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Postby elora » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:56 pm

Prologue: Edhellond ~ III 1437

How was this possible, Amarwen wondered. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair had been brushed until its ebony lengths glowed and set into a high braid that fell over one shoulder to her waist. She had donned Edhellond's colours too in a dress of rich gold velvet but Amarwen did not see any of this.

Osgiliath had burned. The Dome of Stars cracked and charred. The Master Stone lost in the Anduin. The city itself sacked, its people fleeing for their lives. And all of this by their own people.

And where was father? Alive? Dead? Prisoner and if so for how long? A chill ran through her blood and she shivered as a tap sounded at her door. In the mirror, Amarwen saw her mother slip through and she took her fears and her sorrow into a firm grip. For her mother's sake. Since the tidings had reached them in Edhellond, her mother had not slept nor ate. She was pale as a ghost and dreadfully afraid. Amarwen rose to her feet and crossed her bedroom to take her mother into her arms. This woman had always been Amarwen's haven in a storm. Now, it fell to her to be the same.

Her mother leaned into her daughter's embrace for a long moment and then collected herself up. She was quivering like a leaf but her jaw was clenched. She, too, had dressed formally to receive the men below. She had added her circlet, a clear symbol that she too was descended from a line of kings. Perhaps it would be enough to give those waiting below pause for thought. Perhaps.

"They are waiting," she said through it, voice strained.

Amarwen's first response was to let them wait longer still but that would not serve them well. They needed to secure her father's release.

She gathered her mother's hands in her own, "Then let us greet our guests."

Down to the great hall they went, arm in arm. The household staff were silent, fearful. For the men waiting within were hardly guests. Guests did not arrive swathed in armour and gripping their weapons, the stink of a sacked city still thick in their charred cloaks. Guests did not pound on the doors and demand entry.

Their chamberlain met them at the doors to the great hall with pleading eyes, almost as if he was begging them to run. Amarwen would have, all the way to Osgiliath to demand justice and the return of her father.

"These...these men, they are-"

"I know who they are,"
her mother answered the Chamberlain, somehow finding a store of steely resolve within even now.

The chamberlain nodded and, with a sigh, pushed open the doors to admit them into their hall.

The first thing Amarwen noticed was their number. There had to be at least ten of them all gathered. All wore mail, some plate and no few weapons. Hard travel stained their gear, and that was not all. She did indeed see smoke and blood and a fresh wave of anger began to bubble.

Osgiliath sacked by their own people.

At their arrival, the men swung about and aside from two, Amarwen did not recognise them. The Master of the Mariner's Guild spread his stance as they approached and had the decency to incline his head, barely. As well he might, given the many times he had been greeted in this hall as a guest and indeed a friend by her father. At his shoulder stood his son, Halvarin. His expression was taut, carefully held blank, and she could not tell what he was thinking as his eyes flickered over her and her mother.

"My Lady," his father intoned as they closed.

Amarwen's mother did not say a word. Instead, she stared at the Guild Master as if she somehow already sensed his tidings. The tension mounted rapidly until Amarwen broke the silence.

"The Lord of Edhellond, what is his fate?"

A blunt question to be sure, but Amarwen saw little to be gained with diplomacy now. These men had come from war, for war. Of that she was all but certain.

"Alive," Halvarin answered and at that her mother sagged on her arm.

Halvarin's father stepped in to support her and Amarwen had no choice but to surrender her mother so that she could be assisted to a chair. The others followed to gather around her even as Halvarin drew her back and away.

"Why did he ride out for Eldacar?" Halvarin hissed in her ear.

Amarwen's gaze did not shift from the knot of men crowding her mother but her tone was ice, "Because the alternative was treason."

"I am not a traitor!"

"Tell me Halvarin, were the women and children of Osgiliath traitors?"

"Osgiliath chose to fight, even though they had no hope of prevailing. It was foolish. Reckless. Unnecessary"

"And so you burned it. Yes, it all makes sense now."

"Edhellond will be next. Open the harbour for pity's sake. It need not come to this. Not here."

"You want that harbour open, return my father to Edhellond. It is as simple as that."

Beside her, Halvarin pushed out a sorrowful sigh, "Nothing is simple any more, Amarwen."

The plaintive note in his voice pulled her eyes to his and she was struck, as she had been in the past, by their colour. Like the storm tossed sea, they were, blue and grey both depending on how the light hit them. There had been a night not so long ago that she had gazed into them and they had been laughing. Filled with joy and no small degree of mischief as they danced in this very hall. She still remembered the feel of his hand around hers, sure and steady.

"Perhaps you are right," she sighed, for that merriment was gone now and she wondered if ever it would return.

In a way, this was no more Halvarin's fault than it was hers. Their fathers had declared for different kings and one had prevailed over the other. Amarwen washed a hand over her face but before anything more could be said, her mother rose to her feet.

Amarwen's eyes widened at the terrible wrath upon her mother's face. She made to step forward but Halvarin caught her elbow as the men around her mother closed.

"Never. This house, nor Edhellond, will never support the Usurper of Pelargir!"

Her statement rang through the hall.

"A terrible mistake, Lady," Halvarin's father declared ominously, "Edhellond is even more vulnerable than Osgiliath. It is indefensible."

"And you, sir, are unforgivable."

"You fail to comprehend, though I do not know how, that you are alone in your opposition to the King. All the others are dead, or have fled into north."

"Castamir is no more King than I."

"And that is why your husband will rot and your people will starve."

Again Amarwen tried to go to her mother but Halvarin held her fast.

"Do not," he warned and at that the doors opened, pushed in by the men of the household.

From the chamberlain to those that tended the kitchen and stables, some of them armed with no more than their fists, all with a frenzied, desperate light in their eyes.

"Unhand the Lady of Edhellond and leave this place," the chamberlain said, lifting his silvered chin.

Amarwen had never seen him so wroth before. This was a man that had tossed her on his knee.

"Have them stand down," Halvarin pleaded in a low voice, "It need not end like this."

But already it was too late for one of the men by Amarwen's mother seized her roughly and threw her to his fellows as he cleared his sword. The great hall filled with the terrible scrape of steel clearing scabbards and this sent those in the doorway flying forwards, intent on casting these men out. But, valiant as they were, they were no match for the men they sought to drive out. Horrified, Amarwen was momentarily transfixed until Halvarin pulled her away.

"Hide," he hissed at her, urgent, even as he drew his weapon.

She heard her mother cry out, "RUN AMARWEN! RU-"

A strangled sound and then nothing as Halvarin's father turned to where she stood on the other side of his son. Through his legs she could see her mother's form, prone on the flagstone floor. An outstretched hand, limp, and blood. Blood pooling.

"Bring the lass here, lad," his father bade him and at that Amarwen ran.

Running was something she had always been good at, skirts or not. She had won every footrace she had been in as a child, fleet as fox she was and so she was out of the great hall ahead of those now pounding after her. Weighed down by their weapons and armour, she had no small advantage in that. Also, unlike them, she could get to the harbour and get a ship onto the water. No matter how fast their horses were, if the wind was with her she leave them in her wake like dust.

Whilst she slipped through the halls and streets of her childhood home like the wind, those pursuing her were not so fortunate. The fate of her mother uncertain now, indeed all of Edhellond, Amarwen knew she had to do one thing and one thing alone: unseat the Usurper as quickly as she could. As fortune would have it, she was on the water with the tide before Castamir's men gained the docks. Unlike her, they had been stalled and waylaid at every pass. And if they thought they'd appropriate a ship to pursue her, the actions of the harbour master at Edhellond had put paid to that.

Amarwen whipped through the headlands and towards the sea with the ships of Edhellond all aflame. Back on the docks, Halvarin pressed his arm to his mouth and nose to keep the smoke at bay.

"Every last bloody ship, boat and dinghy," his father raged, appalled as any mariner would be, "These people are mad!"

Halvarin said nothing, his eyes tracking the small sail of the one ship that had slipped away. Doomed, she was. He knew it. She'd be a fugitive now, a traitor to be hunted down. Castamir would show no mercy. Assuming she somehow managed to land the tiny boat safely. It was not made to withstand the sea and she could not risk hugging the coast.

He pushed out a sigh and then returned his attention to their immediate surrounds. The smoke was thickening and the people of Edhellond were not their supporters. No telling how emboldened they would be once the smoke gave them cover. Word would reach them soon of what had unfolded at the hall.

"We should be away, father," he said, "Nothing to be gained here now."

his father growled as he turned on his heels.

As they strode back to where they had left their horses, Halvarin asked what was probably an unwise question, "Was it necessary to kill the Lady of Edhellond?"

His father rolled his shoulders, "I did not come here seeking it. I had hoped that she might see reason in her. For Edhellond, for their daughter.

"And what fate the Lord of Edhellond now?"
he asked as his father grimaced.

"For the King to decide," his father answered, "But I doubt it will be a merciful one."

"And Amarwen?"
he pressed, at which his father turned about to study him.

He lifted a hand to set upon Halvarin's shoulder, "The kindest thing, lad, is to hope the sea claims the lass before Castamir does."

By the time they had ridden back to Minas Anor, his father's words proved true. The new King had swept through the court of Gondor like a bloody scythe. The dead included the Lord of Edhellond and Eldacar's eldest son. Their deaths had not been easy and an uneasy pall hung over the city that Halvarin rode through.
Last edited by elora on Wed Nov 15, 2017 7:22 am, edited 10 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:59 pm

Minas Anor - May 1437

Halvarin maintained his silence as they wended their way through the White City’s tiers. With the truth so clouded, and so many dead at the hand or order of their new King, he had pondered his position at length after what he had witnessed in Edhellond. Amarwen’s words to him about the events of Osgiliath hung particularly stubborn in his mind.

Their arrival at the chambers the Mariner’s Guild maintained in Minas Anor revealed many grim, if not outright displeased faces with the aftermath of Castamir’s rise to the kingship. Instead of mercy and wisdom, Castamir had responded with a show of force and was merciless. Unsullied as his descent from mighty Numénor might be, he seemed set to rule from fear instead of love.

No sooner had their party dismounted did Guild members press in, demanding to know the outcome of Edhellond. A heated discussion sprang up and as it unfolded, Halvarin noted that a number of Guild stalwarts were absent. He stood back, listening closely as his father and other senior mariners traded terse words in hushed tones. Almost as if they feared they would be overheard.

When the words were spent, the criticisms set free, little had changed. The Guild remained steadfast in their determination to support Castamir. These men, who had stared down the might and power of the raging oceans, had balked. His stomach twisted at the thought, and later that night as the fine wines began to flow, Halvarin found himself unable to take part. He shook his head at the offer of a glass, and that would have been that if his father had not interceded.

He watched his elder swoop up a glass of dark wine and hold to him with the admonishment… ”The King is victorious! We all should celebrate!”

Were it not for the flat note of his father’s voice, Halvarin would have missed the sarcasm altogether. Still, for all of that, he appreciated the wisdom of his father’s counsel. The absences in those gathered that night spoke volumes. Dissent was no longer a luxury any could afford in Gondor. Halvarin accepted the wine from his father and followed those present to lift his glass to salute the new King. Yet, he lagged in sipping at his wine, his thoughts again drifting to Edhellond. Seeing Amarwen’s pale, stricken face as she witnessed her mother slain before her rose in his mind, with her dismay and fear palpable even now. Inwardly, Halvarin turned his though to his childhood friend, ‘To Lady Amarwen, now Lady of Edhellond. May you find your way through this storm to safe harbour.’

As the others were finishing their drink, Halvarin tipped his glass and took it all down in one gulp. There was a silence in the guild room which was only broken by someone speaking in a low tone. At that, those present in the hall resumed their usual chatter. Halvarin studied the base of his glass, swirled what little wine remained, and raised it to his mouth to drain the final drops. With that seen to, he set his glass aside and turned for the door as his father seemed set to speak further. Halvarin hesitated at that but in that moment his father seemed to think better of it.

He watched him turn to one of the Guild’s senior officers. Never any shortage of men seeking his father’s ear as Guild Master. Aware that his father would likely be preoccupied by such matters for the remainder of the evening and unable to find his peers present in the hall, Halvarin considered his departure anew, determined to find time for his own thoughts before his sour disposition was noted.

Too late, as it turned out, for the captain of the Foamcutter pounced on Halvarin and father, ”Impolitic to doubt our King now, even no one could possibly have anticipated this state of affairs.”

Halvarin’s father nodded, ”The Mariners Guild have no role in determining the King’s course.”

Masterful, Halvarin thought, for such a statement could be seen in more than one light. The Foamcutter’s captain nodded in agreement and with that Halvarin made his break from the Guild hall. It was not long before he found himself at the White Tree Inn where he ordered a glass of the strongest port wine they had.

It was no match for the Dorwinion wine they had been supping at the Guild Hall, he thought as he sampled his drink. Ironic, he realized, that the Mariner’s Guild even now were enjoying the fruits of the Northmen they had repudiated to such an extent that they had overthrown their King. Halvarin drank deeply from the rough wooden mug, his mind careening about. Drinking and thinking, he thought, a dangerous combination in these times. Still, for all of that, he could not pretend that he did not fear. What was happening to his beloved Gondor?

A few days and nights passed in this fashion before Halvarin received fresh orders. He was assigned to a large ship that would be leaving from Pelargir south to the rumoured woodlands of Far Harad. With these orders in hand, Halvarin felt a sense of profound relief. This he could do. Far better, far preferable, than the orders that had sent him with his father to Edhellond. As he set to readying himself for the river voyage to Pelargir, Halvarin found himself reviewing just how he had come to find himself in this predicament.

It could all be traced back to the disillusionment he recalled several years earlier as he studied the art of navigation whilst an Ensign. Trouble with the Northmen of Rhovanion had flared then and Halvarin had agreed with a great many others in the Mariner’s Guild that Valacar should not have taken a Rhovanion princess to wife. It had emboldened these middle men. Still, when that disapproval had developed into open, rumbling discord within the maritime provinces of Gondor, Halvarin had subscribed to the view that come what may, the Line of Kings was to be adhered to.

Yet, he was part of a diminishing minority within his Guild as the Master of Ships rose in prominence and position. One by one, Halvarin watched senior Guild officers fall under Castamir’s sway. Opposition to Valacar had waxed, and it seemed almost inevitable now that he looked back on it that this had grown to outright rejection of Eldacar. And now he was about to take ship and guide them south to the woodlands that would enable Castamir to expand his fleet. Amarwen’s bold actions at Edhellond had meant that the King had no other means to strengthen his dominance over the waves. He must build, for there were no more ships to appropriate by one means or another.

Setting out from Pelargir, their ships made good time south in favourable winds. They carried Marine soldiers and engineers mostly. Once a landing was secured, the soldiers were to move inland and find where to set fortifications in case of possible attacks on the camps the engineers planned. Halvarin’s duty lay in getting them south and returning them home safely. Whilst in Harad, though, Halvarin had little to do there once they arrived. He spent his time tending to his ship and studying the stars at night so as to make notes and update his charts. This was not, on the whole, unpleasant but Halvarin’s mind was not easy even though he had managed to escape the suffocating city. He slept through the day, or tried to at least. Time and again he woke, swathed in a cold sweat as the events of Edhellond rolled through his mind. Night, then, was his only comfort, for in gazing at the night sky he found it easiest to recall Amarwen. Her hair was dark as the night and her eyes glimmered like the stars. Remote though it was, Halvarin clung to the hope that somehow Amarwen had survived her flight from Edhellond. Somehow, despite the flimsy dinghy she had taken to the sea.

When his ruminations locked on her dinghy failing her, Halvarin tried instead to recall happier times. He had visited Edhellond with his father often over the years. The first time he had encountered Amarwen, they had both been scarcely more than children. Still, even then, he had found her captivating. Shy as he had been, Halvarin recalled the gradual way in which she had carved out her own little notch in his heart. Whether or not she knew that she occupied that place or not he could not guess. But, he liked to think that they had been friends. They had danced in her father’s hall, her eyes sparkling and her laughter curling in his ears as she filled his arms. Vibrant, lively, glorious with her midnight hair and starlit eyes.

Yet, for all of his attempts to recall brighter, happier times, Halvarin found it all but impossible not to dwell on the unkind twist of fate that had seen him sent to Edhellond as her foe. He had done what he could as he could, but for all of that it seemed to him that any friendship between them had died that day with her mother. If she had survived her escape, the only desire Lady Armarwen was likely to have with regard to him would be to plant a good five spans of steel in his belly. And he could not fault her for that, even if his sword had not been the one to claim her mother.

For a month they stayed there at anchor and in that Halvarin began to sicken. Still, he remained at his duties as they set out for Gondor again. By the time they reached the shipyards in Pelargir, Halvarin had lost weight and could barely walk off the ship. He immediately went in search of a healer. He avoided the usual ones that the Guild retained and instead sought an unconventional herbal sorceress. Some might even call her a witch. Whatever she was, she had the means to cure his body but could not set his mind to rest. After a couple days with her, Halvarin returned to ship in time to sail up the river to Minas Anor.

After they arrived, Halvarin made his way to the Guildhouse, and upon arrival he heard the tidings that Lady Amarwen had been lost at sea. The evidence was conclusive. A shattered dinghy washed ashore, scraps of sodden golden velvet caught in the shattered timbers. Robbed now of even his faint hope, Halvarin withdrew into himself. He became silent and distant as he threw himself into finalizing his star charts of the south for the Navigators of the Guild.

Time drifted by, turgid and bloated, and in that time the news of Castamir’s purges faded. Halvarin found himself longing to return south, away from Gondor where he might study the night sky closer. It was there he felt closest to Amarwen, as if she watched him from far away, wherever it was their people went when their lives were spent. However this was not to be for Halvarin was given a very different command. One which would test his faltering loyalty.

Summonsed to the Guild chambers, Halvarin found himself facing three senior captains. His father, nor any that he knew, were not among them. He stood at attention before their table.

”These have been trying times for us all,” said the one in the middle, ”But you have acquitted yourself very well. You have shown yourself worthy of advancement, Halvarin.”

The flanking captains nodded at this and Halvarin struggled to keep his expression suitably neutral.

”You are to take ship up the river to Osgiliath. There you will assume command of the Eastern Watch from Beregon of Anorien. He seems to be missing.” the man let that last dangle in the air, bait.

Missing. Was he killed or had he deserted? Halvarin nodded, understanding that part of his commission would involve sorting out whatever had happened to Beregon. With little more to say, Halvarin gave them a nod and took his leave. He had to prepare for his post at what was now a ruined, crumbling ghost of a city.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Wed May 24, 2017 4:52 am

Dol Amroth – 1437

Amarwen paused in the hall before the door that led to the study of the Prince of Dol Amroth. He had been a steady and true friend of her father, their bond extend well beyond her birth. He had welcomed her into his hall without hesitancy, despite the fact that she had arrived unannounced and expecting Castamir’s fleet to descend upon her any moment now. And yet, that had not come to pass. Indeed, within the Prince’s halls one could be forgiven for not knowing what had come to pass within Gondor.

Despite that her father and the Prince had been united in their opposition to Castamir’s ascension to the throne, the King’s gauntleted fist had not fallen so heavily upon Dol Amroth as it had on Edhellond. For all his proclivities and failings, Castamir was not so reckless as that. His emissaries had come to Dol Amroth armed to the teeth with proclamations of good faith but the Prince had not been gulled. Or so she hoped.

Were she mistaken, these last few steps would be the last she would take of her own choosing. Of that she was sure. She was aware that she had been declared a traitor for the burning of Edhellond’s fleet. Never mind that it had been a precaution against a force of armed, violent men sent by the King to disturb Edhellond’s peace. And so here she was, delaying before the Prince’s door wondering whether friend could remain friend in this tumult.

She smoothed her palms over her borrowed garb and knocked on the thick oak door. When bidden, she entered to find the Prince at his desk. It was late afternoon and the hearth was well alight, intent on defeating the rapidly approaching dusk. As she closed the door behind her, Amarwen saw the Prince’s dark head lift. His line was woven with the Eldar and it showed in his features and character, or so she thought. She could not know him as her father had. Indeed, he had such an advantage of years that he could have been her father.

As if he somehow guessed the thrust of her thoughts, the Prince smiled at her fondly.

”Like yesterday it seems,” he remarked, ”When your mother set you in my arms.”

This came as she offered him the courtesy he was owed. Amarwen smiled as she rose from her curtsy and the Prince pushed aside whatever he had been reading to select a fresh sheet of parchment.

He folded his hands over it as she approached his desk, ”Our ruse, it would appear, has succeeded.”

Amarwen nodded, grateful, for she had arrived without so much as the nearest crumb of a coherent plan. The Prince, however, had not been nearly so tardy. No sooner had her sorry tale tumbled out of her had he swung into action. Before she knew it, he was issuing orders to his most trusted men to take her battered dinghy back out and beach it with shreds of her sodden yellow velvet caught in the ruined timbers.

If she was honest, Amarwen had been skeptical that the ploy would work. The Prince had proved wiser, as might be expected of a man that had been dealing with the White City since before she had been born.

”I am dead, then?” she asked for good measure and the Prince nodded.

”Quite. Lost at sea…and stripped of your titles for good measure,” he replied and she sighed.

Still, what had she expected given the turn of events at court?

”I am most grateful for your assistance, your Grace,” she answered and the Prince gestured at a nearby seat.

”And so, now we arrive at what is to follow. You are most welcome to remain here.”

If Castamir found she was alive and being sheltered in Dol Amroth, his restraint would end and Dol Amroth’s fate would be far worse than that of Edhellond. Amarwen shook her head from side to side, her hair shifting with her movement.

”I could not imperil your people in such a fashion, your Grace.”

His eyes glinted as he studied her for a long moment and then he reached for a fresh quill, ”Very well, safe passage to Rhovanion it is. I will provide the necessary bone fides to assure you are received by Eldacar’s people.”

Rumor had it that Castamir had already begun to send his spies north, seeking to infiltrate his foe’s people. Stragglers, those that had waited before setting out, were now met with steel until they could vouch for themselves. Even Amarwen, the daughter of the man who had been executed by Castamir with Eldacar’s own son, would not be assured of a welcome among the rightful King’s people now. That, she very much thought, had been one of the Usurper’s objectives. Even if he obtained no information of any use out of Rhovanion, what better than to have his opponents supporters picked off in this fashion.

”It is not to Rhovanion I would go,” Amarwen said and the Prince’s head lifted.

He hoisted a dark brow at her and she pressed on, ”Minas Anor.”

“To what end?”
he asked and, when she did not answer, set his quill down again and sat back in his chair, his expression now grave and stern.

”Surely you understand that my first thoughts cannot be for my safety, your Grace.”

The Prince grimaced at that, ”Your fate, should you be discovered, will be grim indeed.”

“How fortunate that Amarwen of Edhellond is already dead,”
she answered, lifting her chin as she did so.

At that the Prince shook his head at her, ”I had wondered why you had cut your hair.”

His comment made her reach for her shortened lengths. It fell past her shoulders still, but only to the middle of her back. As was proper, as was necessary for what she intended to do. Only noble born ladies could afford to wear their hair as long as he had and Amarwen of Edhellond rested in a cold, watery grave.

“I will not be able to protect you in Minas Anor,” he warned and Amarwen’s gaze did not waver.

”I doubt there is any who might shelter us from what is to come, your Grace.”

“Again, Amarwen, I ask for the sake of your dear parents who cannot, what is your purpose in this?”

Her eyes shifted then, dropped to the Prince’s wide desk of dark polished wood and the blank parchment upon it for a moment. Her parents would be appalled at what she was enterprising. And yet it had been them to raise her with the firm belief that her people always came first. Always. Amarwen drew in a deep breath, clasped her hands in her lap and returned her attention to the Prince.

”I seek to serve my people, your Grace.”

The Prince’s mouth pressed into a straight, thin line as he shook his head slowly. She thought he would refuse her then and there and wondered what might follow if he did. Instead, though, he straightened in his chair again.

”What would you have of me, Lady Amarwen.”

“A letter of recommendation…for a scullery maid.”

He considered her for a moment, pressed out a long breath and then inked his quill. Amarwen didn’t dare move an inch nor make a sound as the Prince wrote. Nothing that might cause him to reconsider.

”What is this scullery maid’s name,” he inquired, head bowed.

”Marece,” Amarwen replied, thinking of the wife of Edhellond’s head cook.

Strong, unflinching and brave Marece had been. Indomitable. Assured, right up until the moment the wasting sickness had claimed her three years ago now. Marece had known she as going to die but she had faced it on her own terms all the same. Amarwen hoped she could live up to Marece’s legacy of fierce, enduring valour.

Soon enough, Amarwen found herself sitting in the back of an empty cart bound for Minas Anor with scarcely more than her recommendation letter tucked into her worn, humble clothing. She would have to shed everything she had become accustomed to in order to succeed. Her hair and name, the fine clothing of a noblewoman were just the beginning.

Behind her, the driver of the cart set it in motion. It rocked back and forth briefly before it started off proper. Watching from a window, she saw the Prince. His misgivings had not abated but she could say nothing for to assure him would give him information that might bring Dol Amroth into peril and she could not do that. Would not do that. There must be one safe haven yet in Gondor and the Prince had ever been a friend and ally to Edhellond.

Amarwen lifted her arm to bid him farewell, uncertain if she would ever see him again. She glimpsed him raise a hand to her just before the cart rolled out of his courtyard proper. Beyond the walls, a stiff breeze held dominion. It made her pull her thin shawl tighter around her shoulders to little effect. Shivering, she set her teeth and made no comment on it. Being cold, hungry, tired were simple facts of life now. Unremarkable and mundane. And there were other things to consider…such as how best to begin once she gained the White City. She shifted closer to hang her arms over the back of the bench the driver sat upon and set to asking him all he knew of Minas Anor. Had to start somewhere.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Wed May 24, 2017 1:50 pm

Osgiliath – III 1437

Halvarin spent what was left of the day he arrived in Osgiliath finding the former Commander‘s office. Once he had, it was clear that it was well ordered despite the damage the overall building had sustained in the recent fighting. Halvarin settled in to examine the Osgiliath garrison assignments. It soon emerged that the Eastern Watch was comprised, in the main, of units drawn from Anorien and Ithilien. This was leavened with an elite guard out of Minas Tirith.

He reviewed the list of officers and recognised one name immediately – Michas of Ithilien. Michas had served with him as they completed the initial training of the Mariner’s Guild. They had become fast friends over the course of that five years but their paths had separated upon completion. Halvarin had pursued further study in navigation. Michas, however, lacked the patience for such pursuits. In truth, his talents lay elsewhere. He had proven himself a very able soldier during training and when he had pursued that path, no one had been surprised. Halvarin had not heard from Michas since his friend had deployed.

And now, years later, the tumult and chaos of the realm had thrown them together. Beregon’s journal listed Michas as second-in-command. Given Beregon was missing, Michas had held the command of the garrison…Yet where was he? Halvarin had not sighted him nor heard from him since his arrival hours ago in Osgiliath. There was only one thing to do, he thought. Halvarin issued an immediate summons to all garrison officers. It was time they reported to him and learned that they would be ordering a review of all the men assigned to Osgiliath.

When the unit officers gathered Michas was still missing yet Halvarin was surprised to find yet another classmate stationed at Osgiliath. Belas held the command of the Anorien Guard and when asked who commanded the garrison in Michas’ absence, reluctantly admitted that it fell to him. As to where Michas was, all Halvarin could glean was that his friend was “away in the east”. Belas remained distant, offering as little as possible to Halvarin, and the rest of the officers followed his lead. Thus, after short and desultory conversation, there was little Halvarin could do but direct the officers to assemble their men for review.

The garrison assembled in the training grounds which were, for the most part, intact. This was unusual in the inner, older quarters of Osgiliath. It was here that the fighting had been particularly intense. Eldacar’s men had held out here under his eldest son for quite some time. Halvarin arrived early and concealed himself. So much the better to observe his new command. He had already formed an initial assessment of his officers after their brief meeting. Now it was time to assess the men they commanded.

Once the officers had asserted order to the ranks, he strode out to commence the review proper. The urge to sigh at what he saw was strong. These men were a rough sort. That, in itself, raised issues around discipline within the ranks. Their morale and more pressing yet, their loyalties, remained to be seen.

He had the officers bring their men to attention and Halvarin walked down the first line men. He saw young men, mostly. Recently graduated from their training. Five years, at a guess, experience. But what a five years. Halvarin met the eye of each man he slowly walked past and saw something he recognised in each face. He had been spared the battle here at Osgiliath. The Guild was jealously protective of their navigators. Still, Halvarin recognised what he saw in the faces of these men as something he had seen for himself. In Edhellond. By all means a brief, small affair, Edhellond had been. Yet…brutal.

Many of these soldiers had taken up arms in battle against their own countrymen. Against neighbour, friend and kin as well as the Northmen. The toll such a dreadful act exacts was clear now in the men Halvarin reviewed. Yet for all this, they still appeared strong. It was impossible to assess each man’s loyalties, but Halvarin was certain that as a group they would be mixed. Unlikely, he thought, that he’d find devout adherents to Castamir here, serving in the terrible ruin of what had one of Gondor’s most beautiful cities. It was, he thought, all but impossible to feel anything but sorrow at what had befallen here.

Halvarin reviewed each and every rank of men, pausing to exchange brief words with some. Once finished, he ordered his officers to him as their seconds dismissed the men. He could delay no longer the thorny issue of loyalties. He needed to know, with certainty, just where Michas was and why he was there. He needed to know what had occurred under his predecessor, Beregon. These men would know if he had deserted. They would have some sense of his friend’s fate. Dispensing with any pretence at friendliness, Halvarin coldly demanded answers of his officers. And for that, he had to assert his will as their commander.

Once it was clear that there was no option but to answer, Halvarin was finally informed of something around Beregon’s fate. He discovered that Beregon had tacitly backed the principal that Gondor’s king should have unsullied Numenorean blood but soon grew disillusioned after the battle was over and the purges started. Halvarin could appreciate Beregon’s predicament. No one, he thought, had sensed just how dreadful Castamir’s vengeance would be once he came to a throne. When Halvarin did not denounce Beregon to his men the officers gave him still more. It emerged that many of the small unit leaders and sergeants without families or with mixed Northman families had also left the garrison. Beregon was not the only one to have done as he had. Desertion, then. A steady stream of men.

Halvarin returned to his office with a heavy heart and crowded mind. The men and officers remaining at the garrison had done so by choice. They had not deserted. That said, though, they were pragmatic. They served Gondor. Not, he thought, Castamir. That sat well enough with Halvarin yet he was well aware that the eyes of the Guild, and that of the King, would be watching Osgiliath closely indeed. Care, great care, was needed here to ensure the garrison held and the few remaining citizens of Osgiliath were not put through a second bloody pogrom. And meanwhile, where was Michas? Had Osgiliath claimed not one friend but two?

Halvarin drew up a list of his unit captains and scheduled an interview with each one. The order of this required careful consideration. Once he met with one, word would spread to the others rapidly. They would confer. It was inevitable, no matter how he might insist on confidentiality. Thus, his plan hinged on the first officer Halvarin spoke with. What the others would say, or not say, in their turn would tell him a great deal.

Ithilien, east of Osgiliath – III 1437

As Halvarin drew up his list of interviews, Michas poured water over his head and considered the westering sun. His sortie east had proved fruitful, if only to demonstrate that the overall defence of Gondor was intact. The Easterlings had yet to recover in full from their devastating defeat under Eldacar’s grandfather years ago, but stray orcs moving down from the Shadow Mountains had to be dealt with. They had been slain completely and Michas was keenly aware that had he not set off on this sortie, the beasts would have been able to run freely in Ithilien.

It had been a risk to leave Osgiliath so soon after things came to a head there, but it had proven wise. Hopefully, once he returned, Beregon would have put matters to bed. They could ill afford to be squabbling between themselves at Osgiliath over things such as a man’s preferred king yet squabble they did. Now, Michas had to draw up a report to provide to Beregon on his return. It should be an ordinary task but nothing was ordinary anymore. He’d have to answer a great many questions that had nothing to do with this sortie.

Michas settled in at camp to assemble his report. Everything had to be explained in such a way as would satisfy anyone who might read it, irrespective of their loyalties. His men, those around him, deserved at least that from him. Once that was done, he ordered camp struck. The sooner they were back to give an account for themselves, the better.

Osgiliath – III 1437

The next day Halvarin inspected the garrison’s positions. It offered him the opportunity to examine the state of the once spectacular city. Widely considered a shining example of gracious Numenorean architecture little remained of its splendour now that Numenorean pride and ambition had been unloosed in its beautiful avenues. The city had housed the famed Library of Varda where the studies and records of the stars were kept. All navigators, be they Guild or otherwise, revered this place yet it had not escaped the conflagration.

The great observatory, the Dome of Stars, had been destroyed in the fighting. This was a grievous loss indeed, but Halvarin was relieved to find that the Records Chamber had sustained only light damage. It had not been sacked or burned –likely protected by Guild navigators along with the rubble blocking entrance to all. It would be important to open it up again, for amongst the records might much be restored. As Halvarin studied the rubble, a call went up from the men.

”Men coming in! It’s Michas!”

Halvarin turned from his path towards the river in hope of meeting his old friend. Perhaps he would learn that which the officers here refused to divulge to a member of the Guild. That, Halvarin, was where the difficulty lay in chief. He could not command this garrison if his officers mistrusted him. He arrived at a makeshift dock that had been constructed from rubble and timbers just as the first of three fair sized boats came ashore. The men in the first boat saw Halvarin raise his hand, but they stared back at him in open suspicion.

It wasn’t until a tall man toward the rear of the first boat called out, ”Halvarin my friend! It is well you are here!”

Suspicion shifted to bafflement at Michas’ greeting, just as Michas had hoped such a public statement might achieve. As for Michas, he knew as soon as he saw Halvarin that Beregon had been replaced. Just how that vacancy had arisen, though. That was less certain. He made his way to the prow of the boat and was the first to alight. He greeted Halvarin as a friend, keenly aware that the men would be studying this closely. His, of course, but also those ashore with Halvarin.

”It is well that you have come my old friend. I have been here three days, and I have learned little beyond the watch points are in this city. There is much to discuss,” Halvarin said as they embraced.

Michas’ reply was warm as he drew back, “I will report as soon as my men are settled in. We can talk then.”

Studying Halvarin closely, Michas was relieved that his mixed feeling about seeing Halvarin here were not perceived. This damnable strife had tainted everything, it seemed.

”No need to hurry,” Halvarin smiled, ”Come for dinner at the library.”

Michas nodded at that and Halvarin turned away to leave him to order his men.

As agreed, Michas reported at the library that evening. He paused in the door to salute Halvarin as commanding officer.

”I was worried about you when I found you weren’t here,” Halvarin said from behind his desk and Michas stepped into the room.

This would be difficult for them both, Halvarin guess. They were friends but that could not interfere with the structure of command at the garrison. He set aside the papers he had been reading as Michas settled just within the door.

”I thought it best to continue the assigned patrols of the kingdom, for the sake of stability,” Michas replied and Halvarin nodded his agreement.

He stood and walked forward to clasp his friend’s forearm, ”Most wise. I take it all is looking well east of the river then?”

“Not entirely,”
Michas replied and saw the other man’s brows lift in concern.

Michas clarified, ”The Easterlings remain subdued and the dark lands are quiet. Which is why I thought a long range patrol was needed. I discovered that the Easterlings are not a quiet as they would like us to believe. They are patrolling deep into their own western and southern lands. That is to be expected, for their lands are vast and some order must be maintained. As for Gondor, they’re aware of our troubles here but do not yet have the requisite strength to exploit that. For now. I think it likely that will change, if they can manage it.”

Halvarin nodded at this sobering assessment, ”And your men – casualties?”

Michas rolled a shoulder at the question, ”An ambush claimed five. We retreated to a hillock to regroup but they did not pursue. I suspect their tactics favour a sudden, moving engagement. Cause as many casualties as possible and then retreat. Devilish difficult to deal with unless you have cavalry or Rhovanions available.”

This was grim indeed, for Halvarin had neither at Osgiliath. The Horselords were busy in their own lands now and Castamir had Gondor’s own cavalry in use elsewhere. Infantry could, of course, defeat a mounted foe but he hardly had the strength of numbers here that would be required should the Easterling’s amass and push.

Halvarin pushed out a heavy sigh, ”We must maintain a presence there so they don’t encroach even further. I think you were right to conduct that patrol, Michas, yet we can ill afford to lose five men on each sortie. We, the both of us, need to assess this garrison’s strength for dealing with such a foe. Once we have established that, I can look into how much aid I can obtain for us here in Osgiliath.”

Michas nodded at this and delved into his thoughts. An uncomfortable, unfamiliar silence arose between the two friends that Michas broke warily.

”You are my commanding officer, Halvarin…but…might I speak freely?”

“I would expect nothing less from my second,”
Halvarin returned and Michas drew a deep breath before plunging into the unknown.

”I suppose the question of loyalties will come up, for this is what Gondor has fallen to now. I was involved in the battle for Osgiligath. I…I stood with Gondor that day and I battled Eldacar’s Northmen. But that does not mean I supported Castamir and I am not alone. There are men here and in Ithilien who now find a bitter draught.”

Michas wiped a hand over his face and shook his head, ”A tangled mess is what it is, Halvarin, when a man’s heart takes one path and his head another. I say this to you now as my friend. If I have misjudged you, then I will be arrested like so many others and I will meet a traitor’s end. Such is the fate of men like me now, men who have only ever loyally served Gondor. This is why you have been met with such coldness, Halvarin, for you are the representative of the Mariner’s Guild. There are those who assert that the Mariner’s Guild serve but one master: themselves.”

Halvarin took a deep breath at this but remained otherwise silent as Michas laid himself bare before him. His friend could not possibly know that his own loyalties were hopelessly divided. He was a prominent member of the Navigators, a powerful faction within the Mariner’s Guild. Ever since he had been a boy he had wanted to join the Guild and rise through its ranks just as his father had. His father had risen right to the very top. Castamir’s ascendancy, supported by the Mariner’s Guild, had carried his father right into the position of Guild Master. And he loved his father. He was a good man, a fine captain and seaman…yet…Edhellond.

Ever since the dreadful events of Edhellond, Havarin had been carrying seeds of doubt and misgivings when it came to the Guild. He knew that the Guild, his father in particular, would watch his command in Osgiliath most closely. Perhaps he had been given this post to test his loyalties. Perhaps that’s what this was right now. Halvarin recognised that he had to tread carefully indeed.

”My friend, I cannot be hearing any of what you have said and so I did not hear it. Consider that, if you will, an act of friendship. If you are a loyal servant of Gondor, then you will follow my orders. That is all I require and so, in that, this is indeed a matter of loyalties. Serve Gondor faithfully and diligently, Michas, and I will not have to arrest you. Nor any man, for that matter. Conspire against Gondor, or me, then I will not hesitate to have you arrested.”

Michas swallowed at Halvarin’s response for it was not as fulsome as he had hoped. He was only involved on the edges of the resistance in Osgiliath, his activities limited in range to the troops stationed here. Belas, though, was another matter. He was an active covert agent for Eldacar. Michas had urged Belas to flee north when it had become clear that Osgiliath would indeed fall but the man had remained, determined to bring about change from within Gondor.

He would do his best to protect Belas…but not at a serious cost to himself and the men that relied upon him. Hence, Michas’ response was carefully neutral.

”I understand sir,” he answered as he realised that his friendship with Halvarin may not have carried well enough down the years.

For his part, Halvarin returned to his desk to sort through a stack of parchments.

He continued without looking up at Michas, ”You will be a very able second. I want you to review the whole garrison and pick those you know to be unquestionably loyal Gondorians. Once you have selected one hundred men, I will review them.”

The sound of dinner arriving made both men look to the door.

Halvarin waved the kitchen boy in before he continued, ”I want it done swiftly, Michas.”

”I’ll start after dinner, commander.”
Michas replied and with that their talk fell to other, kinder things.

There was much for the two men to catch up on. Events and recollections eased the tension that had arisen until both men were laughing. Not quite as they once had, but still, it was something.

By the time both men had finished their simple meal, something of their old camaraderie had returned. Only time would tell whether it was merely a ghost that would haunt both men. Halvarin leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out. He considered his boots for a long while, reluctant to return to the business before them.

”I want loyal Gondorians, Michas. Not creatures of Castamir, nor Eldacar.”

“Are there any now who are not one or the other?”
Michas inquired quietly as he rose from his chair.

He nodded to Halvarin, expression unreadable, and took his leave. Halvarin sighed in Michas’ wake, keenly aware of Michas’ meaning. The longer Castamir ruled, the more polarised his nation became. The rift was getting wider as time went by. This was going to be a tough command.

Osgiliath – III 1439, Winter

Halvarin sat back as he read the parchment that had come from Minas Anor. Then he rolled it up and let it fall to his desk. Thinking for a moment, he summoned his adjutant and dispatched him to fetch Michas.

After what had been a rough beginning in Osgiliath, Halvarin had managed to ascertain the particular landscape of his officer’s loyalties. Once he had that, he had been able to use that knowledge to his advantage. Michas had proven invaluable. In his position as Halvarin’s second, he could supply Halvarin with information that he could share with the officers known to be loyal to Castamir whenever there were arrests to be made.

Insurgency posed a significant threat to Gondor’s strength and stability and Osgiliath was particularly vulnerable. Where possible, Halvarin ensured those arrested were spared anything beyond time in the cells. There would be no torture nor summary executions under his command. On occasion though, Halvarin was unable to keep the insurgents from the excesses of Castamir’s realm. Some he had no choice but to send to Minas Tirith, aware that they would almost certainly meet their end there. The cruelty of Castamir’s justice meant that it was all but possible to eliminate insurgency.

At times, Halvarin would be questioned about the lack of arrests in Osgiliath. These were the least of his concerns for Osgiliath had very few residents beyond his own troops and his soldiers had sworn their loyalty to Gondor. For good measure, Halvarin was careful to keep the ambitious Castamirian officers busy watching the northern and eastern lands for any incursion or sortie out of Rhun. This approach managed to keep overt scrutiny away from Osgiliath to other, more fractious regions within Gondor, and though he knew that there was an active Eldacarian underground there, he managed to keep them in check and out of sight.

As for himself, Halvarin continued to weigh his options and loyalties. As his command in Osgiliath stretched from the first year into the second, he saw that he was being left behind in the promotions. This was a direct consequence of his refusal to steep himself in the Guild’s politics. Any and every member of the Guild sought the position of a Ship’s command. Yet as that possibility became every more remote, Halvarin found himself curiously lacking in regret. When his father was given the Haradian command by Castamir himself, Halvarin was quietly relieved that the Guild did not request him to go.

And now, it had come to this…Halvarin considered the rolled parchment he’d dropped onto his desk. He did not recognize the names within.

Michas came in to the old library where Halvarin had moved his office a few months after he had taken command to find his friend packing up his belongings.

”Called to Harad after all,” Michas inquired, for he had been surprised that Halvarin had not been summonsed forth.

Such a talented navigator for such a treacherous coast, with experience in Harad, Michas had remarked more than once. Through it all, Halvarin had said nothing further on it until now.

He shook his head as he packed, ”It is to Minas Anor that I have been summonsed. You will have the command here in my absence…and should I not return you will continue in command until you are notified otherwise.”

Michas said nothing at this and Halvarin did not pause his activities, ” While there, should I be asked, I will name you as my recommended replacement. But only if you wish me to, and should you accept my doing so. If my words mean anything to them, they will heed me on this.”

”If command of Osgiliath is given to me, I will serve Gondor to the best of my ability. Still, I will hope for your swift return,”
Michas said quietly.

Halvarin nodded at his words, ”I perceive that the Guild has reconsidered many things since I left Minas Anor. To what end I will not know until I return. My fate, therefore, is unclear.”

At that Michas drew closer and the two men considered each other for a time before Halvarin resumed his preparations to leave. On his way out the door he paused to read the parchment a final time. Then, with a heavy sigh, he set it down and quit Osgiliath for Minas Anor.

His return to Osgiliath was sooner than he expected, for he was only away a month. With most of the senior Guild officer drawn away to the south, Halvarin returned to Osgiliath with high honours that he felt he did not deserve. Still, he took what the Guild offered to him. In his time there, he discovered that Guild had assessed him as ably commanding Osgiliath. His summons was not, as he had feared, to strip him of this office but rather to provide him with highly sensitive information that could not be entrusted to a rider. Halvarin returned to Osgiliath with the names of suspected Eldacar supporters believed to be active recently in Minas Anor.

Just how the Guild had come by this information was unclear to Halvarin, troublesome to say the least, and aside from one the names listed were unfamiliar to him. He had not seen nor spoken with Belas for some time, but Halvarin was initially taken aback. Michas, he had thought, had been keeping Belas occupied out beyond Osgiliath. To discover he had been in Minas Tirith and actively engaged in insurrection was no small concern. If the list was reliable, it raised a host of unwelcome questions for which Halvarin had no answers.

He had suspected for some time that Michas had been protecting Eldacar supporters within the ranks but the man had been careful about it. None had come to the attention of Minas Tirith, until now. Why they had not been arrested seemed odd. And then there was the list. How had it been made and why. Why had it been given to him? Minas Tirith did not need him to apprehend Belas nor observe him. They were capable of both themselves.

All this made for a restless night upon his return to Osgiliath and Halvarin had barely slept when one of his officers woke him.

Calan, a young officer, reported, ”Sir, we found suspicious movement by the river. We thought it was the eastern patrol returning, but instead found two people leaving a small river boat. We remained hidden to discover their identity and purpose. When they were met by several people from Osgiliath, I grew alarmed.”

Halvarin rolled to his feet with a groan and stifled a yawn as Calan continued, ”I had them surrounded and only then did I discover Belas was with them. He discovered our presence and so we moved in to apprehend them.”

Any momentary fogginess fell away at that and Halvarin turned about, still buckling on his sword belt. Belas, one of their own officers, had been apprehended? It made no sense at all, that. Why would he risk his own apprehension when he could simply detain whoever these water-borne rebels were as an officer in his own right?

”I was looking for Michas, but when I heard you had returned, I came straight her.” Calan finished in a rush.

Halvarin rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. They hadn’t been arrested in Minas Tirith because they were being tracked. And now they have come to him. He sighed at this.

”How many did you arrest, Calan?”

“Three sir, including Belas. With him was a woman and two other men, but one fled and jumped into the river. He was not found.”

”I will see them, one at a time,”
Halvarin announced just as Michas hurried in.

He looked first to Calas, then Halvarin, and then lowered his head to think for a moment. Halvarin hoped, vehemently, that Michas would not take flight. After a while, his friend moved to the doorway and looked up.

At this, Halvarin acknowledged him with a nod and said to Calas, ”There will be no insurrection under my command. Bring Belas to me now. It is high time that he, Michas, and I have a reunion. When we are done, bring the woman to my office.”

Calas nodded and left but had soon returned, ”Sir, Belas is dead. I am told he attempted to free the other prisoners and escape. He was shot with arrows. The captured man was with him, unharmed still I am told. They were on their way to free the woman.”

Michas audibly swallowed at this and Halvarin’s eyes narrowed, “Arrows? I will not tolerate any killings in custody! Where is the freed prisoner now?”

“Returned to a new cell, sir. Alive. I swear it.”

Halvarin swung about to glare at Michas. Belas was not the sort of man to take unnecessary risks. Twice this night he had done so. First to elude capture and then to free those captured. Whoever these prisoners were, they were clearly of significance to the insurgency. And meanwhile, Halvarin was certain the Guild was watching to see what he would do with high value rebels in his hands.

Michas refused to say anything but Halvarin could see the man had broken out into a cold sweat. He was genuinely worried, but for what? Or who? The man, the woman or both? There was no one to trust in this beyond himself, Halvarin realised. He raked his hair back into a low queue.

”You had best hope so, Calan,” Halvarin growled and the young officer swallowed, ”Bring the woman to me… alive and unharmed!”

Calas turned to go and Halvarin swiftly dismissed Michas as well. He rubbed at his face and then slowly set out for his office, debating how to approach the questioning of a woman who was, most likely, a highly ranked rebel. She’d be dangerous. He’d be a fool not to realise that. For all of that, could he stomach turning a woman over to those waiting in Minas Tirith? His father had not gone to Edhellond to slaughter a woman in her own hall. Not just any woman but the wife of a friend. After that dark day, something in his father had changed. And this, Halvarin mused, bore all the signs of being his own Edhellond.
Last edited by elora on Fri Nov 17, 2017 3:36 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Jul 22, 2017 9:49 pm

Osgiliath – 1439

Marece stared at the wall of the small room she had been locked into. It still bore the residue of charring from the sack of this once fine city. A gem within Gondor’s crown cracked and sullied by overweening ambition and greed. Hours had passed since she had been placed here, the sacking over her head removed. The door, new timber and clearly replaced since Osgiliath’s fall, was sturdy and locked. She could not hear movement beyond it but earlier she had heard a disturbance. Men shouting, boots on stone running and the sound of arrows. Since then, quiet.

The walls were stone and there was a window, well over her head. Long and narrow. Once it had been filled with glass but that too had failed to withstand the onslaught of this strife. Now, it admitted a thin stream of cold light. Dawn had come and gone. Had to be longer than an hour, therefore. The floor was stone as well and there was not a stick of furniture. Nothing that she might use for warmth or comfort. Or for a weapon.

Come nightfall the temperature would plunge. At least they had left her with her cloak. Her teeth chattered all the same as she pulled it tight and cursed the circumstances that had forced her to select a cloak that was battered, worn and altogether not up to the challenge of the night ahead. Marece ran her hands over her clothing underneath. Simple garb, lower merchant class. Well repaired, but worn. The tightly bound brown bodice, grey apron and modest skirts had served her well in the past for merchants were generally invisible. The poorer they were the harder they were to distinguish. Minas Anor was awash in struggling merchants now that Castamir had effectively strangled all trade with prohibitive tariffs and taxes.

In fact, everything about this had gone exactly as planned until suddenly it had not. She had done this countless times before and she had not missed a single detail this time. This meeting was too important to be careless. She knew that her network had not turned on her or betrayed her. The man she had extracted from Minas Anor was hardly a prized prisoner. Not nearly significant nor valuable enough to warrant a Castamirian agent embedded in their network revealing his or her presence amongst their small number.

Yet how else to explain it? Marece had achieved particular success in extracting Castamir’s prisoners out from under his nose over the past two years. There had not been a single error or oversight this time. She was thorough and diligent. Not one misstep, and yet here she was. If it had not been an error or miscalculation on her part, then how had Castamir caught up with them? Belas had been adamant when she had seen him last that this would work as it had before. He’d been difficult to pin down in Minas Anor. Up to something, she thought. Was that what had brought it all crashing down on their heads now or was it mere misfortune? Poor timing. Wrong place at the wrong time.

Seemed a bitter truth, that.

Marece ran her hand over her face and pushed out a weary sigh. What had she left now? Hope that the lad, if alive still, held up under questioning. Their cover was all they had left now - siblings, travelling to visit their grandparents. The appearance of the patrol had rattled him. Her last good look at her charge had left Marece with the distinct impression that he was twitchy. Liable to crack. Another sigh, for she supposed she couldn’t blame him. She’d pulled him out of Castamir’s prison after a number weeks in captivity – one of which she had spent debating whether to risk helping him at all. In that time there was no telling what had been done to the lad. Lad…she shouldn’t consider him as such. He was only a few years younger than she.

A fluttering of wings echoed in the small stone room she stood in and Marece looked up to the high window. A kestrel stared back at her, bold and unafraid. It squawked at her and Marece shrugged for its observation was correct. This room would, like as not, be the last place she visited. The other they had travelled with was probably drowned. Sheer idiocy jumping into that river. In any case, even if he did survive, what was one men against the assembled garrison of Osgiliath.

As for the lad, perhaps he would crack under questioning or perhaps they’d send him back to his cell in Minas Anor. Certainly, Marece knew she’d never see Minas Anor again. There were ranking members of the Mariner’s Guild here. An officer, she knew that much, held the command. Odds were that she’d be recognized and once that occurred, she’d not live long enough to be sent back to Castamir for her traitor’s sentence. The Guild had its own business with ship burners like her.

The kestrel cocked its head this way and that and then squawked a second time as the lock rattled behind her. It took to wing as the door groaned open on its stiff hinges and Marece turned about to stare at the man that filled it. He had led the patrol that had intercepted them. He looked like he was trying very hard not to appear nervous. It might have succeeded if his eyes didn’t bounce about. They flittered around the room and then back to her, over and over again. Marece was used to men looking at her but this one couldn’t make up his mind what to look at.

Unwise though it was, she found herself smiling which only seemed to deepen his chagrin.

”Hood,” he finally said, scowling at her.

”Are we going outside? Is it raining? I can’t hear any rain. What’s your name?” she tried for a conversational, friendly tone, thankful for the years of tutelage she had received in the fine art of talking pleasantly to people you’d rather not to.

Mother would be proud but the man in the doorway was not in the least impressed. The patrol leader strode forward to yank her hood up and over her eyes roughly. Then he pulled a sack over her head. This one smelt of onions. The last one held the earthy tang of potatoes. She felt his hand seize her upper arm and haul her forward. Caught between being dragged and walking, Marece opted for dignity. Still, it was difficult to remain on her feet and keep up with his rapid clip.

The hood was disorientating, which was entirely its purpose, and her balance was thrown. Try as she might to count steps and memorise the turns, by the time she had arrived at what she presumed would be her final destination, Marece had no confidence that she could retrace her path. She was trapped in a labyrinth.

”Wait here,” her escort muttered and then, as she lifted her hands to pull the sack from her head, ”Don’t touch it.”

There was the promise of something in his voice. It did not bode well and so her hands returned to their position by her side. Her escort’s boots had rung out on the flagstones on the way here but now they were muffled as he withdrew. She felt rather than heard him pull away from her. Carpet, she presumed. It was distinctly warmer here. That was no small relief.

Marece held her breath and tried to ascertain who else was in this place. She heard little past the crackling of a hearth and her own heartbeat. It was altogether too fast and she needed to steady herself.

She heard a door open. It sounded heavy, like the one of her stone cell.

”This is her, then?”

replied her escort from nearby.

Again Marece could not hear footfall but the new voice had moved to a different part of the room when she heard it next.

”Quite the collection here,” he said and she heard the sound of heavy objects being moved over wood.

“Hers. The other was unarmed.”

Expression hidden by the sack, Marece grimaced with disgust. Unarmed? The boy was unarmed?! Belas had convinced her that he was worth the risk but the foolish lad had ditched the very weapons she had provided him with. Weapons that were expensive and difficult to come by! Her new pride faded as swiftly as it had emerged and meanwhile, the newcomer continued to inspect her confiscated, mismatched, weapons. It had taken her quite some time to acquire them. Longer still to learn how to use them. Longest of all, the stomach to do so.

“Very good,” the man said, thoughtfully, "That will be all, for now.”

Marece heard relief in her escort’s voice and then a second new voice, ”Sir?”

“Michas, I believe I dismissed you earlier!”

Marece’s brows shot up behind the sack. Michas! The fool! What was he thinking? First Belas and now Michas. Had madness gripped the assets of Osgiliath?

”Aye, Sir,” Michas answered, chastened, another swing of the door and then silence.

What was the officer doing, she wondered. She could not hear him moving about over the carpet. The silence expanded, gathering weight but she refused to fidget under its yoke.

Then he spoke, ”You may remove the sack. Slowly. No rash moves, if you please.”

Marece paused at this, trying to place his location and distance from her. Then she acquiesced, pushing the sack off but leaving her hood up. This man, she guessed, was likely the ranking Guild officer stationed here in Osgiliath. She was in no rush to hasten her identification.

She stared at the hearth she faced and watched the flames dance as her surroundings came into view. Some effort, she could see, had gone into restoring this room into something of its previous glory. All the charcoal had been scrubbed from the stone. Shelves and books. Carpets on the floor. Some chairs by the fire, a table by one stacked with rolled parchment. Thick. Maps, if she had to guess. Charts.

”What have you done with my brother?” she asked, pleased to discover that her voice trembled satisfactorily all on its own.

No need for artifice on her part to sound like a worried sister. Behind her, the Guild officer chuckled to himself.

”Brother, is he? Well now, show me a familial resemblance and I will deem the matter closed. You and your brother will be free to resume your journey. Where was it that you were off to?”

Marece closed her eyes briefly at his sceptical tone. She bore no resemblance whatsoever to her charge and well did he know it.

”Heredoth,” she muttered, persisting, ”To visit our grandparents. They are unwell.”

”I’m very sorry to hear that,”
the officer replied, unstintingly polite.

Marece had the strong sense he was only giving her enough rope to hang herself but at this point, her options were slim to none.

”The man that met you here…you knew him?”

“He agreed to offer us passage,"
she replied, "His name is Belas, I think. I can’t be sure, though.”

There, that all sounded plausible. Reasonable, even.

“You did not know him well, then.”

Marece shook her head for that was the truth. No one knew anyone overly well amongst the insurgency. It was better that way.

”Then you will not be overly dismayed to learn that Belas is dead,” the officer stated.

It took all of her discipline not to react to that. A chill washed over her as she lowered her head.

”I am sorry to hear it. Belas…was kind to my brother and I. His price was a third that demanded by the others.”

The officer said nothing to that and so Maree had no way to gauge whether her response had the desired effect. Belas was dead. Explained Michas’ panic, she thought. Belas was the chief operative here in Osgiliath. With him gone, the entire network was vulnerable. This was very bad indeed and not just for her and the lad she’d pulled out of Minas Anor. Everything screamed to Marece that all they had built over the past two years was about to come crashing down. Catastrophe loomed before her. How had it all unravelled so swiftly?

Her only slender hope lay in this officer not recognizing her. He sounded young. That boded well. The elder Guild officers had known her father and hence her. The younger ones, though, were another matter. She had much better odds at never having crossed paths with them before. If he did not recognise her and Gendin kept to their story, then they just might make it out alive.

The officer continued, ”Rather heavily armed for a family visit.”

Marece lifted a shoulder at the observation.

”Depends on the family,” she replied and then, ”And the road between Minas Anor and Heredoth has grown uncertain of late.”

the officer agreed, ”What of your parents? Unusual, I would think, to send you off on such a dangerous road by yourselves.”

“I’m sure they’d accompany us, were they alive,”
she retorted, stinging bitterness in her reply.

That seemed to give the officer pause and when he replied, it was without mockery, ”Convince me you speak the truth and we can put this unfortunate chapter behind us where it belongs. Why, I’ll even provide an escort for you and your brother.”

Her fingers curled at her sides as she calculated her options. Then she started as the officer came into view around the edges of her hood. He stopped ahead of Marece, just off to one side.

For a long while, the officer stared at the hearth with his hands clasped at his back. Dark hair was swept back into a low officer’s queue and his feet were spread, as if they stood upon a deck of a ship. He was armed, of course. She eyed a dagger she could see peeking from the top of one boot. It was closer than the poker by the fire if things went as badly as she feared they might. Guild officers were not known for their mercy when it came to traitors. Then she jerked her eyes up as he swung about to face her.

Her hair stood on end as gooseflesh washed over her body. Marece took an involuntary step backwards and her breath caught in her chest. Colour washed from his face and his eyes widened in shocked recognition.

”You are remarkably hale for a drowned woman,” Halvarin observed quietly, his voice strained, and then he spoke a name she had not heard nor answered to for over two years, ”Amarwen.”
Last edited by elora on Fri Nov 17, 2017 4:03 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:52 pm

There she was, here in Osgiliath, standing before him! Halvarin could scarcely believe his eyes. Over the years, he had hoped against hope that the tales of her dreadful end were merely that but nothing more than that. A salve for his struggling conscience and heart. And now, there she was. Alive, and all but certainly a active member of the resistance. Dare he say a prominent one? Not that he could blame her for that. Not after what had occurred at Edhellond.

For all of that, he was the commander of Osgiliath and the woman before him was a member of the resistance to the current King. Halvarin knew he needed to make a decision and make it quickly, but what? What! A glance towards the door took him to it. He peered outside and found only his personal guard. At that, Halvarin closed the door again and returned to where Amarwen stood in silence.

He whispered, ”Lady Amarwen of Edhellond, it is a wonder you live!”

She looked as he recalled her, silver clear eyes and raven dark hair., beautiful, even with the onset of fine lines at the corner of her eyes; eyes that studied him with equally frank scrutiny. He felt them wander over him. She would see the slight silvering of the hair at his temples and the lines the sun and wind had carved onto his face at sea. It had only been two years since that terrible day at Edhellond and yet he sensed that they had been hard years for them both, albeit in different ways.

Finally, Amarwen stirred herself to speech, ”Halvarin of the Mariners Guild, you have risen in the ranks.”

“and still alive as well,”
Halvarin said, cutting in.

Amarwen pushed out a dissatisfied breath at his interruption, ”Do not attempt to guess whether I cared overly much or at all on that score!”

“I have never held any such assumptions.”
Halvarin said as he drew a deep breath.

Though they had grown up together, had been friends, and perhaps more, they had grown up in different worlds. In her veins flowed the blood of Hydarmendacil! In his…suffice it to say that whilst the Mariner’s Guild could bring aristocrats shoulder the shoulder with commoners, never had Halvarin forgotten who he was. Or who she was… Is. No, was…for Castamir had stripped her of all titles. Did that change anything at all, though?

With everything that was going through his mind, he didn’t know what he should say or do. He looked into her eyes as he tried to read her. After a long silence, Halvarin took up her hand in his. He felt her fingers tense, as if she would pull away, but she did not.

”Lady Amarwen, not a day has passed since Edhellond that has not pained me. If I had known what was going to unfold, I would have sent a warning. And know that I grieved for you and your mother both. Sorely.”

“But little is served in looking back. Ahead, I see only grim and uncertain times. For the present, I will do what I can to keep you alive. I will not, for one, send you to the authorities in Minas Anor.”

At that, Halvarin saw open credulity in Amarwen’s expression. Had she really thought he’d turn her over to be executed? He shook his head at the notion.

“As for the rest, it is not so clear. Unfortunately, I have to answer to the Mariner’s Guild.”

He released her hand and offered Amarwen a chair closer to the heat, but she turned her head away. It was clear that he would not soon break through her walls. Walls she had to have built since Edhellond. Formidable defences indeed for to have accomplished what she had was quite a feat. Underground, right under Castamir’s nose in Minas Anor.

Amarwen appeared to have regathered her thoughts and she returned her eyes to his, wary now, ”What will you do with us if you are not going to send us to Minas Anor?”

What indeed, Halvarin thought, “You have put me in a bit of a predicament. My command here is wary at best, and loyalties are always under question. I think I can arrange better quarters for your detention here. Unfortunately, your… brother, will unfortunately not share the same fate."

“I will have Belas be the prime instigator in this, but they will be expecting more. As much as I would like not to, I will need to send him back where his fate will likely be sealed. I will have to review the rest of the captives as well. You will stay, and I will do what I can for you.”

Amarwen gave him a chilly look at this but did not speak. Halvarin then asked, ”Can I ask by what name you wish to be called?”

She clasped her hands before her; a mannerism he knew meant that she was thinking. Did she give him her alias she had used for some time, or make up another here and now? Marece had connections, useful connections that she’d need. Whilst it didn’t seem like much time went by, before she could answer Halvarin provided one for her, ”Nevermind, I’ll use your prisoner number for now...”

He crossed to his desk and studied the brief report he’d been provided with. Woman, somewhere in her twenties, refused to give her name, found to be in possession of too many weapons to be considered harmless, gave one of his men more than he was counting on. Where was it…ah yes.

”Seventy six,” Halvarin read out and set the paper down again, "Rest assured, the Lady of Edhellond is dead, and I don’t need to know any more about you. I will have to be careful in the reasoning and explanation as to why I have made my decision about keeping you here, but I’m confident you will work with me on this?”

Amarwen looked surprised at his words. Surprised that he was helping her? Surprised that he trusted her? With a few well-chosen words in the right ears, she could land him in a great deal of trouble and whilst their friendship might have waned he suspected her wits certainly hadn’t. This was the girl that had memorized all the stars months before he and any of his classmates had, after all.

She must have weighed it all up for he saw her begin to speak. Noise from the hall beyond the door gave her pause, though and she hesitated and Halvarin swiftly checked beyond it for the second time. Michas was approaching with, Farias, a fellow Ithilien Ranger and Michas’s second in command. Halvarin gave them a nod as he looked about for any others.

Only when he was assured the hall was empty, ”Michas, Farias, come in. Have Calas search Belas’ quarters, and have the other prisoners brought to the grounds for my review.”

Michas nodded and looked to Farias. With no more than a nod, Farais was soon on his way to fetch Calas and at that Michas turned back to Halvarin, careful to not once spare a look at Amarwen.

”I caution against kindness for these prisoners, Halvarin. You can’t afford to appear to be favouring insurgents.”

Halvarin glanced briefly to Amarwen before he returned to Michas, “I understand what you are saying my friend. Can we agree that all that is done is done for the love of Gondor? That when the killing and strife ends, may there still be some goodwill between Gondorians who hold these principles high in their hearts?”

At these words, he heard Amarwen shift her weight, her skirts rustling with the movement.

Michas said quietly in reply, ”If indeed there are any who yet live when this strife ends.”

Halvarin nodded in agreement, ”We will treat our prisoners with all due respect Michas. To do otherwise runs contrary to all that Gondor stands for in my eyes. Unfortunately, I'll no choice but to send some to Minas Anor.”

Again Amarwen shifted her weight but what was he to do? He looked briefly towards her, well aware that the authorities in Minas Anor held by a very different creed indeed. But he could not shelter them all. Really, he should not be sheltering any of them. Halvarin knew he was putting himself at risk in attempting to do so but with Amarwen watching on, he found that didn’t seem to care.

”If today, one more Gondorian refused to kill another, then perhaps we are one day closer to our land healing. I will stand forth and do what I can. What that is worth I do not know. Many in the Mariners Guild would, if they have not already, labelled me as an insurgent, but I also know that many in the Guild, particularly amongst the Navigators, hold less extreme views. Before it is done, I fear a great deal more blood must be spilled and all doing it will claim to do so for the glory of Gondor… So, for my part, I will treat our prisoners as merely lawbreakers, and not as traitors. Unfortunately, any I send to Minas Anor will likely be treated otherwise.”

Halvarin paused here and turned to where Amarwen stood quietly by the fire. She wasn’t looking at them at all and seemed far away. He sighed and turned to find Michas also deep in thought. Then again the sound of footfall in the hall was heard. It proved to be Farais, promptly returned.

He reported, ”Calas has the searches underway and the prisoners are being moved to the parade grounds.”

Briefly Farais glanced to where Amarwen stood. Whatever she had been preoccupied with, she was now paying very close attention. When their eyes met, Halvarin thought she’d lift her chin in defiance. Instead, Amarwen lowered her eyes to the ground. Oh, these past two years had proven her a fast study of what it was to be a commoner, he realized with a jolt. He’d never known her to be proud before, but it was unsettling to see her so…

Michas cleared his throat and Halvarin turned his attention back to Farais, ”How many prisoners do we have here in Osgiiath?”

“Seventy sir, counting the woman.”

Halvarin nodded, ”So we have lost six. I assume Belas was seventy four?”


Halvarin sighed for he wasn't going to ask if they were killed or escaped. Instead, he turned and walked to where Amarwen stood.

He whispered to her as he bound her wrists as gently as he could, ”I’m sorry about this.”

Not once did Amarwen lift her eyes from the floor. He started to lead her to the door as he told his men, ”We will escort prisoner seventy six to the parade grounds with us.”

He transferred Amarwen’s bonds to Michas’ keeping and returned to his desk to gather up a pile of reports from his desk. He reviewed them as they walked, Amarwen silent in their midst and her expression unreadable. Names, so many names, and from these Halvarin had to form an idea of who to send to Minas Anor.

At the grounds, Michas placed Amarwen at the end of the first row of prisoners. Most were dressed as she was, ordinary garb, worn and patched. Some were thieves or drunks. One or two were murderers. There was no shortage of smugglers too, what with the crops failing in Anorien. And then there were those engaged in nothing short of high treason. Halvarin walked down the lines, picking twenty and being careful to include the one that had been caught with Amarwen. Once that was done, he signed a parchment, sealed it and provided it to Calas along with a very clear set of instructions.

”You and your men are tasked with seeing these prisoners safely to Minas Anor. Their charges are each listed within for the authorities there to consider. Once there, take two days leave. Your men deserve it as I see they have been on constant duty for a very long time. Upon your return, I’ll give the Anorien Guard some leave. As it is not yet noon, you’ll set out today.”

Calas nodded at this and though he threw Amarwen a puzzled glance, he signalled his men to ready. For her part, Amarwen was again studying the ground. As were, he realized, nearly all of the female prisoners. The twenty selected prisoners were gathered to the centre of the grounds to await their escort. They’d be walking for there were no working wagons available. The remaining prisoners were kept in their ranks and Halvarin ordered them unbound before he again walked along their line.

He would stop before some of them and refer to his lists for their names. He would sometimes talk to them. When he finished, he picked four for special duties. Two, a man and a woman, he sent to work in the kitchens. One was a stonemason and he was put to work on repairing the city’s infrastructure. By his request, he was allowed to take his apprentice from the line of prisoners to serve with him. The last one, Amarwen, he assigned to work in cleaning up the Great Library. For a moment, as he walked away, he thought she’d had lifted her gaze from the ground to stare after him.

When he turned back, though, he found that this was not so. This was a dangerous game he was now playing, as well he knew. His loyalties were now more mixed than ever before. Still, he would continue to seek the middle path until such time as he could not. He was a navigator, after all. And meanwhile, now that he had found her again, he’d be keeping Amarwen close.
Last edited by elora on Fri Nov 17, 2017 3:45 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sun Aug 06, 2017 1:56 am

Farais set a swift path to the library and Amarwen had little recourse but to hurry after him, skipping around blocks of masonry that had yet to be removed from the streets they passed. No time to linger and discern just what Halvarin was up to. Why had he just done that? Did he think she was beholden to him now? Even if she was, what did such things matter given everything else at play. Belas’ death left a gaping hole in the network at Osgiliath and Osgilath was vital. Much more important than Minas Anor and Pelagir combined. As for Gendin, well the lad was dead. She had no idea why they’d wanted him alive but the matter was beyond her hands, unless she slipped out after him which-

”Watch where you’re going there, girl!”

Farais’ hand whipped her back from tumbling into a great, jagged hole just in time. He hauled her back before she could shatter something inconvenient, like her leg or skull, on its bottom and released her to shake his head.

”What’s your name, anyway?”

Amarwen shrugged at the question as she eyed the great hole. What had made that? Ballista?

”Girl,” she muttered.

”That’s not a name.”

“It’s what everyone calls me,”
she answered, lifting her attention from the hole to the man that had ensured she’d not fallen into it.

He had a sceptical look on his face and so she demonstrated her name for him.


Nonplussed, the Ranger shook his head at her even as her voice echoed off the damaged stone facades around them, ”Still not a name. What’s your number again?”

“Seventy six.”

“Right, Six it is. Watch where you’re going Six, and hurry up. Time’s a-wastin’.”

With that Farais set off again, even faster than before. What would happen if she did slip away and was recaptured. Straight to Minas Anor, she wagered, which would leave not one but two holes in key networks. Damn Belas and his sentimental notions. She should never, ever, ever have told him who she was. Never. Mind you, she could not have known the man would have odd notions about royal blood, royal blood than ran exceedingly thinly through her own veins.

”Here we are, then, Six. The Great Library!”

There was nothing Amarwen could do to keep her dismay from Six’s face. The Great Library had been a wondrous place once. A peerless marvel. What she saw now made her blood boil. She wanted to howl. It was at that precise moment that her stomach growled loudly.

”When did you last eat, Six?”

She blinked at the question and so he repeated it.

”Yesterday…I think,” she replied and then frowned, ”Or the day before.”

Muttering to himself, Farais seized her elbow and hauled her into the Great Library. Far above, light streamed down through the cracked Dome of Stars. Birds had started to roost in the library stacks and their arrival sent a flight of them streaming away, voicing their protest. Shattered furniture, torn books, loose leaves of paper and the scents of ash and dust lay heavy in the air. What had been done here was, in a word, unforgivable. A crime of monstrous proportions against every Gondorian that ever drew breath or ever would. It made her head swim.

Eventually, Farais had hauled her out into what had once been a lovely courtyard. The fountain in its midst had ceased to run and the plants and trees had all gone somewhat wild. The stone path was cracked and uneven, crunching under their feet as Farais pulled her along to deposit on the wide stone lip of the now silent fountain. That done, he fished about in a bag suspended from his belt and thrust a hard heel of dark bread at her.

”Come on, Six, we don’t have all day!”

Amarwen accepted this gift warily, braced for the other boot to fall. There always was one, she had found, right from the day she first rode through Minas Tirith’s walls in the back of a wagon – her father’s body suspended in a gibbet for the sport of crows beside the Crown Prince’s.

”Now, careful you don’t crack a tooth on it. That stuff is harder than-“

She was sucking on it to soften it up before Farais could finish his sentence. This was not the first heel of hardened bread she’d encountered over the past two years. Wouldn’t be her last either. He nodded at her and silence sprang up between them for a while. Then Farais remembered his water bag and this he unhooked and set between them.

”So, the library, eh? You’re found in the middle of the night somewhere you’re not supposed to be with enough knives to equip an Easterling raiding party, and you’re sent to the library,” Farais remarked, his voice idle and relaxed even if the thrust of his questioning was not.

As far as she could tell, Farais reported to Michas but this did not mean that he was in anyway involved in the resistance.

”Can you even read, Six?”

Amarwen shrugged at that and Farais continued, ”So do you know our Captain? Have you met him before, scrubbing barrels? A girl like you could make quite the living at an inn or tavern.”

Thankfully, the hard rye bread was still in her mouth, and so she couldn’t answer.

Farais pushed out a sigh and shook his head, ”Well, whatever the case might be, you’re damn fortunate to not be marching to Minas Anor right now, Six. You do what I tell you to do, we’ll get along just fine.”

Amarwen nodded at that and Farais settled back into silence, content it would seem to wait until she’d eaten the bread and drunk some water. Once he was certain she was not about to keel over, he soon set her to work. Floor by floor, she was to clear away the debris, clean the floors and then assist in setting what works could be saved into some sort of order. That would come in the very distant future and she could only assist.

”Can’t have an illiterate doing that all on your own, Six. Mayhem!”

Unlike what was around them presently, Amarwen thought to herself.

”Simple enough, Six?”

she answered.

”Right. Some one will be back for you at the end of the day. Oh, and a word of advice Six, don’t step foot outside this library on your own or your good fortune will come to a very sharp end. Understand?”

She nodded at that, Farais smiled and set off with his hands in his pockets and whistling a jaunty tune. Amarwen turned to watch him depart, unable to decide what to make of Farais. Or Halvarin for that matter. Amarwen blinked at that and then shook her head.

”I am so sorry, Gendin,” she sighed and set about the labour she’d been assigned to.

It was, in a word, overwhelming. She began by mapping out the extent of the task. There were so many floors and the wrack and ruin was so very extensive. There were the birds to deal with. The rats too, they were far more difficult than the birds. And something, she wasn’t sure what, had taken to living in the overgrown court yard. As the sun westered, she found herself in the once glorious dome. It had glowed, they said, illuminated by the light of the moon and sun, with each of Varda’s gems set within it. Now, vast pieces were missing and as the sun set, she could feel night’s chill streaming in.

Her father had taken her just the once, when she was very small, to see it. It was not long after he had discovered her love of the stars. Though women could never join the Guild, nor sail under the stars along side the men, he had indulged her all the same by bringing her here. Osgiliath and all within it had seemed so large to her then. It still did now that she was a woman grown, for all of its disarray. But then, she had been agog at its grandeur.

And here, right here, he had brought her. The stairs were too many for her then and so he’d carried her up the final flights to this very place. The dome above was ruined but the vast board was largely intact. Every star ever known, he had told her, was in the dome and upon that board. Her fingers trailed over it now as she picked out the names.

”And so this, at least, has not changed.”

Halvarin’s voice startled her from her recollections and Amarwen spun about to find him standing not very far away at all. She’d not even heard his approach, but then she was hardly at her best. She’d not properly eaten for at least a day, or possibly two now.

”You still love the stars,” he continued and her hand dropped away from the board.

Halvarin approached it and after studying her face for a moment his eyes dropped to the nearest stars, ”I remember when you asked me to name the stars for you. And so, I did…until you corrected me on one name and I realized you knew them all already. Do you remember that?”

For a while, she was uncertain how to answer. Or even if to do so. But after a moment, Amarwen nodded.

”I do.”

“If you already knew them, why did you ask me?”

She blinked at his question. Of all the things, this?

Amarwen shook her head and turned away to stare at a large crack near the base of the dome, ”You were so proud of what you had learned…and I liked the sound of your voice.”

There, an honest answer, and she heard him sigh at it before his tone shifted to something more matter-o-fact.

”So, what is your name?”

she replied and turned back at his incredulous laugh.

”That’s not a name!”

“Take it up with Farais,”
she replied and shrugged, ”It’s as good as any. How long am I to be here?”

“Until I can be certain you’re safe,”
Halvarin replied without hesitation.

”Safe! Have you seen what’s going on out there? People starve! They’re dying! The land itself recoils against a King it knows to be fals-“

“Have a care, Six!”

Her eyes narrowed at the warning and she whispered, ”There is no safe anymore!”

“Nevertheless, I have mourned you once and I do not care to do so again.”

“Your own Guild wants me dead. Your own Guild. What are you doing? Middle road? Ha!”

“Would you rather I had sent you back to Minas Anor?”

Oh, Varda knew, the fate her father had met would be kind compared to that which Castamir would greet her with.

”By the time this is done, you might wish that you had. There is no middle road.”

“I will be the judge of that.”

“And so, I’m to stay here until you say otherwise?”


“Charged with what, precisely?”

he replied and lifted a brow at her, ”For that is what you were up to on the river.”

Amarwen pushed out a heavy sigh and turned away to take in the stupendous waste that was the Great Library of Osgiliath.

She shook her head, ”They’re going to kill him, you know. Gendin. He’s just a boy, really. And he was going to die anyway. Only one way out of that prison nowadays…but the death that awaits him now is truly…unspeakable. And I don’t even know why.”

Nor did she know why she was saying any of this.

”There’s no way out of this. No turning back. I don’t know if it will ever be-“

Halvarin’s hand reached for her own and she should have pulled her hand away. Yet she let his fingers curve around her own and she hung her head.

”I’m so tired. So very, very tired.”

And just like that he folded his arms around her. Nothing was said and they did not move until a gust of wind made her shiver.

”Someone will be along to return me to my cell soon. You shouldn’t be here when they do,” Amarwen said as Halvarin withdrew his warmth.

His hands on her shoulders pulled her about and in the all but faded light she could make out the lines of his face.

”It’s all going to be alright…Six,” she could hear him strain against the urge to use her name. But that was the name of a dead woman.

”I do not see how,” she sighed and at that his hands rose to cup her face just as they both heard a boot scuff a step.

Her guard!

Just like that Halvarin was gone, vanished into the looming shadows of which there were many in this disarray.

”You up here, Six? Better not be taking a nap.”

“I’m here,”
Six answered, gathering her wits as a torch and then the man carrying it came into view.

Farais again and he narrowed his eyes at her, ”What are you doing up here.”

“Scaring the birds off,”
she answered waved her arms about.

He shook his head at her, ”Ha! You’d have better luck with whatever is living in the courtyard. I think it’s a pig. I hope so at least. Some bacon would be wonderful. Come on with you. It’s a ways back to your cell and we’ve still to sort out where to put you. No falling down stairs or into holes, neither! I’m no mood for that sort of shenanigans.”

“Yes sir,”
she answered, glancing over her shoulders to the darkness beyond to wherever Halvarin was.

”What did I just tell you, Six? Watch where you’re going, for pity’s sake!”


“Mmph…and we’re going to have to find fresh clothes too. You reek of river.”

“Does it matter?”

“It does to me, Six. It does to me. Now step lively because I’m not going back to look for you.”

She hurried after Farais for a second time.

”Are you sure you don’t know the captain,” he asked on their way down.

”I don’t,” she replied and the answer was not entirely false.

For she knew Halvarin just as she did not. Nothing, he had said to her on that awful day, was simple any more. Still, the simple and honest comfort of his warmth was as undeniable as the fact that his fellow Guild members would execute her without hesitation. There was no mercy for ship burners like her.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:51 pm

Osgiliath 1439

Beregon padded silently through the dark streets of Osgiliath. He had come to seek a woman embedded into the resistance of Osgiliath, but found the place sacked and destroyed. He needed to find Belas as soon as he could. But his walk to the old places all turned up empty at best, destroyed was more likely, many with the bones of some long dead still lying where they fell. One place stank of recent death and Beregon did not go in. It forced a stark realization of how thorough the sack of Gondor’s capital had been by the triumphant Castamirians. That sack, it seemed, continued now some two years on from the city’s fall. He was fortunate to get out when he did, but others who remained did not share his fate.

Beregon’s warning had arrived shortly after he was summoned to Minas Anor. As Captain of the City, he thought it routine to be summoned, particularly given a year had passed since Osgiliath’s fall. Things had changed, certainly, under the new regime but there had been no hint of what was to come. An unknown source from Minas Anor had advised him that he would be arrested for conspiracy of treason upon his arrival. This warning arrived only days before he had been due to set out for the White City.

Beregon, of course, had his doubts but Belas had been confident that the warning and its source could be trusted. And then, men from the garrison in Minas Anor arrived in Osgiliath to relieve Beregon’s Anoríen men from key positions. Had that not occurred, Beregon would probably be dead now or still imprisoned. He would not have heeded the warning. Instead, he had fled north swiftly, succeeding in escaping the looming trap despite nearly being caught twice.

As a shadow, now, he returned to the streets of Osgiliath. Things had gone ill in his absence despite the presence of two good men. Michas he knew to be a good Gondorian. Beregon had sent him east out of the city prior to its sack and so when the fighting had erupted Michas had been away. There was no way for Beregon to know then which kingship Michas had supported but his gut had told him that Michas leaned in Eldacar’s favour. Belas, however, was a staunch Eldacar man and an even stauncher friend. In recent weeks he’d gone strangely quiet and this is what had drawn Beregon forth to Osgiliath once more. Marked as a deserter and traitor both, Beregon knew this to be perilous. But now, with Castamir’s squads apparently running amok in the streets still, the consequences of being caught was dire.

If he was taken, he knew he would die and Beregon suspected, nay hoped, that the final blow would come from someone in particular. Not one of Castamir’s many interrogators but one from his own people. Eldacar’s chief operative in Gondor would not permit him to be broken and expose their secrets, though she would likely grieve over what was required. Marece was an enigma to him in many ways, but she was not like him or Michas. She was not a warrior. And, he knew that if he should succeed in his efforts here tonight, she would want a report from him.

He slipped through a back alley and came to a door where the aroma of wood-smoke and baked bread came from. The head baker, Beregon knew, favoured Eldacar. If he had been taken, the place would not still be baking bread. Perhaps there was hope yet for Osgiliath’s resistance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The woman Halvarin set to work in the kitchens was surprised she was not detained. She had the prominent features of northman heritage, yet the Captain of the city did not send her to Minas Anor for execution. Perhaps, she speculated, the dark dye she used to keep her blonde hair in check had deceived him. Then again, considering how the Captain had paused long before her the second time, perhaps not.

Whatever the reason, though, the Captain had elected to dispatch her to the garrison kitchens instead of Minas Anor. This was a reprieve that she could not squander. Nor could she risk getting caught again. In time, her blonde locks of Rhovanion would reveal themselves. Two days she had been here and the more she thought about it, the more likely it was that the Captain had noticed her hairline. If she had a moment to breathe now, it would not last long at all.

Vilmaith had taken the name Indara as her alias after the fall of Osgiliath. She knew that the remaining Eldacarian ranks were growing thin in Osgiliath. The loss of Belas was a particularly sharp blow and now there were only three left in the city to her knowledge. It had been days since she had contact with any of them. Had they been rounded up too, she wondered. Had the resistance crumbled here? Possibly, but then there were rumours about the two prisoners taken with Belas. The Captain had spared one of them and other he had sent to Minas Anor. Another riddle, that. Indara knew it would be important to speak with the other woman somehow, discover more, but for now she had work to do and it was even more important that she did not draw unnecessary attention to herself.

There was a kitchen to clean before she could retire to sleep. All had to be ready for the morning, which would come sooner than dawn for those in the kitchen. Indara swept the floor, pushing dust out the back door. Movement out the corner of her eye in the darkness snapped her head up out instinct. She turned towards it as a hand wrapped around her mouth. Panic blossomed in her chest and she twisted. She would have broken free but for the hand that caught her wrist.

Indara was pulled with some force until she found herself face to face with a man she had not expected to see in this place. Only it could not be him. Not here.

”Vilmiath? Is that you?”

She peered about suspiciously but held her piece.

The man pushed on, ”You’re not dead? Our king will be pleased to know this. He had feared for you. It was said you had perished, murdered with his son and the Lord of Edholland in Minas Anor! “

Indara’s eyes widened as she realized that a rougher, dirtier, gruffer Beregon did indeed stand before her by the kitchen door.

”I was not with Ornendil when he was taken. I left shortly before, tasked with conveying messages along the line. I was returning to him during the counterattack, but did not know the 4th Anorien Regiment would turn on us and join with the foe. I tried to return to Ornendil to warn him once their treachery was known, but I was hit by rubble from a falling building and I fell. All turned dark, and when it passed there was a slaughter underway,” she paused then, the fear and rage echoing still after two years, ”I was pulling bodies of the slain over me, for I have been seen. It was when rubble slid down and buried me. I remained there long, not able to hardly breathe. When I could not take it anymore, I dug myself out. Bu then it was early morning.”

Beregon’s face paled at this grim account and he reached out to squeeze her shoulder, “And you have been here in Osgiliath all this time while I was in command? Your stealth is commendable! There will be time to talk soon enough. Right now, I need to know the state of the resistance. Do you know?”

“I know little for I have kept to the edges and remained unseen. I know Vilna and Vidnavi lived, for they got word to me some weeks after the battle, but I have not seen them, nor heard from either of them again.”
Indara looked about again, agitated now.

She slipped back into the doorway of the kitchen and Beregon followed.

”Many, I think, have been killed or taken away to Minas Anor. And my stealth failed me too for I was arrested yesterday. The new Captain sent me not to the White City but here. I do not know why.”

Beregon nodded at this and considered the night. He could not tarry long here, he knew.

Indara added, ”Belas was arrested too…and died. There were two others taken with him – a youth the Captain dispatched to Minas Anor and another. A proud woman, she looked. She he spared.”

Beregon frowned at this. A woman? A proud looking woman? Was that Vilmaith’s way of describing a woman of his own people. And Belas was dead? How had that come to pass? Too many questions and no time to grieve.

“Where was she sent?” Beregon asked.

”She works in the library, where the commander has an office.”

Beregon sighed heavily at this and drew himself up to depart, ”I will return for you when I return north. Until then, do nothing bar your work here. Do not attempt to escape and send no messages.”

Indara nodded, ”And you, Beregon?”

He grimaced at the question for he had hoped to quit the city as soon as possible, ”I need to learn more of this woman and perhaps this new Captain.”

With a quick glance about he looked back at Indara briefly before he was swallowed by the night. Indara pushed out a weary sigh, closed the kitchen door and leaned against the wall. Keep her head down, do nothing remarkable. It would be difficult, she knew, and time was not her ally but Indara was nothing if not a loyal soldier for Eldacar. Just as her father had been.

Boots scuffing drew her attention up. Indara smoothed her face just as her guard arrived to take her to her cell for the night. There would be only a few hours of sleep before she would be needed to prepare the day’s bread for baking. It seemed unlikely she’d be able to find any rest though.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Halvarin knew all too well the care he needed to take. A wrong word in the wrong ear was enough to create trouble beyond measure now. He knew that, yet the sight of Amarwen in the Dome of Stars took him to away from these dark times to more innocent days.

As the light of Farias’ torch faded and their voices with it, he rose from the shelf he had hidden behind. Looking at the dome anew, Halvarin stared at the small parts that had not been destroyed. They glistened with the starlight above, throwing a faint light about the high walls. Halvarin thought of Amarwen’s eyes and the glint in them as she was looking up at that same unbroken part. A profound sigh escaped him at that. Deep as his thoughts were for Amarwen, they had to die. Sorrow washed over him as memories flowed through his mind. Perhaps it was foolish to think they could die. Perhaps, the best he could aim for is to send them to sleep.

He pondered this in his slow walk back to his quarters. His steps took him to his office there, where he slept but dawn found Halvarin awake still. Any sleep he had was transitory and restless. Filled with dreams he both knew he could not have but did not wish to put away. Halvarin dragged himself out of his bed and stood, blinking and numb. His mind was fogged. Foregoing his usual morning refreshments, Halvarin embarked upon his daily rounds instead. And still his mind churned through the events of the night before.

There was, he concluded, only one solution and that was to avoid Amarwen. At least for the coming days. Any report of her came from her guard in that time, Farais. Despite his efforts to avoid her, he did occasionally find himself glimpsing her as she set about her labours. She was, as he anticipated, meticulous in restoring order to the library, organizing the parchments scattered by the sack and repairing that which was salvageable. Sometimes he caught her reading them. Tempting as it was to ask what it was she had found and share in it, he refrained. Farais, after all, had suspected something from that first day and he did not wish to create yet more questions that were difficult to answer. Like: why the Captain of Osgiliath whiled away his time reading with a convicted criminal.

Any connection between Amarwen and he, if discovered, would have profound consequences for them both. But, then, as the days passed it occurred to Halvarin that it would be odd if he avoided her entirely. Especially as he kept an office at the library himself. He made it a point to speak to the prisoners and anyone watching, and there was always someone watching nowadays, would note the discrepancy if he did not speak to Amarwen.

Thus after a week, he found himself headed for his office at the library with the pretence of securing navigational maps of the Anduin. And of course, there she was. Halvarin paused to watch her work. There was, he knew, no way to tell whether she would use the library for her cause or not. Actually, he shook his head, he knew that she most likely would if there was a way to do so. And, oddly, he was rather unconcerned about that. Hardly a suitable position for a Guild officer of his rank.

Shaking his head at himself, he stepped into the chamber and her head swung up to regard him. Her gaze was steady and it was, he found, impossible to tell if she was pleased or dismayed to find him there. As the silence grew, Halvarin cleared his throat and tried to think of something to say.

”Barely a week has passed and you have done so much to bring this place back toward its former glory. I take it you have been treated well?”

“Conditions have improved since I arrived,”
she answered, not indicating whether she referred to the library or her own.

Halvarin looked to the map spread before her on the wide table, ”The north lands. Some look there for a day when Eldacar will return. Do not be so bold to think that I do not know you wish this.”

“I do not deny it. I know my position well and now I am a prisoner of Castamir,”
she answered, tone becoming cooler by the moment and her gaze becoming distant and hard.

This was not going well at all, he knew, ”My ability to protect you is precarious. Yet I am inclined to do more in support of you even if it comes at a cost to me and my position in the Guild.”

There, he thought, she surely had to know the risk he was taking in so plain a statement. He watched her arch a dark brow slowly and then set about measuring the distance of the Anduin north towards Rhovanion.

”I think you need to ask yourself where it is you stand, Halvarin,” she said, detached.

Halvarin stared at her long but she did not meet his gaze and so he sighed heavily, ”You are not wrong m’Lady. Should I adhere to my Guild and spill here all those my Guild declare traitors? Or should I repudiate my office and my Guild and take up arms in the name of Eldacar. I do neither, and in doing so, I also do both.”

This certainly got her attention for at last Amarwen returned her eyes to his. At this he approached and her took her hand in his. He could feel the tension running through her but she did not pull away.

The pupils in her clear grey eyes widened as she looked up at him and so he added the only thing he was sure of, ”This I know, m’Lady: I will do all that I can to keep you here and alive despite who may wish otherwise.”

He could see how rapidly her heart was beating for her pulse hammered at the base of her throat. He tightened his fingers around hers, soaking in her warmth and then released her hand to step back.

Swallowing hard, Halvarin turned away, ”Now, I need the depth logs for the Anduin. I looked for them once but the place was such a mess…”

As if she read his mind, she stepped over to a shelf and pulled out a loose bound collection of parchments. Halvarin smiled as she placed it into his hands.

”The Library is a better place for your presence. It is a great service you do for the realm. I will look into whether your sentence might be commuted for your dedicated service.“

He gave her a small nod as her mouth opened and closed, and took his leave. Halvarin’s path out of the library found Farais occupying the main door. The guard was scrutinising something outside, eyes narrowed and attention focused on the streets beyond.

”I see your prisoner has been productive here,” Halvarin stated and Farais turned about to face him, ”I take it there have been no… difficulties?”

“None sir. She is courteous, diligent and,” he grinned, ”Rather charming. Not as illiterate as I thought, though. And still she will not provide her name. For all of that, she seems far too clever and not nearly mean enough to be a petty criminal.”

”And yet the evidence is quite clear.”

“Yes, and that does puzzle me, Sir,”
Farais answered, ”It’s almost as if Six is an entirely different person to the smuggler arrested by Calas. I’ll keep a close eye on her. That I can promise you.”

Halvarin nodded and returned to his garrison office to read the logs he had. But try as he might, his thoughts returned time and again to his position in this strife. Where did he indeed stand, he wondered.


The afternoon wound down into evening and Farais returned to library as was his custom to escort Six back to the garrison for the evening. In light of the security problems, the Captain had initiated a curfew that meant that the garrison gates once closed for the evening did not reopen until the following morning. He found Six waiting for him, perched beside a lantern on the steps that led up to the first floor. Her expression had seemed thoughtful, as though she were weighing matters of great import, but it cleared of that once she knew he was there. There was, Farais suspected, a great deal more to Six.

”Ready?” he asked and she answered by standing, lantern in hand.

It swayed from side to side as she came towards him and really he didn’t need to ask. Any prisoner found outside the garrison after lock down was subject to a range of repercussions starting with flogging and not ending there. And then there was the fact that the evening was the only time the prisoners were fed. Rations and supply were difficult in Osgiliath as they were elsewhere in Gondor, and prisoners were the lowest of the low in the city. They ate last and no prisoner wanted to be the last prisoner in for that was a hungry prisoner indeed.

Thus, Six had not once presented a spot of bother when it came to being prompt and ready to return to the garrison and the cell that would await her after her daily meal. This evening was no different as she skipped down the steps into the street just behind him. Farais opened his mouth to ask her a question that never came.

One moment he was standing just in front of her and the next he was sprawled on the ground. Amarwen blinked, startled and then froze. An unescorted prisoner, her guard unconscious…if another guard found her like this the consequences would be dire. And then someone grabbed her arm and pulled her into the narrow gap between the library and the city’s archive. She dropped the lantern in her alarm and it rolled about next to Farais’ prone form.

Amarwen drew a breath to scream with all her might but a hand fell over her mouth. She recoiled sharply and tried to bite the fingers pressing against her as a rough voice whispered in her ear, ”You should not be here, Marece.”
Last edited by elora on Sat Nov 18, 2017 11:01 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Tue Aug 29, 2017 6:56 pm

That voice! Amarwen knew that voice but it took some effort to relax herself. After a pause, the man removed his hand from her mouth.

”And well I know it, Beregon! What is happening here? Osgiliath appears to be in…disarray!”

“Is that why you are here?”

“Belas is why I am here,”
she growled and Beregon sighed.

”What happened?” he asked, the very question she’d been trying to answer herself from the moment they’d been apprehended.

”I had my doubts about this venture,” she replied, ”But Belas was adamant. I’d never seen him so insistent.”

Beregon’s tone was startled, ”This was his idea?”

She let her silence be her answer and so Beregon pulled her deeper between the buildings. Rats skittered away from them in the growing darkness.

”Nothing about this makes any sense to me. It’s like…it’s like they knew we would be there,” she pushed on as he drew her in deeper, ”Belas could have easily declared us his captives but instead he capitulated. And he escaped but he did not pull out as he should have. And now I am a prisoner of Castamir and we’re three men down for it!”

It was difficult to keep her ire from her voice and what Beregon said next made it harder still.

”Had I known, I would have counselled against it. It is far too dangerous a gambit to have you here.”

her voice was sharp. Was this a plan? A plan?!

Beregon reached out to touch her forearm briefly, ”Not mine, I can assure you, but perhaps I can offer some insight.”

As this unfolded, Farais found himself face down on Osgiliath’s cobblestones with a thumping headache and a guttering lantern about to set fire to his trews. He rolled away hastily and came to his knees, his head throbbing in time with his heart beat. Where was Six? Escaped or taken? Both boded ill for her. If she had escaped then she would be found and this time, no reprieve from Minas Anor. That, he suspected, was not a place clever Six wanted to go. And if she was taken then she would never be seen again. Bright Six, with all her secrets, snuffed out.

He rubbed at his aching skull and tested his feet. And then…then Farais heard voices. He skirted around the still fallen lantern which would soon die out anyway and cast about for those he could hear talking. A man, most definitely. He could hear the distinctive low rumble of a masculine voice and then a higher lilt. A woman, he guessed. There was no one on the streets at this hour. Most everyone avoided the city streets at night irrespective of whether they had a curfew to meet or not. Feeling slightly nauseous, Farais padded closer to the library again and then along its front to the small gap between it and the archive and then froze. He could hear them clearest here, if he was careful with his breathing, for the voices were still faint. Two people, deep within the gap. No one ventured there for anything legal and for good reason. It was infested with all manner of other unsavoury things.

Farais flattened himself against the wall and held his breath. Yes, definitely Six’s voice he concluded. Only it sounded different…stronger, more certain. His Six was timid as a mouse but this Six was something else entirely. There was no deference or hesitancy in this woman’s voice. The man she spoke to grunted and then he heard the familiar jingle of weapons. The Six he knew would not be assured in the presence of a warrior. He’d watched her shrink into herself every time a guard happened by. He shifted, hoping to get a glimpse of the man she was talking to and saw only shadows.

”I’ve stayed too long,” he heard the man say.

”Then go,” Six answered, ”And stay out of Osgiliath, for pity’s sake!”

“And you?”

“We will be hamstrung if Osgiliath is not shored up.”

With that came the sound of movement and Farais drew hurriedly back, debating what to do. He decided to return to where he had fallen and kneel again, as if still groggy. Sure enough, Six soon hurried over to his side.

”Are you hurt, Sir?” she asked, all breathless worry and timidity again.

”My skull’s near cracked open. What happened?”

“Footpads, I think. When they realized you were a guard, they fled.”

It just rolled right off Six’s tongue without pause or hesitancy, Farais thought, and he didn’t know whether to be impressed or appalled. Perhaps both. He shook her off, irritated and climbed to his feet.

”They’d better not make the mistake of returning,” he growled and then glared at Six, ”And you’d better hope we make curfew.”

She gulped at that and proceed to tug at his sleeve to pull him along. The longer it took the more frantic she became as she knew what would await her for missing curfew. And, though he had every right to be angry with her, Farais did not really want to see her beaten. Thus, he slowed his steps precisely enough to ensure that they were the very last through the gates.

In fact, the doors closed right on their heels, the internal bars falling soundly into place and echoing down the hall. Farais snaked out a hand to grab her arm and pull Six hard against him.

”Now you listen to me, Six,” he hissed in her ear, ”This happens again and it’s on your head entirely. You understand me? No second chances.”

she squeaked, and perhaps she was contrite.

Certainly, she looked genuine. If that could be believed. He hauled her roughly towards the large room that served as the prisoner’s dining area. It was already full of her fellow convicts and he knew that Six was surely the last to arrive. Serve her right, he thought to himself.

”Get in there and don’t come whining to me about your empty belly,” he growled at her as he all but threw her across the threshold.

She stumbled a few steps before she caught her footing and when she had her balance again she turned back to look at him. He turned his back on her to chat with his fellow guards, and a glance over his shoulder confirmed that Six had understood the message.

Amarwen went in search of whatever food might be available only to find that it had all gone. Not that this discomforted her for her appetite had vanished in that notch between the library and the archive. And so she sat there as everyone else wolfed down their only meal of the day. As she sat there, she wondered if Farais was going to prove more of a problem. She’d covered as best she could but it was reasonably evident that things between her and Farais had shifted. And not, she thought, for the better.

Farais wandered off with his peers without so much as a backwards glance and it fell to other guards to dispatch them to their cells for the night. Unsettled and confused, Amarwen sat on the edge of the narrow, lumpy cot that was her bed as her thick cell door was locked. She had a single candle, like all prisoners, that threw off a tremulous, thin light. She stared at its flickering feeble flame and tried to make sense of the day’s events.

If what Beregon had told her was true, and she had no reason to doubt him, then the entire Gondor operation stood at risk. A traitor, in their midst, supplying names. Picking them off, one by one. Osgiliath would fall and then Minas Anor. The entire network was imperilled and would be until she identified and addressed the breach.

And she was furious with Belas and Beregon both for withholding this grievous state of affairs. Suspicion was so endemic that Belas had apparently withheld information from Beregon…and now she could not rule Belas out as their traitor. After all, she was prisoner by his doing. His plan. His gambit. Or, at least, that is how Beregon described it. They should have brought their concerns to her months ago.

Who had this list? Where was it? Who was on it? If her name was on it, then it was only a matter of time before they came for her and put her the question. They would break her. She knew that because she had seen for herself what these men will do. Everything she knew, every agent’s name and location and all of their activities, would be in their hands. There was one person who might know. One person she could ask, but should she ask him?

Should she use Halvarin in such a way? She was so confused, torn between what she wanted and what she thought. What she wanted was to believe him. She wanted to trust him. He was the only person left alive who knew her properly. But if she went to him then it was only a matter of time before their connection would be discovered either by her people or his own. And if her people discovered she had not taken the opportunity to turn Halvarin, suborn a Guild Officer who was also the son of the Guild Master, then what then?

She had come close to doing that today, she knew, and it had made her sick to her stomach to realise how near she was to betraying him like that. As if he meant nothing to her. Halvarin deserved better than that. He had taken no small risk to intervene on her behalf twice now: Edholland and Osgiliath both. And so, she had stopped herself from doing anything that might drag him deeper.

And then there was Eldacar to consider. What would the king make of all this? If he discovered that she was here in Osgiliath what action might he take? Better to lose one than the entire Gondor operation. It is, after all, what she would advise though Beregon said he would counsel the king against it. In the years since his defeat the king had become somewhat cold. Perhaps they all had. It would not matter that they distantly shared the same blood. His return and Gondor’s release from this nightmare came before such bonds of kinship.

In truth, then, she was alone and on her own now. And Amarwen was not sure if she was equal to the task. On that sobering thought she blew the weak candle out and curled up under the bedding each convict was allowed – a blanket that was serviceably warm for all of its roughness. Somehow, in the midst of her tangled heart, ominous thoughts and growling belly, Amarwen managed to drift off to sleep.

So too was Michas, stretched out on his bunk and staring at his ceiling, until his door opened. Michas sat up with a start and stared at the man that stood in his small room.

”Have you lost your mind?’ he exclaimed.

”Very nearly,” Beregon answered and sidled nearer, ”This new Captain, what’s he like?”

“A good man,”
Michas said as he raked his fingers through his hair, ”Neutral in his loyalties, or trying to be.”

Beregon’s brows rose, ”He’s a Guild officer, though.”

Michas nodded, ”The only son of its master.”

Beregon whistled quietly at that and Michas added, ”Which makes his conduct regarding a particular new arrival all the more…curious. Belas was arrested a week ago with a woman and one other. Belas died, the boy he returned to Minas Anor with a report they were traitors. But the woman…he altered her sentence to smuggling and kept her back. Sent her to the library of all places.”

Michas watched Beregon rub a hand over his lower jaw as if debating something, ”How involved were you in Belas’ last…action?”

“None at all! I was as surprised as anyone here when he was arrested. I was being questioned by the Captain when I heard he had been killed. This woman, she has something to do with it all. Too many questions swirl around her.”

“That woman, Michas, is Marece.”

And that is how Michas came very close to swallowing his own tongue.

Beregon nodded at him slowly, ”I know…I know…Belas, it would seem, kept us all guessing including her.”

“But she can’t-“

“She is and,”
he sighed, ”And she’s staying.”

Michas’ mouth dropped open at that statement and Beregon rolled his shoulders, “You try arguing with her some time. Eldacar appointed her for a reason, you know.”

Michas sighed unhappily, ”Osgiliath is writhing with Castamirian squads just waiting to pick us off!”

“I know, but in two years not once I have heard that they’ve placed a price on her head. Not once has her name been mentioned. I don’t know who she is really, but she’s good Michas. And she’s going to need your help.”

“With what?”

“That I will leave to her to explain, as and when she sees fit.”

Michas grimaced, his expression sour, ”This is bound to go awry. I mean, look at us. Belas is dead and you’re inside the very garrison who is hunting you down on her account.”

“Belas’ death does not, I think, belong on her head…and in any case, she ordered me out of the city only a few hours ago,”
Beregon grinned at him suddenly, ”But a man’s got to have a little fun every now and again.”

And with that Beregon was gone again. It was now impossible to sleep and so Michas placed his elbows on his knees, stared at his wall and tried to think up all the ways that this might go wrong.

Amarwen woke before dawn not in the least rested. She pulled herself from her cot, stuffed her feet into her shoes and threw on her cloak ready to set out. Farais liked an early start. He was usually either at her door or pulling her through it about now.

As she waited, she worked on the tangles out of her hair with the wooden comb each prisoner was allotted with. This was a lengthy process given how thick her hair was but despite that, Farais had still not arrived by the time she had tied twine around her thick braid.

She could hear nothing outside her door either. Amarwen pressed her ear against it and heard only resounding silence. She peered underneath it and saw no feet moving against the light. She forgot about her gnawing hunger as her concerns grew. Nothing about this was normal. She’d not heard the cells of the other woman open. Which was odd for the other woman kept earlier hours than she did.

The still silence was ominous, almost stifling and when her door finally opened Amarwen was ready to fight or flee. Farais burst through it and the first thing she saw was that he’d been fighting. He seized her arm and hauled her after him, breaking into a run once he had cleared the cell. Despite his rush, she saw that the other woman’s cell was open. When had that happened?

Farais moved with such speed that it was all she could do to avoid slamming into the walls each time he took a corner. Then, suddenly, he halted and pressed them both painfully into a small alcove in the wall. He was panting with his exertions and she could feel him shaking. Fear, fatigue, anger? Impossible to tell. Boots clattered by and then Farais was off again.

Amarwen lost track of the twists and turns he took but when he burst into a barracks her eyes popped. He couldn’t have her in here! It was strictly, absolutely forbidden to have prisoners in the barracks where the guards kept their weapons for obvious reasons. He’d be dismissed and she’d be flogged. But despite her struggles he pulled her forward until he reached a particular bunk.

”Under there, now!” he hissed, looking back towards the door.

She took that opportunity to make a break for it but he caught her again, ”Do you want to die?”


“Then get under there now.”

Farais threw her on the floor and used a foot to prod her under the intended bunk. He was too fast and too strong for her to resist and so she was shoved into place with her heart in her mouth. He crouched once that was done and she saw, at last, why he shivered. Farais was afraid.

”Stay there. Don’t move. Not a sound. Stay there.”

As he said that a great clanging bell sounded. An alarm and she flinched at it.


he said as he glanced towards the door, ”Stay there.”

And he was gone again.

Riots were terrifying things. They were like great forest conflagrations, with a mind of their own and absolutely no mercy or compassion. They could flash up and die back as quickly but others could rage for hours or days. And it soon emerged that this was not a transitory strife. Men came and went through the barracks, oft in search of replacement weapons or gear. Their talk was angry and weary but what the guards were angry about varied greatly. Some were furious with the prisoners, for this is where the riot had begun. But others were furious with what the prisoners were rioting about. Another prisoner had vanished overnight and all Amarwen could think of was the cell door she’d seen open despite not hearing anything at all.

”These disappearances are a stain on us all,” one guard declared angrily as he rifled through a trunk of equipment at the end of the bunk opposite to the one she was under, ”And don’t tell me they’re escaping. Only a matter of time before we find where they’re buried.”

Had he looked to the side he could have seen her, wide eyed and terrified, but he was tired and upset and just wanted his short sword. Once he had pulled it free, the man slammed the lid of the trunk shut and left with his companions. And then she understood why Farais had hidden her here. Every guard would do his utmost to keep the rioters out of their barracks so as to deny them access to the very thing any angry rioter wanted most of all: weapons.

From time to time she heard angry shouting, fighting and the sound of men dying. On several occasions it got very close to the barracks but each wave was thrown back. Where was Halvarin in all of this, she wondered with no way of knowing that he was standing in her empty cell wondering just where she was.

”Captain, they’re setting fires in the city,” Michas said, harried.

Halvarin cursed and turned away, unable to tarry any longer. Was she caught up in this? Was she fighting with her fellow prisoners? Had she used the bedlam to escape her captivity? No time to dwell over such things as this riot threatened to spill into what was left of Osgiliath. And if he did not bring it to heel swiftly, the Guild’s presence in Osgiliath would become oppressive.

”Authorise the men to use whatever force is necessary to restore calm and civil order, up to and including deadly force,” he said as the image of a sword impaling Amarwen flashed across his mind’s eye.

He shuddered at the image, ”But sparingly. Only as needs against active rioters. Send bowmen ahead of the line and lay down a barrier. Push them back towards the garrison.”

“Yes Captain,”
Michas replied and raced off to relay the order.

Halvarin wiped a hand over his face and followed in Michas’ steps so far as the cell of the missing woman. The cell right next to Amarwen’s with a door just like hers that locked from the outside. There was no sign of a struggle. No one had noticed anything awry. Someone with keys to cells had done this. Again. Another prisoner missing. In his mind the list of name flashed up. Was this prisoner’s name upon it? Was Amarwen’s name upon it? Had she been taken too? He had no way of knowing for she had yet to divulge the name she’d assumed. And what would he do if her name was on it? He did not know the answer to that either.

It was many interminable hours later that Halvarin was receiving reports. It was well past midnight and the city streets were quiet under a heavy patrol presence. The fires had been put out and the prisoners secured again. The room in which the prisoner’s ate had been converted into the place for the injured prisoners to be assisted. And Michas was running through the numbers.

”Confirmed dead: seven guards, three civilians, eighteen prisoners,” he said as he passed a sheet of parchment to Halvarin.

”Eighteen? That’ll make feeding the ungrateful swine easier,” one of the other officers remarked and there was dark laughter that cut off abruptly when Halvarin’s fists collided with his desk in a sharp, loud blow.

Silence returned to his office as he reviewed the list of names Michas had passed him. Good men, a valued artisan and eighteen prisoners. Farais was amongst them, he noted. A loss, that, for Farais was a skilled, honourable guard. Most, he saw, had been killed as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. An artisan was accidentally hit with an arrow meant for a rioting convict. Another two civilians had been hit by stones being flung by either other civilians or convicts. As for the convicts, a good number of those had been trampled in the rush to flee the oncoming guards. The rest had been killed in conflict with the guards. And nowhere on that list was Six.

”The casualties,” Halvarin asked next and Michas passed him a second sheet of paper.

”I expect the numbers will change as more find their way back,” he said as Halvarin reviewed the information. Again, no Six.

”Any unaccounted for?”

Michas sighed at that, ”Two female convicts. A thorough search is underway now.”

And just as he said that Amarwen was dragged out from under the bunk by a group of guards in the barracks. She struggled in their grip until a blow caught her left jaw and left her dazed.

”Whose bunk is this, Calas?”

“Farais, I think,”
he said with a grin.

”Isn’t that interesting,” said her captor and tossed her across to Calas, ”You know what to do with this.”

”I’m going to enjoy this,”
Calas told her as he hauled her along.

Instead of leading her back to her cell, he instead dragged her out of the garrison and into the yard towards a set of leaning wooden structures that rattled in the chilly breeze. She’d paid little heed to them before now, having only been on this yard the once before waiting news of her fate as a prisoner. Calas pulled open a creaking door and threw her past it. The door slammed shut and she heard chains rattle.

”Sweet dreams, traitorous scum,” he declared as he locked it again and then all she heard was the rattle of the timbers around her in the night.

Amarwen sank to her knees in this new darkness. She had not eaten for two days, nor had any water for one. She was shaking with a combination of cold and fatigue that would only worsen as the night progressed. And come the morning she would be pulled out of this place, strung up and flogged. After a riot there could be no relaxing of the rules around garrison security. The punishment was severe because the implications of a breach of these rules were also severe.

The Castamirians in his ranks would be watching Halvarin carefully after commuting her sentence. She’d been arrested with rebels and so for them that made her a rebel. As for Farais, he’d be drummed out despite being an honourable and decent guard. Despite his reservations about her, she knew that she was only alive now because of his actions even if she was not sure why he had done as he had. Gondor needed men like him in her ranks, not driven away.

Amarwen made herself to sit on the cold, bare earth. A particularly strong gust of wind made the wooden structure around her shudder and sway and then she heard rain. Slow, thick drops with a smell of ice. Sleet. Her teeth chattering as the temperature dipped away, she hunched her shoulders and prepared herself as best she could for what was to come.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Mon Sep 04, 2017 1:07 am

Near the Anduin, North of Osgiliath

Beregon and Indara made their way north along the river beyond the city. The alder trees along the west shore were small but thick, sprung up after the previous major flood some fifteen years earlier. Their leafless branches offered little cover from the icy rain that blew down from the north but the undergrowth around them offered some cover they could not do without. The brambles nearly topped Beregon’s height, thick and gnarled, and made for slow going. The thorns tore at them as they passed, but for all of that, the brambles offered what they needed – protection. As Beregon forged ahead, Indara worked at entangling the brambles in their wake in an attempt to conceal their painful progress.

Finally, they came to a small lip that pushed out from larger trees. It was here that the pair stopped to rest, panting with their efforts. It had taken them all day and much of the night to reach this point.

”I was well implanted,” Indara observed between gasps, ”Had I not been arrested, I would be well placed still for Eldacar’s return.”

“That may not be for some years yet,”
he counselled as he held out his waterskin to her.

Indara accepted it with an impatient sigh and as she slaked her thirst Beregon continued, ”The King has mourned your loss. Too many of his Royal Guard, your sisters, have vanished without word these two years past. His spirits will be lifted to know you have returned.”

And that was not the whole of it either, Beregon knew. Eldacar had grown hesitant since the sack of Osgiliath. The loss of his son under such cruel circumstances, and against all custom and tradition, had shaken him to his core. And then there was the young king of Rhovanion to consider.

”Perhaps your voice within his court will sway young King Vidmavia to join his forces to Eldacar’s. The brash young prince you saw last is not so reckless now that he rules.”

“Rhovanion does not have the strength to oppose the Usurper in an assault,”
Indara observed, laconic about what she considered as obvious as the sky overhead.

”But if it is known that the people will rally around Eldacar upon his return, then he may reconsider. That is why you must return north! Your day will come when Eldacar returns!”

Indara shrugged as she returned the waterskin to its owner.

She pushed the sodden strands of dripping hair from her face and considered the dark, turgid waters of the Anduin. A chill mist was rising from it even now and she shivered as it washed over their position. But for all of that, she still marked the ripples of a small boat steadily approaching, riding the current downstream.

Weaponless though she was, Indara crouched in readiness. A quick glance to her side revealed that Beregon had marked the boat’s presence but instead of crouching she saw him signal to it. At that, the boat eased towards the shore, the bottom grating on the river stones in the shallows. Four men heavily shrouded got out as Beregon slipped closer to tap Indara on the shoulder.

He motioned to the boat, a clear indication to get in it. Indara’s attention, though drifted to the four men that had alighted. Cowled and cloaked, she could still make out the bulge of weapons and this was a fight she had no wish to retire from.

As if he could sense her hesitancy, Beregon murmured to her ”Your day will come. This I swear.”

He motioned again for her to board. Reluctant though she was, Indara scrambled over the prow and into the boat. At that, two of the four men pushed the boat back out into the river and the two oarsmen she had joined laboured to turn it about and push it upstream against the current. She turned to watch Beregon slip further away until the thickening mist stole between them.

Indara pushed out a sigh and settled into place as the oars dipped and splashed. It was time to return to being Vilmaith now, and return to her place as a Northman within Eldacar’s Royal Guard. An place where she had served him well before, and would again in honour.

As for Beregon, he too remained in place until he was sure the little boat would not wash up again to shore. Once he was convinced Indara would not turn it about, he slipped back from the shore with the four men. This was a dangerous hand he was playing, he knew, but it had to be done. He skirted south along the banks of the Anduin, gathering more men who had deserted over the years. Not enough to take and hold Osgiliath against what would follow, but still enough to disrupt the garrison’s supply and free those imprisoned. And, what is more, Beregon had yet to face the city’s commander. A Guild Officer…a fine mark if ever there was.

~ ~ ~


The miserable frozen rain of the night had dwindled into a chill rain come the early morning and Halvarin was out in it to ensure order was indeed restored. The soldiers were themselves a tired rabble, but Halvarin could not leave matters unfinished despite everyone’s fatigue. The riot had to be brought into hand swiftly and any lingering coals put out so that it could not resurge into new life.

He’d already ordered a lockdown of the cells for the coming day and now he found himself watching a full muster of his men. His two officers, Michas who commanded the men of Ithilien and Anorien and Calas who oversaw the Minas Anor Regiment barked impatient orders as they chivvied their respective forces into some semblance of order. Once this was done, Halvarin summonsed the two officers to attend him.

He drew his cloak about him tightly as the officers approached from opposite ends of the grounds and shivered, grateful for the wool of his Guild jacket under the sturdy winter cloak he drew about him.

”I expect a full report. I want to know what caused this riot fo-“

“These rabble look for any excuse and where there is none they concoct it,”
Calas declared and Halvarin’s eyes narrowed at the disruption.

”I will have my report all the same, Calas. And the prisoners noted missing last night?”

“Both unaccounted for this morning, Sir,”
Michas answered, his expression taut with concern, “The cells have been secured and the fires brought under control. This rain has proven our ally in this. Three prisoners only did not leave their cells despite being about to. Perhaps some…recognition of their wise decision is warranted.”

Halvarin nodded, ”Provide me with their numbers and I will make a note of it in their records. On the morrow, they will be reassigned to new duties. The rest, however, are to remain in their cells until further notice. And if I catch anyone engaged in…retaliation…the consequences will be dire. I expect that any missing prisoner that is discovered will be brought to me immediately.”

Both men nodded at this but Calas, Halvarin noted, scowled down at his boots for a moment. He turned to review the ranks of the gathered men, walking down each line of weary and sometimes angry men. Bitterness. Resentment. Morale had taken a beating.

He returned to his officers troubled, ”Stand the day guards down from duty. The night guards will just have to stretch it little longer whilst the day guards rest. As for you two, I want your reports on my desk by this time tomorrow.”

And with that he dismissed his officers and their men both. As he watched the men fall out, his thoughts wandered down a dozen grim paths. Where was Amarwen…had she decided to run even after what he had said to her yesterday? He well knew that as of now he had far weightier problems on his hands. There would be inevitable questions to answer from his Guild about this uprising but he could not keep himself from wondering after her fate. And what of the other woman? Had Amarwen taken her along too or would both be found? And what if…Halvarin shook his head in a refusal to entertain the notion that the women in question were dead. No, not that. Still, his assurances to Amarwen for her safety were meaningless if he knew naught of her whereabouts.

Weary as he was, Halvarin could not abide the idea of seeking rest himself and so he set out to walk the city. Perhaps he might find Amarwen himself. As the morning drew on the chill drizzle hung lover over the river and city. He pulled his hood low and quietly walked the narrow alleys of the city. He almost stepped out when he paused in the shadow at the sound of voices…

”I think we give the Captain the full measure of consideration. He is high ranking in the Guild. His father is its Master.”

“For all of that, Calas doesn’t trust him. He’s said nothing to him about the woman found yesterday.”

“I just hope it doesn’t lead to more trouble for us.”

The two guards murmured shared agreement at that last as they walked by Halvarin. In the mist, though, he could not make out their faces from under their hoods. Still, if he had heard correctly and he was certain that he had, one of them had just said that Calas has a woman in custody! He slipped out and followed the two men at a distance. He had to be very careful. Whilst the city was still quiet it seemed to him that Osgiliath could very well erupt once again.

As he padded along he reviewed his assessment of his men’s disposition. The Anóriens seemed to him to be the most disenchanted with Castamir’s rule and rightly so given the impact of Castamir’s trade policies. With the harvest failing two years in a row and little coin to pay the levies, but for the rebels famine would have gripped the region this past region. The Anorien men stationed here knew it well. They had families starving, dependent on the intercession of people their king declared traitors. Their loyalty, then, hung by a slender margin indeed when contrasted to that of the regiments from Minas Anor. Whilst some men of that force had their own private reservations, they were unlikely to oppose their officers and their officers were staunchly behind Gondor’s current king.

Current king, Halvarin mused. That right there was probably treason nowadays. He came to the training grounds and watched from the shadows as the morning finally began to burn through the icy mist. Shredded shards of it, thin in some places and thick in others, drifted between Halvarin and the men standing by a wooden wall they used for training. But today there would be no instruction or drilling in how to scale a wall.

In front of the wooden wall was a box. Men, including Calas, stood around it. Watching it as…Halvarin squinted to see through the shifting mist and realized that they were pouring water over the box. And then he realized that he could hear someone coughing. Alarm seized him and Halvarin knew, then, that he had to confront these men and do it now. He approached, hand on the hilt of his knife, and hailed Calas.

“Calas! You’ve re-captured one of the prisoners yet did not inform me?”

As he got closer, Halvarin could see a woman lay on the ground by the wooden box. She had been bound, she was wet and violently shivering but the sound of steel being unsheathed caused Halvarin to pause. Calas turned about to face him, calm and unperturbed despite being found by his superior officer directly contravening not one but two explicit orders.

”These traitors should have been killed, Sir. Give me an hour and once I have the information I require, this oversight can be addressed.”

“That is not for you to decide, Calas. Disarm yourselves and turn your prisoner over to me immediately and I will ensure that none of you are reported for this insubordination. You’ll be assigned to the next long range patrol and after that, returned to Minas Anor.”

Even as he spoke, though, Halvarin knew he was in an uncertain position. As did Calas, evidently, for he called Halvarin’s bluff.

”I think not, Sir. Not this time. From the out set you have frustrated the due course when it comes to this woman. The fact of the matter is, Sir, I think it more than likely that you are a-“

The hiss of an arrow followed by a faint twang of a bowstring caused Halvarin to throw himself to the ground and roll. When he came up to his feet, his knife was out and he was forced to use it to deflect a sword. He drove his shoulder into the man behind the sword and drove him back hard. Then Halvarin threw his knife at the third man coming at him but it was batted away by his sword. Calas lay on the ground gurgling, the arrow in his neck. Another arrow took down the third man now charging at him and Halvarin pivoted to locate who was provided the cover and from where.

He saw no one and again was forced to roll away from another swinging sword. Halvarin came to his feet with Calas’ sword in hand now and turned to fight. His opponent, however, had three arrows protruding from his chest by then and he fell to his knees with a surprised, startled look on his face.

This time, Halvarin did not hesitate. He had gained the wooden box now and crouched beside it to cut through the woman’s bonds. Violent tremors shuddered through her and Amarwen’s lips were blue. He squeezed her hand and then peered out to see what he might. The grounds were quiet now beyond Calas’ final, gurgled breathing. Three dead soldiers of the Realm will be hard to explain, he knew, and who had shot those arrows. There was no time to dwell on it, though, for Amarwen needed warmth and needed it very soon indeed. Shoving Calas’ sword through his belt, he gathered her up and made for the nearest source of smoke.

Not far away, Beregon watched a man disappear down an alley with Marece. He had no idea who the fellow was but whoever he was, he had proven quite useful in dealing with those tormenting her. With the mist breaking up, pursuing him was not wise. Beregon and his men needed to fade away as daylight spread but he knew the city well. It had been his home for most of his life. He and his men climbed down a narrow stone stair and slipped through the door at the bottom. This they bolted and settled in to await the cover of dark for there would be much to do then.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Mon Sep 04, 2017 4:14 am

Rest was the furthest thing from Michas’ thoughts as he sped through the streets. If the riot of yesterday not been bad enough, matters had deteriorated markedly since. Marece, for one, was still missing and now he had three men including one officer dead. Just left there on the training grounds for anyone to find. What’s more, the Captain was missing. He needed to find Halvarin and he needed to find him now before a second riot broke out between rival factions of the garrison. He’d had his men bury the bodies of the fallen discreetly but he could trust to that alone.

Satisfying as it was to have the Castamirians receive a measure of their own brutal justice, Michas was no fool. If tidings of what had befallen those three crept beyond his own men, if the bodies were discovered…and then there was the troubling fact that no one, not even his own men with the most reason for this, would own up to it. The prisoners hadn’t for they had been locked away since last night. Beregon lacked the men for it, of that Michas was sure, and he doubted Marece, wherever she was, could account for the violence on her own.

Beregon had said himself that Eldacar’s chief agent was talented. She’d have to be to rise to her position but he just could not credit her with what he had just buried. And then there was the severed ropes found by that odd wooden box, drenched in water. Not enough water to purge the blood from the rough fibres. Someone had struggled against those ropes. But who?

By late afternoon, Michas had only discovered that Halvarin was not to be located at any of his customary haunts. He’d already searched Halvarin’s garrison office before setting out…and now all that was left was the other office Halvarin kept at the library. Michas climbed the wide steps into the library, unsurprised to find it abandoned. It was dark and empty, or so he thought until he heard the sound of something like a door closing. Frowning, he climbed the steps into the higher levels and almost fell back down them again when Halvarin came rushing down.

A hasty hand thrown out to the stone walls saved Michas from dashing his head on the marble floors and Halvarin reached out to steady him, seizing the front of his jacket in his fist.

”Where have you been?!” Michas hissed, his ire coming to the fore.

Halvarin withdrew his hand as he offered a brusque reply, ”I’m busy.”

“With what?”

Already Halvarin had jogged down the steps past him, ”None of your concern.”

Michas’ mouth opened and then he noticed the sword thrust through Halvarin’s belt. He knew that sword. He knew it very well indeed. Carefully Michas closed his mouth and followed Halvarin down the steps. If Halvarin had Calas’ sword, then he already knew the nature of the officer’s fate. But why would Halvarin, pragmatic as he was about which king to support, kill a Castamirian?

”How proceeds the search?” Halvarin asked and Michas scowled at his back.

How would he know? He’d been busy burying the men Halvarin had a hand in killing!

”Slowly,” he muttered, ”Still no hint of either woman.”

Halvarin had gained the bottom of the stairs and he turned about to look up at Michas, ”Focus your efforts on-“

Michas interjected impatiently, ”Yes, yes, I know!”

“No, the other. Seventy Six is no longer your concern.”

And with that, Halvarin turned on his heel and continued on his way. His boots rang a rapid report over the marble floors and Michas realized that the other man was walking as fast as he could without breaking into a run.

Nothing, nothing at all, made any sense about this encounter. Why did Halvarin have Calas’ sword? And why the sudden disinterest in Marece? Michas ran his fingers through his hair and turned about to peer up the stairs. Why, or where, was Halvarin hurrying off to? Not, as it turned out later, the garrison. By the time Michas had returned there he found the captain had once again vanished into Osgiliath.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The old woman groaned as she pulled herself up, joints creaking and popping in protest. She pulled the covers back up over Amarwen and hobbled about to consider Halvarin who had watched in silence the ministrations of the healer.

”She’s young,” the woman croaked, rubbing at her back as her stick tapped a path forwards.

Halvarin’s gaze bounced between his cot into which he had set Amarwen hours ago and the healer he’d practically carried up the stairs not so very long ago at all. Despite all his efforts, Amarwen was still shivering even now. He’d done everything he could think of to make it stop. He’d pulled her out of her sodden clothing, wrapped her into dry bedding. He’d piled every blanket he could set his hands on over her and built the hearth up to such an intensity that he was down to his shirtsleeves, sweat beading over his brow. And all this healer could tell him was that Amarwen was young?

”But what do I do?” he pleaded.

Despite her age and the fact that she was nearly bent double over her walking stick, the healer had almost gained the door of his office. She fast on her unsteady feet and she lifted a hand at him and waved him off.

”You children are all so impatient! Is it so very difficult to wait?”

And with that the healer was gone. Halvarin stared across his office to where Amarwen lay. Her lips weren’t blue any longer but aside from that, little seemed to have changed. He picked himself up from the desk he had perched against to observe the healer’s activities and went to the door to ensure it was securely locked. Then he padded across to his bunk. Wait, the old woman had said. Wait. He pressed out a weary sigh and fidgeted with the bedding he’d laid over Amarwen. She shifted at that, murmured something indistinct and then rolled away from him. Her midnight hair streamed towards him, dry now. Halvarin swallowed and then turned away from the cot with some effort. Back to his desk he went, settled into his chair and let his head fall onto the desk.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The warmth was so abundant it was almost decadent. She stretched her limbs, spread her toes and luxuriated in it. A pleasant weight pressed into her and above all, her limbs were still. They no longer rattled and shook though her muscles still held a dull ache of fatigue. Reluctantly, she peeled open her eyes to find a roof painted in the shifting shadows thrown by a fire. Indoors then, which made sense given that her wrists had been bandaged. She could feel the wrappings where she had burnt them against the rough rope in her bid to wriggle free. Water gargled but not over her and then there were footsteps. Amarwen found she was not nearly as surprised as she should have been to find Halvarin standing there, a wooden mug in hand.

”You must be thirsty,” he observed, voice hushed in such a way as to suggest the hour was late indeed.

Ironically, given the events that had led her to this place, she was thirsty. She had no idea how long it had been since last she drank or ate and so was unsurprised when her senses swam as she struggled to push herself up on her elbows.

Halvarin sat on the edge of the cot as she grabbed at the sliding bedding. Only now did she realise that the blankets were all she had between her and he and Halvarin turned his head away as she sought to tuck them securely into place about her. His gaze remained on the floor as he passed the mug to her and she accepted it with murmured thanks.

”Slowly,” he advised, ”Too quickly and you will be unwell.”

But she could not slow down and yes, whilst her belly knotted uneasily under the sudden weight of the water, she did not regret it.

”Thank you,” she said as she lowered the mug and Halvarin shook his head at her.

”It’s just water, Ami,” he said, ”Nothing extravagant.”

“I do not refer only to the water, Hal,”
she answered, lowering her eyes and then forcing them back up to his, ”I…I would not be here now were it not for you.”

She watched colour flush his cheeks at that, ”I did not do it alone.”

He claimed the empty mug from her and returned to his feet to refill it.

”What happened?” he asked it upon return, ”Why did you leave your cell”

Amarwen took another mouthful of water, no longer driven to gulp it down greedily.

”Farais pulled me out so hard I thought he’d pull my arm from its socket. And no, the barracks was not my idea either, Hal, but he said it was that or die. And he was frightened. Truly frightened. I believed him. I still do.”

“Farais is dead,”
Halvarin said softly and Amarwen closed her eyes.

”I am,” she paused to examine her feelings, loose hair tumbling over her bare shoulders as her head bowed, ”Sorry to hear that. He was a good man. Gondor is poorer for his loss.”

There was silence between them grew and then Halvarin pushed out a breath and looked back to her. His sea borne eyes settled on her for a moment and then he lifted a hand to brush along her jaw. Gentle as he was, she could feel the bruising left there by Calas and his ilk.

Then he lifted his hand to softly cup her cheek, ”I said I would keep you safe.”

“We have been infiltrated, Halvarin. I did not think it possible but now I know it to be true. Someone, somewhere, has our names.”

“Do they have yours?”
he asked, gently tucking her hair behind her ear.

”I do not know. I think it unlikely, though, for if they knew who I was I would not have been apprehended alive.”

Halvarin swallowed at that and his hand dropped away, ”And who…who are you?”

Amarwen pressed out a breath. Was she going to do this? She closed her eyes.

”I am Marece…and…I am Eldacar’s chief agent in Gondor.”

When she opened her eyes she found Halvarin staring at her steadily.

”I told you that there was no such thing as safe anymore,” she said, her voice faint as the reality of what she had just done caught up with her.

She had handed her identity to a Guild Officer. If he turned on her, if he was interrogated and then, as all the implications cascaded through her thoughts, he leaned so that his face hung before her own.

”I said I would see you safe, Amarwen, and I mean to.”

Her eyes flared at that, ”Even if-“

“I mean to,”
Halvarin repeated, his voice steady, and so she leaned forwards across the final narrow gap between them and pressed her lips to his.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Sep 16, 2017 3:59 pm

Tingling spread throughout Halvarin’s body as he rested in that moment. Too quick it was, yet the longing for it to linger was only his desire. In a perfect world. Which this most certainly was not. In swearing to keep Amarwen safe, he had all but declared his service to the King in exile, Eldacar. He, a Guild officer. The son of its Master and one of Castamir’s most trusted advisors. How now was Halvarin to regain control of what was unfolding? He feared that it may already be too late.

So much was at risk and so he would require great care. Halvarin now regretted his earlier brusque treatment of Michas for he recognised now just how important Michas’ aid would be. He would have to confide in Michas, somehow, if he wanted to keep this quiet and retain his currently position within the Guild. There was much to be gained if he could, and if he could not then Halvarin knew he would fall far indeed.

Of course, he could simply dispatch Michas to locate the other missing prisoner…but that would not stay Michas’ may questions. And Amarwen… she couldn’t use that name for that name belonged to a dead woman. As for Marece, he sensed it was too well known both in Osgiliath and Minas Anor. Though, it had not appeared on the list provided to him. She had not yet been compromised. It was wise, therefore, to take measures to ensure that remained the case. Amarwen needed yet another name. A new name…and as his thoughts sped Halvarin forgot that she was even there. Watching closely. Silent.

She broke her silence by posing a quiet question, ”Where do your thoughts go, Halvarin?”

Her question drew his attention to the face of the woman before him. A face he had known for most of life. Halvarin drew a breath and upon its release he moved towards her and took her lips to his once again. He held her closely to him, his arms wound about her.

”I hope you will remain with me Ami,” he said, drawing on the shortened form of her name that he had used for years now. That she permitted this affection, this familiarity, had always warmed his heart towards her but it could no longer be.

”You will need a name I can use. Will Lillith serve?”

Halvarin pulled back to look into her eyes. Clear and grey they were as she returned his study, and whilst she said nothing, she nodded at him.

”We’ll need a story too, Lillith. I will say that we have known each other from our days of our youth and that I have given you a conditional pardon. In return, you will work in recompense for your crime of smuggling food to Osgiliath,” he said and then sighed, ”Granted, it is flimsy, but I can think of no other way. I need to speak to Michas urgently, for if I do not, he may well undo everything. And I will need to address the Minas Anor regiment too. In that order, I think, and it is likely to take some time.”

It was here that Halvarin paused for he was unsure of this last, ”I hope, in that time, you will remain and continue your labours.”

If she fled in his absence, what would he do? What could he do? Halvarin rose from the cot and made for his desk where he drew out a fresh sheet of parchment and set to work. It took some time to craft but once it was done he signed and dated it and applied the seals. Then he returned to Lillith. That was who she was now. Lillith.

”This may not be enough, but should you be questioned in my absence as to why you are here unattended, show them this. For your part, I implore you,” Halvarin gazed into her eyes again, ”Please do not leave the library. It will do little should you do so.”

He watched her study the parchment he had given to her. Her attention flickered over the seals applied, one for the Mariners Guild and the other of Gondor itself, and then rose to him somewhat startled. She knew, then, just how far he had extended himself for her. At that, some of the tension that had hardened his expression faded and he reached out to gently touch her cheek. Then he rose again, paused to take up his own sword, and set out to locate Michas.

That, he soon learned, was not a difficult task at all. He located Michas at the grounds. An investigation of the morning’s earlier incident was already well underway and when Michas looked up to mark Halvarin’s presence, the man headed out to intercept him.

”I think you lost this,” Michas said, terse as he returned Halvarin’s knife to him, ”Would you kindly tell me what is going on?”

Halvarin sheathed his knife, ”There is much I need to tell you, my old friend. Your response will… determine a great many things. But before we come to that, perhaps we can begin with any questions you may have for me.”

Michas’ expression darkened, ”Did you kill Calas?”

“No, and I am not sure who did,”
Halvarin replied, “However I may have had a hand in one of the deaths. They would not heed nor obey me and I was egregiously out numbered… and so whoever was behind those well-aimed arrows, I appreciate it.”

Michas nodded at the frankness of Halvarin’s response ”Do you think those arrows were intended for you?”

Halvarin considered that a moment and shook his head, ”No, for those arrows were shot with precision. If they wanted to kill me, they would have.”

Michas wiped a hand over his weary face and then glared at Halvarin, ”Calas and two of his top officers are dead and you are in the middle of it!”

He pressed out a sigh and continued, ”The Minas Anor company have one strong officer left, a wise tactician. He was well down on the promotion list, but with this incident, he would be open to move up and take the reins. This day, he has been content to give the men down time in the barracks so they could rest after the riots. He’s kept them there so they could be alerted and ready at short notice. This reprieve will not last. You will need to go talk to him, and those men, and soon.”

“I planned to do just that once I talked to you,”
Halvarin replied and Michas drew closer still, his expression hard and cold as the formidable White Mountains now.

”Then I will be quick with my last questions. What is this prisoner seventy six to you? And where do you stand in your loyalties?”

Michas’ stance quivered with tension, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Friends or not, Halvarin knew that should it come down to it, Michas would likely be the better swordsman just as Halvarin was the better navigator. Halvarin swallowed as he reconciled himself to what he had to do. He would have to trust his friend, come what may.

”I would be lying if I said all was well with me after the overthrow of Eldacar. Though, with all I have achieved within the Mariners Guild, you would have me marked as a loyal supporter of Castimir.”

Michas’ brows quirked at Halvarin’s quiet admission and his eyes darted about to ensure no one was likely to overhear them.

Halvarin continued, his course now set, ”I have followed in my father’s footsteps as I had always dreamed, and I have rose to the rank of Prime Navigator within the Guild. When we were dispatched to Edholland after the fall of Osgiliath, I truly believed that the realm and its people would be well served in the rise of the new king.”

He shook his head, closing his eyes briefly, ”What I witnessed there, what I tried to prevent…it wounded me deeply and shook my faith to its foundations. And as I questioned what had befallen there, I learned of the atrocities committed in the name of our new king. Edholland was but a prelude.”

Amarwen’s stricken, horrified face as her mother was struck down. His father’s cold, calculated command to bring her to him…

”I did not desire a brutal, cruel king for Gondor. And I did not wish to admit that one of our own men, a Guild officer, could be such… But now… now I cannot think of any way to deny that he has usurped the crown of Gondor, to the sorrow of our realm.”

There was silence between Halvarin and Michas for a moment, and when Halvarin looked up from the ground he realised Michass hand had withdrawn from his sword hilt.

”I will admit I was concerned about your loyalties,” Michas confided, ”I too was of two minds for some time but a choice had to be made and when that time came, I could not stand with the Castimirians. I have done what I could for those who oppose him and work to bring our true king Eldacar back to the throne of Gondor.”

Michas paused as a rueful smile came to his face, ”That I say as much to a Guild officer is, in itself, unheard of. Yet I can see you walk a knife’s blade in your position and I know it must be much harder for you, Master’s son, than it is for me.”

Michas nodded to Halvarin and his expression sobered once more, ”Now, what of seventy six?”

This, well this was far less certain to Halvarin but he knew he had to somehow answer.

”She reminded me of someone I knew, and I had the sense that she might be of use in restoring the library.”

Michas’ eyes narrowed at that scant response, almost as if he smelled the falsehood. But if he did, he did not press the matter.

“I see. I suppose it is well she has such a place to work,” Michas said, watching Halvarin’s relief unfold in his face.

It was clear to him that there was far more to the matter than this. Far more. He’d known that the day Marece had arrived in Osgiliath. He’d seen Halvarin apologise for the routine precaution of binding a prisoner’s hands. But just how Halvarin was acquainted with the leader of the Eldacarian resistance was a subject Michas would have to learn later.

”Let us go see this officer,” Halvarin said and Michas nodded.

At his signal, three men joined them as the set out for the barracks.

Halvarin led the way, the others following slightly behind, and he could see that Michas had positioned his men strategically through the city. To what end, though, was unclear. To forment yet more unrest or quell it? When they arrived at the barracks, two guards saw Halvarin and stood tall at attention.

Halvarin promptly returned the salute, ”Who has the command here? I need to speak with him.”

One guard nodded and turned to hold the door to the barracks open. Halvarin signalled to the men that had accompanied him to remain outside and then walked through the opened door.

The guard proclaimed, ”City Commander Halvarin to see you commander Eshaul!”

At this, a tall man stood and turned. He had a book in his hands that he set down prior to approaching.

Halvarin said, ”Commander Eshaul, I regret to inform you that Calas and his senior officers were killed this morning by an unknown assailant or assailants. Consequently, you are promoted to the rank of Captain of the Minas Anor regiment.”

“How did Calas and the others die?”
Eshaul asked.

”Long-range heavy arrow. One was killed by a thrown knife. At this time we have no suspects, but suspect that one of your men was working for the resistance.” Halvarin pushed on, ”I witnessed the attack as I was speaking with Calas when it happened. It could have been likely the arrow that claimed Calas was meant for me. I will give my full report to you when I send it off to Minas Anor.”

Halvarin paused as he looked around the tired men, some of whom were following this exchange closely.

Eshaul asked Halvarin, ”What would you have us do, Sir? Search for these assailants?”

Halvarin shook his head, ”Your men were at the forefront in putting down the riot and, unfortunately, with Castamir’s gaze far to the south our resources here are scarce. The King does not know the service we provide in watching the east and north."

Halvarin paused and looked at the men before returning his hard gaze to Eshaul.

“The security of the city’s perimeter is in the hands of the Ithilien Guard, led by commander Michas. The Anorien Guard watches the streets and answers to me. You will have to take the long range patrol to northern Ithilien, for it is your regiment’s turn in the rotation and we cannot afford to allow that to lapse. How skilled are you in your field work?”

“I like to think I will do well, Sir”
Eshaul answered, looking to his men as he did so.

Halvarin nodded, ”Good. Michas reported Easterling activity on his last patrol a week or so ago. Follow the river north on the western side to Cair Andros where you can cross. Michas will attach a few trackers familiar with the lands to your unit. I will meet you, assembled, in the training yard on the morrow. Until then, I want your unit well rested. No duties for the rest of this day or night.”

“Yes sir,”
Eshaul replied and turned to his men and Halvarin lingered for a moment to observe how they reacted.

Though there were a few mumbles, to be expected for a unit that had rarely ventured beyond the city’s limits, there appeared to be no open dissent. Nor rejection of Eshaul as their commander. Halvarin nodded to them and took his leave, returning to where Michas waited outside the barracks.

”That went better than I expected,” he murmured as Michas and his men turned about to depart, ”Select three men, trackers, to accompany Eshaul and his unit on the morrow. He’s going north to Cair Andros, then east into Ithilien. They will be out of the city for a time.”

“Provided there is no further unrest tonight, all should go smoothly,”
Michas replied quietly, voice scarcely above a whisper and then louder, ”I will make my rounds, sir, and select the three trackers required for the morrow’s patrol.”

Halvarin nodded, ”And I have to tend to this prisoner at the library. I will see you tonight.”

They each inclined their heads to the other and parted ways.

Michas already had the three men he required in mind. He stopped at the first watch point and summoned one of the soldiers. An Anorien he knew to be a loyal Eldacarian who had demonstrated his trustworthiness.

”I need you to run a message north to Cair Andros. I have news they would welcome,” Michas said and then fell to whispering.

He handed the man a silver talan at which the fellow nodded and set about his preparations immediately. Now, Michas had to find the three that would go tomorrow.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Halvarin returned to the library to find Lilith, to his immense relief, working on the organization of the maps. It was where she left off before the riots and she was bent over one of Gondor, highly detailed, in close scrutiny.

Halvarin walked up to her and said pointedly, ”You need to get word to who is in this city. They need restraint this night.”

“Who do you refer to, and how exactly would I do that?”
Lilith replied as she looked up from the map on the table.

Halvarin said, ”I am sure you have means to do such m’lady without having to leave here.”

There was a stubborn, obdurate glint to her eyes that he knew all too well.

”I remained here, as bidden, and did my work. I have seen nor spoken with anyone,” she answered and Halvarin sighed.

He knew she had connections in the resistance, ”I do not need any unrest tonight. If it occurs, we will be grievously disadvantaged.”

“And what disadvantage would that be?”

The challenge came not from Lillith but from a voice in shadows. The man responsible for it pushed back his hood and Halvarin looked to Lillith to find she was as surprised as he was.

With his hand on the hilt of his sword, Halvarin approached the man, ”Show yourself!”

He stepped forth into the light with no weapon in sight. Halvarin squinted at him and thought he was vaguely familiar, ”Beregon?”

The man said, ”It is I whom you seek, and it is she whom I seek.”

He nodded to Lillith as he said, ”Yes, I am Beregon.”
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Sep 16, 2017 7:06 pm

For the moment, it was all Amarwen could do to stare at Beregon and Halvarin. She’d not eaten for two days now and it was slowing her senses but she had to recover them now. As another wave of dizziness threatened, she gripped the table she leaned against and turned her voice to ice.

”I told you to leave,” Amarwen said to Beregon, her voice cool with displeasure

“Fortunate for you that I did tarried,” Beregon replied, unconcerned and then his gaze wandered from her ire to Halvarin, ”Impressive, to obtain a pet Guild officer so swiftly. Or is it the other way around?”

Halvarin bristled at Beregon’s phrasing and her jaw clenched.

“Enough,” she growled to both men and rapped a knuckle on the map before her, ”Next time I tell you to go, Beregon, you will go. Unless, of course, you wish to make it clear just who the traitor is amongst us.”

He smiled at that, wry, and gave off baiting Halvarin to step around him and towards the map. Halvarin turned, following his every movement, hand still on his sword. As Beregon studied the map, she peered past him to Halvarin and shook her head at him. Unhappy as Halvarin clearly was, she was relieved when he started back towards her.

”Where this time?” Beregon asked and she was forced to turn herself to the only way out of this mess that she had been able to contrive.

“Edholland. You and anyone else recently of Osgiliath, except Michas. He’ll continue here for the nonce. And that’s just the start of it.”

As she laid it out for him, Beregon eyes lifted from the map to her, ”It’s a gambit.”

“Of course it is, but do you think we can sit it out and hope for the best? If the Guild knows our names then it knows the pieces upon the board. There is no other recourse but to reset that board underneath them.”

“What if the Guild has someone like you,”
he asked, leaning forward, ”Who knows not only who we are but where we are.”

“They do not. If they did, they would have come for me.”

“They did precisely that! I saw them as I sighted my bow.”

Halvarin, again at her side, shifted his weight at Beregon’s statement and Amarwen drew herself up, ”What occurred today was but a pale shadow of what they will do.”

She lifted her hands so that the loose sleeves of her patched, sackcloth dress slid back to reveal the bandages at her wrist, ”That I stand here now is ample evidence that their knowledge is not as sophisticated as we might fear. This is what we must now exploit, whilst we still have the opportunity to do so.”

Beregon considered her for a moment then dropped his eyes to the map between them, likely performing his own calculations, and then lifted them to resettle on Halvarin.

”What of this officer of yours, then? Michas was uncertain of his loyalties when last I spoke with him.”

“I am not,”
she answered, succinct and emphatic.

“His father is Master of the Mariner’s Guild,” Beregon continued, nonplussed, “It is no small thing for a man to turn on his father.”

Halvarin crossed his arms over his chest and she knew his silence tested his resolve.

”I trust him,” she said and Beregon’s gaze lingered for a moment on Halvarin and then returned to her.

”We have the advantage here, Marece. Why else would your Guild officer desire a reprieve?”

“Taking Osgiliath is one thing,”
she snapped, her patience ended, ”Keeping it quite the other! What do you think will happen when the Guild discover the nation’s capital has been retaken? Do you have an army greater than that which was defeated here only two years past hidden somewhere?”

A fresh wave of dizziness swept through her and she bowed her head as Beregon had the humility to look chastened.

”We are on our knees here,” she continued, quieter now, ”You told me that yourself. If Gondor is to be saved, we require strength. Patience…and above all, wisdom.”

As the faintness passed, she realized that Halvarin had set a hand against her back. A gentle, steady pressure. Reassurance for which she was grateful.

Amarwen opened her eyes and looked up to Beregon. Their eyes met briefly and she considered telling him her new name. And considered further, for why had Belas kept his counsel to himself at the last? Why had he not trusted Beregon? Or her, for that matter… Beregon inclined his head to her, offered Halvarin an unfriendly glare before he withdrew, vanishing as quietly as he had arrived.

”Will he quit the city?” Halvarin asked quietly.

”One way or the other he will,” she answered solemnly, ”He must.”

She pushed out a breath and turned to face Halvarin, peering up into his seawashed eyes, ”For what it is worth, this riot was not my doing. I do not wish to invoke a heavier Guild presence here than Osgiliath already wilts under.”

Halvarin flinched at her words for he was of the Guild himself, and yet if she trusted him then she owed him the truth. For a moment his eyes dropped to the floor and when they lifted to hers she was reminded of the day they had first met.

She’d not been particularly pleased about being pulled away from her activities at the time and he’d been similiarly peevish, scratching at the stiff collar of his formal woolen coat as his father had pointedly prodded his son to utter a greeting he’d rather not give. Her response had been…uncharitable to say the least and he’d taken offense, told her that she had ink on her nose and stormed off. But she’d been unable to let him have the last laugh and so she’d followed him, pestering him until he gave up trying to find the other boys for fear of bringing her into their fun. He’d tried to lose her, of course, but they’d been in Edholland and she knew her home far better than he did.

And so, in their best clothing and thoroughly cross with one another, they’d ended up on the muddy bank of a stream. She’d somehow gotten covered in mud, though he wore a liberal helping of the sticky stuff too, and he’d realized just how much trouble he might be in if someone found out he’d been throwing mud at the Lord of Edholland’s daughter. And, as he’d waited for her to squeal for the guards, he’d looked at her then just as he was now. Back then, she’d released the breath she had been holding to laugh. But that was mud and this…this was lives. Blood. Suffering. There could be no laughter at that.

Instead, Halvarin took up her hand and gently pressed his lips to it.

”You’re as white as a sheet,” he observed, concerned.

”I feel as though I could fall over at any moment,” she admitted, still gripping the table for steadiness.

Halvarin moved closer to slide a hand under her elbow, ”Come.”

Carefully, he steered her to the librarian’s quarters. It was a place she knew well, for Farais had appropriated it as his own. Largely untouched since the sack of the city some two years ago, a thick patina of dust had lain on its surfaces until Farias had set her to cleaning it. It was here that he would wander off too during the day and just what he’d make of her presence here now with Halvarin she could not guess.

On a chair he’d piled the clothing she’d come to Osgiliath in. After complaining about its smell of the river and threatening to burn it, she had found it strange that he had instead folded each item carefully up and set it aside. He kept little by way of personal effects in this little nest away from his barracks bunk. A couple of notched knives lay on the table near a whet stone. It was dubious those could be repaired to a serviceable state, she thought. A pair of scuffed and worn boots were set by a wall awaiting the cleaning he’d told her do several days ago. One of his cloaks, a thick woolen winter one, was cast off over the bed. The hearth was naught but coals, left to burn out entirely with no one to tend it. A small store of wood that he’d had her fetch for him was stacked by it.

Halvarin steered her into a chair and knelt by the cold hearth. Amarwen placed her spinning head in her hands as Halvarin set about lighting a fire. With a soft groan of weariness, she laid her head on her arms and closed her eyes against the spinning of the room. Then she startled as something was set on the table she used as a pillow. Amarwen shot upright, wide eyed to find Halvarin had located Farias’ small store of food. She could hear the crackle of the recently lit fire and its light flickered across the small quarters.

Halvarin set out the heavy, dark bread that Farais preferred, a hard cheese and a small bag of dried fruit and nuts. She was almost overcome with a flood of hunger but she refrained from reaching for the food before her.

”You’ve not eaten all day,” he said, surprised at her hesitancy.

Amarwen shook her head, ”Two…but Farais…he doesn’t like it when-“

Halvarin turned away to lock the door and then leaned against it, ”Farais did not survive the riot.”

Amarwen's cheeks coloured for she realised that Halvarin had told this before. She washed a hand over her face and shook her head in chagrin. Was she so tired, so confused and so ill-equipped as this?

Halvarin returned to sit at the table, ”I spoke with Michas today.”

He reached for one of the knives, examined it, and set to slicing off portions of cheese, ”I am dispatching the Minas Anor regiment to Ithilien on patrol.”

Amarwen nodded, breaking a piece of cheese in twain so as to slow herself down. She did not wish to make herself ill.

”I know you will have to write a report, Halvarin,” she said, rolling a crumb of cheese between them.

Halvarin sighed at that and leaned back in his chair, eyes on the table ”Do you mean to stay on in Osgiliath, Lillith?”

”I intend to take up the vacant position as librarian.”

Halvarin searched her face for a moment, ”That is quite a public position.”

”I require credibility if I am to succeed. I must come out from the shadows. Have you another means of achieving it?”

Halvarin’s eyes lowered to the table again as he countered, ”Members of the Guild may call upon you in such a capacity.”

“I suspect that the Guild appropriated a significant portion of the library’s collection some two years ago. They no longer need to attend Osgiliath for the information they once required.”

Halvarin grimaced at that before he raked his fingers through his dark hair. An uncomfortable silence sprang up between them and after a long pause, Halvarin pushed back his chair to stand. He raked his fingers through his dark lengths again, sighed again and turned for the door. Amarwen stood as she heard the lock unlatch and wondered what, if anything, she might say.

”Remember to lock it,” Halvarin murmured and turned back to consider her.

He surely had to be regretting ever-

And just like that he was against her, lips pressed to hers even as his hands plunged into the weight of her hair. Never would he have dared to be so…forward…in her father’s halls. She was rarely let out of her parent’s sight then at any rate.

”Amarwen,” he groaned against her mouth even as his arms tightened around her.

”Lilleth,” she corrected and he spun, pinning her against the door he had told her to lock.

Again he kissed her and then he whispered, lips brushing against her ear as he breathed her in, ”I have dreamed of this…”

And then he was gone. The librarian’s quarters were empty and had not firelight flickered throughout the room, Amarwen would have thought she wandered in dreams herself.

”Lock it,” he said through the door and, fumbling in her disarray, she did so.

Heart racing, she stepped back to lean against one of the chairs. For better or worse, she had given Halvarin enough with which to bury her and her cause. And she knew she should regret it for Beregon was right. It was no small thing to turn against one’s father. Halvarin could rise far indeed if he brought her to his Guild. And she knew the peril he was in. If the Guild discovered one of their own had betrayed them. Worse, that the Guildmaster’s only son had turned on his father…

Any appetite she had turned to ashes and Amarwen forsook the table for the bed. She curled up under Farais’ cloak and stared at the fire. She knew just how hard Halvarin had striven to follow in his father’s steps. As hard as she was following in father’s steps now. And as her thoughts danced, she could hear her father’s words to her.

”There are times when you must follow your mind, dearheart, and others where your heart must rule. Wisdom is knowing when to heed which.”

“Have I chosen correctly”
she asked now and closed her eyes but sleep was a long time coming.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dawn was an hour or so away as Michas slipped out of the garrison and flitted through the grey, foggy streets of Osgiliath. He found the library empty but he made certain to stop by Halvarin’s office just to check. It was abandoned, he found, and Michas frowned for if Marece was not here then where-


He spun about to find her behind him, swathed in a soldier’s cloak. No telling where or how she had acquired that.

”I did not see you,” he said, startled by how silent she had been.

Then again, Beregon had said she was good.

”Why would you expect to find me in there?” she cooly inquired as a single inky brow arched.

Michas swallowed. Marece. This was Marece. He had to watch his step.

”I-I wasn’t looking for you.”

She considered him for a long moment and then asked, ”Have you spoken with Beregon?”

“Not recently.”

“If you sight him, you are to report it immediately. Is that understood?”

Michas stared at her, baffled, and then remembered to nod. Satisfied, barely or so it seemed, he watched Marece turn her back on him to leave.

He hastened after her to catch her up, ”Beregon said you required my aid.”

Her eyes slid towards him briefly before she nodded.

“The Castamirians are being sent on patrol,” he said.

”I am aware of that.”

Michas’ mouth opened and then closed and looked back the way they had come from Halvarin’s office.

”How is it that you know Halvarin?” he asked.

”We’ve known each other for some time now, well before this strife began. He can be trusted, Michas.”

“Is he to take on Belas’ position?”

Marece came to standstill and turned to face him, ”You will assume that role.”

he replied and was met by her impassive regard, ”But wouldn’t Halvarin-“

“I don’t want him drawn into this any further than he must be.”

A powerful, highly placed Guild officer working for them and Marece wanted him protected? Michas wanted very much to ask her to what end but the way in which she regarded him gave him pause. Her regard was akin to that of a noble watching his soldiers and, given her clear grey eyes and position Michas found himself wondering at just who Marece was. All the Eldacarian nobles had been slaughtered or quit Gondor for Rhovanion…but still, as he stood there he had to wonder.

”Perhaps you would be better suited to take on Belas’ role,” he suggested at which she shook her head, raven hair swinging heavily from side to side.

”It has to be you, Michas. I want it to be you. I need someone familiar with Osgiliath when the others arrive.”


And then Marece smiled at him. He swallowed and averted his eyes, startled at just how beautiful she was.

”Oh yes,” she purred, ”Others. I do not mean to lose Osgiliath. Will you aid me or not?”

Michas looked up again and found himself nodding. She gave him another smile, placed a hand briefly on his shoulder and left him standing where he was reflecting on Beregon’s lament over how difficult Marece was to argue with. It was always difficult to argue with a beautiful woman.

”Lillith,” she called back to him.

”Who is that?”

she said and started to hum to herself as she continued on her way.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sun Oct 01, 2017 1:25 am

The Purge of Osgiliath

The chill morning refused to warm as the skies lightened. Rather, the fog thickened, and rain set in. Whilst it was not as cold as the day before, the dampness still found a way to penetrate even the thickest of cloaks with its icy fingers. Michas’ three Ithilien Rangers made their way through this to the grounds where Eshaul waited. They found him there with his own men assembled. A brief exchange passed between them and Eshaul followed by a swift inspection of his assembled men. Eshaul was loathe to have them weighed down by too much equipment for this patrol would see them relying upon speed and stealth both.

The three Rangers examined Eshaul’s men with an expert eye and were impressed that they had opted for their leathers and light swords. Ithilien was no place for plate armour. Three of the largest men in Eshaul’s number had retained their heavy swords but it seemed to the Rangers’ eye that they possessed the necessary endurance such weight would require. Eshaul needed only to make a few adjustments to his men’s gear before they set out for Osgiliath’s gates. There was no time to waste.

Whilst the patrol set forth, the messenger Michas had dispatched north through the night had made good time. The light of day, and the misty rain that came with it, had slowed his progress. He struggled to push on, wisely choosing to keep the Anduin to his right. Still, to his mind he should have reached the outposts of the Cair Andros garrison by now. At least the western watch, he thought as he pushed through the thick mantle of mist that confounded his senses. He could see nor hear no movement at all, and he was cold and wet. Just as he got to wondering whether he had gotten himself turned about in the fog, his confused senses focused on an arrow. Its point was slick with moisture and aimed for his throat.

”Messenger from Osgiliath! Michas sent me!” he cried, the mist shifting to reveal a hooded man holding the bow.

Three more cowled men stepped out from the shifting, folding fog.

One said, ”Michas you say? He’s in Osgiliath?”

“He holds the command of defences with the Ithilien Rangers. He gave me this, and bade me to tell you that the Osgiliath regiment of the Minas Anor Guard is coming this way for the long range patrol through north Ithilien.”

The messenger held out the token to the hooded man that had spoken. The man studied the talan closely, turning it about in the weakened light of dawn.

”It means something to you?” the messenger asked.

The commander, for that is how the messenger thought of him, nodded thoughtfully, ”It does.”

The fog thinned to reveal a small company of men standing around him and the messenger swallowed for he had not even known they were there until revealed. The commander made a series of gestures and at certain points different ground of men turned and disappeared into the restless, swirling fog. Only three men arranged once the commander was done, one being the bowman that still held his arrow at the ready. A final gesture saw that arrow shift down, the bowstring relaxing again as the commander spoke in a clipped tone.

”They will be permitted to pass into Ithilien. Those that hold the watch at Henneth Annun will be informed. We will keep this patrol busy, and they will return in month or so.”

“All of them?”
the messenger inquired and the commander gave him a small smile.

”Likely. Will a month be enough?”

“For what?”

“To establish a stronger presence in Osgiliath?”

The messenger swallowed, for he had no way to be certain.

”I…I think so,” he replied and the commander nodded as if a bargain had been struck. For Eshaul and his men, they would be lying dead before the month was done.

”You would do well to remain with us until the patrol passes,” the commander said, his tone an order rather than a suggestion or offer and with that the Anorien messenger found himself fading into the fog and thick scrub.

~ ~ ~
Halvarin ~ Commander of Osgiliath

Halvarin got little sleep that night as his thoughts bounced from one thing to the next in the darkness. to get little sleep. Why had he been given command of the city? Was it a trap, a ploy, to test his loyalties? Had they seen that he was not as diligent as the Guild would prefer in rooting out rebels and traitors? And then there was the difficult decision he had made to become a rebel himself only that day. If his ambivalence had meant he had walked a narrow path before, this new development meant he now stood on the edge of a blade.

There was much he could accomplish from his position but all of that could be so easily undermined by people now his allies. What he might do could be undone by Michas, Beregon and Lillith. In truth, it was Beregon that worried him the most. To those like Beregon, the mere identity of his father would be difficult to shuck off. No matter what he said or did, that he was the son of the Guild Master would be a shadow he could not hope to escape.

Sighing defeat at any attempt to sleep, Halvarin rose and wrapped himself in his cloak to venture outside. There, he breathed in the cool night air as he watched the fog form along the river. Rain and mist flowed down from the north but for now the skies over Osgiliath were clear as the fog rose. As he watched the distant horizon, he considered his position further.

There were forces that would not hesitate to drive him down on the blade upon which he stood. There were others that would pull him towards them or push him away, seeking to topple him this way or that. It should be enough to make him think twice, to draw back…but he could not ignore the events he had witnessed befalling in Edhellond. Nor could he block out the dreams that came to him at times in the depth of his sleep. A wiser man might pause, but Halvarin knew he had made the right decision. For himself, and for Amarwen.

That name whispered through him. A day may come, he hoped, when they would use it again. When he could say it without fearing who might overhear. When they would name her Lady of Edhellond, as she truly was. Until then, she was Lillith. A pardoned smuggler and now Osgiliath’s librarian. He shook his head, for the gambit was a bold one. A risky one, as he had told her and yet her eyes had been clear, and he could not argue with her.

He washed a hand over his jaw and considered the fact that Osgiliath had a librarian once more. As commander of the city, he’d be responsible for funding Lillith’s services. Indeed, he was responsible for providing for the city’s rebuilding but so far requests had fallen on deaf ears. So much of Gondor’s resources were diverted south to Umbar and the King’s driving project to rapidly expand his fleet.

If Halvarin wanted resources, then, he’d have to make a request in person at Minas Anor. Provided his standing within the Guild still held, he might even succeed. The clear path of action helped ease his mind and Halvarin returned to his office aware that he had much to accomplish that day. Still, even as he progressed down the narrow hall that connected the upper balcony to the main chamber, Halvarin found himself pausing at the sound of voices. Lillith he swiftly deduced, and Michas.

He stood in silence, listening to the exchange as he leaned against the polished granite walls. What was, he wondered, Lillith’s plan to take and keep Osgiliath. As for his part in it, that was for him to determine. He’d not declared his loyalties, taken such an unthinkable risk, only to be held back and squandered. He’d not allow what had occurred at Edhellond to happen again, irrespective of what Lillith’s thoughts on the matter. As for this presence she was planning to install in the city, how best to protect it?

He could keep the regiments loyal to Castamir out of the city, run interference, but his value to them would be significantly diminished if he was discovered to be a rebel. The key was to ensure that Lillith’s growing presence were not too overt in their presence in Osgiliath. That Lillith held the command of them now, and not Beregon, was a relief for if there would to be trouble then Halvarin was sure it would come from Beregon.

The exchange between Michas and Lillith ended and Halvarin lingered, still as a stone, until he was confident both had moved on. Only once he was sure did Halvarin continue on his way to his office. He glimpsed as he passed Lillith. She was sweeping the floor, benign and not in the least dangerous despite what he had just overheard. If she noticed him, she did not look up, and Halvarin was soon back in his office to write up his requisition request for Osgiliath.

Whilst it was possible that little of what he had asked for would be provided, he knew that it would be on record that the request had been lodged and that was important. After a few hours passed in careful construction of the request, Halvarin set to packing his satchel. He took additional time to secure anything in his office that he wished not to be read or appropriated. His gaze travelled to the seals that sat on his desk. One for the Guild and the other for Gondor, he recalled how intently Lillith had watched him yesterday as he had crafted her pardon. What might she do with them…his mind boggled and so he added them to his satchel.

Once this was accomplished, Halvarin washed up, donned his formal uniform and quit his office with his satchel over his shoulder. He locked his door for good measure, but as he did so he found himself smiling for he was sure that Lillith could probably open the door in any case. Shaking his head, he headed for the library again to find the woman in question seated on the floor studying architectural drawings.

”Lady Lilith, I will be away for a few days, maybe a week… no longer than a fortnight,” he said and watched her look up, brow furrowing.

”You are too kind, Commander. I am not a lady,” she said by way of correction which he ignored as he knelt beside her.

Halvarin studied the drawing from over her shoulder, ”The Dome. I didn’t know any drawings were still around for it.”

“These are not the original drawings but rather those commissioned by Minalcar in 1245. It would seem he planned a renovation of the Dome of the Stars.”

As she spoke, Halvarin studied Lillith’s ebony hair and stealthily breathed in her scent. At his intake of breath, she looked at him and he was tempted strongly to kiss her.

Instead, he drove his attention back to the drawing, ”Yes, Minalcar, Regent of Gondor. It must have been an early work of his. I don’t think his grand plan proceeded further than repairs and maintenance.”

“Eldacar’s grandfather was a great ruling Regent and King…”
Lillith answered and paused as she sensed his desire, ”Where must you go?”

He set a hand to her shoulder and gently tightened his fingers against her warmth, ”Minas Anor. I hope to gain provision for the city, including your work here. Michas will hold the city’s command in my absence. I hope all remains calm, Lillith, for I will face enough questions over the riots and deaths as it already is.”

Halvarin studied her closely as he hoped she could achieve the restraint that Beregon had lacked. After a long pause, he slowly stood and walked for the door where he tarried again. Halvarin turned back to find Lillith had stood and turned to watch him. Her expression was thoughtful and troubled.

”May you be well m’lady. I will look forward to seeing you again upon my return,” he said to her and inclined his head. The urge to stride back and pull her to him batted at him.

Her lips parted as if she might say something but Halvarin turned away and quit the library before he lingered longer yet. He had yet to locate Michas and he needed to do so before he could ride out for Minas Anor.
Last edited by elora on Fri Feb 23, 2018 7:52 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sun Oct 01, 2017 9:16 pm


Gone so swiftly. Beregon would comment that it was too swiftly, as if Halvarin could not wait to get away and back to his Guild - Amarwen shook her head at the dark thrust of her thoughts. Halvarin’s haste was nothing more than that of a man with much to do. She turned back to the drawing still spread on the floor, pressed a sigh through her nose, and then crouched to roll it back up again. A week. Possibly a fortnight. And if he did not return what then? A second sigh at that as she straightened to her height. He would return and she had not made a grievous error in trusting him. But, no matter how firmly she told herself that, the questions returned to Amarwen time and again during the day. And each time they brought new doubts for company.

The hours of the day dragged as doubts and fears assailed her. The weather conspired, growing steadily damper and colder as the morning progressed. By midday, the library was so dark she had been forced to light the various sconces and it was this task that brought to Halvarin’s office door for a second time that day. She paused in the hall to study it. A simple lock, sturdy but not overly difficult to bypass. He’d know, of course, that it had been picked. No way to conceal that, but it was preferable to taking out one of the hinges. That was far more conspicuous.

It should have been a straight forward proposition, she knew. This was the office of a senior Guild officer. An office she knew would be unattended for a week. Maybe a fortnight. Still, she lingered in the hall and debated with herself all the same before she moved on to light the next sconce. As the day wound on and surrendered to night, still Amarwen’s debate did not resolve itself and she passed a second night as restlessly as the one before it.

Early the following morning, Michas thumped as loudly as he dared on the door to Lillleth’s quarters. It was well before dawn still but he did not wish to draw any unwelcome attention through his presence here. When there was no answer, he thumped again and then tried the door handle. To his surprise, it was unlocked and when he pushed it open he found that the room was dark. The hearth was cold. He held his lantern up and sure enough, it was empty.

With a curse, Michas lowered his arm as his mind raced. He closed the door again, turned on his heel and hastened for Halvarin’s study. Unlike Lilleth’s quarters, the door to the study was locked. He searched through his pockets for the key Halvarin had given him and opened the door on another empty, cold room.

Michas pressed into it all the same, closing and locking the door behind him. The study looked much as he recalled of it. Halvarin’s formal coat was gone, the man having worn it out of Osgiliath, but his other belongings were largely in place. He headed for Halvarin’s desk and set the lantern atop it amidst the various reports and papers there. Michas paid no mind to these, most of the reports having been written by himself in any case, and instead turned for the shelves behind Halvarin’s desk.

The shelves occupied the entire rear wall of the study and were filled with the leather bound tomes that were the city commander’s journal. Each held the minutiae of Osgiliath’s running and operation. Roads, wells, public buildings and sanitation. Mind numbing, as far as Michas was concerned, and not what he was looking for now. Instead, he knelt and pressed on a wooden panel at the base of the shelves. It sprang free and Michas reached within the narrow cavity. He groped about, finding naught but air within. For good measure, he fetched down the lantern but the light only confirmed what he had suspected the moment he had discovered Lilleth’s empty quarters.

The daggers that had been confiscated from her upon her arrest were gone and that meant only one thing. Michas sat back on his heels and cursed. He had agents trickling in from Minas Anor, each of them requiring his attention. He had a city to command in Halvarin’s absence and his own regiment to lead. There was no way he could go after Lilleth…and if something awful happened to her, he knew who Halvarin would look to.

He swallowed uncomfortably and replaced the wooden panel. Then he took up his lantern and slowly straightened. Michas turned about to face the length of the study again and his attention alighted on a map that had been spread out on the floor near the hearth. He strode towards it and sucked in a breath when he took in its title. Belas had been whispering of this for months now, the plans long in the making. A delicate, intricate raid that required precision, skill and no small amount of good fortune. And all those that might have the necessary knowledge were headed his way to Osgiliath, away from the intended objective.

Michas wiped a hand over his face as it all settled into place. She’d need a good deal more than the daggers Lilleth had reclaimed to accomplish this. Slowly, he crouched to roll the map up and then returned it to the pile of maps Halvarin kept by his armchair. He debated getting word to Halvarin in Minas Anor for a long moment before he shook his head. There was no way he could risk such a message being intercepted and in any case, it would likely be far too late by the time it reached Halvarin. Lillleth, whoever and whatever she might be, was on her own for this one. And if she accomplished it…well if she succeeded then she was everything Belas had said she was and more.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Harlond

As Michas shook his head in Halvarin’s study, Amarwen did the same as she crouched in a damp, fetid alley that offered a view of the shipyards at the Harlond. She’d known this would be ambitious but what choice did they have? The yards had to be fired, along with a goodly portion of Castamir’s fleet at anchor. They’d spent two long years letting him sink his coin into expanding his fleet. They’d gone to great care ensuring that his efforts to extend his naval force were largely unhindered. And now, with the Harlond almost bursting with newly constructed ships, their opportunity had come.

It would be a crippling blow against the usurper. He’d extended himself badly to reach this point, at great expense to his suffering people and his depleted treasury. Once it went up in flames it would take him years, possibly even a generation, to restore it. A very public defeat. A humiliation he would not be able to easily shake off. It would undermine his position within the Guild, possibly shake their support for him. It would erode his might once Eldacar launched his bid to re-take the throne. It would leave Castamir in a precarious position, one entirely of his own making.

And all the people she needed to make this happen were on their way to Pelargir or Osgiliath. Never mind that she’d be setting fire to some of the most beautiful ships she had ever beheld. So beautifully constructed, so clever in their design. And those that might be caught in the conflagration? War. It was filled with terrible choices, grim decisions. If she failed to seize this opportunity, the way may never be made for Eldacar’s return. Amarwen sighed heavily and closed her eyes. She knew what she was going to do even as her courage quailed at the enormity of it. Her father, were he here, would be appalled. Her mother, though…that daughter of Hydarmendacil…

Amarwen drew back from the mouth of the alley and deeper into the shadows that still held sway before dawn’s inevitable arrival. With a final lingering look at the shipyards, she turned her back on the vista and padded up through the alley. The one saving grace she had was that the plan, in its original form, had been her creature. With most of the nobles having either fled Gondor with Eldacar or perished in Castamir’s subsequent pogrom, there were few with the necessary understanding of such matters.

Granted, Amarwen had never been permitted to study at the Mariner’s Guild. Not for the lack of any interest, desire or skill. Nor for the absence of suitable backers and sponsors for Guild positions were highly sought after and expensive to secure. No, quite simply, such formal study had not been open to Amarwen simply because she was a daughter of a Mariner and not a son. The Guild did not train women. It was considered unseemly and Amarwen’s mother had been quite wroth with her father when it emerged that he had been encouraging her interest in his own profession.

The discovery that she could not follow her father’s shipwright path had been a blow to her at the time. Amarwen had recovered by throwing herself into pursuits that were open to her. She learned languages and the art of governing a people and a port. She learned history and politics and diplomacy and trade. She learned to hunt and to dance and play music. And secretly, she continued to seek out knowledge on the design and construction of ships. Sometimes she managed to win new books from her father, without her mother’s knowledge, but mostly she pulled whatever newfound knowledge Halvarin brought with him whenever he visited Edholland with his father.

Halvarin had chosen the path of a navigator, but his studies had included the intricacies of ship maintenance, repair and construction. All this knowledge had swirled together to develop this plan. Her plan. Now all she needed do was adjust it. Instead of twenty people, or even five, there would be one. The thought made her stomach flip. If she was going to do this she had to succeed. Better that she abandon it than fail. Thoughts still bouncing around her head, Amarwen slipped into the damp cellar she had taken up as her base in the Harlond and set to work redesigning her plan to cripple Castamir.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Minas Anor

Beregon sat and stared at the dregs of his ale as he debated ordering another. With a resigned sigh, for the ale was sure to prove one of his poorer decisions that night, he lifted a hand to the harried lad that tended the tables for another. He leaned back in his chair, the struts at his back groaning under his weight, and considered the common room he was in. It was nothing particularly memorable. The ceiling was low and stained with smoke. The floor was pressed earth, muddy in some places. His fellow patrons were like him, down at heel, scraping a few coppers together for more dubious ale. The talk was quiet. Common rooms and taverns like these had once been abundant on the lowest level of the White City.

They had prospered before the outbreak of war, bolstered by those that came to trade their wares and services within Minas Anor. Now, that trade had all but withered and one by one the taverns and inns had begun to fall dark. Those that managed to keep their doors open had largely shifted to the relatively more lucrative trade that still functioned on this level but Beregon was in no mood for a brothel’s reception parlour. Too many of the City’s Watch and other officials and functionaries favoured such locations and it would not do to be recognised.

The lad slapped a fresh tankard of the liquid hell on offer at this inn and swiped up the empty one with a sour grunt. Beregon tossed the two coppers onto his dirty tray.

”What happened to your sister?” he asked and the lad scowled at him.

”Winter was hard,” he muttered before he was away again.

The tidings were not surprising. The toll of sickness here on the lowest levels had been particularly harsh this winter past. Beregon shook his head as the young lass’ face came to mind. She’d had a hard life and yet there’d still been a warm light to her brown eyes. As if her spirit laughed on through the grinding labour that was her lot in life. He wrapped his hand around the rough tankard, ignoring the bite of splinters in the pads of his fingers, and lifted it to his mouth. And then he grimaced in instant regret. The ale really was atrocious.

He pushed up from his seat, swiped his cloak from its peg by the door and swept through the door for the street below. Late as it was, the street was far from empty and Beregon had to shoulder his way through it. As he did so, his thoughts turned to the road ahead. Having mobilised the Minas Anor assets either to Pelargir or Osgiliath, he was to make for Edholland next where he would join with the men he had sent ahead. Tempting as it was to remain in Minas Anor longer, he had decided that it would not be worth the risk. Not when he recalled just how grim Marece had been when last they had spoken.

She would not hesitate to eliminate him if she thought he was a threat. She had said as much to him on their last encounter, a barely veiled threat that she had thrown down in the presence of that Guild Officer. Michas had described him as a good man and perhaps he was. Perhaps. A muscle in Beregon’s jaw feathered as he considered that encounter. The Officer had stood beside Marece, so closely as to place a hand in the curve of her back. Who had whom wrapped around their finger, he wondered and not for the first time and then grunted as a shoulder landed in the middle of his chest and drove air from his lungs.

He heard a muttered apology through his wheezing and for a moment he was buffeted by the press. It was only then that he realised just how crowded the streets were and so Beregon allowed himself to be pushed steadily towards Minas Anor’s tall, sturdy walls. He found a set of stairs and climbed up them, preparing his story for the guards that would await at their top. Only they were not there. Frowning, Beregon looked down along the wall to where the city gates were and found it empty. He turned about, scenting for the first time the distinct scent of smoke…and pitch. As he took in the ruddy orange glow that claimed the night sky over the Anduin, his eyes widened in shock. He stumbled along the wall and located a sizeable knot of guards, all gathered there to take in the stunning sight playing out before them. The Harlond burned.

A chill ran through Beregon’s blood as he took it in. Marece had been sharpening her claws for it for years now but there was no way she could have done this. All her people had been shuffled away from Minas Anor and she was practically locked up in Osgiliath…as his thoughts ran, his eyes followed the dark seam that was the Anduin at night. Beyond the limit of the fire, it swiftly disappeared into the night to the north. Towards Osgiliath. He turned his attention back to the Harlond. Already the City Watch and Guild were swarming down the road towards the burning shipyards.

Beregon swallowed for if Marece was down there still…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Harlond

Amarwen hunched her shoulders by the wall she sat against. Her face and hands were black with soot and smoke and her eyes still watered. Each breath felt like fire and coughing fits wracked her lungs and left her gasping and weak as a kitten. In short, she was little different to the forty or so others they had rounded up with her. One by one the City Watch was interrogating them, imperiously watched over by a Guild Officer. This one had a hatchet nose and iron had touched the hair at his temples. She doubted he missed a single word that was uttered but thus far he had written down little and asked not a single question of his own.

There was a small family seated next to her. They were young, a babe still in arms, and they had been plucked out of their beds in the middle of the night and shoved in here with the rest of them. The young man looked like he couldn’t decide whether to weep or rail but the woman, rocking the child in her arms, looked like she wanted to tear someone’s throat out. With her teeth. Amarwen watched as two more of the City Watch ordered them to their feet. They shuffled over to where the questioning had been set up as those they replaced were escorted to the door. Some had been escorted, some had been allowed to leave of their own volition. She didn’t recognise any of the faces beneath the soot and so she’d found it difficult to discern whether there was a pattern to this.

”You, you’re next,” one of the guards snapped at her, fatigue bruising the skin under his eyes.

His partner scowled at her, ”You alone?”

she answered, voice hoarse after all the smoke and coughing.

The guard shook his head and turned to his companion, ”This is ridiculous.”

“Orders is orders.”

“Still ridiculous,”
he muttered truculently, ”One woman didn’t burn down the shipyards.”

“They said everyone.”

As the two guards debated amongst themselves, the family’s interrogation had ended. They’d been permitted to leave without an escort, which they did so hurriedly. She hoped that their home, which they undoubtedly rushed home to check on, had not been caught up in the fire. She’d done what she could on that front.

”On your feet, girl,” the guard muttered and she struggled to stand.

The effort doubled her over in a coughing fit and so the two men took up an arm and carried her over to be questioned. Amarwen was dumped unceremoniously in a chair still gasping for air.

”Name?” a bored officer of the City Watch asked.

”Rose,” she croaked as she pushed herself upright.

”Show me your hands, Rose,” came then next bored request.

Amarwen complied, offering up both hands for inspection. A guard turned her hands about this way and that, leaning back so that the Guild officer could see for himself.

”No burns,” the officer noted as he dropped her wrists, ”Why were you at the docks?”

“I was looking for Da.”

As she had hoped, this made the Guild officer’s attention sharpen on her.

”Your father’s name and occupation, girl?”

Amarwen offered a common name and told them that her father caught crabs to sell at the markets. That she was clad in little more than rags only confirmed the ruse for there was precious little to be made from selling crabs. The Guild Office canted his head and leaned forward to finally address her.

”And does your Da often stay out late at night?”

She shook her head emphatically, ”We’ve no coin for ale or dice!”

The officer narrowed his hooded eyes at her for a long moment and then leaned back in his chair. He flicked his hand at her and the City Watch officers jerked their heads at the only way in and out of this place. Amarwen rose from the rickety chair uncertainly and when they impatiently gestured that she should leave, she stumbled for the door without an escort.

Could it really be as simple as that, she wondered as she reached the door and pushed through it. They’d yet to bring the fire under control and she could still feel the heat pulsing through the night air as she emerged into it. She squinted, picking out the darker shapes of men trying to quell the conflagration. On the one hand she should be proud. Victorious even, but she could not ignore the twisting of her stomach. Some of those burning ships had been occupied. Others would perish in their battle with the flames.

Granted, they were men that would happily hunt her down and execute her as a traitor, but they were still men. Men that had no say in who was their King. Men following orders. Men with families. And she…what as she now? A traitor. A rebel. A burner of ships. A – hand seized her forearm and pulled her hard to one side and around the corner of the building she had emerged from. Amarwen sucked a sharp, startled breath down her ravaged throat too swiftly and fell into a racking fit of coughing as she was hauled through the buildings, away from the waterfront.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Fri Oct 13, 2017 8:03 pm

Minas Anor ~ March 1439

A slow, steady rain sat heavily over Minas Anor at Halvarin’s arrival. The dreary weather did not, however, appear to stop any from attending to their business at the markets just within the city gates. After clearing the White City’s gates, Halvarin hastened for an inn he knew of on the fourth tier. The Shroud of Varda sat at the top of the rampart to that level and it suited his purposes well for he was not yet ready to face his peers up on the sixth tier. He required a glass of reasonable wine first and the opportunity to gather his thought. A plain cloak covered his uniform and the weather was such that no one would expect him to remove it.

In short order Halvarin had settled into a chair at the small table where he could lean against one of the inn’s oaken pillars.

”A wonder they haven’t stripped this place to build a ship,” he mused to himself as his eye ran over the timber structure that supported the inn.

That they would dismantle buildings so as to supply timber for ships was a troubling thought indeed, he knew, but he knew these were troubled times. So troubled that Halvarin feared that he might never see peace. His wine arrived at as his thoughts turned to what that might mean. If peace was beyond their reach for the rest of his days, what hope was there for him…and Amarwen? He took a deep draught of wine at that and pushed her from his thoughts. A necessary thing, for he had to prepare himself what waited on the sixth level. Halvarin drained his wine and pushed to his feet, expression set in grim lines seen on many faces in the White City. He was ready.

The Mariner’s Guild had a house on the sixth level that Halvarin knew well. It was, in fact, more of a complex of buildings. Some housed the Guild’s recruits. Some provided rooms for the Guild’s officers, particularly the cadre stationed here at all times. There was an entire wing for the senior Guildsmen, folk such as his father. This sat dark and cold, for few of the Guild’s most senior order were in the White City now.

The sentry at the gate to all of this admitted Halvarin with a respectful nod once the man had sighted Halvarin’s Guild pin. Each graduate of the Guild had one, the pin varying according to the man’s particular discipline. Halvarin’s was a star, the mark of the Navigators, and chased in a fine line of gold to mark his status as a Master Navigator. Masters of any discipline were not left haggling for entry at the gates but the sentry’s wide eyes had more to do with the fact that Master Navigators were in short order. He turned to watch Halvarin’s progress towards the main building for a moment before he turned back to his duty.

Within the main hall, several men gathered around a large table. Unsurprising in the least as Halvarin had never seen that table without company in all his years with the Guild. His running joke with Michas as a recruit was that the Guild rostered on men to ensure the table was always attended. Just who you had to displease to earn such a dreary duty, and for what infraction, was something he and Michas had long speculated over between themselves. All harmless banter between two young men that had soured in the months leading up to Eldacar’s overthrow.

Halvarin no longer looked at that table with mild amusement for it was around that table that men such as Castamir had inflamed hatred and loathing of the Northmen. Castamir had not been alone in that and his cunning mind and powerful ability to persuade would not have been enough. No, it had not been Castamir to depose the king. Rather, it had been Castamir and his like minded Guildsmen to bring down the line of kings. Men like Halvarin’s father. The table was a bitter reminder of that disastrous turn of events now but the men gathered at it were not fomenting treason now. Rather, they were studying maps and reports and drawings of ships and talking, talking, endlessly talking.

Largely unnoticed, Halvarin shucked off his damp cloak and handed it to a maid-servant. Then he absently brushed off his uniform coat, studying those at the table in a bid to identify them. That he could only recognise one face was worrisome for it underscored just how isolated he had become in Osgiliath. It was that one man that looked up at Halvarin’s approach.

”Halvarin! A fine surprise to see you with us once more! Have you been released of your duties in Osgiliath?”

“No Captain. I’m here for a short time only,”
Halvarin replied as he grasped Captain Silares’s hand.

Halvarin had served under Silare as Chief Navigator on a voyage to Umbar. Difficult as that had been in the terrible aftermath of Edholland, Halvarin had developed respect for the man. Silare seemed to be able to keep the Guild’s politics clear of his seafaring, no mean feat insofar as Halvarin could determine. However, the fact that he had found Silare here had Halvarin wondering at what had lured the man off the deck to Minas Anor. He was not left to wonder long for Silare was swift in answering his unspoken question

”As am I,” Silare answered, inclining his silver head at Halvarin, ”Brought in four new ships up to be commissioned after their shakedown. Lots of men in town. I dare say you saw them in the taverns on the lower levels.”

“No sir, I made straight for the Fourth,”
Halvarin replied, then added, ”There is roughness enough in the ruins of Osgiliath.”

Silares nodded, ”Of course. Gondor’s glorious capital has fallen hard in recent years.”

“I do what I can with what I have... My requests for additional aid have received little by way of response and so here I am, to plead the case in person.”

Silares’ smiled faded at Halvarin’s serious expression and settled into a twist of his lips that was more grim resignation than good cheer.

He drew closer, ”It is doubtful you will find willing ears. Most of the treasury has been used for building of ships and ports in the south.”

Halvarin’s brows lifted at this and Silares pressed on, ”Even rebellious Edholland got their port rebuilt. Alas, our river cities do not fare as well but spare a thought for the inland provinces. It goes harder yet there.”

Halvarin sighed unhappily at this and offered Silares a grateful nod for the information before he turned back to those gathered around a large map spread on the table. Amarwen had spoken of just how grim it was but he had been inclined to think that perhaps her report was coloured by her vehement opposition to Castamir. But if Silares, a man who holds himself apart from the realm’s politics said things went poorly, then Halvarin could not help but take him at his word. He rubbed a hand over the dark bristles along his jaw and listened to the talk of those around him.

They spoke of new ships and ports, including the restoration of the grand port at Umbar. It had been a marvel once, in an age ago, but had been left to decay more recently. No more, it would seem and Halvarin heard of the great strides Castamir had made there. Conflict with the local peoples was inevitable at Umbar. They had no love for the descendants of Numenor who had come from the ocean many generations ago and pushed them from their best land. For all of that, though, Halvarin listened on the claims that some of the fierce Haradrim tribes had even sworn fealty to Castamir. Unlikely, Halvarin thought, but that did not mean that some of the tribes had not allied themselves to Castamir.

The fighting had, reportedly, pushed well inland and great tracts of hardwood forests had been secured – at a price. It always came at a price. As Castamir forged ahead in Harad, Gondor declined. Governance was eroding. Roads and bridges were crumbling. The great storage houses for essential food and sustenance were falling apart. That which was spoilt as a result, or stolen away, and thus when the harvest failed as it had this past year the suffering was immense.

There were reports that the rebels were destroying the store houses, stealing their contents and then distributing it to the starving populace. A cruel yet effective tactic if true for the local authorities had exactly what Halvarin had in Osgiliath – nothing. They could do nothing to aid their people, save collect Castamir’s taxes. Whilst the rebels handed out food and hope, Castamir gathered his taxes and little of that came back to the people taxed. Not when there were ships to build. As for the Guild, they did what they could which was little indeed. For the Guild was Castamir’s just as he was theirs.

As Halvarin stood there listening to this, he found himself wondering just how many of them were surprised that Castamir had eyes only for the south and the ships it could provide him. How many were disheartened, he wondered, at the Ship King’s reign.

Beside him, Silares spoke up from time to time, but Halvarin mostly kept his silence. He nodded every now and again lest anyone think he wasn’t paying attention, and studied the map. The northern defences were clearly marked upon it and it occurred to Halvarin that the fact Castamir largely ignored these was likely a blessing of sorts. He’d clearly drawn his defensive lines well south of Minas Anor. The new fort on the road south out of Harlond seemed Castamir’s northernmost outpost. The road crossing of the Erui River was also fortified, with defensive forts set across Lossanarth from there to the end of the White Mountains and along the southern bank of the Erui to the Anduin. But there were more forts under construction north of these places. A line of forts were set just south of Minas Anor where the White Mountains reached the closest to the River Anduin, and Emyn Arnen reached the river on the east side in Ithilien.

Halvarin eyed Ithilien but saw nothing marked there. It struck him as incongruous for surely Castamir’s advisors had to know that Ithilien could be used to attack to the south as well as the west. He hated to consider it, but when he got back to Osgiliath, he would have to send Michas out to study south through Ithilien. The lands were dangerous. Michas himself had reported how bold the Easterling raiders had become and Halvarin was loathe to put good men in harm’s way…yet, if they could report back on what they found in the southern lands of Ithilien…His thoughts came to a sharp end at the sound of his name and Halvarin looked up from the map he had been studying.

”Halvarin, come to Harlond with me and see the new ships,” Silares said to him, ”Your old ship is there and it would be good, I think, to get you by or on the water again.”

The captain eyed Halvarin for a moment, ”I can see about your current assignment too. Experienced navigators are in short supply these days and I cannot understand why they have you ashore and languishing in Osgiliath.”

Oh, to be out on the sea again and beyond the deadly politics that seemed to grip this land. Halvarin could not deny a sharp, sudden yearning, and yet he mastered himself all the same.

“My orders came from the Guild Masters themselves, at a meeting in this very room. I will do my best until I receive orders elsewhere,” he answered, aware that Silares was not the only one listening.

His captain nodded, a knowing gleam in his eye and Halvarin tilted his head, ”Would it be wishful thinking, do you think, to request funding for the quays to be improved in East Osgiliath?”

Silares’ flashed him a brief grin and turned away from Halvarin back to the table. With that confirmation that his change in strategy just might succeed, Halvarin retired to one of the Guild’s staterooms to rest. There he quickly re-wrote his request in a form that Castamir’s men would find difficult to ignore. He settled in that night with his spirits strangely buoyed and woke early the next morning to venture to the second tier. It was here that Minas Anor kept its public messenger offices and Halvarin was relieved to see that it still functioned despite the absence of funding.

The postmaster was a bureaucrat from the old scheme, a curmudgeon of man few dared to cross, and so Halvarin felt reasonably assured that the three letters he entrusted would reach their intended recipients more or less without being read. Each bore twin seals, that of Gondor and the Mariners Guild, in hopes that the messages and the men that carried them would be let to pass safely. One Halvarin sent south to father who was reported to be in Pelargir, or was sailing from there. The send Halvarin dispatched to the Prince of Dol Amroth. The elderly postmaster did not even twitch a whisker at so prominent a recipient as that. The third message Halvarin dispatched to Michas in Osgiliath. That third was, perhaps, the most significant for it was his one hope of getting word out should he himself be unable to return to Osgiliath. Provided, of course, that Michas still recalled the rudimentary code they’d developed in their academy days.

With that done, Halvarin returned to the Guild House on the sixth teir and spent the next three days filing various reports and requests for funding. Always, in each of them, for East Osgiliath. As for Amarwen, or Osgiliath’s new librarian Lilleth, he used the cache he had built up in Minas Anor over the years to fund a stipend. It should, he estimated, obtain for her services for a few months. Then there was the matter of his posting. Despite Captain Silares’ desire to see him aship, despite his own yearning for the freedom of the sea, Halvarin truly hoped to remain in Osgiliath.

But Halvarin could not tell Silares why this was and Silares would ask for the notion that any Mariner would prefer to remain ashore indefinitely was sufficiently strange as to make the question an obvious one. Silares had influence in the Guild. It was entirely possible that he could sway those here to alter Halvarin’s posting. The Guild was painfully short of Navigators and his presence ashore as a Master Navigator was unusual. All he could do was wait and watch on that front and so Halvarin put his time to use. There was much to see and hear and there were discussions of his own that he very much wanted to have.

He committed to memory as much as he could for this was the first time he was here with his new allegiance. Belatedly, Halvarin realised that he should have asked Amarwen of who he might entrust to relay information back to her…but then again, perhaps it was for the best that he didn’t. No matter what happened with his posting, he’d have to return to Osgiliath to settle things and handover to his replacement, something he did not get. He could convey anything of import to Amarwen then…and then leave her behind… An uncomfortable notion, that, and a new one. Halvarin had never before found himself looking back to shore.

On the third day, Halvarin accompanied Silares down to the Harlond to look over the new ships moored there. He walked through the first three, noting the young officers who proudly stood at their stations. He lingered with the navigators in particular, providing the sort of tips and insights he knew he would have appreciated in their stead and in all Halvarin found himself impressed with what he saw. Still, these were only low draught ships able to navigate the river and coastal shorelines. At best, they could range only several nautical miles from land and had not the strength nor depth to withstand the raw majesty of open ocean.

Rumor had it, Halvarin heard, that the mightier of the new ships were docked at Pelargir under his father’s watchful eye. For all of that, Halvarin found what he saw impressive to his eye and he wondered, should they venture to Osgiliath, if he might be able to find passage on one. This question he took to Silares but the man shook his head.

”As much as I would like to test the ships upstream to Osgiliath, I’m afraid you must disembark at first light. The full crew board this night and as much I wish you to join us, no new orders have come. You’re bound for Osgiliath by other means, lad.”

Halvarin nodded at this and turned to consider the westering sun. It threw an orange glow along the bellies of the low clouds.

”As much as I year to be upon the water again, I know my day will come. I have much to do to keep the capital of Gondor. Though funding is sparse, I have good people working on it. The Jewel of Gondor will again shine.”

“I do not doubt that it will, my friend. For now, though, dine with me upon the Yellowfin. Your old ship is still much as you left it.”

Halvarin grasped Silares’ hand, ”I will indeed be there ere sundown.”

Halvarin walked off the ship, moving carefully so as to avoid the returning crewmen. Their chatter suggested that they’d enjoyed their leave here and he listened to them talk of what lay ahead as the coming months took them south. Halvarin disappeared down a narrow street to the Harlond market and there he purchased an old plain dark green cloak. Similar in style to that favoured by Ithilien’s Ranger, this one was well worn and faded. He wrapped himself in it to conceal his uniform and wandered about, observing the Harlond. There was, he though, an edge to the air though he could say why he thought this. Sifting about the markets, he settled at a café with a cup of strong Haradian tea. He kept his hood low and he watched and waited.

It was when he had finished his tea and the shadows were growing long in the dimming light that he noticed some people moved differently. The Harlond was a place strongly aligned with Castamir and it would take a brave if not foolish rebel to operate here. Yet, he could see people that reminded him of those he had seen in Osgiliath. Amarwen had only just recently re-set the board, as she described it, but she’d sent the Osgiliath forces to Edholland, not here to Harlond or Minas Anor. He squinted at the vaguely familiar faces and then shook his head. He was reading too much into it and so Halvarin finished his tea and returned to the quay to search out the Yellowfin.

The Yellowfin occupied the southernmost dock, one of the oldest ships moored there yet still impressive. Still, as his eyes roamed back to the newer ships, if had the coin used to build just one of these then he could have had Osgiliath cleared of rubble. Perhaps some of the stonework repaired too. Halvarin nodded to the watchman at the base of the Yellowfin’s gangplank and ascended it. He paused once on deck, looking about, until one of the men assigned the night watch approached him.

”I am not your captain, I know, “ Halvarin said as he peered about, ”But keep your eyes wide tonight. Could be nothing, but if there’s trouble then have the men ready to throw the lines as quickly as you can.”

“What have you heard?”
The old seaman asked, looking at the ship’s rail and mooring points.

Halvarin looked with him to the new ship next to them, ”Likely nothing… What do you know of the new crews?”

The old seaman looked at the new timbers moving not far from them and said, ”Mostly green, a small cadre of veterans among them save from Yellowfin. She’s kept most of her crew. The others, though, have new captains, new navigators…only the executive officers have any experience under their belts.”

A tried and true method, Halvarin knew, save for the captains. Why new captains, he wondered, keeping the question to himself.

He clapped the old seaman on the back, ”As I said, probably nothing. You have a good watch, sailor.”

He turned for the Captain’s quarters next, the old seaman squinting at the world suspiciously. More than once an experienced’ officer’s instinct had saved his hide in the past and he was loathe to dismiss the counsel of a Master Navigator…even if the Navigator’s were notoriously loathe to get their hands dirty when it came down to bloodshed. Scholars and bookworms the lot of them as a general rule but still…He turned from his inspection to bark at his fellow sailors. It might be nothing, as the Navigator said, but if it wasn’t then he’d be damned if they weren’t ready for it.

The night’s fare was excellent and the slight rocking of the ship had Halvarin’s sea legs back as if he had never left. The hour grew late as he and Silares spoke and in the safety of his own cabin, Silares allowed some of his frustration at the direction of things to show. Still, for all of that, Silares was an unshakeable man of the Guild. He might think little of Castamir’s decisions, but Halvarin knew that Silares would follow Castamir to the end. And so, he disclosed nothing of his own shift and when Halvarin stood to take his leave he did so knowing that this would likely be the last time he would see his old captain.

They walked out to the upper deck rail to say their farewell when they heard a commotion near the ships moored to the north of them. Men began to yell, panic spreading as the night sky turned yellow. Fire. If anything was more feared than sinking on a ship it was fire. Silares drew breath to command they cast off but released it when he realised that the lines had already been released. He shifted his order to direct the helmsman to steer the ship clear as the river’s current began to drag them along.

Releasing the lines were one thing, drawing up the anchors quite to other and so the Yellowfin and all upon her were at the mercy of the currents as the ship dragged at her anchors. They were brought up just as the ship next to them exploded into flame. Halvarin, shielding his face with a hand, marked a shadow running along the shore. That shadow threw a burning ball of pitch at them next. It hit the bow and liquid fire streamed down the timbers. Acrid smoke arose and filled the air, but Halvarin thought he saw the shadow disappear down an alley ashore as their crew started fire suppression.

The new ships burned as they were tethered to the docks for the inexperienced crews could not contain the fire spreading over their decks. The Yellowfin managed to get away from the dock but the hurried raising of the aft anchor while the ship was moving damaged the rudder. As a result, the ship drifted downstream and ran aground on a sandbar on the east side of the river. The fire on the Yellowfin only caused superficial damage, but had the shadow pursued them, they could have been thoroughly ablaze once pinned on that sandbar. The other four ships burned out of control as the crew of the Yellowfin worked to stabilize the grounded ship. And then, the screaming of dying men floated down the air to where they stood.

”Get some oarsmen in that dinghy! I see men jumping in the river. Get them as they come by if you can!” Silares bellowed and Halvarin raced to command the dinghy.

The boat was lowered just in time to help a couple badly burned men into the boat. A couple more came by who could still swim, but many were dead. In time the screams fell away, and the bodies quit flowing by. Only debris from the burning ships now flowed past. They had gotten nine men in their boat, but three would not likely live to see the day. The new ships burned down to the water line, and the ropes burned off and they sank into a smoky hiss as first light started to break over the Shadow Mountains. But the docks and some of the supply sheds had caught fire from the embers. The fire would be hard to check in the old quay, and it kept Harlond shrouded in a smoky haze that would last the day.

Come the dawn they took stock of the damage done. The four new ships had been lost, the Yellowfin run aground and damaged along with two smaller river ferries. As for the buildings, a tavern along the water’s edge had been lost, three docks were structurally unsound and five storage sheds had been lost. Halvarin thought as he brought the injured men up to Harlond in the dinghy that Castamir’s eye would be brought north by this act. And, even as he thought this, his eye tracked the City Watch marshalling up civilians for questioning. Suspects in causing the fire they said but Halvarin though it much more likely that they were merely innocents caught up in the City Watch’s response to this attack.

The Watch divided them into groups and Halvarin went from each to each to listen to the questioning. None, he thought, could have set such fires or wrought such devastation. But then the voice of a woman, strained by smoke and ask, gave him pause. Careful to conceal his presence, Halvarin stood for a moment at the door behind her but it was not long before the Guild Officer marked his presence. At this, he waved the woman off and when she turned about Halvarin drew back in surprise as he took in Amarwen’s presence.

To be bold as to come here herself…she must have expected him to not return to Osgiliath. He sighed as he threw his worn green cloak over his shoulders for getting her out would be nigh on impossible now after the attack but when he looked up again Amarwen had vanished from sight as if she had never been there. He looked up and down, searching for any place she might have tucked herself into but she was truly gone…and he could not look for her now.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Amarwen was pulled swiftly through the alleys and past abandoned buildings, further and further from the water’s edge. Once they were well clear of the dock, she was pulled into building that had been fired many years before. It was here her wrist was released.

”You have struck a mighty blow against the Usurper but his wrath will be swift and harsh. You must flee, Merece!”

It was a voice she did not recognise and the counsel to flee was unwise to say the least. The Guild would be particularly vigilant for anything suspicious now, and fleeing the scene was precisely the sort of thing to draw their eye.

”Who are you?” she asked of her hooded companion, aware that this could be a ruse in itself.

”Names matter not. I only know yours for we worked together, for a time, at the tavern.”

Far from helpful, Amarwen thought, for she’d lost count of the taverns and inns she’d worked in. Her companion drew closer and Amarwen tensed herself.

”You have been my inspiration and there are many more Soldiers of Eldacar here. We fight for the return of our one true King!”

Soldiers of Eldarcar? Zealots…unreliable…messy…poorly disciplined…Amarwen rubbed at her brow and hoped that this batch fared better than those before them. Best to keep them isolated, though, contained. Keep them acting independently…yes, just the sort of confusion she needed. Weary as she was, Amarwen rubbed at her eyes and regretted that immediately. She was covered in ash and soot.

”Where do you need to go? We can get you there, but we must hurry.”

“Osgiliath, and yes, as soon as possible,”
she answered, revising her initial thoughts for the sooner she was away from this ragged band the better.

Her companion nodded, and in doing so, a lock of hair come free. Pale it was, golden blonde, and it was quickly tucked back under the hood.

”Come! I know a way!”

The two made their way toward Minas Anor in the smoky fog that had shrouded the city. Before they got to the market district outside the walls, a light drizzle fell. Wary as she was of her companion, she had little option for now but to trust to her. Definitely a her, Amarwen thought, and her trust proved well placed for she was soon concealed in a wagon beneath a load of dry goods with three others. A wagon bound for Osgiliath. The false bottom of the wagon was a tight squeeze for four people, particularly with heavy flour sacks stacked over their heads. It was hard to breath, but a small crack in the wood near the side of her head allowed slight relief from the stale air and gave just a bit of light. And in any case, it was preferable to the alternatives.

At the check point, established recently to intercept anyone trying to flee suspicious fires, Amarwen listened to the driver as he was questioned. She head a distinct southern accent in his voice and after a moment placed it: Pelargir! This came as no small surprise for Pelargir was one of Castamir’s strongholds. Not a strong, it seemed, as Castamir thought and they feared. And so, despite her current straits, Amarwen smiled in what felt like the first time in months. Her thoughts had already turned to how she might reach possible spies in Castamir’s court at Pelargir by the time the wagon trundled through Osgiliath’s gates.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Oct 14, 2017 1:57 am

Osgiliath – March 1439

Michas leaned against the sturdy stone wall to oversee the wagon being unladen. Dry goods such as flour had been in short supply in the city and so the building these sacks were being stored in was one of the more formidable ones. All the harder to steal from or destroy. The men under his interim command toiled, carrying each within whilst the driver busied himself with the two horses that had brought his wagon to the city. Two horses. Flour could be heavy, yes, but not two horses heavy. Not for a wagon like that. And so Michas watched and waited, Halvarin’s letter burning a hole in his pocket all the while.

Halvarin’s missive had only arrived the day before and no word, not a one, from Mere-Lillith. Lillith. Her name was Lillith now.

”Big fire, don’t you know,” the driver drawled in his southern accent, ”Near burned Harlond down, it did.”

Well then, no guessing what Lillith had been up to. Michas shook his head from side to side at the tidings.

”Bad?” he asked, eyeing the men unloading the flour.

Only the bottom row of sacks to go now and that wagon tray floor was higher than it should be. Hence the two horses.

”For sailors,” the driver answered and Michas’ stomach knotted.

He looked sharply at the driver who shrugged as he fed carrots to his horses, ”How many were lost?”

“Oh…twenty, give or take, per ship – four lost in total and another three vessels damaged,”
the driver answered, dusting off his hands on his breeches, ”Where might I stable overnight?”

“The Stag’s Lament,”
Michas replied as the final sacks were unloaded, ”Two blocks further in.”

replied the driver as he climbed back up to the wagon bench.

He nodded to Michas, flicked his reins and pulled his two horses about. The wagon bounced over the city’s cobbled streets, not slipping nor sliding nearly as much as it should. Eighty sailors dead. Hopefully Halvarin was not amongst them, but identifying burned men was a tricky business. Michas wiped the cold film of sweat that beaded his brow at the thought. Lillith had been determined to keep Halvarin clear of this but what if he had perished in a fire of her making? At her hand? He shook his head to clear his thoughts for there would be no way to know for now and he had other things to see to – like the new agents that had just been transported to the Stag’s Lament. Hopefully they’d have the sense to remain in the stables until nightfall. Hopefully.

”For the last damn time, we stay here,” Amarwen snapped, growling through her teeth at her three fellow companions.

”Who put you in charge? You’re new here just like-“

The woman of middle years cut off mid sentence as her eyes rolled back and she sagged towards to pressed earth of the stable floor. Amarwen nodded her thanks at the other woman responsible for this reprieve, turned her back and headed off to find enough hay to conceal herself. She located this at the rear of the stables and she was not alone for long for there were few other places available.

”Sorry ‘bout that,” said the younger woman currently pressing her elbows into Amarwen’s ribs, ”Sera’s new - don’t know what’s what, yet.”

“Who brought her in?”
Amarwen replied, shifting away from the woman’s sharp elbow only to find she was jammed against the wooden slats that comprised the stable’s exterior walls.

”Me,” the woman beside her admitted, somewhat embarrassed, ”I’m-“

“You’re Parin. That’s your name here. And he’s…Jere.”

“What about Sera?”

“She already has a name. It’s new. She can keep it.”

The man she’d just renamed as Jere spoke up for the first time, ”And what’s yours?”

Amarwen sighed, closing her eyes for a moment.

”You been here before, Lilleth?” Parin asked.


“What’s it like?”

Amarwen let that go unanswered for it did not matter what Osgiliath was like.

“How long are we going to wait here?” Jere asked.

”Until the local contact reaches out. His name is Michas.”

“But how does he know where we are?”

Amarwen sighed again, for the question only revealed just how inexperienced they all were, ”Silence.”

She closed her eyes again and settled in to doze, which she did so fitfully until Michas strode into the stables very late in the afternoon.

”You’d better still be here,” he growled, clearly impatient and beside her Amarwen could feel the others tense.

”We are, Michas,” Amarwen muttered, hoping her inexperienced companions at least recalled the name she had supplied earlier.


“You don’t want to spook these ones,”
she warned and set about wriggling her way free of her cramped position to stand.

Michas studied her openly for a moment and she knew she had took a fright. She was still in her rags and the bouncing ride back to Osgiliath had not been enough to dislodge all the ash and smoke. She’d not bathed nor even combed her hair for over a week and she was reasonably certain that she had a liberal dusting of flour. For all of that, Michas’ only response was to lift one brow.

”I hear congratulations are in order,” he observed as the others managed to climb to their feet.

”You heard?”

“Quite the feat, that, and all on your own too.”

There was something flat, something amiss to Michas’ voice but she could not place it.

”Not entirely, in the end,” she said and then set about introducing the other three.

Michas eyed her for a moment and then turned himself to issuing their instructions. Amarwen drew back, listening to him deploy them about the city. He had jobs lined up already, and even places of residence. It was, she was happy to say, an impressive development and any hesitations she might have had about Michas filling Belas’ position seemed unfounded now. Soon enough her three wagon mates were on their way, Parin the only one to look back and wave at her.

Amarwen waited until they were gone before she spoke again, ”They’re green, Michas.”

“I’ll deal with it…just as you dealt with those men you roasted alive,”
he returned, turning about to face her again.

He folded his arms across his chest and Amarwen braced herself for what she about to say, ”This is war, Michas. People die.”

He offered her a cool smile, ”But you…you’re no soldier, Lilleth, are you?”

“You have no idea what I am.”

he conceded, ”But a solider knows another soldier. And, frankly, I didn’t think you had it in you. I stand corrected.”

“It had to be done,”
she ground out, ” I’d expect a soldier to understand that.”

But Michas did not blink. He just stared at her until she could not stop herself from asking the one question she had tried to avoid.

”How many?”

“Sure you want to know?”


He paused at that, weighing it up, ”Twenty.”

Amarwen felt as though the ground had been swept out from under her. Twenty?

”Per ship…and four were lost,” Michas continued.

A poker of ice speared through her, driving the air out of her lungs. Eighty men? Eighty?! Stars above, that was a massacre! Her stomach heaved and Amarwen lifted her hand to her mouth.

”But this is war…and it had to be done. Right, Lillith?”

Amarwen turned away to blot Michas from her sight but she could not stop her ears.

”Did you see Halvarin, Lillith?

The question spun her about again and she gasped, “Halvarin went to Minas Anor.”

Michas just looked at her. And looked at her.

And then she was running, running, running as wave after bilious wave washed through her. It was enough to drive her to her hands and knees, retching miserably. Halvarin was in the Harlond? Halvarin was on the ships? No, oh please, no… Anything but that.

Michas said nothing to her as he walked out into the dusk and how she reached her quarters, how she pressed through the ensuing days and nights, was lost to her. She was in a fog, lost as it were at sea and unable to find her way past the jagged shoals that were her nightmares. They woke her, screaming, night after night and on this night they drove her to Halvarin’s office.

She unlocked his door as she had before with a key she’d found in the librarian’s quarters. Stood to reason that the librarian would have the keys to the various rooms under his or her roof. Once within, though, Amarwen did not bother to lock the door again. She went instead to Halvarin’s cot, knelt by its edge and buried her face in its bedding. It held his scent still as grief rolled through her but that changed as his blankets became damp with her tears. She’d killed him. It didn’t matter that she did not know how the toll could have been so high. She’d killed him and now something was broken in her. Perhaps it had been since that final day at home. Perhaps it had come later, but whenever it had occurred she no longer recognised who she was now.

Amarwen was still in that fog when she heard footfall outside her door the following evening. She pulled open the door to find Michas in the hall. A muscle in his jaw feathered as their eyes met and then he jerked his head down the hall.

”Come with me.”

“Whatever you have to say can be said here,”
she answered, grip on the door tightening.

”It can’t,” he replied tersely and turned away.

Without being sure why, Amarwen found herself following him through the library down a familiar path. She knew where they were headed before they got there for she had spent a week, longer maybe, tormenting herself with this.

”No,” Amarwen said, coming to a halt.

Michas only looked back over his shoulder before entering Halvarin’s office and then she heard the sound of voices. Discussion. Voices! Two! Amarwen all but tripped in her haste to gain the door and sure enough there he was. Halvarin leaned against his desk, travel stained uniform and all. He’d not even taken the time to discard his jacket. Whatever he had been discussing with Michas came to a halt as Amarwen clutched at the doorframe. Halvarin brought his eyes to hers for a long moment and had she not had a grip on the door her knees would have buckled.

His brow furrowed and then his eyes shifted as Michas cleared his throat, shifting his weight from side to side for a moment.

Alive! He was alive! She was still a monster, yes, but Halvarin was alive!

”Close the door,” Halvarin bade and she did so, leaning against it in a bid to claw back a shred of sanity.

Michas launched on a brief report on Osgiliath. He covered both the city’s official doings and its less official activities.

”Nearly completed remanned,” he continued and nodded to a journal that rested on Halvarin’s desk, ”And that’s been updated too, but damned if I could find out what was happening with the sewer rats.”

Halvarin nodded, ”They’re an unruly mob, those rat catchers.”

Michas ruefully smiled and rubbed a hand over his hair.

”And I’m sorry to do this to you, Michas, but I need to you head south again. Southern Ithilien, to be exact.”

Michas’ brows lifted, ”Developments?”

“Our king has drawn a defensive line well to the south, leaving much of Gondor itself to rot…but he seems to have overlooked Ithilien.”

“Seems to,”
Michas echoed, ”Beggars belief, that.”

“My thoughts exactly,”
Halvarin said, ”I’d be interested to know one way or the other, as would Eldacar…is that right?”

Finally his eyes returned to her and in that time Amarwen had managed to pick herself up off the door and find a chair. Her head lifted at the question to find Halvarin considering her and Amarwen nodded.


“I’ll leave dusk tomorrow,"
Michas supplied, "A small party, I think. Easier to slip past the Easterlings that way.”

And then both men were gazing at her, impassive. Amarwen swallowed against a dry throat.

”And what of you,” Halvarin inquired, his tone cautious.

Under their scrutiny, Amarwen found her hand lifting to her hair. It tumbled, untended, in loose waves around her face and down to the middle of her back.

”I have nothing of note.”

“Come now, I saw you at the Harlond, Lilleth. How did you get out?”

“There is a loose…faction there, not one of mine. They were drawn to the-“

“Moths to the flames,”
Halvarin said cooly and Amarwen closed her eyes.

She knew she should hold her ground. This had been in planning for months. It had been of sound tactical merit.

”I tried to minimise the casualties,” she blurted out.

”You failed,” Michas observed and Amarwen shot to her feet.

”How was I to know that the deployment had been moved up? Those ships should have had skeleton crews for another week!”

Her response was met with silence and she turned away, mopping a hand over her face, ”I did not choose this. None of us did. Not those men. Not you. That choice was made for us- by Casta-“

Halvarin shouted, his fist colliding with his desk and causing her to jump.

She turned about to see he was on his feet now, ”Eighty seven men burned to death. Not because of Castamir but because of pitch, and fire, and you! Stars below us, Amarwen, do you think I do not understand why you hate Castamir so? And yet, for all of that, do you think your father and mother would understand what you have done?”

Neither Amarwen nor Halvarin realised that Michas’ face had drained of colour.

”Do you imagine that I am proud of this, Halvarin?’ she returned, ”Do you think I wanted this? Do you believe that I am at peace with this? With any of it?”

“You had a choice and you made it.”

she shouted back and then all her anger leaked out of her into the floor.

She sank to her knees following it, whispering, ”And I will never forgive myself for it…but loathe it as I do, I would do it again. For it had to be done.”

Halvarin stared at her, expression bleak, and shook his head, ”Are river ships truly so important? Has it come to so small a thing as that?”

Amarwen sat back over her heels, ”First we draw him out…”

Michas, recovering from his shock at what had been inadvertently revealed, asked, ”And then?”

She swallowed again, for if she divulged this she was divulging a significant part of Eldacar’s strategy. It could be treason.

”Then strike him where it really hurts – his deep water fleets.”

Halvarin snapped, impatient, ”Setting Umbar aside, you’ll not even get into Pelargir.”

“We now have means to infiltrate Pelargir.”

Both men stared at her, flummoxed and then Halvarin shook his head slowly, ”No. No. No. This is lunacy.”

“This. Is. War.”

“But you do not have to fight it like this! Is it true that we’re stealing food and destroying storage facilities in famine afflicted regions?”

Amarwen returned, appalled and stung. Was that truly what he thought of her? ”Why would you say that?”

“Because that is what the Guild understands!”

“That you believe their self serving words gives me pause to wonder, Halvarin!”

“Oh, so you question my loyalties? Is that what we’ve come to now?”

Amarwen drew herself up, ”I have nothing further to say.”

“Then I think you should leave,”
Halvarin replied and so she did so, breaking into a run as soon as she reached the hall outside.

As soon as the door shut again, Halvarin’s shoulders sagged and his head bowed.

”I’m…I’m sorry you had to see that, Michas,” he said after a while.

Michas rubbed a hand over his head again, ”Is that…that’s really her?”

Halvarin’s eyes closed at the question and Michas pressed on, ”Your Amarwen of Edholland?”

All those years confiding in each other as recruits, Michas knew exactly what Amarwen of Edholland meant to Halvarin. She was all Halvarin could talk about each time he returned to training. Amarwen said this and Amarwen did that. Given that Amarwen had killed over eighty men in one attack, Michas had a hard time believing that Amarwen was a delicate maid with a keen love for Elvish poetry but he could certainly believe she was who he had said she was. It explained everything, every damn thing, that had been going on at Osgiliath of late and he was embarrassed he hadn’t put it together before now.

Halvarin looked up at him, haunted, ”Please, Michas, don’t turn her in.”

Michas shook his head from side to side, ”I thought she died. She'd be the most wanted criminal in Gondor and Harad alike were she not dead.”

“In way, perhaps she did,”
Halvarin sighed, eyes on the floor again, ”Though perhaps that is unfair.”

Michas shrugged, ”You wouldn’t be the first. I…ah…may have told her that you’d been lost in the fire.”

Halvarin’s head bounced up at that and Michas held his hands up, ”I didn’t know! Really, I didn’t…you might have been and you mightn’t have been…and I was worried. I was upset and I didn’t know she was...”

He sighed at his own words, ”I sound just like her. She didn’t know the deployments had been moved up…”

There was silence between the two men for a while before Michas spoke again, ”Look…I hate to agree with her but we are at war and war is terrible. It’s messy. Mistakes are made. We both know that…and it’s not as though she is capering gleefully on their graves, is it? And whilst I share your concerns at the overall strategy…I…Look, I’ll head out tomorrow. All things considered, we can hope that they really have overlooked southern Ithilien because if they have then maybe this madness just might work, right?”

And with that Michas was gone.

Come the following morning, Halvarin found himself pacing the hall outside the door of Amarwen’s quarters. She was nowhere to be found in the library for he’d searched it thoroughly and now here he was. Back and forth he paced before he resolved to knock but there was no answer. He pressed his ear to her door and then, frowning, he drew back and kicked the door open. It gave easily, probably why the last librarian had not been able to find refuge here during the city’s sack.

The bed was unslept in and the room was empty save for a single sheaf of parchment left on the table.

”I’m sorry,” it read, ”For everything.”

And he knew, then, that she had gone. Amarwen had fled Osgiliath and to do what he could not begin to guess.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Oct 14, 2017 4:42 pm

Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. Winter melted into Spring rains and summer descended, hard and heavy. And then the harvest came and froze as winter pursued it and now it was summer again. In all that time, Halvarin had no word from Amarwen. He leaned back in his chair, shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows as another hot blast of air was pushed through his window from the baking stone beyond. The hair at his temples was damp with sweat that beaded his brow. He reached for something that sat on his desk. An unremarkable, entirely ordinary length of simple twine.

Its ends had frayed now, a result of his habit of winding it around his fingers. A strange habit, if one did not know who the twine had belonged to. He’d found it in her rooms, the only trace Amarwen had left of herself. Halvarin had pulled the librarian’s quarters apart looking for some hint of where she might have gone or whether she would be back. All he had to show of it was the twine he wrapped around his fingers and his memories. He’d told her leave and she’d met him at his word. A year and a half ago. As for where she had gone since, well he wagered that he could guess at least in part. Amarwen had been a very busy woman if he was not mistaken.

Gathered in a folio he kept under lock and key in his desk were all the reports he had received that he believed referenced her. Not by name, of course. She was adept at avoiding detection and discovery. The first was dated three months after she had left Osgiliath. In that time, the Guild had apprehended a small band of Harlond locals and convicted them for the fire. Never mind that they’d not had a hand in the conflagration at all. Justice had to be seen to be delivered. The people were watching, nervous, aware that their King had largely forgotten them. They needed to see that order was still holding.

And that was when Amarwen had struck, or so Halvarin believed, for on the eve of their very public executions the five guilty arsonists vanished right from under their jailor’s noses. The youngest was a lad, ten years old. It was a very public embarrassment. The King and his proxy could not be trusted to maintain law and order. But more to the point, it ensured that five innocent people were not executed for Amarwen’s actions. He just knew she’d be involved. He knew it…even if Michas swore he’d heard nothing, not so much as a whisper through the network.

After the disappearance of the Harlond Five, rumours crackled through the populace. The Guild’s response was an inevitable one. Desperate to claw back order, they intensified their focus on it and the blunt instrument of law became a weapon wielded clumsily. Blind eyes were no longer turned. Understanding and discretion melted away. The Guild’s popularity plummeted alarmingly and then Amarwen struck again. She waited until the prisons were fit to bursting with people arrested for petty infractions. After summer passed and the harvest approached it became clear that if they did not release prisoners there would be no harvest gathered. Then, with a delicious sense of timing, she struck.

Reports rolled in across late summer and autumn, sometimes two or three a day, of prisons that had been raided. The only prisoners Amarwen left behind were what were considered hardened criminals. She had, it seemed, no use for murderers and rapists. The petty thieves, the public drunks and those late with their taxes, however, scarpered into freedom…but again Osgiliath remained untouched. Michas assured him that there was no move to replicate what was unfolding across Gondor.

Then, come the winter, reports started to arrive of the populace turning against the Guild. Guildsmen were turned away from inns and taverns. Merchants refused to trade with them. And there were reports that some were attacked by bandits on the road. They were no longer safe in Gondor. The mood had shifted to an angry, disillusioned populace. Thus, the reports of riots in Minas Anor were unsurprising as this was a key Guild location. It took the City Watch four days to break up the siege that had isolated the Guild to the sixth tier of the city. After that, it was now a standing order that any Guild Officer travelling in Gondor is escorted by an armed guard.

Momentum continued to build right up to Spring and then something extraordinary happened. Michas received a strange message that he brought to Halvarin and together the two men discovered a massive cache of weapons. It would have taken years to stockpile them and finally Halvarin realised why Amarwen had wanted Osgiliath so quiet. Osgiliath was to be the staging point for Eldacar’s army. Osgiliath held the king’s armoury.

But since that message, and it was not even in her hand so it may not have come from her at all, any trace of Amarwen had evaporated. Halvarin could find no sense of her in the reports he continued to receive…and it was entirely possible that she lay in a shallow grave somewhere. Possible, but unlikely he thought. He considered the twine wrapped around his finger, sighed, and then reached for the tall pottery jug of water gathering condensation on his desk.

Movement in his doorway flickered at the edges of his vision and Halvarin froze when he realised who stood there.

”Where is she,” Beregon demanded without preamble.

”Between us, you are the more likely to know,” he answered, resuming his reach for the water, ”She quit Osgiliath well over a year ago.”

Beregon’s jaw tensed and then he nodded curtly, ”Michas said as much.”

Halvarin finished pouring out his water but leaned back in his chair without touching it, ”How is it that you do not know where she is?”

The other man scowled at the question, resenting it, but shook his head, ”Haven’t heard from her since last summer.”

“The Harlond Five?”

Beregon nodded once, ”Told her she was a fool for that stunt, for what it was worth. Last I saw, she had that boy travelling with her.”

“But what about the prison breaks and riots? Weren’t they her?“

“If they were she was acting on her own,”
Beregon glanced to the window and door, ”There was something off about her when I saw her last. She was… I think I think she’s gone rogue.”

Despite the heat, Halvarin felt a chill skate through him. If she had turned her back on Castamir and Eldacar both then it was only a matter of time before one or the other caught up with her.

Beregon pushed on, ”I’d hoped to find her tucked away here.”

“And should you find her?”
Halvarin warily asked, his fist now closed about her twine.

”I want to bring her back in. Bring her back to us,” Halvarin’s eyes narrowed at the reply and Beregon added, ”If I wanted her dead, I would have reported my concerns to Eldacar! I’ve kept it quiet. I don’t know how long that can continue and once the King starts asking questions…”

“What do you want me to do?”

“If you see her,”
Halvarin snorted at the unlikelihood of that, ”Or you hear from her, tell her to check in. Just check in. She’ll be safe if she does.”

“What if she wants to retire? Have you considered that?”

“Just…tell her.”

“You realise that I am likely one of the last people she will want to speak to.”

“Then she is a dead woman…and I know what you think about that,”
Beregon replied bluntly, turned on his heel and quit his office.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:25 pm

Osgiliath – Midsummer 1440

How was it, Halvarin wondered, that Beregon did not know where Amarwen was? Would she have split away to act on her own, sundering herself from those she had worked so closely with? And there were the spectre of the less scrupulous radical factions springing up across the realm…was she involved with that? Halvarin wrapped the twine around his fingers, as was his habit now, and looked to the door of his office in the passing hope that he’d see her standing there. But his door was empty and so Halvarin wiped his brow and turned to read the latest reports arrived from the Guild.

There was little in them about the troubles and of that, nothing that seemed to suggest Amarwen was involved. Halvarin frowned at them, aware that he had a great many other things to attend to not least of which was keeping Osgiliath’s role within the rebellion from prying eyes. As badly as he wished he could quit Osgiliath and set out to find Amarwen, he knew he could not and so he pushed everything that she meant to him back once more. Well over a year had passed since that disaster at the Harlond, and the last time he had seen or spoken with her. She would turn up, he told himself, for she was clever and brave, and she had to. The idea of world in which she was not present was a notion he could not abide. He would watch for her always, waiting, hoping for her return.

As the sweat started to bead on his forehead again, Halvarin’s thought moved to how time had burned away. If he thought as a Guildsman, he had languished in his assigned post in Osgiliath overlong, exiled from the sea and all that occurred in the south. Still, Halvarin counted himself fortunate to have such an assignment. He looked again at Michas’ reports on the activity in Ithilien. Considering that the Haradian wars continued as Castamir pushed his fleets ever farther south, the eyes of the usurper had not long rested on the north after the burning of the ships.

Last year, when Michas had taken a small band south through Ithilien, he returned to report that fortresses were indeed being built. They were north near the place where the Emyn Arnen reached southeast toward the Ephel Duath. It was precisely the place for fortifications from both a tactical and strategic sense, closing the gap on the map he had studied a year ago at Minas Anor’s Guildhouse.

Michas naturally had set a watch and the local Rangers were more than willing to report the progress of their construction. There was no love for Castamir in Ithilien and Halvarin was aware a path had been established that allowed free movement past the strongholds unseen. He looked again at the latest reports and still there was no mention of Ithilien. This was encouraging, he thought as he made some notations on his own map and then frowned as the nub of an idea nudged his thoughts. He reached for his flagon of water, but it was empty. As if his mind was read, a light tap on the door was heard and Halvarin looked up.

”Come in Lady Railan,” he said, adding the honourific for the way it made the young woman smile with quiet pride and delight.

She bore a large pitcher of water which she set on Halvarin’s desk before she curtsied to him, ”Water, m’Lord, drawn from the well on the lowest level of this building. It is clean and cool, and quite refreshing.”

He studied her for a moment before nodding, and she filled his flagon and handed it to him.

”Thank you Railan. I take it you are no longer cold?”

“No m’Lord. This summer heat has finally driven the chill from me.”

Halvarin sipped the cool water and closed his eyes as his hands wrapped around the cool flagon.

”M’lord, is all well?”

Halvarin shook his head slightly as the sweat on his brow seemed chill, ”Yes… yes Railan. I was thinking of the day I found you this winter past.”

Railan shivered at the statement and moved around the desk, shy and cautious. She lifted the hem of her apron and dabbed Halvarin’s forehead and neck, relieving it of sweat.

”I live because of you m’Lord, and I will be forever indebted to you. I remember when I awoke by that fire and saw you there. You told me strange stories of Harad, of the heat and the humidity and the tiny flies that bit you,” Railan’s voice was soft and she was, he knew, entirely too close but he had no desire to humiliate her and so Halvarin remained utterly still, ”Is the heat of this day much like that in Harad?”

“No, this is wonderful compared to the forests of rain in Harad. It’s much less steamy. The air does not feel as though it could crush you beneath its weight. This is perhaps more like their northern desert near Khand where I hear is much drier. I have not been there myself, but I have talked to some who have.”

Halvarin bit off, aware that he was rambling, and kept his eyes locked intently on the map before him. Railan stepped away and he dared glance up to find her staring off into the distance, her mind deep in thought. It occurred to him again, as it had the day he had found her, that perhaps there was a great deal more to this seemingly simply maid. One of Castamir’s, he wondered, or one of Eldacar’s or even, he had to allow, one of Amarwen’s now.

One of Railan’s hands rested on his desk and he picked this up in his own, breaking through her ruminations to offer her gentle words, ”I thank you Lady Railan for all you do here. You work tirelessly to keep this library clean and the books and parchments in order.”

Railan blushed at his praise and looked down to where her hand was in his, ”It is my honour to serve m’Lord. The wage you provide is most generous, but unnecessary, for I would serve freely.”

Her eyes, a deep glowing brown akin to her hair, lifted to his as he spoke, “You are the librarian of Osgiliath, the caretaker of all the knowledge that is housed within. The kingdom pays you to do this, not I. And to have found an unknown well in the depths, I see you have been doing much exploring in this place. Again, I thank you.”

Halvarin stood as he spoke, shifting his tone to a more formal one, and released her hand. Railan held his eyes for a moment before she hung her head, cheeks colouring, and inwardly Halvarin cursed himself. He reached out to gently lift her chin so that Railan again met his gaze.

”Know Lady Railan that owe me naught. You need not call me lord, for I am not. I call you lady because you are. You are wise beyond your years, and other than your predecessor, I could not think of anyone else better to entrust this precious library to. I think your predecessor, who first restored this place to order would appreciate all the care you take with the wealth within these walls. It has passed to you, and should you feel the need to go, it will be a better place from all you have done and pass onto to another.”

Railan swallowed at this and looked away for Halvarin’s eyes changed, as ever they did when he spoke of her predecessor. She had found little of this mysterious librarian save from what the collection could tell. The only titles arranged as carefully the seafaring collection were the collections on ship building and Elvish poetry.

”Will you tell me of my predecessor?” she asked and, as per usual whenever the topic had arisen, Halvarin sighed at the question.

The way his eyes softened whenever he spoke of this predecessor told Railan that the previous librarian had been a woman of great importance to Halvarin. A mysterious woman she felt more than a little envious of as she watched Halvarin withdraw into his thoughts.

What could he say about her, he wondered. Tell her about Lilith the smuggler? He could not tell her of Lady Amarwen. No, only Lilith the librarian could he speak of. His thoughts bounced about and Halvarin was relieved when Michas strode into his office.

”Excuse me, Lord Commander,” his use of Halvarin’s formal title undoing everything he had just told Railan, ”I have matters of import to discuss with you.”

Halvarin waved him in and looked back to find Railan had removed herself safely to the other side of his desk again, ”Another day perhaps. Thank you for the cool water m’lady.”

He gave her a nod, hoping his dismissal was gentle enough. Railan curtsied to both men and quit his study without further word or delay, expression unreadable. Michas followed her and closed the door behind her.

Immediately Halvarin asked, ”Have you found more weapons?”

Michas replied as he returned to Halvarin’s desk.

He pulled papers from his vest and laid one upon the desk, ”A crude yet detailed map of the Castamir’s defences in Ithilien. The east track is also masked, which we have used to avoid detection when passing by. Our scouts have been able to push south to the Poros, where the next stronghold is. Between there and the two forts near the road at Emyn Arnen, there is nothing.”

“Has anyone else been sighted using that trail,”
Halvarin inquired and Michas shook his head.

Well, Halvarin thought to himself, if Amarwen was pushing south on her own she’d take care to go unobserved by everyone. Still, it had been worth a try. Halvarin studied the crude map and made some additional notations on his desk map.

Once he was satisfied it was updated, he asked Michas, ”What else do you have?”

“A message came from Vilmaith in Rhovanion. She was the one we extracted not long after you were appointed Lord Commander.”

“I recall. What does she say?”

”We shall return, she has written atop a note signed by… Vinitharya. He says they had been granted leave by the King of Rhovanion to raise an army. With those that escaped Gondor and those willing to join from the Rhovanions, they will work to gain strength. But, the might needed to challenge Castamir is such that Eldacar’s return will be some years away yet.”

Michas handed that parchment to Halvarin who quickly folded it up and put it inside his vest. The two men exchanged glances, both aware that tidings of this delay could not be more widely spread. In fact, it was almost best that these tidings never arrived from the north for the many years they would have to endure yet would be hard, dark years.

The weeks passed under the heavy yoke of summer’s heat. The city well had gone briny but the well under the library building continued to provide good water still. Halvarin ordered it to be used to supply water to the people of the city, and its distribution went smoothly for the most part. If there were any who still feared the Lord Commander served only Castamir, their doubts were dampened by this benevolence and his general handling of the city’s public administration.

Michas was now firmly in charge of the City Watch and the Anorien Guard, whose ranks now clearly supported the return of Eldacar. As for the sprinkling of those within the ranks devoutly loyal to Castamir, a series of unfortunate happenings unfolded. Accidents in training or simple disappearances. In general, the morale of the city started to lift. Normalacy began to return and with that, so did people. Osgiliath’s collection of quiet, empty houses began to diminish.

When the rains came in September, there was for a day dancing in the streets. Halvarin saw the joy on the faces of a people that had suffered, their hope renewed by the cool autumn rains. The day the rain started was the day a messenger came from Minas Anor.

”I seek Halvarin, Lord Commander of Osgiliath, in the name of King Castamir,” he said to the guards at the gate.

The men there moved the broken timbers they used and pointed him towards the still cracked Dome of Stars. Once he had ridden through, the men of the gate considered each other in silence, faces grim.

The messenger rode forth through the streets toward the library. He came to the wide square in front of it and found the way forward blocked with people celebrating the rain. There was laughter and singing; children ran through the legs of adults gaily, but Halvarin marked the man’s horse, clad in Castamir’s uniform, and so he made his way out of the crowd to approach him.

”Do you seek the commander of the City?” Halvarin asked, heart sinking as the messenger nodded.

”I am he, Halvarin, Commander of Osgiliath,” he admitted and with that the messenger dismounted to hand a thick bundle bound and bearing two seals: that of Gondor and that of his Guild.

”May we find somewhere out of this rain, Lord Commander?” the man inquired as Halvarin took all this in and so he nodded and beckoned the man to follow.

They went up the stairs and into the library, pushing just past the doors.

Once within, the messenger said, ”I am to wait until you have read these, and take any replies back with haste.”

“I understand,”
Halvarin murmured as he broke open the binding and read the letter.

With it was another sealed parchment with his orders and he looked up at the messenger, ”I will write up my reply in short order. Until then, you may rest here or if you will, join the revelry without.”

The messenger peered back out into the rain at that and then selected a chair just inside the doors, his preference clear.

Halvarin pushed his hand through his wet hair, rain dripping onto the marble floor he stood on, and made for his office. He had known, of course, that new orders could arrive at any time and so the fact that they were here now was simply the way of things.

Once in his office, he read them again to be sure he understood matters clearly and found that he was to report to the Guildhouse in Pelargir at his earliest convenience. He was also to settle his affairs and name his replacement as commander, suggesting that this was another permanent assignment and he would not soon be returning to Osgiliath. His time as Lord Commander had come to an end.

Halvarin wasted no time penning his reply. He named Michas as his replacement and would set out on the riverboat Fury as soon as the river flows increased from this rain. He would estimate it would three days, but if they could leave sooner, they would. Before the hour was done, the messenger set out back to Minas Tirith, and Halvarin sent word to the captain of the Fury informing him that he would have a passenger aboard. Then Halvarin wasted no time to clear his desk of his belongings. His folio of reports and maps and a scrap of water-stained golden velvet he had managed to acquire were all tucked away but the twine he placed in his pocket. Next, he set to packing a large sack of the things he would not need before he left.

A faint noise in the hall outside his door drew his attention and Halvarin turned about.

"Are you leaving m’Lord?”

Railan stood there, dripping wet and a forlorn look in her eyes.

He nodded, ”I have just received new orders. Michas will be Lord Commander of Osgiliath now.”

She gazed him steadily for a long moment and looked down. He was, then, reminded of the bitter tale of Erendis and Tar-Aldarion.

Railan swallowed thickly before she raised her head again, ”When do you leave m’Lord?”

“Dawn, two days hence. Earlier if the river rises sooner,”
he replied.

Railan looked at him, taking this in, and turned without further word to walk back out into the rain. Halvarin stood at the door and watched her for a moment, but it would be no kindness to comfort her. He was a mariner, and the only other love his heart had room for was given to another, and so Halvarin soon returned to clearing his quarters.

Having set as much in order as he could, eve of his departure fast arrived. Michas had arranged a small gathering to say farewell. It was Halvarin’s hope that Michas would be left to his own devices here in Osgiliath as he had been. Castamir seemed unlikely to shift his focus from the south, and Halvarin and Michas spent the evening in deep talk over their flagons of ale. Osgiliath had secured a brewer again and it would be something Halvarin would miss, he was sure, wherever he was bound to after Pelargir.

Finally, the hour had come and Michas gathered their small band together.

”It has been an honour to serve with you again Halvarin,” he said and men banged their flagons upon the table in agreement, ” Until the next time we meet, may the road be fair and the seas safe.”

It was late indeed before they all left and when they had Halvarin wandered up to the Dome. There the moonlight cast wavering shadows through the cracks. The pause in the rain and the break in the clouds had set a chill over the city. Autumn had arrived, and he was reminded of the night he had spoken with Amarwen here. There had been so much he had wished to say to them, but his sense of duty had restrained him. If he had taken her into his arms then, kissed her and proclaimed his love for her, what might have been different? Had he that moment again, he would not hesitate.

”Oh my lady, where are you now?” he murmured to himself, ”Is it too late for us? Was it always too late? Was I a fool to think there could be a time for us?”

He sighed and with a last look at the dome, turned and went to his quarters for the last time. And there he dreamed of black hair flying in the wind as she smiled back at him through it. They stood under the sun on the rolling deck of a ship she had made, a ship he guided through the oncoming swell. Over the sound of the sea, the wind and the gulls, she laughed with glorious abandon as she stretched out her arms to the wind filled sheets and wide blue sky over head.

Halvarin was a changed man after his time in Osgiliath. He knew this as he sat aboard the Fury bound for Pelargir and his next assignment. The ship stopped in Harlond long enough to pick up two passengers. One was the messenger who had come to Osgiliath only days before. When he saw Halvarin, he came over and handed him a sealed parchment. It was his assignment in Pelargir…. He was promoted to Executive Officer and assigned to a new ship under Captain Silares.
Last edited by elora on Thu Jan 25, 2018 6:41 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sat Oct 21, 2017 7:06 pm

Umbar – Summer 1441

Shore leave, Halvarin thought to himself as he shouldered through the press of Umbar’s crowded streets, was either too long or not long enough. He had pushed up from the inn’s and taverns that lined the docks shortly after dawn, nursing a fine pounding headache thanks to Captain Silare’s fondness for brandy. In doing so, he had forgotten momentarily, the heaving bedlam that was the marketplace he was trying to cross. As such, Halvarin was surrounded by a dizzying blend of shouting voices and conflicting smells. He had enough wit, just, to keep a firm hand on the coin that remained in the pouch at his belt. He also managed to avoid colliding with the women swathed in indigo linen so fine that they seemed to float, only their eyes visible. Would not do to be robbed by a footpad or stand accused of dishonouring one of the locals with an errant elbow or foot.

After what seemed like an hour, Halvarin at last gained the cooler side of the market place. Here, the buildings offered respite from the still rising sun’s dominion. Long shadows reached out and many had taken advantage of this. They sat at their ease, talking quietly amongst themselves and eying the passing crush. None of them cast him a second glance, what with his Guild jacket unbuttoned and swinging wide, for Umbar was one of the few remaining places that a Guildsman could openly go about his business.

Halvarin straightened up, tugged his jacket back into order and wondered which direction his rooms were in next. Curse Silares and his bottomless bottle of brandy, Halvarin thought to himself. Recognising something as familiar, he set out towards this landmark with fresh purpose. Rounding a corner away from the market, he nodded to himself. Yes, definitely headed in the right direction for a clean bed and some blessed water, he thought precisely as a woman wrapped in indigo stumbled out of an alley and into him hard enough to unsteady him on his feet.

He caught her only by accident, throwing his arms out as she toppled backwards into him. It was then he realised that someone was sprinting down the alley, a diminishing dark shadow Halvarin had no chance of apprehending. The woman groaned in soft pain, her hand pressed hard to her torso. Blood bubbled through her fingers, Halvarin saw, his alarm rising.

”You’ve been knifed,” he exclaimed, startled at so brazen an act of violence.

”Fine…I’m fine,” she panted through her knees buckled despite her assurances.

Halvarin frowned at her accent. Though she was dressed as a woman of Harad, her speech was that of a land far to the north.

”You’re most certainly not,” he said firmly, bracing her with his own body as blood trickled over the back of her hand, ”This needs to be seen to. Now.”

“I…have to…go…somewhere,”
she answered, voice growing faint now, and then she was limp and sagging in his arms.

In the year Halvarin had spent serving as Executive Officer of Silares’ crew, he’d spent precious little of that time ashore. He did not know Umbar well and so Halvarin did what seemed most sensible. He gathered the woman up and carried her to the rooms he had taken the day prior. There, he knew she would be safe and if necessary, he could fetch one of the Guild healers.

The woman did not stir on the way back and so she could not answer any of Halvarin’s growing list of questions. Why was a woman of Gondor dressed as a woman of Harad? What had she been doing in that alley? Why had that man stabbed her and who was he? Where might he be? Did she have family here in Umbar? Would they be looking for her? Where might he send word?

An hour later, as Halvarin set to cutting through the linen wrappings, he realised just who was slumped on his bed. He stared down at Amarwen’s face, pale under a sheen of sweat, for a long stricken moment and then pushed on until he found where she had been knifed. It was low, dangerously low to the left side of her abdomen. If the knife had nicked her gut, he knew there was little that could be done. He’d seen men scream and sob in agony from such mortal wounds. As for fetching a Guild healer, that was out of the question too.

Gently, he probed the soft skin to see if the wound could be closed. Amarwen sucked in a sharp, pained breath at this and her eyes popped open to stare at the ceiling. Halvarin froze as her eyes rolled but she seemed to force herself to wakefulness a second time.

”This will have to be stitched,” he said as her gaze came to his at last.

She stared at him for a long time, jaw clenched against the pain and nodded.

”I’m no healer,” he warned, ”Do you know of any?”

A terse shake of her head at that, breathing hard through her nose to manage the pain. Her pupils were huge and her eyes were glassy. They rolled again but she forced herself back to say just one word to him.

”Surprise,” she said faintly, offered him an askew grin, and slumped back.

And that was all she said for a long while indeed. Halvarin stared at her, shook his head and set to work. As he did so, he reflected on the fact that his shore leave which had seemed too long was now far too short. What was she doing in Umbar? How had she even gotten here? How was she going to get out again? Chest rising and falling evenly, she was unable to answer his growing list of questions and so Halvarin lifted over her the thin, clean sheets he had hoped to find refuge in over and settled back into his chair to brood.

It had been morning, Amarwen thought to herself, only a few minutes ago. Hadn’t it? She stared up at the shafts of sunlight that shot through the air above. They had a ruddy, burnished quality that spoke of late afternoon. She frowned at this and then turned her head towards the sound of soft, rhythmic breathing in the corner of this unfamiliar room.

Halvarin leaned against the wall, legs stretched out and her blood dried over the front of his shirt. Of all people, she thought to herself as she took him in. His skin was tanned in a way that would never occur at Osgiliath. He had been a-sea, she concluded, likely serving in Castamir’s relentless push to expand his dominion south.

He shifted in his sleep and murmured something she did not catch as her eyes returned to him. He looked so…peaceful. A strand of dark hair he’d not had time to trim since coming ashore fell over his face. The urge to smooth it back was palpable but…but what good would that do, she thought to herself with a sigh as she closed her eyes.

He’d bandaged her from hip to ribs and dressed her in what appeared to be a man’s long tunic. Hopefully, not his only clean tunic, she thought as she stiffly rolled to her side and caught her breath. A surge of sharp pain washed through her and she panted her way through it. Once it passed, Amarwen set to rolling herself out of bed as quietly as she could.

Of course, tightly bandaged as she was, her efforts to do so quietly were not quiet at all. Instead of rolling off the bed and onto her feet, Amarwen instead rolled off the bed and onto the floor. Halvarin started awake as she thudded to the floorboards, chair creaking as he gained his feet. She groaned into the floor in a combination of pain and injured pride.

”Leaving so soon,” Halvarin chided as he crouched beside her, ”And without even saying goodbye.”

For all of that, Amarwen felt his hands close around her. Halvarin lifted her back into bed carefully, setting her there so she could sit up and tucking in the covers around her.

”You look better, marginally, and so we,” he declared as he tucked in the covers around her, ”Are going to have a little chat, my Lady.”

Amarwen swallowed at his tone, and tried to slide back into the bed she’d only just attempted to escape, ”I…I’m tired. I need to rest.”

Halvarin fixed her with a steady gaze, the grey blue seas of his eyes not for a moment affected, and then sat on the edge of the bed, ”Well then, you will answer my questions directly which will make for a refreshing change, don’t you think?”

Again Amarwen swallowed as she shook her head from side to side and he reached forward to tuck a strand of her black hair behind an ear.

”Let’s start with something simple,” he said, tone conversational, ”Why were you stabbed?”

Simple he said, Amarwen thought to herself as he watched her steadily. No games.

”Negotiations broke down. He did not appreciate the terms I offered,” she answered.

Halvarin cocked a brow at that, not even bothering to ask the next question.

Amarwen answered it anyway, ”He’ll not be back to finish what he started. Assassins never kill anyone unless there’s profit to be had and he clearly did want my coin.”

Halvarin said sharply.

”If I could do it without them, I would,” she answered, ”I’ve tried that and I’ve failed and so here we are. Negotiations, clearly, must continue.”

“You’re going to negotiate further with the man that knifed you?!”

“Of course not,”
she chided, shaking her head at him, ”There’s at least three more Houses to try. Possibly five, but I can’t be certain about the last two.”

Amarwen laced her fingers together in her lap and watched Halvarin rub at his face, ”You look tired.“

“And you look stabbed,”
he snapped from behind his hands, “I’ve a good mind, my Lady, to return you to Dol Amroth.”

“And just how would you accomplish that?”

“I have a very spacious trunk in my cabin that would serve.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

Halvarin lowered his hands to study her closely, ”Wouldn’t I?”

He meant it, she saw, and fell silent. They eyed each other for a long moment before Halvarin drew breath and shook himself from his thoughts.

”And so this is where you’ve been all this time,” he said, gesturing at the room around them, ”Beregon sought me out almost a year now, looking for you. Said you’d gone rogue. I didn’t want to believe him, of course, because I didn’t want to think you could be so…reckless.”

Amarwen echoed, stung, ”I was doing well enough before you showed up.”

”There are men here, Amarwen, who will not hesitate to turn you in,”
he said in a low, pointed voice, ”My father is here!”

“I know,”
she replied, ”I’ve seen him.”

At this Halvarin stilled for he had not yet called upon his father. Truth be told, he’d been putting that off, and the cool note to Amarwen’s voice sent a shiver down his spine.

”The assassains,” he said quietly, ”Are they…are they for my father?”

Amarwen considered him for a moment and then averted her eyes, her voice soft and sad when she answered, ”You really do think me a monster. No wonder, then, that you asked me to leave.”

“My office, Amarwen, not the city at large!”
Halvarin protested, leaning forward to place a hand over her own, ”And I longed for your return.”

Her eyes lifted to his when he ran his knuckles gently down her cheek, ”Can we start again?”

She nodded and he breathed out a sigh that could be weariness or relief, before Halvarin quietly asked, ”Why are you in Umbar?”

Amarwen stared down at where his hand sat still over her own.

”If we continue to bathe our hands in the blood of our own, what will be left of us? she answered solemnly, ”The usurper must die. He will not surrender the throne whilst he draws breath.”

“But even if you succeed-“

“I will succeed,”
Amarwen returned quietly and Halvarin withdrew his hand from hers, troubled as he looked away to gather his thoughts.

”Have you considered the aftermath of the Harlond,” he asked as he stared at the door.

Amarwen flinched, as if struck, and she lowered her eyes to her lap again.

”Do not think I have forgotten,” her voice was strained, ”I see them. I hear their screams still.”

Halvarin sighed, ”I know you did not mean for so many to perish.”

“They’re dead all the same,”
Amarwen replied.

”Is that what this is? Atonement of sorts?”

At his stricken question, her eyes swung back to find Halvarin gazing at her. There was so much to read in his eyes. Anguish. Dismay. Fear.

“You said there was a better way to fight this war. That the way in which we waged it was a choice.”

Halvarin leaned forward wrap both his hands over hers, ”The Guild will raise another in his stead. They will fall upon those left behind, like hammer to anvil. If you do this thing, it will be our undoing.”

Amarwen studied him for a long moment. The mark, her mother had told her, of a wise ruler was a one who could listen to counsel even if it were unpalatable. Her father put in plainer terms, only a fool ignores the wisdom of others. But if not this, then what was she to do? Wait for yet another army to be raised? That would take years, even if Eldacar had begun already and last she had heard he had been stalled. By the time his army reached them, if indeed one ever did, Gondor would be broken beyond repair.

She had laboured for four years and yet she was no closer than the day she rode through the gates of Minas Anor. She could still smell the goats in the back of the cart, picked up on the way from Dol Amroth, just as she could hear the crows picking at the two gibbets suspended high on the walls. Eldacar’s soiled banned suspended from the base of one and Edholland’s from the base of the other. A shudder skated down her spine and Amarwen drew a deep, shaking breath as a familiar aching chill set in despite the heat of a summer’s night in Umbar. At that, Halvarin’s fingers tightened around her own.

”Ami, do not do this. I beg of you,” he said solemnly and her eyes dropped to his hands wrapped around her own.

”What must I do, then?” her voice urgent, ”How long must my people wait?”

Halvarin raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed her knuckles, ”I do not know, for I too have been far from Gondor this year gone. But what I can tell you is that we will prevail. These dark times will pass.”

“How is it that you are so certain?”
she asked, puzzled as Halvarin moved his hand to cup her cheek gently.

”You have been so long, adrift at sea,” he murmured, ”Let me bring you to shore again.”

And then slowly, gently, he leaned forward to press his lips to her own.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 3:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Thu Nov 02, 2017 1:02 am

1441 Third Age – Summer, Umbar

This very moment was one Halvarin had pondered for so long over the years. He had come to wonder if ever it would arrive. Time and again it had played through his mind’s eye. What he might do or say. How she might respond. Never had he considered that it would unfold during the midst of a rampaging hangover during shore leave in Umbar whilst Amarwen was seriously injured. Yet, here they were.

He gazed at her intently as his finger began to trace the curve of her face before he returned his lips to hers, and this embrace went deeper than the one before it. Somehow, despite all that had befallen between them, they were finding their way towards each other still. Certainly, from the way Amarwen responded, he was confident that she was feeling something for him too. Her breathing grew faster… or could that be because she was in pain? As he wondered, Halvarin felt her slip away and he leaned back to watch her.

Amarwen’s eyes remained closed and when he stroked her thick, black hair she rolled onto her right side and settled. Asleep, he marvelled, and he gently shifted the sheet to inspect her bandages. All was securely in place and she had not bled through it. Given the amount of blood she had already lost, he was relieved to find the bleeding had at last stopped.

Halvarin’s eyes wandered over the gentle slope of her belly and his hands rose with them pausing at the base of her ribs. He studied the rise and fall of her breathing and somehow Amarwen must have sensed his scrutiny, for she murmured something so softly he did not catch it. Halvarin returned the sheet to cover her and then he lay down beside her. He formed himself to her back and carefully draped his arm over her flank.

Then he whispered an admission, ”I have longed for this moment for many years now.”

Beyond that, Halvarin was unsure what more he might say and in any case Amarwen likely didn’t hear him anyway. He pulled close, certain to do nothing that might cause her discomfort and then buried his face in the thick drifts of her hair at the nape of her neck. Halvarin drew her scent into him and it was not long before he too was soundly asleep. When he woke next, Amarwen still slept.

Her breathing was strong, deep and calm. She was resting well, even if upon further inspection he could see that at some point during the night the bleeding had resumed. Still, it was not as bad as he feared it might have been and she needed to rest if she was to heal. Halvarin resolved to let her sleep, and carefully eased himself up and off the bed.

What now, he wondered as he considered that his shore leave would conclude tomorrow. Halvarin knew he could not leave Amarwen. Not here. Not now. Not like this. They would have need of food soon, but what if she left whilst he was gone? He sat there and watched her sleep for a while longer, pondering his options before setting out on a foray back to the markets he had crossed yesterday morning in a haze.

The markets proved fruitful with a clearer head as he soon returned with oranges, some bread and cheese. He wasn’t sure what the smoked meat was, but he was given a sample and deemed it safe. He also was not too sure about the salve he’d purchased from a bronze-skinned merchant hailing from Khand. If Haradians were mysterious, the people of Khand were even more so. Still, the merchant had seemed confident when he questioned her that the salve would assist in fending off infection. Between that and a supply of proper bandages, Halvarin was hopeful that Amarwen might recover swiftly… provided she was where he had left her.

Halvarin returned as swiftly as he could and was relieved to find that Amarwen still slept. It seemed likely to him that she had not slept properly for some time. How could she, alone in a place such as this? He moved as quietly as he could to avoid disturbing her as he prepared the meal. As he broke up the fresh bread, though, Halvarin heard something that made him look towards to bed and sure enough Amarwen was stirring. Probably awakened by the scent of food. She struggled to sit, as determinedly independent as ever he had known her to be. Still, she did not push him away when he went to ease her up and soon she was seated on the bedside.

Black hair tumbled around her face and she pushed it away, blinking drowsily, ”How long was I asleep?”

Her sleepiness vanished like smoke on the wind when she glanced down at her side and grimaced.

”It is the next morning,” Halvarin answered,”You fell asleep here yesterday afternoon. And no, you are not going anywhere now.”

He could see that she was bleeding now through the bandage and now the sheet she had tucked around her for propriety. Her attention swung up at his stern tone, grey eyes wide but he would brook no argument on this. Not when she was in this state.

”I will need to tend that. But, perhaps you might wish to eat something before I irritate it.”

Her expression of protest faded swiftly as she peered past Halvarin to the food on the table. Amarwen gave him a small smile as she nodded and Halvarin brought the food to where she was perched on the side of the bed. That she ate as if ravenous despite her current state only confirmed just how dire her plight had been in Umbar. Little sleep, inadequate food…he suspected she had poor shelter indeed and lived a precarious life in this city. That she had somehow managed to navigate all the challenges entailed in that for a year now was remarkable indeed.

Halvarin kept his thoughts to himself as she sated her hunger and it was not long before he could see that a full belly had relaxed Amarwen. It was time to tend that wound.

”Now, if you will, I need to take a look at that wound now,” he said and Amarwen eyed him sidelong as he stood to return what was left of lunch to the table.

When Halvarin turned around to the bed again, the sheet had dropped and she was wearing little more than her hair and a mischievous smile that grew when she noted his evident and abundant distraction. He raked his fingers through his own hair in a bid to reassert control over his thoughts. Then he drew a deep breath, stepped forward to kneel before her.

She watched him steadily, enjoying the effects of her game, as he set to removing the old bandage. Halvarin refused to look up into her face, or anywhere else but the bandages, but still the tension mounted.

”Were you not wounded so,” he said in a low voice, ”I would not hesitate.”

Amarwen maintained her silence and as Halvarin did not dare meet her eyes he could only sense her response. It seemed to him that her smile grew and this told much indeed. He paused, almost tempted to pull her lips to his again, but he could not fail in caring for her and so he steeled himself and continued on. Once the bandage was removed, he bathed the wound with cool, clean water. Then came the salve, at which Amarwen flinched and once that was done he bandaged her properly this time.

”You are healing well,” he told her, ”But you must not strain yourself. It could inflame very easily yet.”

“Yes Captain,”
Amarwen quipped, even offering a playful salute when he looked up briefly at her tone.

She thought she was funny, evidently, given the way in which amusement shimmered in her eyes but Halvarin was not moved. This was no laughing matter and so, with a shake of his head, he finished bandaging and rose to his feet.

”As pleasing you are presently,” he said next as he looked about, ”You will need something to wear. Your clothes are too bloody and conspicuous. But I have a threadbare tunic and breeches with only a few holes that you may have.”

Halvarin set about digging them out of his pack, needing to do something to distract himself from the fact that Amarwen sat before him, wearing only her freshly applied bandage. He set the clothing over a chair and was unable to stop himself from returning his eyes to her. She lifted her chin and met his gaze squarely. A challenge and an invitation and a dare. If they weren’t in Umbar right at this moment, Halvarin knew she’d be irresistible. He’d not be able to hold himself back and just why he had done so Osgiliath he still did not understand.

He shook his head in regret and forced himself to start gathering his belongings. Tomorrow he was due to report aboard and Halvarin had yet to determine what he should do. He wasn’t going to leave Amarwen again. He loved her. He knew that now even if he’d not yet found a way to tell her. As for Amarwen, she carefully stood and began to pull on the breeches he had set out. Her movements were tentative and so she was heeding his warning to avoid straining herself. Independent though she was, she had never been so overly proud as to ignore sound advice.

His breeches fit her well, he found, and Halvarin knew he would never look quite as good in them as she did. As for his tunic, it draped nicely over her but he knew she would need more than that to cover her. He drew his knife and cut off the lower part of the tunic she had been wearing the day before. He cut away the lower section that was torn and stained with blood. It would keep her head and shoulders covered, concealing her from obvious sight. Now all he needed was way for them to get out of Umbar unnoticed but Halvarin was not given much time to think about it.

An unusual sound outside his door had him reaching for his knife again. Both he and Amarwen flinched when the door suddenly splintered and purely on instinct Halvarin threw his knife. It caught a man rushing through the ruined door in the neck and he fell back, gurgling into another at his back. Halvarin leapt towards them both as another knife flew past him to catch the second man in the flank. Amarwen had, evidently, located where he had set the knives he’d found on her yesterday and given the angle she was at behind him, it was a sound throw indeed.

The second man doubled over in time for Halvarin to kick him in the face. He retrieved his knife from the gurgling man’s neck, giving his attire a good look. Then he stood and turned to find Amarwen was already advancing towards the door.

”There may be more!”Halvarin cried as he pushed himself in front of her.

He heard her puff out an irritated sigh that he ignored as he peered out into the hall. There was no one coming up the stairs he found and as there was no longer a door to shut, Amarwen had already worked out what Halvarin was going to say. She lifted a brow at him, he nodded, and they were on their way out of there without a further word being said.

Moving as fast as stealth and care permitted, Halvarin hoped that his bandaging would hold up for if her wound re-opened, they would be lost. They walked steadily through the markets taking a twisted route through lanes and alleys, using the crowds of people as cover. Amarwen’s hand on his arm grew tighter and tighter but she gave no other sign of her increasing pain and fatigue. Meanwhile, Halvarin knew there was only one way out of Umbar but he had no idea how he would get her aboard any ship at anchor here.

In time, he knew they needed to stop and rest. Amarwen dropped her hold on his arm and leaned against the wall, breathing rapidly in a bid to master her pain.

”Those men, I thought they were associates of yours trying to finish the job,” he said and Amarwen was too busy to do more than stare with some irritation down at her boots as Halvarin continued, ”But they had a mariners guild pin on their lapels. It is possible that you have been identified and if you have…we are in deep trouble if the Guild think you are alive and in Umbar.”

He looked at Amarwen deep in the eyes and could see she was in sharp pain. Her jaw was set against it and colour had washed out of her face. Halvarin’s thoughts turned furiously as he sought a solution. They could not remain in Umbar. Already they had remained here, resting in this place for too long. And in testament to that, a man walked around the corner and almost right into them.

He looked at Halvarin and said, ”You are a hard man to find my friend.”

Halvarin answered, startled. If Silares was looking for him, if the Guild had identified Amarwen…

Silares looked next to Amarwen as Halvarin set his hand on his knife. It would be a cruel task to kill his captain, a good man and indeed a friend.

”It is good to see you alive, my Lady,” Silares next offered and Halvarin’s hand froze.

He knew who she was? Amarwen’s eyes widened and she was gathering herself to flee. In her present state, it would likely be the last thing she did.

”You know?” Halvarin asked, voice strained.

“I suspected,” Silares answered, ”I never believed the daughter of the Lord of Edholland would founder at sea. I knew your father, m’Lady.”

Amarwen blinked as Silares continued, ”Not well, granted, but well enough to know how proud he was of his mariner daughter. We served together for a time, years ago.”

All Amarwen could do was stare at him, startled, and then Halvarin watched her eyes shift to him. She was deeply unsettled but Silares was not finished.

”Many within the Guild were embittered by your father’s fate. He was a good man. A brilliant shipwright and his only failing, if that, was to adhere to the man he had sworn his fealty to. And when I heard from Halvarin of your mother’s fate.”

Amarwen’s gaze snapped back to Silares now. Was she angry with Silares or was she sharing in the bitterness evident in his captain’s statement? Halvarin could not tell.

”I say to you now, m’Lady, that you know my allegiance. Our next port of call is, of all places, Edhellond. We leave with the morning tide on the morrow. Will you come?”

Halvarin considered Silares warily. This could very well be a trap. Silares could easily turn Amarwen over the Guild or, better yet, quietly with her once out at sea. Silares was a good man, but he had always seemed aligned to others of the Guild that supported Castamir. He wasn’t sure about what his gut was telling him and he looked to Amarwen. She had not fled yet but still, she seemed reluctant.

”I think this may well be our only way out of here,” Halvarin said quietly.

It was a gamble, he knew, to trust Silares…and if his captain even though Amarwen had something to do with the Harlond fires… Halvarin swallowed in a dry throat. He either knifed Silares here and now and they tried to find their way out of Umbar by other means, or they trusted Silares. He looked at Amarwen, trying to gauge her thoughts on this. If Silares was sincere, they could get out of Umbar easily. If not they were both as good as dead.

Silares said impatiently, ”There is no time to delay. You need to decide now. If you choose against it, whilst I wish you both well I will be forced to list Halvarin as absent without leave. Once the ship departs, he will become a deserter. But if you come with me, we can get you safely to Edhellond and no one will be any the wiser.”

Silares peered about, nervous at how long this had taken, ”What does my Executive Officer and the Lady of Edhellond say?”
Last edited by elora on Thu Feb 22, 2018 3:00 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Fri Nov 03, 2017 2:12 am

If this was a trap, then they were already dead. Amarwen knew this as cold sweat trickled over the clammy skin of her spine. Before she could say anything, though, other matters intruded. A fat thick drop of blood splattered onto the cobble stones they stood on. Both Halvarin and Silares glanced down for the first time, their widened eyes confirming it was as bad as it felt.

”The Lady is injured,” Halvarin said, sliding a hand under her elbow to steady her for good measure.

Silares’ eyes narrowed as he lifted them again to Halvarin, ”Badly?”

Halvarin replied, terse with concern, at which his captain gaped for a moment, ”And so we accept your generous offer.”

Silares echoed looking hard at her now.

”Just the once,” Amarwen offered as another thick spatter found the cobblestones, ”And they missed all the important parts. More of a glancing blow, really.”

Silares slid his hand under her other elbow without delay and suspended between both men, she hobbled forward between them without anything further being said. The matter was decided.

Encumbered as they were, the going was slow and by the time they were aboard, Amarwen close to losing consciousness. Lost in a thick fog, she distantly realised she was below decks and staring up at the ceiling whilst Silares issued a terse order for someone to fetch the ship’s healer. Soon enough a man came barrelling in, wiping his hands on a cloth even as he quickly scanned her.

”What’s this?”

“Knifed, low left belly,”
Halvarin reported at his shoulder, ”I did what I could to stitch it yesterday but they may have since burst.”

“You should have called me yesterday,”
the healer said brusquely, flicking up the hem of her tunic to reveal the blood soaked bandages, ”Any fever or swelling?”

Halvarin answered and after that Amarwen had no idea who said what next for her eyes rolled back in her head.

When they opened again, she was exactly where she had last known herself to be. Flat on her back staring up at someone else’s ceiling. Again. This was getting to be a habit. A habit she needed to change, Amarwen thought, just as Halvarin’s face slid into view. Then again, she amended, perhaps she shouldn’t be too hasty. She found herself admiring his features, from windswept eyes to the firm line of his jaw and those lips. Yes, she could put up with this a little longer.

”A glancing blow?” Halvarin inquired with a shake of his head, ”How are you feeling?”

“Never better.”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“Only you seem to think so,”
Amarwen replied and Halvarin hoisted a brow at her.

”Only I know you as I do,” he returned and pressed the back of his hand to her cheek to assure himself that she was not fevered.

Amarwen, for her part, did not argue for what Halvarin had said was quite true. Aside from the Prince of Dol Amroth, a long standing family friend she considered more an uncle, Halvarin was the only one left who knew her for her. For the person she was before this dreadful war. For the person she may yet be once it had ended. He scanned her face intently and then shifted his hand to stroke hair back from her face.

”Rest, Ami. Gather your strength. Tomorrow we will be underway.”

“You trust him then?”

“You do not?”
Halvarin asked, his fingers trailing along her jaw in a distracting manner that set butterflies alight deep within.

”I trust you,” she answered, ”I always have.”

Halvarin’s smile was so bright that it stole her breath away.

”Then sleep, Ami. No harm will come to you here,” he said, lowering his mouth to hers.

Amarwen unfolded herself in his embrace in a way that was new to them both.

His lips brushed her ears gently, ”Sleep, my love. Sleep.”

Such was the power of his call that she felt herself sliding once more, her fingers tightening where they had entwined with Halvarin’s. My love…he had called her…

When Amarwen woke for the third time that day, it was evening. The lanterns were lit in the cabin, swaying with the motion of the ship. She heard the water sucking and slapping at the other side of the hull. Her senses felt sharper and clearer. Cleaner. Her thoughts were focussed again. She felt…stronger, despite the precarious nature of her position. For all she knew, the Guild were massing on the dock ready to swoop. Or he’d just dispose of her body once at sea.

If there was something to be pleased about, it was that she had little of any use to offer up upon interrogation. Nearly two years out of Eldacar’s formal ranks, Amarwen had no idea who was where or what was planned. For once, she was not an interrogation risk.

”You’re smiling,” Halvarin said from the cabin door as he slipped through.

”I don’t know anything,” Amarwen replied, turning her head to watch him approach, ”Who does this cabin belong to?”

“It is mine,”
Halvarin answered, surprising her, ”And far as the crew is concerned, you are Silares’ niece taken unwell. And so, I am sleeping out there with the rest of them.”

“Come the morrow, I’ll be on my feet again.”

”You’re no more a healer than I,”
Halvarin continued, ”Would you like to know what someone who knows what they’re talking about has to say?”

Amarwen surveyed Halvarin’s expression and came to a swift conclusion ”Not particularly.”

“You’re to remain abed for at least a week. Walking short circuits once a day, and never unaccompanied.”

“That’s not nearly as dire as you would have me believe.”

he warned and she sighed.

”I will abide, of course, by such counsel…provided I am able to choose my company,” she answered and smiled up at him in the way she knew would win a smile in return.

Amarwen watched the corner of his mouth twitch and then Halvarin grinned despite himself. In that moment, they were their old selves. He the serious one and her always looking for something to get them laughing over.

Halvarin sat on the edge of the bed, his bed, and wound his fingers through hers, ”After dinner, I will be happy to walk the deck under the stars with you. If you’ve the stomach for it.”

“The rations cannot be that bad. We’re at port,”
she countered and his smile shifted.

”Did I forget to mention Silares will be joining us for dinner? He is quite eager to speak with you further.”

she protested and Halvarin nodded.

This is how Amarwen found herself tucked in at a table facing the incisive questions of a senior Guild officer later that evening. As she expected, there were few stones Silares left unturned. From how she effected her flight from Edholland to her presence in Umbar. Later still, Amarwen found herself above decks under the spread of the night sky. The lights of the port city winked and flickered across the waters and the heat of the day had yet to dissipate. Still, Halvarin’s warmth at her shoulder was welcome.

He allowed her silence as they slowly walked the perimeter of the boat. First to the prow, pointed to the sea in readiness for the morning’s tide and then along the starboard rails to the stern. Here it was quieter and Amarwen leaned against the rail to study the spread of the port on either side.

”All these years,” Halvarin observed quietly, ”And not once have we shared the same deck.”

Amarwen nodded, looking aside to where Halvarin had come to rest. There was a mild evening breeze tossing his hair about and she reached out to smooth a strand of it away from his face. He turned his head to her at this, expression lost in the shadow of the night.

”Shall I count the stars for you,” he asked and she smiled at that memory.

Even so, Amarwen shook her head, ”There are other ways we might pass the restless hours.”

His arm slipped carefully around her lower back to rest his hand on her right hip, ”Impropriety with the captain’s niece? An officer of my rank has far more sense than that.”

“His niece,”
Amarwen sighed as she leaned her head against Halvarin’s shoulder, ”How long is it to Edholland? A month?”

“If the winds and currents are mostly favourable,”
he replied, resting his cheek atop her head, ”And we escape the storms. But look at it this way, ample time to recover.”

She closed her eyes and allowed herself to sink against Halvarin. His arm nestled into the small of her back, his hand cupping the curve of her hip. If she turned her head just slightly her lips would brush the sensitive skin of his throat. So close, so near, and was this not how it always was for them? These feelings had stirred years ago, before this strife, but ever circumstances seemed to interfere. His long absences as he studied. The relentless eye of her mother, sternly watching. Always calling her back each time they managed to find a way slip out of the hall and into the waiting night.

”Mother told me that there would be three mistresses in your life: the sea, the Guild and your wife,” Amarwen said softly, ”In that order. She had a different match in mind for me.”


“I never troubled myself to find out. I knew my own mind and heart,”
she said, ”No matter who he might be, he could never be you.”

Halvarin swallowed at that, unable to find words but his arm around her tightened, turning them towards each other. Her hands curved up over his back, lifting past his shoulder blades towards the powerful spread of his shoulders.

”Impropriety,” Amarwen warned as he tipped his face towards hers.

”Be damned,” Halvarin whispered in voice hoarse but succinct a mere moment before his lips met with hers.

Everything beyond the fire of his embrace dropped away. The city and its twinkling lights. The lapping waters of the port. The sway and creak of the ship. Even the pain of her injury, reduced to a dull but regular throb faded. In time, her senses returned and Amarwen found herself standing with her arms around Halvarin and his around her. Their brows rested against each other and they were both breathing rapidly.

”What part of don’t strain yourself was unclear,” asked a voice from the shadows, ”I thought I made myself clear. Did I not make myself clear? And the Captain’s niece! Scandalous!”

And so began their voyage. They left on with the first tide of the morning, well before dawn, and struck out towards the western horizon. From there they would swing north and east again, aiming for the coastal notch that was Edholland. Once the ship was underway, Halvarin’s time was busy. As Executive Officer, he had a ship bearing some two hundred souls to keep afloat. Amarwen, meanwhile, rarely found herself alone. If the ship’s ascerbic healer was not watching her, SIlares or his crew was. Still, she had never before had the chance to observe Halvarin ply his craft as a Navigator and officer and so she took any opportunity she could to tuck herself out of the crew’s way and watch.

When she was not biding her time or soaking in Halvarin at work, Amarwen set herself to charming the ship’s healer. From the outset he proved prickly and distant, refusing to let himself be drawn. But of all the crew, he was the highest risk. She knew he did not believe her to be Silares’ niece and she could not fault him for that given she’d shown up in Umbar, stabbed. The man gave away no sign that he knew who she was, but he knew who she wasn’t. Last thing she needed was for him to start speculating to the others about who she might be. Or why she was there.

Fortunately, charm was one skill that Amarwen was not short on. Raised and educated in a noble household, and without recourse to physical strength, charm was Amarwen’s principal weapon. She had charmed her way into and out of any number of situations but the ship’s healer proved difficult. Two weeks in, though, one of his crew mates divulged his weakness.

”Pipeweed,” the old sailor said, ”More valuable than gold right now and he can’t get enough of it.”

Amarwen bestowed one of her best smiles upon the man and then waggled her fingers at him, ”Well, that being the case, I’d like our wager settled in pipeweed.”

Watching all this from the helm atop the forecastle, Silares shook his head and considered his Executive Officer standing beside him.

”If they realise she lives, they will come for her as they did the others. She is too potent a symbol. You father could not shield you even if he wished to.”

“I know,”
Halvarin sighed, sweeping his hair out of his face.

”You have a fine career ahead of you, Halvarin.”

“I cannot leave her. I will not,”
Halvarin answered firmly.

Silares nodded to himself, unsurprised, ”Where will you go?”

“That depends, I suspect, on what we find once we make port.”

Silares grunted at this and then rose onto his toes, ”No gambling on this ship!”

“We’re not,”
Amarwen called back, turning about to look up at them with her hair whipping around on the breeze.

She smiled sweetly, ”I would never do that, Uncle.”

Silares pressed out a sigh and returned his attention to the horizon ahead. They would reach Edholland in fifteen more days.
Last edited by elora on Mon Nov 06, 2017 4:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Sun Nov 05, 2017 2:41 pm

Out at Sea – 1441

Favourable winds and calm seas held for another five days and during this time Halvarin and Amarwen stood at the bow of the ship each night to watch the stars. There they spoke quietly with each other about the day, the sea, the night or the day ahead. They smiled at shared thoughts and from time to time their hands would brush. Momentary, incidental contact but it was all they could risk. Even in the small hours of the night there would be someone watching. Such was life aboard a ship such as this one. Vast as it was, there was no privacy.

Still, Halvarin was grateful for the time he had with Amarwen for it seemed to him that they fell swiftly back into their old easy way with the other. They had long been friends, perhaps even the closest of friends and to rediscover that was a joy in and of itself. For all of that, Halvarin found himself increasingly preoccupied with what might have been had civil war not erupted. Would they have ever come together had it not happened? It seemed unlikely, given what Amarwen had disclosed of her mother’s thoughts on the matter. Or perhaps it would not have mattered for Amarwen had always been inclined to follow her own path. In any case, it was a moot point. Not in the face of what had happened…what they were returning to face at Edhellond.

On the fifth night, a stiff westerly suddenly came on. With it the high clouds quickly covered the stars. The clouds grew low and the rains fell hard through the early morning. As they were then making their way north toward Edhellond, they were buffeted by hard waves portside. The heaving of the ship made it hard to stand, but the veteran seamen took it all in stride. Halvarin worried more for Amarwen, injured as she was and constrained below deck where the hurling of the ship would be that much more worse. Better that than being swept away.

”Easy there lass,” the healer said as Amarwen was thrown against the doorway beam.

She held to it fast, waiting for the pitch of the ship to settle momentarily. Those moments came faster and faster and were shorter and shorter. It meant the storm was getting worse, not better. Still, she was the Lady of Edhellond, not that the ship’s healer could know that. No, she was the niece of Captain Silares and the niece of Captain Silares could handle herself in a storm.

”I will be fine,” Amarwen insisted as she clung to the door frame.

”You are healing well but that will be undone if you re-open that wound.”

“Perhaps if I smoke some of that pipeweed I won for you, I’d be steadier on my feet,”
Amarwen quipped back.

”Maybe,” he allowed, eying her carefully and noting the greenish hue he saw, ”Then again, maybe not.”

Below deck, the heaving of the ship was that much more difficult to contend with. The air was dank and soupy, and objects rattled about, inclined to slam into you at the worst possible moment. Where she wanted to be was on deck, watching waves break over the ship’s bow instead of below deck with little to centre her eye on. No horizon at all. The healer’s smirk continued and Amarwen turned away just as the first galling surge hit her.

She doubled over a chair just as her stomach emptied itself into, thankfully, a heavy pitcher that had once held water and not all over the floor. Fortunately, there was little to be had in her stomach and she slid off the chair with a miserable groan. The healer, observing all of this, said nothing at all as he handed her one of his cloths. She had no idea where he kept them all, but the man was never without them. Amarwen wiped her mouth and then accepted his next gift. As she washed out her mouth, the healer finally lit his pipe and took a long draw on it.

Then, remarkably, the man passed it to her. Amarwen stared at it for a moment and looked back to the healer. He shrugged and so she looked back at the pipe. She’d seen it done many a time, of course, though never by herself. Ladies did not smoke pipes her mother had told her when she asked about it once as a child. Aware that the healer was watching and waiting. Amarwen put the pipe to her lips and took an experimental draw. Her first impulse was to cough but this, she guessed, was not the point and so she repressed that response and held the smoke in.

”Well done lass,” the healer said encouragingly, ”Now hand it back.”

He quickly reclaimed the pipe back and drew in the idle smoke that was floating out of the bowl. Pipeweed was too expensive to let idle smoke go to waste. Oddly, it did seem to settle her stomach which was empty now in any case. Amarwen said nothing further and the healer was soon called away so that she was left there to cling to whatever was sturdy enough to remain in one fixed place.

For three days they had to steer west-northwest to meet the waves. Halvarin was on nearly constant duty, taking time to eat some dry bread and cheese. He had little rest, and it was only when the helmsman sent word that they needed to steer north did he break his vigil. All this time he had not been able to see Amarwen, nor could she come up to the bridge, but that the passing of the storm did not mean that his work was done. Now he had to keep their battered ship safe and so he had little time for anything else.

The helmsman was only slowly able to turn north. The condition of the sails was poor, and they couldn’t risk raising them in the gale. Silares was silent as he pondered their fate. The navigator, helmsman, and his second in command said if they went much farther, they would be in danger of running into the shoals that reached out from the Cape of Andrast.

It was Calidas, the young navigator had spotted the danger, and Halvarin confirmed it. They would have to take the chance now steering due north into the Bay of Befalas. Though the worst of the storm had passed, the seas were rough and the steady gale and damage to the masts made their attempt hard. With the diminishing contrary winds, they were able to make better time north, but both Halvarin and the navigator could see they would have to steer back to the east, for when land was sighted, they were south of the mouth of the River Lefnui.

As the sun rose clear and the winds had calmed, it was decided they would weigh anchor and undertake repairs before continuing on along the coast to Edhellond. A small party was formed go ashore to see if the local farmers were friendly to the Mariners, for they needed food supply. Halvarin took ten men on the row boat and made for a small village by the river’s mouth. Fortunately, it was market day and the people all had come out after the days of rain and wind and were quite friendly with their unintended visitors. After making sure all was well, Halvarin walked to the point and climbed a rock and looked out to the ship. He raised two small flags in his hands, and in a series of waves, passed on the message that all was well and to send the rest of the boats. Three other boats came ashore and Halvarin was surprised to see that Amarwen had been permitted to come ashore in one of them. He hoped they would have a chance to slip away together, even if it was only for a short time.

Halvarin signalled that all were ashore safely, and the message returned to them was they would have to remain there for a day while the sails and mast were repaired. Silares planned on being ready to set sail by noon the next day if the weather held. There was a list of essential supplies Halvarin was to secure and so he came down from the rock to organize the landing party. They needed to convince the vendors to sell most of their goods to them, disrupting the town’s usual trading. For that, Halvarin would have to pay them well. Two of the town elders approached. These were the men he had spoken with earlier upon his landing and so he hoped could persuade them now that trade would be beneficial.

Halvarin had secured the best deal he could, with the demand of the goods at the market up, the price was high. Still sufficient food was secured, along with some good rope and tools. With that done, he sought out Amarwen who had wandered off in the markets. It was possible that she might have taken flight, for they were back in Gondor and he knew she would want to get away as soon as she could. Still, they were far from any sizeable settlement here and Edhellond was still a long way by land. In time he found her at a market stall, examining the tunics set out there.

”You could use a new tunic,” he said, ”That old one of mine is pretty threadbare. At least you need a cloak.”

“This one is quite nice, but he wants a lot for it,”
she remarked

Halvarin looked at the merchant and saw the fingers the man held up. He shook his head at the man and considered the stalls further down.

”Let’s go down here. There are better wares than this,” he said and together they turned to walk away.

The merchant called out a lower price and at this Halvarin and Amarwen paused. They didn’t turn back though, unspoken agreement ensuring they were of the same mind. When the third offer came, lowest yet, Amarwen turned about and Halvarin followed her back to the tunic that had caught her eye. Her fingers danced over the fine stitching along the collar and sleeves and then she felt the softness of the warm golden green material.

Halvarin said, ”We’ll take it… if you throw in that used grey-green cloak.”

The merchant drew breath to argue as Halvarin let another silver coin fall into his outstretched hand. Argument vanished and just like that Amarwen had both a tunic and a cloak that didn’t look like she’d scrounged them together. They even matched his worn breeches that she wore. Unexpected that, but not unwelcome.

”Now to find a somewhere to change,” Amarwen said with a small, shy smile.

Halvarin looked around. “There is a stable over there. I don’t think the horses will mind.”

The two hurried over and found the stable empty. They were out of sight from everyone, and no sooner had they slipped within did Halvarin wrap Amarwen in his arms and kissed her soundly. As much as Halvarin desired her, the risk that they might be seen continued. Not to mention that she might reinjure herself. Amarwen moved away from him to change into her new tunic and paused, examining her belly.

”It’s healing well,”she observed at which point Halvarin’s head bounced up.

Their eyes met, and his restraint crumbled as she held her arms out to him. He rushed into Amarwen’s embrace and they sank together into the straw of the stall.

Halvarin dozed, Amarwen warmly tucked into his arms and as drowsy he was, but he stirred when he heard voices outside the stables. Amarwen sat up, struggled to get her new tunic on, and threw the cloak over her instead. But the voiced faded, leaving them both staring at each other wide eyed. She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth to repress a bubble of laughter at their predicament and Halvarin grinned at her. It was time to return to their crew, but even, so he drew her lips to his for a final kiss. There was no knowing when next he might be able to draw her in like this.

Finally, presentable again, they slipped cautiously out of the stables and walked swiftly back through the markets for the shore.

”Halvarin!” Calidas said, ”We couldn’t find you. Captain says the repairs have gone well enough that we will be able to leave at first light of the morn. We’ll be able to make proper repairs in Edhellond.”

“That is good Calidas. If we are finished here, we should leave these people in peace and get back to the ship.”

Calidas nodded and set about readying the boats.

Halvarin watched him for a while, thinking to himself until Amarwen came to stand beside him, ”He reminds you of yourself doesn’t he?”

Halvarin nodded and looked to her. The afternoon sun made her dark hair shine. He wanted to reach out and stroke it, aware of just how soft it was.

”Let’s get back out there,” he sighed, for this interlude was fast coming to an end.

Once they were back, Amarwen was again the Captain’s niece and Halvarin didn’t know how much he could bear it. Why hadn’t they just walked out of the stables in the other direction, he wondered. They would be fugitives and he a deserter. Even if they never found out who Amarwen was, they’d hunt him down. What if he resigned his commission and resigned from the Guild? He would be free of this burden. They could go where they wished; do as they pleased… but Amarwen would never turn her back on her people.

There was just the one path – end the reign of Castamir and return Eldacar to the throne once more. Then, only then, could they be free.

That evening, the stars were out. He found Amarwen in their usual position at the prow. He remained apart, hands safely held behind his back. If he felt her soft warmth now, there was no telling what he might do. All sorts of notions popped into his mind’s eye at the thought of he might do and what she might do. These he shoved aside before he was overtaken by it.

”We will be in Edhellond soon. Seven days or so, depending on how our repairs hold.”

Amarwen nodded at this, turning her head in the direction she knew the shore to be. The prospect of returning there again weighed heavily on them both, he knew. They each had their nightmares of this place. The coming days would be hard and yet Amarwen turned her gaze to his and held it. There was something about the way she looked at him that reminded him again of their too brief encounter in the stables earlier that day.

As if she knew the thrust of his thoughts Amarwen smiled and he found himself responding in kind. That moment, brief as it was, belonged to them and them alone. Something they could hold to in what lay ahead. As he gazed at her he found himself wondering how it had ever happened. Had it been, instead, the wandering of his very fervent wishes when it came to this woman? Amarwen shifted and raised a hand towards him. He found it impossible to shy away from her touch. If anything, Halvarin leaned into her but she did not touch him at all.

Careful and precise, Amarwen drew something out from the collar of his shirt and held it up between her thumb and fingers. A stick of straw twirled about before his eyes, proof that it had been no dream at all. He stared at it a moment and then at the face of the woman that held it aloft. Her silver eyes were wide, gleaming in the starlight and the emerging moon. Knowing. He reached out to pluck the straw free and his hand curled around it.

”We will always have this,” she said.

Halvarin nodded, the edges of the straw sticking into his palms, ”But the road ahead is long.”

“We are equal to it,”
Amarwen replied, her fingers trailing over the back of the hand he held the straw in.

Her touch ignited tiny flames, but he kept his hand where it was by his side. Sensing his struggle, Amarwen inclined her head and retreated. He watched her pick her way over the deck, around and under the various and many obstacles of a ship like this. She nodded at the sailors she passed, careful to keep out from underfoot and then paused at the entrance to below decks. Here she turned to look back at him for a long moment and then she was gone.

The next day Halvarin saw little of Amarwen and she was not at the prow that night, nor the next. As they approached Edhellond she withdrew into herself, eschewing as much company as she could. She said nothing unless asked a direct question and sought to swiftly bring any discussion to a close or at least a point that she could withdraw from. She did not laugh nor entertain herself. Most often he caught her standing at the portside rail, staring at the coast. Wrestling with herself, most likely. Her silence spoke volumes to Halvarin for he knew it for what it was.

It was the evening they approached Edhellond that was the hardest. Amarwen had sealed herself away in the cabin that Silares had made hers for this voyage. As for Halvarin, he lay in his swaying bunk sleepless, haunted by the events of that terrible day.
Last edited by elora on Sat Jan 27, 2018 5:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Mon Nov 06, 2017 4:09 pm

Edhellond – 1441

This was her home, or at least had been until four years ago. She had wandered this place, frolicked on these sands and explored these waters as a child. Before the world at large existed or mattered. Laughing, often with the man above deck now, guiding their ship into dock with Silares. She could hear Halvarin calling out a firm, steady stream of orders to those scurrying about above deck. Below, out in the main area where the bunks were suspended, the rest of the crew were busy readying their belongings. She could hear their talk of what they might do once they were off ship, their mood ebullient. Quite the contrast to her own.

Last night, over dinner, Silares had laid out what would follow today. It truth it was no surprise but still she had hoped that somehow, they could slink unobtrusively into port. That was not going to happen, of course. This was a Guild ship, a large ocean-going vessel. They’d all be out to watch them come in to dock and there would be a delegation from none other than the current Lord of Edhellond.

After the welcome, and depending on the stature of those arrived, her father would have offered them lodgings in the hall. This is what Silares intended to accomplish now. He said it would be suspicious, perhaps even an insult, to refuse the Lord of Edhellond’s hospitality. What was more, he asserted that it was more than likely that she would recognised if they remained in Edhellond itself. That Amarwen already knew, owing to her earlier return to Edhellond to speak with Beregon a year or so ago. Getting in and out had been fraught with difficulty.

She flinched as the ship gave a final lurch, shuddering as it settled into position when the anchors caught far below. She looked down to her hand and saw it shake. The quivering refused to stop despite how she stared at. Amarwen curled her fingers into a tight fist.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Beregon saw that the Guild ship had already dropped anchor in the harbour when he rode into the township of Edhellond. It was one of their larger vessels, designed to plough great distances far from the shore. Two hundred men, easily, all of them Mariner’s Guild. The ship had taken quite the battering in the vicious storms that had sprung nearly two weeks ago now. It must have caught them in it, and the fact that it was still afloat was testament to the skill of those shepherding the vessel through it. They’d be here for supply and repair, he guessed. As he rode down towards the dock with the Steward of Lord Hurian, he could see a little dingy strike out for the shore. No officers in that crew, they’d be looking for supplies and materiel.

The Steward pushed ahead, anxious to locate the captain and extend the invitation he had been dispatched to offer. They turned to ride along the dock and dismounted before Edhellond’s largest inn. The Steward hastened inside, leaving the horses for Beregon to manage. By the time he gained the inn, the Steward had already rushed up the stairs to seek out the captain and so Beregon leaned against the wall to study the harbour through the window.

He returned his attention to the ship, wondering at how it’s generous belly might be put to use. Beregon knew Lord Hurian was optimistic of securing a lucrative arrangement to resupply Castamir’s big ships. If he succeeded, Edhellond would prosper but Beregon could see still more potential. All that materiel in one place where some of it could be easily diverted off to the rebellion; weapons in particular. It was difficult to gather enough, harder still to dispatch them north. Beregon was of a mind to leave the arming of Eldacar’s Rhovanion forces to Eldacar. They’d need weapons of their own here in Gondor once battle proper was joined. And if they were careful and clever in what they skimmed off, then this arrangement could be quite beneficial indeed.

In time, the Steward clattered down the stairs again. His face was flushed with excitement and in his wake, came the Captain and his Executive Officer. The Captain, a silver haired veteran of the sea was speaking as he followed the Steward down the stairs.

”-apologise for my niece. She is not usually so intransigent,” he said.

”You have my word, Captain Silares that your niece will be quite comfortable once she is settled. And it is not so very far a distance to travel.”

The Executive Officer paused to turn and look back up the stairs. Beregon did not catch his face but the man’s dark hair and posture spoke of a much younger man than he had expected for an Executive Officer.

”Perhaps I should-“ the officer said, hesitant but the Captain grabbed the man before he could return back upstairs.

”I dare say all your niece desires is a warm bed that does not move and a warm bath,” the Steward added, ”After how many weeks of rattling around in your midst?”

Silares said and the Steward nodded knowingly.

”Ah, six weeks. I have a daughter of my own. Trust me, Silares, if there is one thing I have learned it is how to soothe a troubled young lady.”

Silares reached up to pull his frowning officer back around and Beregon pushed himself upright when he realised just who he was. Halvarin shot Silares a dark scowl. Then, with an unhappy sigh, Halvarin alighted the final step and raked his eyes across the inn’s common room to settle on Beregon. By that time, Beregon had recovered from his surprise enough to claw together his composure. Lord Hurian’s Man at Arms had no cause to be gawping at Guild officers he had never met. Halvarin’s scrutiny took in everything, from the uniform he wore as one of Hurian’s men to the weapons he bore.

Reluctantly, Beregon diverted his attention to the Steward approaching him.

”Ride ahead and inform Lord Hurian that Captain Silares is travelling with his niece. Accommodations will be required. Perhaps in the family wing, away from the men to be housed in the guest wing. Of course, I shall defer on that to the judgement of the Captain and Lady Thera.”

Halvarin’s jaw knotted at that but Silares nodded, ”Of course. Most wise.”

Beregon hoisted a brow, ”And what is the young lady’s name? I am sure to be asked.”

Halvarin said and Beregon rocked back on his heels.

Marece, two years vanished without so much as a word, arrives on a Guild ship up from Umbar. Halvarin scrutinised Beregon carefully and so he nodded, just the once.

”Very good,” he said, turned himself about and set off to execute his instructions.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They rounded the final curve of the road up from Edhellond to where the stone halls of her ancestral seat sprawled along the crest of a ridge, extending all the way to the coast. Snapping over the rooves were two banners. One she did not recognise, and she dismissed out of hand. But the other… the other was Castamir’s and the sudden rise of gorge threatened to unseat her from her saddle unless she looked away and mastered herself.

So many happy years here, memories of a time of peace and happiness and love. They all seemed to belong to someone else now, so distant did they feel. Where had they buried her mother, she wondered. What of the household retainers that had risen up in their final defence? Amarwen sucked in a shaking breath and tightened her grip on her reins. Ahead, Halvarin and Silares both looked back to her but her head was bowed and her hair formed a thick curtain around her face.

”Not far now,” the Steward said kindly and she screwed her eyes shut to block him and the rest of this out. She wanted to scream and rage and cry but she could not.

For why would Silares’ niece do any of these things?

Waiting before the house were the Lord and Lady of Edhellond themselves with a small retinue of their armed men. These came forward to steady their horses and Amarwen was the last to dismount. She slid to the ground and lingered, pressing her face into the shoulder of the mare that had carried her this final distance until Halvarin came to lead her out. He was careful, of course, to avoid any obvious display of improper affection and Amarwen’s head hung. She watched her feet move, almost of their own accord, as he brought her to where Silares exchanged greetings with their hosts.

She was being welcomed as guest into her own halls, into the place her mother and countless others had been slaughtered. The place where she too would have died.

”And this, is my niece. She has had a trying voyage. Not so difficult, though, that she has forgotten her manners,” Silares said.

Amarwen sank into a curtsey more as a refuge than a courtesy for it spared her need to meet anyone’s eyes. Her heart was in her throat and she felt like it would leap out of her mouth any moment now. She felt hot and cold all at once and strange things were happening to the things she heard. The stones, they called to her in whispers and shrieks and someone, presumably the Lord of Edhellond, was saying something that sounded like gibberish against the din.

”Be welcome within these halls. They are yours before they are mine.”

No, not gibberish but guest-rites. Just like the ones her mother had issued so many times over the years to the man that had killed her.

Then they were walking through the vast front doors, still chased with carvings of stags leaping. Just inside the entrance was the Great Hall and her legs turned to jelly for this was the place Mother had been slaughtered before her very eyes. Had she known what her fate would be as she went to it? Had she gone on despite knowing that? She was sweating, and great fat tears sprang into her eyes and occluded her sight. Amarwen turned about, ready to flee again. Her mother’s final words etched forever into her mind. Everything was bright, so very bright and then suddenly Beregon came into view as he ran through the entrance towards her.

”RUN!” she screamed as her legs gave way beneath her, ”RUN!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Amarwen sat, silent and brooding, under a blanket that had been wrapped around her shoulders. Her skin was icy despite the summer heat and even now, her teeth chattered.

Silares leaned forward, elbows on his knees and studied the carpet, ”In retrospect, perhaps I should have said something sooner.”

Halvarin shook his head, silent for the moment, ”I doubt she would have believed you if you had.”

His Captain pushed out a breath and rubbed a hand over his face, ”That day…it must have been…”

Halvarin quietly observed.

”And you? This can’t be easy for you either.”

At that Halvarin swallowed and turned his head away. His fists tightened on the arms of the chair he sat in until they creaked, and he sprang up from his seat to go to Amarwen. She barely seemed to acknowledge his presence at first, save from the way her eyes flicked and then closed as he laid a tender hand against her cheek.

Silares had seen his fair share of men in shock. It was sadly all too common for good men to fall to pieces in the aftermath of a particularly savage battle. But battle was one thing, wholesale slaughter in your own home was quite the other. There was one school of thought that held that Amarwen’s mother should have known better. Castamir had never garnered a reputation for mercy and by the time his men stood in her hall, she should have surrendered her pride to protect her only heir and bend her knee. Valar knew, more than a few had done exactly that including the current Lord and Lady of Edhellond. But flowing their veins was not the blood of Hyarmendacil. If a descendant of the royal line bowed knee to Castamir, additional legitimacy was added to his claim on the throne. And all the royal blood, save Lady Merarwyn of Edhellond and the Crown Prince had fled Gondor.

Silares could not guess the decision he would have made in Lady Merawyn’s stead. In fact, he was relieved he did not have to. Politics had never been to his liking and whilst he had grown fond of Edhellond’s true heir, it still wasn’t to his taste. As he pondered this, the current Lord of Edhellond strode into his study.

Lord Hurian settled himself behind the desk and spread his hands upon its surface.

”For the avoidance of doubt, neither my lady nor I are particularly interested in who sits the throne at any given time."

Silares’ did not stir for this did not surprise him overmuch and Amarwen merely stared into empty air, clearly somewhere else.

”What we seek, above all, is peace. And so, Merarwyn’s treasury was secured for your use as soon as we discovered that you lived and we will not stand in your way should you seek to reclaim your ancestral seat.”

Silares looked over to where Amarwen sat but it was clear she was not taking any of this in.

”How was it, your Grace, that you discovered Lady Amarwen lived?” Halvarin asked in her stead.

”The Prince of Dol Amroth,” Hurian supplied without disassembly, ”A short distance from Edhellond if you wish to verify. I believe the Prince is a long standing family friend.”

Halvarin nodded at this and cast an almost forlorn look to Silares.

“With respect, Lord Hurian, it is not yet clear that Lady Amarwen has any intention at this time to return to her ancestral seat,” Silares answered, hoping that he spoke truly.

Hurian’s gaze shifted to Amarwen for a moment, keen at first and then softening, ”Whatever her intentions may be, she will be safe within her halls. Of this I can assure you.”

“Where is my mother?”

All three men blinked at this sudden question from Amarwen. It burst from her, like a creature seeking release.

”Where is she?”

There was a fell, grim tone to her voice and her eyes were suddenly steady.

”We set her to rest by her favourite tree. Do you recall it, your Grace?”

Slowly Amarwen nodded, ”The big one. There is a bench beneath it. She liked to read there, where she could see and hear the sea.”

“That’s the one,”
Hurian said.

”I want to go there. Now.”

“It’s almost dark.”


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This had always been a beautiful place. It looked down over the Bay of Belfalas and on a very clear night you could even see the lights of Dol Amroth. It was here that her father had wooed her mother all those years ago. He had been so bold and so determined to win her hand even though her mother was of noble birth and he was not. It was here that her mother had told her of this, laughing softly to herself at something Father had done to win her heart and hand. She had set him tests, telling him that her father would not bother to hear his suit unless he succeeded and yet, when he had accomplished each task and Mother could think of no more, Father had been flabbergasted to discover her father had not the faintest idea who he was.

Father’s account was, perforce, different. He spoke of this place as the location where he had fallen under the spell of a powerful sea witch. He had been helpless before her and she had plied her craft with clever skill to bind him to her and this place. Either way, they had loved each other here, even though others said they should not have. So why was it that she felt not the slightest trace of them now?

Twilight lay thick around them and by now the moon was half full. It shone upon the waters below, marking out line after line in the ruffled bay. In addition to her mother’s grave a shrine had been established. Small remembrances had been left in the tree. A wooden peg. A ribbon of gold. A flower faded by the sun and tattered by the wind.

Over head the leaves sighed in the breeze and Amarwen looked up, hoping to catch some message. There was nothing there. Her mother was gone. Far from this place if what they said was true. Father held his doubts on that, but Mother had not entered an opinion save that Amarwen would have to make her own mind up when the time came.

She sat over her heels and watched a ship track steadily towards Dol Amroth. At that angle, they would need to recalculate their approach or so she thought. Behind her, a little way back was Halvarin and he was talking to someone.

”-answers Halvarin and you know it. She can’t just disappear for two years without giving an account for herself.”

“Not now, Beregon.”

“Why not now? It’s just us and she’s just sitting there, staring into nothing.”

Halvarin pressed out a heavy breath, ”She is sitting by her mother’s grave for the first time, mourning her death.”

“Her mother’s-“
Beregon broke off and wiped a hand over his face, ”Her mother? Is that…just what are you saying?”

“I’m saying that you can afford her a little time. She’s not going anywhere any time soon.”

“And when you say she…you mean…”
Halvarin waited Beregon out, ”Amarwen of Edhellond? Merece is Amarawen of Edhellond!”

Halvarin replied, ”Unless there is anyone else buried up there by that tree?”

“How long have you known?”
Beregon demanded.

”We met when we were five,” Halvarin ground out, ”So always. How is it you haven’t put it together?”

“Well, who else knows?”

“Michas, Belas, Silares, the current Lord and Lady of Edhellond …maybe the ships’ Healer. Can’t be sure on that last one.”

“The Lord and Lady of Edhellond?”
Beregon repeated and shook his head.

He looked up to where Amarwen was a dark shape against the stars and then back to Halvarin, ”Is she here to reclaim her ancestral seat?”

“Amarwen is here because she got stabbed trying to assassinate Castamir and Edhellond was, all things considered, the safest port.”

“Well of course. I mean, now that you say that it seems so obvious. Of course she was…wait, are you serious? About all of it? The Lord and Lady of Edhellond too?”

Cursing, Beregon darted away and off into the night, in a rush to do something. Once the rebel had moved off, Halvarin slowly headed up to slope to where Amarawen sat back over her heels.

He set a hand on her shoulder and she drew in a deep breath as he crouched beside her.

”She’s not here, Hal,” Amarwen said, ”I cannot feel nor hear her. She has left.”

Halvarin reached out an arm to curve around her shoulders and she leaned her head against him.

”But you are here,” he said, his voice a rumble in the darkness, ”You remain.”

she said, shifting to turn her face to his.

”What would she want you to do now?”

Moonlight illuminated half his face, dredging free a memory for her, ”Sometimes I fear I will lose everything, every moment of happiness or joy to those final, dreadful days. If that happens, what will be left when all of this is over?”

“Would you hold onto that?”
he asked and she nodded.

Halvarin took her hand in his and slowly rose to his feet, ”Then come, my Lady.”

Amarwen allowed him to tow her down from the tree and into the gardens proper.

”Every time we stole away, we sought this place,” he said as he led her along a curving path.

”And each time we found it, my mother and never my father would come calling me back,” she recalled.

Halvarin turned to smile at her, ”Except for that one time she did not. Do you remember?”

Amarwen answered for that had been the time Halvarin had almost snapped the laces of her green silk gown.

It had happened just before the outbreak of war proper and they had been so young, headstrong and reckless. So sure that reason would prevail. Too young to pledge their troth, certainly but not so young as to not be swept up in the fire. Halvarin located the statue of some predecessor of hers and then pulled her into his arms.

”I love you, Amarwen of Edhellond. I have for years now.”

“And I love you, Halvarin of Pelargir. Now kiss me. I don’t recall this much talking.”

“Yes, your Grace,”
Halvarin murmured, pushing her back against the statute’s plinth and pressing her between the stone and himself.

There were no laces to contend with this time and his hand lifted to sink in the wealth and weight of thick hair. He pulled gently down, tipping her mouth to his as she wound herself around him.
Last edited by elora on Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Tue Nov 07, 2017 10:51 pm

Edhellond ~ Late Summer 1441

Halvarin’s eyes closed as he kissed her, drinking deeply from her lips. Feeling safety in these familiar gardens, he let his hands slide over Amarwen’s back to her hips and squeezed as she intensified the passion of their embrace. The grass nearby would be softer than the straw in that stable, he thought in a heated daze, and Halvarin lifted her as she wrapped her legs about him. He held Amarwen close as he moved around the statue and up over the stone edge of the path. Setting her to her feet, she grabbed his tunic and pulled him forward as she fell back onto the grass as they entangled themselves into one.

Halvarin and Amarwen awoke in the chill night as heavy dew blew in from the sea. The half-revealed moon had sunk low and Halvarin, pulling Amarwen up after him. He looked about as she re-ordered herself and followed suit. Then he slid his arms about her waist and pressed his forehead to hers.

”Do not allow those final dreadful days hold victory over our lives, my love. We work together for a common cause and may soon we achieve that which we strive for,” he told her, hoping she heard and took from this the hope they all so desperately needed, ”Are you ready to return to your halls, Amarwen? It must be hard to return to this place.”

“More difficult than I ever imagined,” she said as she looked up the path towards her home.

She started to walk away but Halvarin held her hand still and she paused to look back, ”You are not alone, my love. I will resign my commission and resign from the Guild so that I do not have to leave you here when the ship sails away.”

Amarwen turned back to him proper at that, ”Do not be so hasty, Halvarin. You are needed inside the Guild. There is time before the ship is ready to leave, and that time we will use well… for us, and to plan. Now come, we should return. I am sure we have been missed."

Halvarin took her arm in his and they slowly walked back toward the Great Halls of Edhellond… Amarwen’s halls. But before they could enter, Halvarin turned to kiss her swiftly on her brow.

He whispered, ”There is something further I need to speak with you about. I was going to do it in Osgiliath, but you had disappeared before I could. It concerns information I had received back then… about what the Guild knew of the rebellion. It is delicate, requires privacy.”

Amarwen paused and considered Halvarin for a moment, ”There is much to discuss of our work going forward.”

She turned back to the door and took a breath in a bid to steady herself. It was only a little less hard entering these halls a second time.

Pelargir ~ Late Summer 1441

Two similar figures, wearing dark cloaks and their faces smeared with charred wood lurked in shadows of an alley. They watched across the street at an inn where a dancer from Harad performed. They observed several Guild officers enter and so they were content to waited. Any one of them would make a good target, and to kill them in one of the few strongholds for Castamir in Gondor only made it sweeter still.

When the entertainment ended, and the people were left, they spotted three who walked away without care. At their ease. The Master of the Mariners Guild and the Chief Navigator walked slowly back toward the guild-house with the Commander of Pelargir. As they walked the streets, they spoke about the evening and what they needed to do the next morning, and how to get some decent wine from the north. They did not see the shadowy figures flowing out from the alley they had passed. Silent and deadly, knives slit two throats and the men fell gurgling in the street as the City Commander drew his own knife.

The assassins shouted as they ran off, ”Long Live King Eldacar!"

As the City Commander threw his knife at them, they turned down an alley, but the commander was sure he saw one stumble and the other grab them before they vanished. He flagged down two passing guards and as they arrived they saw that both the Guild Master and Master Navigator were dead. The guards drew their short swords and the Commander went to the alley where the assassins disappeared.

He had truly hit one of them as the blood splatter started and the drops turned into the alley. There was no sign of his knife, so it likely stayed in the one he hit. As they followed the blood trail, they found a knife, but it was not his. Further still they found a pool of blood and what looked like part of a bloody cloak. They could not have gotten too far! He searched to the end of an alley and found some guards looking around at the other end. The trail of blood had vanished.

The commander back-tracked to see if there was something he missed. No, the blood just trickled to nothing as it reached the far end and a fulsome investigation would not be possible until daylight. The city commander set the city guard sweep the old quarter in hope more could be found. He also sent word to the Guild House that two senior members had been slain.

This word would not reach Halvarin in Edhellond for several days that both his father and the Navigator from whom he learned so much, were dead.
Last edited by elora on Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Wed Nov 08, 2017 5:55 pm

Edholland – 1441

Beregon raked his fingers through his hair and then, irritated, dropped his hand away. He needed to be calm. He needed his wits about him. Tugging at his hair would only convey just how worried and scattered he was and that would never do. He strode through the halls for the library, noting by habit where the household’s staff and retainers were. Almost at the library doors he heard voices from within. A man and a woman spoke quietly with one another. Too quiet for him to be able to make out what was being said but as feminine laughter flowed out to where he stood, Beregon scowled. He had hoped to not have to deal with Halvarin in addition to Mare-Amarwen today.

Before he knew it, his hand was reaching for his hair again. Beregon snatched it away and then pushed into the library. It was not large when compared with those found in cities such as Minas Anor, Pelargir or Osgiliath. A single large room formed the totality of Edholland’s library. Its walls were lined with books that, even in diminished number, must have cost a very pretty penny indeed to acquire. This was all in keeping with everything he knew of the House Stag.

Descendants of Hyarmendacil, and so within the royal circle of Houses, this House was wealthy in a way lesser Houses only dreamed of. Wealthy enough to distance themselves from royal affairs until recent years and focus on trade. Their alliances were well documented, Dol Amroth prominent amongst them. Lady Amarwen was currently the sole heir and thus this was House Stag’s weakness. Until she provided children of her own, the House could be snuffed out as a candle might be. And in that respect, Eldacar’s decision to appoint her head of his rebellion within Gondor was a curious one. Better to appoint someone a little more disposable, given the bloody swathe Castamir had cut through royal descendants.

Still, appoint her Eldacar had and now that Beregon knew who, or rather what she was, he could also understand it. Of any currently still in Gondor, only Amarwen of Edholland could be depended upon to never turn on the king. Not only was she kin, she would never support the man responsible for murdering her parents. Frankly, Beregon thought as he considered Amarwen at the far end of the library, it was embarrassing that he hadn’t put it together earlier.

It wasn’t that midnight hair of hers or the clear grey eyes she possessed. A great many in Gondor had similar features. Nor was it that she was, objectively, beautiful to behold. He’d seen as many beautiful commoners as he had ugly nobles. Rather, it was that air of command she had. She could hide it well, but he had seen her use it. Like countless heirs before her, Lady Amarwen would have been raised from birth on all matters associated with her future position – including all she might need to know should her people and land require her protection. Amarwen had been trained in how make of herself both a sword and shield.

The Lady of Edholland was seated at a table, leaning back in her chair and relaxed as she smiled up at Halvarin. The Guild officer sat, back to the door and facing Amarwen, upon the table. His legs swung idly to and fro and he leaned towards her, speaking quietly. Merriment shone in Amarwen’s eyes as she shook her head slowly at whatever he was saying. Whilst Beregon wore his uniform as Hurian’s Man at Arms, both Halvarin and Amarwen looked to be entirely at their ease. Halvarin had abandoned his Guild coat and his shirt sleeves were rolled up. Amarwen, meanwhile, had availed herself of her wardrobe. Nothing formal, but certainly a better standard of clothing he had ever seen her in before now. Not a patch nor frayed hem or hole was in sight in her red kirtle trimmed with gold.

There was a great deal to be gleaned from this tableaux, from the way in which the pair responded and interacted with other. He had suspected it before now. Michas had suspected it years ago in Osgiliath but now there was little doubt at all. Beregon cleared his throat as he neared and saw her eyes flick to his impatiently as if she had already marked his presence and did not overly much care. Halvarin, though, slid off the table he had perched upon and turned about to regard him.

”What now?” Beregon inquired, deciding to take the bit between his teeth.

Amarwen’s brows lifted at the question, ”I was hoping you might tell me. Have you, or have you not, been leading this year past?”

“I have,”
he affirmed, ”But I presume you are here to reclaim it.”

“Well, now,”
she replied smoothly, glancing aside to where Halvarin stood, ”That all depends on how much of a mess it is.”

“There’s no mess at all, your Grace.”

“The caches of weapons?”

“Secure and growing, though not as fast as I would like.”

Amarwen drummed her fingers on the table for a moment, ”And what tidings from Rhovanion? Hal, here, has informed me that an army is being raised.”

“If you were a diligent student of your family history, my Lady, you would be aware that raising armies takes time. Particularly when assembling them from a loosely organised people.”

She pressed out a sigh at that and Beregon tried to regain the upper hand, ”Just what are you going to do with that Guild ship in your harbour?”

Amarwen shrugged, ”Lord Hurian is eager to secure an arrangement that would behove Edholland’s coffers quite well.”

“You will to not only trade with Castamir, you are prepared to equip and supply him?!”
Beregon asked, astonished at what he was hearing.

”The problem, Beregon, is that you only see and hear that which confirms conclusions you have already reached,” she sighed, ”Edholland will re-supply select ships, those either already sympathetic to Eldacar’s cause or those we are likely to sway. And if Edholland’s coffers grow fat with coin Castamir can not use for other purposes, so much the better.”

He blinked at her, ”You mean to steal Castamir’s fleet from under him.”

Amarwen answered as he had just asked whether the sun rose in the east, ”Eldacar will need both ocean and river vessels for the Anduin cannot again be allowed to divide his forces as it did before.”

“You don’t have the reach within the Guild.”

Amarwen smiled at Beregon’s statement, ”You are mistaken.”

“One Guild officer is not enough, no matter how satisfactorily he may warm your bed.”

As soon as he said it, Beregon regretted it. Halvarin bristled immediately but Amarwen merely sat back and considered him. A small smile played over her lips.

”This one Guild Officer has done far more than many for our cause,” she said softly, brushing her fingers against the back of Halvarin’s hand, ”Have you anything else to offer, Beregon?”

The question made his jaw bunch, ”No.”

“The matter is settled, then.”

“No, it most certainly is not,”
Beregon returned, ”Do you know how many people have tried, and failed, to infiltrate the Guild? What you propose now is a complete reversal of-”

”Do you know which of our people were compromised, aside from yourself? Do you know who the traitor is?”

he ground out through his teeth, aware that she was firing questions to throw him off balance.

”Two years and not even that,” Amarwen shook her head at him.

”Be that as it may, your Grace, my point stands. For instance, how can you be sure that only sympathetic ships are re-supplied from Edholland. What is to stop Lord Hurian from seeking to expand further?”

“The same thing that prevented him from using my mother’s treasury,”
Amarwen answered, ”Lord Hurian desires peace and he is clever enough to know that he will not have it until the king is returned to his throne.”

Beregon switched tactics again, ”Presume, then, that you succeed. Then what? Turn the Guild upon itself and destroy it?”

“The Guild will destroy itself on its current path. I need not lift a finger to bring that to pass,”
she said with a toss of her head, ” Gondor needs the Guild if Eldacar is to return. It cannot be done without them. They brought us Castamir and they will take him down once more.”

“They turned their back on your father and slaughtered your mother,”
he decried, his words jarring and harsh perforce.

His statement drove Amarwen to her feet.

”Leave,” she declared.

Beregon sketched a mocking bow, ”As you so command, your Grace.”

“If it is command you seek then consider this your instruction: relay this change of strategy, inform them of my return to Gondor and above all, make no effort to interfere with Guild officers unless it has been sanctioned by me.”

As he rose, Beregon eyed Amarwen and in return she lifted her chin. Remote. His jaw ground all the way to the library door and beyond.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Amarwen spread her fingers over the table, her weight resting on her hands and bowed her head as she expelled a breath, ”Why is it that I allow that man to infuriate me so?”

Halvarin set his fingers to running down from her shoulder to her wrist, ”He antagonises you.”

“I know,”
she sighed and straightened again, ”He always has, from the outset. Our cause would be better served if we could manage to set such differences aside…but ever he doubts, challenges and condescends. If I was a diligent student of my family’s history?”

She broke off and turned about, her frustration bubbling up anew. It made her restless and so she began to pace towards a window and then turning back to where Halvarin stood, quietly observing.

”He resents your position, Ami,” Halvarin said plainly and Amarwen nodded.

”Belas said as much,” she acknowledged, her expression shifting as she sifted back through her recollections, ”And I try to ignore his jibes, to lead as Mother did, but the stronger I become the harder he seems to kick.”

“Remove him, then,”
Halvarin suggested and she sighed.

”Objectionable as Beregon is, he serves a purpose too. He knows his value a little too well, methinks, but I cannot let that obscure his uses. I must, instead, focus on the needs of my people and Gondor.”

“Does Eldacar know of this…dissent?”

Amarwen shook her head, ”Our petty squabbles are the least of his many concerns. It is I he has appointed and it falls to me to resolve this.”

“But if this is how Beregon has been from the outset, that would suggest the issue is intransigent.”

“I will find a way,”
Amarwen replied, determined and then looked back to the window, ”Look at us, scheming away a perfectly lovely summer’s day. Our time is so short before the ship will be ready to leave.”

“Two weeks, Silares said this morning,”
Halvarin said, walking to where she stood staring out the window, ”Regretting your earlier counsel, my love? I would resign my commission in a heartbeat.”

She wound her arm around his waist, pulled herself to him and rested her head against his shoulder, ”I must put our cause before my own desires.”

“I do not know how I will bear being parted from you,”
Halvarin said, his voice soft with sadness.

Amarwen looked up at this and lifted a hand to cup his cheek, ”Nor I, my love, but let us not lose this day to the sorrows that lie ahead. There is still the afternoon to be had, and I have an idea…if your own duties do not require you elsewhere.”

Halvarin shook his head as he grinned down her, ”Shore leave, Silares said, so lead on my Lady. Lead on.”

They quit the library for the kitchens where Amarwen scooped up a basket that had clearly not just appeared out of thin air. She smiled knowingly at Halvarin as he eyed it, for indeed she had set this in motion well before now. Basket in hand, Amarwen led Halvarin out of the halls entirely down the slope away to where one of the two rivers flowed towards their confluence.

”You have been very busy indeed,” Halvarin observed, watching the basket that swung easily from Amarwen’s hand.

He reached for it again but she skipped away, laughing softly. She turned her face up to the sun, drew in a deep breath and then sighted her gaze on their destination. Then she cast Halvarin a mischievous look and darted off down the hill. A glance over her shoulder confirmed that he had set off in pursuit after her and with a wild whoop she put on speed, only slowing when the murmuring of the willow trees could be heard.

”Do you know this place?” she asked, slightly winded as Halvarin pulled up by her side and snatched the basket from her.

He nodded as he looked about.

”Indeed, I do,” he said and threw her a grin, ”And I’ll throw mud at you now as I did then if I am so minded.”

“And I will happily call for the guards this time and enjoying watching them haul you off,”
she returned.

”I still don’t know why you didn’t last time,” Halvarin confessed and Amarwen shrugged.

”I’d already gotten what I wanted.”

“Which was?”

“To infuriate you,”
she laughed and set off towards the willows.

With a shake of his head, Halvarin followed and they were soon within the trees. Here, the willows held dominion over light and water both. Their long limbs flowed down into the river and made the sunlight dance and shift over the bank. Green became emerald, grey became silver and ebony and brown was transformed into rust and gold. This had been the place that, many years ago, their friendship had first begun. It was little changed since that time and yet as Halvarin moved ahead of her through the shifting light and shadows, he was certainly a child no longer.

She had not known very much of him at all that first day, save that she thought him rude like most boys were. Somehow, she had known without instruction just how to get under his skin and she had set about doing exactly that without compunction as she followed him throughout the day right to this very point and their muddy confrontation. But somewhere along the way her determination to irritate Halvarin had faded into something that was more of a game and throwing mud…well it just so happened that throwing mud was one of her most favourite things to do aside from climbing trees and reading. Whilst Halvarin had been expressing his utmost frustration at her through fistfuls of flung mud, Amarwen had been having the most fun she had had for days.

Halvarin headed along the bank in search of a suitable place to sit and Amarwen followed him past many of the trees she had liked to climb down here where the household retainers and her Mother could not see. It just so happened that her most favourite of all sat across the water on the bank opposing the position Halvarin had selected. As he set down the basket, Amarwen gazed across to the stately willow. It’s branches seemed so slender and tangled now that she could scarcely imagine being small and light enough to slip between them, and yet she had.

”What do you see,” Halvarin asked, setting out the basket’s provender on the ground around his knees.

Amarwen pointed across the ruffled waters of the river, now so high as to reach the banks and running swiftly as the tide pushed in.

”That was my favourite tree to climb,” she said as he turned to see what she pointed out, ”I’d sneak down here and climb in it for hours until someone was sent to retrieve me.”

“I can’t imagine your mother would be overly pleased by that,”
Halvarin observed and Amarwen smiled at the memory as her arm lowered.

”No, she feared that I would fall into the water and be swept away. When I heard them calling, I would hurry out of the tree so I would not be found in it.”

“But you would have had to swim across to return to your home,”
Halvarin observed and Amarwen nodded, her smile growing.

”And so, when I was returned home dripping and sodden, whoever had been sent to fetch me said that I had been playing on the strand or some such.”

“It does not surprise me in the least that you had the retainers wrapped around your fingers,”
he said and then indicated the food set out, ”Why, just look at this! A veritable feast.”

“I know,”
Amarwen said as she joined Halvarin upon the grass, ”Let’s not put it waste!”

Soaking in each other and their idyllic surrounds, Amarwen and Halvarin’s conversation ranged widely. Sometimes it was serious, sometimes wry and one or the other was often heard laughing. But, belly’s full and hunger sated, a languorous drowsiness fell over them and so Amarwen found herself seated, leaning back on her hands with Halvarin’s head in her lap. He was quiet, eyes closed and limbs still. Dappled sunlight shifted over his peaceful face and it was almost like he was sleeping but every so often a brow would twitch at his thoughts and so she knew he was not.

Inevitably, her thoughts turned to his departure. Where he would be bound next and for how long was something neither of them knew. Silares had been keeping out of their way since arriving three days ago. That could not endure, though, for tonight the Lord and Lady of Edholland was hosting a dinner for the officers and crew. In the Great Hall. She had yet to venture into that place but she would have to tonight, for she was still Silares’ niece as far as the rest of the crew was concerned.

Amarwen drew in a deep breath and released it as she wondered how she might accomplish this. Halvarin shifted in her lap and she looked down to find he was studying her.

”What is it?” he asked but she shook her head at the question.

She did not wish to darken this moment with him, ”A passing thought.”

Halvarin’s sceptical expression told her he did not believe her but he offered no argument beyond that.

”Do you think you will be able to sway Silares,” he instead asked, revealing something of his own thoughts, ”He has ever been loath to involve himself in politics.”

“I do not intend to ask him to change that,”
Amarwen answered, ”The river boats, we will need those willing to fight for Eldacar. The ocean ships, however…it is enough that they are denied to Castamir when he has need of them. If the usurper were to be able to land men behind Eldacar’s lines…”

“But how, Ami? I tell you this, Silares will not destroy his own ship.”

“Silares may well know of those willing to fight. And he will surely know those who, like him, are reluctant to get involved. For those men, I will ask that they put to sea when the moment arrives. No more than that.”

“And when Castamir sends ships to retrieve them?”

“I would hope they would be able to elude such pursuit but if not, if their hands are forced,”
Amarwen replied, ”It will be up to the Captain to decide what to do.”

“I have yet to encounter a Captain that will not defend his ship and crew to his last breath,”
Halvarin observed.

”Nor I,” she agreed and swept some of Halvarin’s dark hair from his brow, ”Truly, I would be content if they were able to remove themselves. That, in itself, would be enough.”

Halvarin was silent for a heartbeat as he weighed this and then shifted his tack, ”And what of you, love. Will you remain here once I am gone?”

Amarwen shook her head, ”No. It is safe enough within the halls but if I were recognised in Edholland? And, in any case, the less time spent in Beregon’s close proximity the better.”

“Where will you go?”

“Minas Anor springs to mind…or perhaps a return to Osgiliath.”


“I would be of little use there,”
Amarwen replied and then ruefully smiled, ”Though I expect the king would be more than a little anxious for an accounting of myself. Particularly once he receives Beregon’s report on matters.”

“Does that worry you?”

“Not as much as it should, Mother would say,”
Amarwen returned and then smiled down at Halvarin, ”There will be time, when all this is done, to pour over who was responsible for which mistake. None of us will have clear ledgers, myself included. But would I not spend this time now worrying about that.”

Halvarin reached up, then, to stroke her cheek and Amarwen’s eyes closed at the tender caress. She would long for such simple things in a matter of weeks…and tonight she would have to pretend as though he didn’t matter at all. At that thought she baulked, refusal welling through so thoroughly that she flinched. Her eyes popped open to look down at Halvarin again. How was she to pretend that this man did not matter? She couldn’t. She simply could not. And then, another thought, wild and sudden, popped into her mind. It made her heart speed. Could she be so daring? Would he think it reckless or improper? Would he be offended?

”Amarwen, say something,” Halvarin said, lifting his head from her lap and rolling onto his side and then to his knees.

She scrabbled to her feet, her hands clutching over the ruby linen of her skirts. Could she do this thing? Now? Here? Should she wait? If she waited and he did not return, then what?

”Amarwen,” Halvarin pressed, perturbed by this sudden shift.

She turned back to find he had risen and was frowning at her, worried.

Amarwen stepped towards Halvarin, her heart in her throat. She could scarcely believe what she was about to do. It felt…right. As if they had always been moving to this very point and so she reached for Halvarin’s hands and clasped them between her own. They were warm and strong and she felt his fingers curl around hers.

”I remember the day I first realised that I loved you,” she said, his expression shifting from concern to surprise.

”When?” Halvarin asked, shyness creeping into his voice that made her heart surge with sudden warmth.

She tightened her hands around his, anchoring them to this moment by the river beneath the willows, ”We had built model ships and there was a wager over whose was the better.”

“I recall,”
Halvarin said, being to laugh, ”You marched off down to the shore, tucked up your skirts and waded right in so adamant that yours would best mine.”

“Well, I was the ship wright’s daughter and you were…how did I say it…just a navigator.”

“Who had a good two years of instruction under his belt whilst you had your books and your father’s tales. You never lacked for confidence, though.”

“No…and so there we were, up to our hips in the sea and my dress ruined for which I would earn an earful for later that evening, and we set our models upon the water and mine sank like a stone whilst yours just bobbed along. And you laughed so hard that I thought you were going to fall into the water.”

“You scowled at me so fiercely I thought you’d push me in,”
Halvarin observed, chortling now, ”And then, in a high temper, you took off with your chin held high and left me there. Hardly what I would call a moment of sudden affection, amusing as it was.”

“You were laughing so hard that I am not surprised that you missed it. I rushed off because I realised that I loved your laughter more than I wanted to win. And that night, as you basked in your victory, I was baffled as to why that was.”

“I thought you were quiet because you were sulking.”

“Well, that too. Stung pride is stung pride…it wasn’t until after you had left to return to your studies that I realised what had happened. That moment, the sea washing around us and you laughing at the sun and waves as if it was the best moment of your life…that was when I realised that I loved you.”

Halvarin’s chortling faded gently and he lifted his hands to bring hers to his lips, ”You kept that to yourself for years.”

she said, nodding, ”Though not well enough to deceive my mother. Nor well enough to stop entirely from slipping away with you. I was never dallying with you, Halvarin…and I can no longer bear the idea of hiding what it is that you mean to me.”

Halvarin’s mouth opened to say something that fell quiet when he realised that Amarwen was kneeling before him.

”You are my love,” she whispered, ”So much more than a body to warm my bed.”

“I know,”
he returned but Amarwen was not finished.

”I…I…” she pulled back, searching for precisely the perfect words.

But then, as she looked up into Halvarin’s eyes, she realised there only the honest words, ”You are my north star, Halvarin. I…I give you all that I am, my love. I give you all that I have and all that I might be.”

“What are you doing, Ami?”

“I am asking you for your hand, Halvarin,”
she answered and watched him blink at her.

”You already have my hand,” he said, misunderstanding her intent.

“Marry me,” Amarwen pressed, ”Please, my love? Marry me.”

On her knees before him, her red skirts pooled around her, she stared up into his face and hoped fervently that this would not end as badly as it might. Too soon? Too bold? She could not know for his expression was impossible to read.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Tue Nov 14, 2017 11:22 pm

Edhellond - Late Summer 1441

Halvarin was somewhat shocked and just a little amused to see the woman he loved on her knees in front of him. Amarwen had surprised him, which was not an unusual thing if he was honest with himself. As he looked down onto her face, he saw hope, yearning, and no small degree of fear. As if she feared he would deny her. As if he could. His hands wrapped in hers, he gently flexed his strength to drawn Amarwen to her feet once more.

“Lady Amarwen of Edhellond, yes, I will wed thee! As I will wed the librarian Lilith, and both Marece’s.”

Amarwen frowned and Halvarin nodded.

”Captain Silares’ niece, and Eldacar’s appointed leader here in Gondor. All of them are woman I fell in love well before that day we were alone in your garden. Yet it was that day that I knew without a doubt that I loved thee.”

Amarwen was silent at Halvarin’s swift response and her clear grey eyes grew bright. As he pulled her to him and gently kisses her, Halvarin knew a joy he had not felt before even if he had dreamed of this moment well before they had first kissed. Yet, as the sweet embrace ended, Halvarin became uneasy for the thought that this would never have come to pass had Gondor’s wicked strife not sprang up crossed his mind. Amarwen had already told him of her mother’s plans for her heir. Had civil war not come to Gondor, things would be very different.

Unaware of Halvarin’s turn of thought, Amarwen slid from his arms and sank once more to the ground. She lay back to gaze up through the willow branches to the blue vault of the sky beyond.

”I love you Halvarin of Pelargir,” she said, her voice thrumming with emotion, “Tell me, what you remember of that day?”

Looking down at her now, he could not doubt that her heart was wholly given to him. Her mother’s wishes she would have heeded for she was a dutiful daughter, but it would have been an unhappy match indeed. That this strife had spared her from that…prison…and brought her instead to him, he could not regret that. He would not.

Halvarin stretched out on his side, his arm propping his head up as he looked down Amarwen laying there. Her eyes moved to his, drinking him in for a long moment. When her eyes turned again from him to gaze at the sky, his eyes shifted and watched her breathe. He took a deep breath himself, only managing to return his eyes to hers as she shifted her gaze back to him. He reached his hand over and traced the curvature of her shoulder to her arm, pausing to feel the fine linen sleeve of her dress. He gazed at her for a long moment, soaking her in before he rolled to his back. Amarwen turned to her side to watch him, head propped on one hand as he studied the sky.

“That day in the garden… I remember so very much about that day... It was late summer but felt like early autumn, much like this day. The leaves of the oak trees that lined the side of the garden path had begun to burst into bright colours.

“There was a moment on that walk where you had gone ahead because I stopped to watch some ants that had made a trail across the path. I looked up as you turned to look back at me and you smiled. The sun picked its way through the oak leaves, causing their reds, oranges, yellows, and greens to glow. The breeze was cool and made the leaves flutter, and the dappled sunlight danced upon your hair and face and over your green silk dress.

“It was a moment, too fleeting, that I remember as if it happened this day. It is a vision of you I hold dear, and one that has gone with me wherever I went from that day onward. I knew then I loved you, and wondered what it would be like to kiss you.”

“You did not wait overlong to find that out, if I recall correctly,”
Amarwen observed, a wry smile painting her face.

”If?” Halvarin mildly objected, ”I dare say you recall very well indeed, my love.”

He enjoyed the colour that warmed her cheeks, but she did not deny it. As Halvarin studied her face for a moment, a breeze pushed a wayward lock of inky hair across her face. He brushed it back, fingers grazing the soft smooth contour of her cheek. At the touch, Amarwen leaned forward to kiss him gently on the cheek. She remained silent, waiting for him to speak on and he transferred his eyes from her hair her eyes and soaked in their beauty. Truly, it was as though stars had gathered there, silver and bright.

“Later that evening, at dinner, you wore your blue silk dress,” he continued and she smiled at that.

”Ah yes…the one with the silk underdress, all in white, with a sufficiently demure high collar and long sleeves.”

“Not sufficiently enough, for the underdress was quite fine. Almost sheer.”
Halvarin grinned at his reply.

”Why, whatever do you mean?” Amarwen replied, not in the least scandalised.

”We sat across from each other listening to our parents debate the days after King Valacar. I did not pay much heed to their words at the time, for I wished only to gaze at you. We had to be formal and proper after our walk through the garden, but you would at times look at me and catch my eyes on you.”

Halvarin’s eyes swept slowly over Amarwen’s face and hair, and his fingers touched her temple and traced down her neck to her shoulder. They paused as his eyes watched them gently caress her before they continued down her arm, lingering as they passed by her breast.

Amarwen said, ”As they do now?”

Halvarin blinked and felt the warmth of his own cheeks as he blushed.

He smiled at Amarwen and nodded his agreement, ”Yes… my eyes would try to discreetly glimpse at your charms through that sheer silk as we sat across from each other. My mind pondered how much I would like to lay with you, and you would catch me watching you. When you did, you offered me a look that was both serious and playful, daring me to meet your eyes. It was that day I knew that I loved you with all my heart, and as the day ended, I hoped against all hope that I would be able to marry you one day.”

His hand returned to her cheek, gently touching it before he ran his fingers through her hair and kissed her again. He lay onto his back, and Amarwem threw her leg over him and laid her head on his chest as she pressed against him. They were silent as their minds dwelt on whatever memory they had, and they stared at whatever had captured their vision. With slow caresses of her back, they lay quietly content, lovers entwined.

They must have fallen asleep, for Halvarin awoke with them still in the same position. Amarwen remained asleep resting her head on his chest, and he began to stroke her back again. A raindrop splashed him in the face as he looked up at the swaying branch of the nearby willow and he realized the sunny late summer day had changed to an early Autumn afternoon. The smell of rain was heavy in the air and the wind had gone from the gentle summer breezes to bursts of gusts that sent the early autumn leaves flying through the air. He nudged Amarwen who stretched and picked her head up, eyes blinking as she looked around.

Halvarin said, ”We should gather up our things and get back to the halls before…”

A seemingly slight flash lit around them and as Amarwen sat up, Halvarin stood as the crash of thunder rumbled over and around them. A few more drops of rain hit them and as Amarwen stood, they gathered their blanket and basket and started toward the Hall again. With a blinding flash of lightning that was immediately followed by a shattering crash of thunder, Halvarin paused to draw Amarwen to him as the skies opened up into a sudden downpour. Halvarin held Amarwen’s hand, and they set out from under the last willow tree to run back up the hill for the rear doors of the hall.

By the time they arrived under the eaves, they were soaked and dripping. Halvarin threw the blanket around Amarwen’s shoulders as they held close to each other outside the door. Amarwen’s wet hair stuck to her cheeks and shoulders, and Halvarin pushed his stringy wet hair back from his face. As the wind blew the rain hard under the eaves and onto them, Halvarin set to opening the door until Amarwen took his hand and pulled him back to her.

Letting the blanket fall, Halvarin let go of the basket and it fell away at their feet and they wrapped their arms around each other and kissed long and slow as the wind and waves of rain pelted them. There they remained holding each other until the storm passed.

Halvarin took a breath and said to her, ”Come, we must go in Amarwen. Know that I am here with you and for you. Together, let us make your mother proud!”

She hesitated a moment, loathe to end this moment. Then she pushed the door open and walked in ahead of Halvarin. He gathered up everything and followed not far behind her.

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

Rhovanion ~ Late Summer 1441

The training of the young and eager recruits had commenced, and Vilmaith could see promise in many of them. She was quick to identify leaders and she nourished them with more responsibility. Despite her utmost desire to move on Castamir as soon as they could, she knew it would be some years yet before Eldacar deemed them strong enough to do so. Deep down, she knew he was right. They had been routed nearly five years ago under the might of the sea captains of the south, and they would need much strength to carry the fight back to Gondor, and even more yet to see to Castamir’s illegitimate reign end.

Vilmaith gave the recruits a break, and she went for a walk. Coming t a field that was dear to her, she sat by the cold spring that bubbled beneath a blanket of moss. Lifting the heavy moss from a corner of the small pool and folding it back, she lay down on her stomach and put her lips into the water to drink heartily. Memories of childhood and the fun she had with Rhinnin and the twins Vilna and Vidnavi flashed in her mind as she expected one of them to come up and push her head under the water as she drank. This had been one of their favourite places to play and for a moment she could hear them laughing and giggling. She raised herself up and looked around but only the sound of the wind and the leaves blowing from the trees came to her.

She sat back on her heels and thought about them now. The four had been inseparable as children and were competitive with each other and the boys in the battle games as they grew older. It was with proud honour they all had when they were accepted into Vinitharya, Eldacar’s Royal Rhovanion Guard that would accompany him to Osgiliath. It had been the last time they were in Rhovanion together. Now, Rhinnin was dead and Vilna and Vidnavi were missing. Many held they, too, were dead. Vilmaith had seen Rhinnin fall in battle on the morning the attack on Osgiliath started. She knew there was much death in war, but Rhinnin’s death had been the first time she had seen someone she knew and loved well slain before her eyes. That awful sight had haunted her dreams ever since.

When Prince Ornendil and the Lord of Edhellond rallied soldiers for a counterattack to buy time for most of Eldacar’s army to get out of the city, Vilna and Vidnavi stepped forth to claim their place within the crown prince’s vanguard. Vilmaith begged release from Eldacar’s personal guard to join them, and he gave it reluctantly, for he knew how much love between the three had bonded them through life. Reunited with her sisters, they had pressed home their attack.

The memory made Vilmaith reach to her forehead near her temple to feel the scar and lump there. In the drive that pushed Castamir’s men back, she had been hit by falling stone when a projectile struck a building they were passing. She had fallen, the world spinning painfully only to later wake to find the usurper’s soldiers in the streets ahead of her position. They hewed at the dead and dying Rhovanions they found and killed any they found alive. She never saw Vilna, Vidnavi, or Prince Ornendil again. It was fortunate for her that rubble loosened and slid atop her right then, for a soldier had spotted her. Once the grey dusty stone settled, nobody remained there. Vilmaith lay as still as she could, trying hard to breath yet trying not to make a sound or move. It wasn’t until that night that she thought it safe enough to try and dig herself out.

Over four years had passed since that dreadful day of fear and bitter defeat. Two years had flowed past since she was in Osgiliath last. Since that time, only a few messages had come north since. They knew that Halvarin, the Guild Officer appointed as the city’s commander when she was there last, had named Michas, a commander from Ithilien that served under Aldamir as commander when he was given new orders. Hopefully the city remained in his hands, and the people of Gondor would turn against their brutal sea king.

Shaking her head, throbbing with remembered pain dredged loose by her memories, Vilmaith scooped up water and threw it into her face, then pushed her blonde locks back over her head. She took a deep breath before laying the moss back over the spring. She stood up and walked back to where the recruits trained and called them all back to attention. There was much to do if the hope that Eldacar would again march south to reclaim his rightful throne would come to pass.
Last edited by elora on Sat Feb 10, 2018 6:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:02 am

Edhellond – Late August and Early September 1441

How long had she been standing there? Amarwen did not know and could not be sure but she suspected it had been some time. On the other side of the doors she stared at was the Great Hall. Through the heavy wood she could hear the voices of those assembled within. The entire ship, from sailors to their officers had gathered at the invitation of Lord Hurian and Lady Thera. Laughter and the buzz of conversation reached her where she stood, smoothing the fall of her skirts over and over again. Amarwen closed her eyes and tried to muster the strength to go beyond the doors but she could not move her feet. Within…within that place her mother had been cut down before her very eyes and her feet felt as though they had fused with the stone underfoot.

Today was one of the happiest days of her life, for Halvarin had consented to marry her. And it was also one of the hardest. For Mother and Father were not here to see it. And she was to mark it in the very place her mother had been felled. Movement nearby opened Amarwen’s eyes in time to catch one of the kitchen staff bearing a tray of food for the Great Hall. The young woman, clad in Hurian’s colours, sent Amarwen a sympathetic glance as she passed. Still, even though many of her mother’s retainers remained around her and despite the fact that Halvarin awaited within, she could not find a way to bring herself forward.

As the young woman pressed into the Great Hall, the swell of sound washed over Amarwen like a wave. Voices, laughter, music and the clink of glasses. Then it was muted again, and she was still there, trapped in the corridor. A fly in a spider’s web. She bowed her head and closed her eyes, the heavy glossy braid her hair had been woven into swinging forward from the top of her head. Defeat pulsed through her with every heart beat and her fingers again slipped over the gilded silk gown she wore. Amarwen fidgeted with the girdle of beaten copper slung around her hips. Would Halvarin understand? Could she, perhaps, find a way to get a message to him? Nothing unduly worrisome, of course. Just that she was taken ill. A headache. That always served well.

As she pondered this, the sound of the Great Hall swelled again. The woman from the kitchen, Amarwen presumed and did not lift her head until a hand slid under her elbow. She looked up into Silares’ face, surprised to find him there.

”Come,” he said kindly, ”Niece.”

“I don’t know if I can,”
she admitted, flushing as she did so.

He must think her so foolish. A coward.

Instead, Silares slipped his arm under hers proper, ”Of course you can. You are the descendant of kings. Better to ask what it is you cannot accomplish.”

As he spoke he led her forwards and she only realised this as he pressed the doors open. To abandon him now would only cause a scene and already she could see Lord Hurian turning towards her from within. His eyes knowing, his smile independent of that knowledge, he clapped his hands together and beckoned for a glass of wine.

”There she is, the lady of the moment,” he declared as a glass was pressed into her hand.

Silares fondly patted the arm that rested atop his, ”My sister will be so delighted when she learns.”

For all the world he sounded like a proud, indulgent uncle. A masterful act indeed.

It was, in a word, overwhelming as people came forward with well wishes. Amarwen found herself adrift in smiles and platitudes until finally Halvarin came to her aid. His arm replaced that of Silares and with well-placed responses he won them away. Gently, Halvarin enfolded her into his arms without a word. She went to his embrace willingly, seeking shelter and it was whilst she was there filling his arms that the next wave came.

”The Captain’s niece,” a junior officer enthused upon arrival, ”A fine catch indeed, Halvarin!”

“I am beyond fortunate Marece has agreed to join her life to mine,”
Halvarin said even as Amarwen pulled away from his embrace.

She caught the officer’s expression just in time to see his eyes rake across her neckline, ”Yes, you most certainly are!”

Amarwen stiffened at this enthusiastic assessment but the officer was oblivious, ”Congratulations, Marece. You have landed yourself a fine officer!”

Now that she could agree with and her eyes sought out Halvarin’s, ”I have indeed.”

Though she could not speak this she implored him to kiss her. Anything to conceal the way in which she churned. Answering this, Halvarin’s lips descended upon hers and Amarwen ignored the raucous cheer that went up, losing herself in the comfort of Halvarin’s embrace.

The evening progressed in a blur. Amarwen surrendered to it, seeking refuge in it the faces, the voices and the events speeding past her. Yet still she found herself standing and staring, fixedly, at a patch of flagstones. All the blood had been scrubbed away and yet still she could sense a lingering presence. The stone reached for her, whispering and calling. Around her people came and went, orbiting her or disregarding her as they wished until a hand in the small of her back caused a sudden response. Her hand tightened on the wine glass she held, and it shattered under the pressure of her grip.

Amarwen drew in a shuddering breath as her eyes focused on a familiar face. The ships’ healer regard her steadily for a moment before he removed his hand from her back and began carefully plucking away shards of glass.

”I know who you are,” he said, his voice quiet and diffident.

Amarwen steeled herself belatedly to respond, ”I am Captain Silares’ nie-“

“You are Amarwen of Edhellond,”
the man pressed and shook his head the once at her, ”it is an insult to us both to pretend otherwise.”

Amarwen could hear Halvarin speaking to another elsewhere about various courses up and down the coast. She was alone in this.

”What do you want?” she asked, adding another name to a growing list of those she knew was aware of her identity.

”Nothing,” the healer said, his voice smooth, ”Far as I can see it, you’re just another caught up in this mess. If you don’t see fit to cause trouble, that’s enough for me.”

Amarwen’s eyes narrowed at that and she drew a deep breath, ”You stand on the very place my mother drew her final breath. Do not misspeak to me now!”

The healer blinked and she saw something approaching sorrow briefly in his gaze, ”I do not deceive you, your Grace.”

“And if I relent?”

“Then, I do you the courtesy of informing you now that I will report you. And there is something to be said for courtesy in these rough and ready times, no?”

Amarwen had nothing to say and as a tray swooped past the healer snatched up two tumblers of crystal, ”A toast, to honesty and fidelity.”

He passed a tumbler to her and swept down the contents of his own. Amarwen sipped at hers, blinking sudden tears that the fire in her throat brought to her eyes.

The healer lowered his empty glass to consider her anew, ”You are quite lovely, my lady. I would be grieved if my report brought you to the attention of current authorities.”

“I will bear that in mind,”
she replied and he smiled at her sorrowfully.

”You won’t, of course,” he sighed and then lifted his glass again as he looked at her, ”Long live the King.”

“Long live the King”
Amarwen reaffirmed and, with a final glance, the healer moved away from her.

She sensed that he knew as well as she that they were talking about two different kings. As Amarwen raised her head to search out Halvarin, the bell for dinner was rung and all assembled hastened to their places at the board.

Seated as she was with Silares on one side and Halvarin on the other, Amarwen was relatively buffered from talk during the courses. Across the table, most of the conversation was directed to Lord Hurian, Captain Silares and his Executive Officer. As one of only two women present, Amarwen knew her role as well as Lady Thera did. They were there to nod and smile politely at talk of politics, trade and what was to be done with the “wretched Haradians” that refused to bend knee to Castamir’s expeditionary forces.

Lady Thera was older than Amarwen, though certainly not old enough to be her mother. She handled herself with skill and aplomb, not once faltering. It was an impressive display, for most of the talk was dull and what was left was patronising to say the least. Not once did Lady Thera drop her graceful demeanour and Amarwen shifted in her seat, envying the woman’s fortitude and patience even as her own forebearance withered.

She did what she could to contain herself but her efforts seemed to fail for Halvarin noted her impatient fidgeting half way through the third course and wrapped a hand briefly around her own to still it. With a squeeze and lingering caress from his fingers, he withdrew his hand without once pausing in his critique of navigational theories.

Finally, the meal was done and Amarwen was free to stretch her legs and walk off her restlessness. Pacing about the hall, somewhat akin to a caged wolf, Lady Thera intercepted her on her fourth orbit. The woman linked her arm through Amarwen’s and drew her away.

Forced to slow, Amarwen settled back into the gliding serenity that Lady Thera maintained.

”How can you bear it?” she muttered out the side of her mouth.

”Bear what, my dear?” Thera inquired, reaching out for a glass of wine from a passing tray.

She sipped it delicately as Amarwen watched.

Shaking her head, Amarwen told her, ”You are so calm!”

“Am I, now?”
Lady Thera replied, sipping again.


Amarwen watched Lady Thera cant a brow towards the ceiling as she lowered her glass and held it slightly towards her, ”Tell me, Marece, what do you see?”

Blinking, Amarwen almost replied that she saw a glass of wine but then she paused for the light of the hall skipped and shivered over the surface of the dark liquid.

”Why is that you shake?” she asked, surprised at the faint tremor she saw and lifting her attention to Thera again.

The elder woman smiled at the question and drew closer again to take Amarwen’s arm in hers, ”You return to find us squatting like cuckoos over the bones of your forebears, and you wonder at why I quiver?”

Amarwen was shocked by Thera’s blunt assessment and replied, ”If any should fear, it is I. You have but to whisper in the right ear and-“

“The same can be said of you,”
Thera replied, her gaze raking over the hall, ”You stand surrounded by as many allies as foes, in the seat of your ancestral power, in the very place your mother was felled. How terrible must be your grief? How deep your need for justice?”

“Lord Hurian said that we were allies. I mean to cleave to that.”

Thera’s smile was knowing, ”My lord husband is…an idealistic man. If anything is to be learned from these past four years, then it is that alliances and friendships wither like apples left too long in the sun.”

Amarwen fell silent at that for it was true. Brother had turned against brother. Her eyes sought out Halvarin. Sons had turned against fathers. Little was certain in these dark times save that there would be sorrow and treachery to come yet before this was done.

She pushed a breath out through her nose and returned her attention to Lady Thera, ”I wish that we met under better circumstances, Lady Thera. I wish that you had the chance to meet my mother.”

“As do I, of course.”

Amarwen nodded and placed her hand atop Thera’s forearm briefly. She could afford little more for Lady Thera was nobility and Marece was but the niece of a Captain. Still, the glancing touch brought Thera’s eyes to hers and that was what Amarwen wanted.

”One thing has not changed, from my mother’s time to mine: do right by my people and we will ever remain steadfast friends.”

Thera studied her for a moment and then nodded. There was no way to know whether the woman believed her or not but, as Lady Thera drew away to rejoin her husband, Amarwen could only hope she had laid the woman’s concerns to rest for now. As the evening drew on, she slowly found a way to build her armour against the memories of this place. The whispering of the stones faded, receding into the background far enough for Amarwen embrace the moment but when she finally leant against the doors of her chambers she was exhausted. Drained.

She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath before she heard a faint tap at the doors she leaned against.

”Quickly,” Halvarin urged, ”Before I am seen.”

Amarwen’s eyes widened as she cracked open her doors and sure enough, there he stood nervously looking up and down the corridor beyond. Just how he got into the family wing past the various guards was a mystery to her and when she asked, he shot her an incredulous look.

”Can I answer that on the side of the door the guards won’t skewer me upon?”

A fair observation, she thought, as she widened the door for him to slip through. He pushed it shut again and gazed at her. Tired as she was, he was truly a sight for sore eyes, and without a further word she pressed against him to seek his lips. And so, the days passed, one week turning into two and then three, all of it lost in a haze of heady emotion. Whilst Silares and his crew set about repairing the ship and negotiating re-supply, Halvarin and Amarwen bound themselves ever tighter together.

Nearly four weeks after they arrived in Edhellond, trilling birdsong told Amarwen it was morning. It was a familiar sound, one that she had listened to for as long as she could recall. Then her eyes opened as she realised where she was. This was her bedroom. She was in her wide bed and beside her, propped up against pillows already, was Halvarin.

”This,” he observed as she rolled towards him, ”Is far more pleasant than the guest wing.”

He sat at his ease, voice relaxed and calm.

”How long have you been awake?” she asked as she pushed herself upright.

Halvarin smiled at the question and leaned in to kiss her before he answered, ”Long enough to scandalise the chamber maid.”

Amarwen’s eyes flared immediately at that and she looked to the door as if she expected it to be broken down any moment by outraged retainers.

”These are your halls now, Ami. I doubt there is any who would question what you do within them. And I wasn’t serious about the chamber maid. No one has been to the door. I think they all know better than to try that, now.”

She swatted at him for that but found herself smiling all the same. Amarwen shook her head at him, her loose hair shifting across her shoulders, and then leaned back against Halvarin. She pressed her ear against his bare chest and stilled, listening to his heart as her eyes wandered across the room. Despite the fact that she had been absent for so long, it had been maintained as if she might return at any moment. No patina of dust lay upon any surface she could see. There were no webs high in the corners of the roof and the floor and carpets were clean. Aside from where their clothing lay shed upon the floor.

Until recently, Halvarin had never been permitted into the family wing much less her chambers. Mother and Father would never have stood for it for one moment. This had been her place and hers alone. It was here that Mother had tended to her when she was unwell. It was here that Father had read to her, or showed her his plans for a ship he was designing. Under this very bed she had hidden the books he had smuggled to her long after Mother had frowned on her pursuing her father’s craft.

On a whim, Amarwen disentangled herself from Halvarin and then slid across him to peer over the side of the bed. She slid further forward again to look under it and sure enough, there they were. Several piles of books were there still.

”Not that I am complaining about the view,” Halvarin wryly said after a moment, ”But just what are you doing?”

Her cheeks flushed as she plucked up the nearest book and then wriggled her way back onto the bed proper. Amarwen passed the book across to Halvarin and pushed back her hair into place as he studied the title. His brow furrowed and then he cracked it open.

”I thought so,” he said and lifted his gaze to hers, ”This book is from the Guild library in Minas Anor. I had to pay a hefty fine for its absence…despite assurances from your father that he had sent it back.”

“Were those his exact words? Did he say he had returned it?”

Halvarin’s frown deepened as he dredged his memory, ”He said he had sent it to its proper place.”

Amarwen grinned, ”Just so happens that place is under my bed.”

Halvarin squawked and then pushed past her to tumble out of the bed proper, ”There’s a good ten or so books here!”

“I suppose you weren’t the only Guild student he was getting them from,”
she observed.

Halvarin rose from his crouch, baffled and all together distracting. He said something that Amarwen didn’t hear, her attention elsewhere until he plucked up a pillow and placed it in front of him.

”Oh,” she sighed, disappointed at the delicious view now obscured.

”I said, why would your father do this? You have a library! I’ve seen it myself. Downstairs, down in the-”

“Yes, but I’d read them all…and whilst Mother was amenable to acquiring new titles, there were certain disciplines she did not want my interest further encouraged in.”

“He smuggled them to you,”
he surmised and Amarwen nodded.

Halvarin sat on the bed beside her and picked up the book again. It was a treatise on the design of ocean faring ships over the years, from Numenor to roughly ten years ago. He flicked it open to see the notations he had made in the margins. Turning the pages, he stopped when he saw new notations. He read these and looked up to find Amarwen smiling.

”Well, your calculation was wrong,” she observed lifting her eyes from her correction to his eyes, ”And I am very sorry to hear about that fine. I shall repay you, of course, for that and everything else you have done.”

He pressed a finger over her mouth, ”There is no debt. Not between us.”

Distantly, Amarwen heard the book snap shut and fall to the floor as Halvarin’s mouth found hers. They fell back across the bed together, limbs already entwining. Halvarin groaned, feeling himself stiffen. He slipped a hand over her skin to reach down to find her swollen and slick with need. Then came a crisp, frustratingly inconvenient knock at the door.

They both froze and the knock sounded again. Scrambling apart, Halvarin dove for the wardrobe with a hurried oath and threw whatever first came to hand at Amarwen. She stared at it, puzzled, but he shot her a warning glance before he sealed himself within. Amarwen struggled into what was a great cloak, pulling the front together as she tried to push back her rumpled hair into something approximating order. Catching her reflection a mirror as she went for the door, Amarwen froze in dismay. There was no way she looked even remotely prepared to answer the door and yet the knock came a third time. Harder and impatient. A final wrestle with her hair only meant the great cloak sagged open revealing, well, everything. Squeaking in dismay, Amarwen wrenched it closed again and pulled the door open to scowl out into the corridor.

Silares had his hand raised to knock a fourth time and he blinked at her rumpled, flushed appearances.

”I presume he is within?’ the Captain said without disassembly, looking past Amarwen to the bedroom over her shoulder.

Amarwen opened her mouth to answer as Silares’ shook his head, ”I can see his boots from here…niece.”

“And what of it?”
she inquired, peevish in her squirming embarrassment.

”Tidings from Pelargir. Halvarin is to report to Lord Hurian on the double,” Silares said, returning his eyes to her again, ”Perhaps it is best he does not do so alone.”

Before she could inquire why, Silares had turned on his heel and strode off. Puzzled, Amarwen closed her door with a soft click of the latch as Halvarin poked his head out from her wardrobe.

”Trouble?” he asked as she turned about, frowning.

”We are to report to Hurian’s study immediately,” she said softly.

”Says who?”

“Your captain,”
Amarwen answered and Halvarin straightened with alacrity.

”Then so it shall be,” he replied, all hesitation gone from him.

Well within the hour they reported to Hurian’s study. Within they found the current Lord and Lady of Edhellond along with Silares. All expressions were solemn, a fact they both noted with an exchanged gaze. The tension in the study was as thick as clotted cream.

”What is it?’ Amarwen asked as she came forward, ”Have we been betrayed?”

“This matter concerns Halvarin,”
Silares said and she blinked before she turned to allow Halvarin pass ahead of her.

Amarwen followed, close at his shoulder as Halvarin took up position before Hurian’s desk. He spread his feet as if he stood a rolling, bucking deck.

”Perhaps this is best said whilst you are seated,” Hurian observed, Thera coming to stand by her husband’s shoulder.

Amarwen watched her hand fall to Hurian’s shoulder and lightly squeeze. Encouragement and comfort. Succour. What was unfolding, she wondered as Halvarin squared his own shoulders.

”I would prefer to stand, my lord, if it is all the same to you.”

Hurian inclined his head and drew a deep breath, steeling himself. In this time, the worst had occurred to Amarwen. Guild operatives had set upon them in Umbar, marking them together for the first time. Had Halvarin been declared a traitor? Was a price upon his head? Were they hunting for him even now?

Her hand sought his to wind tightly about it and his fingers, strong, gave her own a light squeeze as Hurian spoke.

”Tidings from Pelargir arrived this morning. There was an assassination some weeks ago. I regret to say that your father, along with the Master Navigator, were slain in the street.”

A chill swept through Amarwen at the words, taking with it all the colour of her face. Halvarin rocked on his heels, as if buffeted by a physical blow.

”I am sorry,” Silares said into the gaping silence.

Halvarin head bowed and his hand fell from Amarwen’s. She considered reaching for it again. She considered wrapping her arms around him and holding him close. She considered asking Hurian how it was they knew these tidings to be true and not some calculated ruse. But before she could do any of that Halvarin shifted and turned slightly towards her.

”Did you know, and was this your doing?” he asked in a low, strained voice curling with pain.

Amarwen shook her head, anguished, ”Upon my honour, my love, I thought your father was in Umbar still.”

He eyed her solemnly for a moment and then turned back to Hurian, ”How is it that these tidings have been verified?”

At that Hurian pulled up the parchment itself and turned it about for inspection. The seals, of Gondor and the Mariner’s Guild both, were impeccable. She scanned it as did Halvarin and then, with a low sound from deep in his throat, Halvarin turned and quit the study.

Startled and worried, Amarwen made to go after him but Silares checked her.

He shook his head at her, ”Give him time, lass.”

Stung, Amarwen shook his hand from her arm, ”I had nothing to do with this! Nothing!”

“Vengeance burns hot and deep even in the most innocent of souls,”
Hurian said and she whipped about, furious now.

”Nothing” she spat, seething, ”Could impel me to bring the very sorrow I know too well to the man I love above all else!”

Hurian’s eyes widened at her fury and when Amarwen made to go after Halvarin again no one stood in her way. She went first to her chambers only he was not there. Nor was he in his own chambers in the guest wing. She combed the gardens next and then the grove of willows down by the river. Still no sign of Halvarin. Returning to the gardens, Amarwen began to call his name but her voice only echoed back at her. She ran up to the place her mother had been buried but he was not there either and a sudden fear gripped her that he had, disgusted and anguished, quit Edhellond. And then she saw him, nearly frantic by now, a lonely figure down on the shore far below.

Amarwen scrambled down the steep slope, slipping and sliding heedless of the way her hands were scuffed and rubbed raw by the rapidly passing dirt and stones. She landed heavily with a grunt, picked herself up from the thick sand she fell into and laboured through to where Halvarin wandered along the waterline.

She screamed his name, but the morning onshore breeze threw it useless back in her face. Amarwen struggled closer, pushing through the thick, heavy sand towards him. She screamed his name again and this time Halvarin must have caught something of her presence for he turned about towards her. Despite this, he remained where he was, unmoving and so she pushed onwards until she gained the firmer, wetter sand upon which he stood. Her lungs were burning for air such had been her desperation and haste and the wind whipped her hair towards the steep cliffs she had all but tumbled down.

”Why are you here?’ he asked, expression unreadable and the wind making his words reach her easily, ”You hated my father.”

Difficult as his face was to read, his voice broke her heart and she did not keep that from her face.

”I hated what he did,” she said and he shook his head at her.

”Do not cozen me with half-truths,” he replied and stepped back sharply as she made to close the gap between them.

Amarwen lifted her hand towards him, reaching and then stared at it. Slowly, it returned to her side and she looked out to the waves. The tide was still retracting into the bay, yet to reach its nadir before swelling back to shore for the afternoon. When she looked again to Halvarin he too was gazing at the horizon, his expression forlorn and lost. She ached to take him into her arms but did not yet dare to.

”You would have the truth?” she asked and he closed his eyes, sighed and then nodded.

Amarwen bowed her head and studied the shore. Small, rounded pebbles were drying in the sun and she could see half buried shells peeking up from the sand. She drew a deep breath and tried to centre her thoughts.

”I do not sorrow for your father’s death but nor am I glad for it. If I sorrow at anything, then it is the anguish and pain you now feel,” she looked up to find his eyes resting upon her, ”For I know what it is to grieve such a loss. I know too well…and I would sooner die myself than wish that upon you, my darling.”

Halvarin stared at her, his eyes of grey and blue as intense and focused as a storm. If he did not believe her, then all they had together would be lost. She knew that, and it made her stomach churn with fear. And then, with a wild sound, he stumbled forwards into her arms and she wrapped them tightly around him. Amarwen drew him close, squeezing him against her. His face was buried in the place her neck met with her shoulders and he was shaking. And still she held him to her, stroking his back and shoulders as grief coursed through the man she loved.
Last edited by elora on Sat Feb 10, 2018 6:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Wed Nov 15, 2017 11:49 pm

1441 – Edhellond’s shore ~ Autumn

Holding to Amarwen, torn between being bitter and relieved she was there, Halvarin slowly felt the swirling torrent of burning pain reduce. Yes, Merece was Eldacar’s leader of Gondor's rebellion, but with the growing discontent with Castamir’s rule, other splinter groups outside the known resistance were beginning to gain strength. He remembered that being the case in the north in Osgiliath and Minas Anor. As much as the resistance wished to have a united front against Castamir, the rogue elements were becoming increasingly bold and he knew it was not fair to hold her to blame for this.

Finally he pulled back, lifted his head to meet Amarwen’s tearful, wide eyes. She was deeply injured, he saw, by a fear he had set within her.

Halvarin cupped her face within his hands, holding it before his eyes, ”I do not blame you Ami and I sorrow at my unkind words. I love you and hope you might forgive my harshness. I am torn in many directions right now.”

He drew a shaking breath, ”I loved Father and yet I also loathed him. I do not think my feelings for my father are like those you have for your mother.”

Halvarin kissed her cheek before turning to watch the sea as the waves pushed at their feet. He felt her arm wind around him, pulling him against her hip. His father was dead and the numbness he felt seemed to have blunted his feelings. He should be sad and angry about this. His father had been the central fixture in his life. All the years through the schooling, Halvarin wanted to be just like him. But Halvarin found himself thinking of his mother.

His arm wrapped around her, pulling Amarwen close. ”I barely knew my mother, but now, at this time, I find myself thinking of her.”

“Will you tell me of your mother? Of what you remember? I do not remember her at all,“
Amarwen answered and Halvarin slid his hand from her hip and up her back.

He looked to where she stood beside him, , ”I am glad you are here with me now, my love. And yes… I will talk of my mother, and of my father.”

He turned to look out over the waters that cast small whitecaps as he remembered back as far as he could. After a few moments of silence but for the rhythm of the breaking waves, he started to speak.

”I think I was five. That is my last memory of Mother. She had fallen ill with a fever a few weeks after my father returned from a voyage away south. I remember seeing her laying there in bed, her dark hair all combed and shining. I remember her hair, for I must have snuggled in it a lot when I was little.”

At this Halvarin paused to consider Amarwen’s dark hair whipping back, unbound and free. He took Amarwen’s hand into his and kissed it before looking out to sea again.

”Father did not want me to see her there that day, for he feared that his only child would fall ill just as Mother had. But he was called away by his Captain for a time, and I slipped in and climbed onto the bed with her. She opened her eyes and smiled at me when I jostled her and she put her arm around me and held my hand. I hugged her, for I had missed her so, and she ran her fingers through my hair as I started to cry. I knew my mother was going to die, and as much I wanted to somehow prevent it, she reassured me that all would be well. She died later that day.”

Halvarin unknowingly had let go of Amarwen’s hand, and he held her waist and patted her softly.

”Father was solemn for some weeks and I did not see him much. He blamed himself for bringing back some malaise from Far Harad, I now think. It was a few weeks after her death that he took time to be with me. We spent most of the day together and he told me the story of this voyage.”

Halvarin sighed at that dark time, taking pause before he continued on, ”He became grim, and to this very day, I do not believe he ever forgave himself for Mother’s death. Later, when in the Guild school, I researched that voyage and found the Captain’s logs in the archives. I should not bore you with talk of the man who had been responsible for the death of your mother. I am sorry Ami.”

“No Halvarin, I wish to know. For were it not for that man and that woman, you would not be standing beside me now. Tell me what you found of that voyage?”

Halvarin turned to Amarwen and said, ”I will tell of it, love, for in a way it is part of my grieving. I had not properly grieved for my mother, and my father’s grief drew him deeply within himself, a strong wall around him. He was ever so…distant with me after Mother died.”

He brushed a lock of Amarwen’s hair from her face and smiled sadly. Despite with the pain of his father’s death, he felt her love wrapping around him even now and so he kissed her, soft and tenderly.

“Will you walk with me, Ami? “

Amarwen gave him a gentle smile and she took his arm, tucking his hand against her in the crook of her elbow, as they set off down the wet sand. Their footprints marked their passage, glistening. In that moment, Amarwen lit Halvarin’s world and though so much rushed through his mind, she was as to him his anchor and safe harbour. woman he would marry, and he wished to do it as soon as they might. He broke their silence, though, with other thoughts.

”Father was an Executive Officer then, and the script in the log was in his hand. Each entry was initialled by the captain and some entries had additions added in the captain’s rough script. On this voyage they had sailed far down the coast of Far Harad to where the land started to curve to the southeast. I have not gone so far on my voyages yet.”

A quick glance to Amarwen confirmed she was listening intently and so Halvarin continued his account, ”In the Guild, there were rumours of old that a great inland sea lingered far to the east, and to sail there one had to venture quite far to the south to round a cape. None had been so bold to try this voyage after three expeditions that launched from Umbar hundreds of years ago never returned. No sign of had ever been found of them south along the Haradian coast, but on this voyage, the Captain pushed them to their limits, going farther south than any who had returned before.”

Halvarin glanced back to see their prints lazily claimed by a wave of the sea. He went on speaking, for he had read and memorized this log, and logs of other voyages that his father had been on.

”Where the coast turned eastward, they were forced to put ashore at a great sandy beach that reached out from the thick dark green of tall hardwood trees and thick low vegetation. The air was hot and humid and changed little from day to night; except for the savage rays of the sun did not bear down on them in the morning and the torrential rains did not fall on them in the afternoons.

“The nights brought swarms of midges and flies thirsty for a man’s blood. After several days of the rains and with clever use of some of the broad leaves of a species of ground vegetation, enough water was collected to make the return journey possible. For food, they had collected a strange stonefruit they had found. When a hearty sailor volunteered to try eating it, and he did not fall over dead or get sick, was it deemed safe enough for the men. They dug up several small plants of this to take back to Umbar for the scholars to study and attempt to propagate.”

Halvarin paused, withdrawing into thought. After a time, Amarwen rubbed his arm and prompted him with a question.

”And what of your father’s return him to you and your mother?”

Halvarin nodded, ”On the return voyage, several of the crew, including the Navigator, fell ill with fever. But they could not trace the cause back to the fruit, or the water. One man got sick while the next man did not. Some became very ill while others only showed slight fever. When they arrived in Umbar, Father had the sweats and chills both and he believed that this is why Mother fell ill for that occurred not long after his return.”

“And was it?”
Amarwen asked, fascinated.

He went quiet and watched their feet as they stepped.

Pausing, he turned to Amarwen and took both her hands into his, ”The men were studied, and also some of the midges that had come north on the ship. It was found that some of the midges carried a fever that they spread through their bites. Some men are more resistant to it, others less so. And the number of bites would vary, so the sickness was not uniform across all the crew aboard the ship. As for Mother, her fever was caused by something else. She would have died whether Father returned or not.”

Halvarin shrugged, not sure where his thoughts were taking him. He looked at Amarwen and embraced her even as a wave pushed past their feet. The tide was turning but he was not yet inclined to move. He gazed deeply into her deep grey eyes.

”My dear love, this day is the first among the many days of our lives. I wish to marry you as soon as we can and I would like you to accompany me to Pelargir as my wife.”

Amarwen’s eyes widened at that but Halvarin was not to be discouraged, ”There is much for me to do there, with my father’s estate to settle and the Guild convocations that must surely follow. I must, of course, appear and I would not be parted from you, Ami. Not for all the world.”

”Pelargir is the seat of Castamir’s power in Gondor,” Amarwen observed quietly and Halvarin nodded.

”And Umbar is more perilous still, yet you ventured there,” he countered, ”This…this is a chance to embed ourselves within the heart of the Guild. From there we can seek out any who are not ardent supporters of the usurper.”

“If you were discovered,”
Amarwen persisted, ”They would be ruthless, Halvarin. Me they expect to betray them but you…”

“I know it will be dangerous. Not least because those that slew my father and my mentor, Chief Navigator Damius, might well look to take me next. But still, it is what must be done, Ami. We must seize this and turn it to our favour. Come, there us much to do. Let us return to your Halls!”

Halvarin paused as he listened to himself. He was like his father, wanting to turn ill news and grief into drive and victory. Somehow, this nauseated Halvarin as he considered the thought. He looked at Amarwen, beautifully aglow in the morning light and sighed. From the time he was five and his mother died, Halvarin had worked to live up to his father’s expectations. It was only when the events in Edhellond that had cracked this fortress he had been in, and as those foundations had weakened and crumbled before him, Halvarin struggled with the thought of having to face his father as one of the Eldacarian resistance. That day would now never come, and he was his own man now. In some ways, then, he felt truly adrift. Like a sail that had been cut free of the mast.

There was nobody now to live up to, aside from the woman who stood with him before he waves. With Amarwen as his wife, what might he not achieve? Together, they could strive to bring down the brutal usurper and return the king to his rightful throne. They could unite Gondor once more. They would have to be discrete and careful, yes, for the road ahead of them was narrow and riven with peril. If they should but slip…still, if they should not… Halvarin pulled Amarwen to him hard and kissed her passionately. Momentarily surprised, he felt her soon unwind. Her body was so soft against his own and yet beneath that was a strength few could rival.

”Come,” he said, brow pressed to her own and her taste thick on his lips, ”We have a wedding to plan.”
Last edited by elora on Sun Feb 18, 2018 2:28 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Kin-Strife

Postby elora » Thu Nov 16, 2017 3:23 am

1441 – Edhellond, Autumn

”So soon,” Lady Thera exclaimed, surprised and somewhat taken aback.

Thera drew closer to whisper in Amarwen’s ear, ”And at such a time as this?”

Amarwen nodded, for she understood exactly what Thera referred to. A wedding overshadowed by such a loss. Still, it was what Halvarin wanted and how could she refuse him at such a time.

”It is what he wishes,” Amarwen replied and Thera paused, studying her.

”And you?’ she asked gently, ”What is it that you want?”

“I want the man I love to find a way to heal. I want to see him smile. I wish to return him some joy.”

“A beacon upon the shore, as it were,”
Thera said and Amarwen nodded.

”That, yes, and more still.”

“Very well, let it be so.”

“It must be small, though,”
Amarwen insisted, ”No elaborate ceremonies.”

Thera’s brows shot up, ”Are you certain? Such a day comes but once, Amarwen.”

“I come to this not as Amarwen of Edhellond. A fuss would appear unseemly to Silares’ crew.”

“Once done, it cannot be done again,”
Thera warned and Amarwen nodded.

”I know. But this is a time of war and grief. We all must make sacrifices and this, compared to those made by too many others, is but a small thing.”

And so it came to be. Amarwen of Edhellond wed Halvarin of Pelargir in a small ceremony presided over by Lord Hurian and attended by Captain Silares and those retainers who had taken service under her mother’s rule over Edhellond. For all its lack of pomp and ceremony, crowds and cheering well-wishers, it was all the more precious. For it was theirs and theirs alone. With vows of enduring fidelity, love and honour, they were joined as man and woman and the celebration rang on long into the evening, well past the time the groom and bride retired for the night.

And, despite the emotional barrage she knew Halvarin to be enduring, not once did he falter nor hesitate. He stood straight and tall, unbowed and undiminished by the sorrow that lapped at all sides around him. She was so very proud of him. As it so happened, on the eve of their wedding a great storm rolled into the Bay of Belfalas and pushed ashore. There was no rain in it and little wind, but the roiling and billowing clouds were illuminated by great snakes of brilliant lightening. Every now and again, great cracks of rumbling thunder broke through the celebrations below.

Amarwen was curled against Halvarin upon her balcony. The roof was sufficiently deep to protect them from the raw power of the storm. Pressed together in the evening warmth, they watched the display offered in the clouds. From time to time the lightening was so powerful it illuminated Edhellond and the bay below. Both were reluctant to speak and break the spell of that moment and yet, as the storm drew on tension mounted between them. Halvarin’s fingers plunged, stroked and wound through her hair, finger tips brushing the sensitive skin at the back of her neck. Each touch made her skin pebble and she shifted against him.

”You did me a great honour this day, Halvarin,” she murmured, touching her lips to his neck.

He pressed her to him, hand shifting to encircle her and fingers now sliding down her flank, pausing over sweeps and curves.

”Did I now? he murmured, bringing his lips to hers to drink deeply.

A crack of thunder rolled by hard on the heels of a snaking strike of lightening and yet it felt as nothing compared to this.

”Yes,” Amarwen returned as his fingers swept up again, her voice hoarse now.

”Say it,” he whispered, kissing her again, ”I want to hear you say it.”

“Yes, husband,”
she answered and he kissed her again, so fierce as to ignite a fire in her belly.

”I love you, Halvarin,” she added when she could and he nipped her lips before he pushed her head aside and nibbled on her earlobe.

”And I you, wife,” he whispered and she shivered at the need she heard in his voice.

A week after their wedding they set forth for Pelargir and in that time, Halvarin had his duties to see to and Amarwen hers.

Convincing Silares to lend them aid proved complex. Round and round, they debated it, Silares questioning every last thing about her intentions. Despairing of meeting an arrangement, Amarwen resorted to any means she might use to manipulate Silares. His sense of remorse over her father’s fate proved a keen weapon indeed.

Thus, it came to be that Silares set down his cutlery at their evening meal and met her gaze squarely.

”Very well, your Grace, what would you ask of me?” he asked, eyeing her solemnly, ”I have seen you plucked safely from Umbar and even now I deliver you with your husband to Pelargir. I saw quite enough of our people’s blood split the last time!”

“And I do not ask you to spill it again, Captain,”
Amarwen pressed, looking across the table to where Halvarin sat.

Caught between his captain and his new bride, she did not expect him to speak at all and yet he did.

”It is worth hearing, Captain.”

Silares questioned, eyes narrowing and shifting back to her, ”Then speak plainly.”

Amarwen did, for a short time of focused effort, selecting her words with care. Too aggressive and Silares would rebuff her. Too passive and he would balk at concerns over cowardice.

When she was done, the captain was quiet as he weighed her words.

”You’ll speak for my men when the time comes?” he pressed and she nodded.

”The king will know of the aid rendered to his cousin in her time of need, Silares.”

He shifted in his chair at that and toyed with what remained of the smoked, succulent trout upon his plate.

”I am but one ship,” he observed after a while, ”And you hardly achieve much by pushing us beyond the coming battle.”

“Just the one, yes,”
Amarwen answered carefully, ”But a Captain of your stature will know who is of a similar mind as you.”

“Even if that’s half the Guild, which it isn’t, it won’t be enough.”

“I know,”
Amarwen returned, leaning back in her chair, ”But as my father would say, one thing at a time, eh?”

“I will consider it,”
Silares said and that was that. She could press no further.

Back in their cabin later that evening, Amarwen pushed a comb through her hair ready to braid it for the night. Her thoughts were elsewhere, drifting over the various options she could use to organise the splinter cells that seemed to profligate in her absence. The sound of voices beyond the door returned her attention to her surrounds and Halvarin soon pushed through, grinning at some exchange she had missed.

”What’s so funny?” she asked as he came through the door and Halvarin flushed at the question.

He cleared his throat as he closed the door behind him and then came towards where she sat, ”Here, let me do that.”

It was a diversion, of course, and Amarwen did not need to wonder overly long as to why Halvarin needed one. Sailors had a particular brand of humour and their Executive Officer was a newly wedded man. She surrendered the comb to him without further comment and he soon set to work. There were, she had discovered of late, few pleasures as wonderful as when Halvarin brushed her hair. Amarwen closed her eyes and surrendered herself to the even, steady strokes.

After a time, eyes still closed, she asked, ”Do you think he will assent?”

Halvarin inquired, ”Hard to say, my love. Until Umbar, I had him marked as a man loyal to Castamir.”

“He’s certainly not a rabid Eldacar adherent,”
Amarwen observed, opening her eyes to meet Halvarin’s in the mirror.

”No,” he agreed, lifting his grey and blue eyes from her hair to her reflection, ”More of a pragmatist, I think. He wants peace and stability.”

“But he is trustworthy?”

Halvarin nodded, ”I believe so, Ami.”

Amarwen lifted her hand to his and wound her fingers through Halvarin’s, ”Then I must trust he sees reason.”

But if Silares saw reason, he did not say so during the remainder of the voyage to Pelargir and so, as they prepared to dock, Amarwen had no idea what to expect. Would Silares turn on them? Would a splinter group of hard-line rebels kill her husband? Would she be recognised here in the seat of Castamir’s power. Her mother and father had refused to bring her to this place, citing it as wild and unpredictable. She knew little of it, save the name of a few people that had come to her attention over the years. No way of knowing if they were alive still. Beregon had said he’d send word of her arrival to his contacts and that they would seek her out. Provided she kept out of the Guild’s campus in Pelargir and none of her father’s peers sought Halvarin out at his home, she should be relatively secure. More so than Umbar, certainly.

A cry from above decks told her that the lines had been secured. Pelargir was a deep-water port and the ship could, as a result, dock against its pier. Halvarin was soon within the cabin, searching her face.

”Ready, my darling wife?” he asked, excitement at being able to show her his childhood home winning through his Executive Officer’s reserve.

Amarwen smiled for him and nodded, ”Of course, my love.”

Still, her stomach churned as she followed him deck-side to disembark.
Last edited by elora on Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:54 am, edited 2 times in total.
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