as much, Wulgof’s expression darkened. For all of that, he kept his attention out on the street where it belonged.

”Oh, I understand well enough, Kid. She’s a thief! A dirty, rotten, thief, through and though. Can’t help herself, and she picks on those she don’t much like. Anyone who ain’t sweet as honey, anyone she can’t wrap around her fingers, anyone she has a grudge with. Anyone-“

“That she wants an excuse to see again,”
Loch cut in and Wulgof shook his head.

”Do you really think she’d not settle a grudge directly? Really?”

“It ain’t right!”
Wulgof persisted and Loch sighed at that and glanced back at the list.

”No, probably not…but it’s the best way she knows to remember you by. I dare say she’d hope that you’d not just let her get away with it. She’d never admit that she wanted to see you again, never let you see that. The Old Company names missing are those that went west with Hanasian. I wager their packs are a little lighter for it as well.”

“And I say that’s garbage and lies. You’re just trying to defend her. Everyone knows she didn’t care for most of us, mostly for no other reason than the fact that we’re soldiers. Everyone. This is just her way of spitting in our eye, one last time. Why would she want to see us again?”

“Because she misses you. You’ve muscled your way in, carved out a space in her life, and she misses you. Simple as that.”

Wulgof asked, his attention swung back to consider the other scout.

Loch nodded and lifted one shoulder, ”She’ll never admit it, but I know it to be true.”

That rendered Wulgof speechless. He was still offended, angry…but…but if that were true. If she really would miss them…then-

”Sauron’s Balls! Where’d that come from?” Loch exclaimed and Wulgof flinched.

That turned out to be a waif of a child, perhaps seven years of age, clad in a tattered shroud and little else. The girl stood in the middle of the street, bare feet visible beneath the ragged hem of her rough garb. Her hair hung in matted strands and fell carelessly around her shoulders to her elbows. She merely stood and stared at them with eyes as dark as her hair and far too large for her face. Her appearance and the fact that it had happened without warning had Wulgof thinking she was some sort of apparition or mirage.

”Mirage? I thought they only happened in the desert,” Loch scoffed and as if in response to his words, the mirage swayed and collapsed in the street.

”Mirages certainly don’t pass out, do they?” Loch asked.

Wulgof was already rising to his feet and edging out into the open warily. He saw no trace of anyone on the roof or in the windows or doors.

”No, neither do apparitions,” Wulgof replied and together the two men approached the child.

The hubbub roused Videgavia from the seemingly endless procession of reports. He left his desk gladly, fingers cramped from writing, to see what it was about. He located the source of the disturbance and was unsurprised to find the two Dunlendings in the midst of it all. If there was trouble to be had, Dunlendings were rarely far away in his experience. Sparks was with them and appeared to have a large bundle of dun coloured rags in his arms. When a limp, small hand fell down between his elbow and torso, Videgavia realised with a start that the medic held a child! He was barking at those around him to clear some space and Wulgof and Loch were manhandling those away that did not move smartly enough.

”What’s this?” Videgavia asked, arriving as Sparks set the child down on some hastily folded blankets.

Loch and Wulgof glanced at each other an instant. Videgavia’s sharp eyes did not miss that look or a piece of paper that Loch had stuffed under his belt.

”It’s, ah…a child,” Wulgof started lamely and Videgavia’s eyes narrowed.

”A girl,” Sparks provided, ”Half starved.”

“Just walked up to us and collapsed. Not a word said,”
Loch added fast.

”No messenger from Donius?”

At Videgavia’s question, Loch’s eyes widened and he spun about on his heel with an oath. Wulgof trudged off after him, grumbling all the way. With a shake of his head, Videgavia returned his attention to the girl. Sparks was a capable medic, but rarely had he displayed such care as he did now. He had uncorked a water skin and was trickling water into the child’s mouth.

”Her skin’s awfully slack,” he said as Bells hunkered down on the other side.

”Slowly then…she’ll not have the strength to swallow properly.”

“I’m not about to choke her,”
Sparks snapped irritably.

”I was wondering when it would begin,” Berlas remarked at Videgavia’s shoulder. The Ithilien Ranger had just arrived and was studying the child with cool appraisal. When he was finished, he considered his captain with a grim expression.

”We can’t take them all, Cap. Bound to be hundreds of them about here, hiding until the desperation gets too sharp. We don’t have the supplies for all this city’s urchins. And who’s to say they are urchins? What if their parents come looking for them, angry about the foreign army holding their child captive?”

None of this was new to Videgavia. He was about to say so when Rose slipped through the press and uttered a name in surprise. At that, the girl’s eyes opened enough so that a thin, gleaming sliver could be glimpsed through her lashes. The girl managed a few garbled words, as best Videgavia could tell for she spoke the same language that Rose and Avienkala and Dhak did. Rose seemed utterly startled but collected herself well enough to turn to where Berlas and Videgavia stood.

”She’s a messenger. The messenger you’ve been waiting for,” Rose said and began to walk away.

”What do they want?” Videgavia called after her.

”I must go! We must prepare!” Rose called back, jogging now towards her room.

”Get that girl inside. I want her conscious and coherent,” Videgavia ordered and the two medics nodded.

That did not come to pass until dusk. This time Anvikela emerged and what Videgavia had been waiting for finally emerged.

”They wish to meet, neutral ground. Parley, as I think it is said in your tongue,” Anvikela said from her position on the side of the cot. The girl was hunkered down against her, under the woman’s arm. She refused to look any of the men in the eye.


“When best suits you, Captain,”
Avienkela stated.

As it turned out, the time that best suited Videgavia was the time that Donius’ messengers arrived to say that the ship was some two days away from port. The messengers had expected to be joyously welcomed. He brought fine tidings indeed. Instead, they found that nearly everyone was somewhere else and he relayed his tidings without any of the jubilation to Loch. The scout eyed them from the large bucket of potatoes he was peeling. No one abandoned a post without consequences in Videgavia’s Company. Loch glanced over at Wulgof, who was wielding his knife with savage efficiency.

”Did you hear that?”

“I heard…we’re going home. About time too, since they took all the good food with them for that damn parley. Wish they took these potatoes with them.”

Loch sighed and dismissed the messengers for some rest. After the men had gone, Wulgof growled, ”This is all your sister’s fault. I wouldn’t of been so rattled as to make an amateur’s mistake were it not for her. Confounded woman!”

Loch grunted his agreement. Thousands of miles away, Rin still managed to get him into trouble.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Wed Jan 02, 2013 9:08 pm

In the west of Rohan on the green fields northwest of the River Adorn, where its waters calmed from their rush from the White Mountains, there was a stately house. It was the estate of Forcwyn of Rohan, mother to Halcwyn and Hanasian. It was here that Forcwyn lived out her last years and now rested within its grounds, and it was here that Halcwyn made her home with her husband Enedoth, and their children. Enedoth and her sons had gone to Edoras to market some of their horses and Halcwyn had stayed to attend the horses. This is was not uncommon, for Halcwyn did not care over much for Edoras.

That night the moon shone on the quiet land and lent the fields a silvery sheen. Halcwyn lay sleeping as the moonlight wove through with the trees outside. The dappled silver light danced over her sleeping face as her dreams flowed.

”M’lady, youngest and dearest of my children. You who I knew the least! Word comes from your brother….”

Halcwyn whispered in her sleep. The old Ranger appeared to her as she remembered him from long ago and she had been three years old. However, when she peered closer, she discovered he was older and rugged. As she watched, the vision faded and she glimpsed him dancing with her mother, much younger again.

His voice whispered, ”You need to see your brother.”

Halcwyn started awake and found she was breathing hard. Her skin felt damp and it was difficult to draw breath. She stood and crossed to the window. Beyond she could see the moonlight filtered by the trees. Her initial alarm began to recede. The coolness of the autumn night made her shiver. Halcwyn pulled on a robe and went out to the door of the house. She opened it to look up at the full moon properly. It softened, faded from view as passing clouds raced by. Snow would come soon.

”My brother…" she whispered, ”I have not heard from you in over a year. You were coming, but you were delayed. Where now has the King sent you?”

The wind tugged at the robe around her and tangled her hair about her face. Tears sprang up then and she turned and went back into her house. There were no answers to be had from the moon, as ever. Halcwyn tried unsuccessfully to sleep for the remainder of the night and, until dawn blushed the east, managed a fitful slumber at best. However, once the sun had arrived she fell into a deep sleep and was not awoken until she heard banging on the door to the house.

Fuddled and disorientated by sleep, she arose and went to it to find one of the men who worked on the estate standing there. Halrad ducked his cap off and held it in his hands before him

”M’lady, pardon my annoyance, but I worried when you did not come.”

“Be not alarmed, Halrad. I slept unevenly last night and no more than that,”
Halcwyn answered and that didn’t seem to calm Halrad down in the least.

”Well, I hope you are ready to entertain a visitor, m’lady. There is a man here to see you. Asked for you by name,” Halrad said uncomfortably.

Halcwyn asked, ”It is likely about some horses. Are you sure he is not here to see Enedoth my husband?”

“No m’lady. He asked for you by name. And I doubt it has to do with horses. He is clad in worn black leathers and has a device on his vest I do not recognize. But he is fair haired as one of the Rohirrim, and wears our riding cloak.”

Halcwyn wrapped herself with her cloak and stepped outside to see for herself. This man Halred had spoken of stood by the fence that ran along the track to the house. He was feeding his horse a carrot, unconcerned. When he noticed Halcwyn’s approach with Halrad, the carrot was gone, his horse was happy and so he stood straight and tall as he thought he should. To Halcwyn he appeared to be a proud soldier and even as she neared the wind pushed his cloak aside and reveal the device Halrad had mentioned. She recognised it immediately as that of the Black Company and as she paused, the man bowed. She noted that he held a leather binding like that used by her brother Hanasian for his journals. A clutching fear gripped her and she found then that she knew what this man had come to say. He was here to report that Hanasian had perished. The man looked on with concern as the woman’s face went a chalky white.

”State your business to Lady Halcwyn of Westmarch. And be swift, for she is unwell,” Halrad said sharply, alarm and a loyal protectiveness rendering him unusually terse.

The man bowed slightly to Halrad in acknowledgement and turned to the lady who stood frozen, clutching her cloak closed against the wind.

”M’lady, I am Fordwine of Rohan. I come bearing news of your brother. Rest assured that when I last saw him, he was quite well!”

Halcwyn felt her head spin a little and released the breath she did not know she had been holding. She blinked, the sun now very bright. News she always had feared did not come today.

She stepped nearer to Fordwine and asked, ”You know my brother? Tell me, where might I find him?”

“I do not know for certain m’lady, for it has been some time since I have seen him. It was in the eastern lands of Rhun. I served for a time under his command of the Black Company when it rode east. I was wounded in battle there, but remained with the Company for a time. When I departed with the King’s men, unable to serve, Hanasian gave me some items to deliver to you personally.”

Fordwine held forward the leather binding that was filled with parchments. Halcwyn reached for them but pulled her hand back. Dark clouds were streaming, pushed and whipped by the wind.

She said, ”It is foolish to be standing out here in this wind and threatening rain. I have forgotten my hospitality. Will you come inside and take some tea and biscuits? You must be hungry after your long travels.”

Fordwine bowed and said, ”Yes, it has been a long road. It is not easy to get here through the mountains in summer, moreso now with the first snows on the high track from Westfold threatening.”

Halcwyn turned nodded and at that Halrad tended to Fordwine’s horse. The two started to walk back to the house and Halcwyn said, “You know that way? It is known by so few, and most of that few live here in Westmarch. My husband and sons travelled that way to Edoras to the grand fair. He will return by the Isen.”

Fordwine paused before the door, saying, ”Perhaps, then, it would be best if I remained here, outside.”

Halcwyn turned to look at him in confusion. After a moment, a smile grew and then a laugh. Such courtesy! From a soldier, and member of the Black Company. None of them were evil men, but so few of them were so well schooled in social conduct as this Fordwine was.

Still smiling, she said, ”Do not concern yourself with such matters, Fordwine of the Black Company. If your intentions were ill, no such consideration would have occurred to you. Our neighbours are no less than a league away and Halrad over there regularly takes his lunch with me. I only wish I had fresh biscuits to offer you, for the ones I have I baked a day ago.”

They went in and sat at a table that looked out over the field that reached to the river. The biscuits were a treat for Foldwine, and he said as much but did not wish to speak of what fare they had to sup on while on his long journeys with the Company. The tea he found to be hot and fragrant, as it should be.

Halcwyn said, ”So you had something my brother wished to have you give me? I would receive it now, if I may.”

Fordwine set his empty tea cup down and reached for the binding he had tucked back into his jerkin. He set it on the table before her and said, ”They are letters he had written to you while he was away. There were so few reliable opportunities to send them. Even in sending them with me, they took a long route, and were delayed. I needed time in Minas Tirith to fully recover and heal from my injuries. Have you received any letters from him recently?”

“I have, but not recently. I must go and find the last one, but I recall its thrust well enough. My brother had met a girl and he spoke of falling in love, of all things! I’ve written one or two for him since, but I do not know if he receives them. I send them to Bree, in the care of the Inn of the Prancing Pony.”

Halcwyn had a fond smile on her face as she brushed the leather with her hand and toyed with the leather binding.

Fordwine stood, ”I am certain, then, that you will discover much in these. I will leave you to read, for I must be away.”

Halcwyn stood and asked, ”Will you not stay and rest for a time?”

“No m’lady,”
Fordwine demurred, ”If I ride now, I will reach the Isen by nightfall. I wish to see my home again in Westfold. I only stayed there a day on my way here.”

She thanked him for the news of Hanasian, even though it was many months old, and he thanked her for the biscuits and tea and went to find his horse. The creature was contentedly grazing at the grass that grew around the fence posts, having demolished already the few mouthfuls of hay that Halrad had set out for him. Fordwine found his mouth was not at all eager to be away, quite happy with things here at the estate. Still, he consented to having Fordwine in the saddle again for Fordwine was good to him and had, only recently, given him a sweet carrot. Fordwine lifted a hand in parting and, watching from the house, Halcwyn went back to her table and opened the binding.

Letters were stacked and sorted by date. She read through them, smiling on occasion, and frowning now and again. With her dream still in her mind, she considered his words as she went searching for the letters he had sent before. She also found a map he had made her of the lands west of the Misty Mountains, and she studied it closely. As she did, an urgent sense to see her brother grew within her.

Halcwyn spent the next days preparing for her journey. When Enedoth and the boys arrived, he questioned the wisdom of travelling so far with winter coming on. Autumn was nearly done.

”You have told me you never wished to travel north before, not since you returned here with your mother. Why do you wish to go now, when the rains and the icy winds from the north come?” Enedoth asked.

Halcwyn replied, ”I have word that he has settled in the north, west by the sea with a wife and now a child on the way. His child is likely born now. I want to see him! I want to meet his wife and child.”

“Then wait until spring after the snow melts and the rivers calm. Then we can take horses north. I hear a fair Midsummers market is at a town called Bree. We can sell and then go west,”
Enedoth counselled, trying to calm her father’s restless spirit in her.

Halcwyn was silent and wished for a moment that she had left before Enedoth and her sons had returned. But she realized how foolish that would have been. She embraced him then nodded. They would journey north in the next year. A concession she had gotten from herself, and Enedoth. He never wanted to go to the market in Bree before.

She said, ”You are wise to point out my folly to go now alone to the north. I do not doubt my ability to make it to where I want, but I cannot leave you to tend to our sons and horses alone. I will write to my brother and send it to him in Bree. I am sure he, or someone he trusts, will be through to collect it. May he get it before we arrive next year.”

“I am sure word will find him,”
Enedoth answered and wondered whether this wife and child had tempered the brother of his wife. Hanasian had seemed a little…unsettled, restless, as if he was troubled by dark memories that might claim him at a moment’s notice, to uncertain effect on those around him including the sister that loved him so.

They settled into their evening, and after dinner and the boys went to bed, Enedoth fell into a deep sleep in his wife’s embrace. Halcwyn slept a little at first, but awoke again in the night. The moon’s dappled light danced about through the window and she walked to the table where she had collected the parchments and map. She began to pen a letter to her brother in her unique flowing Tengwar script.

Dear brother,

I hope this finds you, and finds you well. I received your letters a few days ago, delivered by a man named Fordwine who served with your Company in the east. It is only now that I know that you have married, taken this Rosmarin to wife and, more, that you had a child on the way. All going well, and judging by the dates of your letters, I presume that your child has now arrived and will be growing swiftly as ever they do.

Yet it was the night before Fordwine arrived that I had a dream. Father appeared to me and stirred my rebel spirit. When we spoke of such things with mother when we were young, I remember her instruction to remain vigilant and keep this spirit in check. Despite this, I was so close to riding out to find you on my own, leaving mother’s house and my sons and my husband behind. I fought to control it, and after three days, Enedoth returned with the boys from Edoras. He spoke simple wisdom to me and we now will be in Bree for the Midsummer market.

After, we will ride to where you live, if we should be able to find it. I wish to meet Rosmarin. Your letters are filled with the love you bear her. A remarkable thing, my brother, that you have found that which I had long hoped you might. I wish to see your child. I have your map, but little Haltheod likes to look at it and I have found it misplaced at times. It will be worth its weight in fine gold to guide us, for I have not travelled the Greenway in the years since mother brought us to Rohan. If you find yourself in Bree for Midsummer, or have someone there to guide us, it will be a blessing. I look forward to seeing you again dear brother, for it has been too many years. Our meeting will be far glader this time. I promise this.

Love to you dear brother,

Your little sister Halcwyn

She rested her pen and lay her head down on her arms upon the table. She was so tired and it will be so long before they set out. But knowing that some adventure was coming stirred her restless heart, and she smiled at that, rose and slipped back to bed. Too soon would the morning light come, and the boys always awoke early.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Wed Jan 02, 2013 10:18 pm

The waiting was always the worst. Videgavia knew that some mastered the art of remaining calm, aloof and detatched during such periods. The best he had managed was to appear that way. Behind his eyes, while he waited, all the better alternatives he hadn’t thought of before jockeyed for his attention. This only happened when it was too late to take any of these alternatives up. He checked a sigh and glanced with some irritation at his surrounds. One final check. The men were in position and the supplies remained to his right, just behind him. A lot of supplies. This had better be worth it, he thought. Hungry men with weapons….this had better be worth it.

That thought made him glance to where Berlas and Barika stood. A small coterie of a men stood around Avienkala. Avienkala looked nervous as she stared at the thick, imposing walls. Well, not quite as imposing as once they had been, Videgavia supposed, given they were now riven with cracks. Still, the bronze gates were massive and impressive and, given the hinges that supported them, more than bronze.

The men of the Order that had been sent to Rhun had steel and iron. Their weapons were not crude or ineffectual. Nor were their methods. This Order had mounted a small invasion force comprised of ruthless and highly trained soldiers with sophisticated armour and weapons. They had used this to mount a vicious attack that fell on the Black Company Healer when it could not find its original target, the High King. Videgavia remembered that fearful, rain soaked day when the sky appeared to crack asunder and Rin toppled from the saddle with a sickening thud to thrash upon the ground as if she was being torn apart by wolves. The Black had only prevailed due to the defection of Khor and Dhak and the information they provided and Loch’s assault on the true power of the Order.

And here he was, with a formidable yet much smaller force, and food. Videgavia rolled his shoulders. Worst case scenario, they’d die here where they now stood. Best case, he had a lot of talking to do. Videgavia was unaware he was staring at Avienkala until she turned her attention to him. With a steady look, she inclined her head and then came the rumour of the gates that were more than just bronze opening. Leather creaked as men tightened their grip instinctively and took a deep breath. Videgavia flexed his fingers and felt the joints pop.

He watched a small procession issue from the gates. Seven figures, all robed and cowled in a rich brown, belted with copper. Their hands were concealed in the sleeves of their robes, clasped before them. Videgavia didn’t like hands he couldn’t see. Their heights varied from medium to very small. The robes were largely shapeless, but the build suggested women, or slender men. Mind you, Videgavia considered the Cats the most dangerous force within the Black. His idea, shaped by the Black’s first woman despite the fact that she outright denied any study in the black arts of assassination. Appearances meant little.

The procession kicked up dust. It had only stopped raining two days ago and already the dust was back. They waited beyond bow shot of the walls and all else was a stone crucible in various stages of decay. Videgavia did not believe it mere coincidence that the walls and the large domed building visible beyond it were mostly intact while the surrounding buildings were reduced to bare skeletons. There was power here. While Loch had managed to eliminate this High Priestess and the Wizard who kept her, it was clear to Videgavia that vast power yet remained to the Sisters. He realised his palms were itching. He wanted his knives. He really did not like hidden hands…or faces, and especially feet. Not at all.

The procession came to a stand still at a safe distance, though not safe from the archers he had in position.

”You received our message,” said a small voice, an old voice.

It’s owner proved to be the smallest of the seven, slightly bowed. Those in front of her moved carefully, slowly, to either side so that she could be seen. Vid clenched as the smallest removed her hands from her sleeves and lifted them to push back her hood. The first thing he saw was the telltale mark of age on her hands. The next thing he saw was hair that was iron grey, braided with copper and wound around her head, a seamed face and nestled in the midst of it, perched above a commanding patrician nose, were two fiercely gleaming dark eyes. The old woman let them rake over the men assembled in front of her until they rested on Avienkala.

”Welcome home, Sister,” she said and Avienkala seemed to sway.

”Mother,” she allowed with a gasp and the small woman gave a small, tight smile.

On instinct Videgavia spoke, ”We have come in good faith and all you see before you are members of my Company. If you assail one of us, you assail us all. I will consider it an act of aggression.”

The old woman began to laugh at that, mirthlessly and yet, for all of that, Avienkala drew in a deep breath and pressed her fingers to her brow. She seemed….eased.

”An act of aggression! You come unbidden, secretly, to a foreign land accoutred for war and you talk to me of aggression.”

“Have we sought to invade, to dominate? Have we whipped your people into rebellion? Have we attacked your rulers?”

“Rebellion? You have two of the three most powerful Sisters in your grasp, if not willingly then certainly as hostages. Rulers? Our Wizard and Priestess are slain and…and we never got within five hundred leagues of your King…but….ah….I see. We found another…one of the Old Blood, the royal line of Numenor fallen…one…dear to you. You brought…her, yes a woman… you brought her right to us. Is she with you now?”

Videgavia hissed at this and it was then that Avienkala spoke, ”Mind your thoughts!”

Behind him, Molguv bit off a Haradian curse about witches. The small woman tilted her head, her eyes refocussing now on Videgavia.

”Are you here to avenge this….aggression?”

Videgavia sorely wanted to say that this was so. He had been as worried and angry as any of the Old at the attack that targeted their Doc, excepting perhaps her husband and brother, but now he felt the bloody, vicious threads of rage tangling through him. The hot need for blood pounded at his temples. Boots scuffled as men fell deeper into the fighting stances and movement off to the side revealed the Cats were being stirred too. This, a small part of him noted, was odd. They were not here for revenge at all. In fact…

”HOLD! HOLD OR I’LL PUT YOU DOWN MYSELF,” Videgavia roared and it seemed to him that something suddenly vanished.

”No…Mother,” he said raggedly when he was confident someone wasn’t about to charge, or loose an arrow, ”We are not here for blood. We are here because you asked us to come…and we brought food because your messenger was starved.”

At a wave of his hand, Khule let the girl forward. She came wide eyed and stared at the warriors around her. When she set eyes on the old woman, she began to run. Videgavia was no one’s idea of an expert on children but he reckoned they did not run towards someone they were frightened of and, as a general rule, were not idiots. The girl ran straight to the old woman, wearing a tunic one of the Cats had given her belted with what appeared to rigging rope someone had scrounged up at the harbour. The old woman set what could only be an affectionate hand on the girl’s head before she tipped the child’s chin up. Then, with a brief word, she bid the girl to join the others behind her.

”We are because you wished to test us,” Videgavia guessed and at that the old woman smiled properly for the first time.

”This is true,” she admitted and then waved a papery hand at the walls behind her, ”Even if our intentions remained…military… we do not have the means to achieve them. We can barely keep our own walls and, as you have said, we can barely feed the mouths that remain to us. But to accept the aid of a viper would only hasten our demise and I, warrior, am charged with ensuring our survival.”

The old woman tilted her head again, ”Though, it remains to be seen if that aid remains to be had after the testing is done.”

At that, Videgavia gave the signal and, expressions ranging from wary to outright suspicious, the supplied were carted forward. He was not sure just what he thought or felt about this. Had they been manipulated? As ever, so little about this land and people was clear to him.

”Can not our Sisters also be returned to us?” the old woman pressed as this occurred.

”Your Sisters amongst us are there of their own volition. They stay or leave by their choice alone.”

The old woman considered him a long moment, smiled and then pulled up her hood.

”Fitting, then, that you should do the same,” she said from within the confines of her hood.

At that, the others turned about and the procession moved back to the gates. Just as Videgavia was wondering whether he’d have to send his men into their compound to ferry the supplies in, a small group of careworn men emerged from the gates. These, then, must be the too few to mount any campaign. They looked capable enough. Just too few. They eyed Videgavia’s men warily, collected the carts and started dragging them towards their walls.

As Videgavia led his forces back to camp, he replayed the exchange in his head. He was becoming reasonably assured that a larger force of a different disposition might achieve a great deal here. Exploration, mutual trade…another alliance for the Reunited Realm. Perhaps an exchange of….what…hostages…to ensure good faith? Just as that idea occurred to him, Videgavia recalled his distaste of politics, nation building and diplomacy and he shivered at what this campaign was turning him into. Political hostages? Word games with matronly witches? Exploratory expeditions to map and survey foreign lands? It all sounded distinctly like the sort of business he tried best to avoid. Hanasian had never said anything about this when speaking of the duties of captaincy, he mused. In his place, he’d keep it a secret too.

”Thank you, Captain,” Avienkala said earnestly, interrupting his reverie and making him cock a brow.

She explained, ”For not handing my sister and I over.”

Videgavia grunted at that, ”As I said before, you’re one of us now, better or worse. I’m not about to hand you over now even if that weren’t true. We’ve a voyage to prepare for and you’re needed.”

Avienkala graciously inclined her head and Videgavia was left with a familiar feeling that he probably could have been a little kinder or, at least a little less ruthlessly practical. Word games always left him floundering. He’d never had this problem with Rin. She never wanted the flowery stuff, had a powerful suspicion of it, never left him feeling like he was grasping after his own bootstraps. Speaking of which, when he got back, he really wanted to know how she managed to steal his bootstraps. Out of his boots, while he was wearing them. Despite his reputation for nasty knives and an unforgiving nature – or perhaps, he thought with a grin, because of it.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:10 pm

”What is it?” Runner asked Loch as they stared east from the pass they found in the range of mountains.

”Don’t know,” Loch said, distracted as he lifted a shoulder in half a shrug, ”But I’m thinking it isn’t good for us, or the Company, or Rose and Anvikela. Thinking maybe Dhak or that cult of women at the abbey might like it, though. I’m just not sure.”

Runner slid around Loch and used his hand as a visor against the morning sun, ”We should start back west. We’ve been out a few days longer than we thought. Don’t want to go missing again.”

“We won’t go missing. We’re not moving in on a known sorceress this time. Besides, we aren’t due to meet Steps and Screetch’s squad until tomorrow at the fork,”
replied Loch, squinting at the eastern horizon.

Runner took a drink from his water bag and said, ”Maybe not, but didn’t all the tales say there were two wizards? I think that is sorcery out there. Let’s go Loch. I don’t like it. It isn’t getting any closer, but we may be too close already.”

“Very well, my friend. I’ll heed you this time. Let’s go.”

The two slid down the steep track they followed to the high ridge, faces grim. They met up with the other three of their squad that had scouted north along the ridge at the bottom and managed to arrive at the fork before sunset. Steps and Screetch drifted in from the twilight, and the ten made a quick meal of dried fruit and meat before they attempted to sleep. They faced a three day trek back to the ruined city.

As the men settled in after their light meal, Screetch said in his nasally voice, ”You find anything? All we found was old tracks. Many people had gone east in the previous months.”

“Yes, us too,”
Runner said.

Loch said, ”Except we saw a large cloud pushing up into the clear blue sky far to the east when we got to the ridge. Too far away to make out what it was, but it didn’t appear natural.”

Steps hunkered down, ”Aye, we saw a bit of that. Don’t like it, no.”

Loch lay back, arms crossed under his head and peered up at the night sky, ”No, and we’re off home… back to Company camp at first light. We’ll be pushing hard, so rest so that we are ready to move on the morrow. Runner has watch sorted. No one on watch gets lazy now.”

Loch sounded like an experienced leader of men, a warning implicit in his last statement without needing to belabour it, as he spoke to the young men around him. Most were Easterlings, part of Runner’s team and known to worship the Company for reasons all of their own that Berlas was little comforted by still. To them, Loch was Old Company and he had survived that catastrophe with one of their own. He commanded respect among them. The remaining men hailed from the contingent of Gondor army that had signed onto the Free Company prior to withdrawal from Rhun. While they certainly did not worship the Company, they too had a respect for Loch’s uncanny scouting ability. They enjoyed serving in his patrols. Loch was oblivious to the fact that they would jockey for position to join a patrol under him, wagering and trading places between the various Gondorian scouts. They respected and liked the man, and they knew him well enough by now to keep such things from him unless he became unbearably cocky.

Loch, however, felt no different at all. He was still a recent newcomer to the Company, an interloper they’d decided to take under their wing. He missed his sister and Hanasian, and Bear and Folca and Frea and Mecarnil and even Farbarad. That surprised him. Farbarad was an excellent Ranger, absolutely dedicated to his sister, but there was something wild about the man that made Loch uncomfortable. He found the Ranger unpredictable, unconventional. Rin would find his concern the source for much derision if she knew. He was hardly in any position to stand in judgement over the man’s manners. Neither of them were, having grown up wild themselves. Still, it was his sister this Ranger was charged with protecting. It was just as well steady, honourable Mecarnil was there to balance Farbarad out. Why, leave Farbarad and Rin together to their own devices… it just didn’t bear thinking about it. It would be funny, in the end, but the trouble those two would get up to… No, Mecarnil was Loch’s pick. All the same, he did miss Farbarad’s wolfish grin, the gleam in his eye, the wry humour.

The nights brought to Loch a recurring dream where he met everyone again at the Prancing Pony of Bree. It was no different this night. As he slept, he found himself there once again. The hustle and bustle of the inn seemed particularly frenetic this night. Loch sat alone with his pot of ale and considered pocketing the cheese for his sister. But, he remembered that Rin always arrived with Hanasian to devour the cheese herself so he didn’t. He looked around and saw faces that seemed familiar at first glance. When he looked closer he found they were strangers. He drained his ale and lifted his pot for another. A sweet, familiar voice sounded from behind him.

”You wish another?”

Loch spun around in his seat and shot to his feet.

”Rose?” he asked and she smiled.

”Yes? Do I know you?”

Loch’s smile faded as he looked about. He returned his eyes to young woman who was now staring at him, ”No… I think not. You just reminded me of someone I used to know long ago, far away east of here.”

The girl’s smile lingered as she studied Loch’s face. Bernard Butterbar came by and said, ”You aren’t paid to stand and gawk at the patrons. Go fetch the man another beer!”

Her smile vanished and she scurried away, not quick enough to be spared a slap to her rump from Bernard. Loch seized his wrist as the man made to depart and said in a low voice, ”You do that to her again, I will kill you.”

The force of his anger surprised him, but it felt…right. The two men stared into the other’s eyes. The innkeeper’s initial outrage had him considering ejecting this lout from his inn but it faded as he realised the man meant every word of his violent threat. He contented himself with shaking Loch’s grip from his arm and departed swiftly. A little dazed, Loch sat down heavily again only to be pulled into a crushing headlock that made his head spin almost immediately.

Mecarnil said, ”If you get us kicked out of here, we’ll have to be off to the Forsaken!”

Loch shook himself loose to sit up and face Mecarnil and discovered the man was heavily cloaked and cowled. Something about that startled him, though he knew not what, and he jumped up just in time to hit the tray of flagons the girl named Rose was carrying. He spilt them all over her. The noise of the tray and the pots clattering and smashing to the floor caused the place to unnaturally still silence. Bernard was there in a flash.

”What, can’t handle a jostle from a drunken Ranger? Don’t bother towelling off! Just get this cleaned up and get those ales replaced and served. You owe for the spilt ale and broken pots.”

The girl held back tears as she stooped to scrape the potshards onto the tray, Bernard hovering to scrutinise her every move. She stood and turned and Bernard slapped her on the rump again, all the while holding Loch’s eyes with his own.

”Go on then, kill me.”

Loch went for his knife but a bony hand grabbed his arm. Mecarnil’s voice sounded again, ”It’s not worth the trouble, Kid.”

Loch hesitated and the grave’s grip on his arm loosened. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end now. He stared at the cloaked figure and Bernard walked away, dismissively tossing a statement over his shoulder as he went, ”As I thought.”

Loch reached for the hood and pulled it back. A skull rocked back and fell to the ground, followed by the rest of the body as the bones collapsed in an untidy, unholy mess. All Loch held in hand was Mecarnil’s old tattered cloak.

The girl said from behind him, ”You’d best go.”

Loch turned and the sad, beer-soaked serving girl who spoke with Rose’s voice pointed at the door. Around her were old faces he knew.

She pleaded, ”Please! You must go!”

Morcal and Mecarnil’s hands reached for him with ghastly arms from beyond the grave, but she pushed Loch away from their grasp.


Loch hesitated just long enough to drop silver coins on the girl’s tray.

”For the beer I spilled on you, the trouble I caused.”

Something grabbed his shoulder from behind and Loch jumped with instinctual fear.

”Loch? Are you unwell? Been trying to wake you. It’s last watch - your watch.”

Loch discovered he was panting as he stared up into Runner’s concerned face in the night. A cold, clammy sweat painted his face and wiped at it, disorientated. Runner held out his water bag to Loch, and he swallowed several gulps. He then poured a little over his head. He felt as though he was starting to catch his breath.

”You sure you’re well?” Runner asked as he watched Loch stand and narrowly avoid falling over, ”I can take your watch. I won’t sleep anymore no how.”

“I’m well… I can stand watch. Was just had a bad dream,”
Loch said blinking his eyes and inwardly wondering how his sister ever managed such terrible creatures over the years. These Dreams were truly awful!

Loch returned his attention to Runner as his decision was made, “And there will be no last watch. Get the men ready to move. We leave now. We need to make haste back.”

Runner peered at Loch’s face a moment but did nothing other than to nod an affirmative salute. It wasn’t long before they were making their way west down the track, back the way they had come. When the first light of dawn arrived they were far away from where they had camped. Loch had elected to take rearguard and though they made good time west, Loch lingered at a rise on the track to look back. There, he guessed about where they camped, a gray cloud hovered. There was no morning sunrise there. Whatever they had spotted in the distance to the east the day before had clearly sensed them as well. Had they of remained at camp as originally planned… Loch realised he was slathered in that cold sweat again and he swiped some of it from his brow as he hurried to catch up the men ahead. The sooner they got back to the Company camp, the better.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Videgavia stood on the hill in the early morning to study the abbey. It had become part of his routine. After awhile, Lady Anvikela joined him and the pair of them stood there, staring at the walls and the bronze gates and the cracked dome that rose behind.

Lady Anvikela broke the silence reluctantly, ”They grow stronger. I have felt it all the time we have been here, but I was unable to prevent it until my sister’s help arrived. She fell into a deep dream last night and I could not wake her. I cannot shield every man’s thoughts from them on my own. Yet they are able to shield their thoughts from me.

“I finally awakened my sister, though she was frightened and unwell. She was soaked…shivering…worried about Loch. Once she was able to concentrate and focus, she was able to assist me and we regained control. I fear that next time we may not be so fortunate.”

Videgavia nodded and considered what Anvikala had told him, uncertain if ever he would be able to make heads or tails of this sorcery and power. They had met the women of the abbey under parley only weeks ago. He still did not know what had been learned or gained in that. What had those women learnt of them? He suspected that the good will of the Company may have been taken advantage of. It was an uncomfortable thought for Videgavia. To lose so much in supplies and possibly expose them to further peril and to gain what? Time, perhaps? And where were Loch and his scouts? Why had he sent them out one last time? His rationale had seemed sound at the time: the messaging was routine, and he wanted to keep them sharp. Now they were overdue. Maybe today they will return.

Videgavia finally stirred himself to speak, ”My lady, it is fortunate that word has reached us that the ship sets out today. With favourable winds they should be here by night, early morning at worst. Do you think that you and Rose have the strength to get us through?”

“That is a mystery. We will only know when we try. It would be best if we set out unnoticed.”
Anvikela thoughtfully said.

Videgavia nodded as turned his own thoughts about. Perhaps it would be best if they set out from where the ship is. Yes, farther away from this abbey and better able to conceal themselves as far as he could tell. They would have to move now. Videgavia looked around found Dorghat was nearby in the event his Captain had a message to run.

”You. Get this message to Donius now: Do not sail the ship up to the city. Repeat, do not sail it to the city. Sail as if you mean to, turn back and return to your dock. The company will meet you there in a day’s time.”

Dorghat frowned with the effort to commit the rapidly spoken message to memory but was handed a scroll written out by the Gondorian scribe Videgavia had taken on to keep his records. Now there had been an excellent command decision. Oh how he hated writing. Dorghat set out south with speed, his Captain’s expression proof for the importance the message he bore.

Videgavia was naturally not finished thinking and soon had his scribe write out a couple more messages. Dorghat’s second stood ready. Videgavia waved him over.

”I have to trust you to get word to all the Old Company, and to Khor. We have move swift and quiet. It must appear that we are staying put. Tell them to meet me at Dockbridge as the sun sets. Much will be discussed.”

The messenger nodded and took the hastily penned scrolls. He was gone in a blink of an eye and Anvikela had watched it all.

”You plan to move quickly and this is good. But I have my sister to manage. She in some ways has more power than I, and I cannot focus her mind to a task. She longs for your comrade, this Lochared of Dunland. When he is away from the camp she drifts in dream. Should he return, she will be better.”

Videgavia sighed, unsurprised having seen it, sensed it himself. It was one of the reasons he sent Loch off in command of a couple scouting squads. Now he was late. They all were. Videgavia held to the hope that this was only due to some routine thing such as Loch seeing something that required his attention. But there were no runners sent back with any word of their delay. If Loch was not heard from in two more days at the most, he and the men assigned to him on this mission, would have to be left behind.

Videgavia shuddered at the bitter, dark thought. How could he tell Rin that he had found her brother alive and well east of the sea, only to abandon him there? The idea made him ill. She’d never forgive him and he knew that for some reason that mattered almost as much as he’d not forgive himself. Loch had to make it back. Make it to the city before they had pulled out.

Videgavia quietly said to Anvikela, ”It may be your sister’s love for Loch in these hours that saves him from a doom I would have to put to him if he fails to return in time. All your accounts have it that the Abbey is reaching for some power. I can only assume it is this final remaining wizard. We have naught to battle him, aside from you and Rose.

“But I will not call upon you two ladies to this task. We will leave these shores and try to return west, and it is this that I ask you to assist us in. We did not come here to do battle with sorcerers. I do not wish to leave anybody behind in this strange place.”

Anvikela nodded, expression sorrowful, as she considered the journey back west. So much had happened, altered, since she last set out west. She had been a mere underling of much more powerful people. Sorcerers and Witch. And they had no real opposition to their departure to contend with. The entire will of the Abbey and the Order was with them then.

Now, she and her sister were expected to carry a ship of westerners back across the rift, with opposition? She wasn’t sure it could be done. The key lay with her sister, Rose. She would have to utter her name. And Loch would have to be by her side.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:31 pm

”It’s hunting him!” Rose cried at her sister as soon as she entered the room.

Anvikela fell back against the door, startled. Rose clutched at her arms frantically, thick strands of wild hair stuck across her face.

”I can’t stop it! I can’t reach him!”

Rose clawed at her in desperation and it was a struggle to force her back so that Anvikela could try to soothe some reason into her.

”Together we might, if you focus,” she said and Rose snarled at that and spun away to clutch at her head.

She staggered, ”It’s no use! You’re not strong enough! It knows where we are!”

Anvikela shoved the flare of anger at her younger sister’s dismissal aside. It had a bitter sting for it was true. Of the three of them, Rose was the strongest though she hid it well indeed. In its place, a wild thought came to Anvikela.

”Not for long, Rose,” she said as the stern Captain’s earlier actions came to her.

Rose had spun back to face her and stared through the sweaty curtain of her hair.

”We need someone with a bond to him, Rose. Do you remember that woman?”

“His sister,” Rose whispered and Anvikela nodded. She had not known until Rose had said it but it made sense. Sister. Did that make Loch of similar high descent? No, no time to ponder that.

”Yes…we can reach her, and she can reach him…they cannot hunt quarry they cannot predict. Hurry…prepare yourself. This will be more difficult for neither will be sleeping. Their waking defences will be in place.”

“I am ready,”
Rose insisted, suddenly preternaturally calm.

Anvikela suppressed a shudder. Sometimes her sister scared even her.

”Then let us begin.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There were five of them in total. Elves of Harlond, drawn of all things to a mortal child who crawled blithely around them in the afternoon sun. Hanavia, like the rest of the mortals with him, were carefully wrapped against the chill of the day. It did not snow so close to the coast and so far south of the Ice Bay, according to Hanasian, but it was icy all the same. The Elves, however, seem untroubled by the light afternoon breeze that raised a bright glow to the cheeks of the child in their midst. None of it made any sense to Rin. Oh, she could speak Sindarin now. The words made sense to her. The reason for this entire thing, however, did not. Rin was, as a result, quiet and still as she attempted to sort it all out. Hanasian and Farbarad were relaxed, calm, even pleased. Hanavia was delighted. He had a new toy to play with. It was a series of smooth, polished, wooden rings all of different weight and size and timbers. They interlocked and made a surprisingly pleasant melodious sound when shaken. Hanavia was vigourously shaking them as he wandered about as best he might. He was at the point where he could climb up things. Tables, chairs, people’s legs.

Rin was reasonably certain that Elves did not crawl up other Elves’ legs. Yet they were untroubled by Hanavia’s enthusiasm for climbing up for a better look at them. They would smile quietly down, perhaps stroke his hair softly and he would beam at him. A silent exchange of perfect understanding. It was mystifying and Rin shifted her weight from one foot to another. What was it about Hanavia that might appeal to Elves? Rin surreptitiously studied the Elves from beneath her lashes. They presented no overt threat. In fact, Elves had always been the source of much benefit in her experience. But they always had reasons, sometimes knowable and often times not. These Elves were strangers. Elladan and Elrohir had their reasons for being involved. Even Thranduril had. But what of these? Two women, three men. Or did Elves call their women and men differently? That question sent her off chasing through her learned words of Sindarin and the little bit of Quenyan that she had managed to acquire. Then the oddest thing happened. At least, odder than the encounter she was presently engaged in.

”Quickly! Come! Yes! Come! For your brother! You must! Hurry now?”

Rin blinked rapidly and glanced about. Had anyone else heard that? One of the Elvish women had crouched to play with Hanavia. Farbarad and Hanasian were steeped in discussion with the two Elvish males. The other Elvish woman was staring at her now and she smiled to soften any possible offense before redirecting her attention to her companion and Hanavia. Rin smoothed her hands over her woollen coat. Very strange indeed, but no harm done.

”She’s stuck! She will not budge. This will not work.”

Rin sucked in a breath and could not help herself. She glanced over her left shoulder, positive now that two women with strange accents stood nearby. Nothing but the stables and the ring of Rowdy’s hammer on that damn customised ring mail Farbarad had insisted upon. If he thought she was going to voluntarily wear that wretched stuff here, he had another thing coming. Of course, if he knew she was hearing voices, he’d not be so keen to have her pick up a sword again for training.

”Isn’t that right, Rin?” Hanasian said and Rin turned about.

”Oh…yes…of course,” she agreed. They all had pleasant, calm expressions on. What harm in agreeing with whatever had been said.

”Typical,” Farbarad muttered in Westron, ”I swear that woman changes her mind with each shift in the direction of the wind.”

Hanasian’s smile was lazy and broad. Rin opened her mouth to offer something against that and then reconsidered. She closed it with a sigh and resolved to pay closer attention next time.

”There! We have her now. Do not struggle! We mean you no harm! What should we call you?”

Rin’s jaw gaped. The bright wintry afternoon had given way to a densely fogged plain. She stared down and could not see her own feet. The voices swirled through the clouds. Women’s. The same two women that had not been there before, with the strange accents. Rin did not like this at all and it showed in her icy tone. Anger was always better than to display naked fear. Always. Fear meant vulnerability.

”WHERE AM I?” she demanded, not quite knowing why she bothered. Nothing these two disembodied voices might offer by way of answer could be trusted.

”Her brother calls her Rin,” said one formless voice.

”May we call you that, Rin?” the other asked.

”You can call me Thomas for all I care. Send me back! NOW! Or…or…I’ll do something…or I won’t…yes, that’s it. I won’t do whatever it is you want me to…wait…how do you know my brother?”

Again, another pointless question. When it came to dealing with disembodied voices on some unknown plane, she really went quite to pieces, Rin mused.

”We can take you to him. He will listen to you. If he does not, the sorcerer will find him. Or he will be left behind. Please?”

Something finally materialised into view. A woman, smaller, dusky skin and dark hair that was tousled. She was young, Rin saw. She seemed…familiar…though that made no sense at all.

”Who are you?” Rin asked, three pointless questions for three!

”I am called Rose.”

“That was not always your name. I know. I have more than one myself,”
Rin guessed without knowing how.

The other woman smiled and nodded, ”Will you come? Lochared will listen to you.”

“You don’t seem to know him well. Lochard is dead, but when he was alive he made a fine career of ignoring the sage advise of his younger sister,”
Rin answered and watched this Rose very carefully indeed.

The other woman tilted her head to one side and nodded, ”Yes, a test. I brought him to you, in a dream. He is not dead. I know this. You know this.”

“Am I dreaming now?”
Rin asked.

”In a fashion. We waste time, though. Please. Will you come?”

“What would you have me say to him?”

What Rose said next had her undivided attention. If it was a trick, it was a risk worth taking. For Loch. Rin nodded.

”Be on with it then. I have guests…Elves of all things,” Rin said brusquely and Rose smiled for perhaps the first time. She had a very pretty smile.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

His feet ached. They had pushed hard and though they would need to travel through the night, they needed to stop for this break now. Loch dared not remove his boots. If he took them off now, he’d not get them back on again, and unhooked his water pouch from his belt. He also resolved not to close his gritty eyes for fear of not being able to open them again. Despite that, however, it seemed as if the brief respite barely passed before he heard Runner moving about to get them up again.

Loch groaned and attempted to peel open his eyes. He pushed himself to his feet and peered back the way they had come. No trace of that infernal cloud now, but it was dark and they stood little chance of seeing it. Running from a cloud. Wulgof would have a field day with this when he got a hold of it.

”No one says a word of this cloud,” he grated out, ”Leave it to me to report.”

And only to Vid, Loch resolved, closing his eyes to rub at them. One more night and they’d reach the city by dawn.

”Not that way, you great ox,” an ascerbic voice whispered and Loch shouted in surprise one name.


Nine men stared back at him in consternation and puzzlement and Loch could hear her laughing.

”Oh, that’ll be a good one. Can’t wait to hear that tale when you’re back. Listen and listen well. I have a Rose here, says she knows you. I think she likes you, Loch. Doesn’t say a lot for her taste, but there you have it. Rose and Anvikela, her sister though that Anvikela seems a twitchy sort.”

Loch snorted at that. She was right. Anvikela was nervous by nature. But, then, being buried alive in a collapsed building could do that to a person.

”Tell them hallo, from me,” he said and he heard or sensed Rin give an irritated sigh.

”What am I? Your personal courier. Tell them yourself. You need to make for Dockbridge. Whatever or wherever that is. Not the city. Dockbridge. Else they’ll ship with out you. And, brother dear, if you ignore my tidings as per usual and miss that boat, I will find you. Oh yes. I will. And when I do-“

Just like that, she was gone. A whirlwind suddenly vanished. Loch realised he was standing slack jawed with nine men nervously shuffling around him. He closed his mouth with a click and pointed at the coast.

”Change of plans, lads,” he said and without waiting to see if they’d follow, he set off for the coast. He did not bother instructing them to keep that quiet. Pointless to ask them to do that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The first thing Rin noticed is that it was cold and bright. The breeze was back. It had tugged the fur lined hood of her coat back. She was back, sitting on the ground, and the conversation around her had stilled. Hanavia was peering at her and when she blinked, he grinned and rattled his new gift at her. There was an Elf woman at Rin’s shoulder. The first Rin knew of this was the sensation of her hand as it lifted away from Rin’s shoulder.

”Oh,” Rin uttered, not quite a squeak.

”Oh? Is that all you have to say?” Farbarad demanded irritably.

”There was no cause for alarm, Ranger,” said the Elf woman as she stood.

”Not the point,” Farbarad said.

Hanasian was crouched at her other side. He smiled deeply into her eyes and Rin nodded, sensing his need to confirm that she was indeed well. Insane as a rabid dog, certainly, but otherwise well. He grazed his knuckles down her cheek and then pulled her hood back into place.

”Much better,” he intoned, a deep rumble of relief, and guided her back to her feet and off the very cold ground she had found herself seated on.

”You can’t just go about behaving like that. It worries people. Pretending nothing happened, nothing is wrong, only makes it worse,” Farbarad continued, not to be mollified. Apparently, whatever had happened had truly rattled him. Hanasian had mentioned that the man became unruly when genuinely worried. It was a side of Farbarad Rin had never seen before. He had always been so unflappable, even when injured.

”If you’re looking for an explanation, I don’t have one for you,” Rin replied brusquely and then a bolt of inspiration came to her, ”And I think enough of a disturbance has been made for our guests.”

A leaf straight out of Mecarnil’s book of Proper Manners. Rin grinned, pleased with herself and Farbarad frowned. Where had this sudden concern for decorum come from? One minute she collapses to the ground like a sack of potatoes, stares fixedly at nothing at all, impervious to all questions or inquiries, eyes glazed and now she is rebuking him for making a scene!

Rin graciously inclined her head and, of all the outrageous things, curtsied. Properly!

”I seek pardon for any offense or concern I may have given,” she intoned contritely.

”Forgive me if this seems overbold,” one of the male Elves responded, ”But does this happen often?”

“First sign I’ve ever seen of voluntary manners,”
Farbarad muttered. She’d been practising curtsies but when it came to keeping her defensive skills up she resisted him at every step!

”No,” Rin said smoothly, ignoring Farbarad and the urge to chuckle.

The Elf turned to his companions and the woman that had been at her shoulder shook her head, long midnight hair swaying with the movement in a hypnotic fashion.

”This is not uncommon,” she maintained and glanced at Rin before continuing, ”Particularly with the Edain, in the early phases.”

Rin’s enjoyment of Farbarad’s irritation evaporated with that. Early phases? Of what? Was she truly, really mad? As if she sensed Rin’s question, the Elf woman regarded her steadily with eyes that were still, calm, ancient as a starlit mere.

”You are with child.”

Oh no! That wasn’t it at all! Rin was shaking her head before she knew it.

”I do not think so.”

“It is true.”

“It can’t be.”

“Why not?”

What sort of question was that? Rin’s cheeks flushed but she had a reasonable answer rapidly enough.

”I have a son. I know how such things are with me.”

the Elf woman said with a knowing smile, ”But this time, my lady, you have twins.”

There was silence at that. Rin felt lightheaded all of a sudden. When she looked to Hanasian, he looked a little pale. Probably just like her. To break the tension, one of the other male Elves spoke up.

”You are to be congratulated, Hanasian. Your lady’s grasp of Sindarin is strong indeed if she is able to argue so fluently.”

“Thank you. Another language for my dear wife to argue in was just what I was striving for,”
Hanasian replied, recovering a little to find some way of smoothing over the current tension. Rin appeared genuinely flabbergasted. This was no secret she had known and kept to herself. He turned to the Elf that Rin had argued with and bowed.

”My thanks, fair lady, for these glad tidings. We are surprised, no more than that.”

“They are welcome, then?”
the Elf woman inquired closely and Hanasian found his smile again.

”Indeed they are,” he replied and considered his wife, ”Are they not, my love?”

All Rin could say, still utterly startled, was a single word, ”Two!”

And that made Farbarad laugh so hard that he cried. Later on, it would occur to him that he now had a crown princess, her husband and regent, their son and now two others to keep safe…and Rowdy would need to adjust that mail he was making.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:28 am

Dorghat ran as fast as he could in his oversized company leathers. He had shed his cloak before leaving; still the track was unforgiving despite having been travelled by many before him. It seemed the brambles reached out to slow him, forcing him to push on. Rain started to fall, ending the weeks of dryness they had enjoyed. He hurried, aware that the track would soon become treacherous, slippery muck and he would have to slow. The urgency of his mission spurred him on, and in time, the ship they would board loomed ahead.

”Are we ready to take this thing out on the sea?” Donius queried uncertainly.

Work continued around him and he had been considering sending a runner to Videgavia. They needed one more day – at lest!. But all bets were off when Dorghat arrived out of breath and passed the engineer the scroll.

”Damn,” Donius muttered.

There was some small measure of relief in the tidings that he would not have to sail the ship that very day. It simply was not ready, no matter how hard he pushed to have so that he could get it back to the main quay this day. Now the Company was coming to them, and soon it would seem. The testing of the ship would occur with everyone aboard. He would know the ship was ready if they made it west, apparently. He swallowed hard, recalling well the hard voyage east. May the Vala be with them, if they still had eyes for this world. It occurred to Donius eventually that Dorghat was waiting for a response to run back to Videgavia.

He said, ”Rest boy! Drink, and eat something. We have others, well rested, to run a message back. When you have recovered some, I’ll have a job for you.”

The prospect of working with shipwrights was one Dorghat could barely contain. Certainly sleep was not within his grasp. Still he gladly accepted the offer of food and drink and, with a full belly, was soon sound asleep where he had seated himself against a wall on shore.

”Let the boy sleep,” Donius said, ”When he wakes, he’ll work on the mast for us.”

There was faint chuckling to be had from the men within earshot. Dorghat’s arrival was soon forgotten, however, as they turned back to their work. True to his word, Donius sent another runner back to Videgavia.

In the city by the quay, Videgavia informed the gathered men of his Company and Khor’s of his plan to march on the Abbey itself. Only a small number, the Old Company and Khor himself so highly was he now esteemed, knew it to be a feint. Mistrust ran thickly between Videgavia and the women of the Abbey. Anvikela did not say if her former colleagues could read minds, but her warning during parley to guard their thoughts was enough to prompt Videgavia to assume they could. Fortune permitted them a moonless, overcast night and just as all seemed to be in readiness, Commander Khor surprised them all. Khule and Khor talked animatedly. Yet there was no changing his mind. Videgavia got word from Khule, and he wasted no time calling on Khor…

”What is this I’m hearing?” Videgavia demanded.

Khor replied, ”It’s simple really. You clearly require a diversion. I and those men that desire to remain with me will march on the Abbey in formation. We’ll be enough, I hope, to keep their attentions away from you. You should be able to slip away, and sail back west.”

Khor’s voice had been even and steady and Videgavia looked the Easterling directly in the eyes. There was no hesitation their either. Remarkable.

”You realise that there will likely be no leaving this place once the ship sails.”

“Yes, this has been considered. I have my reasons,”
Khor replied, pausing to think one last time about it before he pushed on, ”I’m not going back. There is no place for me there now.

“If my brother were smart he’d remain with me too, along with some of his men. But his bond, his commitment to this Company of yours is too strong.”

“You could join as well. You, and your men. You would be welcome.”

Khor shook his head emphatically, ”I can’t join your Company. I can’t play Gondor’s pet soldier in my homeland. So I’ll stay here and take what comes. My men will stay with me because they want to, not because they are ordered to. And yes, they have been asked. Any of your men want to stay, they are welcomed into my command.”

Videgavia nodded slightly. He said, ”No, nobody who is of the Company wishes to stay, unless it’s Loch’s squad. There’s no word from them as yet. If they come in after we leave, they’ll be a great asset to your command – Lochared in particular. They’ll be a handful though, Lochared in particular. Tell them I ordered it or something. Either way, we slip out tonight.”

Khor straighted to his full height and saluted in the manner of his forebears. He said, ”And we march on the abbey at dawn.”

Rain, low cloud and mist.

Perfect weather to disappear in. It was the midnight hour when the first of the Company left. Daius with the engineers that he had kept there were the first. To set out. Molguv followed with the bulk of the Gondorians. Wulgof and a few men loaded up a wagon with supply, and left the key to their bunker with Khor. Khule was last to leave with his contingent of Easterlings. He gave one last search of the city perimeter for Loch, and to keep with routine of the day. Once this had completed, Khule stood before his brother with knitted brow.

”I admire you brother, but I doubt you and your two dozen men will stand a chance against such sorcery that surely comes.”

“We will do what we must, just as we always done. What come cannot be worse than serving the Eye. We will do well enough, and one day we may meet again. Or so I hope. Farewell brother,”
Khor said.

With that, Khule gave the command to move out. Khor called his men to form up ranks. They had a walk to take this morning.

Donius saw them coming. Videgavia arrived shortly after Daius with the two sisters.

Donius sighed as he said, ”Welcome aboard my ladies. It still needs work, so please, for me, can you take it easy on her?”

Together Rose and Anvikela inclined their heads and they were shown to their cabin where they immediately began their preparations. Two hours after sunrise, they were ready to sail. Videgavia stood on the gangplank by the ship’s rail and looked about. It was then he heard that voice…

”Ho, Cap! You going somewhere?”

”Days late with no word,”
Videgavia muttered to himself as he hurried back down the plank to meet the men.

Inwardly pleased that Loch had arrived with all men, outwardly he remained Captin and Loch and his men had been missing. And they had sent no word. The scount was simply too reckless at times, he thought as he watched Loch approach. He liked that. Reminded him of his younger self in ways. Still…

His words were the words of a Captain, not a young Dale Ranger, as Loch drew close, ”NO word? Have you any idea how close you were to being re-assigned to Commander Khor? Get your men aboard, and resting. As for you…I’ll have a report from you once we have set sail…unless you think it can’t wait.”

“Sail? Where?”
Loch said, surprised. When they left, the Company was still entrenched in the city. Now they were off Loch kept talking,

”Where’s Rose?”

“Aboard, not to be bothered. You will see her in time. Get your report done. I want it written too,”
Videgavia said and ignored Loch’s groan, ”You are confined to quarters until it is finished. As for you, Runner, as his second you’ll work the kitchen for the evening meal. Report to Daius.”

Loch eyed Runner, considering already asking his friend to trade duties. He’d peel potatoes any day. Better than writing. He hated writing, more even than the Captain. He scout began walking, glum, until another question occurred to him.

”Where’s Khor and his men?”

“Covering our tails.”

The ship crept out into the fog silently. Not nearly so quiet was the sound of the marching boots of Khor’s infantry. Halting at the gates, Khor approached and looked in through the rusty iron bars of a small view port. There was no activity visible beyond and so he his men maintain their positions in formation. In time, a lone woman emerged from a tall door of the abbey. Khor stood at ease with his hands behind his back and watched her approach the gates. She took her time and he felt his jaw clench out of old habit. He loathed dawdling.

”You are not the Captain.”

“Nor am I of the Company,”
he agreed stiffly at first, "That said m’lady, I think there is much we could discuss.”

The old lady said hurriedly, ”What would I discuss with you that I haven’t said to the Captain?”

Khor said, ”As I said, I do not serve under the Captain of the Company. You don’t know me. Still I think we could find some mutually beneficial ground on which to stand.”

The woman closed her eyes and after a moment, as if remembering something, and said ”I am to ask if you will join us for morning tea.”

Khor said, ”Kind of you. Still, I would have to leave my men here. It’s cold and foggy and misty. Soaks a soldier to the bone, makes him irritable. It would not be right to invite me in, but leave them here while I enjoyed your tea.”

Again the woman closed her eyes. She seemed irritated. After a moment, she said, ”Very well. You and your men are welcome. But this is a holy place. Your arms must remain in the parlour with one of your men and one of our servants.”

Khor nodded and said, ”As you say. The Sisters of the Abbey are wise, I think. My men and I agree to partake in your hospitality. We will conduct ourselves with restraint.”

Khor had considered the dangers, but thought it best to meet it head on. So too thought the Mothers of the Abbey. Neither side realized the danger they both placed themselves within.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Fri Jan 25, 2013 4:16 am

Written report….

Loch stared at the blank paper before him. It yawned, a blinding crevice that sought to suck him into its maw. The paper was thicker here, rougher. Rin liked paper. She had told him once how it was made. All excited about having seen it herself, she had come in that evening all flushed, eyes glowing, to explained the process to him. She had snuck into somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be, the way of their lives then, and instead of coming back with food or something that could be used to obtain food, she came back with this knowledge. And she had been late. And he had been worried. How old were they then? Fifteen, he recalled and she would have been twelve. Already showing signs of the woman she would transform into. He had worried a lot that year. They had not moved in safe circles then and the world, he knew, coveted beautiful things – and often shattered them in a bid to possess them.

He remembered shouting, all his pent up worry and his hunger and his anger boiling out of him. He could not remember what he had said, but it had been enough to wipe the glow of delight and fascination from his sister’s face. It had been replaced with that smooth mask and all of a sudden she was distant and remote, as his all his rage at their situation and the futility of all came rushing out in ugly, tangled, clotted words. The transformation in her manner had been more effective than a bucket of cold water or a slap. It was too late. The words could not be unspoken and she had withdrawn from him for days. It had been the last time she had come to him all abuzz with whatever she had learnt.

He stared at the flecks of whatever they used here to make paper and thought of her now. How on earth was he going to put this down on paper? He had not written anything for months. The letter he had penned to her had taken him some time. Writing was an effort, something he found uncomfortable. But, even if he was better at the act of writing, setting down into words that would not haunt his tracks in the Company was another challenge. Loch set his jaw, inked his quill and set to it. The letters were rough, but he wanted to rest. He wanted to see Rose.

”We saw evide….signs that many others had passed on the trail. We divided to cover more ground. Then a….foul cloud descended. It hunted us, blocked all light. I knew it to be sorcery. We took evasive action, which delayed us…”

Loch paused, hand aching already, and squinted at the page. He had crossed out his attempt at the word evidence. All of it was true…but how was he to describe what happened next? A mysterious cloud. They saw signs of a great passage of people and then they had run like frightened boys from a cloud. And then, to make matters worse, his sister told him to change course. Except Rin was a long way away and thought him dead. And he was here, about to turn in the most absurd and poorly written report he imagine had been tendered in the history of reports. Rin was good at reports. She had completed them without trouble, always on time, never any corrections. Clear, concise, informative. Drawings, diagrams, maps. She had even written for that library or healing house in Minas Tirith. Maybe he would draw a map. That might be a good idea.

Loch set to once more and roughed out a map that approximated the ground they had covered. With a few markings, he was able to convey where they split, where they saw the sign of a great migration and where the cloud had first appeared. He leaned back in his chair, head canted to one side. Not as pretty as her drawings, but accurate enough. Now, what else? A sudden bolt of inspiration occurred to the scout.

At the bottom of the map, which conveniently occupied the majority of the page, he wrote,

”No losses, no injuries.”

Very important, that. No injuries or losses. Good captains liked that. The sound of boots on the ladder below deck dragged Loch’s attention up in time to see Videgavia picking his way between the hammocks slung about towards him. Loch stood, ignoring the ache of his back, with paper in hand. He belatedly recalled that ink took time to dry and he glanced at his work. Sure enough, a great blur of ink where his thumb had grasped the paper. Videgavia ignored the scout’s sudden chagrin and plucked the parchment out of his hand.

”That was quick,” Videgavia commented as he scanned the report.

”Tired. Want to rest is all,” Loch replied and the other man grunted.

”What’s that supposed to be?” Videgavia asked, pointing at the blurred ink.

”My thumb,” Loch replied with a crooked grin that was not shared and so he corrected himself, ”Where we saw the…ah…cloud…Cap.”

Videgavia grunted again and Loch inwardly breathed a sigh of relief that he corrected himself and remembered to use Videgavia’s title. They liked that, captains. Wulgof’s advice was sage in this regard.

”What made you deviate your return course?”

Loch replied, distracted by the imminent prospect of rest…and Rose.

Videgavia tapped the blurred map, ”Your course changed on return. Why?”

Oh. That. Loch shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably and then he noticed something.

”What’s that sound?”

Videgavia scowled at his scout, in no mood for games, and then realised there was indeed a strange sound. It was dull to them where they stood below deck but there all the same. Loch’s report floated to the floor as Videgavia spun about and ran for the ladder to the deck. As he climbed to the surface, the sound became clearer and all the more unbearable. Loch was on his heels. On the deck, men staggered, hands pressed against their heads. By the mast were the two women, faces obscured by their hair, arms uplifted. An eerie chanting came from them but it seemed to make little difference. A soupy fog had enveloped their ship. Tendrils of it curled around men and fixtures on the deck. But what set their hair on end and teeth on edge was the sound.

The very water was screaming.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sat Jan 26, 2013 5:09 pm

The thick fog made it nearly as dark as night once it overtook them yet the ship was mived west at a good speed with a hard gale in its sails. The deafening roar caused most of the men to grasp their ears. Echoes of deep, unfathomable mysteries spread about in dreams as each of the men fell to the decks. But the two sisters held together, a wellspring of light in the darkness that had swept around them. Fell voices could be heard in the deep, echoing darkly as though they came from a vast distance. Amidst it, a higher voice pushed back against the cloud, striving as if one against many. Lady Anvikela appeared to grow in height as she spoke strange words. At this, the strands of cloud retreated from most of the men, to draw itself up and meet the woman. It entangled Anvikela but avoided Rose who held her hand. A tendril had begun to wrap about Anvikela’s neck when Rose opened her eyes. She shivered and looked to where Loch lay on deck.

When a faint tendril of cloud brushed the side of his face, Rose thrust her free hand out and called out forcefully, ”Ila Phaedra tae ne!”

The ship groaned as it ploughed headlong into waves. They had come to the edge of the world already, Videgavia guessed, disorientated and confused as any of the men. He knew that he somehow had to keep the ship’s wheel steady so that they would not be thrown off course and back towards that sorcerous shore. He shoved his leg into the spokes of the wheel, the only way he knew, and grimly held on as his awareness blinked in and out, guttering like a candle in the wind. His next surge of consciousness revealed the cloud’s many fingers fell back from the women at the mast only to grow tall.

One tendril reached for Rose and she reached for it, will against will, so that it could not entangle her. Waves broke over the ship and the belly of the vessel shuddered as an echo from far below deepened. The cloud twisted and reared up only to fall upon them. Now Videgavia understood why the scouts had run.

The women raised their hands and said in loud voices woven in melodic harmony, ”Ila Phaedra n Anvikela tae ne HAE!”

There was a coruscating burst of lightening that singed the air and left a metallic aftertaste as the women lifted each an arm in unison. Once raised to their zenith, a second blinding white light exploded over the ship, followed by a tremendous shock wave that slammed into the vessel like a great hammer. Masts cracked and crossbeams broke. Timbers shrieked in seeming agony and men were thrown back like scattered leaves, thudding to the deck with that sickening sound. Caught by the wheel, Videgavia was twisted about but not dislodged and his mind was blackened outright.

Smoke wreathed the craft and water continued to pound and crash against it. Still the women remained standing amongst the fallen, hands held high. Their clothes were rent and torn and they bled from the shards of wood that had pierced the air like tiny missiles. The smoke drifted in ever diminishing banks until the wind banished it entirely and it was then that the women collapsed into a tangled heap. They had defeated the wizard, but only barely and it would be the last time. He was too far away, and he had received no aid from the Abbey. They had broken the rift and their ship was thrown through, but now they drifted carelessly. There was no one conscious on board and the ship’s masts and sails were ruined. They were adrift on the eastern sea of Middle Earth.

It was Loch who first came back to awareness. He hurt all over. It was all too familiar.

He mumbled to himself ”Not again…”

He couldn’t move at first, but when he opened an eye he looked on what appeared to carnage spread all about him. He managed to lift himself up on his hands and dragged himself to a piece of broken mast. Everyone was strewn about, unmoving. They appeared looked dead and the ship looked as if it was about to sink. In truth, it was only listing to port side slightly. Loch looked over to where Rose and Anvikela had been when last he saw them. All he saw now was a crumpled pile partially obscured by a piece of sailcloth. There was a slight white glow coming from them and the Loch heard a moan. It was Dorghat. He started coughing even as Loch crawled over to the younger man to sit him up. A chorus of moans and slurred words began to rise from all around. Loch clawed his way to standing and staggered over to where the women were. Berlas stood now too, shaking his head from side to side to clear it before he started for the women as wel. The two sisters lay entangled as if they were asleep. They both breathed and it seemed that their injuries were no more serious than cuts and splinters. Still, they would not wake.

So Berlas said, ”Leave them be for now. Keep their watch until I return. I need to see how we fare.”

Loch nodded and sat back down, relieved to have a task no more demanding than watching. Videgavia was on his feet with a bad limp by anyone’s measure. A door flew open and Donius stuck his head out.

Berlas turned at that, ”Report your status.”

”I have two dead down here and everyone else has at least minor injuries. Mostly cuts and wood shards and such. The ship holds tight for the most part, but I see we have no sails.”

Videgavia looked down on the sleeping women and then out over the calm seas where the sun was trying to shine.

”Smells like home. But where we wash up, and when, is anyone’s guess. Now, let’s put things to order and quickly, afore the weather turns again.”

Loch lay back, feeling elated at Videgavia’s words of him despite the fact that he brutally tired and his head pounded with a headache bad enough to worry his sister. He wished she were here now, because they could use a healer as well as medics, he reckoned. A hand crept into his at this thought and Loch opened his eyes to sfindee Rose looking at him.

”We are alive free Lochnard of Dunland? We have returned. We are free?”

“We are, but we have no way to sail the ship. It is badly damaged. And please, will you call me Loch?”

Rose squeezed his hand and said, ”You know my name now, but I like it when you call me Rose.”

“Your name? You never told me,”
Loch replied.

Rose smiled and said, ”You will remember. In a dream, in a moment here or there. It will come.”

Dizziness rolled her eyes in her head. This was too much, too soon. She blinked.

”Now I must sleep. Regain my strength. You stay with me?”

Loch moved closer and said, ”I will. I have been ordered to keep watch on you and Anvikela. That I will do.”

“I like that Lochn… Loch. I will sleep well,”
Rose said and closed her eyes.

Loch said, ”Don’t you want to stretch out, and your sister too?”

“We are entwined for we merged,”
Rose said, eyes opening again.

She played with her sister’s hair with her fingers, ”We both must wake to remove ourselves from each other. My sister will sleep for a very long time. She is strong, but she worked hard to shield us.

“Now I too must rest. Thank you Loch for watching over us while we sleep. I and my sister will rest easier.”

Her eyes closed and she held on to Loch’s hand. In a few moments she was asleep, breathing deep. Loch was not far behind her.

Berlas found Videgavia sitting on an overturned crate, a harried looking Bells tending to his leg.

”Give me some good news Ber,” Videgavia said as his knee was being wrapped.

Berlas considered the options at his disposal and answered, ”The ship isn’t sinking. We managed to keep most of the food and water barrels intact.”

The long pause made Videgavia look up to ask, ”That’s it?”

“Most of us are alive. The majority only suffered from cuts and splinters and shards of wood in the more serious cases. Also, the seas are calm,”
Berlas replied. That was it for the good news.

”Now give me the bad news.”

“We’ve three dead and three are missing, assumed they were thrown over the side when the explosion happened. But it could be that what happened to Loch and Runner back in Shkar happened to them. It’s anyone’s guess.

“We have no masts or sails, though Donius says he and Daius can rig something up that may give us a little bit of something to work with. The Old Crew are assembling work parties to clean up the mess.”

Videgavia nodded and said, ”Well, we aren’t going back. May the currents be in our favour and we wash up somewhere before our provisions run out. We’ll need strict rationing, commencing immediately. You will control that. Take who you need to help you.

“Be sure everybody gets some rest. We’ll have a Company meeting tonight and I want every man to report on what they remember. This event seems similar to the one at the house, so I want everyone’s accounts. And I want to see the women once they are both awake and in fit condition to report.”

Berlas nodded and left. No rest for him just yet, but he knew who he wanted to assist with the rationing. The Dirty Three were perfect. There was no one more cunning than those three…and perhaps a few of the Black Cats. There was no trouble yet, but it there was no telling how long they’d have to last out here, wherever they were. Best to get the worst of them, the meanest of them, on his side early – before water and food started to run perilously short.
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Re: Legacy

Postby elora » Sun Jan 27, 2013 7:28 pm

And to think she had been sceptical at first. Rin gazed down at the evidence the Elf had been right for all of the wrong reasons. Her belly softly swelled with the twins that had not been the cause for her dizzy spell. Initially overwhelmed and tempted to disregard the Elf's counsel, Rin had been disinclined to explain what had been its real cause. This was not entirely because of the difficulty of putting into words the strange events that had happened. Hanasian's response to the news had been revelatory. It was so very different than how it had been with news of Hanavia's impending arrival. Free of deadly conspiracies, the pall of grief and the weight of her secret, his reaction this time had been one of unmitigated delight and joy. She knew that Hanasian loved her, of course. Now it seemed that he treasured her all the more. He took great pains to ensure she knew this and it could still take her off guard.

Having spent so many years on her own, Rin was no fool. Her husband had given her all she had hoped for, no matter how vain and futile those hopes had seemed at the time. and she would have loved him as dearly had he given her nothing but himself. The prospect of two infants to handle at once was, she could admit, more than a little daunting, but she somehow felt that she could manage it with Hanasian by her side. Moreso, she found that she wanted this with each passing day. Now, spring had come early after a winter she had found surprisingly mild. It was possible that spending winter indoors, with clothes and food and warmth accounted for its sudden mildness. In any case, spring was here and her twins were growing and there was no doubt that the Elf had been correct.

In the late morning the tide receded from the little sandy inlet at the base of the cliffs their home perched atop. Rin was content to sit on the warm sand with her son. Hanavia was growing so fast he seemed to change day by day. Right now he was napping, curled up in her lap and thumb in his mouth. In a few months even that would not be possible. Hanasian stood in the surf, a fishing line in hand and his breeches rolled up to his knees. The breeze that bright morning tugged at his shirt and hair. He called something to Farbarad, who was some way down the shore, similarly fishing. Farbarad shook his head to whatever it was Hanasian had called at him. Behind both men, darting back and forth on the wet sand, was yet another Elvish gift with disturbingly large paws. It yipped at the waves, part challenge, part promise. The salty water made it's shaggy grey coat glisten in dark wiry coils. Hanasian named it a wolfhound. Rin named it an extra mouth to feed. But Hanavia would not be parted from it.

Honestly, these Elves and their gifts. A wolfhound! How large did they grow, she had asked with some concern and Farbarad had informed her that as a general rule they grew no larger than a small pony! As if that was to be some source of comfort for her. Dtill a puppy, it was already a font of never ending mischief that only she seemed to see. Everyone else, Hanasian included, turned a blind eye to the puppy's antics and mishaps. Rin suspected the hound knew what she thought of it. It took great delight in following her about, just watching with those limpid brown eyes, as if that alone was enough to melt her heart. Certainly it appeared adorable enough, bouncing about the little beach in exuberant delight, but she would not surrender her heart to it. Certainly it had only ever been unfailingly gentle with her son, but she would not be fooled.

"You're a hard woman," Rowdy had commented only last night. The pup was in the kitchen again, at the table, staring up hopefully at dinner with those big brown eyes.

Rin had snorted and rolled her own eyes, "Oh please…that? Oldest trick in the book!"

Then she had made her eyes very large and winsome. It was a knack every beggar child mastered early on. She trained them on Rowdy until he had squirmed in his chair.

"See?" she had said, blinking and looked back at her plate, her hold on the Gondorian Ranger released all of a sudden.

"Stones! Is there some sort of school that orphan children go to learn that?"

Rin had arched a brow, entertained a secretive smile and said, "You'd not believe me even if I told you the truth."

Still haunted, Rowdy had scowled at her, "Well, whatever the case it should be made illegal."

"Ah, a conscience then. That makes you the perfect mark,"
she had answered, all the while ignoring the pup staring up a the table as if he had not been fed only half an hour ago.

On the beach Rin leant back on the blanket and pulled her son to her. He loved to lay over her like this so that his dark head rested on her chest. The sun was warm, the susurrations of the waves hypnotic and soon she was dozing, not caring to push the damp bundle of fur that decided to settle in on one side of her. Damn extra mouth to feed. Damn Elves with their gifts. One of these days she was going to give them a gift. Oh yes. Perhaps an oliphaunt. That should be entertaining.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Things went smoothly at first, but rationing was never a welcome advent no matter how well disciplined the troops. Things were made all the more difficult by the growing awareness that they were marooned upon a floating wooden island in the middle of no one knew where - or even when and that was even worse. It was warm and getting warmer. It was tense and getting grimmer. Molguv leaned against the water casks, his tulwar out ostensibly for sharpening. Wulgof leaned over the shi['s rail and watched the water pass, arm dangling.

"Harad, eastern shore," Mulgov said, whetstone moving down the already wickedly sharp edge of his weapon.

"Rhun," Khule insisted quietly and Wulgof muttered something in Dunlendic, sick and tired of this debate, this ship, rations and the whole affair.

The makeshift sail that the two engineers had fashioned strove the best that they could. Simple fact was that cloaks patched together were not good for catching wind. But, more to the point, there had to be wind to catch. Despite the fact that there was no wind at all, they were still moving through the water. It made no sense. It was unnatural. What worried Wulgof more was the fact that neither of the women they had brought back with them understood how or why this had happened. Or what it might mean. Videgavia could sniff he air and say it smelled like home as much as the man cared to. Wulgof did not like this one bit. It stunk of dubious business and the Dunlender loathed such things. They never led to any good.

Movement off to one side drew Wulgof's attention from the water. Loch had emerged, without that Rose acting his personal shadow for once. He stood at the rail and lifted up a long, bronze tube that made things far away appear close. He used the device to scan the horizon, turning until Wulgof could see the glint of sunlight on the lens.

"A monster!" Loch exclaimed with a lop sided grin and then expertly adjusted the device, "Oh, no…it's Wulgof."

"Right first time, then, Kid,"
Molguv called back as Loch lowered the bronze tube and smiled outright.

The younger man was improperly happy. Happier than he had been when he had gotten his first proper meal at the Prancing Pony. This too was no good in Wulgof's books. Just as the Kid was really starting to show promise, Rose happened. Wulgof had been stewing over that all voyage, as soon as it became apparent. But just at this moment, something else was amiss. For starters, Loch had gone to the wrong side to look for land if they were really in the eastern sea like Vid had said they were. Secondly, instead of ambling over to trade more jibes, the scout tucked the metal tube under his arm and darted back below to report. Wulgof looked over to where Khule sat, tossing a dagger. The Easterling's eyes were thoughtfully narrowed, confirming that Khule saw it too. Little escaped that one. Something was clearly afoot.

Sure enough, a few moments later Videgavia and Berlas both hurried out onto the deck and went to the wrong side of the ship. Loch hung back as first Vid and then Berlas used the same tube to peer at the horizon. Berlas shook his head. Videgavia was tugging at his beard. Both turned back to Loch, who shrugged. He pointed at the slack sail. Then all three went back below decks again.

"What do you suppose that was all about?" Wulgof inquired and his two companions had nothing to say. Then one of those infernal women materialised seemingly from nowhere. Clad head to toe in black leather, the Cat smiled at them.

"We're not where we're supposed to be," she said, accent a strange lilt that made it hard to place.

Wulgof, unsettled by her sudden appearance, barked back at her, "And what makes you the expert then?"

The woman appraised him coolly, irritatingly prepossessed in the same way a certain absent healer could be. Then she smiled at him, as if enjoying his discomfiture.

"Such charm! I see now why she is so fond of you."

"Who is?"
Wulgof asked with alarm.

The idea that another Cat was fond of him was even less soothing than the one that stood before him. She laughed quietly and sauntered off, hips swaying. If she had a tail, she'd be swishing it at him. Molguv chuckled and Wulgof favoured them both with a sour scowl when he realised that Khule was grinning at him as well.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was the sweet scent of fish cooking that woke her. Limbs thoroughly suffused with warmth, Rin opened her eyes to find that the two men had built a small fire and were cooking their catch over the flames. Hanavia sat in his father's lap, hanging off the masculine buzz of every word of the men about him. The giant dog in waiting sat on its haunches, tongue lolling as it eyed the sizzling fish so tantalizingly close.

"Watch that hound," Rin warned, familiar with the lustful expression on its shaggy, adorable puppy face. The hound eyed her as if disappointed. Damn thing was too clever for it's own good, she thought.

"The pup? That's what got your attention?" Farbarad said and Rin frowned at that and peered about the beach.

"Oh," she squeaked.

"And there we have it," Farbarad said with a grin as Rin sat up fully.

What had been open ocean now was not. A strange, battered looking vessel that had a distinct list to one side was moored beyond the waves and even now, a smaller boat was being rowed to shore. In it, jumping up and down ill advisedly, was a familiar outline that was shouting and waving his arms. Rin rubbed at her eyes. The others in the boat pulled the figure down hard when the boat began to rock dangerously from side to side.

"Oh!" Rin said a second time, thoughts slowly assembling.

Hanasian watched his wife carefully. She appeared genuinely surprised, but then she was an excellent actor and this morning trip to the shore had been all her idea.

"You didn't see this coming?" he asked her and, eyes on the boat that was drawing closer, she shook her head slowly from side to side. Even now the boat was cresting through the waves.

"Is it?" Rin did not dare finish the question.

"What do your eyes tell you," Hanasian asked settling down in a crouch at her back and wrapping his hands around her arms to gently squeeze.


"You dreamed of him. I know you did."

she admitted, brow furrowed all the same.

The boat scraped over the sand and Loch burst from it at such a rate that he lost his footing and tumbled over the wet sand like seaweed. No matter. He was on his feet again without delay and pounded up the sand with one thought in mind. In this time, Rin stood and he realised that she was with child. That meant he should be careful. Still, he collected her in a wet, sandy, tight embrace that pulled her up off her feet. Behind him the others were getting out with far greater care and less haste than he had demonstrated. Loch, still laughing with sheer relief – for it had been over a year since he had seen her last – set her down as gently as he could.

Rin stared at him hard a moment, her eyes seeming to pierce him in the way that she could. He had no idea what she saw now when she looked at him, for he was not the brother, not the same as he had been when she last regarded him. Certainly she seemed different. She was…well she was someone's mother now. A little boy clung to his father watching intently with his mother's eyes. And he could teel that she was happy, bone deep. And, he realised with a start that she was scowling at him.

"OW!" he shouted when she slapped his chest, surprised more than anything, "What was that for?"

That question proved to be the wrong one, for she stuck him again. He hopped back warily, boots squelching, but she came after him.

"Rin! Hey, stop! That isn't fair! Ow! Rin, stop it!"

Of she did not and so there was nothing else to do but attempt to dodge. What else could a man do when attacked by his pregnant sister?

"OW! STOP IT! It's…it's not good for the baby," he tried when she landed another slap.

"Babies," she corrected him and slapped him again as he stared at her.

"More than one? OW! THAT'S ENOUGH!" his voice rose into a shout.

Rin crossed her arms, tilted her head and studied him.

"I suppose so," she allowed, and began to straighten out the simple dress she wore.

All of this had been witnessed by a beach full of men. Wulgof, he could see, had a grin from ear to ear.

"What was THAT for?" he asked, injured pride stinging worse than anything else.

"I specifically told you to be careful, did I not?"

"Well…yes…and I was!"

"Oh really?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

"Careful, Lochared,"
Rin said crisply in a dangerously quiet voice, "Is not how I would describe launching an unauthorised, unplanned assassination attempt against a witch AND a wizard."

Loch swallowed and realised instinctually that telling her that he had done it for her would only make matters worse. Meanwhile, Molguv had spotted the fish.

"Only two, Cap?" he said and glanced back to where Khule and Wulgof stood watching all of this unfold, "Just as well I saved the best for last, then."

"What best! You said we were all out of anything decent yesterday morning,"
Wulgof called back.

"Salted pork," Khule said, "Barrels of the stuff vanished into thin air five days ago."

"WHAT? We was supposed to be protecting the rations! Vid will hang us by our heels from the nearest tree when he hears this!"

"I did protect them. Protected them so good we have something to eat here, now, at this reunion. Two fish will not go far…not with Doc in her current condition. Do you know nothing at all about women?"

And so they were back.
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