Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Writing is a passion many people experience after reading Tolkien's works. Come here to discuss and share your experiences with writing.

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Wed Mar 22, 2017 2:12 am

111, 3021 – October, On to Bree


The rain set as they struck out for Bree. Autumn had finally prevailed over summer and Freja was grateful that she’d recovered her proper woollen cloak. The sun would not find the Company for many days to come.

Initially, Mulgov tried to convince Hanasian that they would be best serving the Company by leaving him behind to run the Forsaken Inn and watch over Khule’s slow recuperation. Hanasian ruled that out entirely, aware of Bareck’s concerns regarding Khule’s state. In any case, if the Moricarni were in this part of Arnor they would eventually come to Bree for supplies if nothing else. And so the Company set out as a whole, including both Khule and Mulgov, wary and watchful on the road ahead.

Berendil found himself riding point with Freja to scout the way ahead and keep a wary watch on the road. They encountered no one, likely due to the fact that Freja no longer concealed what she was. She bore her shield and heavier weapons openly and even this far north, no brigand or neer’dowell was foolish enough to take their chances against what was obviously a Shieldmaiden of Rohan.

Inevitably, then, the two fell to talking to while away the hours.

”All the miles I travelled with the Company, they would have passed swiftly had you been with us.”

“I was in no fit state to deploy,”
Freja returned, ”And the Company could not delay.”

Berendil nodded, his mind suddenly filled with the time he had spent standing vigil by her bedside. Indeed, it had been a marvel that she had recovered so well. He could still feel her broken body shifting in his arms as he lifted her from the battlefield. To look at her now, though, it was difficult to appreciate just how grievous her injuries had been. These shieldmaidens were surprisingly resilient. Freja, for instance, moved freely without need for a cane…the only hint of her lingering injury emerging when she was tired. She would limp ever so lightly and grow exceedingly cross should anyone point that out.

Berendil continued on, ”As you weren’t there, I brought you with me in my own way.”

Freja’s attention drifted from the road ahead to him, curious.

”I made several sketches of you. When we get to Bree I will show you. And I would like to draw another, perhaps with you before me, if you will permit it.”

Sketches, she wondered…what purpose those?

”I would like to see them,” Freja replied, uncertain whether she would allow it or not.

She resolved to deflect their conversation away, for she had not decided and would not decide until she saw what it was Berendil had set down.

”Tell me Berendil… of these lands you have seen.”

Berendil looked straight on and to the side at some bush that grew close to the road. It was safe with only two birds flitting about in it. If the birds were there, nobody else was. He looked at Freja as she scanned the other side of the road. No one sat a horse quite like she did. Born for the saddle, she was. As she turned back toward him he started to tell her.

”We took ship to Pelargir, an old Numenorean city with much history. The quays were many and could harbor many large ships, but these days, they only use one jetty. We stayed there three days and gathered horses, supply and information before crossing to the southern shore of the river.”

He paused as he peered at some stones that rose up by the road where it started to hook around to the right. His right fist went up and two fingers motioned to the right as he and Freja pulled their horses to a halt. The signal silently went through the line, and Videgavia who was toward the rear rode his horse up the slope to the right and circled around coming to the back of the rocks. He led his horse to the edge of the rocks and looked down, signalling all was clear. Berendil and Freja started forth again. Videgavia dropped into line about three men back from the leaders. Freja watched him warily before turning her eyes back to Berendil.

The road clear, Berendil continued his tale.

”Our journey across Harondor was long and dry. We met Mulgov as he guarded the Fords of Poros… well there was an awkward relationship between Gondor’s former foes and us. Whilst I do not know why, Molgov defected to join us and the pursuit issued by the Haradians was reluctant at best. We gained Khand largely without incident, and that was where the nightmare began.”

Berendil thought of those the Company had lost, of almost taking Naiore Dannan, the brutal civil war and the slaughter of the Khe’al and the Moricarni. And what of Khemra, he wondered. How did she fare in Rhûn? After a long delay, Freja broke her silence.

”You need not speak of it if you do not wish to,” she reached a hand across to grasp Berendil’s arm and he collected it in his own hand to hold for a time before he set it free again.

Freja wound her reins around her hands out of habit as Berendil took up the tale once more, ”Hanasian keeps records. He tasked Videgavia and I to do the same. I have tried, yet somehow I found myself writing to you. It helped…as if it were you I spoke to. If I told you of Khand then, then surely I can do so now.”

He looked about and the road looked clear and open as far as they could see; they would be approaching Bree soon.

Berendil took a deep breath and said, ”We lost the first man of the company in Khand.  He was from the highlands of Ringlo in Gondor. His name was Tarucal He was ambushed while on watch. His countryman, on watch with him, slew the lone attacker, but he was injured.

“I think we fell afoul of local, tribal animosities. Initially we were met in south Khand by the chief of the Khe’al tribe. He, and his daughters for most of their sons had fallen in the war.”


Freja turned a worried face to him but Berendil shook his head, ”They made us quite welcome all the same…but there were others to the East. Former officers, I think, within Sauron’s army. Warlords now, scrabbling for what power and scraps of land they may have. Though decimated by the war, the southern and western tribes rose against them. The Khe’al were but one such.”

“Sounds…messy,”
Freja pronounced and Berendil nodded.

”The uprising began in the east. Hanasian moved us west and whilst that served us well, the Khe’al were not nearly so fortunate. Once we had quit their camp, the warlords moved in. All, bar a few, were slaughtered.”

Berendil paused, remembering the people there and glanced over to where Freja rode. She stared ahead, solemn.

”I wasn’t there to see it, for I had taken some of us north in the hopes of finding the Elf in the midst of this chaos. We nearly had her too. Laid eyes on her myself as did Maras. We found her in caverns, Maras and I each taking a different path to locate her through the tunnels. She had no idea we were there. Maras, a Ranger of Ithilien, took aim and shot. I saw her bleed, Freja. Naiore Dannan is not invincible!”

At that Freja's head snapped towards him to direct all her considerable scrutiny at him, ”She has seen you?”

Berendil nodded, ”And such was her anger that she brought the cavern down upon our heads. Maras did not survive it.”

“Perhaps she does not know you did,”
Freja muttered to herself, discomforted and frowning at the space between her mare’s ears.

”After that, we were largely left to our own devices in Khand’s civil war. But for Khemra, the only surviving daughter of the Khe’al I am not sure we would have found our way out of it. I think you would have liked her.”

“Did the Elf claim her?”
Freja asked.

Berendil shook his head, ”She assumed the lead of the southwest tribes and led the attack on the warlord. The Company moved north to the highlands above Nurn in east Mordor. We saw it all… determined yet poorly armed tribal fighters could never fare well against a fortified city installed with the remnants of a professional army.

“Eventually they were spent and ultimately overrun in the subsequent counter-attack. Khemra was one of the few of their number to reach where we had dug in. We did what we could for her, but ultimately we had to continue on and could not take her with us. She remained in the care of the Easterlings who held the watch in Nûrn.”


At that, Freja twisted in her saddle to look back to where Khule was. He was well behind, lashed to a travois and insensate. In bad shape, she had heard, but not nearly bad enough.

Watching the direction of Freja’s attention, Berendil added, "Nûrn was where we met Khule. He held command of a provisional army caught up on the edge of Khand’s civil war. Khule won us passage north to Rhûn civil war and straight into another civil war. Well, a coup really. An uprising against the Prefect installed by Gondor after the war. The Elf had her hand in that as well.”

At that Berendil called the Company to a neutral stop. The men spread out across the road and into the grass as they gathered around.

”Bree is before us!” Berendil announced and Hanasian issued a signal that saw the Company form into pairs so that they could approach two abreast

”A large, armed force such as us is likely to cause the gatekeepers consternation,” Hanasian declared, his eyes wandering to Freja’s collection of very spears.

She rolled her shoulders and lifted her chin at him, ”Should I sing them a song then?”

At that Foldine chuckled, well aware of what she was suggesting. An armed Shieldmaiden singing one of her Order's many battle songs would do little to allay the concerns of the Bree community, nor those who watched over it.

Hanasian shook his head ”We go in quiet, orderly and professional. Once inside, we make for the Prancing Pony.”

Again Freja was heard, laughing this time, ”Is that why you lot don’t have a serviceable cavalry up here? Too many prancing ponies.”

Hanasian refused to be drawn as he rode to the lead ahead of Berendil and Freja. He signalled the move and they slowly rode toward the gate as the sun shone red on its decent to the western hills, Freja opining along the way.

”Gondor has something approaching a cavalry. They have Knights, of a sort. And Dale, well...they’d have a cavalry if they stopped spending so much time stealing horses and concentrated upon it. Ithilien…too hilly for a cavalry. But what’s Arnor’s excuse, aside from the prancing ponies?”
Last edited by elora on Fri Apr 14, 2017 5:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sun Mar 26, 2017 3:12 am

3021, III –October, Prancing Pony Inn


As Freja rode through the gates people stared. Their eyes bounced from her shield to her spears to her hair and then repeated that process, as if they were not sure what they were seeing. It was almost as if they had never seen a Shieldmaiden before…and then she recalled that they probably had not. A girl, scarcely older than 14 skipped forwards towards her and beyond her mother’s clutches.

”Are you…are you a Shieldmaiden?” she asked, eyes wide and voice breathless as she looked up to where Freja sat.

”Not any more,” she answered, softened it with a smile.

”Once a Shieldmaiden, always a Shieldmaiden,” said one of the younger Rohirrim twins, utterly undoing everything Freja had said.

Freja shot Frea or Folca, she wasn’t sure who, a sharp glare over her shoulder and as she straightened in her saddle her eyes settled on a Ranger of Arnor. He stood, feet planted and arms crossed over his chest, outside what appeared to be a barracks of sorts. His dark hair had turned to steel at his temples and his face was well weathered. Slowly he nodded to her and she wasn’t sure if that was a greeting or a warning or both and something else besides.

”Who is that,”” she asked out the corner of her mouth.

”Massuil,” Berendil replied.

”Sour fellow,” she observed.

”As would you be if a Shieldmaiden had led you on a merry chase clear across Eriador and Arnor both,” Hanasian supplied from just ahead.

Freja’s attention returned to Massuil at that, grasping now who this Ranger was.

”Yes, well I have a bone or twenty to pick with him,” she muttered, ”He had no reason to hunt me so.”

“No?”
Hanasian turned about in his saddle to peer at her directly, ”If that’s your story, try it without a war braid, Freja. And if you have half the sense I think you have, do not cross Massuil. Not in Bree, right under his nose.”

Freja glared at Hanasian, ”I do not recall signing onto your Company, Hanasian.”

Hanasian muttered something in Elvish as he turned about. It made Berendil grin and as soon as she saw that she demanded to know what Hanasian had said.

”Nothing, ni nîn,” he assured her.

The Prancing Pony turned out to be a much better inn that the Forsaken. Higher standards for one, given that the keeper refused to allow the Company to take up residence. Freja swung down out of her saddle as men milled about and shouldered her way into the press of Company officers.

”Well, what are we waiting for?” she demanded to know.

”Not ten minutes earlier you were informing me that you were not part of the Company. And so, Freja, why is it that you think you have a place amongst its officers now?” Hanasian growled.

Freja lifted her brows at him and made a show of looking at the Company men dismounting, ”Well, I suppose you know this innkeeper better than I, but I really do not think any of you men stand a chance charming him into a more agreeable…disposition.”

“And you do?”
Hanasian challenged.

Freja smiled broadly, ”What have you to lose?”

Hanasian rubbed at his jaw, calculated the odds of Freja sacking the Prancing Pony and then shrugged.

In an inkling Freja whipped about and zeroed in on one Barliman Butterbur, spreading her arms wide as she sent him a charming, flattering and magnanimous greeting that made all in earshot gape. They had no idea what she said or did after that but sure enough, when she had returned, she had won them bed and board and a discount on the ale they consumed.

”All except him,” she declared, pointing at Khule.

Bareck shrugged for Khule was still unconscious, ”I don’t think he’s up to any ale just at the moment.”

Thus it was settled and Freja was the most popular Black Company recruit they’d never had. Eager to acquaint themselves with the ale, the men of the Black Company were anxious to stable their horses and set to. Freja, though hung back to take her time. In dribs and drabs the Company men departed the stables as she lingered. Videgavia cast her a suspicious look over his shoulder as he left, aware that she could stable a horse in less than half the time she had taken. Freja loaded her saddle onto the racks and wondered how long it would take for Berendil to return. Not long at all, as it turned out.

It was well after sunset before Freja departed the stables, sauntering along feeling very pleased with herself as she plucked the final sticks of straw from her clothing. Yet, as she approached the inn proper, a shadow detached itself from the inn and revealed itself to be Videgavia. Though she had taken care to restore appearances, for even though everyone in the Black Company knew, appearances were still appearances, she flushed with sudden concern that perhaps she had not been as careful as she thought.

”You, “ he snarled in the early darkness, ”Are a disgrace to your Order.”

Such was the condemnation that Freja was utterly unprepared for it. His words were like a blow to her belly, as if he had calculated just what he might say to cause the most pain. Yet Videgavia was not done.

”At least Eriwyn is not here to see the depths you have allowed yourself to sink to.”

With that Videgavia pulled away and disappeared into the twilight. Freja turned to watch him go, uncertain what to do. Jarringly the door to the inn burst open.

”Come on then, Shieldmaid! There’s people what want to see you in here,” Foldine called from the doorway.

Trying to push Videgavia’s words from her mind, Freja pressed forward and into the Prancing Pony. Berendil was already within, ensconced in the corner with a coterie of Rangers including Massuil.

”Where’s her armour?”

“Where’s the spears?”

“She had them coming in. I saw them myself I did.”

“Shouldn’t she have a shield?”


Foldine shepherded her through the press and the questions.

”I need a drink,” she muttered quietly and then her frown faded when Berendil climbed to his feet.

He lifted a tankard at her and offered her a devious grin as she set off towards him.

”Thought you might be thirsty,” he remarked as she arrived and she shot him a quick grin before she lifted the tankard to her mouth.

”So kind of you to join us,” Massuil announced as she drank.

Freja set down the empty tankard, ”I’ve been busy.”

“I’d noticed,”
Massuil replied, ”Been meaning to ask, how did you slip away that last time? I was sure we had you pinned.”

“Not easily,”
she muttered as she turned about to survey the common room.

Men, for the most, some of the haflings too. She’d last seen them at Minas Tirith. How they’d survived the War still baffled her. Not really made for war, these ones. Still, not to be underestimated. That much was clear.

One of them, apple cheeked and a few too many pints to the wind approached her. He planted his fists on his hips and sized her up boldly. Freja's brows lifted at this and a bemused smile began to unfold. Just who was this, then, she wondered.

”Do you know Merriadoc Brandybuck?”

Know him? She’d tried to convince Éowyn to leave the mite behind. Still, he'd proven useful as she had later discovered so just as well Éowyn had ignored her just as she had Théoden, her brother and even the Ranger that is now King of Gondor and Arnor both. Rangers...also not what they appeared to be, she thought and then realised the hafling was still waiting for an answer. Freja lifted a shoulder in response..

”Rode with him, I suppose,” she allowed, ”Why?”

“He’s my father’s, cousin’s wife’s broth…”
Freja stopped listening at that point but that didn’t stop the hafling from grabbing her hand and towing her after him to an even bigger crowd of haflings.

”Listen, there is a bath upstairs with my name all over it,” she declared as the crowd loomed closer and closer.

”But we’ve got ale,” said the hobbit with a firm hold on her hand.

Freja grinned back at Berendil over her shoulder as she replied, ”Oh, well then, I suppose I could find the time to-“

“Here you go.”


Freja stared at the smallest ale she had ever seen, "Where's the rest of it?"

Back in the corner, Rangers burst into laughter. She was certain she could hear Berendil amongst them. The hobbits, with their tiny ales, proved most diligent company and no one of the Black Company seemed remotely inclined to rescue her from their questions about one Meriadoc Brandybuck. Did he have special armour? How big was his horse really and so forth. Did he really stab the Witch-King of Angmar? Why was it left to him? Where were the other Shieldmaidens?

"At least one of us was under a horse," Freja muttered to that one but no one was really listening.

After a point, Freja took to inventing her answers and they became increasingly outlandish. And through it all, Berendil wandered back and forth, lingering where he knew she could see him. That quiet smile of his upon his face, as if he knew what it did to her to set eyes on him. For one, it made it hard to keep track of what she had last said.

Freja shot to her feet, swift as a spear and declared, ”Bath.”

“That’s what he said during the charge?”

“How would I know?”
Freja answered as she extricated herself, ”Suffice it to say my attention was elsewhere at the time.”

“On what?”
a disgruntled hobbit inquired, seemingly offended that Freja had not set all her varied duties aside to concentrate solely on what one stowaway hobbit might or might not utter.

”On beating Éomer King to the lines,” shouted Foldine raucously.

Freja aimed a pleased smile at his intervention, ”And I did, too!”

“Treason!”
Folca added, grinning, and Freja held up her fingers.

”Just a little one, though,” she returned, winked and then set off for that bath before she could be waylaid by any other curious guest of the Prancing Pony inn.

It was not long before she had unravelled her hair and submerged herself in the first hot, soapy water she had found since setting out from Edoras. Freja surfaced again with a contented sigh and stretched out her legs to prop her ankles on the far end of the copper tub.

The day had been so full she scarcely knew how to make it all fit together. How long would they have in Bree and, once it was ended, then where? Continue on with the Company or take a different path…she looked down to the water she soaked in. Her hair, free, gently waved on the surface. What if she abandoned her war path? Perhaps it was wise given she now knew the Elf had sighted Berendil directly. If Freja pulled back, perhaps he would too and maybe that would be enough to spare them both.
Last edited by elora on Fri Apr 14, 2017 5:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Sat Apr 01, 2017 9:48 pm

Berendil employed all of his craft as a Ranger of Cardolan to slip through the door in silence. Once within, he peeled away his clothing down to his breeches and then advanced towards the tub Freja soaked in. Once only had he seen her with her hair free and he could help but stare at it as it floated about her now.

"Ni nîn,” he whispered reverently in the hope of not startling her.

Freja flinched all the same, yet swiftly settled when she realized who it was. He brought his hands to her shoulders and began to gently rub at the stiffness he felt in her muscles.

”I can feel it relaxing you, my love,” he murmured and kissed the top of her shoulder.

Freja’s eyes drifted closed and she smiled softly at the caress, "Where will our road take us now?"

Her question came without warning yet despite that, Berendil had given some thought to it already. In fact, it had been difficult to consider much else since their paths had joined again.

”We could just stay here,” he suggested lightly, his fingers resuming their work unwinding her shoulders.

What he wanted was a quiet life with this woman. He wanted to wake up beside her each morning and go to sleep with her warmth beside him each night. Perhaps she wanted that too, thought it was hard for him not to wonder at whether such a placid life would be stultifying and dull for her. Further, how likely would such peace be with Naiore Dannan hanging from their necks? Perhaps, as her power continued to wane, it might be possible he supposed.

Berendil pushed out a sight, leaned forward and began to kiss Freja’s throat. His hands began to drift too, caressing the sides of her breasts as his mouth traced a path along her shoulder. Freja stretched in the tub at that and then reached around to pull him atop her. Water surged in waves over the side of the tub and onto the floor as he manoeuvered himself around to slide atop the woman responsible for this mayhem.

He claimed her lips with his own, swallowing her wide, delighted grin at her handiwork.

”You could have let me get undressed first,” he whispered to her.

“Where would be the fun in that!” she laughed, unrepentant.

Some time later Freja followed Berendil to the door to peek surreptitiously into the hall.

”Someone will see….they will know,” she whispered to him.

“You should have thought about that before you gave me your shield to carry,” he swiftly replied.

”You offered!”

“And you accepted. Now, are you ready or would you prefer to wait for people to come by?”


She offered him a cheeky wink and scurried out into the hall. Berendil followed her with just as much haste until he could close the door on the hall and the wet footprints they had left in a trail from bathroom to her door. Once within, Berendil tended to the hearth to build it up as Freja started to dry herself off properly. Before long, they were both tucked into the bed, arms wrapped around each other. Freja’s head was tucked under his chin and Berendil’s hands stroked her hair upon her shoulders.

Too much time had passed where they did not or could not do this. Thus, to merely lie together like this, nowhere to go and nothing to do, was a rare treat.

”I am thinking of resigning from the Black Company,” Berendil said and Freja picked up her head to look at him.

”Why? Are not you and Hanasian life-long friends?”

“Yes… but this company of mercenaries he has vision for, well, it is not mine, ”
he explained, ” I took service so that you might be freed from Naiore’s curse. But in Rhûn, we became an extension of Gondor for some weeks. It had nothing to do with bringing Naiore Dannan to justice. It will happen again and again, I think. That is not what I sought when I took service. And so, I think I will resign my commission. What do you think, my love?"

Freja peered at him intently, her intensely blue eyes thoughtful as they returned his own regard.

”I think Hanasian will not be very happy about it,” she answered.

Berendil stroked his fingers down the curve of her cheek tenderly, ”And upsetting Captains is contrary to your ideals, is it?”

Freja smiled wryly at the question, ”Eriwyn would call me a liar if I said that it was.”

Still, she pushed out a pensive breath and so Berendil added, ”In truth, I do not think Hanasian will be overly surprised. He counselled me against taking service. More than once.”

Freja’s brows rose at that, ”He was lucky to have you, Berendil.”

That was high praise indeed from this woman and he felt curiously bashful to have received it, ”Still, it is true.”

“If you resigned, what would you do?”

“This,”
he said, tightening his arms around her, ”How I endured without you, I do not know. Nor do I want to,” he murmured and she pressed her lips to his chest, nuzzling.

”Never again, my beloved,” she murmured against him and he went utterly still.

In that moment Freja’s sated senses stirred. What had she said, she wondered? How had she ruined it?

”Again. Say that again,” he whispered, vulnerable.

It took her a moment to realise why…and her heart both swelled and broke.

”I love you. I always have. I always will,” she ventured.

Berendil went still, as though holding his breath. Then it escaped him all at once.

”You are my world, Freja, and I would have it no other way.”

She closed her arms around him, locking him in close, and drifted off to sleep with the man she loved beyond all else safe in her arms. As safe as she could make him. Hours later, when Berendil woke, he found himself alone in her bed.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Fri Apr 14, 2017 12:26 am

Freja padded through the empty common room below, silent as a shadow, and then down the hall towards the inn’s rear door. The kitchen garden would be outside, she knew but she was more concerned about what was behind her. Or, rather who. She kept looking over her shoulder for pursuit and so backed out of the rear door with a quietly pleased chuckle that died in her throat when a very large hand descended onto her shoulder.

Arms full, Freja spun about to stare up into the impassive face of the Southron. He stared back at her flatly and then what she held.

”Those are not yours,” he rumbled and Freja swallowed, ”Whose are they?”

She considered running. She considered retreating. She considered trying to roll between his legs and then she sighed.

”The Dalemen,” she confessed and shifted her hold on their boots.

”There are not enough,” the Haradrim observed.

Freja twitched a brow at him, ”There are if you only take one boot per man.”

At that the man did something that utterly surprised Freja for he grinned at her, jubilant.

”Where are you going to hide them?”

Freja hadn’t worked that part out yet and besides, this man was no friend of hers, ”Not sure.”

“What about the roof?”
he asked, glancing up as did Freja.

It was a very long way up…and they’d never look to find their boots there…

”Give me the boots and climb up onto my shoulders. You can throw them into the roof from there.”

It was plausible but then this man was no friend of hers, ”You’ll only take them back.”

Freja tightened her hold on her cargo and the Haradrim rolled his eyes at her, [I]”Little woman, if I wanted them I could have them right now.”

“You and which army?”

“Not yours, certainly, since we mopped the Pelennor with you.”

“Weren’t us running away at the end.”

“Nor you, since a horse went and sat on you…”
the Southron said and then, ”Could do this all day, but they’ll wake up soon.”

“True,”
Freja admitted…the Dalemen would wake up and some would discover that their boots were gone. Only some, for she had carefully mated up the mismatched pairs for the others. And then they’d find out their boots didn’t fit right. And then….

Freja handed the boots over to Molguv, who grinned at her again and went to stand against the wall of the inn. He dutifully crouched so that Freja could climb up his back.

”Hold on,” he said, ”I’m going to stand now.”

Hanasian listened to the whole exchange between the Shieldmaiden and Molguv below. They worked well together despite their apparent and abundant differences. This was a pleasing development for he had been concerned that Freja would not be able to overcome the divisions of the past if he brought her into the Company. Soon enough, he could hear the thud of the boots Freja tossed onto the roof.

”Wait,” Molguv urged after a while, ”Someone’s coming.”

“We have to hide!”

“I’m too big to hide…hang on.”

“What are you-“
Freja’s question vanished into a startled squeak that was alarming enough to make Hanasian poke his head out of the window. There was a solid thud on the roof as he got the window panes unlatched and when he looked below, all he could see was the top of Molguv’s head as he casually leaned against the inn. No trace of Freja anywhere…unless.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Fri Apr 14, 2017 12:28 am

Slowly Hanasian turned about to look up and sure enough, there was Freja peering down from over the eaves. Her eyes widened when she saw him and then she was gone. Just in time too, for the rear door of the inn slammed.

”That’s mine!” Videgavia growled, recognising a boot that had been dropped so that Molguv could toss Freja onto the roof instead, ”Where is the other?”

Videgavia’s fury was to be expected for the Daleman was notoriously temperamental should anyone interfere with his possessions. And of course Freja had stolen both of Videgavia’s boots, because she knew him very well indeed. A deliberate, calculated tweak of his nose to make it impossible for him to ignore her as he had been. Or so Hanasian guessed.

”How should I know, sergeant?” Molguv answered, having perfected the art of playing innocent long before now, ”Do you often leave your boots outside? What if it had of rained last night….though, if you want to leave your boots outside, that’s your business I suppose.”

“If I find you had a hand in this,”
Videgavia warned.

”Don’t boots go on your feet, sergeant?” Molguv continued, infuriatingly.

The door slammed again, the Haradian chortled and then Hanasian heard the door close more quietly. So did Freja, listening to all of this on the roof.

”Hey!” she called down and poked her head over the edge again, ”Hanasian, is there a ladder?”

In his room, Hanasian grinned, ”I’m sure there is. In fact, I’m sure Barliman Butterbur would be only too happy to let you use it if you ask him nicely.”

At that Freja set to muttering in Rohirric, understanding that if she wanted down off that roof then she was going to have to climb down on her own. Hanasian had no doubt that she could, too. Freja was resourceful…which meant that if she got herself into a scrap she was even better at getting herself out of one. Sure enough, she selected the correct window and climbed down only that far to crawl across the sill.

Only to find that whilst there was one Ranger in the room she had clambered through, there was also more than one. The Ranger nearest to her snatched up his boots as a precautionary measure and shoved them behind his back.

”Mae govannen Freja,” said another by the name of Hilferin.

He was stretched out on his bunk, hands behind his head, ”To what do we owe this unexpected pleasure?”

Freja blinked at him, still crouched atop the table by the sill.

”Ummm…”

Hilferin sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, ”Just so you know, Videgavia’s prowling the hall outside, waiting for you.”

Freja sighed at that, nodded her thanks and then edged back towards the window. She disappeared over the sill again and Hilferin went to the window to peer out. Sure enough, the Shieldmaiden was scaling the wall, preferring to climb down two stories to going through the ropable Daleman outside. Once she reached the ground, Freja dusted off her hands and strolled around to the front door of the inn. She ambled inside to find Berendil seated there, a pot of steaming tea before him and two cups.

Freja beamed at him, ”Sleep well?”

Berendil began to pour a second cup, ”Pleased with yourself, I see.”

“Very,”
Freja purred, smug satisfaction thick in her voice as she sat down and accepted the cup of tea.

She sipped, frowned lightly and then pulled the lid of the tea pot off to peer inside.

”Have they run out of tea leaves or something?” she inquired, peering up into Berendil’s face.

He refused to allow her to distract him, ”You will not restore peace with Videgavia like this.”

Freja dropped the lid back into place and slumped back in her chair, ”Wasn’t me that started the war, Berendil.”

He could hear the injured pride in her voice and wondered at that. Freja had been angry at Videgavia’s blunt dismissal of her very presence, but he heard pain now. What, he wondered, had brought that on. Whatever it was, Freja had folded in on herself. He’d not win it from her freely now, he knew, and he had no desire to argue over the matter with her. He drew her hand into his and lifted it to his lips to win a little smile from her. Freja sighed heavily and set her cup down.

”Very well, Berendil, I will try,” she said and then shook her head at herself to mutter, ”The things I do for you…”

”YOU!” Videgavia roared from the stairs.

Freja’s jaw clenched and then, with a glance to Berendil, offered the Daleman a blindingly sweet smile.

”And a good morning to you too,” she said with dry cheer, ”I believe there is a ladder about. You’ll find it useful, I should imagine, if you can lay a hand to it.”

“The roof?!”
Videgavia exclaimed and Freja sipped her tea as he finished descending the stairs, "You threw my boots...our boots on the roof?"

Freja shrugged, "I'll admit, that wasn't what I had originally intended but look at this way. The roof is much cleaner than the midden."

She smiled sweetly at him again and at that, Videgavia whirled on one bare heel and started off in search for a ladder.

"Do you think that helped?" Freja asked Berendil.

"Not in the slightest," Berendil remarked, "Have you any further plans for general mischief and mayhem."

"Not as of the moment, as it so happens,"
she remarked.

"Good to hear...for I am of a mind to show you around Bree. Do you fish?"

Freja inclined a single brow at him, "If I can't shoot it, I don't eat it."

"You've never eaten fish?"
he exclaimed and then shook his head, "That settles it. You're going fishing today."
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Fri Apr 14, 2017 12:29 am

Berendil was swift to fetch his satchels before Freja changed her mind. One held the drawings he had made of her, the other some dried food and lines they could fish with. By the time he returned downstairs he found Freja fidgeting restlessly and definitely ready to go for a walk. Certainly before Videgavia finished his search for a ladder and rest of the Dalemens’ boots.

They set out north towards Archet. There were quite a few quiet, secluded places along streams flowing out of the Chetwood. Places where lovers such as they might not be disturbed.

As they strolled along the street away from the Prancing Pony, he remarked ”It will be nice to have a fresh trout dinner my love. And while we catch our dinner, I brought the drawings I made of you while on my travels.”

Berendil glanced to Freja to ascertain her reaction. She’d yet to give him one since first he had mentioned it. Had she forgotten about them? It was impossible to tell her thoughts from her guarded expression but Berendil resolved to show them to her anyway

It wasn’t long before they came to a place Berendil knew of by a stream. It tumbled, swift and dark between its narrow, steep, grassy banks. Trees lined both banks but there were plenty of places to sit at ease. Freja sat cross legged and watched on with open curiosity as Berendil readied and set the fishing lines. Soon he found himself seated beside her in the autumn sunshine.

Freja squinted at the lines for a long moment, drumming her fingers on one knee, and then asked, ”Is this all fishing is? Sitting?”

“Something like that. You watch the line and if it goes taut, you pull in a fish,”
he answered with half a grin for her inherent impatience as he reached for his leather binding, ”There are other things one can do to pass the time whilst waiting for a fish to bite.”

As he opened the binding, Freja leaned to him, ”Are these the drawings?”

“Yes… I have several. I thought a lot of you a great deal, my love.”


He leaned to her and she looked at the first one he drew in Khand. A distant view, of her with her back to him, helm propped against one hip and braids tumbling down her back as she stared at the horizon. The detail of her armour astonished her. The next few had her looking to the left, and then one with her face looking past where Berendil would be drawing the picture. Freja looked at each intently.

”Do I really look like this?” she asked, somewhat bashful which was very strange for Freja was not known for her shyness.

Barendil smiled as she looked up at him over the binder, ”To me, yes. Each time, this is what I saw. I only had our few meetings in Dunharrow and Minas Tirith to remember.”

Given her self-conscious state, Berendil did not add that his recollections had failed to capture her true beauty by a good margin for she was already flushing.

She leafed through a few more and slowly he saw her smile, ”This woman is far too beautiful. Perhaps you should draw me while I’m in front of you.”

Berendil paused at this, momentarily surprised but he soon recovered for he found himself checking the angle of the light as it fell over her.

”Yes, I think I can do that. You sit there watching the water for a moment.”

Freja looked at him and then around while Berendil got his charcoal out to a fresh page. Berendil took a long, hard look at Freja and then started to draw.

He said, ”it’s all right for you to move my dear. I have captured the image I want to draw.”

He worked his pencil and quickly had her face and shoulders outlined and he started to fill in the details. It seemed a short time when Berendil turned his binding around and Freja looked at what he had drawn. It was a thoughtful Freja on the paper, looking out over the creek. A lock of hair had escaped and hung by her cheek. Her eyes widened at what she saw but Berendil whisked it away to start on another.

He studied Freja intently again and this time drew furiously. When he was done, he turned the binder to show her his work. He had drawn her with a wreath of flowers around her head and a white, silken dress falling from her shoulders. Berendil allowed Freja to take the binder from him. She was so startled that her mouth formed a small o as she took in what he had done. Whilst she was engrossed in this, Berendil moved beside her again fumbling for something in his vest. Head bowed, Freja did not see what he drew out: a silver pendent with a clear white stone strung upon it.

Berendil laid it over the bridal drawing and Freja sucked in a gasp, the sunlight setting the stone to dazzling fire.

Though this was what he had wanted for years now, his heart was still in his throat and his voice was faint.

”Beloved Freja, I ask thee to be my wife, for you are the love of my life. I wish for nothing other than to share each dawn, each dusk, each day and every night with you. What say ye shieldmaiden???”

Freja’s eyes widened as her spine went stiff with surprise. Her head bounced up and her eyes shot to his as if she did not quite believe what he had just said. Neither one of them noticed that one of the fishing lines in the water had gone taut.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Fri Apr 14, 2017 1:59 am

3021, III –October, Chetwood


Shieldmaidens, as a rule, did not look too far ahead. At least, not past the campaign they were engaged upon. Their lives were brief, their duty hard and the price they paid for ultimate. And yet, in those rare moments when Freja’s thoughts had tripped further down the paths of the future, she had never imagined this. A wife. More to the point, Berendil’s wife. That was role that belonged to another woman, one far more suitable than she could ever be. One who wore silken dresses.

A woman of gentler nature, hands unwashed in blood, innocent of battle and war and all the grim tasks that went with such acts. One that could keep a warm home and raise a family. Certainly Dunédain, so that she could remain with him down the long years they would share together. Freja stared down at her own hands. The hands of a warrior. Some might say a killer. And now…a wife? She stared at the dazzling stone. It was like looking into a thousand tiny suns all at once…and only last night she had been puzzling over how she might turn Berendil from his pursuit of Naiore Dannan.

”Say…something,” Berendil quietly pleaded.

Freja peered at him, utterly flummoxed. She loved this man, but his wife?

”Are you sure this is what you want?” Freja asked, perplexed.

”Yes,” Berendil replied and then pushed his drawings aside to pull closer to her, ”I have no doubt of it.”

“But I’m a…”
Freja frowned as she searched for adequate words, ”A Shieldmaiden.”

“Oh, that certainly has not escaped my notice,”
Berendil’s answer held a wry note as he lifted his knuckles to lightly stroke down her cheek.

”But…children?”

Freja watched his dark brows lift at her question and his grey eyes, glinting in the sunlight, searched her own for a moment, were undaunted, ”If they come.”

“And if they do not?”

“Then they do not,”
he answered and then cupped her face between his palms, ”Had Lady Verawyn told me I would fall hopelessly in love with a Shieldmaiden of Rohan...”

“You would have asked her what a Shieldmaiden was,”
Freja replied and his smile grew as he nodded.

”Marry me, Freja” he lifted a brow at her, ”If you dare.”

“Is that a challenge?”
she retorted, astonished and then laughter escaped her at Berendil’s nod.

Her laughter faded away as she realised just how true that was. He offered her a campaign unlike any other she had ever undertaken. Full of uncertainty and opportunity. Her heart was thundering in her ears. That combination of thrilling excitement and utter terror…Freja knew then what she had to do and she leaned into Berendil to kiss him deeply.

”Is that yes?” he hoarsely asked against her lips and Freja kissed him again for good measure, lingering at the last to nibble his lower lip.

”If you’re fool enough to take a Shieldmaiden to wife, Ranger, far be it from me to stop you,” she replied, her own voice husked.

Just like that Berendil surged into action. In a blur of movement, he pulled them both to their knees and Freja found herself staring at him, wide eyed. Mind you, she could happily look at his man for hours on end and sometimes, during the night as he slept, she found herself doing exactly that. He had the sweetest expression when he slept.

”You’ll marry me?” he pressed, as if he could not believe it.

“Yes,” she replied and then paused at the intensity of Berendil’s expression, ”Unless you’ve come to your senses and changed-“

He swallowed her words as he drew her to him, gathering her up easily. When her senses cleared again, she discovered that she had wound her legs around Berendil’s hips and her fingers were splayed across his back, under his shirt, to soak up the warmth of his skin. The fire in her blood was roaring and she knew it was the same with him. It was in his eyes and she could feel it elsewhere too.

”Oh my love,” he whispered, sudden tears in his eyes, ”My bride.”

Slowly she unfurled herself and he lowered her to the ground and reached for the pendant, ”A symbol, beloved, of the troth we have plighted.”

Freja turned about and gathered her braid forward so that he could fasten it in place. When it was done, her hand rose to close over the clear stone as his lips brushed the sensitive skin at the base of her neck. His lips rose along her throat to nibble an ear and then he hooked his chin over her shoulder to peer down at the pendant.

”My father gave this to my mother, in their time,” he murmured.

Berendil had told her of his parent’s sad fate and so she lifted her right hand to stroke his bristled cheek.

”I wish I could have met them,” she said, ”And this Lady Verawyn you speak of.”

He smiled at the notion of Freja in the oppressive court of Prince Bereth and the Old Forest. Presuming he could get her in there. Like as not, she’d set the entire place afire convinced there were Huorns lurking within the ancient forest. And, of course, Prince Bereth would all too inclined to use Freja for his own ends. As the ward of Aragorn’s most potent ally, Berendil had no doubt that his own Prince would find a way to use her to his advantage. He’d lost his family to Cardolan’s machinations. He’d not lose the woman he loved as well.

”Perhaps one day,” he murmured, again keeping his counsel to himself.

”Never, you mean,” Freja astutely replied and Berendil smiled inwardly as an idea on how to distract her came to mind.

He resumed nibbling on her earlobe.

”I know what you’re doing,” Freja observed and he smiled against her skin.

”Can I help it, Freja? Since first I saw you I have wanted you.”

“And now you have me,”
she said softly, ”And I you. But still, there is something else that must be done.”

Berendil murmured something indistinct against her earlobe as she gathered up the end of her braid. When she did not respond, he paused to find she was unknotting the length of hide she used to bind it. He watched on in silence for a moment as she set to unravelling her war braid, but after a moment he reached around to gather her braid and her fingers in his hands.

”Please,” he said, ”Might I?”

The question was quiet, almost solemn. Almost as if he understood the significance of what was occurring. She nodded and eased her fingers out of his grip so that he could unravel the braid the rest of the way.

”You are a brave man, Berendil of Cardolan,” she murmured as he worked, ”Tis one thing to turn a Shieldmaiden from her spears and bear her shield. Quite another to draw her from her war path.”

“Unusual, is it?”
he asked.

”Aye.”

“And how common is it to steal a horse from the royal herd and live to tell the tale? Or, say, give a torc to someone other than your king?”

“It’s different when I break the rules.”

“How’s that?”

“They’re mine to break,”
Freja answered, half smiling at herself as she did so.

Behind her, she heard Berendil’s soft chuckle as he ran his hand over her now freed hair. He swept its weight aside to kiss the back of her neck, lips lightly grazing over her skin to raise gooseflesh down her arms. She sighed as she leaned into him, feeling strangely content despite the remarkable course of the morning so far.

”Is it forbidden to draw the tattoos set upon a Shieldmaiden’s back?” he asked and Freja’s eyes flared open.

”Yes!”

“Oh,”
Berendil said, wreaking yet more havoc on her senses with his deep voice velvet in her ear, ”Pity. For I’d like to draw them.”

“Why?”

“Because they are quite beautiful, Freja. And because…well, because they are you as told by your sisters, rather than what I see. Or imagine.”


Freja’s jaw knotted and her eyes closed. She knew she should say no. She knew this…but…but…but Berendil had been turning her customs on their head since the moment they had first met and so what should be different now.

”No one else may see, my love. If one of my sisters were to discover this…”

“For your eyes and mine only, dear heart. Never would I bring dishonour to your name.”


Well, when he put it that way…Freja’s head turned to study him over her shoulder and then she pressed out a sigh as she reached for the hem of her tunic.

Berendil pulled back to study the profile she presented. He gently shifted the angle of her shoulders and adjusted the fall of her hair. The light fell perfectly. He fit his hand under her chin and turned her head towards her shoulder. Yes, every line, angle and plane…perfect.

”There…just there….don’t move a muscle.”

“What? Before you said that I could-“

“Not a muscle, Freja,”
he replied and grinned at her voluminous sigh of frustration.

“Well, I’ll try anything once, I suppose,” Freja acknowledged and then squinted at the fishing lines sunk into the bank, ”Is that line taut?”

Berendil looked to the bank and sure enough one line was taut. So taut that whatever was hooked on the end of it was trying to tow it back up stream. He scrambled to his feet and nearly tripped in his haste to reach the bank. Freja remained exactly where she was, openly chortling at his unseemly progress. Just as he reached the bank, the line came free and began to travel along the bank upstream.

Trouts were notoriously spirited fish and so Berendil set off after it, scampering along the bank.

”I think I like fishing very much,” Freja called after him, laughter shimmering in her voice as Berendil disappeared into the trees.

She rolled onto her back on his cloak, stretched her limbs languorously in the sun and slowly sat up to restore herself to rights. By the time she had thrown her rumpled tunic on, she realised that there were certain matters that needed tending to for the second line had gone taut.

She hastened to the bank to retrieve the line, picked up the pole and then pulled the line out of the water to find they’d caught something. Definitely something, though it hardly looked edible to her. She tossed the line and whatever it had caught, hopefully not dinner, up the bank. Freja had not seen many fish at all, but this one was decidedly ugly. She stared down at it on the grass, hands on her hips and then called in the direction Berendil had headed.

”I hope yours is prettier,” she tilted her head to one side and then the other, ”It has a beard!”

When she heard nothing in response, Freja picked her head up to stare at the trees.

”Berendil?”

Still no answer and so, puzzled, Freja set off in his footsteps. Surely a Ranger had to be able to outrun a fish, she thought as she slid through the trees. But there was no sight of him, not by the stream. Puzzled, Freja turned about between the trees and then she felt the sharp sting of something she had encountered before – a dart.

When Freja came to again, her shoulders and arms were an agonising mass that nearly overwhelmed her. Her eyes rolled in her head and it was only sheer desperation that kept her conscious. Understanding came in jolts, and those jolts came from the fact that she was being dragged behind a horse. Where Berendil was, she did not know but she dared hope that perhaps he had managed to escape whoever these brigands were.

”Halt!”

The same voice as before, a strange accent…she’d heard that accent before, though…and then Darhius’ came to mind. Though the horse she was strung to had stopped, the rope was not long enough to allow her to rest her weight entirely upon the ground. If her shoulders had not been pulled from their sockets, they were close to it and once that happened, she’d be next to useless.

Footsteps, boots crunching over the ground and someone came into view. Freja squinted up but whoever it was, his face was shadowed. Definitely a man, though. Whoever this Rhuardarian was, he said nothing as he stared down at her. He slowly drew a knife and turned it over in one hand as if thinking.

“Who are you,” she asked, her voice scarcely more than a croak from her dry throat.

He didn’t answer her and instead turned away.

”We’ll start with the other one,” he called and with a sick feeling in her stomach, Freja realised that Berendil had not slipped away at all.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Mon Apr 17, 2017 12:59 am

Chetwood

Berendil was groggy and only able to hear…. Voices. He couldn’t quite make out what they were saying… where was Freja…. He drifted back into darkness….

Freja was bound and blindfolded and tossed into the old cabin and left lying on the floor. She could hear the voices of those responsible outside. But she too could not keep her awareness, and she drifted into an uneasy dream….


Bree

Hanasian sat at the Prancing Pony with Hilferin enjoying the delicious pot pies the kitchen had made that afternoon. A few of the others gathered about the common room. It was only Videgavia that sat alone even away from his countrymen. Retrieving his boots hadn’t make him noticeably happier. Foldine, Frea, and Folca sat by the bar enjoying some early ale, with the highlanders out watching the back and the front of the inn. No consideration was given that neither Berendil nor Freja were absent. Pretty much everyone, particularly Videgavia, knew they were likely out walking or rolling in the grass somewhere.

When the afternoon came and the sun westered, Macvil had commented after his watch was replaced by Bereck, that he had seen the two lovers walking off north with little more than fishing poles. It wasn’t until the evening gathering came that Foldine said that something was amiss.

”It doesn’t feel right. I know all should be well, but I trust my gut. I have a bad feeling about this.”

Overhearing, Hanasian walked to the bar where Foldine stood. He could see at least three empty pints in front of him, and there was no telling how many had been taken away.

He said to Foldine, ”You’re drunk. Never you mind about Berendil and Freja. Come morning, if they aren’t here, we will go have a look-see. Now, I hope you all have enjoyed your day of leisure. Tomorrow, we have things to do so I expect everyone up early.”

Hanasian intercepted the pint of ale the barmaid was bringing Foldine and sipped it, ”I was looking for a fresh beer.”

He then walked over to the table where Videgavia sat alone, hunched over his ale. Misery rolled off him in waves.

”You need to get a grip on this and soon,” Hanasian informed him and his haunted dark eyes bounced up to his captain’s ”I can’t have both my sergeants losing their heads now.”

Hanasian left the Daleman to return to his chair. Hanasian tried to settle himself, but now his gut told him something was amiss. Still, with most of his men drunk after a long run in the field there was little he could do about it. Hanasian felt the press of Foldine’s gaze and returned it, resolving to wait until morning. Like as not, they’d tumble in full of each other and he’d give them an earful then. He hoped. Hanasian finished the ale he had and retired for the night to write in his journal.

The alarm came in the dark, as it was wont to do, during the fourth watch. Bereck reported that he had been ambushed by a man. Unfortunately for his assailant, Bereck had been busy cleaning his fingernails with his knife so it had found its way into the man’s ribs. Still, Bereck had been injured and he woke the Black Company banging on the doors to be let in.

It was not long they were in the common room blinking in the candle light around a none too please innkeeper. Without Freja on hand to soothe and charm, Barliman Butterbur was not to be assuaged. Hanasian and Videgavia went with Bereck after he was bandaged up to examine the dead man and it was then that both men tensed. Moricarni! They were in Bree, and how many they could not know. Suddenly, the need to locate Berendil and Freja became urgent.

Hanasian had everyone up and outside the inn as the light of day started to chase the stars from the eastern sky. There were a few who were tired and some wavering on their feet, but only Berendil of the company was missing. Freja was missing too. A check of their rooms confirmed neither had returned from their walk yesterday. Their weapons were still there, and little seemed to have been taken by either of them. A bit careless in their part, Hanasian thought, but now he was truly worried.

He wasted no time getting the men ordered and a search established. Bree would be combed, and he hoped they would be found soon. They were sent in pairs, two out each gate and along the bounds of Bree. With no report that they had gone out a gate, Hanasian had the rest move through the tracks and trails that went through the Chetwood toward Archet. They would meet at the Archet tavern.

The morning wore on and the afternoon came. A picturesque sunny day. Hanasian had found what appeared to be the best track to take to go fishing, and as he and Videgavia searched, they were met by Hilferin and Bereck. A little farther on and Frea and Folca came through a narrow track and met them. It was with the sun westering that they found a place where it appeared two people sat by a creek.

There was no sign of a struggle, but a fishing pole was found on the bank and another further down the creek. There, it appeared there was a struggle with much of the undergrowth broken. Someone had been dragged away. Another sign showed someone else falling to the ground and was carried away. The heavy boot prints going across the creek showed the weight was of two people. A hard look around had Hanasian find a tan leather binder. He took a brief look inside it and quickly closed it up.

Videgavia came by, stern and quiet, but he asked, ”What did you find?”

“Berendil’s Company journal.”


He eyed Videgavia sternly and Vid moved on. They had little time. Already they were a day and night behind.

Hanasian drew his men together and said to Videgavia, ”You and Bereck go to the Archet Tavern and gather the others. I’ll take the rest of the men and push on the track. Once you’ve gathered everyone, set out a sweep behind us in case they backtrack. We’ve have much time. Now go!”

“Maybe, Cap, had you listened to Foldine and last night we would have not lost valuable time,”
Videgavia said not moving.

Hanasian’s jaw bunched as he confronted his remaining sergeant, ”Perhaps… but are you prepared to spend still more time debating it? Gather the others and go, now!”

Videgavia took a deep breath as if to argue but instead he set off down the track toward Archet. Hanasian watched as he went, and he could see the fearful faces of Frea and Folca looking to him, and also of Hilferin. As he was readying to go, two more came crashing through the bush. It was Mulgov.

”I think we found a track Cap. It leads away across the stream. Khule is watching the other way, moving slow. I told him not to go in alone should he find anything.”

That set Hanasian alight. They had to get going in hopes Khule doesn’t try to spring Freja on his own. He sent Mulgov out as point to lead the way back to Khule.

Once there were across the creek, there was sign was that had been two heavy booted people, with a few other boots along with them. Then there was a fresher set, likely Khule’s, but they were well alert with weapons drawn as they moved forward going farther east into the forest. Hanasian hoped Khule didn’t try and take them on his own…
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:17 am

3021, III –October, Chetwood

Freja heard the door open as before and willed herself to remain calm. There was nothing these Moricani could do to break her. She was a Shieldmaiden and she would prevail as had her sisters as before her. They would win nothing from her, not a shred of information no matter how slight. They would not know that she feared for herself and moreso for Berendil. They would not know that she felt pain. They. Would. Not. Know. She’d rise above it, just the way she had been taught. As all Shieldmaidens were taught. When the shields went down and the spears shattered, they were the final defence and they would not be broken.

Come. What. May.

Bound and weakened as she was, turning over to meet her interrogator’s eyes was beyond her. Still, she did not whimper as she was turned over to face him. Shadowed as the cottage was, she recognised Berendil immediately and her eyes flared with shock and relief. He was alive, but in little better condition than she was. He pulled the gag from her mouth and set to work on her bonds. And that was not all he had done for when she sat up, Freja saw he had brought weapons.

Two swords and two daggers, both of questionable quality but it was better than what they had. Their weapons, their armour, her spears and shield had all been left behind in their rooms at the Prancing Pony.

”How is this possible?” she asked as Berendil unbound her ankles.

”Something draws their attention. The Black Company, perhaps,” he answered as he freed her.

Despite their circumstances, they gazed at each other. Somehow blind to the abuse both had been put to, they pulled together in a passionate embrace.

”I thought I’d lost you,” Freja admitted, pressing her face into Berendil’s neck.

”Never,” he answered, pulling her lips to his again and drinking deeply and then capturing her face in his hands, ”Are you hurt?”

“No more than you. They questioned you,”
she said, brushing back a fall of his midnight hair.

”And you,” he acknowledged and then swallowed ”And…and it is different. A woman can be harmed in a way a man cannot.”

Freja offered Berendil a ghost of a ferocious smile. A Shieldmaiden’s smile and though her strength was flagging her eyes flashed, ”They did not dare!”

He pushed out a deep, shaking breath, relieved and she pushed on, ”How far are the Company away?”

“I do not know,”
Berendil admitted.

They could be about to descend or oblivious and anywhere in between. Freja knew that immediately. They’d not declared where they were going or when they’d be back. It was entirely possible the Black Company had no idea they’d be taken. Freja glanced to the boarded-up window.

”It will be dark soon. A moonless night,” Freja observed and Berendil understood immediately.

They needed to win their freedom as they could not risk going into this night with untold assailants hunting them.

He nodded and hefted one of the swords he had obtained from the other guard, ”I’m ready.”

“As am I,”
Freja said and realised he was waiting for her to lay out a plan, deferring to her experience, ”We split, round the camp and take out who we can as we make for cover. There, we can pick them off as it pleases us.”

“I will not leave without you,”
he declared, resolute.

Freja ran her fingers along his jaw, ”Nor I without you, beloved man.”

And it was done. They took up their weapons, such that they were, and with a final passionate exchange set off.

It had been a gamble from the outset but what choice did they have? All that had been certain was that they’d die waiting for someone else to win their freedom and so when the opportunity came, such that it was, they had seized it. Time trickled past and one by one they fell and Freja found herself wondering whether they just might win their way clear. Another of the Moricarni fell and the sword she had sourced was notched but still serviceable. Dusk had not yet failed and the Moricarni were dwindling. At her back, Berendil slew another of these fiends.

It had been all but impossible to know how many of them were, but by her count their number had be getting thin. They had no more of the cowardly darts. She knew that for surely they would have used them by now. Oh, to have her spears now. A shield. Armour. A decent sword. Still, she could feel they were at a tipping point as she put another Moricarni down.

Freja adjusted her grip on her appropriated weapon. It was going to get very dark very soon. Dusk was short now. They couldn’t go into the moonless night, pinned into place as they were. Out of the thickening shadows another Moricarni launched herself. Freja batted her away, snapping the blade of her sword when it lodged in her foe’s ribs.

She swore at that, hunkered and grabbed up one of the two knives they’d been able to harvest with the swords. She hoped the sword Berendil had would hold for a while longer, sighted another opponent and launched herself at him, knife at the ready. He was not nearly the fighter the Easterling had been and she managed to drop him in short order and pull back to where Berendil dealt with another.

A pitched battle, that was, and she had nothing to assist him with. No so much as a shield to hold. And yet, how glorious it was to finally see battle with this man. He fought well, she thought, more than a worthy companion at arms. But she’d known that from the outset for a swordsman does not easily fare as well as he had against her spear haft at Dunharrow. As that thought crossed her mind, yet another Moricarni rushed at her, sword slashing about. Freja grimaced at the prospect of a meeting a sword with a knife and got on with it as best she could.

It was a scrappy, messy affair as far as technique was concerned but form be damned. She wanted him dead and them alive and that was that. In the time it took her to accomplish it, losing the knife in the process, Berendil had taken another two Moricarni. The dead littered the ground and another was bearing down on Berendil. Freja drew back, scanning the undergrowth as best she could in the failing light. She saw it too late. The swordsman came at her and she knew just from the way he carried himself that he knew what he was about. She was tired, injured and reduced to a dagger. Still, she accounted for herself with all the skill she had to muster.

Then, through the shadows, a war axe came winging through. Her assailant swerved to avoid it. A quick warning to Berendil saw them do the same and then, a searing pain as steel punched through her and into Berendil behind her . Freja gasped at it, though it sounded more like a gurgle, and behind her Berendil slumped. His weight carried her down even as the swordbearer fled. Her lungs were filling with blood. She was drowning and all she could see was the Easterling’s face, contorted. Strange, she thought distantly, she’d have expected Khule to be pleased by her death. Her hand found Berendil’s, fingers winding. Stay with me, she whispered or tried to through the blood.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Tue Apr 25, 2017 7:36 am

The Road to Rohan

The rain fell in a dreary curtain when the Company set out from Bree. The only thing that changed as they went south was how hard the rain fell. The days were grey and shrouded, the nights no better. The sombre procession made their way south, morale so low as to be dragging in the mud behind them. Hanasian kept to himself and Videgavia rode rearguard, often lagging well behind everyone else. Neither man spoke, to each other or others in the Company, which was unnerving. Hilferin, Beregon, and Gilkis formed the stoic strength that held the Company together during this dark journey. Khule had become grim and Mulgov stayed close to the Easterling.

The rain forced them to pause at Tharbad, the Greyflood too swollen to ford it. With little option but to wait, Hanasian finally bestirred himself from his silence and informed the Company that they would wait out the weather. At least until the caisson carrying Berendil and Freja could be gotten safely across the river. Still the rain fell, as hard as it had for many of the days they had been travelling south.

The best care had been taken to preserve Berendil and Freja in Bree. Side by side they lay in the caisson that the Company had built just for them. All of this had been the doing of Foldine, largely, for in the immediate aftermath Hanasian had grown cold and withdrawn, lost in a fog of grief that had yet to clear. Videgavia too was a man frozen. The weight of responsibility bore down hard on Hanasian and he tormented himself analysing all that might have been done. Ultimately, though, all that did nothing to restore either Berendil or Freja to life again. All he could do was resolve to end the Moricarni and the Elf they served.

But as Hanasian struggled with his sorrow and rage, the Company had not been idle. Neither he nor Videgavia was able to hinder the Company’s wrath as they had hunted down any lingering Moricarni. In fact, it had taken nearly all he had to pull them together for the journey south. By the time they had gained Tharbad, Hanasian remained badly shaken and there was no one amongst their number able to approach him in the way that Berendil had. Though Hanasian did not know it at the time, his men resolved to bear it out and work it through and without exception they held true.

They waited out the Greyflood at the old inn by the ford. As the rain tapered off and the waters started to recede, emergency repairs began. As the men of the Company waited, they whiled away the damp hours with ale and food such that it was. The caisson had been brought within as well, for no one felt right about leaving it out in the elements or stashing it in the stables. Thus it was here that the walls that Hanasian had raised so high about him started to crumble. He saw everyone in the common room with the caisson, and with much ale in him he approached it for the first time. He let his hand run along the dark wood, and began to talk.

”When I was a boy I lived in Rivendell with my mother and sister. I met another lad and we took a liking to each other. We’d explore together the reaches of Rivendell into the valley to the north, and we would watch and learn from the smiths of the great forge that was there. I was sad to be parted from my friend when I accompanied my mother and sister to Rohan. It wasn’t for another few years before I returned and by then we were boys no longer.”

Hanasian took a drink from his tankard as he leaned against the caisson, ”Upon my return to Imladris I commenced training as a Ranger. Berendil had begun his elsewhere but often he was at my side, as we were when we were boys. There was much we did together. He was with us when we were ambushed at Raven Falls in 3008, and we mourned togther our commander and mentor, Elendur, who fell that day. When I saw my first death in battle when Amakin fell, it was Elendur who told me that there would be days like these. But none of that is like this day…the day my friend, and the woman he was to marry fell.”

He looked at the caisson and his hand ran along the length of it. With a pat, he turned to those watching on, ”If anyone wishes to speak of our comrades, please do so. We will do so again in Rohan, for I know of their rituals. And before you ask, yes, I name Freja as our comrade. For though she was not a member of our Company, she held its spirit to heart and was an integral part of it. Our Company is poorer without them both.”

As he walked away from the caisson, Hanasian tapped Videgavia on the shoulder as he passed. Vidgavea looked down at the worn floorboards at this and the Company tensed, wondering at what would now occur. For an unspoken distance had simmered between Hanasian and Videgavia since the day Berendil and Freja had fallen. Eventually Videgavia unfolded himself and approached the caisson. He stood, staring at it with a haunted visage and the men watching could only guess at the dark turn of his thoughts. A great number of things crossed his mind, from the wrathful words he had hissed at Freja, full of contempt and disgust to the fact that if he did not do this now, he’d have to do it in Rohan with a good many more people watching. He sighed and took a drink of his ale.

”The first time I met Freja she was cursing the bluest streak I had ever heard. Then she stole my knife. Admittedly, I was trying to steal her horse but as she’d already stolen it, I didn’t think it mattered over much. Freja did not agree. She’d just been exiled, and at first I did not believe her when she told me who she was. No king’s ward spoke as she did. She was…extraordinary,” he paused, ”Smug, young, and insufferably cocky too.”

Videgavia shook his head from side to side slowly, ”Yet despite the fact she was covered in mud from head to toe and ready to hang my intestines from my ears, I saw something. There was a light within her and once I saw that, everything changed. I was never the same again. She left Dale three years later, a great deal wiser, but in all that time I never found a way to tell her or show her the truth. Who tells a Shieldmaiden of Rohan he loves her, much less that one?”

At his question, Videgavia pushed out a sigh before he answered himself, ”Berendil of Cardolan, that’s who. I suppose that’s why we never saw to eye to eye. He had what I did not and I resented him for it but I admire him his courage, for he dared what I didn’t. So now I offer the man my respect and my reverence for he made the woman I loved happy in ways I never could.”

Videgavia fidgeted, shifting his weight from side to side until he finally nodded and crossed to where Hanasian stood at the bar. At these two declarations, the weight of of loss was no lighter yet some of the foreboding tension seemed to ease away. The men of the Company spoke quietly with each other, still subdued, but for a few notable exceptions they slept well for the first time in some days.

The next day the water running over the ford was still quite high but it was receding. Hanasian asked Frea and Floca if they dared ride across the river and they eagerly said that it could be done. The two younger Rohirrim crossed with some difficulty but once on the other side, made haste to the Fords of Isen to bring word of their arrival. By the late afternoon the water had receded enough to allow for the crossing of the others. Hanasian put it to a vote on whether they should stay another night or push on as far as they could before nightfall. It may have been the only time the Company voted unanimously. They crossed the river and were again moving onward toward Rohan.

The Fords of Isen

A great host of riders awaited them at the Fords of Isen. They lined the river in a thick wall of horse and spear, the only gap in their number where the crossing itself was. Hanasian had his men pull to the side as they approached the far bank and it fell to Foldine to lead the caisson across and into Rohan proper.

A great clash of shields was heard as it rolled up out of the water past the Eyot where Prince Theodred had fallen in battle. There a monument had been built and as the Company fell in two by two behind the caisson, they each acknowledged Théodred as if the Prince still watched the Fords. One all had gained the far back and entered Rohan, the Company again paused.

A Shieldmaiden in full battle dress approached from a line of riders with an unadorned man in a grey cloak beside her. She wore no helm and her braids hung free over her shoulders, torcs gleaming here and there. As they neared, Hanasian recognised Vorda and beside her Darhias, Ranger of Rhuadar. Both looked stricken, for Vorda had been particularly close to Freja just as Darhias had been to Berendil.

As the two passed, the other riders lifted their spears high and rode forth slowly. They sang a chant, keeping time with the steady rhythm of a drum, as they pulled into an arrow shape that would precede Vorda and Darhias when they took the road to Edoras. As the Shieldmaiden and Ranger pulled up, Hanasian could see the glint of tears in their eyes as they swept over the caisson. Then Vorda turned her mount about, cleared her throat and rose in her stirrups so that her words would be heard.

”For bringing our sister home to us, I thank you. A daughter of Rohan rests with a son of Cardolan and together they will be interred. I seek your permission to take reins and lead them to the place they will rest together forever more, Edoras.”

Hanasian inclined his head to the captain of the Shieldmaidens, ”M’lady, authority is not given to me as to where your sister is taken, but as for the man she loved, I give my wholehearted permission on behalf of the Black Company to lead our comrade in arms through the lands of Rohan to be laid to rest with the woman he was to wed. May they never again be parted.”

Lady Vorda stared at him, unaware of the betrothal between Berendil and Freja, ”Is…is this true. Had they, were they…”

Her voice was strained as she sank back into her saddle. Hanasian nodded and Vorda’s eyes closed briefly as she brought her fingers to her mouth, ”At least, then, they had that.”

Darhias reached across to grasp Vorda’s shoulder and Hanasian watched the woman Freja had scrupulously trained gather her wits again. She would, he thought as Vorda rose in her stirrups again, make a formidable commander. No wonder that Freja had watched over her like a hawk.

”My husband Darhias, a Dunedain Ranger, will accompany me in leading them forth.”

Hanasian nodded and Foldine lifted the lead reins of the two horses in front of the caisson into the hands of Vorda. They turned their horses and set forth. In smooth order, the company followed the caisson as Frea and Folca re-joined their ranks at the rear. Led by the chants of the Shieldmaidens, the other Riders of Rohan set forth in a flaring line each side of the caisson and they made their way toward Edoras as a chill wind blew from the north. The break in the rain ended as a drizzle started to fall.

Edoras

As they approached Edoras, a host of riders came forth to meet the Shieldmaidens. It was the Kings Guard and amongst them were King Éomer and Lady Éowyn. They had little to say as they took in the reality of what was before them. First Théodred, then Théoden and now another of their family though not by blood. Closer they drew to the city and though they were several miles out from its walls, people had begun to line the way. Their weeping and the sombre songs carried through the grey mist. With procession passing, the people followed as the drum kept its rhythm. From a distance, a horn echoed through Edoras. A single long tone, followed by another after a breath. More deep drums sounded in unison with the Shieldmaidens’ drum.

As the walls grew large, the formation of the riders around the rolling caisson shifted, drawing closer. The Shieldmaidens’ chant remained steady but now others joined it, Knights of Rohan. Éomer King rode forth with his sister, ahead of Vorda and Darhias, and in a deep voice gave lament as the procession came to a halt. The chanting waned but could still be heard, and the horn sounded and the drum kept beat. A ramp had been placed to allow the caisson to be drawn into the great hall of Meduseld where the final preparations could be made. The rest of them proceeded on to the training grounds where they found a great fire had been raised.

Around this, younger initiates and novices of the Shieldmaiden’s order moved, and the echoing heavy drum faded to a lighter rhythm as more horns were added. The other Rohirrim circled and dismounted and sat to watch on, listening to the chants and the horns and the drums. Hanasian had the Company do likewise and in time, men and women began to approach the fire. Each threw something into the flames, dedicating whatever was offered to the dead. Foldine, Frea and Folca followed suit. Later, Khule the Easterling, who had kept himself carefully cloaked, arose and approached the fire. He took out a handful of medals and threw them in all at once. He then removed a kerchief he always worn and it too went in.

The Rohirrim were stunned to discover an Easterling amongst them. Some moved uneasy hands to the hilts of their swords, particularly the Shieldmaidens. But Khule looked about at those gathered, and again turned to the fire and reached into it. He held it there as he started to sweat, and as he grimaced, he felt the skin on his hand sear in the heat. He pulled it back and held it up. His sleeve smoked and his hand was blackened but not blistered. This, somehow, seemed to appease those glowering. Khule clenched his fist and returned to his seat without so much as a word.

Mulgov stood and removed one of his many necklaces and held it out to the fire, letting it slip from his hand into the coals by the edge where it quickly kindled. When Videgavia stood and went forth, he brought out a knife blade. He looked at it with longing, turning it over in his hands, and then with one last nod he threw it hard into the pyre. It was lost in the flame and coals, and sent sparks racing skyward. After this, each of the Dalemen made their offerings. For himself, Hanasian stood and drew his knife. He cut off a lock of his hair before sheathing it, then wove it in a quick braid. He then stepped to the fire, and as he stood there, he cut his finger and let the slow trickle of his blood run out on the lock of hair. He then lifted it and bowed to the north, and threw it into the fire. He wrapped his finger with his hand, and went to sit down.

It was not long after the last person had made their offering that word came to Hanasian that the Company was summonsed to Meduseld. They stood, turned their backs on the fire and made for the great hall upon the hill. When they found the uncovered caisson in the middle of the hall. With the front of the caisson unhitched and down, Berendil and Freja lay at an angle and faced toward the throne of Rohan. Their weapons and armour had been placed on and around them along with the broken weapons of their foes. Freja’s hand had been set in Berendil’s, his necklace catching the light of a sconces and her torc gleaming on his chest.

The Company formed up to the left of the caisson and turned to face it. The Shieldmaidens likewise came and stood along the other side. The procession began with King Éomer and Lady Éowyn of Ithilien at the head of the line. At their approach, both Company and the Shieldmaidens raised their weapons in salute. The King of Rohan and his sister circled the caisson, inestimable sorrow in their faces. There was silence, for now even the drums and horns outside had ceased. The mourning had begun.

Once the King and Lady had passed, the Company and Shieldmaidens began their own approach to offer a final, personal farewell for a comrade, a sister, a friend. Once this was done, Then the songs and chants again commenced, but this time they spoke of the life and deeds of those that lay forever still in their midst. Ale and food was brought forth and a feast was served. It was the last celebration of the life of Freja Fireborn and Berendil of Cardolan, and the eating and drinking was hard and heavy. There was tales and songs and poems and stories told, and a sense of joy filled the hall.

There was laughter, even from the King, as he recounted the time Freja had stolen every last egg in Meduseld to line the toes of his boots and his bedding… but not Théodred’s because Théodred was nicer to her than Éomer. Hilferin, Darhias and Hanasian added tales of Berendil and slowly they found themselves smiling, sadly, in remembrance. But in time the tales were told, and the songs and dirges faded. With the food gone and the ale spent, the sun broke through the low grey clouds and shone through the hall from the west as sunset approached.

King Eomer stood and banged his foot against his throne to quieten the hall.

”We, friends and even some former foes, have celebrated the life of one dear to us, Freja Fireborn, and a son of Cardolan that she so loved, Berendil. Hanasian has told me that Berendil has no family in the north, and that in any case he would want to rest only beside our own Freja. And so, a place has been made ready in the far barrows, where sons and daughters of the Mark lie and I have decreed the first barrow of the new row shall be theirs. It will be honoured forevermore by the people of Rohan, and always will our friends, the Men of Arnor and Gondor, be welcome.”

The hall was silent, for the merriment had again lapsed. The horses were brought in, and the caisson was covered and turned, and it was led out. The King and Lady Éowyn followed, with Hanasian and Vorda next. The Company followed Hanasian, and the Shieldmaidens followed Vorda. The distant drum started to beat again and soon the horn bellowed its dirge. The Shieldmaidens started a low song, the words unknown to Hanasian. Still it raised the hair on his arms and he could sense it was ancient. The Company remained silent, but they marched in the finest of military precision. Darhias walked now with his old comrades and even he with his leg, kept step. The procession followed the road lined with people and they slowly made their way out to the barrows. With a final song from Lady Éowyn, the Shieldmaidens following in chorus, the Berendil and Freja were finally laid to rest.

After the barrow was sealed, there was silence but for the wind in the grass. The sun sank and the shadows stretched and when it finally dropped beyond the horizon, there remained only the Company and the Shieldmaidens. None wanted to leave, and the darkness slowly crept around them as their vigil stretched into the night.
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Re: Legacy Prequel - The Ranger & The Shieldmaiden

Postby elora » Tue Apr 25, 2017 7:49 am

EPILOGUE

IV, 44 - Pelargir


In the bright sunlight, Naiore pushed back her cowl, turned her back and spread her arms. A trick, Hanasian wondered, and if so how might she accomplish it?

”Hold!” Hanasian barked, eyes locked on the Elf that stood upon the docks, ”She must answer for her crimes and for that we need her-“

The first arrow was launched before he even finished his command and he knew, without needing to look, who was responsible for it. Videgavia’s arrow was the pebble before the avalanche and soon the air was thick with them. There was no shortage of men in the Black Company that wanted Naiore Dannan dead. Few, though, had a seam of vengeance that ran as deep and dark as Videgavia’s. He’d been a broken man since the day they’d found Freja and Berendil, dead.

Naiore Dannan was malicious and cruel but even so, Hanasian felt uneasy at attacking her whilst her back was turned. Freja, he could guess, would not have any such compunction but he knew Berendil would be equally hesitant. Despite the fact that they’d have no measure of honour from the Elf now on her knees.

Arrows spent at last, many of them littered the docks or floated in the waters of the Anduin. As for Naiore Dannan, she bristled with them and yet somehow she was still on her knees. Her arms had fallen to her sides and she was otherwise still. Cautiously, Hanasian issued a second order to his now shamefaced men. They remained concealed as he broke cover and cautiously approached the Elf.

As he neared, he was struck at how fair she was despite her treacherous heart. It was impossible not to notice, even though she was grievously wounded. He could see she felt pain. The bloody red tips of arrows protruded, here and there, from her chest and stomach. How, Hanasian wondered, was the Elf still alive? Some sort of foul trickery on her part? And why did she look so…relieved?

”Ware,” she whispered and he did not understand until the first wave hit him like a blow to the stomach.

Emotion as strong as any flooding sea spilled out of her, like a wall that had been breached. Oceans of torment, pain, sorrow, despair, loneliness and, unbelievably, love. By the time Hanasian’s head cleared, he was lying on the ground. So too were men and the Elf. By the third such wave, he had learned how to withstand it. Hanasian understood, then, for each and every act Naiore Dannan had committed, she had paid a vicious price which she had locked within her across the centuries of her life. The walls she had built to hold it all in and retain her sanity failed as she died.

There was an image of an Elf lodged in his head and Hanasian did not know who it was. Without understanding why, he asked Naiore as he tried to pull himself together. If she lived she could answer for her crimes yet.

”Celebrimbor,” she whispered, weakening fast as she lost blood.

She did not beg nor whimper and at the last, there on the sun-drenched docks of Pelargir, Naiore smiled at the very last. Once her spirit had fled her body, he found it surprisingly difficult to believe she had been responsible for so much suffering. Even in death, pierced and bloodied, she was beautiful.

It was done…the Company’s primary purpose fulfilled and so many avenged. Berendil and Freja sprang to his mind’s eye. He saw them seated together in the corner of the Prancing Pony Inn, eyes only for each other in a secret exchange that had the both of them smiling. Berendil whispered something into Freja’s ear, her brows climbed and then she tipped back her head to issue a throaty laugh that Berendil seemed to lap up…and then his eyes drifted past to where Hanasian stood at the bar, caught his attention and nodded, quiet and certain, before he returned his gaze to the woman at his side. And then that image was gone, replaced by the sight of their lifeless bodies. Over forty years had passed since that awful discovery and yet Hanasian recalled it as if it had only been yesterday.

He heard a boot scuff behind him and turned his head to see Videgavia approach.

”It’s not enough,” Videgavia declared, voice gaunt and haunted, dark eyes locked on the dead Elf.

”If you look to death to avenge Freja, it never will be.”

Videgavia brought his despairing black eyes to Hanasian, ”What then?”

“Celebrate her in life,”
Hanasian answered, for Freja had always been full of that until suddenly, jarringly, she wasn’t.

Videgavia stared at him and then turned away. Still a broken man Videgavia remained and Hanasian thought he always would be until he forgave himself. He did not know what had passed between Videgavia and Freja before her death, but whatever it was gnawed at the Daleman. Hanasian returned to his study of the fallen Elf. She would have to be buried, unmarked and unnamed, for he did not wish to create a place that would draw darkness nor a beacon for those who would despoil her remains.

He kneeled to relieve Naiore of the most beautiful sword he had ever seen. It would serve as proof when it came time to make his report. He turned the sword over in his hands and sure enough, there was Celebrimbor’s mark. It was a masterpiece, a rare and incredibly valuable artefact. She had born it throughout her life, from the moment Celebrimbor had given it to her through the Second Age, the Siege of Mordor, through the War of the Ring and now here it was in his hands.

He shivered as he stared at it, recalling Freja’s chilling description of it, and decided that he would keep it if he were permitted even if he was not sure why. For Hanasian had no way of knowing that in just a year’s time he would encounter someone that would take this sword and his heart as her own. Rosmarin she would be called then, but he had looked for her before many years ago when she had been but a child named Erían of Cardolan. The sort of woman that Berendil, were he alive still, would have been proud to serve.

That evening Hanasian sat at the small table in his room at Pelargir and drew out a binder he had carried with him for over forty years. He stared at the cover of it as he had before and then he did something he had not done since first he had found it by a stream near Archet. Carefully, he cracked the cover open and caught his breath at what he saw. Drawing after drawing of Rohan’s most revered and accomplished Shieldmaiden was set down with such skill it almost seemed as though she’d roll right off them and into this very room. And demand to know what he was staring at, most likely.

He had known, of course, that Berendil had been an artist but Hanasian was astonished by the skill of Berendil’s work. This amazement deepened when he took note of the dates of each drawing. Berendil had done most of them whilst in service to the Black Company, separated by many leagues and a good more from the woman he drew aside from the final three. The final three, though, were dated on the very same day and these were by far the most poignant. The day the Moricarni had taken them. One was an image of the day Berendil hoped to wed Freja. Hanasian had recognized the pendant around her throat when they’d found them. Sunset’s failing light had caught it and made it gleam, as if some spark of her spirit lingered yet still waiting even as they’d bled out on the ground before their very eyes. They’d died never to know the joy of the day Berendil had drawn.

Hanasian shook his head, blinked rapidly as tears threatened to escape him and turned over to the final drawing and froze. It was the only one Berendil had titled. One word: Beloved. It was the most extraordinary of them all for it revealed exactly how Berendil had seen Freja. He had not been distracted by her reputation or her formidable pride for one moment. Rather, Berendil had seen past the myth and legend, past the spears and shield, to the woman beyond it all. In this final drawing, he had captured ephemeral beauty, vulnerability and intimacy. He had poured all his love, all his yearning and all his desire into it.

She was seated on the ground, weight resting on one hip and one outstretched arm, ahead of Berendil. Her long legs were coiled to one side and she was looking to the ground her hand rested upon. Her hair had been freed and Berendil had captured both the way it waved and the way sunlight fired within it. That was astounding enough but Berendil had not stopped there. There, on the page Hanasian was staring at as if transfixed, was a sight in exquisite detail that few men are privileged to see - the intricate markings upon her back. They flowed up her spine and along her shoulders in a magnificent sweep that he knew he should not see at all and yet could not tear his eyes from.

After a long moment, Hanasian drew in a shaking breath and closed the binding as he bowed his head. What to do with these drawings, he wondered as he splayed his fingers over the worn leather cover. If they ever fell into the hands of Freja’s Order they’d be destroyed. Hanasian knew that much, particularly the last. Yet no one that Hanasian knew of had made such an intimate study of a Shieldmaiden. These insular proud women were as mysterious as they were accomplished to outsiders. They did not write books or keep histories and the lays they sang shifted and changed over the years, adding details and dropping others. Mutable, friable, save for the history they wore on their backs unseen and private. Berendil’s drawings were not only beautiful, they were rare and valuable for the insight they offered. And…if Freja had consented to them, who was he to gainsay her on such matters. He could hear her grumbling about the presumption of Rangers even now.

”Very well,” he murmured as he patted the cover, ”I will keep them safe.”

A couple of weeks later, Hanasian found himself standing by a meticulously maintained barrow outside the walls of Edoras. A riot of flowers waved and nodded in the afternoon breeze, all different colours. The stones that sealed the doomed lovers within had been beautifully carved since last he had seen them. That, he guessed, had been the gift of a city who would never forget the Shieldmaidens that rode to their defense. A fine horse of proud bearing bedecked with a garland of roses around its graceful neck. The Ranger of Cardolan and the Shieldmaiden of Rohan, never again to be sundered by war. Just a month they had together…were they together now, wherever mortal men went after death?

”It is finally done,” Hanasian murmured to them and a weight seemed to lift from his shoulders with those words, ”Savo hîdh nen gurth.”

The afternoon wind picking through the barrows plucked at his cloak and sent it snapping at his heels. Restless, ill inclined to remain still, pulling him away as if there were better things to be doing. Reminded him strongly of Freja, it did.

”Cap?”

Hanasian turned his head to find Foldine standing a respectful distance away, the grimace on his face testament to how uncomfortable he was about intruding. Hanasian approached him and the Rohirrim inclined his head.

”It’s Vid, Captain,” Foldine reluctantly reported and Hanasian sighed.

”How bad this time?” he asked and Foldine pushed a hand through his hair.

”Arrested, pending surety.”

Hanasian swore at that and Foldine grinned briefly, his eyes tracking past to the barrow Hanasian had just quit before he fell into step beside his Captain.

”Oh, I think she’d say a good deal more than that,” he observed.

Hanasian grunted, ”Like as not. And were she still here, we’d not be contending with this.”

“You know what she would do, were she here?”
Foldine asked and then launched on a description that was as devious and bold as it was ingenious.

But only Freja could pull it off for the Daleman in question would not brook such an action from anyone else. Videgavia had never dared make his true feelings known to her and suffered for it, immensely. Berendil, meanwhile, had done all in his power to ensure she knew how he felt and had died for it.

”Never fall in love, Foldine,” Hanasian mused darkly, ”That’s the only way to live.”

“Aye, Cap,”
Foldine agreed with a quiet smile as they passed through Edoras’ gates.

And it was precisely that smile that Foldine wore when a certain thief hurtled through the trees outside of Tharbad to bounce right off the very man who had just made such a statement a year later. The widening of eyes as Hanasian and Rosmarin first beheld each other told all Foldine needed to know. But Foldine was too experienced a campaigner to point this out to his Captain.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Long was Naiore's time in the Halls of Mandos. By mortal count, it was many thousands of years before she emerged into the gardens of Lorien and there reunited with her beloved Celebrimbor. And in that time, through all that time, the mortal woman that had dared defy Naiore rode in the Eternal Hunt, laughing and singing and feasting with her sisters and the man she so loved. And though he was not of their kin, the Ranger of Cardolan was accorded an honoured place in his own right.

TRANSLATION:

Savo hîdh nen gurth [Dorathien Sindarin] = Have peace in death
User avatar
elora
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3371
Joined: Sun May 13, 2001 4:31 pm
Location: Dancing twixt southern stars
Top

Previous

Return to Writing: The Scriptorium of Imladris

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests